Friday, August 29, 2008

Repression in Denver highlights assault on democratic rights in US

Repression in Denver highlights assault on democratic rights in US

By Tom Eley
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On Wednesday, police raided the headquarters of a group—Unconventional Denver—protesting at the Democratic National Convention, arresting several people, destroying, and seizing property. The calculated effort to intimidate the protesters and suppress dissent has gone unnoted by the national media, let alone the Democratic Party politicians assembled in the Pepsi Center in Denver.

The police acted illegally, producing no warrant before raiding the small building and the area around it. A bulldozer plowed up sign-making material and deposited it in a dump truck. Two organizers were arrested and charged with disobeying a lawful order. Police claim one had a knife; a protester countered that it was a small pocketknife.

Police also claim to have found bricks and rocks around the building leased by the organization. The protest groups said the material was being used to hold down banners and posters that were being painted so they did not blow away in the wind. Video footage taken by the independent Rocky Mountain News shows the debris is a typical part of the rundown industrial area, which is located adjacent to railroad tracks.

The Denver police say that they responded to a phone call from “two suspicious parties” near the site. However, the constant surveillance of the group and presence of the bulldozer and the dump truck suggest that the raid was planned out well in advance.

Also on Wednesday, an ABC News Producer, Asa Eslocker, was arrested for attempting to videotape leading Democratic Party politicians and major party donors leaving a hotel near the Pepsi Center. In a rare episode of investigative journalism by the network media, Eslocker and his crew were investigating the role of corporate lobbyists in the political process for a series called “Money Trail” for ABC World News. Eslocker was charged with trespass, interference, and failure to follow a lawful order. A video of the arrest can be viewed on ABC’s web site: http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/Conventions/story?id=5668622&page=1

Before the arrest a Boulder County sheriff is seen ordering Eslocker off the sidewalk in front of the hotel, to a side entrance. The sheriff’s officer says the sidewalk is owned by the hotel. Later, he is seen pushing Eslocker—who asserts his right to be on public property—off the sidewalk into oncoming traffic. The cop remarks, “Now you’re impeding traffic,” before forcing the reporter to the other side of the street.

Two hours later Denver police arrived to place Eslocker under arrest, apparently based on a complaint from the Brown Palace Hotel. A cigar-smoking officer can be seen placing his hands around Eslocker’s neck and then twisting his arm, even though Eslocker showed no resistance. One of the officers can be heard saying to Eslocker, “You’re lucky I didn’t knock the f..k out of you.”

Wednesday evening, a march of about 5,000 led by Iraq Veterans Against the War was stopped by a police barricade from approaching the site of the convention.

The squashing of basic democratic rights at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Denver has been extensive. It has included:

* The formation of a new quasi-legal and multi-level police apparatus under the control of the executive branch of the federal government, made possible by the DNC’s status as a “National Security Event,” a designation established in 1997 by “executive order,” i.e., presidential fiat, by Bill Clinton.

* The militarization of a major US city. The size of the police force has been doubled by the recruitment of law enforcement personnel from the surrounding areas. Police in riot gear armed with machine guns, police dogs, watchtowers, helicopters, and armored personnel carriers are ubiquitous sights in Denver.

* The creation of a prison camp (dubbed “Gitmo on the Platte” by protesters, referring to the Platte River in Denver) designed to imprison thousands.

* The implementation of a separate assembly-line court system (“DNC courts”) designed to furtively and rapidly process thousands of prisoners.

* The building of a special “free speech zone” in a parking lot near the convention to limit all demonstrations. The zone resembles nothing so much as a prison camp. It is a small area surrounded by a steel security fence mounted on concrete barriers, all topped by razor wire.

* Police provocation, harassment, and intimidation of protesters.

* The suppression of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly through police barricades and arbitrary demands for dispersal from public sidewalks.

* Police violence against peaceful protesters. This has included the use of pepper spray and truncheons.

* The mass arrest of nearly 100 protesters, most of whom were charged with the catch-all “failure to obey a lawful order.”

* An attempt to process prisoners without providing the option for legal defense.

* Arbitrary and warrantless search and seizure of property.

* Police toleration of right-wing intimidation of protesters.

* Police harassment and arrest of the media.

If events such as these were unfolding in a foreign country targeted by the US, for example Russia or Venezuela, one can be sure that the media and politicians would be apoplectic in their denunciations of the suppression of political opposition. But this repression is instead taking place in an important US city under the auspices of one of the two parties of America’s ruling elite.

The national media has deliberately suppressed any coverage of the police state atmosphere in Denver going along whole-heartedly with the pretense that the convention—a stage-managed affair largely paid for by corporate America and protected by the police and armed forces from the people—is a expression of America’s democratic process at work. No significant representative of the Democratic Party—which purports to defend democratic rights—has denounced the political repression.

What is taking place in Denver should serve as a blunt warning to the working class. The vast numbers of police and military personnel is way out of proportion for the small number of peaceful demonstrations. The only explanation for this mobilization is that it is a dry run for measures to come. It is a military exercise in the repression of the civilian population through a new combination of federal, state and municipal police and military agencies and bureaucracies. Indeed, though the Denver Police appear to be responsible for most of the heavy-handed actions, they are in fact operating under the Secret Service and at the behest of the Department of Homeland Security.

The consensus policies of the ruling elite—imperialist war abroad and class war at home—are thoroughly unpopular and will eventually drive millions into active defiance. The police methods being practiced in Denver will be the ready response to the coming mass struggles of the working class.

Democratic National Convention outlines policy of wider war

Democratic National Convention outlines policy of wider war

By Bill Van Auken
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After going through the formality of a roll call vote ending in the preordained nomination of Barack Obama as its presidential candidate, the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday turned to the question of “national security,” portraying itself as more competent than the Bush administration in defending the interests of US imperialism abroad, while making it clear that it is prepared to launch new and even bloodier wars than those carried out over the past eight years.

Among the most ominous notes sounded repeatedly from the podium in Denver was the prospect that the coming period will see growing confrontations between America and emerging global rivals, including Russia and China.

This found its sharpest expression in an attack on the Bush administration from the right over the conflict between Russia and Georgia. Coming as it did amid the ratcheting up of the conflict between Moscow and Washington, with Russian and US warships sailing towards confrontation in the Black Sea, the rhetoric was the equivalent of throwing gasoline onto a fire.

The evening’s proceedings, organized under the slogan of “Securing America’s Future,” underscored the drive to the right by the Obama campaign and the Democratic Party as a whole following the party’s primary contests, in which popular hostility to the Iraq war played a decisive role in swinging the nomination to Obama and sinking the candidacy of Senator Hillary Clinton.

Not only did the speeches make it abundantly clear that any differences on the Iraq war are of a purely tactical character, they also delivered a resounding message that an incoming Democratic administration will oversee an expansion of US military aggression.

Since the Democratic primaries, in which Obama capitalized on Clinton’s October 2002 vote to authorize the US war against Iraq, he has clarified that his own plan would pull “combat troops” out of the country only 16 months after he took office—in mid-2010—while leaving tens of thousands of soldiers and Marines behind as a “residual” occupation force. Even this timetable may be scrapped if there is opposition from American military commanders.

In any case, the practical differences separating the Democrats and the Republicans on this issue have grown ever narrower. A general consensus is emerging within the ruling establishment that military resources that have been tied down in the colonialist occupation of Iraq should be freed up for use elsewhere.

In the first instance, this would be to quell popular resistance to foreign occupation in Afghanistan, universally portrayed by the Democratic speakers as “the real front against terrorism.” But as speech after speech suggested, existing troops, as well as additional forces that an Obama administration aims to add to the US military, are to be used on a far wider global stage.

