Tag Archives: economy

Congressmen Say Their Own Personal Debt is OK, but not Government Debt

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

Ah, “elected” government, where hypocrites are paid to advocate for causes they may or may not even agree with, and legislate rules that they themselves don’t follow. And apropos of budget hysteria and economic terrorism being wrought against popular public programs, the trumped-up fears are not only false (the debt crisis is imaginary, and only 6% of the country is aware that the deficit is actually falling) but it’s no surprise to anyone that the ‘debt-fixing’ warriors don’t have the same view of their own debt as they do of the country’s, or yours.

As Josh Israel of ProPublica points out, fourteen of the most vitriolic enemies of vital programs themselves live with the personal irresponsibility of private debt (to the tune of millions).

These hypocrites include:

  • House Budget Committee Member Tom Rice (R-SC):Wrote: “At a time when hardworking American families are living off of a budget, the federal government should be no different. My colleagues and I believe it is time for America to change course and get back on a path of prosperity. This begins with a balanced budget plan.” Reported five mortgages totaling over $4 million.
  • House Budget Committee Member Diane Black (R-TN):Wrote: “The state of Tennessee balances its budget, American families and businesses balance their budgets and so should the federal government,” and “Balancing the budget is not extreme; it is what American families across this country do on a regular basis.” Reported four mortgages on three properties, totaling more than $3 million.
  • House Budget Committee Member Roger Williams (R-TX):Said Wednesday: “We have to have a balanced budget. I have to balance my budget. Everybody in America has to balance their family’s budget or their business’ budget, not every ten years, not even every single year, but every single day.” Reported more than $2.5 million in business debts.
  • House Budget Committee Member Scott Rigell (R-VA):Boasted that he voted for a balanced budget amendment because: “I know that American families do what they have to do to live within their means; and so too should the government.” Reported $1.5 million in lines of credit, a $500,000-plus mortgage, and over $10,000 in credit card debt.
  • House Budget Committee Member Bill Flores (R-TX):Wrote: “It’s time Washington was forced to finally live within its means and cut up the credit cards. Every American family and 49 out of 50 states currently abide by some form of a balanced-budget requirement. If they can make the hard choices to pay their bills and live within their means, then Washington should too,” and “American families and businesses must live by this principle every day, and they want Congress to abide by the same rule.” Reported two mortgages on residences totaling over $1.5 million.
  • House Republican Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA): In a joint editorial with Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), wrote: “Just as any family or business has to do, Washington needs to learn to live within its means.” Reported three mortgages totaling at least $1 million.
  • House Budget Committee Member Vicky Hartzler (R-MO): Said in a floor speech: “Families I talk to, they say, Every year we balance our budget, how come Washington doesn’t? Every small business I visit says, We balance our budget, how come Washington doesn’t? Every farmer and rancher I visit with says, We balance our budget, how come Washington doesn’t?” Reported five real estate mortgages totaling more than $900,000.
  • House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA):Wrote: “Balancing the budget isn’t a liberal or conservative issue. When families in Eastern Washington balance their budgets, they don’t consider it a liberal or conservative policy; it’s just a requirement of life,” and “Families, small businesses and even the State of Washington must balance their budgets. It’s difficult and it forces some hard choices. It’s time for the federal government to do the same.” Reported three mortgages totalling more than $600,000 and a student loan of at least $10,000.
  • House Budget Committee Member Reid Ribble (R-WI):Explained that he’d backed a bill because “we need to put a stop to the irresponsible deficit spending in Washington. Families across Wisconsin have been forced to scale back their spending and balance their budgets, yet the federal government has failed to do the same.” Reported several mortgages on properties and a home equity line of credit, totaling several hundred thousand dollars.
  • House Budget Committee Member Rob Woodall (R-GA):Wrote: “A Balanced Budget Amendment is crucial to ensuring fiscal responsibility in our government, not only today, but in the years to come,” Woodall said. “American families and businesses must decide how to spend their money responsibly; it’s time that the folks in Washington do the same.”Reported two mortgages totaling more than $150,000.
  • House Budget Committee Member Alan Nunnelee (R-MS):Wrote that “businesses, large and small, are working on their budgets for 2012. Each of these groups, local governments, state government, and private businesses operate with a very practical consideration…they must make their budgets balance. This is a concept that American families understand. Thirty years ago, just before I was to be married, a very wise friend taught me a simple but important principle of family budgeting, ‘If your outgo exceeds your income then your upkeep will be your downfall.’ The only entity in America that does not seem to understand this concept is the federal government,” and “Families and businesses in my district have been sitting down, cutting spending, balancing their budgets and making tough decisions. It’s time for the federal government to do the same. A balanced budget amendment will legally force the federal government to only spend what it takes in and start living within its means – a practice Mississippi families and businesses are asked to do every day, yet a practice our own President refuses to participate in. Reported four mortgages on two properties, totaling more than $145,000.
  • House Budget Committee Member James Lankford (R-OK): Said in a floor speech: “Nineteen years ago my wife and I married. I was still in school, I was working as much as I could, she was also working, but we were barely making it, but we made the decision, we were not going to run up credit card debt and live beyond our means. We paid our school loans, we tied to our church, we ate a lot of peanut butter, and we lived simply. As Dave Ramsey said, we determined to act our wage. It’s a biblical principal for myself and my family; Proverbs 22:7 states, ‘The borrower is a slave to the lender.’ Proverbs 22 applies to families, and Proverbs 22 applies to nations. If we were living within our means as a nation, almost all the debate in the last six months in this chamber would have been different.”Reported that he “is a slave” to Bank of America, with whom he has a mortgage of more than $100,000.
  • House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA):Wrote: “In order to make ends meet and plan ahead, hardworking American families and small businesses budget to manage their finances. Why can’t Washington?” and “In the past two years, discretionary spending has increased by 84 percent and our debt has grown by over $3.5 trillion. No family or small business in Bakersfield, or anywhere for that matter, would ever budget like this, and the federal government cannot.” Reported a mortgage of over $100,000.
  • House Budget Committee Member Sean Duffy (R-WI):Wrote: “Congress must learn what every working family and small business in Central and Northwestern Wisconsin has known for a painfully long time: the path forward to a sustainable and prosperous future is paved by fiscal responsibility and smaller, smarter government. One of the most commonsense measures we can enact is a balanced budget amendment which simply dictates that the federal government must live within its means. This is a lesson well-learned by the hardworking citizens of Wisconsin and there’s no reason why Washington should live by different rules than Wausau, Chippewa Falls or Rice Lake.” Reported two mortgages totaling more than $150,000, a line of credit, and a student loan of more than $50,000.

As AllGov points out, forty-six lawmakers in Congress owe thousands of dollars in college loans, totaling between $1.8 million and $4.3 million (via OpenSecrets data). But we’re still not see much action in the way of student debt justice.

They probably don’t care a whit for their own debt because they know the next big bribe or revolving door contract is just around the corner. And they don’t care about your debt at all, because elites in the bubble don’t think the same as we do. And to be perfectly honest, they don’t hate the government debt either, as their buddies continue to get rich off of it (and the big drivers of debt and deficit, Pentagon spending, will not shrink an ounce). But they need a fear engendered in the populace so they can have an excuse to take things away from the populace. And if you complain that the programs you have known and loved on for decades are being austerely destroyed, well, you’re just a ‘moocher’ who wants ‘more free stuff’.

The ProPublica piece reminds us that the government is not the same as a corporation, and shouldn’t be run like one. But even considering that corpo-fascism has already taken hold of our once-public infrastructure that used to serve us, they’re still running it like a pretty piss-poor business.

Love and Destruction

heartPLAYLIST
In the Hall of the Mountain King – Funk United
Light My Fire – Minnie Riperton
The Atmosphere Routine – Mr. Dibbs
Love And Happiness – Al Green
Do Your Thing – Isaac Hayes
Don’t Go Home with Your Hard-On – Leonard Cohen
New Comer – W. Rockman
Munchies for Your Love – Bootsy’s Rubber Band
Velvet Voyage – Klaus Schulze
Why – Gemini (Birthday Song)
Take It All Away – CAKE
I Blame You – They Might Be Giants
Debonair – Afghan Whigs
Djed – Tortoise
You To Thank – Ben Folds
Spent on rainy days – Bright Eyes
Options – Pedro The Lion
Hogin’ Machine – Les Baxter
The Dean And I – 10CC

Stranger in a Strange Land 2013-02-16: Love Songs by The Stranger on Mixcloud

It’s a good thing Fox “News” credibility has been steadily dwindling, falling by 9 percent in three years, and is now at a four-year record-low. These are the idiots are are trying to kill jobs, keep the minimum wage low, and encourage the toxic philosophy of companies laying off employees to dodge taxes.

 makes an excellent point about those long lines in stores when the fat cats decrease hours and increase layoffs to avoid paying fair wages and health insurance:

Were they being “penny-wise and pound-foolish” and costing themselves business today as well as in the future?

Because this misunderstands taxes. Taxes are not a “cost” as Marco Rubio said. Taxes are on profits. A company pays taxes after all costs — including wages and salaries — are deducted from revenue. The fact of the company paying a tax at all means they have the right number of employees serving their customers and meeting demand so they make a profit.

It is the poorly-managed companies that employ too few people who are not going to do well enough to pay taxes. (I doubt very many companies are employing too many people. What are they doing, having them sit around reading the paper?)

Obviously being profitable — which means that they pay taxes — does not cause a business to lay people off or reduce hours. When Rubio says taxes make companies “pass the costs on to their employees through fewer hours, lower pay and even layoffs” he is just wrong.

For the minimum-wage employee an increase means an immediate increase in demand at all the places he shops. Millions of people with a bit more money to spend because of a minimum-wage boost would certainly mean more hiring, because more customers would be coming through the doors. A well-run business employs the right number of people, period.

And while the Republicans are so interested in the drummed up controversy over the public debt, it ignores the debt that Wall Street hasn’t paid back to the American taxpayers, despite their astounding bounce-back and profits. Of course they face no criminal charges, but what about the$245 billion of TARP funds spent on banks, with only $26 billion received in settlements. 

And while their predatory practices effect the poor, and people of color, the most, governments and private enterprise seem all too willing to collude on bringing back debtor’s prisons.

Via In These Times:

A 2010 report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lays out the breadth of this problem. Titled “In For a Penny: The Rise of America’s New Debtor Prisons,” the report examines how “day after day, indigent defendants are imprisoned for failing to pay legal debts they can never hope to manage. In many cases, poor men and women end up jailed or threatened with jail though they have no lawyer representing them.”

Meanwhile, Obama is increasing domestic drone surveillance, and clamming up when asked any questions about these (or related) policies or programs.

Via Mother Jones:

During a Google+ “Fireside Hangout” Thursday evening, President Barack Obama was asked if he believed he has the authority to authorize a drone strike against an American citizen on US soil.

He didn’t exactly answer the question.

“First of all, I think, there’s never been a drone used on an American citizen on American soil. And, you know, we respect and have a whole bunch of safeguards in terms of how we conduct counterterrorism operations outside the United States. The rules outside the United States are going to be different then the rules inside the United States. In part because our capacity to, for example, to capture a terrorist inside the United States are very different then in the foothills or mountains of Afghanistan or Pakistan.

