Monday, October 20, 2008

World Peace is More Than Just the Silencing of the Guns

World Peace is More Than Just the Silencing of the Guns

By Peter Chamberlin

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World peace is more than just the silencing of the guns, it is the elimination of the injustice that has compelled the men to reach for those guns in self-defense against the aggression. In the currently building world war (which is based on lies and deceptions), the mission is to identify all of the men who believe in self-defense and eliminate them. Both sides believe that everyone has the right to self-defense, but the aggressors in this war believe that they have a "divine right" (because of their intellectual superiority) to disarm and rule the rest.

The "war on terror" is the intellectual's war, the neocon intellectuals. To them, most of the human race is an inferior species, sheep, to be led for their own good. Look at Iraq and Afghanistan, look at the economy, to see how smart they really are and just exactly where they are leading us.

We are standing at the edge of the abyss because we have gone along with all the lies. Without "acceptable" lies, the neocons are nothing but arrogant snobs. Without public acceptance of the "official version" of events, there would never have been a terror war. Without the attack upon our families in New York and Washington in 2001, we would not have been "tickled" into taking-up arms in self-defense against the henchmen and patsies our government offered-up to us to cover its own crimes.

For there to be peace in the midst of a war engineered by a would-be master race the cold penetrating light of reality must emasculate the acceptable lies agreed to in secret back room meetings, which allow sheer gangsterism and extortion from weaker adversaries to masquerade as "diplomacy and negotiations."

The incessant lies emanating from the Pentagon, the White House and especially from the CIA have to be silenced. If the war of terror, based on lies is to be turned into a world at peace, based on simple truth, then we have to illuminate the secret killings in dark places that show the true face of the war against innocence being waged by Nazi-like regime.

It must be shown that we have been embracing the force of true evil that runs and ruins this Nation today. By exposing the accepted lie that the innocent Muslim people who are merely resisting our aggressions upon their homelands are "terrorists," we remove the blinders we have accepted from the true authors of terror in the terror war. By accepting US and Pakistani military reports on "collateral" kills, we embrace the popular lie that only "militants and terrorists" were killed by the one-eyed "Terminator" drones. We dishonor ourselves and our ancestors by accepting the lies that babies were "militants!"

We have to get solid evidence out to the world. A good place to start would be to follow the wise example set by the Israeli human rights organization "B'Tselem," by supplying camcorders to Pakistani families in North and South Waziristan, to document the indiscriminate killing of entire families, the "tickling" operations described so cleverly by CIA Director Michael Hayden. With video evidence (translated into English) of the aftermath of American genocidal attacks it would be much easier to organize resistance to those attacks and serve as evidence in later war crimes trials. It would be beautifully ironic if the American-adopted Israeli tactic of "targeted assassinations" with missiles is exposed by the same video tactic that has revealed Israeli brutality against the helpless in occupied Palestine.

According to Director Hayden, the real value of these attacks with "Hellfire" missiles upon mud-brick family dwellings and religious schools is in the reactions caused by the killings. In other words, the value of the attack is as much in the number of male family members who rise to avenge these terror attacks as it is in the "high value target" occasionally killed. The tactic described by Hayden is the latest manifestation of contemporary American "counter-insurgency" techniques.

The main idea involved in fighting an "insurgency" within a populated area in this manner is to find and co-opt local leaders, like Baitullah Mehsud, around which to create the impression of a growing shadowy "counter-insurgency." These inept local "contras" get blamed for the ensuing wave of violence committed by US Special Ops, their in addition to the gangster-like attacks they carry-out on their own. These units perform the same task as the Terminator-drones, that of initiating the cycle of retribution. They bomb and murder civilians, in order to motivate their male relatives to take-up arms and avenge their relatives, focusing in particular upon killing of local Shia, to instigate inter-faith conflict.

The concept of fighting a global war by limited means is an evil idea, concocted by the vainest, most self-centered self-worshippers the planet has ever been plagued by. The idea that your intellect is so superior to every other human mind that the best thing that could ever happen to the human race would be for you to rule over them, no matter what it cost in human lives to place you in that position of power, is the idea that drove Adolf Hitler. The men who have brought us the neocon war plan of total world conquest, by limited means, are no less evil, nor less vain than Hitler (the neocon's favorite bogeyman).

By choosing to fight "the long war," on a limited basis, they have accepted the idea of killing a major portion of human life, even risking the destruction of the entire planet. The idea of a generational war serves as a sorting mechanism, a gory laboratory for identifying and separating those who will willingly accept the unfair suffering life forced upon them and their families under the new "matrix," from those persistent independent-minded souls who will resist. The war of terror is to identify potential resisters and to eliminate them, leaving behind only docile malleable slave sheep, to serve as functional "copper-tops."

The idea that there could ever be world peace as long as the matrix exists is part of the illusion that hinders the formation of a real resistance.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Martti Ahtisaari warned on Friday:

"world peace efforts hampered by credit crunch...The international financial crisis is hampering efforts towards world peace."

The former Finnish president said a lack of economic development in war-torn countries would make it harder to resolve conflicts:

"It will not help us to solve conflict with no economic development in those countries. It is becoming more and more difficult...We are avoiding taking the tough decisions that are needed."

This is pure B.S. Contributing to the war of aggression by aiding in reconstruction efforts, while hostilities continue will never bring anything like world peace. The whole idea of "good faith" re-construction by the same monstrous war machine from which the original devastation flowed is an exercise in propaganda and disinformation intended to distract those of us who would form an army of worldwide resistance.

This requires a change of attitude on the part of the aggressor, first, admitting that the US and its allies are the aggressors. The entire terror war has been a manufactured event designed to maintain the US position of global authority. We have to refute the acceptable lie that we have been a victim and that our great war plan simply failed, while we openly admit that the war has been a criminal act of aggression in every conceivable way, from the very beginning. We have committed the most serious crimes in pursuit of our plans to plunder and subjugate the earth, crimes against the human race, crimes against Our Creator, Himself.

We have destroyed entire nations in our mad rush to fend for ourselves and perpetuate our system of inequality that creates immense wealth for true believers by siphoning-off the bread of life from the rest. Until this warfare of greed stops decimating the human race there can never be world peace.

For their ever to be peace, there must be an end to the hostile force that drives men's aggression and turns simple day-to-day existence into a daily fight for life. The forces that are driving the individual wars that are being merged into one big war, must be stopped. The lands and peoples devastated in their aggression must be rebuilt and compensated for the crimes committed upon them, out of the US Treasury, with money which would formerly have been allotted to further military aggression.

Pakistani offensive creates refugee crisis

Pakistani offensive creates refugee crisis

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A flood of internal refugees fleeing from fighting in Pakistan's tribal area now look as if they'll spend the biting winter in tents, in squalid conditions, and may be marooned for years.

Around 190,000 people have streamed into the North-West Frontier Province from the neighbouring tribal territory of Bajaur, where, at the start of August, the Pakistani military launched perhaps its most serious offensive against Taliban extremists since Sept. 11, 2001.

At least 10 makeshift camps run by the government now house tens of thousands, while others have taken shelter with family and friends settled in the NWFP. Up to 100,000 more have made the journey hundreds of kilometres to Karachi, to join a huge community of fellow Pashtuns in the port city. Bajaur has been virtually emptied of its inhabitants.

Bajaur is one of seven “agencies” of the tribal belt and, with the expectation that the operation will move on to other parts of the tribal area, the misery of the people of Bajaur may be replicated across the region, which runs along the Afghan border and is a stronghold of Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters.

On a scenic hillside outside the town of Timergara, in the district of Dir, which borders Bajaur, a grim settlement is taking form. The month-old camp has just started a rudimentary open-air school for the younger children, taught by the older kids.

“We don't have enough water to drink, let alone the chance to bathe,” said Gul Mohammad, 25, who arrived with seven other family members. “We brought nothing. We just came here to save our lives.”

Toilet facilities so far amount to a communal ditch or a trip to the nearby river. There is no electricity; water is trucked in. Food supplies are distributed but the refugees say it is inadequate, leaving them to scavenge or buy wood to cook with.

There are 880 families at the Timergara camp, or 6,260 individuals, the majority of them children, according to the official in charge. Most families are given one tent each, which, given their traditionally large number of children, means that eight or more share a tent.

“First we thought this would be for a month. It looks like years to me now,” said Abdul Hameed, a Pakistani government official who runs the facility.

“We have stopped more coming in. There is no space left.”

The refugees' anger is directed mostly at the Pakistani authorities – not the Taliban – both for launching the operation and for the miserable conditions they now endure. They allege that Bajaur is being pounded indiscriminately by jet fighters and helicopter gunships, with most of the casualties being innocent civilians and widespread damage to houses.

“Even when a two-year-old dies in a strike, they [the army] say in the media that he was Taliban or al-Qaeda,” said Rahim Gul, who had come from a village close to Damadola, an alleged hotbed of militancy. “It's a double game they're playing. They don't hit the Taliban's houses, they hit ours.”

