Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Military Rape Reports Rise, Prosecution Still Low

Military rape reports rise, prosecution still low


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More people came forward to report sexual assaults in the military last year, but a significant percentage wouldn't give crucial details needed for an investigation.

The Pentagon said it received 2,923 reports of sexual assault across the military in the 12 months ending Sept. 30 2008. That's about a 9 percent increase over the totals reported the year before, but only a fraction of the crimes presumably being committed.

Among the cases reported, only a small number went to military courts, officials acknowledged.

The Pentagon office that collects the data estimates that only 10 percent to 20 percent of sexual assaults among members of the active duty military are reported — a figure similar to estimates of reported cases in the civilian sphere.

The military statistics, required by Congress, cover rape and other assaults across the approximately 1.4 million people in uniform.

Kaye Whitley, director of the Pentagon's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, said most victims are women, most cases involve young people and alcohol is often involved.

The yearly increase in reports is more likely due to larger numbers of victims being willing to come forward than to an overall increase in sexual violence, Whitley said.

That increase includes a jump in cases from combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, to 165 from 131 the year before.

Congresswoman Jane Harman, a congressional critic of the military's handling of sexual violence, said the statistics show the problem is still rampant.

"While the report shows modest improvement, we're far from Mission Accomplished," the California Democrat said in a statement. "Military women are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq."

The latest figures include 2,280 cases in which a victim provided full accounts and physical evidence when possible, and 643 in which a victim sought care or made a report but refused to provide all the information necessary to pursue an investigation.

The Defense Department allows those limited reports on the theory that it encourages victims to at least seek care when they might otherwise keep silent.

Prosecution is slow and large numbers of cases are thrown out or dropped.

The most recent figures, which include cases left open from previous years, show that only 317 cases were referred for courts-martial, or military trials. Another 247 were referred for nonjudicial punishment.

Caterpillar to Lay Off 2,454 Workers in Three States

Caterpillar to lay off 2,454 workers in 3 states


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Caterpillar Inc. on Tuesday announced plans to lay off more than 2,400 employees at five plants in Illinois, Indiana and Georgia as the heavy equipment maker continues to cut costs amid the global economic downturn.

Caterpillar, the world's largest maker of mining and construction equipment, has seen its sales wither as the sluggish world economydeveloping countries. and the credit crisis weaken demand for its products, used to build everything from houses to highways. The company had expanded dramatically in recent years, helped by a building boom in

In response to the worsening conditions, Caterpillar in January announced job cuts that will ultimately eliminate 20,000 positions. It also said it would slash executive compensation by up to 50 percent and offer buyouts to about 25,000 U.S.-based employees. Caterpillar, which employs about 112,000 people worldwide, said it had imposed a global hiring freeze.

In the latest cuts, the Peoria, Ill.-based company said 2,365 support and management workers had been notified of layoffs expected to last at least six months — including 245 announced previously — and 89 workers will be let go permanently.

Among the affected workers are 1,726 people at plants in Illinois. They include 911 workers at a plant in East Peoria that makes track-type tractors and pipelayers and 815 at a factory in Aurora that produces hydraulic excavators and wheel loaders. Caterpillar notified the employees Tuesday of the layoffs expected to last at least six months starting in June.

In Indiana, Caterpillar said it notified 439 employees at its large engine factory in Lafayette of layoffs effective May 29, also expected to last at least six months. The plant makes diesel engines for boats, locomotives and other applications.

Caterpillar notified 89 employees at its Jefferson, Ga., fuel systems plant that they would be laid off permanently when the company closes the facility, expected by the end of June. Work currently done at the plant will be shifted to factories in Thomasville, Ga., and Pontiac, Ill.

Also in Georgia, Caterpillar said it had notified 200 employees at a plant in Griffin, where the company makes generators, engines and oil service units, of layoffs scheduled to begin in May.

Meanwhile, the company has implemented so-called rolling layoffs, which vary in duration, at plants across the country and around the world, according to Jim Dugan, a Caterpillar spokesman.

Caterpillar — perhaps best known for its yellow-and-black painted backhoes, tractors and paving machines — said more layoffs may be needed as the year continues, depending on business conditions.

In January, Caterpillar said its earnings plunged 32 percent in the last three months of 2008, and that it had lowered its 2009 profit expectations. Demand plummeted at the end of the year, pulled down by slumping commodity prices, tight credit markets and a decline in home building. It said a first-quarter loss is possible as costs may outstrip falling orders.

In February, Caterpillar said it planned to offer early retirement packages to about 2,000 production workers.

President Barack Obama, during a visit to a Caterpillar factory last month, said the company's chief executive, Jim Owens, had promised to rehire some workers if Congress approved the president's economic stimulus plan. But Owens later said more cuts were likely before the company could start hiring again, and that a stimulus plan was unlikely to have an effect on the economy until late 2009 or early 2010.

The White House tried Tuesday to sound a positive note despite the news of more layoffs at Caterpillar.

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the White House was confident the stimulus bill will create opportunities for Caterpillar and other companies to grow their businesses because of the many construction projects states will be breaking ground on.

"The president believes as the money begins to get let out as a result of the Recovery and Reinvestment plan, that businesses will make different economic decisions," Gibbs told reporters.

Shares of Caterpillar rose 41 cents to close at $26.83 on Tuesday.

New Evidence of Bush Torture Crimes

New Evidence of Bush Torture Crimes

By Jason Leopold

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As more pieces of a very ugly mosaic fall into place – including new details from a confidential 2007 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross about interrogations at CIA “black sites” – any remaining doubt that the Bush administration engaged in a conscious policy of torture is disappearing.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney may continue to say, as he did on Sunday, that the interrogation of “war on terror” suspects was “done legally; it was done in accordance with our constitutional practices and principles.” But those assurances ring hollow.

The true story is coming into ever-sharper focus: high-ranking U.S. officials turning to what Cheney called “the dark side” after the 9/11 attacks and ordering the CIA to create a network of secret prisons. Determined to extract information from suspected terrorists, the White House then collaborated with Justice Department lawyers to find ways around anti-torture laws and American traditions.

Though the outlines of this story have been sketched out over several years, many chilling details are now getting filled in, including an article

“In addition, many other elements of the ill treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” according to the ICRC report cited by Danner. Since the ICRC’s responsibilities involve ensuring compliance with the Geneva Conventions and supervising the treatment of prisoners of war, the organization’s findings carry legal weight. by author Mark Danner in the New York Review of Books about an ICRC report concluding that the abuse of 14 “high-value” detainees “constituted torture.”

The ICRC report also found that there was a consistency in many details from the detainees who were interviewed separately and that the first “high-value” detainee to be captured, Abu Zubaydah, appeared to have been used as something of a test case by his interrogators. According to various accounts, he was transferred to a secret prison in Thailand and possibly elsewhere to be brutally questioned.

According to Zubaydah’s account to the ICRC:

“Two black wooden boxes were brought into the room outside my cell. One was tall, slightly higher than me and narrow. Measuring perhaps in area [3 1/2 by 2 1/2 feet by 6 1/2 feet high]. The other was shorter, perhaps only [3 1/2 feet] in height. I was taken out of my cell and one of the interrogators wrapped a towel around my neck, they then used it to swing me around and smash me repeatedly against the hard walls of the room. I was also repeatedly slapped in the face....