What emerges from the proceedings in Denver is that the fundamental framework of American policy—the growth of militarism and the justification of aggression in the name of a “war on terror”—will continue, no matter whether the Republican candidate, Senator John McCain, or Obama enters the White House next January.

The Republicans and McCain have mounted a campaign to cast Obama as unfit to serve as “commander-in-chief.” An ad aired Tuesday makes use of Hillary Clinton’s statement during the primaries suggesting that while she and McCain were both qualified to serve as commander-in-chief, Obama was not.

As throughout the convention, the proceedings on Wednesday evinced the Democrats’ fearful response to such attacks. The party leadership has no intention of waging the general election campaign by appealing to the anger and hostility of the American people to the war in Iraq. Rather, it is determined to demonstrate to the ruling elite its own militarist credentials.

This was a significant motivation in the selection of Senator Joseph Biden, the principal speaker before the convention Wednesday night, to be Obama’s vice presidential running mate. Both as ranking Democrat and then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the 65-year-old, six-term senator has been a key Washington proponent of US aggression in the Middle East, Central Asia and Eastern Europe. There has been much talk in Democratic circles of him playing a major policy-making role in an Obama administration, with comparisons to the role played by Dick Cheney in fashioning the policies of the Bush White House.

In his speech Wednesday night, Biden accused the Bush administration of being weak on “national security.” He charged that it “has failed to face the biggest forces shaping this century: the emergence of Russia, China and India as great powers; the spread of lethal weapons; the shortage of secure supplies of energy, food and water; the challenge of climate change; and the resurgence of fundamentalism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the real central front against terrorism.”

He drew particular attention to the confrontation with Russia over the autonomous regions in Georgia, accusing the Bush administration of “neglect” in relation to this conflict and suggesting that a Democratic administration would adopt an even more confrontational stance. “We will hold Russia accountable for its actions, and we’ll help the people of Georgia rebuild,” he declared.

Former President Bill Clinton also took the stage Wednesday night to tout the Democrats’ foreign policy prowess. Like a number of other speakers, Clinton made fleeting reference to the reactionary policies carried out by the Bush administration over the past eight years, referring to torture, the Hurricane Katrina debacle, social inequality and the assault on science—all in two sentences. He did not dwell on this laundry list of offenses, for to do so would inevitably raise questions about the Democrats’ own role in facilitating them.

The heart of Clinton’s message, however, was the affirmation that Obama is “ready to be president,” meaning that he is prepared to use military force. While claiming that Obama would go to war only “as a last resort,” Clinton added, “In a world troubled by terror... by other threats to our security, our interests, and our values, when he cannot convert adversaries into partners, he will stand up to them.”

He was speaking from experience, having carried out more US military interventions—in Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Colombia—than any previous president.

“Repairing” the US military

One element in Clinton’s speech deserves special consideration. Praising Obama, he said that the candidate had “shown a clear grasp of our foreign policy and national security challenges, and a firm commitment to repair our badly strained military.” This same theme was echoed in the lead editorial of the New York Times Thursday, which called upon Obama to show that he has a plan for “rebuilding a broken military.”

As to how this job of repairing and rebuilding is to be accomplished, neither Clinton nor the Times provided any concrete proposals. Obama has included in his platform the call for swelling the ranks of US combat forces by an additional 100,000 soldiers and Marines.

Under conditions of a continuing crisis in armed forces recruitment and mounting indications that Washington—and both its major parties—is preparing for even bigger wars, there is a clear threat that fixing a “strained” and “broken” military will take the form of dragooning a new generation into serving as cannon fodder by reviving the draft.

Among the other speakers brought to the convention podium was the party’s 2004 presidential candidate Senator John Kerry. Having voted in favor of granting the Bush administration blanket authorization to invade Iraq, in Denver he accused the administration of having “delivered the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.” As a result, he asserted, “it’s Hamas, Hezbollah, the Taliban and dictators everywhere that are on the march.”

Also speaking was Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. In that capacity, Rockefeller has been a key accomplice in the crimes carried out by the Bush administration in the name of the “global war on terror.”

“I have seen the intelligence up close and I can tell you that the threats that we face are real and they are growing,” Rockefeller told the convention. In 2002-2003, Rockefeller was briefed by the administration on its torture of detainees, including the use of waterboarding, keeping this criminal abuse secret from the American people. He was the principal architect of the legislation approved by Congress last month—with Obama’s vote—granting the White House sweeping new domestic spying powers and giving the telecommunications companies a blanket retroactive amnesty for their collaboration in the illegal wiretapping operation mounted by the Bush administration.

A recurrent theme in speech after speech was that of economic nationalism, laced with talk of achieving “energy independence” in order to end the need for the US to borrow money from China to buy oil from Arab countries, both of which were portrayed as hostile forces. The unstated logic of this approach is the necessity to prepare for war against such adversaries, including both China and Russia.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid began his remarks with the observation that the history of the last century was dominated by “a toxic mix of oil and war.” To substantiate this point, he cited Pearl Harbor, the Nazi invasion of Russia, and Iraq’s move into Kuwait in 1990. He then denounced the actions of “dictators and authoritarians from Venezuela to Russia, from Sudan to North Korea.”

This screed was even more brazen than most in turning reality on its head. As leader of the US Senate, Reid coordinated repeated votes to authorize and fund wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, both waged by the US to establish hegemony over key oil reserves and supply routes. These actions, however, were omitted from his potted history.

Instead, he portrayed America as the innocent victim. “Attacked at home by oil-funded terrorists, at war abroad with oil-funded insurgents, threatened in global markets and faced with acquisition of our industrial base by oil-funded multinationals, we must defend America or face her utter destruction,” said Reid. This is classic war propaganda, in which one’s own aggression is portrayed as an act of self defense.

The previous day, Obama himself provided an example of the Democrats’ efforts to outdo the Republicans in saber-rattling. He beat the Bush White House in issuing a bellicose statement denouncing Moscow for recognizing the independence of the breakaway Georgian republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

“I condemn Russia’s decision,” he declared, “and call upon all countries of the world not to accord any legitimacy to this action.” He advocated a policy of working to “further isolate Russia internationally because of its actions.” He went on to support Georgia’s integration into NATO.

The Democratic candidate concluded on an ominous note. While affirming that “no one wants to see another Cold War with Russia,” he warned, “peace and security in Europe cannot be taken for granted.” The implication was clear: War in Europe, pitting two nuclear-armed nations, the US and Russia, against each other, cannot be ruled out.

Whatever illusions were generated by Obama’s primary campaign rhetoric, the positions enunciated by the candidate and his supporters in Denver constitute a stark warning that far greater wars are being prepared, and that no genuine struggle can be waged against American militarism outside of a decisive political break with the Democratic Party and the building of a mass independent political movement of the working class.

Foreign spigot off for US consumers

Foreign spigot off for US consumers

By Max Fraad Wolff

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As US public attention shifts from the Olympics to running mates and the celebrity "news" de jour, the infrastructure beneath your house is termite-infested. Just beneath the nicely painted exterior and behind all the new appliances, doubt is boring through the beams, gnawing at the studs.

Alongside falling prices, rising mortgage rates, stricter credit conditions and general malaise, the structure that supports American home ownership is being condemned by market valuation. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have nose dived and been downgraded toward a smaller future - and these are more important names for your future than Joe, Sam, Kathy, Mitt, Meg ...

Fannie Mae was created in the depths of the Great Depression to decrease foreclosure and increase home ownership. In 1968, it was re-chartered as a public company, removed from within official government agency status. Freddie Mac, since its inception in 1970, has financed 50 million homes.

Fannie and Freddie mission statements make clear, they exist to facilitate, ease and cheapen home ownership. They do this by acting as liaisons between international capital markets and mortgage seekers. They borrow at preferential rates - based on the implicit/explicit - assurance of the US government. Borrowed funds are used to buy mortgages and bundles of mortgages. They provide credit guidelines and purchase mortgage issued by banks. This reduces banks' risk and provides banks with more cash, more quickly to make more loans at lower costs. These firms, then, exist to facilitate, ease and accelerate bank lending for home purchase.

