Wednesday, July 23, 2008

How to fight foreclosure on your home

Produce The Note “How-To”

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Produce the Note - Steps To Follow:

Using the “produce the note” strategy is something all homeowners facing foreclosure can do. If you believe you’ve been treated unfairly, fight back. We have created templates for a legal request, a letter to your lender and a motion to compel to help you through the process.

WHO OWNS THE NOTE?

Your goal is to make certain the institution suing you is, in fact, the owner of the note (see steps to follow below). There is only one original note for your mortgage that has your signature on it. This is the document that proves you owe the debt.

During the lending boom, most mortgages were flipped and sold to another lender or servicer or sliced up and sold to investors as securitized packages on Wall Street. In the rush to turn these over as fast as possible to make the most money, many of the new lenders did not get the proper paperwork to show they own the note and mortgage. This is the key to the produce the note strategy. Now, many lenders are moving to foreclose on homeowners, resulting in part from problems they created, and don’t have the proper paperwork to prove they have a right to foreclose.

THE HARM

If you don’t challenge your lender, the court will simply allow the foreclosure to proceed. It’s important to hold lenders accountable for their carelessness. This is the biggest asset in your life. It’s just a piece of paper to them, and one they likely either lost or destroyed.

When you get a copy of the foreclosure suit, many lenders now automatically include a count to re-establish the note. It often reads like this: “…the Mortgage note has either been lost or destroyed and the Plaintiff is unable to state the manner in which this occurred.” In other words, they are admitting they don’t have the note that proves they have a right to foreclose.

If the lender is allowed to proceed without that proof, there is a possibility another institution, which may have bought your note along the way, will also try to collect the same debt from you again.

A Tennessee borrower recently had precisely that happen to her. Her lender, Ameriquest, foreclosed on her in July of 2007. About three months later, another bank sent her a default notice for the mortgage on the house she just lost. She called to find out what was going on. After being transferred from place to place and left on hold for lengthy periods of time, no one could explain what happened. They said they would get back to her, but never did. Now, she faces the risk of having her credit continually damaged for a debt she no longer owes.

FIGHT FOR FAIRNESS

This process is not intended to help you get your house for free. The primary goal is to delay the foreclosure and put pressure on the lender to negotiate. Despite all the hype about lenders wanting to help homeowners avoid foreclosure, most borrowers know that’s not the reality.

Too many homeowners have experienced lender resistance to their efforts to work out a payment structure to keep them in their homes. Many lenders bear responsibility for these defaults, because they put borrowers into unfair loans using deceptive, hard-sell practices and then made the problem worse with predatory servicing.

Most homeowners just want these lenders to give them reasonable terms on their mortgages, many of which were predatory to begin with. With the help of judges who see through these predatory practices, lenders will feel the pressure to work with borrowers to keep them in their homes. Don’t forget lenders made incredible amounts of money by using irresponsible practices to issue and service these loans. That greed led to the foreclosure crisis we’re in today. Allowing lenders to continue foreclosing on home after home, destroying our neighborhoods and our economy hurts us all. So, make it hard for your lender to take your home. Make ‘em produce the note!

STEPS TO FOLLOW

A. If your lender has already filed suit to foreclose on your home:

  1. Use the first form. It’s a fill-in-the-blank legal request to your lender asking that the original note be produced, before it can proceed with the foreclosure. In some jurisdictions, the courts require the original request to be filed with the clerk of court and a copy of the request to be sent to the attorney representing the lender. To find out the rules where you live, call the Clerk of Court in your jurisdiction.
  2. If the lender’s attorney does not respond within 30 days, file a motion to compel with the court and request that the court set a hearing on your motion. That, in effect, asks the judge to order the lender to produce the documents.
  3. The judge will issue a ruling at your hearing. Many judges around the country are becoming more sympathetic to homeowners, because of the prevalence of predatory lending and servicing. In the past, many lenders have relied upon using lost note affidavits, but in many cases, that’s no longer enough to satisfy the judge. They are holding the lender to the letter of the law, requiring them to produce evidence that they are the true owners of the note. For example:
  • In October 2007, Ohio Federal Court Judge Christopher Boyko dismissed 14 foreclosure cases brought by investors, ruling they failed to prove they owned the properties they were trying to seize.

B. If you are in default, but your lender has not yet filed suit against you:

  1. Use the second form. It’s a fill-in-the-blank letter to your lender which also requests they produce the original note, before taking foreclosure action against you.
  2. If the lender does not respond and files suit against you to foreclose, follow the steps above.
UPDATE: CNN features The Consumer Warning Network and the “Produce The Note” strategy. Borrowers are putting this plan into action and getting results!

Consumer Warning Network Featured on CNN

THE LATEST: Borrower wins more time to fight foreclosure! At a court hearing Tuesday, a Pinellas County, Florida Judge denied Wachovia the right to proceed with its foreclosure against borrower Jacqueline O’Brien (profiled in the CNN story). Instead, O’Brien was granted a continuance, as she pursues the produce the note strategy. Wachovia expressed interest in renegotiating the terms of the loan, rather than continuing the court battle. We’ll keep you posted!

GM, Ford `On the Verge of Bankruptcy,' Altman Says

GM, Ford ‘On the Verge of Bankruptcy,' Altman Says

By Greg Miles and Caroline Salas

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General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co., the two biggest U.S. automakers, have about a 46 percent chance of default within five years, according to Edward Altman, a finance professor at New York University's Stern School of Business.

‘‘Both are in very serious shape and the markets reflect that,'' Altman, the creator of the Z-score mathematical formula that measures bankruptcy risk, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. The model shows that these companies are ‘‘on the verge of bankruptcy,'' he said.

The Z-scores for GM and Ford give both a bond rating equivalent to a CCC ranking, though GM is in slightly worse condition than Ford, Altman said. GM reported a $38.7 billion loss in 2007, the biggest in its 100-year history, and hasn't posted a profit since 2004. The scores are based on the companies' finances at the end of the first quarter.

Moody's Investors Service said July 15 it may cut GM's Caa1 senior unsecured debt rating because the Detroit-based automaker's plan to raise at least $15 billion by suspending its dividend, cutting management payroll by 20 percent and selling assets may not be enough to offset losses. Standard & Poor's also said in June it may lower GM's B rating. Altman said the plan to raise $15 billion may improve GM's outlook.

Ford, based in Dearborn, Michigan, is rated Caa1 by Moody's and B by S&P, which said in June that Ford's rating may also be cut.

Ability to Refinance

‘‘The thing that triggers a default in almost all cases is running out of cash and not being able to refinance,'' Altman said in an interview prior to his television appearance. ‘‘You're not going to go bankrupt as long as you can refinance short-term liabilities. You will go bankrupt if you can't.''

In 2005, Altman said GM had a 47 percent chance of default within five years.

GM Chief Executive Officer Rick Wagoner said in an interview July 15 that the company has the ability to raise cash, and he called bankruptcy ‘‘a bad idea.'' Ford has said it had access to $40.6 billion in funds as of March 31, including credit lines.

GM's $3 billion of 8.375 percent bonds due in 2033 rose 0.5 cent today to 58.5 cents, according to Trace, the bond-price reporting system of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. The debt yields 14.6 percent, or 994 basis points more than similar-maturity Treasuries. A basis point is 0.01 percentage point.

‘‘I would not put money with GM right now because the downside is so great relative to the upside, relative to the yield,'' said Altman, speaking in New York. ‘‘Your downside is probably 60 percent on the debt. The risk reward ratio is pretty poor.''

