Sunday, October 25, 2009

White House rejects new measures to stem jobs crisis

White House rejects new measures to stem jobs crisis

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Even as the Labor Department reported an unexpected rise in initial claims for unemployment benefits, the Obama administration and Democratic congressional leaders reiterated their opposition to any significant new outlays to address the jobs crisis.

Initial jobless claims jumped by 11,000 to 531,000 last week, reversing a recent downward trend, according to a Labor Department report released Thursday. (Economists say a weekly figure under 325,000 new claims is consistent with a healthy economy). The number of continuing benefit claims by laid off workers for the week ended October 10 hit 5.9 million.

The Labor Department reported that unemployment rose last month in 23 states. It further noted that recipients filing for aid under extended benefit programs dropped by 50,000 to 8.8 million in the week ended October 3. Economists say this drop is not the result of people finding new jobs, but rather the result of people exhausting their jobless benefits.

For all the official talk of an economic recovery, layoffs are mounting, unemployment is rising, and tens of thousands of Americans are running out of jobless benefits and falling into homelessness and destitution.

In testimony before the Senate Finance Committee last month, Beth Shulman of the National Employment Law Project summed up the situation as follows:

“Never in the history of the nation’s unemployment insurance program have more workers been unemployed for such prolonged periods of time. A total of five million Americans have been unemployed for six months or more (a record since data started being recorded in 1948). That represents an unprecedented 33.3 percent of all unemployed workers, a share that has never been reached before in any post-war recession. There are now a whopping 5 million Americans who have been out of work for six months, up from just 1.31 million before the recession began in December 2007.”

Every day, 7,000 workers are losing their unemployment benefits. Over 200,000 are set to see their benefit checks stop this month, and 1.3 million will exhaust their benefits by year’s end. Just in Michigan, which has the highest official jobless rate in the country, 15.3 percent, 100,000 unemployed workers stand to lose their benefits by the end of the year.

Even if a bill currently being debated in Congress to extend benefits for several more months is passed, it will do nothing to stem the rise in unemployment and provide only temporary relief for a portion of those whose life savings are being drained and who are being driven into poverty.

In the face of this disaster for working people, the Obama administration is opposing any major new government outlays to create jobs or provide relief for the unemployed. As the New York Times reported Friday in an article on internal administration discussions, “The administration plans to eschew any larger package of jobs measures in favor of a series of smaller programs.”

These “smaller programs” amount to a temporary extension of measures enacted under the stimulus package that was passed last February, including additional weeks of jobless pay, health care subsidies for laid off workers, and a tax credit for new home buyers. The administration is also considering a tax windfall for companies that “save or create” jobs.

Echoing the position of the White House, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, told reporters on Wednesday, “We do not have plans for an additional stimulus package.”

On Thursday, the same day as the Labor Department report, Christina Romer, the chairwoman of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, told the Joint Economic Committee of Congress that the official jobless rate was likely to peak at 10.1 percent by the second quarter of 2010 and still be at 9.6 percent or higher by the end of the year.

The real unemployment rate, including those who have given up looking for work and those involuntarily working part-time is already at least 17 percent. According to the government, there are currently 15 million unemployed in the US.

Romer said that the US economy was 9 million jobs short of where it should be. She warned that any rebound in jobs could actually be slower than what White House officials had been predicting. She also said that the main growth impact of the $787 billion stimulus bill passed last February had already been spent. “By mid-2010, fiscal stimulus will likely be contributing little to further growth,” she told the committee.

This is a damning admission, given that, according to the White House’s own web site, a grand total of 30,383 jobs have been created nationally as a direct result of contracts granted under the stimulus bill. This derisory number includes a total of 397 jobs in Michigan—which has lost tens of thousands of jobs as a result of the Obama administration’s forced bankruptcy of General Motors and Chrysler—6 jobs in Rhode Island, which has the country’s third highest jobless rate at 12.8 percent, and 2,260 jobs in California, where more than 2.2 million people are officially unemployed and joblessness is the highest since 1940.

In her testimony, Romer claimed that as of August, the stimulus package had “created or saved” 600,000 to 1.5 million jobs. Even if this dubious and grossly imprecise estimate is accurate, it pales before the 7.2 million jobs destroyed since the recession began in December of 2007 and the 3.4 million jobs lost in the eight months since the stimulus bill was passed.