“I was then put into the tall black box for what I think was about one and a half to two hours. The box was totally black on the inside as well as the outside.... They put a cloth or cover over the outside of the box to cut out the light and restrict my air supply. It was difficult to breathe.

“When I was let out of the box I saw that one of the walls of the room had been covered with plywood sheeting. From now on it was against this wall that I was then smashed with the towel around my neck. I think that the plywood was put there to provide some absorption of the impact of my body. The interrogators realized that smashing me against the hard wall would probably quickly result in physical injury."

Zubaydah told the ICRC that CIA interrogators told him he was the first prisoner to be tortured in this way, "so no rules applied. It felt like they were experimenting and trying out techniques to be used later on other people."

Zubaydah also told the ICRC representatives that he was subjected to the drowning sensation of waterboarding, a practice that has been considered torture since the Inquisition. Zubaydah and other detainees added that they were kept naked, placed in frigid rooms and forced to spend long hours in painful “stress” positions.

Danner said the chapter headings of the ICRC report listed some of the torture techniques reported by the detainees to ICRC personnel: “suffocation by water,” “prolonged stress standing,” “beatings by use of a collar,” “confinement in a box.”

Some of these techniques, such as the use of waterboarding on three detainees, have been acknowledged by senior Bush administration officials, including Cheney who has said he approved of specific harsh tactics applied during the interrogations.

Legal Debate

The abuse of Zubaydah paralleled an internal debate at senior levels of the Bush administration over how to provide legal justification for the brutal interrogations. Zubaydah was captured in a raid on a safe house in Faisalabad, Pakistan, on March 28, 2002, that left him badly wounded from three gunshots.

In July 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his legal counsel, William Haynes, solicited input from military psychologists about developing harsh methods that interrogators could use against detainees, according to a report released last year by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“Mr. Haynes was not the only senior official considering new interrogation techniques for use against detainees,” the report said. “Members of the President’s Cabinet and other senior officials attended meetings in the White House where specific interrogation techniques were discussed.”

President George W. Bush became obsessed with Zubaydah and the information he might have about terrorist plots against the United States, according to Ron Suskind’s book, The One Percent Doctrine.

“Bush was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth,” Suskind wrote, adding that Bush questioned one CIA briefer, “Do some of these harsh methods really work?”

Meanwhile, senior Bush aides were meeting with deputy assistant attorney general John Yoo and other Justice Department lawyers from the powerful Office of Legal Counsel to discuss how anti-torture and other laws applied to interrogation of prisoners in the “war on terror.”

Yoo developed novel theories that defined torture narrowly, permitting acts short of pain associated with "death, organ failure, or serious impairment of body functions." In devising this standard, Yoo relied on an obscure 2000 health benefits statute.

A report prepared by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility determined that Yoo blurred the lines between an attorney charged with providing independent legal advice to the White House and a policy advocate who was working to advance the administration’s goals, according to sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because the contents of the report are still classified.

As evidence of Bush’s torture policies began to build – especially after the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in 2004 – Bush and Cheney built a line of defense, insisting that they had not committed war crimes because they were operating under legal guidance from the Justice Department.

However, that argument could collapse if it were determined that the lawyers were colluding with administration officials in setting policy, rather than providing professional legal advice. Already, extensive evidence exists, including Yoo’s own writings, showing that he participated in high-level administration meetings to discuss and set policy.

Other evidence on the public record suggests that the Bush administration’s intent to use brutal interrogations pre-dated the legal discussions with Yoo.

Cheney helped set the administration on a lawless course only days after the 9/11 attacks. On Sept. 16, 2001, he told NBC’s Tim Russert that "We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We've got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world.

“A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we're going to be successful. That's the world these folks operate in, and so it's going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective."

The next day, Sept. 17. 2001, President Bush signed a “memorandum of understanding” that authorized the CIA to establish a "hidden global internment network" for the secret detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists, Danner reported in his article.

On Monday, CIA Director Leon Panetta enlisted the help of former Republican Sen. Warren Rudman of New Hampshire to assist him with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s probe of the agency’s Bush-era interrogation and detention practices, Panetta’s office said

Rudman will work as Panetta’s “special adviser” assisting the CIA in dealing with inquiries from the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the Intelligence Committee, announced earlier this month that her committee will conduct a year-long secret investigation into the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” and detention practices and whether the methods resulted in actionable intelligence.

Panetta said he does not support any inquiry that would lead to the prosecution of CIA personnel who carried out the interrogations, such as those used against Zubaydah.

Indentured Servants, Circa 2009

Indentured Servants, Circa 2009

By Barbara Koeppel

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The immigration imbroglio is the gorilla in the room that won’t go away.

Feeding on this and last years’ gigantic job losses and fear of more to come, anti-immigrant anger is exploding across the U.S. Thus, Nativists like Arizona’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio are nudged to over-the-top nastiness: Just a month ago, he proudly paraded his villains (aka illegals) through the streets of Phoenix before deporting them.

In fact, since 1872, when the U.S. passed its first anti-immigrant laws — at that time, against Chinese worker s— Nativists have played the same xenophobia card: With fundamentalist fervor, they fire up those with fragile incomes to fear immigrants, legal or otherwise. Lately, local governments have passed punishing laws against undocumented workers, while enforcement agencies ratchet up raids on factories and farms.

At the same time, Chambers of Commerce insist foreign guest workers are vital to U.S. businesses. Heeding the call, politicians promise the guests will figure in any new immigration plan. Details, however, are absent.

What they don’t say is the U.S. guest worker saga is riddled with abuse. Nor do they mention it squeezes low-skilled domestic workers, who are also bullied in the race to the bottom and are routinely denied jobs, since the guests will work for anything under any conditions, given their desperation.

Thus, before the new administration answers the Chambers’ prayers, it must examine our guest worker schemes, which the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in a 2007 report calls “close to slavery.”

The schemes began during World War II with the Bracero program, when a half million Mexicans labored at American farms. Congress ended the program in 1964 because, among other reasons, exploitation was endemic.

Revised Plan

In the 1980s, the U.S. launched two new plans — an H2A guest program for farm workers and H2B scheme for all other low-wage industries, such as poultry and seafood processing, construction, forestry, timber, restaurants and hotels.

Since then, employers have secured millions of guest workers: In 2008, the U.S. issued 124,000 temporary visas. The real number is far greater, because returning workers’ visas aren’t counted in the figure.

On paper, H2A rules are reasonable. Foreign workers apply in their countries and, when approved, get visas and contracts stating that employers must give the workers at least 75 percent of their promised hours, decent free housing, workmen’s compensation insurance (for injuries), transportation to and from their countries, access to free federal legal services and the same health/safety protections afforded U.S. workers.

In reality, the rules are a sham. According to Mary Bauer, SPLC’s director of its Immigrant Justice Project, guest workers are cheated every day in every way.

For H2B workers, there's not even a charade. They have no contracts, period.

For both sets of workers, the program should note that only the vulnerable need apply.

Why? Most important, the Department of Labor (DOL) regulations are stacked against them from the start, since they bequeath employers boundless power: Most critical, they only allow the guests to work for the company that gets their visas. No matter how abusive the arrangements, they can’t switch jobs. If they complain, they’re fired, must leave the U.S. within 30 days, pay for return tickets and lose remaining wages.