New Spying Law Quickly Challenged

New Spying Law Quickly Challenged

William Fisher

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Civil liberties advocates have lost no time in asking a federal court to stop the government from conducting surveillance under the new wiretapping law passed by Congress and signed by President George W. Bush last week.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and a coalition of other groups declared that the new law "gives the Bush administration virtually unchecked power to intercept Americans' international e-mails and telephone calls."

The ACLU coalition's legal challenge, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, seeks a court order declaring that the new law is unconstitutional and ordering its immediate and permanent halt.

ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero charged that the new law "not only legalises the secret warrantless surveillance programme the president approved in late 2001, it gives the government new spying powers, including the power to conduct dragnet surveillance of Americans' international communications."

He added, "Spying on Americans without warrants or judicial approval is an abuse of government power -- and that's exactly what this law allows. The ACLU will not sit by and let this evisceration of the Fourth Amendment go unchallenged."

The wiretapping issue became the centre of a storm of criticism after the New York Times revealed that, following the Sep. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, President Bush had secretly authorised the National Security Agency (NSA) to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens and others inside the country to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.

Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the intelligence agency monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the U.S. without warrants in an effort to track possible "dirty numbers" linked to al Qaeda, the officials said.

Criticism at the time came from a wide variety of civil libertarians, including Bob Barr, a former conservative Republican congressman from Georgia and currently the Libertarian Party candidate for president. He told IPS that in 2000, Gen. Michael Hayden, then head of the NSA and currently director of the Central Intelligence Agency, told a congressional hearing on wiretap targets, "If that American person is in the United States of America, I must have a court order before I initiate any collection against him or her."

Barr's advice was, "If the president doesn't like the law, the solution should be to amend, not violate it."

The Bush administration then called on Congress to pass amendments to the original Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which was enacted in 1978. The 2008 version emerged as the result of a "compromise" between Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate. Among its other provisions, the new law granted retroactive immunity to the telephone companies that had assisted the government in the warrantless wiretaps.

The surveillance legal challenge was filed on behalf of a coalition of attorneys and human rights, labour, legal and media organisations whose ability to perform their work -- which relies on confidential communications -- will be greatly compromised by the new law, the ACLU said.

The FISA Amendments Act of 2008 declares that "Electronic surveillance must be conducted in a constitutional manner that affords the greatest possible protection for individual privacy and free speech rights." But the ACLU and its coalition claims the new wiretapping law "fails to provide fundamental safeguards that the Constitution unambiguously requires."

Plaintiffs in the suit include The Nation magazine and two of its contributing journalists, Naomi Klein and Chris Hedges; Amnesty International USA; Global Rights; Global Fund for Women; Human Rights Watch; PEN American Centre; Service Employees International Union; the Washington Office on Latin America; the International Criminal Defence Attorneys Association; and several individual defence attorneys and journalists.

In its legal challenge, the coalition argues that "The new spying law violates Americans' rights to free speech and privacy under the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution. The new law permits the government to conduct intrusive surveillance without ever telling a court who it intends to spy on, what phone lines and email addresses it intends to monitor, where its surveillance targets are located, why it's conducting the surveillance or whether it suspects any party to the communication of wrongdoing."

Nation magazine writer Naomi Klein said that "As a journalist, my job requires communication with people in all parts of the world -- from Iraq to Argentina. If the U.S. government is given unchecked surveillance power to monitor reporters' confidential sources, my ability to do this work will be seriously compromised."

She added, "I cannot in good conscience accept that my conversations with people who live outside the U.S. will put them in harm's way as a result of overzealous government spying. Privacy in my communications is not simply an expectation, it's a right." Human Rights Watch programme director Iain Levine said the new legislation "will allow mass government interception of electronic communications, so long as the target is overseas, without meaningful judicial oversight or warrant identifying who or what is to be subject to surveillance."

"In the course of our work reporting on and defending human rights, we regularly need to be in contact with activists and human rights victims all over the world," he said. "Knowing that the U.S. government could be monitoring our calls and emails often inhibits our efforts, and causes us to take expensive and delaying measures to keep our communications secure."

Internet privacy under the new law continues to be a concern to civil libertarians. For example, the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has filed a number of Freedom of Information Act requests with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other U.S. Justice Department offices, seeking the release of documents it says will reveal whether the government has been using the USA Patriot Act to spy on Internet users to collect secret information about their Internet habits without a search warrant.

Kevin Bankston, an EFF attorney, told IPS, "Although Internet users reasonably expect that their online reading habits are private, the department of Justice will not confirm whether it collects or believes itself authorised to collect URLs using pen-trap devices."

Pen-traps collect information about the numbers dialed on a telephone but do not record the actual content of phone conversations. Because of this limitation, court orders authorising pen-trap surveillance are easy to get; instead of having to show probable cause, the government need only certify relevance to its investigation. The government is not required to inform people that they are or were the subjects of pen-trap surveillance.

War crime suit filed against Israelis

War crime suit filed against Israelis

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A Palestinian human rights group has brought war crime charges against former high ranking Israeli officials in a Spanish court.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) filed lawsuit in the National Criminal Court of Spain against the Israeli officials who authorized the al-Daraj bloodshed.

The list includes former Israel's war minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, his former military advisor Michael Herzog, former chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon, and former air force commander Dan Halutz, Ma'an News Agency reported on Tuesday.

The National Criminal Court of Spain has agreed to consider the case for further examination that may lead to a formal prosecution. Those charged would then be arrested upon entering the Spanish territory if the case is won by the Palestinians, the news agency added.

The Spanish court is not alone in hearing a case against the Israeli war criminals; the courts of Britain, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and New Zealand had all previously accepted cases against the Israeli military.

In an attempt to assassinate one of the Fatah leaders, Salah Shehadeh, an Israeli fighter jet dropped a one-ton bomb over the Gaza neighborhood of al-Daraj on July 22, 2002. The bombing left fifteen Palestinians dead, including eight children and three women; more than one hundred and fifty others were also wounded in the attack.

The al-Daraj bombing provoked international condemnation for being too much disproportionate. The mishap caused more outcry as the Israeli military claims that it can target and assassinate individuals with nearly pinpoint accuracy.

The PCHR spokesman said on Tuesday that the group is waiting to see that justice and moral compensation will come to the victims and the perpetrators of such a hideous crime will face the bitter consequence of their act.

Why They Want To Attack Iran

Why They Want To Attack Iran

By Ed Kinane

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These days we’re on needles and pins. We keep our fingers crossed. We hope the US won’t attack Iran. There are good reasons to believe it won’t. Elsewhere I’ve argued the folly of doing so.

Cheney and Bush, no doubt, have heard such reasons and yet still itch to attack. They’ve got the aircraft carriers and Cruise missiles in place. They keep poking Iran hoping to get an overreaction. They keep saber-rattling.

Why, we all wonder, would they replay the same -- or even greater – debacle as in Iraq? Many readers may be too humane to fathom what goes on in those men’s minds. Sociopaths are hard to understand. Nonetheless we must try.

Who knows? Part of Cheney and Bush’s crusade may be theological. Isn’t it god-like to unleash the Predators? Isn’t it god-like to threaten and surge, kill and explode? Islamic Iraq and Islamic Afghanistan may seem to those men like latter-day Sodoms and Gomorrahs. Having smote them, let Islamic Iran be next.