But what I think is absolutely true is that it is not sufficient for citizens to just take my word for it that we are doing the right thing. I am the head of the executive branch. And what we’ve done so far is to try to work with Congress on oversight issues. But part of what I am going to have to work with congress on is to make sure that whatever it is we’re providing congress, that we have mechanisms to also make sure that the public understands what’s going on, what the constraints are, what the legal parameters are. And that is something that I take very seriously. I am not someone who believes that the president has the authority to do whatever he wants, or whatever she wants, whenever they want, just under the guise of counterterrorism. There have to be legal checks and balances on it.”

Even with Rand Paul on the job, so serious questions are being asked of John Brennan in his confirmation hearings, despite concerns about civil liberties killing Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA in 2008.

  • Why Did the President Kill a 16-year old American Teenager?
  • Are there ANY Qualifications for Authorizing Death Sentences?
  • Why did the Obama administration wait until election season to codify rules for assassinating people?
  • Do you see a problem with “signature strikes?”

So why didn’t Obama just say, “no, the president cannot deploy drone strikes against US citizens on American soil”? Because the answer is probably “yes.”

Even so-called “liberals” like Dianne Feinstein are dead wrong on the issue, both morally and factuallyShe stated that civilian casualties caused by U.S. drone strikes each year has “typically been in the single digits.”

According to an extensive report by researchers at NYU School of Law and Stanford University Law School, disputed the line coming from the White House and from Feinstein on Thursday. The report cites statistics from the U.K. based Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), which found that from June 2004 to September 2012 U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan killed between 474 to 881 civilians, including 176 children. The BIJ relies on newspaper accounts and its own independent researchers in Waziristan.

The Stanford/NYU study backs up such figures with evidence of the trauma of living under drones strikes, based on “interviews with victims and witnesses of drone activity, their family members, current and former Pakistani government officials, representatives from five major Pakistani political parties, subject matter experts, lawyers, medical professionals, development and humanitarian workers, members of civil society, academics, and journalists.” Even if the BIJ’s lowest estimation of 474 civilians in Pakistan alone were accurate, Feinstein’s figures would still be far off the mark.

Washington Post offers data from the Web site Long War Journal, U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen killed a combined 31 civilians in 2008, 84 in 2009, 20 in 2010, 30 in 2011  and 39 in 2012.

The New America Foundation, a Washington think tank, says that U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan alone killed at least 25 civilians in 2008, 25 again in 2009, 14 in 2010, six in 2011 and five in 2012.

Hell, let’s give the drone pilots medals while we’re at it! They might get sore asses from sitting down all day!

Among self-described liberal Democrats, fully 77 percent endorse the use of drones against terrorist targets. On the question of killing Americans in drone strikes, Democrats approved of the use 58-33 percent, as did liberals, 55-35 percent.

A separate Pew study from October 2011 found that 87 percent of Americans support “increasing the use of unmanned drones,” including a majority of Democrats who said it was a “good thing.”

This is due to the false dichotomy of the blind theology set up by militant drone hawks. Either robot death from the skies, or boots on the ground?

“Drones are a lot more civilized than what we used to do. I think it’s actually a more humane weapon because it can be targeted to specific enemies and specific people.” ~Sen. Angus King’s (I-Maine)

[Drone strikes] inflict fewer civilian deaths than bombing campaigns, boots on the ground or any practical alternative.” ~New York Times columnist David Brooks

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes calls the other alternative.

“We can be a nation that declares its war over, that declares itself at peace and goes about rigorously and energetically using intelligence and diplomacy and well-resourced police work to protect us from future attacks”

But the dogma doesn’t allow for such creative problem-solving when singular destruction is narrowly employed. And secret, no less!

All the more reason that Yours Truly can’t wait for our civilization to be destroyed by alien life, life-destroying asteroids, or rather, exploding meteorites.

At least that wouldn’t be politically-motivated. It would be a mercy. A labor of love. Ahh.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2013-02-16: Love Songs by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

Austere Warnings

sun ra

Danger signs abound reminding us of the context of our austere, violent, unequal world. Politically-motivated reasoning disenfranchises voters, consumers, workers, people of color, the impoverished, whistleblowers, dissenters, journalists, and any citizen who wants their free civil rights.

PLAYLIST
In the Hall of the Mountain King – Duke Ellington
Sunshine Of Your Love – Ella Fitzgerald
Other Planes of There – Sun Ra And His Solar Arkestra
Pinetops Boogie Woogie – Pinetops Perkins
Big Chief – Professor Longhair
I Smell A Rat – Big Mama Thornton
Drunk – Jimmy Liggins & His 3D Music
RL Burnside – Boogie Chillen
Bass Solo – Larry Graham
What About You (In The World Today) – Co Real Artists
fruitman – kool and the gang
Acid Lady – San Francisco T.k.o.’s
Message From 9 To The Universe – Jimi Hendrix & friends
Get Off Your Ass And Jam – George Clinton & Parliment Funkadelic
Look What You Can Get – Funky Nassau
Symphonic Revolution – Mandrill
It’s A New Day – The Skullsnaps
Do The Sissy – Albert Collins
Sunset – Yusef Lateef
Goodmorning Sunshine – Quasimoto
Crosshairs – DANGERDOOM
Chemical Calisthenics – Blackalicious
Spiritual Healing – Dälek
Bounce – Jay Dilla
Lazy Confessions – The Moldy Peaches
Lonlon (Ravel’s Bolero) – Angélique Kidjo

Stranger in a Strange Land 2013-02-02: Austere Warnings by The Stranger on Mixcloud

Even the jobs numbers belie the myth, with Economic Policy Institute’s Heidi Shierholz noting that “the jobs deficit—the number of jobs lost since the recession officially began plus the number of jobs we should have added just to keep up with the normal growth in the potential labor force—remains nearly nine million.” With certain politicians stamping out that growth to the labor and middle classes, the labor market will not fill that gap until the end of 2021.

The conservative-led drive in Congress for more federal budget-cutting will reduce demand, stifle growth and choke off job creation, at a time when we need much higher levels of investment and jobs growth.

This jobs deficit is directly affected by the blind austerity hysteria (or austeria, eh? eh?), with our U.S. economy lagging in response to the declining markets in Europe, suffering a costly recession inflicted by misguided austerity policies.

I can’t repeat it enough: cutting government spending in a weak economy costs jobs.

Via The Campaign for America’s Future:

  1. Austerity costs jobs. More than 20 million people are in need of full-time work.  While corporate profits are at record heights as a percentage of the economy, wages are at record lows and falling.  cuts in government spending and hikes in taxes on working people cost jobs.  Government workers and contractors get laid off.  Small businesses feel the pinch as the afflicted tighten their belts.  Interest rates can’t go lower; business doesn’t get any more confident.
  2. More austerity is already being inflicted. Last quarter’s decline took place before the tax hikes agreed to in December’s “fiscal cliff” deal.  The increase of tax rates on the top 1 percent will have little effect on demand, since someone making over $400,000 can afford the hit.  But the end of the payroll tax holiday cost the typical family 2 percent of their income, with the change visible in their January paychecks.  For a family earning $50,000, that represents a $1,000 loss of income
  3. Even more austerity will soon come. House Republicans devoted their retreat to reordering the fiscal hostage crises they have planned for the next five months. – the sequester, they believe, will give them greater leverage to extort deep and unpopular cuts in spending, particularly Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
  4. The deficit hawks are delusional. Out-of-control inflation hasn’t broken out.  Investors are not panicked.  They are still willing to park their money in U.S. bonds for essentially no real return. One reason is that the deficit isn’t out of control.  As the Congressional Budget Office reports, the annual deficit is down by 25 percent since 2009.    It is coming down faster than any time since the demobilization at the end of World War II.   Our mid-term debt is essentially stabilized as a percent of gross domestic product.  Our long-term debt projections are completely a question of fixing our broken health care system.
  5. Stop the austerity hysteria. Stop paying tribute to the austerity lobby. return to sensible governance.  Repeal the sequester – deep across-the-board cuts are idiotic. Commit to growing our way out of the hole we are in. Invest in areas vital to our economy and to our people.  Pay for those commitments in ways that makes sense.  Put people back to work and watch the deficits come down.  Crack down on overseas tax dodges. End the obscene subsidies to Big Oil, Big Pharma and Big Agra.

But Obama is not and will not be our savior on this subject. He has flip-flopped enough on the issue of Too-Big-to-Fail banks and money in politics enough to appear entirely culpable.

Like many presidents before him, he is using the guise of ‘nonprofits’ to turn what was once lucrative campaign cash into unlimited corporate donations. Just as he has ‘devolved’ on SuperPACs, Citizen’s United, special interests, and other contributions. At this point, it is no longer questionable or dodgy to call him a Wall Street co-conspirator, as the President rakes in massive Wall Streetcontributions and paying back donors with immunity from prosecution.

He hasn’t prosecuted a single banker and has appointed a scandal-plagued Wall Street defense lawyer to head the SEC. He has whined that he has been blocked by the intransigent Congress, but still refuses to exercise executive function (you know, his fucking job) in areas that he does have direct influence.

Via Salon:

A president, for instance, has the unilateral power to at least propose tough Wall Street regulations, even if Congress is too corrupt to pass them. A president, likewise, has the unilateral power to nominate genuinely independent regulators, even if a Wall Street-dominated Senate might try to halt such a nomination. In short, a president has the unilateral power to at least force a serious fight over these issues — and Obama has refused to even do that. Instead, he championed bailouts and a Wall Street “reform” package that let the banks off the hook, and he has appointed Wall Street pals like Lanny Breuer at Justice andMary Jo White at the Securities Exchange Commission.

The ‘President is weak and blocked’ defense doesn’t make much sense either in the context of one of the most powerful presidents in recent history, on leveraging reforms, increasing the surveillance state, national security and foreign policy.

In fact, this Treasury Department has approved excessive salaries for the very same executives of the very same financial firms that received taxpayer funds as part of the 2008 economic bailout of Wall Street.

The news comes in a report authored by the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which said that “Treasury approved all 18 requests it received last year to raise pay for executives at American International Group Inc., General Motors Corp. and Ally Financial Inc,” according to the Associated Press.

14 of the requests for executive pay raises were over $100,000, and the biggest raise was $1 million. All this while employee and consumer protections are set adrift and ignored, or worse; the National Labor Relations Board and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are set upon and impugned by cruel Republicans. The unemployed are even cannibalized by the major banks taking their cut wherever they can get it.

Via AllGov:

A new report (pdf) from the nonprofit group National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) says Americans out of work are paying millions of dollars in unnecessary fees as part of receiving their unemployment payments. This is because many states encourage or even require the jobless to use bank-issued payment cards to access their funds.

The NCLC found that many states, like Arizona, make it difficult for residents to sign up for direct deposit with the state government. And in at least five states—California, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland and Nevada—direct deposit is not an option at all.

The consumer group contends that this situation is illegal under federal law prohibiting states from requiring benefits recipients to open an account with a specific bank, such as JPMorgan ChaseU.S. Bancorp and Bank of America.

But ignore the hypocrisy. Congress does whatever it wants, breaking the very laws it legislates, or at least, exempting themselves at the expense of the fleeced classes.

And while those Chief Execrable Officers in Congress “battle“, they hope to silence large swaths of the voting population. It isn’t enough that they overlook the poor and favor those who can afford hefty bribes, they still want to entirely disenfranchise the hated plebes with voter ID laws. There is much that can be done to prevent this tampering, but injustice is frequent.