Fannie and Freddie form a central hub between lenders and investors. After they buy American mortgages, they bundle sell and guarantee repayment. This transforms mortgages into investments for banks, corporations and governments all over the world. Your home mortgage, bundled with many other folks' mortgages, is sold, repackaged and assured by Fannie and Freddie. This reduces risk and assures global savings flow in to support American purchases of homes. International investment is the foundation on which our home ownership was built.

Well over US$1 trillion of our mortgages have been sold to foreign investors this way in the recent past. As you sit down and read this, your mortgage may well be "owned" by a firm, individual or central bank thousands of miles away. This relationship is neither healthy nor sustainable in its present form. Rising defaults, falling dollars and the sheer size of past borrowing are turning people off to American mortgages. The foundation below our houses is shifting.

What we are witnessing is the breakdown of the link between middle-class America and the global financial markets it has over-tapped across the last several decades. Fannie and Freddie were the support infrastructure connecting houses to capital market access. They have been caught with weak financials, swollen balance sheets and escalating default, just like the home owners they assist. The size of their retained mortgage portfolios is truly gigantic.

The extent of the firms' guarantee commitments is global in scope. Sixty-six global central banks buy loans bundled and or backed with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae involvement. As of June 30, 2007 foreign entities and individuals held over $1.4 trillion in securities of US agencies such as Freddie and Fannie.

Fannie Mae's June 2008 statement declares a gross mortgage portfolio of $750 billion and guarantees of mortgage backed securities and loans of $2.6 trillion. Freddie Mac's June statement details a retained portfolio balance of $792 billion and a total mortgage portfolio balance of $2.2 trillion. These two giants have retained interest in over $1.5 trillion and guaranteed over $4.5 trillion in mortgages, mortgage backed securities and loans. There are $11 trillion in outstanding mortgage liabilities in the US.

The US housing market continues to melt down with dire consequence. In the seven years from 2001 through late 2007, household real estate value increased by $8.873 trillion to $22.495 trillion. It has since fallen by $426 billion. Many claim we are at or a near a bottom. These claims should be viewed with extreme weariness. The housing downturn is not over and it will take a while after it is over to judge the damage.

The search for parallels with today yields little. The closest one finds is the interesting decline in home ownership across the period 1905-1920 followed by a surging rise across the '20s and then collapse across the 1930s. Fannie was born of this collapse, the ideology of The New Deal and sense that government-driven market interventions could broaden home ownership in America. This was a success. Home ownership did grow spectacularly across the period from 1938-2007. It is falling now as Fannie and Freddie flounder.

In 1940, US home ownership stood just below 44%. At the start of 2008 68% of Americans owned their home. Over the decades, Fannie and Freddie changed, middle-class America changed and the global financial realm underwent several revolutions. The last and most transformative revolution involved the rise of securitization and integration of global financial markets.

Securitization involves transforming assets and promises of future payment into financial products for sale to investors. International financial integration tears down the walls between national banking systems and allows savings, loans and payments to be gathered and transferred across international boundaries.

A world of wealth poured into US real estate through securitization and deregulation. This flow was channeled and molded by the actions of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The decline of these firms will have dramatic and long-lasting implications for home mortgage finance. This will impact the price of American homes, the cost and ease of borrowing for home ownership.

Housing prices have further to fall and global savings will likely never be lent to American consumers at recent percentage levels. Across the past few years America has been borrowing over 50% of the world's internationally available savings. The diminishing role of Fannie and Freddie will impact more people, for far longer than presidential running-mate selections. Policy makers and managements in Fannie and Freddie are stuck. Today's consumer strength, their missions and international financial realities no longer align.

We face a housing finance future different from the recent past. Fannie and Freddie will not be able to function in the same way, or to the same extent. The debates about and plans for these firms will touch millions of families through housing prices, finance terms and cost. Fannie and Freddie are much more important than Joe, Sam, Kathy, Mitt, Meg ...

Max Fraad Wolff is a doctoral candidate in economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and editor of the website GlobalMacroScope. http://www.globalmacroscope.com

U.S. Says Banks on `Problem List' Rose 30% in Quarter

U.S. Says Banks on ‘Problem List' Rose 30% in Quarter

By Alison Vekshin

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The U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said its ‘‘problem list'' of banks increased 30 percent in the second quarter to the highest total in five years as more commercial real-estate loans were overdue.

The list had 117 banks as of June 30, up from 90 in the first quarter and the highest since mid-2003, the agency said today in its quarterly report without naming any institutions. FDIC-insured lenders reported net income of $4.96 billion, down 87 percent from $36.8 billion in the same quarter a year ago.

‘‘More banks will come on the list as credit problems worsen,'' FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair said at a news conference in Washington.

Regulators are adding to the list as bank assets, liquidity and other fiscal measures weaken. Nine banks have failed this year, including California-based mortgage lender IndyMac Bancorp Inc., which the FDIC is running as a successor institution, IndyMac Federal Bank FSB.

IndyMac's failure will cost the U.S. deposit insurance fund about $8.9 billion, exceeding a $4 billion to $8 billion estimate, said Diane Ellis, the associate director of financial- risk management. The FDIC discovered additional insured deposits and had time to value the assets, Ellis said.

Second-Lowest Earnings

Second-quarter earnings fell from $19.3 billion in the previous quarter, driven by higher provisions for loan losses, the FDIC said. It was the second-lowest net income reported since the fourth quarter of 1991 behind the $600 million reported in the fourth quarter of 2007, the agency said.

‘‘The results were pretty dismal, and we don't see a return to the high earnings levels of previous years any time soon,'' Bair said.

Funds set aside by banks to cover loan losses more than quadrupled to $50.2 billion from $11.4 billion in the year- earlier quarter.

Loans 90 days or more overdue, deemed troubled by the FDIC, jumped 20 percent to $162 billion from $136 billion in the first quarter, the FDIC said. Real-estate loans accounted for almost 90 percent of the rise in the past three quarters, the agency said.

The deposit insurance fund fell 14 percent to $45.2 billion and the reserve ratio, or balance divided by insured deposits, was 1.01 percent. The FDIC is required to shore up the fund when the ratio falls below 1.15 percent.

Higher Premiums

The agency in October will consider a plan to replenish the account that will likely include an increase in the premiums charged banks, Bair said.

A greater share of the increase will be shifted to ‘‘riskier institutions so that safer institutions won't be unduly burdened,'' she said.

Lenders on the ‘‘problem list'' had assets of $78.3 billion at the end of the second quarter, triple the $26.3 billion in the first quarter, the agency said. The FDIC said IndyMac's assets represented $32 billion of the increase.

Many banks on the list have high levels of commercial real- estate loans, especially in construction and development loans, said John Corston, the FDIC's associate director of large bank supervision. The number of problem institutions will continue to rise, he said.

‘‘Problem institutions continue to be scattered across the country,'' Corston said. ‘‘However, we expect to see some migration to areas experiencing the greatest stress.''

Regulators rate banks based on their asset quality, earnings, liquidity and other fiscal measures. Banks are ranked on a numerical scale, with 1 being the highest and 5 the lowest. A rating of 4 or 5 places a bank on the ‘‘problem'' list.

The FDIC is a Washington-based bank regulator that insures deposits at 8,451 institutions with $13.3 trillion in assets.

Analyst: FDIC Will Need Half A Trillon Dollars

Analyst: FDIC Will Need Half A Trillon Dollars

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Chris Whalen, managing director of Institutional Risk Analytics, in an interview on CNBC, said:

They need about a half a trillion dollars in borrowing authority, and they need a vehicle to own these banks while we triage them and sell them.