Besides, having failed to force Iraq and Afghanistan to submit, they may well crave another chance. They certainly seek to shore up their faltered administration. They’ve seen how a new war distracts from scandals in high places. And how it distracts from policy disasters, both domestic and international. A new war puffs up otherwise plummeting presidential and vice presidential polls. Our cowed and co-opted Congress rolls over during war. War pumps up executive power.

But for much of the power structure backing Cheney and Bush, it’s economics that rule. The anti-Iran orchestra has all the might and momentum of the Imperium. The US – with its proxies and puppets, its air, land and sea forces, its Delta and Special forces -- now occupies not only Iraq but much of the Middle East.

The threatened attack is bigger than Cheney and Bush. The US is engaged in a bi-partisan, multi-administration, region-wide resource war. The US oiligarchy covets the region’s (including Iran’s) vast energy reserves. [See Michael T. Klare’s, “Blood and Oil” (2004)]. Reinforcing that imperial thieving are other, subsidiary greeds, other hungers for power.

Demonizing Iran is an old trick. It does what demonizing the Soviet Union did decades ago: it pumps up the jingo mindset. It pumps up military budgets. Military spending draws down domestic spending – a key right-wing agenda.

Attacking Iran keeps the pot boiling. It perpetuates the phony war on terror. More war provides more enemies and so more pretext to erode civil liberties. Unscrupulous politicians and certain corporations thrive when fear keeps people dumb and dazed. With another invasion the Halliburtons and Blackwaters get to lap up more contracts.

Realpolitik demands we crush our rivals. Despite its intense resistance, militarily Iraq is broken – in the Middle East that just leaves Iran. Going after Iran would further align our power structure to Israel’s military machine and to its allies here in the US. Neutralizing Iran would further strangle those pesky Palestinians.

But note: it’s delusory to think that attacking Iran will just be a spasm of quick, “surgical” air strikes. Wars morph; violence bounces. Violating Iran will generate enormous blowback, both in the region and here in the US. This country will polarize. Widespread dissent or “terrorist” retaliation – contrived or otherwise -- might lead to martial law.

Surely the think tankers have explored the martial law card and have worked out every last detail of implementation. The plans are right there on the shelf. Martial law could provide the pretext for postponing the November election. Far fetched? Does the gang in Washington act as if it’s ready to bow out? Can it really allow subpoena power and indictment power to fall into unfriendly hands?

Now, if elections do go forward and we’re bogged down with Iran, McCain -- marketed as the tough, commander-in-chief type – will be more likely to win this otherwise uphill vote. But even if Obama wins, at least his White House years might be hamstrung cleaning up one vast mess. An Iran war begun before either the election or inauguration would, conveniently, derail any partisan domestic agenda he and a Democrat-controlled Congress may have.

***

If you’ve read this far, go with me a little further. Consider this back room scenario. Sometime late this summer Cheney and Bush’s people offer the Obama camp a deal: “Have your new attorney general drop any Iraq war crime charges and we won’t drop the bombs...”

How Scores of Black Men Were Tortured Into Giving False Confessions by Chicago Police

How Scores of Black Men Were Tortured Into Giving False Confessions by Chicago Police

By Jessica Pupovac

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Michael Tillman was 20, with a 3-year-old daughter and an infant son, when he was brought into the Area 2 police station on Chicago's South Side for questioning. His mother, Jean Tillman, says that although he had gotten into some trouble with the law as a youngster, he had been on the straight-and-narrow, working as a janitor and paying his bills, since he and his girlfriend had their first child. That was July 22, 1986.

He hasn't been home since.

Tillman is one of at least 24 African-American men that the People's Law Office in Chicago claims are still serving sentences for crimes they say they confessed to only after enduring hours of torture at the hands of Chicago police officers under Commander Jon Burge between 1972 and 1992. Although 10 of Burge's victims have been pardoned or given new trials after their illegally obtained confessions were exposed, the vast majority of the 100-plus cases have yet to be reviewed by the state of Illinois. Those men have either served out their sentences, died in custody or, like Tillman, continue to live their lives behind bars, hoping that one day they will have a fair trial.

According to Tillman's 1986 trial testimony, when he arrived at the Area 2 police station in the predawn hours of July 21, 1986, Detectives Ronald Boffo and Peter Dignan took him to a second-floor interrogation room and pressed him for information about the murder of 42-year-old Betty Howard, whose body was found the day prior in the apartment building Tillman oversaw. When he told the detectives that he knew nothing about the murder, he says that Boffo and Dignan, along with three other officers, became abusive. Without ever reading him his Miranda rights, he says they handcuffed him to the wall, hit him in the face and punched him in the stomach until he vomited blood. During the course of what appeared to be three days, rotating pairs of officers brought him to the railroad tracks behind the station and held a gun to his head, suffocated him repeatedly with thick plastic bags, poured soda up his nose and forced him into Dumpsters outside of the apartment building, ordering him to search through the rubbish for a murder weapon until, according to Detective John Yucaitis, Tillman confessed to the crime.

According to Tillman's mother, she, her husband and an attorney they called for counsel were all denied access to her son during his three days of interrogation.

A Brutal Crime and a Corrupt Investigation

According to the police investigation, Howard and her 2-year-old son were on their way to meet relatives for a birthday celebration when they were forced into a vacant apartment on the seventh floor of the South Side building. The boy was locked in the bathroom while his mother was bound to a radiator, raped, stabbed and killed with one bullet to the head. Her car and other valuables were stolen. Her son was found days later by detectives. He was still in the bathroom.

Three weeks after Tillman's arrest, police found two men driving Howard's stolen car, with the knife used to stab her still in the vehicle. Those men led the officers to 27-year-old Clarence Trotter, who had Howard's camera and stereo in his apartment. His fingerprints were found on a soda can at the murder scene, and evidence linked him to the gun used in her murder.

Police found no physical evidence tying Tillman to the scene, or to Trotter. Years later, in 1999, Trotter wrote a letter to People's Law Office attorney Flint Taylor. While he did not admit guilt in that letter, he did write that Tillman was "beat … into confessing a crime (he) did not commit."

Tillman's mother says that, given the evidence found linking Trotter to the crime, and the lack of physical evidence implicating her son, she thought for sure the judge would let him go. "We thought he was going to get out," she said. "Even his lawyer said that would probably happen. … But it wasn't that way."

Michael Tillman's lawyer presented physical evidence of abuse in court, including the blue jeans that Tillman wore during his interrogation, which hadn't been washed since and were still stained with blood. He also showed scars on his wrists from where the handcuffs pulled while he was being beaten. Despite this, and despite the fact that there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime scene, the jury did not believe him. On Dec. 18, 1986, Michael Tillman was found guilty of murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault, and aggravated kidnapping. He was sentenced to life in prison. The Chicago Tribune wrote the next day that "Tillman, 20, put his hand over his face and shook his head when he was found guilty."

Weeks later, after Tillman's case file was sealed, Trotter was also given a life sentence in a separate trial.

Tillman appealed the decision in 1999 and lost. The judge wrote in his decision that "a nexus was never established between defendant and either Trotter or the two individuals apprehended in possession of the victim's car." He also wrote that, even though the corroborating evidence may only be circumstantial, it "need only tend to confirm and inspire belief in the confession." "The accused's identity need not be corroborated by evidence apart from his own extrajudicial statements," he wrote. "(His) self-described involvement to police is sufficient to establish his participation in the victim's attack."