Because the status quo machinery cannot be stopped. Even when outspoken cogs decry the monstrousness of it, they make such admonitions within the context of authoritative paradigms.

Via Danger Room:

Ben Emmerson wants to be clear: He’s not out to ban flying killer robots used by the CIA or the U.S. military. But the 49-year-old British lawyer is about to become the bane of the drones’ existence, thanks to the United Nations inquiry he launched last week into their deadly operations.

Emmerson, the United Nations’ special rapporteur for human rights and counterterrorism, will spend the next five months doing something the Obama administration has thoroughly resisted: unearthing the dirty secrets of a global counterterrorism campaign that largely relies on rapidly proliferating drone technology. Announced on Thursday in London, it’s the first international inquiry into the drone program, and one that carries the imprimatur of the world body.

If the facts show that the US is committing war crimes, then so be it, that is what he will unearth.

And AlterNet:

A military judge overseeing September 11 pre-trial hearings revealed Thursday the government had censored them from outside the courtroom, and angrily ordered that this stop immediately.

The proceedings at the high-security, high-tech courtroom due to host the trial of five alleged plotters in America’s worst terror attack are heard in the press gallery and in a room where human rights groups and victims’ families sit, with a 40 second delay.

This is done so a court security officer, or CSO, sitting next to the judge can block anything deemed classified.

On Monday part of the proceedings were censored when the discussion touched on secret CIA prisons where the suspects were held and abused.

The judge said he was surprised and angry that the censoring mechanism was activated from outside the court, without his knowledge.

And the only official who has been officially punished for the illegal CIA torture program was the whistleblower who talked about it.

Via Glenn Greenwald:

John Kiriakou is not a pure anti-torture hero given that, in his first public disclosures, he made inaccurate claims about the efficacy of waterboarding. But he did also unequivocally condemn waterboarding and other methods as torture. And, as FAIR put it this week, whatever else is true: “The only person to do time for the CIA’s torture policies appears to be a guy who spoke publicly about them, not any of the people who did the actual torturing.” Despite zero evidence of any harm from his disclosures, the federal judge presiding over his case – the reliably government-subservient US District Judge Leonie Brinkema – said she “would have given Kiriakou much more time if she could.” As usual, the only real criminals in the government are those who expose or condemn its wrongdoing.

This is why whistleblowing – or, if you prefer, unauthorized leaks of classified information – has become so vital to preserving any residual amounts of transparency.

“when our sources are prosecuted, the news-gathering process is criminalized, so it’s incumbent upon all journalists to speak up” 

~the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer

“People are feeling less open to talking to reporters given this uptick. There is a definite chilling effect in government due to these investigations.” ~Washington Post

“the president’s crackdown chills dissent, curtails a free press and betrays Obama’s initial promise to ‘usher in a new era of open government.'” ~Bloomberg report

So the powerful call for more cyber-warfare, more government surveillance of the citizenry, and to privatize that surveillance state the way they are privatizing everything else in our rapidly corporatizing fascist nation.

The comfy relations between the private sector and law enforcement poses a risk to the rights and freedoms of the individual. But authoritarians accept government power as inherently valid and government claims as inherently true. It’s easy for them to accept the secrecy, and to punish defiers as traitors.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2013-02-02: Austere Warnings by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

Tropical Paradise

The stress and anger from the fast-paced world of current events and electoral mudslinging are getting to you, and since we can’t stop those, let us find our exotic escape. A quiet beach on a remote island, with sweet drinks and soft jungle sounds on a moonlit night, relax and melt into your adirondack chair, under your tiki hut near your cabana, and dream that this is how humbly the other half lives. Better yet, dream of the indigenous fauna.

Our problems will still be here when we get back.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-08-18: Tropical Paradise by The Stranger on Mixcloud

PLAYLIST
In the Hall of the Mountain King – The Mysterions
007 (Shanty Town) – Desmond Dekker
Ebb Tide – Al Caiola & His Islanders
Jungle Madness – Martin Denny
Tiare Anani – Webley Edwards
Chuncho (the Forest Creatures) – Yma Sumac
Island In The Sun – Harry Belafonte
Mucha Muchacha – Esquivel
Bongo Lesson – Jack Costanza
Lambada Timbales – Tito Puente
Corcovado (Quiet Nights) – Sergio Mendes, Cannonball Adderley
Brazil – Django Reinhardt
Agua De Beber – Frank Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim
Irene – Caetano Veloso
The Warmth Of The Sun – Beach Boys
Double Naught Spy – Deke Dickerson
The Cannibal Village – Michael Land
Tropicando – Les Baxter
Exotic Guitars – Safari Ways
Pastime Paradise – Ray Barretto
Waves Within – Santana
War – Bob Marley
No Dub Island – Scientist
James Bond Theme – The Skatalites
SPY – Seatbelts
Spygame – Parov Stelar
Jungle Fresh – Gorillaz
Bongo Bong – Manu Chao
Vacation Island – Kid Koala
Manha De Carnaval – Louiz Bonfa
Mana Ma’ohi – Matato’a
Son Of A Son Of A Sailor – Jimmy Buffett

Now, it has officially been eight attacks on houses of worship in eleven days in this country, with distrust, bigotry and racism stirred up by the likes of Islamophobes Michele Bachmann and Peter King. And even demagoguery in the areas where violence would later occur against Muslims:

Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., sowed the seeds of mistrust and suspicion by alleging that “radical Islam” had made a home in the suburbs of Chicago; that ”It’s in Elk Grove, it’s in Addison, it’s in Elgin. It’s here”; and that radical Muslims are “trying to kill Americans every week.” Walsh’s warnings were met with applause.

According to FBI data, hate crimes against Muslims might be rising. The rate of anti-Muslim crimes fell from nearly 500 in 2001 to 107 in 2009. But in 2010 (the latest year for which the FBI has data) the total number of hate crimes jumped 50 percent to 160.

As we discussed last week, our intelligence agencies tasked to protect us have a massive blind spot in the area of homegrown terrorism, but they had been warned.

Daryl Johnson, architect of the infamous 2009 Department of Homeland Security report on right-wing extremism, made headlines last year, when he accused Homeland Security of ignoring the growing threat of right-wing violence due to political pressure. Johnson said DHS employed just one analyst to monitor all non-Islamic extremism, down from eight prior to the report’s release. In stark contrast, the department has at least two dozen personnel assigned to analyzing the threat of homegrown Islamic extremism.

DHS continues to turn a blind eye, says Johnson.

“Right around the time I went public last year, they hired a brand-new person with no experience and no law enforcement connections,” shortly thereafter the new hire was transferred to a different unit, again leaving just one analyst on the beat. A year later, Johnson says, “absolutely nothing has changed.” another former DHS analyst, there have been, at most, two DHS analyst on the non-Islamic extremism beat since he left the agency in 2010. During his time at DHS, he recalls a “3-to-1 ratio” of analysts assessing Islamic extremism versus those covering non-Islamic threats. According to the former analyst, “very few products have been released in the past several years [on right-wing extremism]. A couple, but not much at all.”

What’s worse is that other law enforcement groups rely on DHS threat assessments, and within the halls of power these groups are seen as inconsequential to nonexistent, while Muslims are seen as suspicious to radical. Ignorance has led to our agencies being led by a sham terror expert industry, exaggerating one threat and ignoring others.

Read John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart’s The Terrorism Delusion: America’s Overwrought Response to September 11, in the latest issue of International Security.

Mueller and Stewart analyze 50 cases of supposed “Islamic terrorist plots” against the United States, and show how virtually all of the perpetrators were (in their words) “incompetent, ineffective, unintelligent, idiotic, ignorant, unorganized, misguided, muddled, amateurish, dopey, unrealistic, moronic, irrational and foolish.” They quote former Glenn Carle, former deputy national intelligence officer for transnational threats saying “we must see jihadists for the small, lethal, disjointed and miserable opponents that they are,” noting further that al Qaeda’s “capabilities are far inferior to its desires.”

Expenditures on domestic homeland security (i.e., not counting the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan) have increased by more than $1 trillion since 9/11, even though the annual risk of dying in a domestic terrorist attack is about 1 in 3.5 million. Using conservative assumptions and conventional risk-assessment methodology, they estimate that for these expenditures to be cost-effective “they would have had to deter, prevent, foil or protect against 333 very large attacks that would otherwise have been successful every year.” Much of that money ends up going to private contractors.

These are the types of government spending and overreach that policymakers will never criticize Obama for. CIA-perfected torture is normalized as concept with impunity here in the states (by calling it “enhanced interrogation techniques”), and captives are sent face rendition abroad.

President Obama has closed the CIA’s “black sites,” its secret prisons where American agents once dirtied their hands with waterboarding and wall slamming. But via rendition — the sending of terrorist suspects to the prisons of countries that torture — and related policies, his administration has outsourced human rights abuse to Afghanistan, Somalia, and elsewhere. In this way, he has avoided the political stigma of torture, while tacitly tolerating such abuses and harvesting whatever intelligence can be gained from them.

But pundits and politicians would rather focus on the ECONOMY, stupid.

When it comes to fiscal issues, Mitt Romney wants voters to know he’s disgusted by reckless government spending spree under President Obama the past three years, while at the same time also contending that Obama’s government hasn’t stepped in enough to help Americans.

Paul Ryan also slammed President Obama on Thursday for failing to rescue an auto factory in his Wisconsin district — one that closed in 2008, under President George W. Bush. Oopsie! Ryan also got caught misrepresenting his actions when it comes to his handling of Obama’s stimulus package. In an interview this week with WCPO, an ABC affiliate in Cincinnati, Ryan said, “No, I never asked for stimulus … I opposed the stimulus because it doesn’t work, it didn’t work” but it turns out that’s not true. In 2009 and 2010 Ryan sent at least five letters to Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis seeking stimulus grants in the millions for two Wisconsin energy conservation companies.

And while avoiding the big deal over his own taxes, Romney attacked the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center’s finding that fulfilling his budget promises would require asking 95 percent of Americans to pay more in taxes. “They made garbage assumptions and they reached a garbage conclusion,” he said. He then used Simpson-Bowles to defend his vague formula, but the commission’s co-chair, Erskine Bowles, has repeatedly said it’s not mathematically possible to meet Romney’s goals without asking the middle class to pay more in taxes.

“The Romney plan, by sticking to revenue-neutrality and leaving in place tax breaks, would raise taxes on the middle class and do nothing to shrink the deficit,” Bowles wrote in a Washington Post op-ed last week.

The Tax Policy Center responded to a number of Romney’s criticisms, claiming that none of the complaints affected the conclusions, which the group said were based on running simple numbers around Romney’s previously stated goal of revenue-neutral tax reform that would lower income tax rates while eliminating tax deductions, starting with those that benefit the wealthiest Americans.

“[I]t remains true — as we showed in our paper — that a reform proposal that meets the five goals stated above would have to raise burdens on middle-class households,” they wrote.

Surely many other scandals will come out concerning Romney’s moneyed storied past, but this week it was Joe Biden who was in the news for his “gaffes”

“Romney wants to let the — he said the first 100 days — he’s gonna let the big banks once again write their own rules. Unchain Wall Street,” Biden said at an event in Danville, Va. “They gonna put y’all back in chains.”