The FDIC Deposit Insurance Fund currently has approximately $50 billion in assets.

He also said a big bank could go down:

It depends on the loss rate. If we are way over 1990s levels, by say the third quarter, then I would tell you there’s going to be some institutions that may not be able to raise private capital and may need a bridge.

Bankruptcy Filings Surge 29%

Bankruptcy Filings Surge 29%

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Bankruptcy filings surged 29% in the 12 months that ended June 30, according to government figures released today.

Total filings rose to 967,831 from 751,056 a year earlier.

Business filings jumped more than 41% to 33,822 from 23,889 in the year-ago period. Personal filings totaled 934,009, up 28% from last year.

The data also showed that filings for Chapter 7 rose 36% to 615,748 in the 12 months that ended June 30.

Chapter 13 filings, which requires debtors to pay back their debts over time, rose 17% to 344,421 from 294,693 a year earlier.

Filings for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which is designed for corporations or partnerships, rose more than 30% to 7,293.

McCain: The Most Reprehensible of the Keating Five

McCain: The Most Reprehensible of the Keating Five

The story of "the Keating Five" has become a scandal rivaling Teapot Dome and Watergate

By Tom Fitzpatrick

Phoenix New Times

You're John McCain, a fallen hero who wanted to become president so desperately that you sold yourself to Charlie Keating, the wealthy con man who bears such an incredible resemblance to The Joker.

He poured $112,000 into your political campaigns. He became your friend. He threw fund raisers in your honor. He even made a sweet shopping-center investment deal for your wife, Cindy. Your father-in-law, Jim Hensley, was cut in on the deal, too.

Nothing was too good for you. Why not? Keating saw you as a prime investment that would pay off in the future.

So he flew you and your family around the country in his private jets. Time after time, he put you up for serene, private vacations at his vast, palatial spa in the Bahamas. All of this was so grand. You were protected from what Thomas Hardy refers to as "the madding crowd." It was almost as though you were already staying at a presidential retreat.

Like the old song, that now seems "Long ago and far away."

Since Keating's collapse, you find yourself doing obscene things to save yourself from the Senate Ethics Committee's investigation. As a matter of course, you engage in backbiting behavior that will turn you into an outcast in the Senate if you do survive.

They say that if you put five lobsters into a pot and give them a chance to escape, none will be able to do so before you light the fire. Each time a lobster tries to climb over the top, his fellow lobsters will pull him back down. It is the way of lobsters and threatened United States senators.

And, of course, that's the way it is with the Keating Five. You are all battling to save your own hides. So you, McCain, leak to reporters about who did Keating's bidding in pressuring federal regulators to change the rules for Lincoln Savings and Loan.

When the reporters fail to print your tips quickly enough--as in the case of your tip on Michigan Senator Donald Riegle--you call them back and remind them how important it is to get that information in the newspapers.

The story of "the Keating Five" has become a scandal rivaling Teapot Dome and Watergate. The outcome will be decided, not in a courtroom, but probably on national television.

Those who survive will be the sociopaths who can tell a lie with the most sincere, straight face. You are especially adept at this.

Last Friday night, on The John McLaughlin Show, which features well-known Washington journalists, the subject of the Keating Five was discussed. Panelist Jack Germond suggested that three of the Keating Five were probably already through in politics.

So you spend your days desperately trying to make sure you will be one of the survivors. You keep volunteering to go on radio and television stations to protest your innocence. Last week you made ABC's Nightline.

Not long before that you somehow managed to get James Kilpatrick, the national columnist, to write a favorable paragraph about you. Last Sunday morning, you made it to national television again; this time on ABC's This Week With David Brinkley. You smiled at the panel with your usual studied insouciance. Sitting next to you was Senator John Glenn of Ohio.

Brinkley, Sam Donaldson, and George Will were the interrogators.
It was a sobering scene. There you sat with Glenn, both sweating before the cameras, waiting to answer questions: two badly tarnished American icons.

No one forgets that Glenn was the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth. You won't let anyone forget that you were a prisoner of war. But you have played that tune too long. By now your constant reminders about your war record make you seem like a modern version of Arthur Miller's tragic failure Willy Loman.

Clearly, both you and Glenn sold your fame for Charles Keating's money.

It was a Faustian bargain. It was also a bad joke on the rest of us and a disaster for many old people who lost their life's savings to Keating.

The money was never really Keating's to give. But he never would have got his hands on it if you and the rest of the Keating Five didn't halt the government takeover for two long years while Keating's people continued their looting.

And now, the tab for the Savings and Loan heist must be paid from taxpayer pockets.

On Sunday, Senators Dennis DeConcini, Alan Cranston, and Riegle refused offers to appear on the Brinkley show. What must we make of that?

You, the closest of them to Keating and the deepest in his debt, have chosen the path of the hard sell. You may even make it out of the pot, but to many, your protestations of innocence taste like gall.

You are determined to bluff your way. You will stick to your story that you were acting to help a constituent and intended to do nothing improper. The very fact you attended the meeting makes you guilty, just as every man who entered the Brinks vault went to prison.

You insist that an accounting firm Keating hired told you Lincoln was sound. Alan Greenspan, who Keating also hired, wrote a report saying it was sound. Why shouldn't you believe the people Keating hired? You were, after all, fellow employees.

Perhaps you might silence your own conscience about all this someday.

Just keep telling everyone that it was your wife's money invested in that shopping center with Keating and that you knew nothing about it.

Keep saying that cynical newspaper people don't understand that every move you make has always been for the enrichment of Arizona . . . the education of our Native Americans on the reservations . . . for the love of the elderly in Sun City and Green Valley.

Keep telling them that it wasn't that you were bought off but that Charlie Keating got special help only because he was one of the biggest employers in the state.

Just keep sitting there and staring into the camera and denying that Keating bought you for money and jet plane trips and vacations.

So what if he gave you $112,000? Just keep smiling at the cameras and saying you did nothing wrong.

Maybe the voters will understand you took those tiring trips to Charlie's place in the Bahamas in their behalf. Certainly, they can understand you wanted to take your family along. A senator deserves to travel on private jets, removed from the awful crush of public transportation.

You sought out a master criminal like Keating and became his friend. Now you've discarded him. It shouldn't be surprising that you are now in the process of selling out your senatorial accomplices.

You're John McCain, clearly the guiltiest, most culpable and reprehensible of the Keating Five. But you know the power of television and you realize this is the only way you can possibly save your political career.

What is the Keating Five?

What is the Keating Five?

McCain Keating Five

For anyone not aware of the Keating Five, here’s a very simple summary:

Charles Keating owned a savings and loan in California. He was illegally using the money of his bank’s customers to give loans to himself and friends that they didn’t have to repay, and to speculate on risky real estate investments, which was strictly forbidden by U.S. law (the latter was one cause of the Great Depression).

When the feds found out what was going on and launched an investigation into Keating and his company, Keating called five U.S. Senators whom he had wined, dined, and lavished with hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations and personal gifts for years.

Keating asked the five Senators to tell the feds to bug off, and the five Senators, later known as the Keating Five, obliged, meeting with federal investigators twice and pressuring them to stop investigating Keating’s crimes. They bought Keating some time, but the feds didn’t give up and eventually Keating was nailed. The reason the feds were so persistent was because Keating wasn’t playing with mere chump change. Keating blew $3.4 billion through illegal personal loans and bad investments, and the FDIC eventually had to reimburse Keating’s customers who had been ripped off. (The FDIC is a part of the federal government funded by taxpayers dollars, so when Keating stole from his customers you and I were the ones who paid for it.)