His mother says that they had a series of public defenders and lawyers they couldn't afford, and that he no longer has legal representation.

A Conspiracy of Silence

Tillman's story is not unique, nor is it particularly shocking.

By 1999, it was "common knowledge," according to U.S. District Judge Milton Shadur, "that in the early to mid-1980s, (Jon Burge) and many officers working under him regularly engaged in the physical abuse and torture of prisoners to extract confessions. Both internal police accounts and numerous lawsuits and appeals brought by suspects alleging such abuse substantiate that those beatings and other means of torture occurred as an established practice, not just on an isolated basis."

The massive scandal began to unravel in 1989, when convicted cop killer Andrew Wilson launched a very public federal civil rights suit against the Chicago Police Department. Seven years before, Wilson had been beaten, shocked in the testicles and burned on the face, chest and thigh by Area 2 detectives working under Burge. What caught the eye of Chief Medical Examiner of Cermak Medical Services John Raba, however, were the small markings on his ears that he couldn't explain away. Wilson told him the markings were from alligator clips used to electrocute him, and Raba believed him. He notified then-Superintendent of Police Richard Brzeczek, who wrote a letter to then-State's Attorney Richard M. Daley, "seeking direction" on how to proceed. Daley, who is now Chicago's mayor, never responded.

Wilson was later granted a new trial and sentenced to natural life, without his illegally obtained confession. His case, however, set off a chain of events that would eventually expose the widespread, systematic use of torture within certain South Side units of the Chicago Police Department.

In 1990, a CPD Office of Professional Standards investigation, prompted by Wilson's story and the physical evidence backing it up, found that abuse at Areas 2 and 3 "was not limited to the usual beatings, but went into such esoteric areas as psychological techniques and planned torture." "Particular command members were aware of the systematic abuse and perpetuated it, either by actively participating in some or failing to take any action to bring it to an end," the report concluded. Subsequent OPS investigations found Detectives John Byrne, Peter Dignan and John Yucaitis, all involved in Michael Tillman's interrogation, to be "players" repeatedly named as abusers in Area 2 and 3 torture allegations.

During Wilson's civil trial, his attorneys at the People's Law Office began receiving anonymous letters tipping them off to other victims of police torture. Eventually, PLO lawyers compiled testimony in 107 Burge-connected torture cases, Tillman's among them.

Nevertheless, almost 20 years later, not a single police officer has been made to face charges in the massive scandal. They were all let off the hook, first by a succession of judges and legal professionals who looked the other way, and later by a statute of limitations that expired before the Illinois state attorney considered filing charges. According to Taylor, there is no state or federal law criminalizing torture by law enforcement officers. While possible offenses for torture can include attempted murder, aggravated battery, battery, assault, assault with a dangerous weapon or hate crimes, the statute on these crimes is generally five years for federal prosecution and three years in the state of Illinois.

In fact, the only officer who has thus far suffered any consequence for his actions has been Burge himself -- and his could hardly be called punishment. In 1993, the Police Board removed him from his command and forced him into early retirement. He currently lives in Apollo Beach, Fla., on a $3,400-a-month pension, where he is known to enjoy rides on his boat, the Vigilante. Other officers involved have since advanced in the ranks, as have the assistant state's attorneys who prosecuted the cases, at times burying or ignoring clear evidence of how the confessions were obtained.

Many of the co-conspirators who helped conceal the abuse are today Chicago's political elite. They include prominent Cook County and Illinois Appellate Court judges (including one of the prosecutors in Tillman's case), Illinois State's Attorney Richard Devine and Mayor Richard M. Daley, who was the state's attorney when many of the cases were tried and would have been responsible for bringing official charges against the abusive officers, but chose instead to look the other way. Devine was Daley's first assistant when he served as a "tough-on-crime" state's attorney from 1980 to 1989, a period that saw 55 allegations of confessions elicited through torture. He later went into private practice (before assuming his current role of state's attorney), where he was paid more than $1 million by the City of Chicago for defending Burge and the other officers involved in Wilson's civil suit. He then represented Burge in proceedings before the Police Board. Later, as state's attorney of Cook County, Devine discouraged investigations of Area 2 torture and continued to uphold confessions obtained by that means. Because of this conflict of interest, in 2002, at the request of a coalition of civil rights attorneys and activists, Circuit Judge Paul Biebel transferred jurisdiction over all torture-related cases to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. They have sat idle on her desk ever since.

The 10 cases that have been resolved have been done in spite of, rather than with the help of, Madigan or Devine.

Gov. George Ryan: "The Category of Horrors Was Hard to Believe"

In 2003, after years of campaigning by Chicago-area police accountability activists, then-Gov. George Ryan pardoned four Burge victims -- Madison Hobley, Aaron Patterson, Stanley Howard and Leroy Orange -- who at the time were on death row. "The category of horrors was hard to believe," Ryan said. "If I hadn't reviewed the cases myself, I wouldn't believe it. We have evidence from four men, who did not know each other, all getting beaten and tortured and convicted on the basis of the confessions they allegedly provided. They are perfect examples of what is so terribly broken about our system."

Because of the mounting criticism of the Cook County justice system, because the four men were on death row, and because their attorneys had filed for clemency, Hobley, Patterson, Howard and Orange were pardoned. But dozens of others stayed behind, out of the limelight. "These weren't death penalty cases, so they're not nearly as sexy," explained attorney Scott Schutte, who recently represented another Burge torture victim, James Andrews, in a civil suit. "These are run-of-the-mill homicides."

Andrews is one of the few additional torture victims granted new trials or evidentiary hearings. Schutte filed a post-conviction petition in Andrews' case last year, claiming that new evidence had arisen in his case. In October, Cook County Circuit Judge Thomas Sumner vacated his 1984 conviction and in February of this year, the attorney general's office declined to file new charges. His case, then, became the first to be thrown out in Cook County on the basis of torture. Andrews was set free, after spending 24 years in jail for a murder he insisted he didn't commit. "All along, he knew he was going to ultimately prevail," said Schutte.

However, he added that while the attorney general's office did not prohibit Andrews from going free, it didn't help. The attorney general requested bail, which Sumner set at $300,000. "In the larger scheme of things, it's inconsequential," said Schutte. "But the family had to ... bail him out. They cashed out 401(k)s, savings, everything. They did everything they could collectively."

Only one other Burge-related case has moved on the basis of torture and still awaits conclusion: that of Cortez Brown, who has been in jail since 1990. Earlier this year, an appeals court ordered evidentiary hearing in his case after reconsidering his torture allegations. In all, of the 100-plus identified victims of police torture in Chicago, few have been acknowledged and dealt with accordingly. According to Julien Ball of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, that's because of a lack of "political will" in Chicago to try these cases. "We have people at the highest levels of public office who have built their careers on torture," said Ball. "The state of Illinois doesn't care about you if you're black and you're poor. That's what these cases show."

Joey Mogul, an attorney with the People's Law Office, says some of the lawyers are also to blame. "I think it's an accumulation of racism and classism, as well as a massive cover-up that has led many people to not get fair hearings," she said. "Their lawyers didn't believe them and didn't even request hearings."