A man who gave his name only as Sherpao said: “It is the fault of both sides. The army throws bombs on us from above. The Taliban terrorize us on the ground. We just want peace. We don't care who wins.”

The Pakistani authorities claim to have killed more than 1,000 militants in Bajaur, with 10 more reported Sunday. The chief spokesman for the army said he had no figures for civilian casualties.

“Houses are being used by the militants, as bunkers. They're firing from there. Therefore all houses from where the firing is coming are being engaged by the security forces,” said Major General Athar Abbas. “To our knowledge, the civilians of this area have left.”

Around the provincial capital of the NWFP, Peshawar, three former Afghan refugee camps – only cleared of their inhabitants in the past year – have had to be hurriedly pressed back into service, this time to take Pakistanis from Bajaur.

On the outskirts of Peshawar, in the Hayatabad suburb, the vast Kacha Garhi camp, where the mud houses had been largely bulldozed after the Afghans left, has taken on a bleak new life as a tented home for 5,500 people from Bajaur. Again, facilities are rudimentary and supplies are short.

An old man, Mohammad Amin, said he had been passed from camp to camp. “When will we get the blankets and bedding? After dying?”

Freddie Mac secretly paid Republican firm to kill regulation

Freddie Mac secretly paid Republican firm to kill regulation

Freddie Mac secretly paid a Republican consulting firm $2 million to kill legislation that would have regulated and trimmed the mortgage finance giant and its sister company, Fannie Mae, three years before the government took control to prevent their collapse.

In the cross hairs of the campaign carried out by DCI of Washington were Republican senators and a regulatory overhaul bill sponsored by Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.).

DCI's chief executive is Doug Goodyear, whom John McCain's campaign later hired to manage the GOP convention in September.

Freddie Mac's payments to DCI began shortly after the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee sent Hagel's bill to the then GOP-run Senate on July 28, 2005. All GOP members of the committee supported it; all Democrats opposed it.

In the midst of DCI's yearlong effort, Hagel and 25 other Republican senators pleaded unsuccessfully with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to allow a vote.

''If effective regulatory reform legislation . . . is not enacted this year, American taxpayers will continue to be exposed to the enormous risk that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac pose to the housing market, the overall financial system and the economy as a whole,'' the senators wrote.

Unknown to the senators, DCI was undermining support for the bill in a campaign targeting 17 Republican senators in 13 states, according to documents.

In the end, there was not enough Republican support for Hagel's bill to warrant bringing it up for a vote because Democrats also opposed it and the votes of some would be needed for passage. The measure died.

McCain was not a target of the DCI campaign. He signed Hagel's letter.

The Republican senators targeted by DCI began hearing from prominent constituents and financial contributors, all urging the defeat of Hagel's bill because it might harm the housing boom. The effort generated newspaper articles and radio and TV appearances by participants who spoke out against the measure.

Inside Freddie Mac headquarters, the few dozen people who knew what DCI was doing referred to the initiative as ''the stealth lobbying campaign,'' according to three people familiar with the drive.

Freddie Mac executive Hollis McLoughlin oversaw DCI's drive, according to the three people.

''Hollis's goal was not to have any Freddie Mac fingerprints on this project and DCI became the hidden hand behind the effort,'' one of the three said.

Freddie Mac acknowledged that the company ''did retain DCI to provide public affairs support at the state and local level.'' DCI said it complied with federal and state laws and regulations in representing Freddie Mac.

US bank losses wipe out years of paper profits

US bank losses wipe out years of paper profits

By Barry Grey
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A milestone was reached Thursday by the US banking system: With the announcement by Citigroup and Merrill Lynch of billions of dollars in additional losses in their third quarter reports, all of the profits accumulated by the nine biggest banks during the three-and-a-half-year housing boom had vanished.

In an article headlined “Banks Are Likely to Hold Tight to Bailout Money,” the New York Times reported Friday that Citigroup’s $13.2 billion in charges and Merrill Lynch’s $5.15 billion in write-downs brought the total losses of the major banks since the credit crisis erupted in mid-2007 to $323 billion, surpassing the $305 billion taken in from early 2004 to mid-2007 by Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, Washington Mutual and Wachovia.

“For every dollar the banks earned during the industry’s most prosperous years,” the Times noted, “they have now wiped out $1.06.”

Commenting in measured terms on the collapse of what amounts to a gigantic Ponzi scheme perpetrated by the most powerful financial firms, Richard Sylla, an economist and financial historian at the Stern School of Business at New York University, said, “The losses now are showing that in some sense the profits reported in earlier years were not real, because they were taking too much risk then.”

This was a reference to the proliferation of exotic and opaque speculative financial instruments—collateralized debt obligations, structured investment vehicles, credit default swaps—that were devised by the wizards of Wall Street to generate super profits based on a mountain of debt backed by virtually no real value. On the basis of these paper values, they rewarded themselves with salaries and bonuses in the tens and hundreds of millions of dollars.

Now, standing in the midst of the ruins of their own firms and the onset of an economic catastrophe for millions of working people in the US and around the world, these very same bankers are declaring that they have no intention any time soon of using the billions in taxpayer money handed them by the government to resume lending and unfreeze the credit markets—the ostensible purpose of the bailout measures whose estimated cost to the American people has risen to $2.25 trillion.

The collapse of the financial house of cards has exposed the ideological nostrums that have been used to defend American capitalism—such as the infallibility of the market and the irreplaceable role of the capitalist “risk-takers,” the supposed justification for their stratospheric compensation packages.

The gospel of the “free market,” which has, particularly over the past three decades, become the secular religion of the entire political establishment, has proven to be a recipe for social disaster. In one sense, however, the system has worked quite well. It has performed its essential function of generating colossal levels of personal wealth for the financial aristocracy.

The Financial Times reported last month that compensation for major executives of the seven largest US banks totaled $95 billion over the past three years, even as the banks recorded $500 billion in losses.

Small shareholders have been ruined; pensions, IRAs and 401(K)s have been decimated, factories are closing and families in the millions are losing their homes—but the Wall Street titans get to keep every penny they have pocketed for themselves.

To give some idea of sums involved, John Thain, the head of Merrill Lynch and, according to the Associated Press, the best-paid CEO, took in $83 million in 2007. His bank averted collapse last month by agreeing to be bought by Bank of America. Merrill’s write-downs from mid-2007 through the third quarter of 2008 total close to $55 billion, or 254 percent of the bank’s profits from 2004 through the first half of 2007.

Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs (formerly headed by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson), received $68 million in 2007.

John Mack, the head of Morgan Stanley, received $41.8 million in compensation last year, and his 2007 holdings in Morgan Stanley stock were worth $220 million. Morgan Stanley has written off about $15 billion in bad assets, equal to 70 percent of its boom-time profits.

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon’s total 2008 compensation, according to Forbes magazine, is $27,797,000. His bank has written off some $23 billion over the past 20 months.

At the height of the profit boom, in December of 2006, Wall Street awarded Christmas bonuses totaling more than $100 billion. This sum was more than twice the annual budget of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and nearly twice the US Department of Education budget. It was five times what Washington spent on foreign aid to the entire world, and twice the budget of the City of New York, which employed 250,000 people.

The Wall Street bailout has provided a valuable lesson on the nature of class relations in America. It has exposed the subservience of the state, behind the trappings of democracy, to the financial aristocracy.

Paulson had to plead with the top CEOs to agree to his plan to inject $250 billion in public funds into the banks, $125 billion going to the nine largest firms, through a government purchase of stock. They agreed only when he presented the terms of the deal and it became clear how extraordinarily favorable they were—as the Times put it, “more favorable than they would have received in the marketplace.”

Indeed. The banks will be charged cut-rate fees in return for the cash, there will be no real limits on executive pay, and the government will exercise no control over their operations. There is not even a requirement that the banks use the public money to extend credit to other banks, businesses or individuals.

“The government,” the Times wrote, “offered no written requirement about how or when the banks must use the money.” The newspaper quoted John C. Dugan, the comptroller of the currency, affirming that he “would not examine how the banks use the money.”

They could use it to acquire weaker competitors, or just hoard it.

Despite a public plea by Paulson on Monday for the banks to use their government handout to resume lending, the bankers are making no such commitment. Said Merrill’s Thain on Thursday, “We will have the opportunity to redeploy that. But at least for the next quarter, it’s just going to be a cushion.”

Roger Freeman, an analyst at Barclays Capital, said, “My expectation is it’s quarters off, not months off, before you see that capital being put to work.”

Despite this carte blanche for the bankers, it was deemed necessary to roll out George W. Bush on Friday to reassure Wall Street that there were no strings attached and no hint of nationalization in the bailout scheme. Speaking before the US Chamber of Commerce early Friday morning—his remarks timed to precede the opening of the stock market—Bush paid obeisance to “democratic capitalism” as “the greatest system ever devised.”

“Some have viewed this temporary measure as a step toward nationalizing banks,” he said. “This is simply not the case.”