(Background Info - Keating wasn’t the only Savings and Loan owner who was committing fraud, 20% of the S&L’s that failed during that three year period were found to have been caused by fraud and/or insider trading. The failure of the Lincoln Savings and Loan and other S&L’s pushed the country into a recession, costing the U.S. government $126 billion dollars in FDIC insurance payouts to investors. All of this came to a crescendo during the first year of the presidency of George H.W. Bush, who pushed through the S&L bailout plan to keep the economy afloat.)

When the involvement of the Keating Five was made public, a scandal erupted and the Senate Ethics Committee launched their own investigation into whether the Keating Five had violated Senate ethics rules. It was a giant mess (see the Keating Five Videos section). The other four Senators left office either immediately or within one term. John McCain was formally rebuked by the Senate Ethics Committee for exercising “poor judgment” for intervening with the federal regulators on behalf of Keating.

John McCain then went back to the drawing board and re-invented himself as “the Straight-Talk Express” and the media gobbled it up. “Tax-Evading-Criminal” doesn’t sound as catchy as “Straight-Shooting-War-Hero”.

Ever since the scandal, when McCain lies today, it’s never questioned, because he’s a “straight talker”. The man has more skeletons in his closet than any politician in history. The Keating Five is just one bone.

There are two fantastic articles about the Keating Five we highly recommend reading.

One is from 1989, written by the Phoenix New Times, called McCain: The Most Reprehensible of the Keating Five. That article does a good job of capturing the anger at the time at John McCain and the other corrupt Senators. It took an incredible spin job for McCain to have survived the scandal.

The other article is from Slate.com, written in 2000 and titled, Is John McCain A Crook?

The Land of the Silent and the Home of the Fearful

The Land of the Silent and the Home of the Fearful

By Dave Lindorff

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I was a speaker last night at an anti-war event sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Monmouth County, Progressive Democrats of America and Democrats For America in Lincroft, NJ, near the shore. It was a great group of activist Americans who want to see this country end the Iraq War, turn away from war as a primary instrument of policy, and start dealing with the pressing human needs of the country and the world.

Yet even in this group of committed people, one woman stood up during the question-and-answer session and said, "I want to get involved in writing emails to members of Congress urging them to cut off funding for the war and other things, but if I do that won't I end up getting put on a "watch list'" or something?"

I told her the short answer was yes, she probably would. In George Bush's and Dick Cheney's America, no one is safe from such spying, and even from harassment, as witness Tom Feeley, the man behind the website Information Clearing House, who had armed men invade his house at night and threaten his wife complaining about his First Amendment-protected effort to publicize important stories on the Internet.

But I also told her that it didn't matter. She should defend her freedom of speech and her right to petition for redress of grievances, just as she was defending her freedom of assembly by attending last night's event.

The only demonstrably true statement George Bush has made in his sorry eight years in office is that the Constitution is "just a goddamned piece of paper." While it wasn't the point he was making, when he reportedly shouted this at a couple of Republican members of Congress who were questioning the constitutionality of some of his actions, he was right that the nation's founding document is only worth the parchment and ink it's composed of, unless people use it and defend it.

There is a remarkable and palpable fear abroad in this land-not a fear of terrorism, but a fear of speaking up, a fear of being labeled as "different" or as a "troublemaker."

People will lean over and whisper their opinions, if they think they are anti-Establishment, as though someone might be listening. People write me after some of my columns run, praising me for my "courage," though why it should be perceived as requiring courage to merely write something in America is beyond me.

The worst thing is that every time someone says she or he is afraid, or acts afraid to speak or write what she or he is thinking, five more acquaintances become equally scared and silenced.

The corollary, though, is that each time someone forgets or ignores or rejects that fear, five people gain courage the do the same thing.

Now I'm not saying that there aren't people monitoring, and reporting on, what we say. I know our government is busy doing that. I assume that my Internet activities are being monitored by the National Security Agency. I assume my phones are tapped. I assume there was some agent or informant among the fine people at the church last night. But these Stasi wannabes have no power if we don't let them frighten us into silence and inaction.

What I find discouraging is the widespread acceptance, even on the left, of this effort to intimidate us, and the pervasive attitude of fear that has grown up around us. I spent a year and a half living in a truly fascistic society in China, where there are real, concrete threats to life and liberty faced by those who stand up and say what they are thinking, and yet sometimes I think that ordinary people I met in China were braver about stating their minds than many, or even most Americans are. I'm not talking here about saying things like that you think the Post Office is dysfunctional, or that you think federal bureaucrats are corrupt or that taxes are too high. I'm talking about questioning the system, or challenging the war, or protesting military spending. Chinese people would tell me all the time that the Chinese Communist Party was a corrupt gang of thugs or that you could not get justice in a Chinese court. Chinese people are closing down factories that short them on their pay. They have rallied in the thousands and burned down police stations when corrupt police have raped, killed and then covered up the death of a young girl. They have marched in massive impromptu protests at the theft of their homes through eminent domain.

If you want to see where we're headed here in America, check out the workplace. There, we Americans have, through years of collective cowardice and unwillingness to stand together in organized labor unions, allowed our constitutional freedoms to be almost completely erased. Today, an American workplace is more akin to a police state than to a democratic society. Say what you're thinking on the job, and you're liable to lose it. Wear a shirt that says something the boss disagrees with, and you either remove that shirt or you are unemployed. Even that final refuge of free speech, the bumper sticker, can get workers in trouble if the wrong one shows up in the company parking lot. That loss of will and of freedom has in no small way contributed to the loss of jobs and the decline in living standards of American workers.

It's time for all of us to put a stop to this creeping usurpation of our liberties.

The anxious woman who asked her question came up to me after the meeting and said proudly that she would not be afraid, and would start signing on to protest letter-writing and emailing campaigns.

We need lots more like her.

How the Democrats Helped Bush Hijack the Country

How the Democrats Helped Bush Hijack the Country

By Cynthia McKinney

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Our country has been hijacked and the Democrats have proven themselves to have been in on the plan. When it came to the Constitution, the Democratic leadership showed us that aiding and abetting illegal spying on us was more important to them than protecting our civil liberties.

When it came to war and occupation, the Democratic leadership showed us that financing an illegal and immoral war, based on lies, was more important to them than the people's desire for peace.

And when the people, hurting from the financial mismanagement of this country, called for accountability for the crimes that have been committed against the people here, against the global community, against nature, itself, the Democratic leadership took impeachment off the table!

Grassroots Democratic Party activists want a livable wage! A "Medicare-for-all" type of health care system, repeal of the Bush tax cuts that have ushered in the greatest income inequality in this country since the Great Depression. But the Democratic Party has shown itself to be incapable of providing even a semblance of the values even of its own activists.

The Democratic Party's national leadership didn't even mention Hurricanes Katrina and Rita survivors in their Congressional agenda for the first 100 days.

The Democratic Party's national leadership gave us the Iran Naval Blockade bill, the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act, and telecom immunity. They continue to fund war and occupation to the tune of $720 million a day while our children graduate from college tens--or even hundreds--of thousands of dollars in debt. Entire cities are going into receivership while the Democratic leadership in Congress gives the Pentagon one half trillion dollars annually with no accountability, no strings attached. That's over and above spending for war.

Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are the hallmarks of the new U.S. gulag Democrats are helping to create.

They want us to believe that China and Russia are our enemies, in addition to the 60 countries on Dick Cheney's list. They want us to believe that workers, who come to this country to support thier families after Democratic leadership in the country saddl3ed workers with NAFTA, are our enemies. But we are here today to declare that we know who the real enemies are: those false patriots that George Washington warned us of, who wrap themselves in the flag while betraying our values.

We are the true patriots!

We know that the strength of this country lies in the way it countenances dissent. And we are here to dissent. We are not deterred by reports of sleek, new detention facilities or recently-acquired taser guns that kill. For we come to dissent in peace. Indeed, we dissent for peace.