Of course, the Republicans lashed out at his racial rhetoric, despite having been all-too-willing to play that card themselves in the past:

“They will put you in chains called ‘Obamacare,’ and you will never break away,” ~Sen. Rick Santorum

“[Obama] does not want you to have the self-esteem of getting up and earning and having that title of American. He’d rather you be his slave.” ~Florida Rep. Allen West

But the point still stands, that there are (some) wealthy elites who would reinstate the feudal state, the gilded age, and even serfdom. But what can we do?

Les Leopold, author of The Looting of America, proposes we turn the banks into public utilities. Via Alternet:

The simple truth is our giant banking system is metastasizing throughout our economy. It’s sucking away our wealth. And it’s out of control. We’ve seen our bankers commit every kind of financial crime imaginable. They trade on insider information. They manipulate markets. They rig bets. They fix prices. They sell securities that are designed to fail so that they can bet against them. They launder money for rogue nations. They create too-big-to-fail banks that gamble with impunity knowing that we will bail them out again and again. And they collectively crashed the economy causing 8 million workers to lose their jobs.

No bank CEO can effectively manage the empires they now preside over. No regulator can keep up with the financial games that are played right under their noses. It’s just not possible. Too-big-to-fail also means too-big-to-control. Banks are the predators and we are the prey. We need to end too-big-to-fail, instead of proposing reforms that are too little, too late.

He counters every criticism of his proposal, arguing that it isn’t necessary socialism (about as much as the police force is), that public trusts are more effective, and that losing the “best” Wall Street talent by drastically lowering salaries will be a good thing.

It’s all just in time, too, since privatization is ruining America:

  1. We spend lifetimes developing community assets, then give them away to a corporation for lifetimes to come.
  2. Private systems of health care, schools and prisons are failing us.
  3. Facts about privatization are hidden from the public.
  4. Privatizers have suggested that teachers and union members, public schools, are communists.
  5. Privatization often creates an “incentive to fail” for no-bid contractors.

And, amid journalist harassmentarrests, and criminalizing dissent, private contractors have now dedicated massive, nationwide surveillance networks to watching us.

Via RT:

In a 2005 interview with The Entrepreneur Center, Richard “Hollis” Helms, co-founder of TrapWire developers Abraxas, says the system “can collect information about people and vehicles that is more accurate than facial recognition, draw patterns, and do threat assessments of areas… The beauty of it is that we can protect an infinite number of facilities just as efficiently as we can one and we push information out to local law authorities automatically.”

Essentially, siphoning private surveillance camera footage to intelligence agents.  intelligence caught by TrapWire was being fed directly to these high-profile customers, including the NYPD (who lied in denying it), the Pentagon, the Secret Service and the White House. Stratfor, for its part, is keeping quiet about the revealing emails, and won’t comment enough to deny them. Mainstream media (*cough* NYTimes *cough*) whitewashes the facts behind the scandal, and all of this could be for good and more than just classified reasons. This could all be very illegal.

US v. Jones, the recent ruling by the Supreme Court, could mean that using Trapwire to track people is illegal without a search warrant, and would be a violation of the Fourth Amendment

“Regardless of the technology, the government should need a warrant for persistent tracking of individuals” ~The Electronic Frontier Foundation

Well, the government thinks it needs a lot of things, but warrants don’t seem to be among them.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-08-18: Tropical Paradise by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

Prognosis

Problems progress, and so the solutions must be progressive, and so should the tunes. When we realize the cosmic scope of time and space and mind, we see our problems aren’t so grand.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-08-11: Prognosis by The Stranger on Mixcloud

PLAYLIST
In the Hall of the Mountain King – Aunt Mary
Isn’t It Quiet And Cold? – Gentle Giant
Mastoul Alakefak – Aksak Maboul
Truth, Justice, And The American Way – 5uu’s
Starship Trooper – Yes
Vampire State Building – Alcatraz
Stagnation – Genesis
Symphonic Revolution – Mandrill
Variations on a Theme by Brian Smith – Ain Soph
A Time A Place – Brainchild
18 Variations On Sinister #3 – Frank Zappa
One of These Days – Pink Floyd
Night Illusion – Gong
Sechs Achtel – Aera
My House On Mars – Ayreon
Technopolis – Yellow Magic Orchestra
Backwash – Blodwyn Pig
Ork Alarm – Magma

The country reacts to even more hateful violence in this country, but a trend is revealing not Muslim terrorism, or even just those random acts of inscrutable psychotics, but a seething right-wing white nationalist domestic terrorism.

So while I applaud leaders like John McCain or the usually small-minded Chris Christie who are breaking party rhetoric to denounce the more vitriolic bigotry of Michelle Bachmann and others. More troubling are the endemic thinking of prejudice within the intelligence and military complexes, or the reluctant response to white supremacists and neo-Nazis who represent genuine, local threats.

Via Salon:

When Homeland Security director Janet Napolitano released a report in April 2009 identifying right-wing extremists as a threat to the country, conservatives howled. The general sentiment was expressed by Michelle Malkin, who declared the report a “piece of crap … propaganda … an Obama hit job.” Jonah Goldberg complained that the DHS report failed to stick “to the practice of describing these groups with more specificity and without the catchall, ideologically loaded descriptors.”
Now documents, which were collected by the invaluable National Security Archive and obtained partly through Freedom of Information Act requests, shed light on the problems coming from the extreme right. According to a 2004 FBI report, “right-wing terrorists pose a significant threat due to their propensity for violence”
These groups increased their recruitment efforts and rhetoric after 9/11, according to the report. White supremacists groups relied on broader anti-immigrant sentiment throughout the country to advance their efforts.
More disturbingly, neo-Nazis were trying to infiltrate law enforcement agencies, according to a 2006 FBI report devoted to the subject. “White supremacist presence among law enforcement personnel is a concern due to the access they may possess to restricted areas vulnerable to sabotage and to elected officials or protected persons, whom they could see as potential targets for violence,” it reads. One idea far-right terrorists proposed was to walk into police stations and offer information, in order to determine an agency’s interest in any given organization.

Apparently, this infiltration is part of what these groups refer to as the “fascist path of stealth” in which they must appear as “ghost skins” in order to gain paramilitary training and inside information. The FBI also claims that white supremacists have evinced interest in broader campaigns of suicide terrorism, according to the FBI. “These provide the movement with an ideal of self-sacrifice and a context for individuals to put themselves into fatal situations on behalf of its causes.” Terrorist acts could unify the movement and inspire others to carry out similar acts.

And while we lean right into either a corpo-fascist or theocratic or plutocratic state (or D. all of the above), the country, political parties and national dialogue becomes more radical, more fundamentalist, more anti-intellectual, and more insane. Valid arguments are now represented by invoking Godwin’s law, labeling opponents as reactionaries, communists, Maoists and yes, even nazis. Pretty harsh language to describe the process of giving citizens health care, or observe the constitutional separation of church and state.

But this is what we’ve come to expect from our elected do-nothings, compulsive liars and reprobates. And while our “leftist” commander-in-chief stomps out press and protest freedoms, the only things we could hope for from the GOP if elected is obstructionism, vindictiveness, delusions, hypocrisy, and pouting ineptitude. Hell, not only do they need SuperPACs to be citizens, not only do they need massive donor information to remain secret from the public, they are also blocking the Internal Revenue Service from tightening oversight of anonymous money groups misusing the tax code.

Speaking of tax fraud, even though this has been a hard month for Mitt Money Romney (down in the polls, hammered on his wealth and taxes, seen as a buffoon abroad), he has officially begun to outraise Obama. This does not even include the SuperPAC money dedicated to defeating Obama at all costs, no matter the Republican candidate.

Polls show voters see Romney in an increasingly negative light and Obama making progress in swing states, where he leads everywhere but North Carolina in the PollTracker Average.

Romney, whose predatory career has claimed the jobs of countless Americans while calling himself a “job creator” and “wealth creator.” Does he mean miserable jobs in Chinese factories? Wealth for the 1 percent? The cash hoarders? This all sort of runs counter to traditional American values. It seems a little, Idunno, detrimental to a decent society as a whole.

Look, I’m all for capitalism, but when people shout “more capitalism!”, it’s really a rallying cry for more sweatshop jobs, more child labor and more impoverishing of American workers so that offshoring and outsourcing entrepreneurs can make more millions and keep their incomes in offshore banks and out of the hands of the IRS.

Mitt, for example, currently owns three homes, and his entire entitled body language screams “boredom and contempt” for having to deal with so many of his lessers on the campaign trail (O, what the debates will hold!).

Mitt finds it far safer to express the passive side of his passive-aggressiveness: arms immobile at his sides (the better to not throttle you with); mouth closed (the better to not blurt insults); eyes dreamy (the better to not shoot daggers). It all goes with how he trained himself, consciously or otherwise, to not be as honest

Hey, meritocracy is back in style, polished, glossed over and unlubed.

Expect to see him attempt to lie his way into office, especially at the expense of everyone’s right to vote. Veterans in Ohio aren’t buying it, but we already know how Romney hates those ‘frivolous’ firefighters and cops. Why does the GOP hate our servicemen?
Scott Brown, for one, is outraged at the prospect of poor people voting:

Brown is outraged that his opponent’s daughter is working for an organization making it easier for people to legally vote. Because they’re poor.
“I want every legal vote to count, but it’s outrageous to use taxpayer dollars to register welfare recipients!”
It’s actually a “special effort” to comport with federal law. helping legally qualified citizens register to vote is now considered improper.

Brown did, after all, spend a ton of money to ensure that the voices of many could not be heard. Just drown them out with money. It’s all part of the GOP’s “only the better sort of people should be trusted with the vote” schemata. What does that remind us of?

Of course, there are people who claim that it doesn’t matter who you vote for anyway, it’s all rigged. The Candidates won’t address these important issues, such as net neutrality, or the drug war fueling racial caste systems in this country, or hurting democracy in Afghanistan and Mexico.

Instead, both sides of the political aisle agree, condemn whistleblowing, silence dissent, and spy on everybody.

Via RT:

Former senior intelligence officials have created a detailed surveillance system more accurate than modern facial recognition technology — and have installed it across the US under the radar of most Americans, according to emails hacked by Anonymous.

Every few seconds, data picked up at surveillance points in major cities and landmarks across the United States are recorded digitally on the spot, then encrypted and instantaneously delivered to a fortified central database center at an undisclosed location to be aggregated with other intelligence.

And while I had previously advocated the use of social justice bots, but considering the police state built up around us, I feel I should clarify… nothing illegal should be attempted without full acceptance of the consequences. Unless you’re in power already, of course.

But it’s entirely possible that Anonymous could hack, or otherwise somehow interfere with the presidential election. This would be as aggregious, in my eyes, as the political parties cheating, engineering and disenfranchisement.

As for those bots, well, they already have the power to take down Wall Street, rogue or otherwise. And it’s happened on a somewhat manageable scale already. We’re just waiting for something to go haywire, resulting in billions of dollars in losses in just minutes. It is clear that the big banks and financial industry at large cannot be trusted with their death grip on the economy.