To dispel all doubts, he specified key terms of the deal: “The government will not exercise control over any private firm. Federal officers will not have a seat around your local bank’s boardroom table. The shares owned by the government will have voting rights that can be used only to protect the taxpayers’ investment, not to direct the firm’s operations.

“The government intervention is not a government takeover. Its purpose is not to weaken the free market; it is to preserve the free market.”

He added, “We must not blur the line between the government and the private sector. We must not supplant the profit motive with political motives.”

Everyone in the audience understood that “political motives” was a euphemism for infringing on profit and the wealth of the financial elite to address the social crisis facing the working class.

US Supreme Court denies Mumia Abu-Jamal’s appeal for new trial

US Supreme Court denies Mumia Abu-Jamal’s appeal for new trial

By Hiram Lee
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The US Supreme Court has denied Mumia Abu-Jamal’s appeal for a new trial. A well-respected journalist and political activist, Abu-Jamal was convicted in 1982 of murdering Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.

The trial that resulted in Abu-Jamal’s death sentence has since become infamous for its racist and anti-democratic character. Abu-Jamal, now 53, continues to profess his innocence, as he has since his arrest nearly three decades ago. His case has won widespread international support.

The high court justices rejected Abu-Jamal’s case without comment on October 6, the first day of the Supreme Court term. His was among more than 2,000 appeals rejected in the first days of the new term, including those of other death row inmates. On October 14, the court refused to hear the case of Georgia death row inmate Troy Davis, widely assumed innocent of the murder he was convicted of committing. (See “US Supreme Court clears way for execution of likely innocent death row inmate”)

In 1981, Mumia Abu-Jamal, already an established journalist, had taken a second job working as a cab driver. On December 9 of that year, he was driving his cab through downtown Philadelphia in the early hours of the morning when he happened upon an altercation between his brother, William Cook, and police officer Faulkner. Seeing that his brother was in distress, Abu-Jamal rushed to his aid. During the confrontation which followed, both Abu-Jamal and Faulkner were shot. The police officer died from his wounds; Abu-Jamal survived and was taken into custody.

Before the shooting of Daniel Faulkner had occurred, Abu-Jamal, who had been a founding member of the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Panther Party, had already drawn the wrath of the FBI and the Philadelphia police department for his political activism. He had worked for years as a journalist in radio, where his political reporting earned him the nickname “Voice of the Voiceless.”

In the late 1970s, Abu-Jamal was an outspoken supporter of John Africa’s MOVE organization, a political group that was locked in a bitter struggle with police. During a 1978 raid on MOVE’s west Philadelphia commune, police officer James Ramp was killed and six other officers injured. In 1985, just three years after Abu-Jamal’s conviction, Philadelphia police dropped a bomb on the commune which had since moved to a new location. Eleven people were killed in the resulting fire, including the group’s leader John Africa, and five children.

Abu-Jamal’s defense of MOVE during this time earned him the wrath of the Philadelphia police force and there is ever-increasing evidence that the journalist has been the victim of a police frame-up.

Of the latest appeal to the Supreme Court, Robert R. Bryan, lead attorney for Abu-Jamal, had previously explained in a legal update for the journalist’s supporters, “The basis of the current litigation is that the prosecution persuaded witnesses to lie in order to obtain a conviction and death judgment against my client.”

The appeal centered on two recent affidavits by new witnesses who have challenged the testimony of key witnesses in the 1982 prosecution. The first affidavit was from Yvette Williams, who came forward to refute the story of Cynthia White, an essential player in the original prosecution who claimed she saw Abu-Jamal shoot Faulkner.

Williams’ affidavit, recorded January 28, 2002, begins, “I was in jail with Cynthia White in December of 1981 after Police Officer Daniel Faulkner was shot and killed. Cynthia White told me the police were making her lie and say she saw Mr. Jamal shoot Officer Faulkner when she really did not see who did it. She said she knew Mumia from seeing him drive a cab.” Williams goes on to say, “I asked her why she was ‘lying on that man [Abu-Jamal].’ She told me it was because the police and vice threatened her life.”

The second affidavit, recorded April 18, 2003, by Kenneth Pate, an inmate at SCI Greene prison in Pennsylvania, challenges the testimony of Priscilla Durham. Durham was a security guard at the hospital where Abu-Jamal was treated on the night Faulkner was killed. Durham had testified in 1982 that she heard Abu-Jamal confess to Faulkner’s murder.

Pate, who is a relative of Ms. Durham, states in his affidavit that “She [Ms. Durham] said that when the police brought him [Abu-Jamal] in that night she was working at the hospital. Mumia was all bloody and the police were interfering with his treatment, saying ‘let him die.’” Pate goes on, “Priscilla said that the police told her that she was part of the ‘brotherhood’ of police since she was a security guard and that she had to stick with them and say that she heard Mumia say that he killed the police officer, when they brought Mumia in on a stretcher.”

Pate says that when he asked Durham if she had really heard such a confession, she replied, “All I heard him say was: ‘Get off me, get off me, they’re trying to kill me.’“

The Supreme Court Justices did not comment on their October 6 ruling against the appeal containing the sworn statements of these new witnesses, remarkable considering Abu-Jamal’s case is likely the most high-profile death penalty case in the United States in decades.

While Abu-Jamal’s appeal for a new trial has been rejected, there are further legal battles ahead, including another appeal to the Supreme Court that will specifically address the more racist elements of the 1982 trial.

An earlier federal appeals court ruling denied a new trial for Abu-Jamal, but ordered a new sentencing hearing. If the Supreme Court does not grant him a new trial on the basis of his new appeal, federal prosecutors may appeal the federal appeals court ruling that ordered the new sentencing hearing.

While his initial death sentence was overturned in 2001, Abu-Jamal could face the death penalty once again should a new sentencing hearing take place. He remains incarcerated on death row during the appeals process. The only legal options open for Abu-Jamal are life in prison or a new death sentence.

Hard Times

Hard Times

by Stephen Lendman

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Hard and troubled. Racked by fear and uncertainty. For many trauma. Experts predict, speculate and conjecture, but no one knows for sure what's ahead. Key questions are whether we're in a protracted and severe recession. Or at the onset of another Great Depression. So much is unresolved. The problems have built for years and are immense. Maybe nothing at this stage will work and the best hope is for light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel.

Again no one knows. The worst may or may not be too late to avoid. At best, stabilization and recovery will take time. Likely years. The degree of pain along the way will depend on future policy responses. Ones so far taken aren't encouraging. Their details aren't entirely clear. They're slowly emerging and from what's known since the original EESA/TARP announcement, the Treasury:

-- will invest $125 billion to recapitalize nine major banks, including Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley, Bank of New York Mellon, Merrill Lynch and State Street; another $125 billion will go to smaller banks and thrifts;

-- according to Bloomberg.com, amounts range from $25 billion to JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup; another $25 billion to be divided between Bank of America and Merrill Lynch; $20 billion to Wells Fargo; $10 billion each to Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley; and $3 billion each to Bank of New York Mellon and State Street; the winners in the "bailout" sweepstakes;

-- investments will be in specially issued preferred (non-voting) shares; they'll pay 5% interest to be increased to 9% after five years;

-- the government will receive warrants worth 15% of the preferred shares' value;

-- FDIC insurance will cover all small business deposits so they won't be shifted from weak to more stable banks;

-- the government will guarantee banks' newly issued unsecured debt for three years to make refinancing liabilities easier; retail deposits up to $250,000 also guaranteed as previously announced;

-- toxic assets will be bought to restore liquidity in mortgage-backed securities market; also previously announced; banks' "toxicity" is in the multi-trillions of dollars; no amount of government largesse can change that;

-- all available tools will be used to avoid a systemic meltdown; the IMF and other international lending agencies will also be involved;

-- the Federal Reserve will serve as buyer of last resort for commercial paper; and

-- measures are intended to be temporary, but no time horizon was indicated.

Will these and other planned measures work? On October 14, Bloomberg interviewed numerous analysts. Some were reassuring. Others weren't. They noted heroic measures to unfreeze money markets and interbank lending. Suggested any improvement helps but expected too little, too late, to matter. They also cited little easing in stress measures in stark contrast to soaring world equity valuations. Early on, then plunging. Continuing the same volatile pattern indicating fear and uncertainty. Plus lots of manipulation so speculators can profit hugely on ups and downs.

Steps so far taken do nothing for distressed households. They're an aggressive attempt to save major banks that are effectively insolvent. Stabilize world economies if it works. Yet huge problems remain at the "end of an era as credit bubble bursts," according to Lloyds TSB economist Trevor Williams on October 13:

"Too much debt led to bubbles....no one really knows when or how this crisis is going to end....this is the latest of many bubbles to have plagued the world economy in the last 10 - 15 years....(it didn't) develop overnight and will therefore take time to resolve....one year (after it was clear that) asset markets, especially housing and credit, were grossly overvalued and so (were) the value of the securities written on them (on which so many financial firms borrowed heavily), the crisis is intensifying rather than abating...."