This spells financial disaster for the workers because they borrow heavily to pay recruiters’ bribes: An average $500-$2,000 in Mexico, $8,000-$12,000 in Thailand, $20,000 in India. Aware of their debt, employers secure their workers’ silence.

To make matters worse, a beneficent George W. Bush pushed through midnight regulations in December 2008 as a gift to U.S. companies: The new rules effectively slashed the guests paltry wages by $2-$3 an hour and scrapped housing standards: Before, the DOL had to certify that housing was safe. Now, employers must simply state that, “through no fault of their own” approved housing is unavailable.

Fortunately, President Obama just reversed the changes, but it will still take time for the new rules to kick in.

Holding the Cards

In fact, employers hold all the cards: They confiscate workers’ visas, passports and return tickets — though this is illegal. But illegality is irrelevant.

For example, although companies are required to pay hourly wages or equivalent piece rates, Bauer claims most firms ignore the rules most of the time. The case of Bimbo’s Best Produce (yes, Bimbo’s!), a strawberry grower in Louisiana, is instructive. In 2005, its workers sued for back wages and Bimbo settled. Bimbo applied for more workers in 2006 and 2007, the DOL gave the okay, and, undaunted, the company slashed wages to $3-$4 an hour — well below the minimum wage.

Forestry firms — notorious rule breakers — pay workers $15-$30 for every 1,000 seedlings they plant, which typically takes 12 hours — although the law says they should get $6-$10 an hour. But these firms are not unique. Bauer says almost every company in all sectors that SPLC checked lied about employee time sheets — with as many as 30 hours a week missing from paychecks.

Pay fraud is just one abuse. Housing is dilapidated and unsanitary: For example, the SPLC says that Evergreen Forestry in North Carolina kept workers in a shed with one cold water spigot, no heat or toilets throughout the winter. When workers tried to leave, a boss locked them up until they repaid what he’d lent them to buy sleeping bags, fuel and a portable toilet. Bauer insists these conditions are typical.

Regina Luginbuhl, who heads North Carolina’s DOL, disagrees. She says H2A workers are protected against abuses because the program allows them to access free legal services. Also, she says H2A housing is usually “decent” because employers must register with her agency.

But her office has just five full-time inspectors who check only half the guest worker housing units a year. She insists this beats conditions in states like Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, which don’t inspect at all.

Illness and injury are also common. Farm workers get dehydrated — several died in the past few years. Water, where provided, is often contaminated. Green sickness from picking tobacco, allergic reactions to pesticides or bee strings may be severe, but workers keep working.

A Sacramento Bee article noted “guest forest workers are routinely subjected to conditions not tolerated elsewhere in the U.S. ... .gashed by chain saws and bruised by tumbling logs.” When injured, companies rarely pay for medical care, days missed or medicine.

Feeble Enforcement

Finally, the DOL’s enforcement of the rules is feeble: In 2004, it checked violations at 89 out of the 6,700 farms with H2A workers. At the 8,900 work sites with H2B workers, the DOL inspected none.

When this reporter tried to update the numbers, Jennifer Kaplan and Susan Bohnert of the DOL’s Washington DC press office, insisted the agency doesn’t collect them. A supervisor repeated the story.

Without DOL data, advocate groups have no way to tally the true extent of violations, notes Ramon Ramos, a paralegal for 30 years with Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid: Their own statistics only cover a small number of worksites. Worse, when they try to get DOL figures, the states’ DOL offices, like the national one, stonewall.

Even when advocates like Legal Aid and SPLC learn of violations and win cases against employers, the DOL sits on its hands: H2B workers sued Shores and Ruark Seafood of Virginia for $150,000 in back wages and won, and the company was fined.

Although the DOL cited the company two other times for wage violations, it still approved the firm’s application for new workers. In Arriaga v. Florida Pacific Farms, a judge ruled the company had to repay workers’ transport and visas fees. But the DOL didn’t enforce the decision.

Bauer says another problem is that DOL’s program is completely hidden. “When a worker calls us about an abuse, we need to see his contract and learn if the DOL has inspected the workplace for violations.” But the DOL insists this information is “secret” — between employers and the DOL — and the SPLC must file Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests to get it.

And this, in turn, spells gridlock. When the SPLC filed a case against the Mississippi DOL in 2007 for not providing information, the judge ruled in SPLC’s favor. Displeased with the decision, the state promptly passed a law saying its DOL office was not obliged to give the information. Seizing on the successful strategy, Kentucky passed a similar law in 2008. Where local DOL offices do respond, the answers arrive two years later, when the workers are long gone.

Speaking Out

The few workers who speak out — usually those who’ve already been fired or badly injured — are branded troublemakers and blacklisted. Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) said that before his union organized North Carolina’s guest farm workers, the state’s blacklist had 16,000 names.

Although the list was dismantled when the North Carolina Growers Association signed a contract with FLOC in 2004, blacklisting elsewhere is alive and well. Legal Aid’s Ramos says he hasn’t seen formal lists in other states, but knows the principle operates.

“Mexican guest workers tell me their previous U.S. employers won’t re-hire them.” Why? “They might have asked for water in the fields, or something like that. Not because they’re slackers. I’ve never met a guest farm worker who didn’t give 100 percent, because they want to return,” Ramos says.

Critics like Bauer and Ramos insist the abusers are not a few bad apples, but the norm. In 2008, the SPLC sued Signal International for 600 highly skilled Indian pipe fitters and welders hired to work on ships in Texas and Mississippi for defense contractors (Signal is a subsidiary of Northrup Grummon).

Snared by ads that Signal ran in Indian newspapers promising high wages, along with permanent visas for workers and their families, each worker paid recruiters (illegally) $20,000 to land the job.

Once in the U.S., Signal paid entry level wages ($13 an hour); the jobs were temporary; families were not allowed to come; the men were kept in guarded labor camps and forced to work. SPLC charged Signal with human trafficking, fraud, racketeering and civil rights abuses; but the men are $20,000 poorer and stuck. Bauer adds that U.S. skilled workers’ wages would be at least double.

Critics also claim that the DOL and employers’ practices hurt companies that want to play by the rules, because they can’t compete with the majority, which break them. Critically, they lower wages and conditions for all unskilled workers.

Recruiting Abuses

The exploitation extravaganza begins even before the guestsreach American shores. U.S. companies contract with foreign recruiting firms to find poor workers, who sign on — despite the recruiters’ bribes.

How do recruiters pull it off? FLOC’s Velasquez says workers don’t know this is illegal or how else to get in the program. Second, the DOL insists it doesn’t control what happens outside U.S. borders.

Velasquez says “The whole system is wildly profitable for everyone but the workers. Recruiting is very big business.”

Big enough to murder for.

In 2005, when FLOC opened an office in Monterey, Mexico to educate workers about their rights, its staff were stalked, slandered by local newspapers, and the office burglarized.

In 2007, a FLOC organizer, alone in the office, was murdered. Police caught one of the killers and FLOC gave them the names of two others. But the other two have not yet been arrested.

Observers say the DOL could improve conditions in a stroke — since it doesn’t need Congress to change the program: If it lifted the rule that ties the guest workers to one employer, the men would be free to bargain for a better deal or change employers, taking their visas with them. Eventually, the worst employers would lose their workers and have to clean up their acts.