Luckily, Stephen Lerner at Alternet proposes some alternatives:

  1. Renegotiate public and housing debt. It is estimated that banks have already sucked more than $50 billion out of local communities through toxic loans, fees and tricky deals that cities are locked into.
  2. Exercise eminent domain. There are 16 million underwater homes, worth $2.8 trillion, that are $1.2 trillion underwater. Resetting those mortgages to fair market value would save the average underwater homeowner $543 per month, $104 billion into the national economy every year. This would create 1.5 million jobs nationally. If just five of the most severely underwater cities used eminent domain they could seize $140 billion worth of underwater homes from banks, forcing banks to take a $30 billion haircut on underwater loans.
  3. Boycott big banks and move public money. One of the key profit centers for banks is their government business. And it isn’t just LIBOR they cheated on. There are investigations and growing scandals around price fixing on municipal bonds. banks are holding cities hostage on Letters of Credit (LOC’s) by ratcheting up the cost knowing if cities refuse to pay they may be forced to pay huge termination fees.
  4. Enact resolutions at local governments and pension funds.
  5. Litigate and legislate.

So, whether in the system or out of it, out of the box thinking is sorely needed. Innovative experiments and progressive action must be taken at every level, or this grand experiment we call America may be doomed to fail.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-08-11: Prognosis by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

Under the Influence

The world is going out of it’s damn mind. We’ll let the music explore each fucked up mindset, as we fall under the influence of politics, madness, intoxicants, and (as always) lack of sleep.

A mind is a wonderful to waste.

PLAYLIST
Hall Of The Mountain King – Self Diagnosis
Blinded By The Light – Manfred Mann’s Earth Band
Morning Meditation – Ali Akbar Khan
I’m So Tired – The Beatles
Sunday Morning Coming Down – Johnny Cash
Lost in the Ozone – Commander Cody
Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) – Kenny Rogers & The First Edition
The Transmigration of Hop Heads – Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O.
Reclaim Your Mind – Cosmic Gnostic and the Astral Travelers
Becoming Insane – Infected Mushroom
Anxiety – Astor Piazzolla and the Kronos Quartet
Where Is My Mind – The Pixies
Think I Lost My Headache – Queens of the Stone Age
I Almost Lost My Mind – Zalman Yanovsky
Stoned Guitar – Human Instinct
Stairway To Heaven – London Philharmonic Orchestra
7 Days Drunk – The Adventures Of Robert Savage
Slow Down – Ozzy Osbourne
Comfortably Numb – Pink Floyd
Drinking – They Might Be Giants
I’d Rather Have a Bottle in Front of Me (Than a Frontal Lobotomy) – Randy Hanzlick
They’re Coming To Take Me Away! – Napoleon XIV

Mitt Romney this week showed what a great world leader he would be by insulting our greatest allies, inflaming tensions in the Middle East and desecrating holy ground. His travels, however, were not in vain. He was able to pander to a religious population (Jews, but really the evangelical Christians at home) with his meritocratic clout and raise money from the LIBOR-scammer elites by promising even more deregulation!

“I’d like to get rid of Dodd Frank” ~Mitt Money Romney

Romney hailed the Israel’s health care system for holding down costs and broadening coverage more effectively than the U.S., though Israel contains costs by adopting a very centralized, government-run health care system that conservatives in this country equate with European-style socialism.

One of his top advisors also caused a stir by seeming to say that Romney would back an Israeli strike against Iran, but they seemed to realize that tough talk does not equal foreign policy credibility. His real gaffe was in implying that the downtrodden Palestinian people have chosen to be there, or that their “culture” proves that they deserve to be under the boot-heels of the Israelis.

Mitt Romney boldly declared that Israel’s economic superiority over the Palestinians was due to its culture… which seemed to imply that he believes that Palestinians are just sort of naturally inclined to live under military occupation. (This didn’t seem to bug that many Israelis, even though it does suggest that he believes they are … innately good with money, let’s say.)

Romney believes, in other words, that Palestinians just don’t value freedom enough to get it for themselves. The territory is under a decades-long military occupation and residents face restrictions on movement and trade.

“During my recent trip to Israel, I had suggested that the choices a society makes about its culture play a role in creating prosperity, and that the significant disparity between Israeli and Palestinian living standards was powerfully influenced by it,” Romney wrote in the National Review. “In some quarters, that comment became the subject of controversy. But what exactly accounts for prosperity if not culture?

He directly compared the per capita GDP of Israel and the Palestinian territories and attributed Israel’s comparative strength to “culture” and the “hand of providence.” He implied that the Palestinian territories are socialist, which isn’t true, and a quick look at wikipedia shows that their economy was growing by leaps and bounds between the 60’s and 80’s, and has been slowing with the West Bank occupation and oppression, Israeli “security measures” and rising unemployment (surely a ‘choice’ as it is here in America).

“I have just returned from a trip abroad. I visited three lands — Israel, Poland, and Great Britain — which are defined by their respective struggles for freedom. I met with some of the greatest heroes of those struggles.”

“I realize that there will be some in the Fourth Estate, or whichever estate, who are far more interested in finding something to write about that is unrelated to the economy, to geopolitics, to the threat of war, to the reality of conflict in Afghanistan today, to a nuclearization of Iran,” Romney said.

But the radicalization of right-wing America is only going to hurt Romney, and others, in the long run. Gingrich was successful in ousting many moderates in the 90’s, but many old and new are leaving in disgust, or sticking around just to badmouth the extremism rife in their own party.

“For a long time, words like ‘compromise’ have been like dirty words. I always believed that the art of being a legislator is finding common ground.” ~Republican Ohio Rep. Steve LaTourette 

But speaking of compromise, it takes many Democrats as well as Republicans to push through the Bush tax rate on those making more than $200,000 annually.

  • Jason Altmire (Pennsylvania)
  • John Barrow (Georgia)
  • Dan Boren (Oklahoma)
  • Ben Chandler (Kentucky)
  • Jim Cooper (Tennessee)
  • Jim Costa (California)
  • Henry Cuellar (Texas)
  • Joe Donnelly (Indiana)
  • Larry Kissell (North Carolina)
  • Jim Matheson (Utah)
  • Mike McIntyre (North Carolina)
  • Jerry McNerney (California)
  • Bill Owens (New York)
  • Collin Peterson (Minnesota)
  • Mike Ross (Arkansas)
  • Kurt Schrader (Oregon)
  • Heath Shuler (North Carolina)
  • Mike Thompson (California)
  • Tim Walz (Minnesota)

When it comes to taxes, we may see an unfair tax code get even worse. This is far more important issue than whether Mitt Romney paid his taxes, or other secrets from his returns. His tax plan would be a boon for the wealthy, but a tax hike for 95% of Americans, according to a new nonpartisan study by the Tax Policy Center, a joint project of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution.

And though the Romney team have called the group a bunch of liberals (they hailed them in the past as “objective, third-party analysis” when the findings benefitted them), he couldn’t dispel any of their specific claims. Even more damning for himself is the revenue neutrality, or Romney’s own non-commitment to specifying the tax loopholes or breaks he’d close, probably because he wouldn’t close any (he has suggested that he would only look to breaks that benefit the wealthy).

“Even if tax expenditures are eliminated in a way designed to make the resulting tax system as progressive as possible, there would still be a shift in the tax burden of roughly $86 billion from those making over $200,000 to those making less than that amount,” the report reads.

“Americans making over $1 million would see an increase in after-tax income of 4.1 percent (an $87,000 tax cut), those making between $500,000 and $1 million would see an increase of 3.2 percent (a $17,000 tax cut), and those making between $200,000 and $500,000 would see an increase of 0.8 percent (a $1,800 tax cut).”

As for the other 95% of Americans? Not so much. The average tax increase needed to pay for the elite’s gains would be $500 per household.

Obama was quick to jump on this opportunity (the opportunistic bastard):

“He’s not asking you to contribute more to pay down the deficit, he’s not asking you to pay more to invest in our children’s education or rebuild our roads or put more folks back to work,” Obama said. “He’s asking you to pay more so that people like him can get a big tax cut.”

Romney claimed that the report is “biased” as it fails to take into account the explosion of economic growth that would theoretically occur in the future under a potential Romney’s administration.

Apparently anticipating this criticism, the Tax Policy Center decided to humor them by including an alternate (reality) analysis in its study in which it assumed that Romney turns out to be correct and his tax proposals produce unexpected floods of new revenue. However, even that generous concession didn’t change its analysis.

“Although reasonable models would show that these tax changes would have little effect on growth, we show that even with implausibly large growth effects, revenue neutrality would still require large reductions in tax expenditures and would likely result in a net tax increase for lower- and middle-income households and tax cuts for high-income households,” the study concluded.

In other words: How will he PAY for these cuts!? Perhaps Romney would be a good little engine of the economy and make up the difference out of his own offshore accounts.

As the richest of the rich, or .001%, or fewer than 10 million people, have used secret tax shelters around the world to hide anywhere from $21-32 trillion, or more, since they shutter around various accounts and are nigh-untrackable (according to the Tax Justice Network). An amount equal to the US and Japanese economies.

At a low 3%, this is anywhere between $190-250 billion in tax revenue —which is about twice the amount OECD countries spend on development assistance. That’s just income taxes. Capital gains taxes, inheritance taxes, and other taxes would bring in even more.

In order to save a few bucks on taxes, they essentially put themselves in the same category as copyright trolls and drug lords. They hide funds in the Cayman Islands, Singapore, Switzerland, as well as “virtual” havens, “nominal, hyper-portable, multi-jurisdictional, often quite temporary locations of networks of legal and quasi-legal entities and arrangements” facilitated by too-big-to-fail Goldman Sachs, UBS, and Credit Suisse (the top three), with Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and JP Morgan Chase all in the top ten of “key enablers of the global tax injustice system.”

The lost tax revenue from offshore tax shelters, they note, “is large enough to make a significant difference to all of our conventional measures of inequality. Since most of the missing financial wealth belongs to a tiny elite, the impact is staggering.”

Many Americans are already misinformed about our level of inequality—but this report confirms that even supposed experts were wildly underestimating the problem. The developing world, for example, has $4 trillion in debt, but their own elites have stores $10 trillion offshore. “That means this is really a tax justice problem, not simply a ‘debt’ problem.” Those debts fall on the shoulders of the everyday working people of those countries, those who can’t take advantage of sophisticated tax shelters.

Of course, this is merely yet another lie spun by the conservative media:

  1. Higher taxes on the rich will hurt small businesses and discourage job creators

A recent Treasury analysis found that only  2.5% of small businesses  would face higher taxes from the expiration of the Bush tax cuts.

Over 90% of the assets owned by millionaires are held in a combination of low-risk investments (bonds and cash), the stock market, real estate, and personal business accounts Angel investing (capital provided by affluent individuals for business start-ups) accounted for less than 1% of the investable assets  of high net worth individuals in North America in 2011.  The Mendelsohn Affluent Survey  agreed that the very rich spend less than two percent of their money on new business startups.

Even the Wall Street Journal noted that the extra wealth created by the Bush tax cuts led to the “worst track record for jobs in recorded history.”

2. Individual initiative is all you need for success.

If anything, it’s harder than ever today to ascend through the ranks on one’s own. As summarized in the  Pew research report  “Pursuing the American Dream,” only 4% of those starting out in the bottom quintile make it to the top quintile as adults

3. A booming stock market is good for all of us

But as the market rises, most Americans are getting a smaller slice of the pie. But the richest 10% of Americans  own over 80%  of the stock market. Thanks in good part to a meager 15% capital gains tax, the  richest 400 taxpayers DOUBLED their income and nearly HALVED their tax rates in just seven years (2001-2007). And the stock market scamming grows faster than our GDP.

The truth has a nasty habit of coming to the surface, as the Koch brothers-funded climate scientist Richard Muller discovered:

“Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.”