For Williams and others, the challenges are formidable. "Hence, this is a long-term problem that will not result in business as usual anytime soon as the changes required are far reaching and complex. The adjustment of the balance sheets of firms in developed economies caught up in this crisis will take many years....cutting interest rates alone will not work....it may be like pushing on a piece of string (because) developed country households are already hugely in debt." Low interest rates "reduces their income (further eroding) spending and weakening growth....Tax cuts and public spending increases would help....but with public finances strained by the bank rescue, this is unlikely." How long recovery "will take is anybody's guess."

Economist Nouriel Roubini approves of bank recapitalizations but cites "significant downside risks" in the coming weeks:

-- Treasury plans aren't entirely clear;

-- they're woefully inadequate;

-- world economies are weakening; fiscal stimulus is lacking, so "macro news will surprise on the downside;"

-- so will quarterly earnings;

-- confidence has been severely damaged;

-- "deleveraging of the shadow financial system" will continue;

-- major stresses remain, possibly including a credit default swap (CDS) market blowout; hundreds of hedge funds collapsing; noted money manager Jeremy Grantham believes 5000 ultimately will disappear; asset liquidations will follow pressuring market valuations lower;

-- insurance companies' troubles are increasing; more rescue packages needed for "other systemically important financial institutions;" crises emerging in developing and advanced countries; deleveraging causing a continued asset price deflation, margin calls, still lower asset prices and creating "further downside risks to housing and home prices."

In addition, G-7 and EU plans include no fiscal stimulus to boost aggregate demand. Personal income is falling. In a state of collapse are: personal consumption, residential and non-residential investment, and capital expenditures. Unless government fills the breach massively (at least $300 billion for starters), "an unavoidable two-year recession (may) become a decade long stagnation." Roubini cites the usual type stimuli:

-- for instructures;

-- green technologies;

-- increased unemployment benefits;

-- targeted tax rebates for lower income households;

-- aiding distressed homeowners to "avoid a tsunami of foreclosures;" potentially 10 million or more; rising rapidly to greater numbers in 2009; measures should include a plan to reduce mortgage face values; also let troubled homeowners retain their property and pay affordable rent;

-- further steps to relieve over-indebted households; the result of home equity loans, credit cards, auto and student loans; failure to reduce these stresses assures a more protracted and deeper economic crisis; how can banks lend to unwilling borrowers;

-- federal block grants to states and local governments among other measures.

Crucial for many experts is that without rapid implementation of these type measures, financial institution rescue plans will be undermined. Aggregate demand will decline further and prolong an already severe recession. "If Main Street goes bust in the next six months, (Wall Street will again) as the real economy implodes further."

In an October 14 Bloomberg Interview, Roubini predicted the worst US recession in 40 years. "We're going to be surprised by the severity of the recession and (resulting) financial losses." It will last 18 to 24 months. Push unemployment to 9% from its reported 6.1% level, and drive home prices down another 15%. He upped his bad mortgage credit loss estimate to $3 trillion from his previous $1 - 2 trillion amount. He also believes that $250 billion in bank recapitalizations is just the beginning. At least double that amount is needed to save banks from bankruptcy. Even that total may be too little, too late. And the soaring national debt presents its own unwelcome problems.

Another issue involves the source of bailout funding. It either has to be borrowed or created. Printing dilutes the currency. A prescription for future higher inflation although today's problem is deflation. Borrowing won't be simple either. EU and other foreign central banks have their own problems to resolve. China, Japan and wealthy petrodollar states will have to partner with the Treasury and Fed as lenders/bankers of last resort. In greater amounts than they may be willing to assume.

Other Problems - Too Great to Solve and/or Ignore

Earlier by others and on October 12, the London Independent cited the resident elephant few in the major media acknowledge. Especially in America. A "$516 trillion derivatives 'time-bomb,' " according to writers Margareta Pagano and Simon Evans. Roughly equal 10 times world output and "not for nothing (that) Warren Buffett call(s) them (financial) 'weapons of mass destruction.' "

These are financial instruments that derive their value from an underlying asset, reference rate or index. In exchange-traded and privately negotiated forms, all sorts of them exist - swaps, forwards, futures, puts, calls, swaptions, caps, floors, collars, captions. Combined they represent (by far) the world's largest financial market. They're complex, opaque and called "the world's biggest black hole because they" comprise the shadow financial system. Unregulated and allowed to explode to unmanageable size. Creating potentially overwhelming risks. If enough of them sour, world economies may crash in a cascading domino effect.

Long-time financial observer and analyst Bob Chapman is dire in his assessment. Using Bank for International Settlements (BIS) figures, he cites a "quadrillion dollar (1000 trillion) powder keg waiting to blow' and places this problem (led by credit default swaps - CDSs) at the heart of the financial crisis." He thinks "catastrophic losses are inevitable."

Subprime and mortgage debacles are a "side show" at around a few trillion in losses. Their real estate derivatives problems are another matter. He believes that the Treasury, Fed, and other smart Wall Street types know it. They're terrified about potential losses that "may (way) exceed the entire world's GDP (and) thus obliterat(e) the balance sheets of every major commercial bank and the Fed." Take down the entire world financial system and cause an unstoppable "juggernaut of loss, insolvency, failure and bankruptcy." Resulting in world governments having to nationalize their financial systems and become bankers of last resort.

Chapman thinks the train left the station, and nothing can stop it. Current policies can only delay the inevitable through a Ponzi scheme "final orgy of fraud and profligacy." The idea is to "take total control, make markets do whatever pleases them (and) thus create their own reality."

If this happens, nations will be bankrupt. So will people. Their savings erased. Their situation unpalatable. Intolerable. A "New World Disorder." Police state tactics will be needed to contain it. But there's more to this story as some observers recognize. Today's crisis was manufactured but not as it's turning out. Far worse than planned so the best laid schemes "are unraveling," according to Chapman. Too many trillions in losses to handle may result, and at this stage, who can say what's ahead. Not what the masters of the universe had in mind except to take the money and run.

Other Assessments of Conditions

Take your choice. Opinions are everywhere. Some credible. Many not. But one thing about most is consistent. These are perilous times. The most challenging in decades. Maybe ever. Prudence and caution are essential. Enormous unpredictable risks threaten. Massive economic damage has been done, and certain hard times are ahead across the board. For businesses and households. Many in both sectors won't make it. A dark prospect to consider. Unimaginable for most.

Financial expert Martin Weiss has been a leading investor safety advocate for decades. On October 14, he issued "an urgent update on these wild, wild markets" and explained what most observers ignored. As world markets soared on October 13, "bond markets suffer(ed) a dramatic decline." He concluded: "if you think (October 13's) euphoria means the government's newer and bigger bailout plan is going to be a success, think again."

Equities aren't at the epicenter of the crisis. Bonds and credit markets are:

-- "subprime mortgages first collapsed;"

-- mortgage-backed bonds imploded;

-- commercial paper also;

-- interbank lending froze; and

-- "the entire global financial system (approached) a systemic meltdown."

A future day of reckoning is ahead in global bond and credit markets. Washington's "master plan" may "temporarily stimulate" Wall Street rallies. Possibly "ease some panic in some debt sectors." That's worlds from ending a crisis of this magnitude, and Weiss' advice is to "move decisively from risk to safety." For protection and to profit from "the next phase of the crash."

Since summer 2007, all central bank plans "backfired," and the new US and EU ones "are no different." While authorities liquified markets, fires raged inside them. Instead of solving problems, they created greater ones. Instability, not calm. The "very panic they sought to avoid. The same thing is going to happen this time....The bigger it is, the more desperation it denotes." And more of it means it's likelier their plans will fail. Recovery will come eventually. First, however, "the economy will suffer a great fall," and America's contagion will spread everywhere.

Ismael Hossein-sadeh cites University of Maryland economist Herman Daly in his October 14 article titled: "Why the Bailout Scam Is More Likely to Fail than to Succeed." He lists five reasons:

-- a lack of "faith and trust," not liquidity; the world is awash in the latter and more is coming;

-- too little good money to redeem the bad kind; mountains of it in the multi-trillions, and no one knows how much;

-- no help provided for distressed homeowners; a key source of the crisis; preventing mortgage defaults is crucial; if they're serviced, mortgage-backed securities can be restored along with the solvency of their holders; absent that, greater insolvency;

-- no economic stimulus is included to inject purchasing power into the economy; it's vital to revive production, create jobs and reverse the economic slide; and

-- a "socially-responsible fiscal policy" is needed; mirror opposite the current one; anchored by ruinous military Keynsianism; wealth transfers to the rich; ending responsible social policies; and creating mountains of unrepayable debt.

Add to these a regulatory-free environment. Speculative finance crowding out productive investments. Massive fraud allowed to persist unchecked, and excesses creating even greater ones. Overall a broken, pernicious, unsustainable model corroding from within and taking America and world economies down with it. Remedies being implemented assure greater problems. At best only short-term relief, and in the end economic ruin. In all likelihood the republic with it.