Also, the DOL could offer H2B workers the same protections as H2A workers receive (on the books).

It could also crack down on employers that break the rules and levy fines that count. At the very least, it could reject violators’ requests for new workers.

But Velasquez says “unless all guest workers have labor rights, as FLOC won in North Carolina, they won’t be able to fight the abuses. Still, he’s optimistic.

“The state’s growers now run decent guest worker programs. Why not elsewhere?” he asks.

One hope is that Hilda Solis, the new Secretary of Labor, will right some decades-old wrongs. However, history isn’t on her or the guest workers’ side.

U.S. credit card defaults rise to 20 year-high

U.S. credit card defaults rise to 20 year-high

* AmEx and Citi perform worse-than-expected - analysts

* JPMorgan and Capital One outperform expectations

* Default rates seen over 10 percent by year-end

By Juan Lagorio

NEW YORK, March 16 (Reuters) - U.S. credit card defaults rose in February to their highest level in at least 20 years, with losses particularly severe at American Express Co (AXP.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) and Citigroup (C.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) amid a deepening recession .

AmEx, the largest U.S. charge card operator by sales volume, said its net charge-off rate -- debts companies believe they will never be able to collect -- rose to 8.70 percent in February from 8.30 percent in January.

The credit card company's shares wiped out early gains and ended down 3.3 percent as loan losses exceeded expectations. Moshe Orenbuch, an analyst at Credit Suisse, said American Express credit card losses were 10 basis points larger than forecast.

In addition, Citigroup Inc (C.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) -- one of the largest issuers of MasterCard cards -- disappointed analysts as its default rate soared to 9.33 percent in February, from 6.95 percent a month earlier, according to a report based on trusts representing a portion of securitized credit card debt.

"There is a continued deterioration. Trends in credit cards will get worse before they start getting better," said Walter Todd, a portfolio manager at Greenwood Capital Associates.

U.S. unemployment -- currently at 8.1 percent -- is seen approach 10 percent as the country endures its worst recession since World War Two, leaving more than 13 million Americans jobless, according to a Reuters poll of economists.

However, not all were bad surprises. JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) and Capital One reported higher credit card losses, but they were below analysts expectations.

Chase -- a big issuer of Visa cards -- reported its charge-off rate rose to 6.35 percent in February from 5.94 percent in January. The loss rate for the first two months of the quarter is 126 bps from the previous quarterly average compared to an estimate of a 145 bp increase, Orenbuch said.

Capital One Financial Corp's (COF.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) default rate increased to 8.06 percent in February from 7.82 percent in January.


Analysts estimate credit card chargeoffs could climb to between 9 and 10 percent this year from 6 to 7 percent at the end of 2008. In that scenario, such losses could total $70 billion to $75 billion in 2009.

"People underestimated the severity of the downturn we are experiencing and I wouldn't be surprised to see them north of 10 percent," said Todd, who added American Express was most exposed to higher credit card losses, given its sole reliance on the industry.

Credit card lenders are trying to protect themselves by tightening credit limits, rising standards, and closing accounts. They have also been slashing rewards, raising interest rates and increasing fees to cushion further losses.

Meredith Whitney, one of Wall Street's best known and most bearish bank analysts, estimates that Americans' credit card lines will be cut by $2.7 trillion, or 50 percent, by the end of 2010 -- and fewer Americans will be offered new cards.

"We believe that the US credit card industry will feel additional credit pain over the next 12-18 months. Until lenders like Capital One show stabilization, followed by trend-bucking improvement over a several-month period, we will continue to remain bearish on credit card lenders," said John Williams, an analyst at Macquarie Research.

Todd said credit card issuers shares -- which are down up to 60 percent in 2009 -- will remain under pressure until the end of 2009, or early next year, when bad loans could start to redeem.

Ghost Town: An American Nightmare

Ghost Town: An American Nightmare

Wilmington, a small town in America’s Midwestern rust belt, was home to the world’s largest private airport. Then recession struck.

Olivia Fincato

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We will probably lose our home, and maybe our truck," says Jessica Siders, a former employee at DHL's US delivery hub in Wilmington, Ohio – the world's largest private airport. She lost her job as a sorter at DHL Solutions back in December. Her husband Kenneth was also laid off from ABX, an air cargo company controlled by DHL. "We had health insurance through his severance package, but only until 1 March. He's diabetic and his heart condition is bad."

Sider and her husband are among the estimated 7,500 residents of Wilmington – out of a 12,000 population – who have lost their jobs with DHL since cuts were announced late last year (9,000 were laid off nationwide). Employed as sorters, fork-lift drivers, mechanics and supervisors, the people of this small town north-east of Cincinnati were hit the hardest when the shipping company announced swingeing cost-saving measures in November last year in the midst of the worst financial crisis in decades. In Wilmington, every small business has been affected by the actions of DHL. Stores are closing, and people are leaving.

Dominated by a single employer, Wilmington is one of America's "company towns". When DHL announced last November that it would end its US domestic freight operations and turn over its American air-cargo service to competitor United Parcel Service (UPS), its Wilmington hub bore the brunt.

DHL had been in Wilmington for only five years, and the closure of its base there demonstrates not just the impact of the global recession – although demand for express shipments in the US has fallen sharply – but the end of an ambitious dream to take on its rivals FedEx and UPS.

In 2003, Deutsche Post, the German logistics group that owns DHL, one of the world's leading delivery companies, acquired Airborne Express, a domestic delivery concern. In America, Airborne Express was served by ABX air cargo airlines, based in Wilmington, Ohio. The purchase represented DHL's effort to consolidate US operations – and finally offer serious competition to the big two. Central to DHL's audacious plan was the establishment of a new distribution base at the sprawling, 2, 200 acre Wilmington airport.

The DHL/Airborne Express deal looked like the perfect match: a German shipping corporation that was efficient, on time and detail-oriented, to be served by a cargo airline and sorting company with more than 25 years of experience of domestic express delivery.

In the beginning, DHL's investment was huge: $1.3bn to buy the vast airport hub, plus about $500m of incentives from the State of Ohio to improve and maintain jobs. "We thought that DHL, with its own airport, would become No 1 in the world," says Randy Riley, Clinton County Commissioner, who has lived in Wilmington for 32 years. "It hired people from all over the state. In south-west Ohio, it became the largest employer. Workers from 84 of the 88 counties of Ohio were working for DHL."

All the ABX planes were painted in the DHL livery. The company started building new facilities around the airport area. It adopted a strong and aggressive corporate advertising campaign, an unusual tactic in a small farming town which, 20 years previously, had been known only as the hog capital of Ohio. But, five years after DHL moved in, in May 2008 it announced that it would be restructuring its US operations and shifting the domestic air cargo business from ABX to its rival UPS.

"We just thought that it was the worst business plan ever," says the Mayor of Wilmington, David Raizk, who was invited to Bonn, Germany for the occasion. "They did this multimillion-dollar investment in Wilmington, but we are not sure if they understood how the express product works here. They tried to impose their plan, but the two business cultures were really different. It is a shame, because if you own your airport, you can control your costs and how you ship your freight. They were losing enormous amounts of money and clients."