Today, we declare our independence from conformity and "go-along-to-get-along" politics. We declare our willingness to be radical in pursuit of peace and in our hunger for justice. We can see clearly now who the real stickup artists are and that's why we're in Denver!

Our actions here this week begin the disarming of the hijackers. We no longer are afraid. And we won't be deceived. We know that a vote for the Democrats is a vote for more war in Afghanistan and other parts of the world.

But today, we are now free.

Free to stand on the four pillars guiding our political engagement: environmental wisdom, peace, grassroots democratcy, and social justice. And finally, we know our power. We know the power of the people. We know that true power rests in the hands of the people. People who are willing to take a stand.

We need look no further than Haiti, Code,I'voire, Spain, and India to see the power of the people at the ballot box. No further than Brazil, Venezuela, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Paraguay to know that if they can do it, so can we.

Provided our elections are fair!

And if the Democrats cave in, in the face of fraud, disfranchisement, and theft, then we will be there to demand election integrity!

All over this country, the signs are there. People from New York to Florida, Washington State to California, Colorado to Texas are liberating themselves. We must not stop! Our country is worth it! Let's take our country back! Power to the People!

World Poverty 'More Widespread'

World Poverty 'More Widespread'

By Steve Schifferes

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The World Bank has warned that world poverty is much greater than previously thought.

It has revised its previous estimate and now says that 1.4 billion people live in poverty, based on a new poverty line of $1.25 per day.

This is substantially more than its earlier estimate of 985 million people living in poverty in 2004.

The Bank has also revised upwards the number it said were poor in 1981, from 1.5 billion to 1.9 billion.

The new estimates suggest that poverty is both more persistent, and has fallen less sharply, than previously thought.

However, given the increase in world population, the poverty rate has still fallen from 50% to 25% over the past 25 years.

"This is pretty grim analysis coming from the World Bank," said Elizabeth Stuart, senior policy adviser at Oxfam.

"The urgency to act has never been greater, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where half the population of the continent lives in extreme poverty, a figure that hasn't changed for over 25 years."

Regional differences

The new figures confirm that Africa has been the least successful region of the world in reducing poverty.

The number of poor people in Africa doubled between 1981 and 2005 from 200 million to 380 million, and the depth of poverty is greater as well, with the average poor person living on just 70 cents per day.

The poverty rate is unchanged at 50% since 1981.

But in absolute numbers, it is South Asia which has the most poor people, with 595 million, of which 455 million live in India.

The poverty rate, however, has fallen from 60% to 40%.

China has been most successful in reducing poverty, with the numbers falling by more than 600 million, from 835 million in 1981 to 207 million in 2005.

The poverty rate in China has plummeted from 85% to 15.9%, with the biggest part of that drop coming in the past 15 years, when China opened up to Western investment and its coastal regions boomed.

In fact, in absolute terms, China accounts for nearly all the world's reduction in poverty. In percentage terms, world poverty excluding China fell from 40% to 30% over the past 25 years.

Millennium goals

The new figures still suggest that the world will reach its millennium development goal of halving the 1990 level of poverty by 2015, according to World Bank chief economist Justin Lin.

"Poverty has fallen by about 1% per year since 1981," he said.

"However the sobering news that poverty is more pervasive than we thought means we must redouble our efforts."

Oxfam, however, warns that another 100 million people may be forced into poverty by rising food prices, as well as the additional 400 million identified in the new report.

The Bank's findings come as the OECD has reported that many rich countries have cut back on their foreign aid budgets, with little sign that the pledge made at the G8 summit at Gleneagles in 2005 to double aid to Africa by 2010 is being met.

The World Bank's new poverty line of $1.25 per day in 2005 is equivalent to its $1 per day poverty line introduced in 1981 after adjustment for inflation. The new estimates are based on 675 household surveys for 116 countries, based on 1.2 million interviews. The data has also been revised on the basis of new data on inflation and prices from the 2005 ICP survey of world prices, which showed that the cost of living in developing countries was higher than previously thought. It does not take into account the recent increases in fuel and food prices.

Community College Students Need Not Apply: Our Reward for Bailing Out the Banks

Community College Students Need Not Apply: Our Reward for Bailing Out the Banks

by Kesi Foster

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The American Dream deferred - that's what national lenders announced recently when they told Americans they were significantly reducing their lending to students who attend community college. Education is the great equalizer, but there was no equality in their decision: they targeted community colleges for cuts while extending their lending programs at distinguished 4-year schools.

According to the New York Times (6/2/08), the following lenders have started turning away from community college students: Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, SunTrust, and PNC. In the case of Citibank, it has stopped offering loans to all community college students in the state of California. The banks' reasoning is that community college students are more likely to default and are taking out smaller loans, while the students at elite universities are more likely to take out bigger loans and to re-pay them, since they are expected to earn more in the job market. This might sound like solid reasoning were it not for the fact (duly pointed out in the article) that the government ensures all student loans up to 95%. Thus there is essentially no risk involved for the lending companies.

We've been told that a college degree will set a person on the path for success. Not everyone takes the same path, however. People enroll in community college for many different reasons. Some didn't get the grades in high school to qualify for a 4-year school, while others have to work full-time and need the flexibility that community colleges offer. Most simply cannot afford to enroll in a 4-year school. I am one of them.

After high school, I enrolled in St. John's University because I got decent grades in high school and I was expected to go to college. I had no understanding of what I wanted to be in life and didn't grasp the importance of the college experience and a higher education. I pretty much picked a major out of a hat and then spent my first two semesters skipping one too many a class. By the summer I decided not to enroll for the fall, and took a full-time job instead. It wasn't anyone's fault - in truth, I was not ready to attend college and made my decision accordingly.

Yet, in my household education has always been stressed, and so I knew in the front of my mind that I would return to college. After a few years of working, I matured a great deal and had a better sense of where I wanted to go in life. So I reapplied to St. Johns and was accepted once again. I quickly realized, though, that my situation had changed dramatically. The tuition was now double what it was when I had left, and I did not qualify for financial aid since I was no longer a dependent but the sole taxpayer. With basically no other choice, I turned to the best alternative available: community college.

At first I was discouraged. There is a stark difference between the administration of St. John's and that of my new school, Bronx Community College. Whereas it took only about 30 minutes to sign up for classes at St. John's, it can take a whole day at BCC. And they may even ask you to come back due to of some mysterious hold on your record that can be taken care of only by an obscure faculty member who is often never on campus when you are. In my admission process, I asked three different faculty members the same question and I got back three completely different answers. There was also this stigma I was carrying around that somehow an education at a community college is inferior - some people refer to it as the 13th grade.

After attending for more than three semesters now, I would say the administration process has improved some, but it is still in disarray. Moreover, basic resources are badly lacking, such as water fountains. Oddly, not a single functioning water fountain can be found on the entire campus, though there are soda machines in every building. The heating and AC systems are hit and miss and the menu at the food hall is less than appealing. As for the education, I couldn't have been more wrong. It has been rigorous and very well rounded-great preparation for any baccalaureate program.

I was embarrassed to qualify only as a freshman even though I was legally old enough to drink, that is, until I got to class and met my classmates. This is the beauty of community college, the student body. Many of us have returned to community college as a second chance to help us achieve our goals. I met single mothers, fathers, grandmothers, first generation immigrants, people of all nationalities, the majority clearly focused and very eager to learn - all of us striving equally to get a piece of the American Dream, using community college as the springboard. When people would raise their hands to answer questions, you would hear West Indian accents, Eastern European accents, East Indian accents, Latino accents, and some I just couldn't place. Since I was still working, the flexible schedule was a necessity for me. Like me, many of my classmates came to class right after their full-time job. I don't think most of us could afford to leave our jobs and without community college we couldn't continue our higher education.