“Our results show that the average temperature of the earth’s land has risen by two and a half degrees Fahrenheit over the past 250 years, including an increase of one and a half degrees over the most recent 50 years. Moreover, it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases. Our record is long enough that we could search for the fingerprint of solar variability, based on the historical record of sunspots. That fingerprint is absent.”

“The carbon dioxide curve gives a better match than anything else we’ve tried. Its magnitude is consistent with the calculated greenhouse effect — extra warming from trapped heat radiation. These facts don’t prove causality and they shouldn’t end skepticism, but they raise the bar: to be considered seriously, an alternative explanation must match the data at least as well as carbon dioxide does.”

But good old-fashioned fear-mongering always seems to work. The FBI cast anarchists and activists as terrorists and criminals, even as they violate their constitutional due process by targeting them based on politics *ahem* “criminal evidence” such as black clothing, anarchist literature, and placard signs, flags and… flag-making materials. Essentially, a fishing expedition.

“It’s related to political opposition, it’s related to political dissent,” says Dennison Williams. “They’re trying to create a wedge within people who are resistors… They’re specifically pursuing anarchists.”

Political supporters calling themselves the “Committee Against Political Repression” have already set up a website to post information about the case and take donations to the legal fund: NoPoliticalRepression.wordpress.com with a “solidarity statement” from numerous activist groups condemning the “series of coordinated raids.”

Likewise, we should FEAR the cybercrime which costs us $1 trillion a year, according to Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency and oversees U.S. Cyber Command, which is causing “the greatest transfer of wealth in history.” He must not have read the other articles that we have.

But the source of his numbers remains a mystery. The trillion-dollar estimate was first published in a news release that McAfee issued to announce the report; the number does not appear in the report itself.

McAfee’s trillion-dollar estimate is questioned even by the three independent researchers from Purdue University whom McAfee credits with analyzing the raw data from which the estimate was derived. “I was really kind of appalled when the number came out in news reports, the trillion dollars, because that was just way, way large,” said Eugene Spafford, a computer science professor at Purdue.

Of the 17 other researchers and contributors, Ross Anderson, a security engineering professor at University of Cambridge, said that he did not know about the $1 trillion estimate before it was announced. “I would have objected at the time had I known about it,” he said. “The intellectual quality of this ($1 trillion number) is below abysmal.”

When asked about the reporting, politicians simply repeat the number as if it were gospel. Then again, lawmakers don’t know shit. They don’t even know what the fuck all those drones are doing up there. The NYPD is going to start tracking and surveilling people all over the city with help from Microsoft as part of their “domestic awareness system”. The FBI will be ramping up their Next Generation Identification (NGI) Facial Recognition Program in 2014, containing at least 12 million “searchable frontal photos.”

“Facial recognition takes the risks inherent in other biometrics to a new level . . . [it] allows for covert, remote, and mass capture and identification of images, and the photos that may end up in a database include not just a person’s face but also what she is wearing, what she might be carrying, and who she is associated with.” ~EFF testimony at the Senate Subcommittee hearing on facial recognition

All this authoritarian technology is frightening enough, but even if we manage to stave off the worst implications of a technological takeover, we still face existential threats to our identity, autonomy, anonymity and individuality as we enmesh and embed with out digital devices.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-08-04: Under the Influence by The Stranger onMixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

Illegal Speculation

The illicit affairs of an elusive elite continue, and nightly we struggle and strive to survive against them. What will it be that saves us? Elections? Economic reasonableness? A renewed Fourth Estate? Scientific rationality? The burgeoning religion of technology? Revolution in the streets? Or perhaps simply… ROCK.

PLAYLIST
In The Hall Of The Mountain King – Robert Wells
When the Levee Breaks – Led Zeppelin
Shadows Of – Gong
Muffin Man – Frank Zappa & the The Mothers with Captain Beefheart
Long Distance Runaround – Yes
Crystal Ball – Styx
Third Stone From The Sun – Dick Dale
Jimi And Eddie (Purple Haze/Green Acres) – Pinkard & Bowden
Manic Depression – Jeff Beck & Seal
Children Of The Night – Hysear Don Walker
Song Of The Black Lizard – Pink Martini
Where The Blues Begins – Buddy Guy with Carlos Santana
Oh Well – Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band
Rawalpindi Blues – Carla Bley
(Don’t Fear) The Reaper (Bonus Track) – Blue Öyster Cult
Levon – Elton John
Backs Turned Looking Down The Path – Warren Zevon
Fanfare for the Common Man – Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Lucky Man – Emerson, Lake & Palmer
(Jack Kerouac) On The Road – Tom Waits & Primus
Hand Of Doom – Black Sabbath
Barbary – Sir Richard Bishop
A Day In The Life – Sting

Jamie Dimon, CEO and and one of the plutocrats in charge of the country, in his presidential cufflinks, was orally pleasured by Congress this weak.

Financial analysts Jim Willie and Rob Kirby contends that the only organization large enough to act as counter-party to some of these trades is the U.S. Treasury itself.  He suspects the Treasury’s Exchange Stabilization Fund, a covert entity without oversight and accountable to no one. Kirby also notes that if publicly-traded companies (including JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley) are deemed to be integral to U.S. national security (meaning protecting the integrity of the dollar), they can legally be excused from reporting their true financial condition.  They are allowed to keep two sets of books.

Interest rate swaps are now over 80 percent of the massive derivatives market, and JPMorgan holds about $57.5 trillion of them.  Without the protective JPMorgan swaps, interest rates on U.S. debt could follow those of Greece and climb to 30%.  CEO Dimon could, then, indeed be “the guy in charge”: he could be controlling the lever propping up the whole U.S. financial system.

Besides the recent $3 billion in JPMorgan losses, which look more like illegal speculation than legal hedging, there is JPM’s use of its conflicting positions as clearing house and creditor of MF Global to siphon off funds that should have gone into customer accounts, and its responsibility in dooming Lehman Brothers by withholding $7 billion in cash and collateral.  There is also the fact that Dimon sat on the board of the New York Federal Reserve when it lent $55 billion to JPMorgan in 2008 to buy Bear Stearns for pennies on the dollar.  Dimon then owned nearly three million shares of JPM stock and options, in clear violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 208, which makes that sort of conflict of interest a felony.

Evidence abounds that the JPM losses are not just $3 billion but $30 billion or more, that JPM may actually be bankrupt, of systematic computer-generated selling of JPMorgan stock immediately prior to and on the dates of the granted compensation and collusion to manipulate the stock to accommodate the grant of options is called “spring-loading”, a violation of SEC Rule 10 b-5 and tax laws, with criminal and civil penalties.

But of course, Mr. Dimon wouldn’t be the only Wall Street felon steering our country towards disaster with their Mafioso Pyramid schemes, the private creation of money at interest.

The only real guarantor in all this is the government itself, first with FDIC insurance and then with government bailouts of too-big-to-fail banks.  If we the people are funding the banks, we should own them; and our national currency should be issued, not through banks at interest, but through our own sovereign government. the U.S. still has the legal power to issue its own dollars or borrow them interest-free from its own central bank.  The government could buy back its bonds and refinance them at 0% interest through the Federal Reserve—which now buys them on the open market at interest like everyone else—or it could simply rip them up.

WE are the people. WE are America and therefore the government. OUR economy is supposed to serve us; the consumers, the workers, the unemployed…

Markets are not provided by nature. They are constructed – by laws, rules, and institutions. All of these have moral bases of one sort or another. Hence, all markets are moral, according to someone’s sense of morality. The only question is, Whose morality? In contemporary America, it is conservative versus progressive morality that governs forms of economic policy.

Senator Mitch McConnell’s speech Friday at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington offers an inside look at how the  Republican goal of getting rid of Obama is inextricably linked to the Republican Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision equating corporations with people under the First Amendment, and to the Republican’s current determination to keep Americans in the dark about which corporations contribute what.

In the upside-down world of regressive Republicanism, McConnell thinks proposed legislation requiring companies to disclose their campaign spending would stifle their free speech, calling it a “political weapon,” used by the Democrats, “to expose its critics to harassment and intimidation.”

Five members of the Supreme Court think the legal fictions on paper (corporations) are people. Mitt Romney and the minority leader of the Senate – the highest-ranking Republican official in America – takes this logic to its absurd conclusion: If corporations are people, they must be capable of feeling harassed and intimidated if their shareholders or consumers don’t approve of their political expenditures.

Clearly, McConnell doesn’t want corporations to be forced to disclose their political contributions because he and other Republicans worry that some shareholders and consumers would react badly if they knew about their secret slush funds for the Republican Party, funneled through front groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Crossroads.

via TPM

A new report by Democrats on the Joint Economic Committee concludes that the GOP plan to enact large income tax cuts that disproportionately benefit top earners will be difficult to pay for by closing myriad tax loopholes — and that the loopholes that would likely have to be closed disproportionately benefit the middle class. The net result, according to Democrats, is that the Republican party’s tax plan would increase the tax burden for middle-income earners while lowering it for the wealthiest Americans. But the report makes several key assumptions many of which, Republicans claim, distort the GOP’s policy agenda.

The House GOP budget, authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), would make major changes to the tax code. It would reduce the top tax rate to 25 percent and fold all the lower brackets into a single, second bracket at 10 percent. It would index the Alternative Minimum Tax to inflation and eliminate new taxes in the health care law. Together, according to Democrats and the Tax Policy Center, these changes would increase deficits by $4.5 trillion over 10 years.

Republicans claim they’ll cover that cost by eliminating unspecified loopholes in the tax code. But what the Democrats’ report shows is that if Republicans want to lock in other key GOP policy goals, like maintaining low capital gains tax rates, or eliminating capital gains taxes altogether, they’ll likely have to close loopholes that disproportionately benefit the middle class.

The net result, according to Democrats, is that middle-income tax payers will actually end up paying more in taxes than they do now, under the GOP plan.

But at least liberals are finally calling Republicans out on their shenanigans. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD)  publicly accusing Republicans of intentionally undermining the economy in order to defeat President Obama.

“There’s no intention on behalf of the Republicans in the House of Representatives to try to help the president move this country forward,” Hoyer told a small group of reporters in his Capitol office on Thursday morning. “I quote Jesse Jackson, who I thought said it best, there are a lot people in Washington who want to drown the captain and are prepared to sink the ship in order to do so.”

Hoyer joins Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and others who say the House GOP’s refusal to adopt even bipartisan measures like funding for transportation projects, and the renewed brinksmanship over the debt limit suggest that Republicans are engaged in deliberate economic sabotage.

Even as more and more Americans choose alternative news sources to find out what is really happening in their country, harassing those providing first hand reports muzzles the free flow of information and poses a threat to democracy. Abby Martin explores the subject for RT.

Via the New Statesman, on the Davis Dozen, who face ten year prison sentences for peacefully protesting the bank that paid for control over their school:

Sometime in July, eleven students and one professor at the University of California Davis will stand trial, accused of the “willful” and “malicious” act of protesting peacefully in front of a bank branch situated on their University campus.

There has been in recent months a great deal of online coverage of the brutality of public order policing at Davis. The treatment of the Davis Dozen, however, promises more longstanding injury. If found guilty, each faces charges of up to eleven years in prison and $1 million in fines.