The Housing Bubble - The Core Economic Problem

Many analysts cite the imploding housing bubble as the core US economic problem. The large and growing volume of bad mortgage loans. Heading up to 20 million under water in 2009. The implications of millions of foreclosures and their negative effect on the economy. Until home valuations stabilize, no recovery is possible. But according to experts like economist Robert Shiller, it's likely months off before it happens.

In the Great Depression, home prices plunged 30%. Today they're down around 20%, and Shiller believes they may match or exceed that era's levels. Even worse, when valuations stabilize in nominal terms, most homeowners will keep losing money. A very disquieting prospect to consider. It may force many households to walk away from their properties because retaining them is too costly.

Not helping are plunging housing data and the October National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Housing Market Index (HMI) hitting a record low. According to NAHB's chief economist David Seiders, it's "clear evidence than an additional economic stimulus package is needed." Enough to spur home buying. All three HMI components fell. Current sales conditions and expectations hit record lows, and buyer traffic matched its July low. It affected all regions, and Seiders said builder sentiment was the worst he can remember.

Before his death in summer 2007 (at age 88), Kurt Richebacher was a well-respected economist and financial analyst. Also a fierce critic of speculative finance, particularly on Wall Street. In 2004, he reflected on the housing bubble (before most others) in a commentary titled "Property Bubbles: Beware of Property Bubbles."

He cited critical US "economic and financial imbalances." The nation's growth "depend(ent) entirely on the continuation of the frenetic housing bubble." The certainty that "all bubbles end painfully, housing (ones) in particular. They're an especially dangerous (type) asset bubble because of their extraordinary debt intensity." By extracting wealth (through refinancing) from rising valuations and by "heavily entangl(ing) banks and the whole financial system as lenders." Thus, property bubbles have historically been the main cause of major financial crises.

Japan in the late 1980s for example. Its stock and property bubbles burst, but the former got most of the attention. The "property deflation continued for 13 years" through the timeframe of his article. With "calamitous effects on the banking system through a horrendous legacy of bad loans." Japan's "building sector" also suffered and "never recovered from the depression following its (late 1980s) excesses."

Richebacher wondered if America's fate may be similar and asked "Is the US economy in better or worse shape today (in 2004) than in 2000 (as it faced recession)? Is it in a self-sustaining recovery?" Absolutely not...."it is in dramatically worse shape." The result of binge borrowing. Financing "leveraged asset purchases and soaring imports. The former involve no income creation; the latter involve income destruction. By implication, this borrowing represents entirely unproductive, or dead-weight, debt, yielding to debtors no future flow of income from which to pay their debt service." A bad ending is assured. In summer 2007 it arrived. Its effects are painful and worsening. No sign of a quick or easy resolution is evident nor will Wall Street's bailout produce one. According to University of Chicago economics professor Casey Mulligan, it represents a minute fraction of the problem. It may only buy a couple of months relief. Nothing more.

An "Oasis of Calm"

Along with Fidel Castro, Washington's favorite Latin American target is Hugo Chavez. The Wall Street Journal's Mary O'Grady attacks him relentlessly in her Americas column, and on October 6 (and earlier) said Venezuela's economy is deteriorating. In a shambles. At a time it's, in fact, experiencing robust growth.

Impressively with one of the highest world rates. It also tops most nations and the entire Hemisphere (including the US) with the largest international reserves per capita ($1300). Credit Bolivarianism. Abandoning neoliberalism. Maintaining sovereign independence. Raising taxes and royalties on foreign investors to make them pay their fair share. Imposing currency exchange controls to prevent capital flight. High oil prices. Keeping a majority of the profits at home. Using them to develop Venezuela's social state among other factors.

Amidst a world financial crisis. America, Europe and Asia on the ropes. Groping desperately for solutions. The Financial Times (on October 14) wrote: "While stock markets all over the world were ravaged in recent weeks, there was one oasis of calm: Venezuela's tiny exchange, cosseted by capital controls, actually rose slightly on days where historic losses were being reported elsewhere." Even though a "handful of local banks and brokers" face serious losses. The Wall Street Journal failed to notice.

Ideas from the October 8 - 11 Caracas International Conference of Political Economy

Attended by 40 world specialists from 20 countries to propose South-based solutions to the financial crisis. They fear Western plans will worsen poverty, unemployment, and exploit workers worldwide. They reject a massive public debt increase. The greater concentration of capital, and a perverse restructuring to suck wealth to the privileged.

They fear an authoritarian capitalism. Class warfare and increased racism. Enormous productive and social costs plus weakened environmental sustainability. They call for economic and financial architecture reconstructing. An alternative post-capitalist model. What Venezuela calls Socialism of the Twenty-First Century.

They want more social spending and natural resources protections prioritized. Urgent financial regulations to protect savings, stimulate production, control currency movements, and prevent capital flight. They think it's crucial to develop regional complementation. Balanced commercial integration. Industrial agricultural, energy and infrastructure improvement. Initiatives like cooperative trade and the Bank of the South.

Globally they want international monetary system reform. To defend savings and channel investments toward prioritized people needs. To curb speculation and lessen economic disparities. Overall they want new economic institutions in place of failed ones and said the crisis awakened the common interests of people everywhere. They made specific recommendations in areas of banking, finance, and the current social emergency.

They noted the complicity of the IMF, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and transnational bankers in causing the current collapse and its consequences. They call them discredited and want a new financial architecture. They announced a second political economy conference for the first quarter of 2009 in Caracas.

The Crisis of World Capitalism - A Broken, Unworkable Economic Model

Over time, "free market" capitalism has grown larger, more powerful, more complex, more exploitive, and more crisis-prone. Currently notable because of massive Wall Street fraud. Financialization. Speculative finance. Computerized gambling instead of productive investment. Largely with no regulatory oversight.

When crises erupt like today's, fire-fighting is employed to contain them. Moral hazard bailouts for investors taking imprudent risks. Insurance called the "Greenspan put" during his tenure. Currently, the Bernanke/Paulson one. So far, it worked. Eventually it won't. Eventually may be now.

If so or later, the proof is in the pudding. Each crisis begets greater ones. Sooner or later, one too big to contain. It reveals the inherent flaw of an unworkable model. Broken and in disrepair. With even Washington Post writer Anthony Faiola wondering if it's "The End of American Capitalism?" Too far gone to fix, but it likely will be. Patched up and reinvented one more time.

It was wobbly during the 1970s. At the depths of the 1974 recession and again in 1979 heading into the 1980 - 1982 one, Newsweek magazine and later Business Week ran the same headline on their covers: "The Death of Equities." One day perhaps, but they were early.

On October 10, Faiola wrote: "The worst financial crisis since the Great Depression is claiming another casualty: American-style capitalism." He means the "hands-off" kind. Not the free-market model as such. And one with more government intervention at times like these. At least "temporarily for a more restrained model, particularly in financial markets." In other words, a strategic retreat. Not a fundamental overhaul or admission that something this broken can't be fixed. Just patched, but eventually it's own internal contradictions will destroy it.

Meanwhile, prepare for what economist Michael Hudson calls "the age of oligarchy." With the "wealthiest 1 per cent of the population com(ing) into possession of even more returns to wealth than the 57 per cent" they now get. "Robin Hood in Reverse." From the public to the rich. Hollowing out America. Making it look like Mexico. Locking in "our age of deception...even more tightly." It's a "self-defeating free-market strategy. Short-termism" that will prove to be the financial sector's undoing. Perhaps industrial capitalism and the republic with it. If not soon, eventually.

Replaced by what is most worrisome. Egalitarian reforms come rarely but are possible. Past protest movements achieved them. Ones based on what Frances Fox Piven calls a "distinctive kind of power. Disruptive power." Past conditions were right and it happened. Piven wonders if another "popular upheaval" is possible. It's "the big question of our time" and even bigger with reckless militarism. A permanent war economy. The erosion of democratic freedoms, and potentially the nation's worst ever financial crisis. Nothing is certain or easy, but historically "hardship propels people to collective defiance," especially at times of extreme inequalities of wealth. Given the current state, what more urgent time than now.

Block the Vote: Will the GOP's campaign to deter new voters and discard Democratic ballots determine the next president?

Block the Vote

Will the GOP's campaign to deter new voters and discard Democratic ballots determine the next president?

ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR. & GREG PALAST

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Video: Behind the Story With Kennedy Jr. and Palast

These days, the old west rail hub of Las Vegas, New Mexico, is little more than a dusty economic dead zone amid a boneyard of bare mesas. In national elections, the town overwhelmingly votes Democratic: More than 80 percent of all residents are Hispanic, and one in four lives below the poverty line. On February 5th, the day of the Super Tuesday caucus, a school-bus driver named Paul Maez arrived at his local polling station to cast his ballot. To his surprise, Maez found that his name had vanished from the list of registered voters, thanks to a statewide effort to deter fraudulent voting. For Maez, the shock was especially acute: He is the supervisor of elections in Las Vegas.