The student body at community colleges should be an inspiration to America. When I see a single mother who takes care of her children, works a full-time job, and finds time on the nights and weekends to attend school, I am inspired to continue despite at times feeling overwhelmed. Yet when it was discovered that lenders were turning their backs on these hardworking students, America didn't blink an eye. Since the credit companies are now turning their backs on us, does that not mean we should have no problem turning our backs on the banks when they want the government to bail them out?

Perhaps we should do as economist Dean Baker has recently suggested and put into law as one of the terms of the bailout that Congress impose a strict cap on management compensation of $2m a year, including salary, bonuses, stock options, and personal use of company jets. As Baker says, "This can be a good first step toward reining in the outrageous salaries at financial institutions that have come at the expense of ordinary workers. We can apply the same salary caps for managers at other financial institutions that feed at the government trough." He notes that under the current bailout, which naturally was written by the banks themselves, "the government is explicitly subsidizing the pay of incompetent bank managers. It is the effective use of lobbyists that ensures the pay of the executives of Fannie and Freddie, not their skill and hard work."

In terms of college loans, why not downsize lending at the distinguished 4-year schools? After all, students at the wealthy 4-year schools have far more net worth than those attending community college. Also, since so many students at community college work full-time, I bet we're actually paying a great deal more in taxes than students at 4-year universities.

When it was discovered that a local congressman, my local congressman, was hoarding rent-stabilized apartments it became a weeklong media circus, with news conferences and special features on the 6 and 11 o'clock news. It seems like you can't turn on the news without a politician convening a press conference to defend their indefensibly corrupt behavior. Yet when it comes to the corruptions of the big banks the government rushes in to save their skin, that is, their hugely bloated salaries, and the media looks the other way.

As it is, in many inner cities and low-income communities too many students fall through the cracks before they even get a chance to attend community college. As a society, we can't allow even more holes for them to fall through. What happens to people when more unnecessary obstacles are placed in front of them on their path to success?

The big banks want us to help them out in tough times, after having made extremely irrational lending decisions, but when we need help to purse a very sound and rational course, the attainment of a college degree, America's politicians sit in the back of the classroom and nod off to sleep, squandering yet another chance for us to improve ourselves.

It makes one wonder if that is not the whole plan.

Standoff with Police as Iraq Vets Demand to Meet with Obama Campaign

Standoff with Police as Iraq Vets Demand to Meet with Obama Campaign

By Alex Kane and Jessica Lee
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A little more than an hour before Sen. Barack Obama made a surprise appearance at Pepsi Center to conclude the evening at the Democratic National Convention, his campaign had an exchange with Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW).

Approximately 100 IVAW members were determined to push Obama on his stance on troop withdrawal. Leading a grueling three-hour-plus long march of an estimated 7,000 demonstrators towards the Pepsi Center late in the afternoon, IVAW hoped to deliver a folded flag and a letter calling on Obama to endorse the three main goals of unity: immediate withdrawal of American troops, full veterans benefits, and reparations for the Iraqi people.

The march was met with a line of more than 100 Denver Police Department officers clad in riot gear and armed with batons and pepper ball guns at the intersection of Market and 17th Streets. The police refused to let IVAW or the thousands of antiwar demonstrators closer to the convention. After long moments of contention between the demonstration and the police, finally one IVAW representative, former U.S. Marine Liam Madden, was allowed to cross police lines to meet with representatives of the Obama campaign.

As Madden left on his mission, it seemed as if more than 50 IVAW members were prepared to engage in non-violent civil disobedience and likely arrest. Less than 10 minutes later, at approximately 7:40pm (CT), an announcement was made by IVAW to the crowd, indicating that Obama had endorsed their three points of unity, causing the crowd to uproar in applause.

Some veterans were visibly emotional by the end of the march. In a highly stirring and symbolic moment, members of IVAW gave a peace salute towards the direction of the Pepsi Center. There was then a moment of silence for casualties of the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Sen. Obama, we won't forget this," said Jeff Engelhart, IVAW member who served in Baquba, Iraq, with the U.S. Army 1st Infantry Division, to the crowd via microphone and loud speakers. He went on to indicate that if Sen. Obama did not make good on his endorsement, more antiwar protests would come.

But there seemed to be some disconnect between the protesters and Madden's conversation with the Obama campaign.

IVAW's statement that the Obama campaign endorsed their points of unity could not be confirmed. The endorsement seems to be at odds with the Obama campaign's stated positions on troop withdrawal, which involve a gradual and phased withdrawal of combat troops, with a residual force to stay in Iraq for the time being.

Local news stations have not confirmed the claim that Obama endorsed the three points of unity. Instead, both the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post are reporting that a meeting has been planned between IVAW and Obama's liaison for veterans' affairs.

Members of IVAW expressed pessimism of the Democrats as an antiwar party, noting that although they were elected in 2006 with an antiwar message, they have continually funded the wars.

"I really don't feel [Obama] is the antiwar candidate," said U.S. Army Specialist Sean Valdez, a new member of IVAW who served two tours of duty in Iraq. "It's so hard. You hear what he says and you want to believe it, but how many times have we been disappointed before this?"

"We're here as veterans, as soldiers, as marines, here to demand that the Democratic Party uphold to the front that they have as an antiwar party, and actually make a stand, and bring our soldiers home now," said 31-year-old Adrienne Kinnie, a member of IVAW who served in the U.S. Army and Army Reserves from 1994 to 2004.

In a juxtaposition that is becoming familiar in Denver, two worlds seemly unconnected are living side-by-side, only streets apart -- the polished Democratic showcase and the simultaneous protests in the parks and streets where the voices of ordinary people remain unheard by the Democratic dynasty.

While Sen. John Kerry addressed delegates about the Iraq War and veteran issues, outside the convention thousands of demonstrators were demanding that the Democrats take a firmer stance on ending the war and providing better treatment to U.S. military personnel and veterans. There was no mention of the large demonstration or the concerns of IVAW during the convention presentation inside Pepsi Center, although most of the speeches given throughout the night touched on the Iraq War and the military.

The Denver Police Department riot officers, looking as menacing as ever with their fingers on the triggers of their pepper ball guns, failed to corral the demonstrators into the so-called designed "free speech zone," located near 7th Street and Walnut Street, earlier in the afternoon when it left the Denver Coliseum after a Rage Against the Machine concert.

3,000 march in largest demonstration of DNC

3,000 march in largest demonstration of DNC

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Marching behind a police vehicle that flashed the words "Follow Us. Welcome to Denver." on an electronic sign, at least 3,000 Iraq war veterans and anti-war protesters made their way through downtown Denver on Wednesday during the largest demonstration of the Democratic National Convention to date.

Though the event, co-sponsored by the anti-war group Tent State University and Iraq Veterans Against the War, was unpermitted, the parade proceeded peacefully.

It began at the Denver Coliseum and ended at the Pepsi Center perimeter about three hours later. There, veterans attempted to contact aides of presidential candidate Barack Obama to deliver a statement urging Obama to endorse the idea of an immediate withdrawal of "all occupying forces" from Iraq among other positions.

The letter also upbraided the Democratic Party for their "initial and continued" support for the war.

After an hourlong standoff, during which tensions between veterans and police escalated, a meeting with an Obama aide was arranged, and the crowd dispersed.

The march began around 3:15 p.m. outside the coliseum after many of the participants had attended a free concert featuring the heavy metal/rap band Rage Against the Machine and three other acts.

Throughout the four-hour show, band members and emcee Jello Biafra, formerly of the Dead Kennedys, offered political commentary and urged audience members to join the demonstration.

They stressed that it would be a peaceful march.

Referring to conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, who had been widely quoted as saying it would be his "dream" for Denver to break into riots during the convention, rapper Jonny 5 of the Flobots, a Denver band, told the crowd the worst thing they could do was make that dream come true.