Critics of DHL's plan say the company pushed too hard and too fast, and without listening to those who have worked at Wilmington for years. "DHL wanted to take over everything, but they didn't have a clue how to manage," says Joanne Heller, a fork-lift driver with ABX, who's lost her job. "This time last year, they realised they had lost an enormous amount of money. They started talking about restructuring. We thought we were safe. We had no idea of what was going on. We heard all kinds of things, and finally they decided to get rid of night shifts and domestic traffic. Eventually [we heard] that they are going to move back again to Cincinnati airport."

Express shipments in the US carried by the top three companies fell last year for the first time since 2001. In November 2008, DHL said it was going to shut the door and leave the US domestic shipping market by the end of January, slashing thousands of jobs in Wilmington.

People in this town are scared to death. Their futures, held in the hands of just one big company, have been shattered. This is the destiny of many company towns in America. These people are losing everything but the ground under their feet: their severance packages will cover them for just a few weeks, having received one week for each year of work. Health insurance is lost, too.

"I thought I was able to send my kids to college, but now I worry for them," says Chris Fisher, a logistics worker at DHL Solutions, who was laid off in December after 11 years at ABX. "This is going to hurt the school system, which depends heavily on tax income to generate its funds."

Wilmington could be destined to become a ghost town. But this small community still has something very valuable: the largest privately owned airport in the United States. Eventually, someone else is going to take it over and redevelop business in the area.

The airport is still currently under DHL ownership. Mayor Raizk is fighting with all the power of his office to buy it back for the community, and city leaders are in talks with DHL Express executives in an attempt to lessen the severity of the regional economic crisis. DHL is paying for a "transition centre" at its air hub, while the state is providing assistance to those who are unemployed: how to write a résumé, learning to use Excel and Word, how to search for work on the internet, and how to prepare for interviews.

For others like Jessica Siders and her husband, staying to fight for survival is less appealing than the alternative: to take flight. "We're thinking about moving out of the state," she says. "There's no future for us here."

My story: Wilmington residents

Chris Fisher: Logistics worker at DHL Solutions, laid off in December after 11 years at ABX

"After November 2008, they just wanted to find a reason to fire you. They kept saying that our jobs were safe and a month later they told us they were closing the doors. Since then, it has been just devastating. Everything they promised to us is gone. I have never been unemployed till now. While I was working at the airport, I had a life outside home, with friends and colleagues. I had 15 people working for me and now we are all breaking up – it's sad. Things for the past couple of years were blooming. Everybody was happy with their job and house. It was difficult to get where we are now. We worked really hard and bought a house for our family. I earned good money. Now, I might have to work five to 10 years to get to that salary again. I'm scared."

Randy Riley: Commissioner of Clinton County, of which Wilmington is the county seat

"When I started here in 1976, the No 1 industry in Clinton County was farming. We were the hog capital of Ohio. Five years later, Airborne Express moved into town and into the old air base. They started to do overnight package delivery on a very small scale, and they grew and grew until they had something between 15 and 20 per cent of the market. Then DHL came. One of our hopes is that DHL will continue to have some kind of business in Wilmington. They should use the airport as an international gateway from where they can fly freight to and from Asia and Europe. In this way, at least 1,000 jobs will stay here. I would of course prefer to have 8,000 to 9,000 jobs here – but 1,000 is better than nothing."

John Lundblad: A retired ABX pilot, Lundblad flew with the company from 1990 to 2004

"Airborne Express was a niche company and we never lost money until DHL showed up. I think they wanted to compete with UPS and FedEx – and now, I am sure, they've found out just how good those two companies are. The management of these companies seemed to lose touch with the real world."

Molly Dullea: Owner of General Denver Hotel, Wilmington, since 2003

"Pilots are not flying, so they are not coming any more. All their meetings, dinners and conferences have dropped off. It was doing so well when I arrived. The shops were all filled up. It was a vibrant, alive small town. But since last May, it seems like someone has switched off the lights. Every day it gets a little bit less lively, and people are sadder and sadder This is just the tip of an iceberg. In June or July, we will experience the full brutality of it. It is really getting rough. If you stay, there's no place for you to work, but if you go, how can you sell your home? Lots of small businesses have closed. I can see signs for rent all over, but nobody's buying or renting. It is so sad."

Joanne Heller: Formerly a fork-lift driver at ABX, Heller was let go in December 2008 after 12 years. She has lived in Wilmington since the age of four

"Before DHL, working at the hub was very different. Airborne knew what they were doing. DHL wanted to take over everything but they didn't have a clue about how to manage. They kept saying that they were our customers, and we had to do what they wanted as they owned the place. I thought [the DHL deal] was a good change, that I was going to have a job for ever and be a part of it. After 12 years my position was eliminated, so for me there's no possibility to work there any more. I have a 13-year-old son, and I just bought a house thinking I had a good future. I still have health insurance but when my severance package is gone next month, I won't have it any more."

John Graber: President of ABX Air since 2006

"DHL told us that they don't need our service any more. We are eliminating thousands of people's jobs as a result of the domestic service going away, so our company is not anything close to what we were. We have thousands of employees who have been working and growing up with this company. I was reading in a school last week and a child asked me, 'Mr Graber, what do you do?' I said I worked for ABX and every kid raised their hand, saying, 'Do you know my brother?' 'You know my sister?' 'You know my uncle?' This company is so tight to this place."

Jessica Siders: A former worker at DHL Solutions, she was laid off in December 2008 after eight years with DHL

"I lost everything. They just terminated me. I thought I was working at ABX for the rest of my life till I retired. I felt that [the deal with] DHL was a positive move; it would switch hands and we would continue the same job we were doing. When you are over 50, it is very difficult to find a job. I have four children and six grandchildren, and my daughter has worked for ABX since she was 17 years old. She got laid off and she can't sleep at night. I don't ever remember having a Christmas without presents for all our kids. Last year we couldn't buy any. My husband gave the children snowballs."

Russ Leighton: A pilot with ABX since May 1997, Leighton was laid off in January 2009

"DHL should have listened to ABX and taken their advice on how to do things. I think people in top management were fighting like kids – 'Do it my way', 'No, do it my way' – and nothing was getting done. Slowly, it fell apart. It's funny, because Mercedes did the same thing to Chrysler. They came over and they just did what they did in Wilmington. They worked for five years and laid off all these people then closed and left. The economy is so bad now that there are not many airlines hiring, and if you get a job you start back at the bottom – so your salary is very low. I have two daughters. I was going send them to college. I don't know if I am going to do that any more. I am not sure if I will keep my house."

The deepest cuts: Failing company towns

Charlotte, North Carolina

A greater percentage of the population work in banking here than in New York, as it is home to Bank of America and Wachovia, two of the crippled giants of the credit crisis. Between them, the banks employ 34,000 in Charlotte. BoA is shedding jobs; Wachovia was sold to avoid going bust.

Hershey, Pennsylvania

These are hard times for the quintessential company town, nicknamed the Sweetest Place on Earth, where the street lamps are shaped like Hershey's Kisses. The chocolatier has been slashing jobs and moving production to Mexico.

Irvine, California

This Orange County town was the centre of the US sub-prime mortgage industry, but dozens of the lenders that were based here have gone bust, shut their doors or scaled right back.

Elkhart, Indiana

President Barack Obama visited this city of 60,000 when trying to sell his economic stimulus bill last month, highlighting its soaring unemployment. It is the motor-home manufacturing capital of the US, but sales have collapsed.