Maez was not alone in being denied his right to vote. On Super Tuesday, one in nine Democrats who tried to cast ballots in New Mexico found their names missing from the registration lists. The numbers were even higher in precincts like Las Vegas, where nearly 20 percent of the county's voters were absent from the rolls. With their status in limbo, the voters were forced to cast "provisional" ballots, which can be reviewed and discarded by election officials without explanation. On Super Tuesday, more than half of all provisional ballots cast were thrown out statewide.

This November, what happened to Maez will happen to hundreds of thousands of voters across the country. In state after state, Republican operatives — the party's elite commandos of bare-knuckle politics — are wielding new federal legislation to systematically disenfranchise Democrats. If this year's race is as close as the past two elections, the GOP's nationwide campaign could be large enough to determine the presidency in November. "I don't think the Democrats get it," says John Boyd, a voting-rights attorney in Albuquerque who has taken on the Republican Party for impeding access to the ballot. "All these new rules and games are turning voting into an obstacle course that could flip the vote to the GOP in half a dozen states."

Suppressing the vote has long been a cornerstone of the GOP's electoral strategy. Shortly before the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, Paul Weyrich — a principal architect of today's Republican Party — scolded evangelicals who believed in democracy. "Many of our Christians have what I call the 'goo goo' syndrome — good government," said Weyrich, who co-founded Moral Majority with Jerry Falwell. "They want everybody to vote. I don't want everybody to vote. . . . As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down."

Today, Weyrich's vision has become a national reality. Since 2003, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, at least 2.7 million new voters have had their applications to register rejected. In addition, at least 1.6 million votes were never counted in the 2004 election — and the commission's own data suggests that the real number could be twice as high. To purge registration rolls and discard ballots, partisan election officials used a wide range of pretexts, from "unreadability" to changes in a voter's signature. And this year, thanks to new provisions of the Help America Vote Act, the number of discounted votes could surge even higher.

Passed in 2002, HAVA was hailed by leaders in both parties as a reform designed to avoid a repeat of the 2000 debacle in Florida that threw the presidential election to the U.S. Supreme Court. The measure set standards for voting systems, created an independent commission to oversee elections, and ordered states to provide provisional ballots to voters whose eligibility is challenged at the polls.

But from the start, HAVA was corrupted by the involvement of Republican superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, who worked to cram the bill with favors for his clients. (Both Abramoff and a primary author of HAVA, former Rep. Bob Ney, were imprisoned for their role in the conspiracy.) In practice, many of the "reforms" created by HAVA have actually made it harder for citizens to cast a ballot and have their vote counted. In case after case, Republican election officials at the local and state level have used the rules to give GOP candidates an edge on Election Day by creating new barriers to registration, purging legitimate names from voter rolls, challenging voters at the polls and discarding valid ballots.

To justify this battery of new voting impediments, Republicans cite an alleged upsurge in voting fraud. Indeed, the U.S.-attorney scandal that resulted in the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales began when the White House fired federal prosecutors who resisted political pressure to drum up nonexistent cases of voting fraud against Democrats. "They wanted some splashy pre-election indictments that would scare these alleged hordes of illegal voters away," says David Iglesias, a U.S. attorney for New Mexico who was fired in December 2006. "We took over 100 complaints and investigated for almost two years — but I didn't find one prosecutable case of voter fraud in the entire state of New Mexico."

There's a reason Iglesias couldn't find any evidence of fraud: Individual voters almost never try to cast illegal ballots. The Bush administration's main point person on "ballot protection" has been Hans von Spakovsky, a former Justice Department attorney who has advised states on how to use HAVA to erect more barriers to voting. Appointed to the Federal Election Commission by Bush, von Spakovsky has suggested that voter rolls may be stuffed with 5 million illegal aliens. In fact, studies have repeatedly shown that voter fraud is extremely rare. According to a recent analysis by Lorraine Minnite, an expert on voting crime at Barnard College, federal courts found only 24 voters guilty of fraud from 2002 to 2005, out of hundreds of millions of votes cast. "The claim of widespread voter fraud," Minnite says, "is itself a fraud."

Allegations of voter fraud are only the latest rationale the GOP has used to disenfranchise voters — especially blacks, Hispanics and others who traditionally support Democrats. "The Republicans have a long history of erecting barriers to discourage Americans from voting," says Donna Brazile, chair of the Voting Rights Institute for the Democratic National Committee. "Now they're trying to spook Americans with the ghost of voter fraud. It's very effective — but it's ironic that the only way they maintain power is by using fear to deprive Americans of their constitutional right to vote." The recently enacted barriers thrown up to deter voters include:


1. Obstructing Voter-Registration Drives

Since 2004, the Bush administration and more than a dozen states have taken steps to impede voter registration. Among the worst offenders is Florida, where the Republican-dominated legislature created hefty fines — up to $5,000 per violation — for groups that fail to meet deadlines for turning in voter-application forms. Facing potentially huge penalties for trivial administrative errors, the League of Women Voters abandoned its voter-registration drives in Florida. A court order eventually forced the legislature to reduce the maximum penalty to $1,000. But even so, said former League president Dianne Wheatley-Giliotti, the reduced fines "create an unfair tax on democracy." The state has also failed to uphold a federal law requiring that low-income voters be offered an opportunity to register when they apply for food stamps or other public assistance. As a result, the annual number of such registrations has plummeted from more than 120,000 in the Clinton years to barely 10,000 today.


2. Demanding "Perfect Matches"

Under the Help America Vote Act, some states now reject first-time registrants whose data does not correspond to information in other government databases. Spurred by HAVA, almost every state must now attempt to make some kind of match — and four states, including the swing states of Iowa and Florida, require what is known as a "perfect match." Under this rigid framework, new registrants can lose the right to vote if the information on their voter-registration forms — Social Security number, street address and precisely spelled name, right down to a hyphen — fails to exactly match data listed in other government records.

There are many legitimate reasons, of course, why a voter's information might vary. Indeed, a recent study by the Brennan Center for Justice found that as many as 20 percent of discrepancies between voter records and driver's licenses in New York City are simply typing mistakes made by government clerks when they transcribe data. But under the new rules, those mistakes are costing citizens the right to vote. In California, a Republican secretary of state blocked 43 percent of all new voters in Los Angeles from registering in early 2006 — many because of the state's failure to produce a tight match. In Florida, GOP officials created "match" rules that rejected more than 15,000 new registrants in 2006 and 2007 — nearly three-fourths of them Hispanic and black voters. Given the big registration drives this year, the number could be five times higher by November.

3. Purging Legitimate Voters From the Rolls

The Help America Vote Act doesn't just disenfranchise new registrants; it also targets veteran voters. In the past, bipartisan county election boards maintained voter records. But HAVA requires that records be centralized, computerized and maintained by secretaries of state — partisan officials — who are empowered to purge the rolls of any voter they deem ineligible. Ironically, the new rules imitate the centralized system in Florida — the same corrupt operation that inspired passage of HAVA in the first place. Prior to the 2000 election, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris and her predecessor, both Republicans, tried to purge 57,000 voters, most of them African-Americans, because their names resembled those of persons convicted of a crime. The state eventually acknowledged that the purges were improper — two years after the election.

Rather than end Florida-style purges, however, HAVA has nationalized them. Maez, the elections supervisor in New Mexico, says he was the victim of faulty list management by a private contractor hired by the state. Hector Balderas, the state auditor, was also purged from the voter list. The nation's youngest elected Hispanic official, Balderas hails from Mora County, one of the poorest in the state, which had the highest rate of voters forced to cast provisional ballots. "As a strategic consideration," he notes, "there are those that benefit from chaos" at the ballot box.

All told, states reported scrubbing at least 10 million voters from their rolls on questionable grounds between 2004 and 2006. Colorado holds the record: Donetta Davidson, the Republican secretary of state, and her GOP successor oversaw the elimination of nearly one of every six of their state's voters. Bush has since appointed Davidson to the Election Assistance Commission, the federal agency created by HAVA, which provides guidance to the states on "list maintenance" methods.


4. Requiring Unnecessary Voter ID's

Even if voters run the gauntlet of the new registration laws, they can still be blocked at the polling station. In an incident last May, an election official in Indiana denied ballots to 10 nuns seeking to vote in the Democratic primary because their driver's licenses or passports had expired. Even though Indiana has never recorded a single case of voter-ID fraud, it is one of two dozen states that have enacted stringent new voter-ID statutes.

On its face, the requirement to show a government-issued ID doesn't seem unreasonable. "I want to cash a check to pay for my groceries, I've got to show a little bit of ID," Karl Rove told the Republican National Lawyers Association in 2006. But many Americans lack easy access to official identification. According to a recent study for the Election Law Journal, young people, senior citizens and minorities — groups that traditionally vote Democratic — often have no driver's licenses or state ID cards. According to the study, one in 10 likely white voters do not possess the necessary identification. For African-Americans, the number lacking such ID is twice as high.