Schutte took on Andrews' case pro bono, but Tillman hasn't been so lucky. He currently lacks representation, and despite two appeals, remains in jail for life. "It's just pretty outrageous because all of the physical evidence points to someone else," said Catherine Crawford, a Northwestern University professor and attorney who was on a team of lawyers representing Leroy Orange and has researched Tillman's case and attempted to find him legal counsel. "But they had gotten a confession out of him before they found the stolen car. I think it's just one of those situations where the police said, 'Well, we don't want to throw out this confession so we're just going to pursue this case based on our original theory.'"

Robyn Ziegler, spokesperson for the attorney general's office, told AlterNet that all Burge-related cases are "in various stages of the post-conviction process," and that, "Ethically, the attorney general is obligated to handle each case individually based on the facts and history of the case. No two cases are the same."

But advocates for victims of police torture contend that it shouldn't matter. "In each case, the same thing needs to happen," said Ball. "Madigan needs to order evidentiary hearings so torture victims can present evidence of torture on the way to winning new trials. Regardless of the differences in individual cases, every single torture victim deserves a new trial where 'confessions' that were electroshocked, beaten and suffocated out of them are not used against them." Zeigler claimed that the attorney general does not have the authority or power to initiate new hearings.

But on July 10, 2007, the Cook County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution urging Madigan to do just that.

On July 18 of this year, members of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, lawyers from the People's Law Office, religious and community leaders and relatives of the wrongfully imprisoned rallied in front of Madigan's office.

"Every day Lisa Madigan sits and does nothing is a day she is furthering a cover-up," said Marlene Martin, national director of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty. "We're here to ask her to have guts."

The group, which had been there twice already this year, delivered a letter with more than 400 signatures from organizations, religious institutions and concerned citizens, asking Madigan to take action on the cases of the Burge victims who remain behind bars. They are also seeking reparations, in the form of psychological treatment and financial compensation, particularly since the vast majority of the Burge victims and their families have little if any financial resources to assist them in their legal battles and recovery process.

Michael Tillman is currently being held at Menard Correctional Center in southern Illinois, about a six-hour drive from Chicago. His mother, Jean, says she used to go down and visit him twice a month, but "with gas prices the way it is, I haven't been able to get down there." Since Tillman went to jail 24 years ago, his girlfriend, Princess, left Chicago with their two children and stopped keeping in touch with the family. "After all of this happened we stayed together for a while and then we all separated," she said. "I can't tell you why." She says the kids, who are grown now, haven't been to visit him for "about ten years."

"He's missed out on everything -- his kids, his family, just life," she said. "He was just snatched away from us. It's a dreadful experience to go through."

Jessica Pupovac is an adult educator and independent journalist living in Chicago.

Protecting McCain; Pounding Obama

Protecting McCain; Pounding Obama

By Brent Budowsky

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Editor's Note: Two hot-button issues are emerging in the U.S. presidential race: first, the powerful new conventional wisdom that George W. Bush's "surge" has been a great success, and second, the alleged favoritism of the press corps toward Barack Obama.

These two dynamics have combined with this result: major U.S. news personalities (determined to show they're not in the tank for Obama) are pounding their supposed favorite with endless demands that he accept the pro-Bush conventional wisdom about the "surge." Meanwhile, they go easy on John McCain.

This press behavior is producing a variety of odd results, as former Democratic congressional aide Brent Budowsky observes in this guest essay:

This is a defamation; this is a slander; this is a lie. McCain should apologize to Obama.

This is the latest in a long list of cheap-shot, low-blow politics. McCain has learned nothing about why the American people are rejecting the Republicans and why the Republican brand has been compared to the appeal of defective dog food.

On Wednesday morning, right-wing former congressman Joe Scarborough essentially said that Keith Olbermann is "too stupid to be on television."

Here is the story, which is much more important than the rantings of former right-wing politicians who become cable television politicians.

The soon-to-be-fired, low-ratings CBS anchor Katie Couric did interviews Tuesday night with both McCain and Obama.

In the McCain interview, the candidate who makes a growing list of factual errors wrongly said the Sunni Awakening was a result of the surge. He referred to a conversation between Sunnis and then-Col. (now Gen.) McFarlane that he falsely claimed resulted from the surge.

Problem is, the conversation McCain quoted happened long before the surge.

The Sunni Awakening happened many months before the surge. In fact, Sunni leaders approached the U.S. military more than a year before the surge, but were rebuffed.

In short, the Sunni Awakening happened well before the surge, had zero to do with the surge, and McCain had his facts (again) completely wrong.

Enter Ms. Couric, who used the McCain interview on the evening news, but edited out the McCain misstatement. Enter Olbermann, who did what is far too rare in cable political news: real reporting. He pointed out and documented the latest McCain mistake.

Of course, this was too much for Scarborough, who foamed at the mouth, did not intelligently discuss the McCain misstatement or the Couric protection of McCain when she kept his mistake out of the broadcast.

No, Scarborough said that the issue had been raised by others on MSNBC, and that anyone who raised it (referring to Olbermann) is too stupid to be on television (his phrase).

Mika Brzezinski, who knows better, made a face but said nothing.

Harold Ford, the voice of the Democratic Leadership Council, who never met a camera he didn't like, simply smiled his television smile and smoothly agreed with Scarborough's cheap shot at Olbermann. Ford then, as ever, referred to how close to Obama he wants to appear. (With friends like these …)

For now, two points:

First, McCain repeatedly lowers the quality of discourse in American politics. The man who ran in 2000 has disappeared; the face of Bush 44 has taken his place with these Rove-like low blows. It is McCain who has always been the fair-haired boy of the press.

Second, John McCain has made a long series of substantial factual errors that will become a major issue. Whether the problem is age or sloppiness, partisanship or tiredness, on issue after issue McCain says things that are factually incorrect.

Couric protected McCain by editing out his latest and very substantial factual error, gaffe, falsehood or mistake (call it what you will). Scarborough works to protect McCain by demeaning Olbermann, the messenger, who should be praised for doing real reporting (heaven forbid).

McCain's Rove-like attacks – and his serious and repeated factual errors on major issues – should be major topics in the election and staying silent about them does our political discourse no good.

Brent Budowsky was an aide to Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and to Rep. Bill Alexander, then the chief deputy whip of the House. A contributing editor to Fighting Dems News Service, he can be read on The Hill newspaper where this essay first appeared. He can be reached at brentbbi@webtv.net.

Faith-Based Currency by Ron Paul

Faith-Based Currency

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The Latin term “fiat” roughly translates to “there shall be”. When we refer to fiat money, we are referring to money that exists because the government declares it into existence. It is not based on production or earnings, and not backed by any commodity. It is solely based on trusting the government. Fiat money is exchanged in the economy as long as there is faith in the government that issues it.

Some are blaming the recent shakeup in the markets to “whining” or financial fear-mongering, which misses the whole point. History has shown that fiat money, or “faith-based currency” always fails, because when governments claim this power, they always behave irresponsibly.

When government has the ability to create and spend all the money it wants, priorities shift, and the concept of budgeting, as most Americans know it, loses all meaning. Hand a teenager a credit card, and tell him there is no limit and no accountability for what he spends, and the effect would be the same. You see, this problem is not unique to our government. It is a predictable outcome based on human nature, and we’ve seen variations of what we are experiencing now happen over and over throughout history. I didn’t have a crystal ball or a fortune teller when I predicted this 3, 7, or even 30 years ago. Actions have logical consequences. The government becomes the reckless teenager with the credit card, and in the end, the taxpaying citizens get the bill. What happens after that is never pretty.