Detroit, Michigan

Nothing can top Detroit as a symbol of economic calamity in the US, as two of the three big carmakers based here totter on the verge of bankruptcy. The city has halved in size in 50 years, and its decline has accelerated alone with plunging automobile sales.

Wolfsburg, Germany

Created just before the Second World War to house Volkswagen workers, this one-company town has suffered as the carmaker laid off 750 permanent staff and hundreds more temporary workers.

Rotherham, UK

Corus, the Indian-owned company that used to be called British Steel, is cutting almost half its 1,600 workforce in Rotherham, heaping misery on the Yorkshire town where 6,000 people are already claiming unemployment.

Spennymoor, UK

This Durham town of 20,000 people, in Tony Blair's old constituency of Sedgefield, has taken a double blow in the current recession: both Electrolux and Black & Decker have shut their factories.

Completed Foreclosures Hit New High in February

Completed Foreclosures Hit New High in February

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Moratoria what? Completed foreclosures reached their highest point since the crisis got underway, rising 67 percent from January’s muted total.

In February, 121,756 homes were repossessed by banks and lenders, up from 72,694 in January and topping the previous high of 104,243 last September, according to

Of course, many will argue that most of these foreclosures were initiated a long time ago, before lenders’ moratoria were in place, but the numbers paint a more troubling picture.

Even pre-foreclosure filings hit a new high, rising to 207,703 in February, up 24 percent from 166,860 in January and nine percent from 190,467 in December, the previous high.

“Despite the efforts to stem foreclosures by government and many banks, the hopeful signs of the last quarter of 2008 and January didn’t follow through in February,” said president Alexis McGee. “Many homeowners are in trouble and rising unemployment continues to threaten to intensify the problem.”

“Annualizing the first two months of this year, if foreclosures were to continue unabated, we could end up with another 1.2 million homes back in lenders’ hands by year-end.”

Completed foreclosures (REO) jumped 138 percent month-to-month in the Northeast, 90 percent in the Midwest, and 63 percent in the Southwest.

By state, completed foreclosures were up 260 percent in Michigan in January, 103 percent in Arizona, and 67 percent in California.

The only bright spot seems to be distressed sales booming in some of the harder-hit regions of the country.

“It looks like those same markets where the foreclosure mess began—including California, Florida, Arizona, and Nevada—are now seeing the market bottom and sales pick up again,” said McGee. “Adding to that, housing affordability hit its highest level since 1970 in January. This is the time to buy”

I don’t know if I agree with her on that last bit, but buyers do seem to be scooping up previously foreclosed properties at a rapid clip.

U.S. exports falling at 49% pace as customers fade away

Global trade collapsing

Commentary: U.S. exports falling at 49% pace as customers fade away

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For a while, some analysts held out hope that the rest of the world would be spared the devastation of the collapse of the great American credit bubble. The global economy had de-coupled, they said. America's problems were her own.

No one is saying that any more.

In fact, the latest evidence shows that global trade flows are plunging at an alarming rate.

The Commerce Department reported that the volume of U.S. imports from abroad fell 4.6% in January while exports declined 8.6%, the most since the monthly trade figures were first collected in 1992. See full story.

Over the past five months since the credit crunch intensified, real exports have plunged at a 49% annual rate, while real imports have fallen at a 30% pace.

The pace of the decline is unprecedented in modern times, economists say. "We doubt even during the Great Depression that trade collapsed with such ferocity," said David Greenlaw, an economist for Morgan Stanley.

The Great Recession, as the IMF calls it, has severed a crucial link in the global economy. U.S. consumer spending has been the main engine of growth for the whole world, but that spending was based largely on phantom gains in asset prices that were inflated by that cheap money from abroad that has now been disrupted.

The profits that foreign producers made from selling to America, in turn, created millions of jobs in places such as China, Southeast Asia and the Persian Gulf. That was then: China reported its exports plunged 25% in February compared with a year earlier.

Those jobs are disappearing, sparking a great reverse migration back to rural China, the Philippines and South Asia. In China, an estimated 20 million workers have lost their jobs. It's not just the American economy that needs to adjust to the new reality. The rest of the world will have to re-examine just where growth comes from.

Ultimately, the global economy may find a road to more balanced growth. Economies from Germany to China may need to rely less on U.S. consumers and more on their own.

Wherever the road leads, the process will be wrenching and drawn out.

Blackwater back in U.S. employ

New deal for Blackwater

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Days after the Baghdad government decided it no longer wanted the company then known as Blackwater in Iraq, the State Department signed a $22.2 million deal in February to keep the embattled contractor working there through most of the summer, contract records show.

The decision keeps Blackwater - since renamed Xe - in Iraq months longer than anyone has suggested publicly, while raising questions about why the U.S. would pay a contractor for work in Iraq if it may not be able to operate there legally.

The State Department has been under pressure from Blackwater critics, including several in Congress, not to renew the company's contracts in Iraq. Much of the concern stems from a 2007 incident that left 14 Iraqi civilians dead and six former Blackwater guards facing manslaughter charges. One of the guards pleaded guilty, but the company was accused of no wrongdoing in the incident.

In late January, the Iraqi government said it would not renew Blackwater's operating license and that the company would have to leave as soon as a joint Iraqi-U.S. committee completes its work on guidelines for the operation of private security companies. State Department officials said they would honor the decision.

On Feb. 2, a department spokesman was asked whether officials planned to renew one of Blackwater's contracts past May. The spokesman, Robert Wood, said the department had told Blackwater "we did not plan to renew the company's existing task force orders for protective security details in Iraq."

But records available through a federal procurement database show that on that same day, the State Department approved a $22.2 million contract modification for Blackwater "security personnel" in Iraq, with a job completion date of Sept. 3, 2009.

"Why would you continue to use Blackwater when the Iraqi government has banned the highly controversial company and there are other choices?" asked Melanie Sloan, executive director of the nonpartisan Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

State Department spokesman Noel Clay said the contract modification involves aviation services. "The place of performance is Iraq, but it is totally different than the Baghdad one that expires in May," he said.

Ms. Sloan called the State Department's explanation of the Feb. 2 deal a "parsing of words" and said "they should just be straight with us."

Xe spokeswoman Anne Tyrell declined to comment on the status of the company's work in Iraq or the Feb. 2 contract modification. She said the company was aware that the State Department had indicated that it did not plan to renew its contracts in Iraq but that Xe officials had not received specific information about leaving the country.

"We're following their direction," she said.

The Iraqi Embassy in Washington had no comment on the Blackwater contract when contacted on Monday.

The State Department has given clear indications for months that the Iraqi government might not be renewing Blackwater's operating license.

Harold W. Geisel, the State Department's inspector general, told the congressionally mandated Commission on Wartime Contracting at a Feb. 2 hearing that officials were awaiting the outcome of an FBI report into the 2007 shooting incident before deciding whether to keep Blackwater in Iraq.

"The issue is not only one of, well, what we would like to do, but it also is to some extent what the department can do," Mr. Geisel said of decisions about the future of Blackwater's role in Iraq, according to a transcript of the hearing.

"Blackwater had certain assets that the department determined the other contractors did not have," he said, citing the company's 24 aircraft as an example.

Nonetheless, Mr. Geisel said his office did "advise the department that they better start planning for when the Iraqis say this is it with Blackwater. And without getting into diplomatic negotiations, I believe the department is planning for this eventuality, which is clearly not too far off."

Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit group that investigates federal contracting, said the State Department's decision to continue paying Blackwater for security in Iraq raises broader questions about federal procurement practices.

"This case highlights the fact that the U.S. government over-relies on contractors and that it isn't in a position to hold them accountable," he said. "Continuing to do new business with questionable actors flies in the face of spreading trust, peace and democracy around the world."

The contractor, based in North Carolina, recently underwent a big shake-up. The company changed its name to Xe, pronounced "zee," last month. Also, a subsidiary, Blackwater Lodge and Training Center, which secured the State Department's $22.2 million contract modification, was renamed.

Blackwater founder Erik Prince and company President Gary Jackson have resigned.

Mr. Prince has donated nearly a quarter-million dollars over the years to political causes. More than half of the donations went to the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Republican National Committee, according to a 2007 Democrat-led House committee report, citing data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Blackwater also had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying Congress, according to Senate records. It contributed between $10,001 and $25,000 to former President Bill Clinton's charitable foundation. Mr. Clinton released the donor information last year to avoid conflict-of-interest questions about his fundraising activities and the duties of his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, as President Obama's secretary of state.

Despite any political good will that the company might have generated from its lobbying and political activities, it was unable to dodge fallout from the Sept. 16, 2007, shooting incident in Baghdad, in which prosecutors said six former guards went on an unprovoked rampage, shooting innocent Iraqi civilians.

Five of the former guards have pleaded not guilty to manslaughter charges, while a sixth pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and attempted manslaughter. Attorneys for the former guards say they fired in self-defense.

Those Hit Hardest Get No Bailout

Those Hit Hardest Get No Bailout

By Amy Goodman

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Taxpayers’ bailout money for AIG bonuses has rightfully provoked a massive backlash against AIG, Wall Street, President Barack Obama and his economic advisers, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers. The U.S. public now owns 80 percent of AIG. The outrage is bipartisan: Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley even suggested that AIG executives “resign or go commit suicide.” New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo just released details on the bonuses, exposing AIG’s ridiculous claim that they are “retention bonuses” aimed at keeping key employees, since 11 of those who received bonuses of $1 million or more are no longer employed by AIG.

These AIG millionaires may need to return their unearned millions (Congress may pass a tax law aimed just at them, taxing their bonuses at 100 percent). But will the outrage help those who have been hardest hit by the economic meltdown? Will the hundreds of millions of dollars in various stimulus packages and bailouts find its way to regular people who are trying to get by, or will it go only to corporations deemed “too big to fail,” leaving behind millions of people who are, apparently, small enough to fail?

The Center for Social Inclusion has just issued a report on the economic meltdown and how best to solve the problem. It links race to the lack of opportunity and to the prevalence of the notorious subprime mortgages that triggered the economic crisis.

CSI Executive Director Maya Wiley told me, “We have to stimulate equality in order to stimulate the economy.” Access to education, transportation, housing and a clean environment give people a firm footing to respond to crisis and to succeed. Noting that “shovel-ready” stimulus jobs in construction will disproportionately favor those who are already in that industry, predominantly white males, Wiley is pushing for “community benefits agreements for construction jobs [that] ensure when the government has construction contracts, low-income people, people of color, women, are going to have their fair share of those jobs.” Since people of color are more likely to live far from available jobs and are less likely to have cars, Wiley says, “we must ensure that the way transportation dollars get spent go to transit ... to connect people who need jobs to the places where there are jobs.”

The group United for a Fair Economy also highlights the racial wealth divide, noting that “24 percent of blacks and 21 percent of Latinos are in poverty, versus 8 percent of whites. In the corporate world, we are seeing the highest executive pay and the biggest bailouts in history. CEO pay is 344 times that of the average worker.”

Prevailing wisdom posits that freeing up credit will save the economy, thus these huge banks need hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts. But the crisis was initially caused by defaults on subprime mortgages. One option at the outset would have been to support the distressed homeowners, helping them avoid foreclosure. Wiley points out that “35 percent of subprime mortgage holders were actually eligible for prime-rate loans. ... Most of those were people of color ... communities of color did not have fair access to credit.”

The banks and the mortgage lenders pushed bad loans on poor and minority borrowers. The NAACP has just filed lawsuits against Wells Fargo and HSBC, alleging “systematic, institutionalized racism in subprime home mortgage lending.”

The banks bundled the bad loans into securities and sold them, then created derivatives based on these securities that are impossible to understand, let alone value. AIG insured the investment banks against potential losses from these complex derivatives. The U.S. Treasury bailed out the banks along with AIG. AIG then paid out tens of billions of its bailout money to the very large banks that already received billions in bailout funds: Bank of America and Goldman Sachs. Yet, despite the hundreds of billions being siphoned off by these megabanks, we are told that the credit market is still frozen. Many European banks also received funds this way, including Swiss bank UBS, which offers secret bank accounts that allow the richest Americans to avoid taxes. In effect, beleaguered U.S. taxpayers are bailing out wealthy U.S. tax dodgers.

Obama has surrounded himself with financial advisers who are too cozy with Wall Street, like Summers and Geithner. It’s time to direct the stimulus to the people who need it, to those whose tax dollars are funding it.

Perp Walks Instead of Bonuses

Perp Walks Instead of Bonuses

By Robert Scheer

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There must be a criminal investigation of the AIG debacle, and it looks as if New York’s top lawman is on the case. The collusion to save this toxic company in order to salvage the rogue financiers who conspired to enrich themselves by impoverishing millions is being revealed as the greatest financial scandal in U.S. history. Instead of taking bonuses, the culprits should be taking perp walks.

I’m not just referring to the swindlers in the Financial Products Subsidiary of AIG who devised and sold those insurance policies on derivatives that brought the world economy to its knees. They do seem deserving of a special place in hell, and presumably the same divine power that according to Scripture labeled usury a high moral crime and threw the money-changers out of the temple will consider that outcome.

However, the enablers are the AIG leaders who, as New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo revealed Tuesday, signed those bonus contracts a year ago to reward the very people “principally responsible for the firm’s meltdown.” That’s a cool $44 million divided among the top 10 shysters, even though the depth of their chicanery was well known to top management.

As Cuomo noted in a letter to Rep. Barney Frank: “The contracts shockingly contain a provision that required most individuals’ bonuses to be 100% of their 2007 bonuses. Thus, in the spring of last year, AIG chose to lock in bonuses for 2008 at 2007 levels despite obvious signs that 2008 performance would be disastrous in comparison to the year before.”

The lame argument that those bonus-baby employees needed to be retained in order to sort out the mess they had created was also shot down by Cuomo, who revealed after his office’s initial investigation had pierced AIG’s veil of secrecy that “[e]leven of the individuals who received `retention’ bonuses of $1 million or more are no longer working at AIG, including one who received $4.6 million.”

But the $165 million in taxpayer funds used to reward them is but a sideshow in a far larger drama of moral decay swirling around the banking bailout. It should not distract from the many billions, not paltry millions, of our dollars being diverted to reward the very folks who brought us such misery. Consider the $12.8 billion of the $170 billion that taxpayers gave AIG in bailout funds that AIG then secretly diverted to Goldman Sachs, a company that evidently has a lock on both the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve no matter which political party is in power. It was the biggest payoff among those that AIG made to a score of foreign and domestic financial giants.