While some feared the police would attempt to stop the unpermitted march, officers escorted the group through city streets, redirecting traffic and pedestrians.

The group of mostly young people walked behind a banner that said: "Support GI Resistance."

Protesters appeared to stretch across at least four city blocks.

Wearing T-shirts and stickers with slogans such as "Arrest Bush" and "Make Out Not War," they sang rolling chants, Marine style. "Tell Me What We're Marching For," sang some. "Stop the torture, stop the war," answered others.

People lined the streets to watch, mostly in approval.

As the parade made its way down Brighton Boulevard, Jonathan Paul, general manager of Builder's Outlet, stood outside his door-framing business. "We had no idea (what was happening) until police started showing up, and I went out and talked to them," he said. Paul said he thought the road had closed because of a passing dignitary.

Further down the route, Betsy Crane, a Denver mother, stood with her children, ages 9, 7 and 5. "They wanted to see what was going on," she said. "They're interested in seeing police officers, as well as protesters."

Not everyone was as respectful.

From the balcony of an apartment complex, a man yelled at the throngs of protesters to move on. "Don't come back here," he said.

But one protester had the last word: He suggested the man join the Army.

As the march wore on under a hot sun, some dropped out. Others found ways to take shortcuts. Two teens on the 16th Street Mall shuttle wearing Rage Against the Machine T-shirts admitted they had skipped part of the march and planned to join it as it neared the end.

One foot clad in a black shoe, the other barefoot, James Koller, 17, explained: "Someone clocked me in the face and took my shoe in the moshpit," he said. "This is a quicker route to the Pepsi Center."

Koller's friend, Joey Minicucci, 18, of Littleton, noted that his brother was in the military, getting ready to be sent to Iraq, one of the reasons he was going to the march.

Another woman in the throngs of protesters had her mind on civil liberties: "I'm marching because it seems to be the last vestiges of our free speech and because people have demands and our government's not listening," said Anne Hill, of Montrose.

Montrose and others came to a standstill at the perimeter of the Pepsi Center around 6:30 p.m., at which time they attempted to have the letter delivered to Obama. Once veterans had set up the meeting with a liaison for Obama, tensions defused.

"I figured as long as we kept things peaceful, they would hear us, and they did," said Jeffrey Wood, an Army veteran who served 18 months stateside.

Concern Raised Over Suspicious Deaths Of 24 Bio-Scientists

Concern Raised Over Suspicious Deaths Of 24 Bio-Scientists

‘Suicide’ of Bruce Ivins makes it 24 bioterrorism experts who have died over last seven years

By Victor Thorn

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OVER THE PAST SEVEN YEARS, more than two dozen of the world’s most esteemed microbiologists—all of whom were focused on combating bioterrorism—have died under questionable circumstances.

One was stabbed with a sword, another run over by a car, while a third was bashed over the head until dead. A scientist was found with repeated stab wounds to the chest; another was shoved under a chair (naked from the waist down); one perished in a nitrogen-filled airlock; another was carjacked, with his keys still in the ignition and a full tank of gas.

None of these men died of natural causes. Their murders were deliberate, and it’s sending a clear message to virus experts, immunologists, entomologists, and those researching bio-weaponry: your lives are in grave danger.

The latest casualty was bio-defense pioneer Bruce Ivins, who reportedly committed suicide on July 29 at Frederick Memorial Hospital from an overdose of Tylenol 3. (How he obtained enough pills to kill himself in a mental hospital is still open to question.) Ivins had direct links to the 2001 anthrax case; first via his potential development of a vaccine to combat the toxin, and secondly as a 2003 recipient of the Decoration for Exceptional Service—the most prestigious award a civilian scientist can receive. Ivins also assisted the government in its investigation of the anthrax scare.

Those closest to Ivins are publicly skeptical of the suicide story, pointing out that he was a Red Cross volunteer, played keyboards at his local church, enjoyed gardening and was married with two children. On the other hand, to paint the most horrific picture possible, an FBI-affiliated social worker named Jean Duley stated that Ivins was, in reality, a sociopathic, homicidal revenge killer who wanted to murder his coworkers
in a blaze of glory after discovering that he was the target of a Justice Department investigation into the anthrax case.

This testimony is questionable on a number of different levels. Samples of human hair from a mailbox in Princeton, N.J. where the anthrax was mailed do not match Ivins, sources involved said. For 18 years, Ivins held one of the highest security clearances possible in the Department of Defense. As journalist Scott Creighton asked, “How did all those educated and degreed psychologists and psychiatrists miss this criminal intent that a social worker (Jean Duley) picked up on in one group session?”

If Ivins exhibited such homicidal tendencies, wouldn’t it be identified at least once in nearly two decades, especially since he worked at Fort Detrick, home of the U.S. Army’s Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases at one of the most guarded facilities in the country?

Ivins is the second victim of a government witch hunt that began with the concerted harassment of Dr. Steven Hatfill, whose career and reputation were irreparably destroyed before receiving a $5.8 million settlement from the feds. Conveniently enough, less than a month after the government awarded Hatfill his judgment—with their anthrax case seemingly stalled and going nowhere because they pursued the wrong man for years—all of a sudden Bruce Ivins overdoses and the entire matter is suddenly solved.

Nobody has to ever again worry about anthrax-laced letters like the ones Tom Brokaw and former Sen. Tom Daschle received. But has the real culprit actually been identified, or is there someone else being shielded from prosecution?

The answer may lie with Dr. Philip M. Zack, a microbiologist who had already attempted to frame an Arab colleague, Dr. Ayaad Asaad, for the anthrax scare.

Zack, it turns out, is Jewish, and was fired from his post at Fort Detrick for continually harassing Dr. Asaad in an extremely discriminatory fashion because he was Arab.

Continued visits to the top-secret lab after his dismissal were recorded by security cameras. He was filmed entering Fort Detrick on numerous occasions. The individual who illegally let him in was Dr. Marian K. Rippy, also Jewish. In addition, Zack was well acquainted with military-grade anthrax, the same type that was used to lace postal packages in 2001.

Further evidence implicating the government were DNA tests linking the original source spores (which are very rare) to Fort Detrick. Zack again becomes a prime suspect because the anthrax scare occurred shortly after 9-11, at a time when the neo-cons and Israel were primed to begin their “war on terror.” Zack was known as a rabid “Arab-hating-Jew,” and the letters attached to each anthrax sample teemed with anti-Semitic rhetoric meant to implicate Arabs (“Death to Israel, Allah is Great”).

Was the entire anthrax hysteria motivated to cast further suspicion on Muslims to justify the neo-cons’ desire for a Mideast war? Was the anthrax scare akin to Saddam Hussein’s purported WMDs, another tactic to push us toward an Iraqi invasion? Were Steven Hatfill and Bruce Ivins scapegoats used by the government to divert attention from Dr. Zack’s involvement?

Finally, are many of the world’s top microbiologists being murdered to minimize efforts to counter the effects of a future bio-terrorist attack? Who would have ever thought that brainy, isolated lab workers were in the world’s most deadly white-collar profession?

Dr. Bruce Ivins was a shy, dedicated scientist. Following his death, he’s been characterized as a madman wearing a bullet-proof vest who poisoned his victims via the nation’s most deadly act of biological terrorism.

But, if the anthrax scare was simply another neo-con/Mossad psy-op, the implications for a coverup are enormous. Many of Dr. Ivins’ colleagues and friends don’t believe claims that he was a killer, and feel his “suicide” was the result of non-stop, heavy-handed harassment by government officials. Disease specialist W. Russell Byrne characterized him as “looking
like a guy who was being led to his execution.”

Has another number just been added to the mysterious microbiologist body count?