This is why our founding fathers considered, but decidedly rejected the creation of a national central bank. They understood that governments, even the best of governments, cannot control spending. Even the current administration, which promised strict fiscal responsibility, has had to increase the national debt limit by 65 percent to keep up with its spending sprees. Every dollar created and spent by government makes the dollars in your pocket worth less and less. Eventually any currency controlled by government will be debased to worthlessness, and will wipe out the savings of the citizens who put faith in that currency.

Hard currencies, on the other hand, force governments to remain in check, strictly limited to the revenues they can raise from the country’s economic health. This is also an incentive for government to stay out of the way of productivity. The hyper-regulation in today’s economy demonstrates that this is no longer the case. What does it matter if the economy is crippled and the tax-base eroded, if government can create whatever dollars they need to keep the special interests happy?

We have been building economic castles on the sand, and the tide is coming in. The answer is not to bring in more sand, but to move to more solid foundation.

So yes, it is true that many are complaining about our economic trouble, but our economic trouble is not caused by their complaining. Many are being forced to wake up to the predictable troubles associated with faith-based currency. As more people notice the hardships, more will lose faith.

We are long overdue for a course correction and I can only hope that this awakening translates to a solid approach to currency reform.

There’s More to the Economy Than Taxes

There’s More to the Economy Than Taxes

Cost of Loan Bailout, if Needed, Could Be $25 Billion

Cost of Loan Bailout, if Needed, Could Be $25 Billion

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The proposed government rescue of the nation’s two mortgage finance giants will appear on the federal budget as a $25 billion cost to taxpayers, the independent Congressional Budget Office said on Tuesday even though officials conceded that there was no way of really knowing what, if anything, a bailout would cost.

The budget office said there was a better than even chance that the rescue package would not be needed before the end of 2009 and would not cost taxpayers any money. But the office also estimated a 5 percent chance that the mortgage companies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, could lose $100 billion, which would cost taxpayers far more than $25 billion.

The House is expected to act this week on housing legislation that includes the proposed rescue plan. Legislative language has not been finalized, but the Congressional Budget Office said its estimates were based on the plan by the Treasury Department and that it did not expect significant changes in the final bill.

According to the estimate, which was delivered in the form of a letter to the House Budget Committee chairman, Representative John M. Spratt Jr., Democrat of South Carolina, the director of the budget office, Peter R. Orszag, predicted that “a significant chance, probably better than 50 percent, that the proposed new Treasury authority would not be used before it expired at the end of December 2009.”

Mr. Orszag, at a briefing with reporters, acknowledged that pinpointing the eventual cost of the package was impossible. “There is very significant uncertainty involved here,” he said.

The uncertainty runs in both directions, with some government officials and market analysts suggesting that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are fundamentally sound and will perform well over the long-term. Others, including some private equity managers, are pessimistic and predict heavy losses.

The rescue plan, put forward last week by the Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr., would allow the Treasury Department to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to shore up the mortgage companies should they be at risk of collapse, either by extending credit or by purchasing equity in the companies, which are publicly traded.

Mr. Orszag said that the analysis by his office did not distinguish between the different forms of aid that might be offered — a credit line or a stock purchase — and that the analysis showed no short-term potential financial benefit for taxpayers even if Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac perform well.

But he said the analysis found substantial risk for taxpayers if the companies had steep losses and would not say if his office had analyzed the implications of a full government takeover of the companies.

How much the government will end up spending on a rescue, if one is needed, would depend on many factors, he said, including sentiment on Wall Street. “A key question becomes how does the market view the entities?” he said.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are commonly referred to as government-sponsored entities, because of the long implicit guarantee that the federal government would step in to save them if they were ever in danger of collapse.

One thing that is certain as a result of the rescue proposal is that the guarantee of government aid is now much more explicit, and Mr. Orszag said that the government’s assurance that it would not let the companies fail would have to be included in any analysis of their long-term financial prospects.

Most immediately, the $25 billion cost estimate provides a precise amount that Congress will have to offset with spending cuts or tax increases if lawmakers intend to comply with “pay as you go” budget rules in the House. Lawmakers could also decide that the $25 billion should be viewed as emergency spending and simply added to the national debt.

There was little immediate reaction to the projections on Capitol Hill as lawmakers and staff members reviewed the complicated calculations and the various assumptions they were based on.

Mr. Spratt, the chairman of the Budget Committee, issued a statement praising the Congressional Budget Office for moving quickly to produce its analysis. “Estimating the fiscal impact of this proposal is complex and involves considerable uncertainty,” Mr. Spratt said. “And not everyone will necessarily agree with every aspect of C.B.O.’s analysis.”

But he added: “C.B.O. is performing its important institutional role by providing in a timely manner its best professional and independent assessment.”

The analysis by the Congressional Budget Office also offered a sobering assessment of the mortgage giants based on several different metrics.

Under generally accepted accounting principles, Mr. Orszag said that the net worth of the mortgage giants at the end of the first quarter of 2008 was about $55 billion. He also said that the companies held more than $80 billion in capital at the end of March and for regulatory purposes were considered to be "adequately capitalized" by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But on a fair value basis, the value of the mortgage companies’ assets exceeded their liabilities at the end of March by just $7 billion, a thin cushion considering liabilities at the time of $1.6 trillion, and an indication of why there have been numerous calls for the companies to raise additional capital. Mr. Orszag also noted that on July 11, before the Bush administration proposed its rescue plan, the total value of shares in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had fallen to a low of $11 billion. Shares in the companies are now worth about $20 billion.

The House is expected to vote on the larger package of housing legislation, including the rescue plan for the mortgage companies, as early as Wednesday, and the Senate is expected to quickly follow and send the bill to President Bush.

Among the issues that lawmakers have been debating is whether to exempt from the federal debt limit any expenditure that the Treasury Department makes on behalf of the mortgage companies. The current debt limit is $9.815 trillion and outstanding federal debt is roughly $9.5 trillion, leaving a cushion of $310 billion.

Congressional Democrats have expressed opposition to exempting the rescue plan from the debt limit, saying administration officials should come back to Congress for emergency authorization if additional spending is needed. Officials said it was probable that a compromise would be reached and the debt limit would still apply.

The housing legislation also includes the creation of a regulator for the mortgage companies, an agency apart from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees the mortgage giants.

Some critics have questioned whether the new regulator would have sufficient authority to swiftly increase capital requirements — the amount of cash that the mortgage companies need to maintain to protect against losses.

In his letter to Mr. Spratt, Mr. Orszag suggested that simply enacting the proposed rescue plan could bolster the confidence of Wall Street in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

“Private markets might be sufficiently reassured to provide the GSE’s with adequate capital to continue operations without any infusion of funds from the Treasury,” he wrote. “during that time, it is possible that expectations about the duration and depth of the housing market downturn may brighten.”

But Mr. Orszag said his office had also consulted with market investors with a different outlook. “Many analysis and traders believe there is a significant likelihood that conditions in the housing and financial markets could deteriorate more than already reflected on the GSEs’ balance sheets,” he wrote, “and such continuing problems would increase the probability that this new authority would have to be used.”

Taking into account all of the different possibilities and sentiments, and measuring them against the budget “scorekeeping” rules, Mr. Orszag said his office had concluded “that the expected value of the federal budgetary cost from enacting this proposal would be $25 billion over fiscal years 2009 and 2010.”