The bailout is a response to a banking crisis that resulted from the radical deregulation pushed by former Goldman Sachs honcho Robert Rubin when he was President Clinton’s treasury secretary. Another Goldman Sachs chairman-turned-treasury-secretary, Henry Paulson, in the Bush administration designed the trillion-dollar bank bailout that will go down as the greatest swindle in U.S. history.

It was because of Paulson that AIG was saved from bankruptcy hours after Goldman rival Lehman Brothers was allowed to go down the drain. Why that reversal of strategy in a top-secret meeting called by then New York Fed Chair Timothy Geithner, a Rubin protégé and now Barack Obama’s treasury secretary? Why was Goldman’s Lloyd Blankfein the only financial industry CEO in attendance? When that news leaked out, his role was defended as that of a noninvolved concerned citizen with expert knowledge, and whose firm had no direct monetary stake in the outcome.

That was a lie.

Goldman Sachs was into AIG insurance policies for at least $20 billion, which is why the firm got that $12.8 billion while Paulson was in charge. It took six months for the embarrassing facts to finally come out. The bailout program was administered by Neel Kashkari, a former Goldman Sachs VP; why are we not surprised at that?

Another pretend innocent in all this is AIG’s CEO Edward M. Liddy, famed defender of the $440,000 AIG executive retreat in Monarch Beach, Calif., held on the heels of the taxpayer bailout. His actions now are defended as mistakes made by a well-intentioned outsider who decided to work for a dollar a year after Paulson appointed him head of AIG. That is just garbage.

Liddy was complicit in Goldman Sachs’ role in creating this mess. As a director of Goldman Sachs, he was paid $685,770 in 2007 and would have come in for some questioning if the firm had gone down. Liddy even headed its audit committee during the five years before he resigned that seat to take over AIG in September 2008. As for his salary sacrifice, not to worry; in 2005, when he was still CEO of Allstate Insurance, he received $26.7 million in compensation.

What we have here is a rare glimpse into the workings of the billionaires’ club, that elite gang of perfectly legal loan sharks who, in only the most egregious cases, will be judged as criminals—Bernard Madoff, former chairman of NASDAQ, comes to mind. These other amoral sharks, who confiscated billions from shareholders and the 401(k) accounts of innocent victims, were rewarded handsomely, rarely needing to break the laws their lobbyists had purchased.

Education About Toxic Vaccines is Sweeping the Nation


By Mary Tocco

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Public awareness about problems associated with childhood vaccines is paramount. Concern is spreading like wild-fire. Parents across the country are not just going with the flow; they are questioning the issues of safety, efficacy and lack of long-term studies that the medical community continues to ignore. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, within a 12- month period, 85% of pediatricians encountered a parent who refused or delayed one or more vaccines and 54% encountered a parent who refused all vaccines. Contrary to what the government would have you believe, the average parent questioning vaccines is not uneducated. These parents make up a group of informed consumers who are determined to make informed vaccine decisions. There is also an increase of people from the mainstream medical community who are now seriously questioning the vaccine status quo.

In 2007, Mary Tocco created a DVD, “Are Vaccines Safe,” which has been viewed by over 120,000 people. Because of the demand for solid factual information, Mary, an independent vaccine investigator, formed the first Vaccine Risk Speakers Bureau. Mary has selected a team of top doctors who are committed to educating the planet about the dangers of toxic vaccines. Here is a look at her team members:

Andrew Moulden, B.A., M.A., M.D., PhD, is the current leader of Canadian Action Party. Dr. Moulden has attended 6 different Ontario Universities, having attained 4 degrees, including a Bachelors, Masters, Doctorate and Medical degree. He is an Ontario Graduate scholar, Natural Sciences, Engineering and Research Counsel of Canada scholar, and Ontario Mental Health Foundation scholar. He has dedicated his life to this cause and wants all vaccines to stop immediately. Moulden demonstrates how when you inject toxins into the blood stream, it can result in “Blood sludging” which can lead to, “immediate and delayed, acute and chronic, permanent and transient, disease and disorders that cut across all organ systems.” Tissue damage is a result of impaired blood flow and blood 'sludging" in the microscopic vessels throughout the circulatory system. His research is now being used in the US vaccine courts and here is his website.

Todd M. Elsner, DC, just released his book What the Pharmaceutical Companies Don’t Want You to Know About Vaccines... Dr. Elsner spent the last two years digging through CDC records to report shocking facts of how the abortionists and vaccine manufactures work together to “farm live babies” for vaccine development. He will expose how “live” infant brains and other body parts are harvested and sold to the vaccine manufactures. Every pastor of every church needs to hear this message. The Bible commands us in Ephesians 5:11, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” This is Dr. Elsner’s mission and we need to reach all of the churches and the Christian groups across the nation with this information. He will also expose how childhood vaccines do not protect our children but actually lead to chronic illness. His website.

Renee Tocco, DC, is a Defeat Autism Now! clinician. She and Mary Tocco formed the American Chiropractic Autism Board (ACAB) in 2008. This board is made up of the country’s leading physicians who are helping children with autism and other neurological and health problems recover. The ACAB are consultants for, “Hope for Autism”, a BioNutritional Care training conference for the chiropractic physician. This conference equips the chiropractor to lead in bringing proper care that those suffering with autism urgently need. Dr. Tocco will show how children suffering on the spectrum have a high prevalence for physiological disorders that lead to the outward appearance of autism. Dr. Tocco also exposes the alarming role that antibiotics play in contributing to autism spectrum disorder. She will share with parents and physicians how children with these chronic illnesses can improve and recover. This is the source of hope for America’s children. The website.

Mary Tocco will teach about vaccine production, common vaccine ingredients, the benefits of normal immune system development in comparison to the toxic vaccine program and much more. One of the biggest concerns now is not the mercury but the amount of aluminum in the vaccines. For example, the FDA safe level of aluminum for an infant is about 20 micrograms. The first shot given day one in the hospital, Hepatitis B, has 250 micrograms of aluminum! By the two month well-baby-visit, every child on the normal vaccine schedule is injected with 1875 micrograms of aluminum. Mary will expose shocking facts about different animal viruses that tag along and get injected with the vaccines. She introduces a “Vitalistic Healthcare Lifestyle” that thousands of parents are embracing in an effort to raise their children healthy. Mary’s website.

These speakers and many more will present at the 2009 International Vaccine Risk Symposium held in Charleston, SC May 15, 2009. This conference is for everyone who is concerned about our health freedoms, the decline of our nation’s health, parents of autistic children, physicians, educators and pastors. The next two days, May 16-17, 2009, will be Hope for Autism – a BioNutritional Care training conference for chiropractors and the general public. To learn more about this conference visit Hope for Autism.

Our Vaccine Risk Speakers Bureau is available to speak for any group interested.

Our goal is to reach thousands of people across this nation and around the world. We want to send a clear message to our current administration and our new president that we are not happy with the vaccine program. Only with the help of concerned people will we be able to accomplish this goal. To schedule this team of vaccine experts, call 231-642-7984 or send email to We have a window of opportunity unlike never before but we need to take action right now. This quote says it all: “All that is needed for evil to succeed is that decent human beings do nothing.” – Edmund Burke