5. Rejecting "Spoiled" Ballots

Even intrepid voters who manage to cast a ballot may still find their vote discounted. In 2004, election officials discarded at least 1 million votes nationwide after classifying them as "spoiled" because blank spaces, stray marks or tears made them indecipherable to voting machines. The losses hit hardest among minorities in low-income precincts, who are often forced to vote on antiquated machines. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, in its investigation of the 2000 returns from Florida, found that African-Americans were nearly 10 times more likely than whites to have their ballots rejected, a ratio that holds nationwide.

Proponents of HAVA claimed the law would correct the spoilage problem by promoting computerized balloting. Yet touch-screen systems have proved highly unreliable — especially in minority and low-income precincts. A statistical analysis of New Mexico ballots by a voting-rights group called VotersUnite found that Hispanics who voted by computer in 2004 were nearly five times more likely to have their votes unrecorded than those who used paper ballots. In a close election, such small discrepancies can make a big difference: In 2004, the number of spoiled ballots in New Mexico — 19,000 — was three times George Bush's margin of victory.


6. Challenging "Provisional" Ballots

In 2004, an estimated 3 million voters who showed up at the polls were refused regular ballots because their registration was challenged on a technicality. Instead, these voters were handed "provisional" ballots, a fail-safe measure mandated by HAVA to enable officials to review disputed votes. But for many officials, resolving disputes means tossing ballots in the trash. In 2004, a third of all provisional ballots — as many as 1 million votes — were simply thrown away at the discretion of election officials.

Many voters are given provisional ballots under an insidious tactic known as "vote caging," which uses targeted mailings to disenfranchise black voters whose addresses have changed. In 2004, despite a federal consent order forbidding Republicans from engaging in the practice, the GOP sent out tens of thousands of letters to "confirm" the addresses of voters in minority precincts. If a letter was returned for any reason — because the voter was away at school or serving in the military — the GOP challenged the voter for giving a false address. One caging operation was exposed when an RNC official mistakenly sent the list to a parody site called GeorgeWBush.org — instead of to the official campaign site GeorgeWBush.com.

In the century following the Civil War, millions of black Americans in the Deep South lost their constitutional right to vote, thanks to literacy tests, poll taxes and other Jim Crow restrictions imposed by white officials. Add up all the modern-day barriers to voting erected since the 2004 election — the new registrations thrown out, the existing registrations scrubbed, the spoiled ballots, the provisional ballots that were never counted — and what you have is millions of voters, more than enough to swing the presidential election, quietly being detached from the electorate by subterfuge.

"Jim Crow was laid to rest, but his cousins were not," says Donna Brazile. "We got rid of poll taxes and literacy tests but now have a second generation of schemes to deny our citizens their franchise." Come November, the most crucial demographic may prove to be Americans who have been denied the right to vote. If Democrats are to win the 2008 election, they must not simply beat John McCain at the polls — they must beat him by a margin that exceeds the level of GOP vote tampering.

Contributing editor Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is one of the nation's leading voting-rights advocates. His article "Was the 2004 Election Stolen?" [RS 1002] sparked widespread scrutiny of vote tampering. Greg Palast, who broke the story on Florida's illegal voter purges in the 2000 election, is the author of "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy." For more information, visit No Voter Left Behind and Steal Back Your Vote.

The Rising Body Count on Main Street; The Human Fallout from the Financial Crisis

The Rising Body Count on Main Street

The Human Fallout from the Financial Crisis

By Nick Turse

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On October 4, 2008, in the Porter Ranch section of Los Angeles, Karthik Rajaram, beset by financial troubles, shot his wife, mother-in-law, and three sons before turning the gun on himself. In one of his two suicide notes, Rajaram wrote that he was "broke," having incurred massive financial losses in the economic meltdown. "I understand he was unemployed, his dealings in the stock market had taken a disastrous turn for the worse," said Los Angeles Deputy Police Chief Michel R. Moore.

The fallout from the current subprime mortgage debacle and the economic one that followed has thrown lives into turmoil across the country. In recent days, the Associated Press, ABC News, and others have begun to address the burgeoning body count, especially suicides attributed to the financial crisis. (Note that, months ago, Barbara Ehrenreich raised the issue in the Nation.)

Suicide is, however, just one type of extreme act for which the financial meltdown has seemingly been the catalyst. Since the beginning of the year, stories of resistance to eviction, armed self-defense, canicide, arson, self-inflicted injury, murder, as well as suicide, especially in response to the foreclosure crisis, have bubbled up into the local news, although most reports have gone unnoticed nationally -- as has any pattern to these events.

While it's impossible to know what factors, including deeply personal ones, contribute to such extreme acts, violent or otherwise, many do seem undeniably linked to the present crisis. This is hardly surprising. Rates of stress, depression, and suicide invariably climb in times of economic turmoil. As Kathleen Hall, founder and CEO of the Stress Institute in Atlanta, told USA Today's Stephanie Armour earlier this year, "Suicides are very much tied to the economy."

With predictions of a long and deep recession now commonplace, it's not too soon to begin looking for these patterns among the human tragedies already sprouting amid the financial ruins. Troubling trends are to be expected in the years ahead, especially as hundreds of thousands of veterans of the Iraq and Afghan Wars, their families often already under enormous stress, are coming home to scenarios of joblessness and, in some cases, homelessness. Consider this, then, an attempt to look for early anecdotal signs of the fallout from hard times, the results, in this case, of a review of local press reports from across the nation, some tiny but potentially indicative of larger American tragedies, and all suggesting a pattern that is likely to grow more pronounced.

Extreme Evictions

In February, when a sheriff's deputy went to serve an eviction notice on a home owner in Greeley, Colorado, he found the man had slashed his wrists and was lying in a pool of blood. Rushed to a nearby hospital, the man survived, while the Sheriff's office tried to downplay economic reasons for the incident, saying, according to the Denver Post, that "it wasn't linking the suicide attempt to the eviction because the man had known for a week that he was to be kicked out."

In March, Ocala, Florida resident Roland Gore killed his dog and his wife, set fire to his home which was in foreclosure, and then killed himself.

In April, Robert McGuinness, a 24-year-old process server, arrived at the Marion County, Florida doorstep of Frank W. Conrad. According to an article in the local Star Banner, the 82-year-old Conrad was reportedly "cordial" at first. When McGuinness produced the foreclosure notice, however, Conrad got angry and left the room. He returned with a .38 caliber pistol and announced, "You have two seconds to get off my property or you will go to the hospital." Marion County sheriff's deputies later arrested Conrad.

On June 3rd, agents of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) set out to inform New Orleans resident Eric Minshew that he would be evicted from his "Katrina" trailer. After Minshew threatened them, the FEMA employees called the police. When they arrived, Minshew allegedly threatened them as well and "locked himself in his partially-gutted home, adjacent to his trailer." A SWAT team was called in and tear-gassed the man. Interviewed by the Times-Picayune, local resident Tiffany Flores said, "Some SWAT members told my husband they had never seen anyone withstand that much tear gas." The standoff went on for hours before "an assault team of tactical officers" invaded the home. Though Minshew opened fire, they eventually cornered him on the upper floor. When -- they claimed -- he refused to drop his weapon, they gunned him down.

That same day, in Multnomah County, Oregon, sheriff's deputies served an eviction notice on a desperate tenant. According to Deputy Travis Gullberg, the Multnomah County Sheriff's Public Information Officer, the evictee promptly pulled a gun from his pocket and pointed it at his head before being disarmed by the deputies.

Hard Times

Recently, according to the Los Angeles Times, Rich Paul, a vice president at ValueOptions Inc., which handles mental health referrals, said that over the last year stress-related calls arising from foreclosures or financial hardship had gone up 200% in California. Similarly, Dr. Mason Turner, chief of psychiatry at Kaiser Permanente's San Francisco Medical Center, reported "a fourfold increase in psychiatric admissions at his hospital during August, with roughly 60% of patients saying financial stress contributed to their problems."

Of course, many victims of the linked economic crises never receive treatment. In July, Sacramento County Sheriff's Deputy Mark Habecker told the Sacramento Bee that twice this year "homeowners about to be evicted have committed suicide as he approached to do a lockout." In another case, he said, "a fellow Sacramento deputy found a note in the home that told him where to find the foreclosed homeowner's body." The Bee reported that such cases "received no publicity when they happened," which raises the question of just how many similar suicides have gone unreported nationwide.

In July, when police delivered an eviction notice at the Middleburg, Florida home of George and Bonnie Mangum, the couple barricaded themselves inside. Eventually, George Mangum was talked into surrendering and was arrested. "He did the only thing he knew to do, protect his family, all he did was sit on the other side of the door and say I have a gun, I have a gun and that's why he's going to jail because he threatened the police," said Bonnie. The couple's daughter Robin added, "This is my home, this is all our home and I don't think it's right. My dad was a Green Beret, he's sick, how are you going to kick him out?"