Mukasey to Congress: Defy the Rule of Law

Mukasey to Congress: Defy the Rule of Law

By Stephen Lendman

Go To Original

Along with other past and present administration officials, Attorney General Michael Mukasey supports lawlessness and police state justice. Weeks after the Supreme Court's landmark (June 12) Boumediene ruling, he addressed the conservative, pro-war American Enterprise Institute (on July 21) and asked Congress to overrule the High Court - for the third time. His proposal:

-- subvert constitutional and international law;

-- authorize indefinite detentions of Guantanamo and other "war on terror" prisoners (including US citizens designated "enemy combatants"); and

-- deny them habeas rights, due process, and any hope for judicial fairness.

Since June 2004, the (conservative) High Court made three landmark rulings. Twice Congress intervened, and Mukasey wants a third time. In Rasul v. Bush (June 2004), the Court granted Guantanamo detainees habeas rights to challenge their detentions in civil court. Congress responded with the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA) of 2005 subverting the ruling.

In June 2006, the Supreme Court reacted. In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, it held that federal courts retain jurisdiction over habeas cases and that Guantanamo Bay military commissions lack "the power to proceed because (their) structures and procedures violate both the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the four Geneva Conventions (of) 1949."

In October 2006, Congress responded a second time. It enacted the Military Commissions Act (MCA) - subverting the High Court ruling in more extreme form. In its menu of illegal provisions, it grants the administration extraordinary unconstitutional powers to detain, interrogate, torture and prosecute alleged terrorist suspects, enemy combatants, or anyone claimed to support them. It lets the President designate anyone anywhere in the world (including US citizens) an "unlawful enemy combatant" and empowers him to arrest and detain them indefinitely in military prisons. The law states: "no (civil) court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider any claim or cause for action whatsoever....relating to the prosecution, trial or judgment of....military commission(s)....including challenges to (their) lawfulness...."

On June 12, 2008, the High Court again disagreed. In Boumediene v. Bush, it held that Guantanamo detainees retain habeas rights. MCA unconstitutionally subverts them, and the administration has no legal authority to deny them due process in civil courts or act as accuser, trial judge and executioner with no right of appeal or chance for judicial fairness.

On July 21, Mukasey responded, and immediately the ACLU reacted in a same day press release headlined: "Attorney General Wants New Declaration of War Allowing Indefinite Detention and Concealment of Torture." It called Mukasey's speech "an enormous executive branch power grab....authoriz(ing) indefinite detention(s) through a new declaration of armed conflict." He asked Congress to redefine habeas through legislation "that will hide the Bush administration's past wrongdoing - an action that would undermine the constitutional guarantee of due process and conceal systematic (lawless) torture and abuse of detainees."

Like his two predecessors, Mukasey mocks the rule of law and supports harsh police state justice. He wants Congress to "expand and extend the 'war on terror' forever" and let the president detain anyone indefinitely without charge or trial. ACLU's Washington Legislative Director, Caroline Fredrickson, called this "the last gasp of an administration desperate to rationalize what is a failed legal scheme" - that the Supreme Court thunderously rejected three times.

Mukasey proposes lawlessness and cover-up, "but there is no reason to think that Congress will assist him." It "won't fall for this latest (scheme) to (suppress) its wrongdoing." Besides, the House Judiciary Committee is now investigating whether high-level administration officials authorized torture and abuse. Mukasey wants to hide it and is asking Congress to "bury the evidence."

The ACLU is righteously outraged by this latest attempted power grab. It rejects Mukasey's lawlessness and states there is "no need to invent yet another set of legal rules to govern the detention and trial of prisoners held on national security grounds, and the rules that (Mukasey) is proposing are fundamentally inconsistent with" constitutional and international law.

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) Responds

After Mukasey's September 17, 2007 nomination for Attorney General, CCR issued the following November 1, 2007 statement:

"Michael Mukasey is not fit to be Attorney General because he supports torture, illegal spying on Americans, and limitless powers for the Executive Branch." As the "country's highest law enforcement official," he's obligated "to enforce the law" - not make excuses for the government when it's in violation. CCR stands "firmly against Mukasey's nomination....Our country cannot afford to make compromises to our laws, our morals, and our humanity any longer." The Senate must reject Attorney General candidates who'll "undermine American justice and shred the Constitution."

CCR expressed equal outrage on July 21. Its Executive Director, Vincent Warren, denounced Mukasey's proposal in the following excerpted statement:

"What Mukasey is doing is a shocking attempt to drag us into years of further legal challenges and delays. The Supreme Court has definitively spoken" in Boumediene v. Bush and its two prior rulings. "For six and a half years," the administration and Congress "have done their best to (deny due process) and prevent the courts from reviewing the legality of the detention of the men in Guantanamo. Congress should be a part of the solution this time by letting the courts do their job."

For the past six years, CCR litigated for Guantanamo detainee rights and continues to do it. It organized and coordinated over 500 pro bono lawyers for everyone held there illegally. Most recently, it represented plaintiffs in the landmark Boumediene v. Bush case - argued on December 5, 2007 and ruled on June 12, 2008.

The Wall Street Journal Reports and Editorializes

Its July 22 article states: "Mukasey Seeks Law on Detainees - Congress Is Urged to Limit Rights of Terror Suspects....in light of a rebuke by the Supreme Court." It quotes Mukasey wanting:

-- legislative "principles" for "practical" limits on the right of detainees to challenge their incarceration;

-- Congress to give the administration freedom to detain combatants "for the duration of the ('war on terror') conflict;"

-- a "reaffirmation of something that was enacted in legislation after September 11, 2001" (a menu of harsh repressive laws);

-- no "enemy combatants" released in (or brought to) the US (even to appear in civil court);

-- no intelligence (or harsh interrogation) methods revealed (so evidence of torture and abuse is suppressed), and

-- military officers (and intelligence officials) to be excused from testifying (because what they know is damning).

On its editorial page, the Journal is supportive. It called Mukasey's proposal "modest" on a "difficult" issue over which "different judges even on the same court will disagree." Mukasey wants congressional "guidance" because there's risk of "inconsistent rulings and considerable uncertainty."

According to the Journal, Mukasey "was right in stepping forward to say that someone has to take responsibility for the consequences of the Supreme Court's 5 - 4" Boumediene ruling. It wants "Congress (to) give one court jurisdiction over (all detainee) cases" and not let the process "bog down into a Babel of conflicting procedural and legal rulings." Mukasey is "right" to ask Congress to settle the issue, (regardless of three landmark High Court rulings). In other words:

-- constitutional and international laws don't apply;

-- judicial fairness is a dead letter;

-- presidential power is supreme; and

-- Congress must support the executive and overrule the highest court in the land....A "modest (police state) proposal" according to the Journal and one it clearly supports.

Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net .

Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The Global Research News Hour on RepublicBroadcasting.org Mondays from 11AM - 1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests. All programs are archived for easy listening.

Bush: ‘Human life is precious’—EPA: ‘Less than you might think’

Bush: ‘Human life is precious’—EPA: ‘Less than you might think’

By David Walsh

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A human life is infinitely precious, according to the Bush administration—unless, it turns out, keeping an individual alive might cut into corporate profits.

The Associated Press revealed July 10 that the US government’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has lowered the “value of a statistical life,” from $7.8 million five years ago to $6.9 million today. The “value of a statistical life” refers to the supposed value to society of saving a ‘generic’ life.

Federal agencies, when they consider new regulations, “weigh the costs versus the lifesaving benefits of a proposed rule,” observes AP, so the “less a life is worth to the government, the less the need for a regulation.”