As the collapse of the US banking sector caused the State of California to withdraw its funding for its public Universities, those same Universities turned to the banking sector for financial support. On 3 November 2009, just two weeks before riot police would end a student occupation at UC Berkeley by firing rubber bullets and tear gas at the students and faculty gathered outside, the University of California Davis announced on its website a new deal with US Bank, the high street banking division of U.S Bancor, the fifth largest commercial bank in the United States.

According to the terms of that deal, US Bank would provide UC Davis with a campus branch and a variable revenue stream, to be determined by the University’s success in urging its own students to sign up for US Bank accounts. In return UC Davis would print US Bank logos on all student ID cards, which from 2010 would be convertible into ATM cards attached to US Bank accounts…

Meanwhile, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is set to criticize Canada for the controversial law passed by the province of Quebec to clamp down on student tuition protests.

“Moves to restrict freedom of assembly continue to alarm me, as is the case in the province of Quebec in Canada in the context of students’ protests,” the commissioner is to say.

Quebec’s Bill 78 restricted the rules for organizing mass gatherings in the province as well as racked up fines for violations during mass events. It was issued in response to months-long student protest demonstrations, with anger over a hike in tuition fees in the province.

Frank La Rue, the UN’s special rapporteur for the protection of free expression, and Maina Kiai, the organization’s special rapporteur for freedom of peaceful assembly, will focus on how the United States government has failed to act on requests made by the two experts during the last year to address growing concerns over how law enforcement has acted towards the Occupy movement.

In one letter sent from the envoys to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the rapporteurs urge the Obama administration to “explain the behavior of police departments that violently disbanded some Occupy protests last fall.” Elsewhere they say that they’ve been concerned that excessive force waged on protesters “could have been related to [the protesters’] dissenting views, criticisms of economic policies, and their legitimate work in the defense of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Despite sending that letter to Secretary Clinton more than six months ago, neither rapporteurs has not been offered a response yet, reports Huffington Post. A spokesperson for the State Department tells HuffPo that “the US will be replying,” but declined offering any other details.

“The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division is the lead agency for violations of human rights or civil rights in the United States,” wrote the spokesperson, sending the UN experts to them for an answer, half a year after they asked for assistance. With hundreds of arrests being chalked up to the Occupy movement and countless accounts of police brutality reported already, however, it is sending a clear message to some that the White House isn’t all that concerned over how local law enforcement agencies are interacting with protesters.

“Lack of an answer does not make the US look good in the international community,” American Civil Liberties Union Director Jamil Dakwar tells Huffington Post.“The US should at a very minimum respond to a letter like this, and if they believe that law enforcement agencies operated under legal, constitutional authority and there were no problems, then they should explain that and present that” before the Human Rights Council.

Another UN investigator has called on Washington to provide justification for the increasingly widespread use of military drones to carry out targeted killings. He says drone attacks, which take innocent civilian lives, may be violating international law.

In a rare public comment on drone strikes, President Obama told an online town hall in January that the drones had not caused “a huge number of civilian casualties.”

A group of Taliban insurgents reportedly entered a house in a village in Logar Province, south of Kabul, where a wedding ceremony either was or would be in progress.  American and Afghan forces surrounded the house, where 18 members of a single extended family had gathered for the celebration.  When firing broke out (or a grenade was thrown) and both U.S. and Afghan troops were reportedly wounded, they did indeed call in a jet, which dropped a 500-pound bomb, obliterating the residence and everyone inside, including up to nine children.

This was neither an unheard of mistake, nor an aberration in America’s Afghan War.  In late December 2001, according to reports, a B-52 and two B-1B bombers, using precision-guided weapons, wiped out 110 out of 112 wedding revelers in a small Afghan village.  Over the decade-plus that followed, American air power, piloted and drone, has been wiping out Afghans (Pakistanis and, until relatively recently, Iraqis) in a similar fashion — usually in or near their homes, sometimes in striking numbers, always on the assumption that there are bad guys among them.

For more than a decade, incident after incident, any one of which, in the U.S., would have shaken Americans to their core, led to “investigations” that went nowhere, punishments to no one, rare apologies, and on occasion, the offering of modest “solatium” payments to grieving survivors and relatives.  For such events, of course, 24/7 coverage, like future memorials, was out of the question.

By now, Afghans (and Pakistanis in tribal areas across the border) surely know the rules of the road of the American war: there is no sanctity in public or private rites.  While funerals havebeen hit repeatedly and at least one baby-naming ceremony was taken out as well, weddings have been the rites of choice for obliteration for reasons the U.S. Air Force has, as far as we know, never taken a moment to consider, no less explain.  This website counted five weddingsblown away (one in Iraq and four in Afghanistan) by mid-2008, and another from that year not reported until 2009.

You might almost think that our wars on the Eurasian continent had been launched as an assault on “family values.”

This is resulting in disintegrating relations with Pakistan (thanks, in part, to its unwillingness to offer an apology for cross-border U.S. air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last November); perhaps because the list of recent U.S. blunders and disasters in Afghanistan has grown long and painful — the urinating on bodies of dead enemies, the killing of civilians “for sport,” the burning of Korans, the slaughter of 16 innocent villagers by one American soldier, the rise of green-on-blue violence

But the administration’s own claims been inconsistent.

Propublica collected claims by the administration about deaths from drone strikes in Pakistan and compared each one not to local reports but rather to other administration claims, analysis shows that the administration’s own figures quoted over the years raise questions about their credibility

There have been 307 American drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004, according to a New America Foundationcount. Just 44 occurred during the Bush administration. President Obama has greatly expanded the use of drones to attack suspected members of Al Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban, and other groups in Pakistan’s remote northwest region.

Obama officials generally do not comment by name on the drone strikes in Pakistan, but they frequently talk about it to reporters (including us) on condition of anonymity. Often those anonymously sourced comments have come in response to outside tallies of civilian deaths from drone attacks, which are generally much higher than the administration’s own figures.

* April 26, 2010 The Washington Post quotes an “internal CIA accounting” saying that “just over 20 civilians” have been killed by drones in Pakistan since January 2009.

* September 10, 2010 Newsweek quotes a government estimate that “about 30” civilians were killed since the beginning of 2008.

* April 22, 2011 McClatchy reports that U.S. officials claim “about 30” civilians died in the year between August 2009 and August 2010.

* Aug. 11, 2011 The New York Times reports that CIA officers claim zero civilians were killed since May 2010

* Aug. 12, 2011 CNN quoted a U.S. official saying there were 50 civilians killed over the years in drone strikes in Pakistan.

According to this set of claims more civilians died in just 44 strikes under Bush than did in 222 strikes under Obama.

* May 29, 2012 The New York Times reports that, according to a senior Obama administration official, the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan under president Obama is in the “single digits.”

A count by Bill Roggio, editor of the website the Long War Journal, which bases its estimates on news reports, puts the number of civilian killed in Pakistan at 138. The New America Foundation estimates that, based on press reports, between 293 and 471 civilians have been killed in the attacks. The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which draws on a wider array of sources including researchers and lawyers in Pakistan, puts the number of civilians killed at between 482 and 832. The authors of the various estimates all emphasize that their counts are imperfect.

The attacks are executed remotely in often inaccessible regions. And there’s the question of who U.S. officials are counting as civilians. A story last month in the New York Times reported that President Obama adopted a policy that “in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants.”

But we might not ever get to know what our government is doing in our name, unless brave whistleblowers, hackers, or leakers expose war crimes. Government censorship is on the rise — and not just in the countries you would expect, according to Google.

The search giant said that between July and December 2011, it received more than 1,000 requests from governments around the globe to remove content or turn over information about its users. It complied with over half those cases, which are detailed in its twice a year Global Transparency Report released on Sunday.

“Unfortunately, what we’ve seen over the past couple years has been troubling, and today is no different,” Dorothy Chou, a Google senior policy analyst, wrote in a blog post. “When we started releasing this data, in 2010, we noticed that government agencies from different countries would sometimes ask us to remove political content that our users had posted on our services. We hoped this was an aberration. But now we know it’s not.”

In the last half of 2011, Google said it received 467 court orders for the removal of more than 7,000 items. It complied with an average of 65 percent of those orders. It also received more than 561 informal requests to remove more than 4,979 items. It complied with 47 percent of those cases. These numbers do not reflect censorship in countries like Iran and China, which routinely censor content from Google without notifying the company.

Google said it was alarmed by the number of government requests to censor political speech, particularly from Western democracies like the United States, Spain and Poland. Google said it received a request from Canada’s passport-issuing agency to take down a YouTube video of one of its citizens urinating on his passport and flushing it down a toilet. (It did not.)

The company received more requests for user data from United States authorities than it did from any other country. The number of user removal requests from American authorities jumped 70 percent from the first to the second half of last year. Google received 6,321 requests to turn over information about users from American authorities, though that figure also includes requests from United States government on behalf of other governments with which it has diplomatic agreements. Its compliance rate in those cases — 93 percent — was higher than its compliance rate for any other country.

It said it did not comply in one case where a local law enforcement agency asked it to remove YouTube videos it said showed police brutality.

Airports in Canada are being wired with cameras and microphones to eavesdrop on travelers’ conversations, while the United Kingdom is proposing a mega-archive of citizens’ internet activity, phone calls, mail, and messaging.

Here in the U.S., the House Judiciary Committee committee on Tuesday reauthorized broad electronic eavesdropping powers that largely legalized the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. They voted 23-11 to reauthorize the FISA Amendments Act. The legislation, expiring at year’s end, authorizes the government to electronically eavesdrop on Americans’ phone calls and emails without a probable-cause warrant so long as one of the parties to the communication is outside the United States. The communications may be intercepted “to acquire foreign intelligence information.”

The surveillance experts at the National Security Agency won’t tell two civil libertarian United States Senators (Ron Wyden and Mark Udall) how many Americans have had their communications picked up by the agency as part of its sweeping new counterterrorism powers. The reason: it would violate your privacy to say so.

The query bounced around the intelligence bureaucracy until it reached Charles McCullough, the Inspector General of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the nominal head of the 16 U.S. spy agencies. In a letter acquired by WIRED’s Danger Room, McCullough told the senators that the NSA inspector general “and NSA leadership agreed that an IG review of the sort suggested would itself violate the privacy of U.S. persons,” McCullough wrote.

“All that Senator Udall and I are asking for is a ballpark estimate of how many Americans have been monitored under this law, and it is disappointing that the Inspectors General cannot provide it,” Wyden told Danger Room on Monday. “If no one will even estimate how many Americans have had their communications collected under this law then it is all the more important that Congress act to close the ‘back door searches’ loophole, to keep the government from searching for Americans’ phone calls and emails without a warrant.”

But even the UN, who has otherwise seemed like the heroes this week, will convene in Dubai for a summit to remake the Internet, and not necessarily for the better, with some nations offering up new proposals that could give the U.N. the ability to intervene in cybersecurity issues, Internet taxation and content filtering.

Online freedom advocates are calling such proposals “troubling,” at best, arguing that the Internet would not benefit from increased intervention from the U.N. agency in charge of the summit, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

“These proposals show that many ITU member states want to use international agreements to regulate the Internet by crowding out bottom-up institutions, imposing charges for international communication, and controlling the content that consumers can access online,” wrote Eli Dourado, a research fellow at theGeorge Mason University Mercatus Center, in a blog post on Technology Liberation Front on Friday.

The U.N. summit, called the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12), is being held to update a treaty the countries agreed to back in 1988, before the mass adoption of the commercial Internet, cable television and wireless networking.