Pinellas Park, Florida resident Dallas Dwayne Carter was a 44-year-old disabled, single dad who lost his job, fell into debt, and was faced with eviction. "He always talked about needing help -- financially and help with the kids," neighbor Kevin Luster told the St. Petersburg Times. On July 19th, Carter apparently called the police to say he was armed and disturbed. When they arrived, Carter fired his pistol and rifle inside the apartment, before emerging and pointing his weapons at the officers on the scene. Police say they ordered him to drop them. When he didn't, they killed him in a 10-round fusillade.

On July 23d, about 90 minutes before her foreclosed Taunton, Massachusetts home was scheduled to be sold at auction, Carlene Balderrama faxed a letter to her mortgage company, letting them know that "by the time they foreclosed on the house today she'd be dead." She continued, "I hope you're more compassionate with my husband and son than you were with me." After that, she took a high-powered rifle and, according to the Boston Globe, shot herself. In an interview with the Associated Press, Balderrama's husband John said, "I had no clue." His wife handled the finances and had been intercepting letters from the mortgage company for months. "She put in her suicide note that it got overwhelming for her," he said. In the letter, she wrote, "take the [life] insurance money and pay for the house."

The day after Balderrama took her life, 50 miles away in Worcester, Massachusetts, a 64-year-old man, who had already been evicted, barricaded himself inside his former home. Police were called to the scene to find him reportedly prepared to ignite four propane tanks. "His intention was to burn the house down with him in it," Sgt. Christopher J. George told the Telegram & Gazette. With the man becoming "even more despondent" as "a moving van arrived on the street," police stormed the house to find him "holding a foot-long knife to his own chest" as a piece of paper burned near the propane. The man was disarmed and the fire extinguished.

That very same day, in Visalia, California, a Tulare County sheriff's deputy tried to serve an eviction notice to Melvin Nicks, 50. Nicks responded by stabbing the deputy with a knife and barricading himself in the house for several hours. He later surrendered.

No Way Out

Bay City, Michigan residents David and Sharron Hetzel, both 56, "lost their home to foreclosure and filed for bankruptcy protection. But they did not follow through with the Chapter 13 proceedings." On August 1st, say police reports, David Hetzel mailed a letter of apology to his family members. Later that night, according to the local police, he attacked his sleeping wife, striking her in the head with a golf club and repeatedly stabbing her with a kitchen knife. After that, he began setting fires throughout the house before crawling into bed beside his wife and killing himself with "a single, fatal wound to his torso."

On August 12th, sheriff's deputies arrived at the Saddlebrook, New Jersey home of 88-year-old Beatrice Brennan, another victim of the mortgage crisis, who had refinanced her home and fallen behind on payments. Refusing to stand idly by while his mother was put out on the street, her 60-year-old son John pulled a .22 caliber handgun on the lawmen. That sent the movers, waiting for a court-imposed 10 a.m. deadline, scurrying for their van. Brennan was able to delay the eviction briefly before a SWAT team arrested him and his mother lost her home. "I'm heartbroken over this," Vincent Carabello, a longtime neighbor, toldRecord. "How could this happen?" the local paper, the

Roseville, Minnesota resident Sylvia Sieferman was under a great deal of stress and beset by financial difficulties. She worried about how she would care for her two 11-year-old daughters. On August 21st, according to police reports, Sieferman "repeatedly stabbed the girls and herself." "She reached her limit," her friend Carrie Micko told the Star Tribune. "She couldn't cope anymore… she felt that her daughters were suffering because she was failing to provide for them." As Micko further explained, "After a series of financial mishaps, she just couldn't see her way through. She was under extreme financial, emotional and spiritual distress and didn't want to fail them."

By Any Means Necessary

The Boston Globe reported that, on September 5th, "[f]our protesters trying to prevent the eviction of a Roxbury woman from her home were arrested… after they chained themselves to the steps of her back porch." As 40 protesters chanted in the street, officials from Bank of America ordered Paula Taylor out of her house. "This is our eighth blockade and the first time there have been arrests," said Soledad Lawrence, an organizer with City Life, a non-profit organization seeking to halt the large numbers of foreclosures and evictions in Boston neighborhoods. "They can be more aggressive and we'll be more aggressive," she added.

On September 25th, as politicians in Washington tried to hash out a massive bailout package for financial institutions, six Boston police officers confronted about 40 City Life activists in front of the home of Ana Esquivel, a public school employee, and her husband Raul, a construction worker, both in their fifties. The Globe reported that four protesters were arrested as police shoved their way through in order to allow a locksmith into the house to bar the Esquivels from their home. "We've been destroyed by the bank," Ana Esquivel said, sobbing. "The bank is too big for us." While the Esquivel blockade failed, Steven Meacham, a City Life organizer, told a Globe reporter that "the protests have helped to stop about nine evictions. In the successful blockades, the homeowners were given additional time by their mortgage holders to negotiate alternatives to foreclosure."

Two days earlier, Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies came to the Monrovia home of 53-year-old Joanne Carter and her 67-year-old husband John to serve an eviction notice. Joanne Carter refused to accept it. According to "Monrovia spokesman" Dick Singer, as reported in the Pasadena Star-News, she "told deputies she had guns in the house and showed them a shotgun." The next day, Monrovia police officers showed up at the home after being informed that the woman "may have made threats to a workers compensation agency." Police Lieutenant Michael Lee said that Carter told them if they "tried to come in, she would defend her house at any means necessary." She and her husband then reportedly barricaded themselves inside, after which a shotgun was fired. Police from other local departments were called in. Following an hours-long standoff, the Carters surrendered and were arrested.

That same day, in northern California, Cliff Kendall, Petaluma's chief building official, shot himself with a rifle. A week earlier, Kendall had learned that he was being laid off. "He was afraid we'd lose our home, and we probably will because I can't afford to keep it," his wife Patricia, who is on disability with a back injury, told the Press Democrat. "He was extremely upset about it and hurt."

On October 3rd, the day before Karthik Rajaram's mass murder/suicide in Los Angeles, 90-year-old Addie Polk was driven to extremes by the financial crisis. With sheriff's deputies at the door, Polk evidently took the only measure she felt was left to her to avoid eviction from her foreclosed home. She tried to kill herself. Her neighbor Robert Dillon, hearing loud noises from her home, used a ladder to enter the second floor window. He found Polk lying on her bed. "Then she kind of moved toward me a little and I saw that blood, and I said, 'Oh, no. Miss Polk musta done shot herself.'" While she was in the hospital recovering from two self-inflicted gunshot wounds, Fannie Mae spokesman Brian Faith announced the mortgage association had decided to forgive her outstanding debt and give her the house "outright."

On October 6th, in Sevier County, Tennessee, sheriff's deputies, with police in tow, arrived to evict Jimmy and Pamela Ross from their home. They heard a shot and entered the home to find 57-year-old Pamela dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. Neighbor Ruth Blakey told WVLT-TV, "I know she really hated to leave that house. She did not want to leave that house."

Wanda Dunn told neighbors she would rather die than leave her home. On October 13th, the day she was to be evicted, the 53-year-old Pasadena, California native apparently set fire to the home "where her family had lived for generations" before shooting herself in the head. "We knew it was going to happen," neighbor Steve Brooks told the Los Angeles Times. "It was nobody's fault; it was everybody's fault."

Outsourcing Suicide

In September, readers at Slate's "Explainer" column asked the following question: If the financial crisis was so dire, "how come we aren't hearing about executives jumping out of windows?" Writer Nina Shen Rastogi dutifully answered:

"Because the current situation hasn't had nearly as devastating an effect on people's personal finances. The Great Crash of 1929 -- and, to a lesser extent, the crash of 1987 -- did lead some people to commit suicide. But in nearly all of those cases, the deceased had suffered a major loss when the market collapsed. Now, due in large part to those earlier experiences, investors tend to keep their portfolios far more diversified, so as to avoid having their entire fortunes wiped out when stocks take a downturn."

Perhaps this is true. So far, at least, Wall Street's suicides seem to have been outsourced to places that its executives have probably never heard of. There, on the proverbial main streets of America, the Street's financial meltdown is beginning to be measured not only in dollars and cents, but in blood.

Right now, there are no real counts of the many extreme acts born of the financial crisis, but assuredly other murders, suicides, self-inflicted injuries, acts of arson and of armed self-defense have simply gone unnoticed outside of economically hard-hit neighborhoods in cities and small towns across America. With no end in sight for either the foreclosures or the economic turmoil, Americans may have to brace themselves for many more casualties on the home front. Unless extreme economic steps, like mortgage- and debt-forgiveness, are implemented, the number of extreme acts and the ultimate body count may be far more extreme than anyone yet wants to contemplate.

Nick Turse is the associate editor and research director of Tomdispatch.com. His work has appeared in many publications, including the Los Angeles Times, Le Monde Diplomatique (German edition), Adbusters, the Nation, and regularly at Tomdispatch.com. His first book, The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, an exploration of the new military-corporate complex in America, was recently published by Metropolitan Books. His website is Nick Turse.com.