The news service explains the implications: “Consider, for example, a hypothetical regulation that costs $18 billion to enforce but will prevent 2,500 deaths. At $7.8 million per person (the old figure), the lifesaving benefits outweigh the costs. But at $6.9 million per person, the rule costs more than the lives it saves, so it may not be adopted.”

The “benefits” under discussion here are the survival of a given number of human beings; the “costs” are reduced company earnings.

The decreased value of an American life arrived at by the EPA will result in fewer restrictions on pollution, more dangers for consumers and similar corporate-sponsored blights. W. Kip Viscusi of Vanderbilt University, an expert in the field, told the media, “Nobody’s ever lowered it [the value of a statistical life].” He said that most researchers believe the value should generally be increasing.

Unsurprisingly, the EPA didn’t publicly announce the new figure. Seth Borenstein of AP only discovered the change after reviewing government cost-benefit analyses over more than a dozen years.

S. William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, commented, “It appears that they’re cooking the books in regards to the value of life. ... Those decisions are literally a matter of life and death.”

And Dan Esty, a senior EPA policy official in the administration of George H.W. Bush and now director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, told the Associated Press: “It’s hard to imagine that it has other than a political motivation.”

The EPA introduced the changes in two stages. In 2004 the agency reduced the value of a human life by 8 percent. “Then,” writes AP, “in a rule governing train and boat air pollution this May, the agency took away the normal adjustment for one year’s inflation. Between the two changes, the value of a human life fell 11 percent, based on today’s dollar.”

Omb.watch notes that the “Bush White House, for example, is more than happy to reject proposed regulations if the monetized compliance costs exceed monetized benefits,” as it did recently in a case involving the proposed recycling of pesticide containers. In that episode, White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Administrator Susan Dudley wrote the EPA July 3, acknowledging “that illegal and improper disposal of these pesticide containers may create hazards. However, it remains unclear whether providing the proposed recycling program will result in a meaningful reduction in the improper disposal of these containers.

“In addition, EPA’s analysis of the proposed program indicates that the quantified costs imposed by the proposed recycling program will exceed the quantified benefits by more than two orders of magnitude.” X number of people may fall ill or die, but an industry is spared inconvenience and cost—a reasonable trade-off.

The Environmental Protection Agency, established in 1970 during the Nixon administration, has never been in a position to carry out its mandate. American big business spends vast amounts of money, through lobbying and the buying up of politicians from both major parties, to block or vitiate environmental regulations. Moreover, repeated budget cuts have reduced the EPA’s ability to investigate problems, and morale is reportedly at a low point.

Under the Bush administration and its crew of free-market zealots, the agency has become, in the words of one liberal critic, “a scandal-ridden and hopelessly compromised tool of the White House” (www.scienceprogress.org).

In April the Union of Concerned Scientists reported the results of a survey of 1,600 EPA scientists and found “an agency under siege from political pressures.” Sixty percent of respondents said they had personally experienced political interference in their work in the past five years. More than half revealed that they were not allowed to share their findings with the media.

A month earlier, in March 2008, unions representing 10,000 EPA employees sent a letter to Administrator Stephen Johnson, alleging that he retaliates against whistle-blowers and union officers, “abuses our good nature and trust” and ignores the agency’s Principles of Scientific Integrity. The letter followed on Johnson’s December 2007 decision to block California and 16 other states from implementing new restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions on automobiles and trucks.

Nature magazine, also in March, editorialized that “The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is fast losing the few shreds of credibility it has left. The Bush administration has always shown more zeal in protecting business interests than the environment...But the agency’s current administrator, Stephen Johnson, a veteran EPA toxicologist who was promoted to the top slot in 2005, has done so with reckless disregard for law, science or the agency’s own rules—or, it seems, the anguished protests of his own subordinates.”

The decision to lower the “value of a statistical life” occurs within this context.

The notion that a cost can be placed on the value of preserving a human life is repugnant from the outset, although appropriate to a system in which every human attribute and activity is reduced to quantitative, dollars-and-cents terms.

Notoriously, in 2002 (also uncovered by Borenstein of AP), the EPA came to the conclusion that the value of elderly people was 38 percent less than that of people under 70. A public outcry made the agency change its mind.

An EPA official, Al McGartland, defended the agency’s lowered value of life on the grounds that the action reflected “consumer preferences.” McGartland commented, “It’s our best estimate of what consumers are willing to pay to reduce similar risks to their own lives.” Jack Wells, chief economist for the US Department of Transportation, told the Washington Post that it was “a weird idea” to weigh lives against other costs, “But, if you think about it, people behave that way all the time ... We could eliminate a lot of the [highway] fatalities by imposing a 10-mile-per-hour speed limit.”

These arguments are specious. Everyday life entails certain risks, which can never be reduced to zero. However, no “consumer” willingly “prefers” the possibility of being made ill by a negligent company. This is a social crime, imposed on the population, which can be entirely eliminated by the proper measures. Under capitalism, which subordinates human well-being to the pursuit of profits, a certain portion of the population is inevitably sacrificed through industrial accidents, contact with toxic materials, the poisoning of the air and water, inadequate or inaccessible health care, and so forth.

The EPA has been conducting risk analyses since the mid-1970s. Lisa Heinzerling, Professor of Law at Georgetown University, argues that “[C]ost-benefit was never unbiased. Low values for human life, monstrously high discount rates, the shunting aside of effects that cannot be counted, a free pass for deregulatory activities—all of these have been with us since the beginning....[T]he biases in cost-benefit analysis are not an oversight. They are the manifestations of an ingrained philosophy that is deeply hostile to environmentalists’ arguments.”

The Post provides an example of government officials’ thinking on the matter: “They might know, for instance, that a new cut in air pollution will save 50 lives a year—though they don’t know who those people might be. Still they want to decide whether saving them is worth the cost, officials say, and it helps to assign a dollar value to each life saved.”

It should be remembered this is the administration—when attempting to divert attention from its crimes and generate popular support through appeals to religion and “values”—that proclaims its first priority to be the ‘individual human life.’ The Bush regime has done everything in its power to make obtaining an abortion as difficult as possible and to discourage the use of birth control.

Nauseatingly, Bush, following Ronald Reagan and his own father, has issued proclamations each year declaring the third Sunday in January “National Sanctity of Human Life Day,” meant to mark the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case that legalized abortions in the US.

On “National Sanctity of Human Life Day” in 2008, Bush declared, “We recognize that each life has inherent dignity and matchless value, and we reaffirm our steadfast determination to defend the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society.”

This defender of the weakest and most vulnerable presided over 152 executions in Texas, publicly mocking one condemned woman’s pleas for mercy, and has prosecuted an illegal war and occupation responsible for the deaths of one million Iraqis.

Bush has made the sanctity of life an oft-repeated theme in the “global war on terror.”

A few examples:

“We value life; the terrorists ruthlessly destroy it.” (November 2001)

“There is a dividing line in our world, not between nations, and not between religions or cultures, but a dividing line separating two visions of justice and the value of life.” (March 2004)

“I happen to view it as a strength that we value every life, that every person is precious.” (April 2006)

Perhaps a few adjustments could be made in the future to Bush’s comments, in line with the EPA actions. Something like this: “We value every human life, as long as preserving it doesn’t interfere with the operations of the petrochemical, plastics, electric utility, automobile or pulp and paper industries, or generally gum up the workings of the free enterprise system.”