And recent polling data suggests that gradual acceptance of the facts may not be the trend when it comes to the theory of evolution. In the 30 years since Gallup started asking people whether they believe humans evolved, evolved under the guidance of God, or were created fully formed by God, the percentage of people adhering to the creationist view has actually gone up slightly over time, and now stands at 46 percent of the population. This is just the tip of the iceberg of a growing problem of public rejection of science.

At the same time, there’s been a steady rise in people who believe that humanity evolved without any supernatural guidance, and now stands at 15 percent. What this seeming conflict suggests is that the issue is getting more polarized, as people feel they either have to pick Team Evolution or Team Creationism.

As Chris Mooney argues in his book The Republican Brain, political identity generally trumps sober-minded assessment of the facts when it comes to convincing people of an argument or idea. The theory of evolution isn’t being rejected on its merits by the people who don’t buy it. It really can’t be by someone who is honestly assessing the evidence.

According to a study published in American Sociological Review, since 1974, conservative trust in science has been in a free-fall, declining 25 percent. In 1974, conservatives were the most pro-science group, higher than liberals and moderates. Now they’re the least pro-science group of all, with liberals showing the most trust in science.

In the short period between 2010 and 2012, the percentage of conservatives who accept global warming declined from half of conservatives to only 30 percent of them. That doesn’t reflect any kind of major shift in the evidence or the arguments around global warming–the scientific consensus that warming is happening and human-made has only solidified in the past couple of decades–so much as the strengthened perception that conservatism and believing in global warming are mutually exclusive.

But global warming doesn’t have to be anti-capitalist! Evolution doesn’t have to be atheistic!

Participants who were told about climate action’s effects on interpersonal warmth or societal development were more likely to report pro-environmental intentions than those told about the health risks of climate inaction.

As PZ Myers argued, the poor public education in science means that a shrinking portion of the American public is going into careers in science. Americans from working class backgrounds who go into these careers are far more likely to use their education and career contacts to return to their communities and improve the economic and health conditions back home. But with these declining numbers of American scientists, that possibility is being shut down.

Polls and surveys, like this one from Pew or this one from the Center for American Progress, have helped paint a picture of the Millennials, Americans born between 1982 and 2000. They’re the most ethnically diverse generation in American history: just under 60% are white, a record low. They’re also one of the most politically progressive generations in decades: they voted for Barack Obama over John McCain by a 2-to-1 margin and opposed the Iraq war by 77% to 21%. They’re disinclined to prolong the culture wars: for the most part, they’re comfortable with gay marriage, immigration, racial and gender equality. They tend to marry later in life, to be highly educated,politically engaged and technologically savvy, and to place a high value on leisure and civic engagement. And most important of all for this post: they’re the least religious generation of Americans ever.

Millennials are also less likely to report that they pray daily, to regularly attend religious services, or to describe their religious commitment as “strong”. Just 40% of them say religion is “very important” in their lives, and only 27% believe the Bible is the literal word of a god, both record lows. And as Jerry Coyne points out, while most older generations’ belief in God has stayed steady throughout the course of their lives, the Millennials are apparently getting less religious as they get older, something that’s unprecedented in American history. As The Week says, “Only 67 percent of Americans under 30 say they ‘never doubt the existence of God.’ That’s down from 76 percent in 2009 and 83 percent in 2007 — a 15 percentage point drop in just five years.”

There are nearly 78 million Millennials, as opposed to just 76 million Boomers. By 2020, the Millennials will represent almost 40% of all American voters.

Will the globalizing (if not necessarily democratizing) spirituality of the internet bring about world peace? A “bottom-up” democracy inspired by a piracy culture that hates pop culture? A technological renaissance where the User is seen as the all-important voter, the reproductive organs of technology, and the progressive, critical-thinking SPAM filter for future generations?

There are some mighty imposing obstacles to overcome, and it’s not my place to speculate.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-06-23: Illegal Speculation by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

Olde Times are Goode Times

At the request and behest of our esteemed guest, who arrives just too late and right on, we exemplify how the olden times are the besten times, with music from the turn of the Swingin’ Century, slowly evolving as have our petty mindsets. Some political rations and weird subsidies later, you arrive in the Strangeland.

So stick around for the BONUS segment where fellow Revengerist Dr. Tasty reacts to the show and current events, and lo, the Earth mightily trembles.

PLAYLIST
In The Hall Of The Mountain King – Will Bradley-Ray McKinley Band
For Old Times’ Sake – Annette Hanshaw
Ragtime Regiment Band (1913) – Heidelberg Quintet with Billy Murray
Frog Legs Rag (1906) – James Scott
Original Rags (Piano Roll) – Scott Joplin
Hobomoko – John Philip Sousa Band
Pozzo – Frisco Jass Band
Dixie Jass Band One Step – The Original Dixieland Jazz Band
Alexander’s Ragtime Band – Ethel Merman, Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Sophie Tucker
Lady Is A Tramp – Sophie Tucker
Changes – Bing Crosby
Paul Whiteman – The Charleston
Everything Is Hotsy Totsy Now – The California Ramblers
Maple Leaf Rag – Bix Beiderbecke
Down South Camp Meeting – Fletcher Henderson
Night And Day – Django Reinhardt & Stéphane Grappelli
Making Whoopee – Eddie Cantor
Let’s Misbehave – Irene Bordoni
Anything Goes – Cole Porter
You Do Something to Me – Billy May & The Andrews Sisters
Canned Heat (1947) – Chet Atkins
Jolly Banker – Woody Guthrie
Old Blind Sow, She Stole the Middlins – John W. Summers
Death of J.B. Marcum – Asa Martin
I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive – Hank Williams, Sr.
I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town – Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five
Juke Box Boogie Woogie Chick – Snookum Russell
Jumpin At The Jubilee – Big Joe Turner
Finger poppin time – Hank Ballard & the Midnighters
The Stuf Is Here – Cleo Brown
Powerhouse – Spike Jones
Rhapsody In Blue – George Gershwin & Paul Whiteman
Frankie And Jonny – Gene Vincent
My Baby Don’t Love Me No More (1957) – Happy Wainwright & The VI-Counts
Red Hot – Billy Lee Riley
Rink-A-Din-Ki-Do – The Edsels
All Right, Baby – Janis Martin
I’m Getting Sentimental Over You – Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass
Runaway – Del Shannon

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-06-16: Olde Times are Goode Times by The Stranger on Mixcloud

Romney blurted out more of his anti-American anti-government anti-populist anti-worker conservative rhetoric. We already know that he “likes being able to fire people,” wants to privatize formerly public fields so that unregulated industries can sap the life from the Public, and now he’s also aiming at “firemen, policemen, and teachers.”

I’ll just say it. Mitt Romney is soft on crime. He’s anti-education, and pro-fire.

Indiscriminate privatization, and the greedy politics of unfettered selfishness, will bankrupt and destroy this economy, this country, and the American people.

All the more reason to believe that the GOP is doing this on purpose.

Be it ideology or stratagem, the GOP has blocked pro-growth policy and backed job-killing austerity – all while blaming Obama.

“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” -Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell

Republicans will do anything, including short-circuiting the economy, in order to hurt Obama politically.

Then again, it’s a hard accusation to prove: after all, one person’s economic sabotage is another person’s principled anti-government conservatism.

Republicans have opposed a lion’s share of stimulus measures that once they supported, such as a payroll tax break, unemployment insurance, bargaining against the interests of Americans (or holding their needed public services or national credit rating hostage) to keep tax cuts for the wealthy.

Republicans have made practically no effort to draft comprehensive job creation legislation. Instead, they continue to pursue austerity policies, which reams of historical data suggest harms economic recovery and does little to create jobs.

Meanwhile, a critical document from President Barack Obama’s free trade negotiations with eight Pacific nations was leaked online early Wednesday morning, revealing that the administration intends to bestow radical new political powers upon multinational corporations, contradicting prior promises.

The new leak follows substantial controversy surrounding the secrecy of the talks, in which some members of Congress have complained they are not being given the same access to trade documents that corporate officials receive.

The newly leaked document is one of the most controversial of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact. It addresses a broad sweep of regulations governing international investment and reveals the Obama administration’s advocacy for policies that environmental activists, financial reform advocates and labor unions have long rejected for eroding key protections currently in domestic laws.

But foreign corporations operating within the U.S. would be permitted to appeal key American legal or regulatory rulings to an international tribunal. That international tribunal would be granted the power to overrule American law and impose trade sanctions on the United States for failing to abide by its rulings.

China, of all places, has just released a report on the (lack of) human rights over the past year in the U.S.A. Are we living in an authoritarian society without knowing it? Via China Daily, and they would know!

Whatever the deep reasons for the (Occupy) movement are, the single fact that thousands of protesters were treated in a rude and violent way, with many of them being arrested – the act of willfully trampling on people’ s freedom of assembly, demonstration and speech – could provide a glimpse to the truth of the so-called US freedom and democracy.

While advocating press freedom, the United States in fact imposes fairly strict censoring and control over the press and “press freedom” is just a political tool used to beautify itself and attack other nations. The US Congress failed to pass laws on protecting rights of reporters’ news sources, according to media reports. While forcibly evacuating the Zuccotti Park, the original Occupy Wall Street encampment, the New York police blocked journalists from covering the police actions. They set cordon lines to prevent reporters from getting close to the park and closed airspace to make aerial photography impossible. In addition to using pepper spray against reporters, the police also arrested around 200 journalists, including reporters from NPR and the New York Times

Even the Russians now know our press (non)freedom is a joke:

“They just put handcuffs on me. I tried to tell him that I am a journalist. He pulled out my State Department accreditation and asked whether I have a New York police one. Unfortunately, that one expired,” explained journalist Kirill Belyaninov.

The reporter has been working in the US for the last three years.

“Whatever proof you have – they don’t really care. It’s just business, and your credentials can’t really protect you,” he said.

Sent through a whirlpool -like legal system, the seasoned journalist was treated as a protest participant under arrest. 24 hours behind bars, a quick trial, 600 dollars in fines were his punishment – for doing his job – covering the news of the day. And then there were the two days of community service and six months probation.

It’s just a matter of time before any non-corporate citizen journalist is automatically branded a terrorist. Though we now know that Americans Are as Likely to Be Killed by Their Own Furniture as by Terrorism!

Terrorist attacks killed 17 U.S. civilians last year and 15 the year before.

According to the report, the number of U.S. citizens who died in terrorist attacks increased by two between 2010 and 2011; overall, a comparable number of Americans are crushed to death by their televisions or furniture each year. This is not to diminish the real–albeit shrinking–threat of terrorism, or to minimize the loss and suffering of the 13,000 killed and over 45,000 injured around the world. For Americans, however, it should emphasize that an irrational fear of terrorism is both unwarranted and a poor basis for public policy decisions.

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

Also, enjoy this BONUS nugget of the Stranger in a Strange Land, guest starring the one-and-hopefully-only Dr. Tasty! The founding members of the Revengerists (Consortium of Stuff) are together again to discuss the minutiae of time distortion, powers, current events, robot apocalypse, world-ending cataclysms, crime-fighting, affinity groups like the Cacophony Society and other subversive underground organizations, and the 10 weirdest urban ecosystems on Earth.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-06-16: Revengerize with Dr. Tasty! by The Stranger on Mixcloud

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.

*******************************************

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