And despite the fact that the government’s job-creation claims at the time of the bill’s passage were based on the assumption that unemployment would peak at around 8 percent, Romer touted the stimulus as a success and offered no proposals for new measures to address the worsening jobs crisis.

She tacitly justified the administration’s opposition to significant new spending for jobs by raising the need to address the ballooning federal deficit.

As recent statements by Obama’s top economic officials, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers, as well as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, make clear, putting in place austerity policies to slash social spending and rein in budget deficits is the administration’s central domestic priority, not job creation or relief for the unemployed.

This was underscored in a Wall Street Journal column published Tuesday, entitled “Obama Lays Plans to Tackle Deficit.” The article begins: “This has been the year of coping with the economic mess. Next year will be the year of coping with the deficit mess that follows the economic mess.”

The article points to next January’s State of the Union address and the submission of the administration’s budget plan the following month as key points in a campaign to push for austerity measures. “Budget director Peter Orszag promises that [the new budget plan in February] will be an occasion for the administration to start putting real deficit-cutting plans on the table,” the Journal reports. It notes that the administration is looking favorably on a proposal to set up a bipartisan commission to address “fiscal imbalances.”

The administration’s callous indifference to the plight of the unemployed and the working class as a whole is rooted in a definite class strategy and definite social interests—namely, those of the financial elite. It formulates its economic and social policies through closed-door discussions with powerful representatives of the banking and corporate world. As the New York Times reported Friday, “The White House, meanwhile, has been seeking ideas recently from the private sector, including from a group of high-level CEOs who are in frequent contact with Mr. Obama’s top economic advisers.”

These forces favor a continuation of high unemployment as a means of forcing workers desperate to hold onto their jobs to accept lower wages, shorter hours and speedup. With the Obama administration serving as its political instrument, the financial elite is utilizing the economic crisis to dramatically reshape social relations in America. The aim is to effect a sharp and permanent reduction in the living standards of the working class and an increase in the rate of exploitation of workers.

The Labor Department issued a report Thursday on international manufacturing productivity which shows that this process is well underway. The report showed that in 2008 the US posted the biggest drop in manufacturing employment of the 17 countries surveyed, but, along with South Korea, it recorded the biggest gain in output per hour worked. Both the US and South Korea saw productivity rise 1.2 percent.

The US led all of the countries with a 3.4 percent decline in manufacturing employment and a 3.9 percent drop in hours worked. Of the 15 countries where manufacturing unit labor costs increased, they rose the least—1.7 percent—in the US.

Total compensation for manufacturing workers in the US declined 1 percent from the previous year.

These trends have accelerated in 2009. According to a report in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, across the US economy in the second quarter of 2009, work hours were down 7.6 percent, unit labor costs were down 5.9 percent, output was down 1.5 percent, while output per hour was up 6.6 percent.

These figures show that the Obama administration, in service to the financial and corporate elite, is spearheading a drive to slash wages and increase labor productivity, so as to create a new basis for profit at the direct expense of the working class.

The 50 percent surge in the stock market since March has occurred in part because corporations have been able to record better-than-expected profits despite declining sales and revenues, due to steep reductions in labor costs.

The aim of the administration is to leverage wage-cutting and speedup, combined with a tacit policy of support for a devalued dollar, to give US capitalism an advantage over its trade rivals. US manufacturing is to be revived on the basis of sharply lower wages and increased exploitation, making the United States a low-wage platform for exports to the world market.

US bankers cash in despite phony pay restraint

US bankers cash in despite phony pay restraint

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The executive pay regulations announced Thursday by the Obama administration’s “pay czar” and the Federal Reserve represent a cynical attempt to placate public outrage over Wall Street bonuses while allowing the financial speculators to continue awarding themselves multi-million-dollar compensation packages.

According to the report issued by the Treasury Department’s special master for compensation, Kenneth Feinberg, at least 66 of the 138 bank and corporation executives under his jurisdiction will receive government-approved compensation packages totaling more than $1 million a year.

The average pay for all 138 executives is $2.5 million a year. All of them work for seven companies bailed out with tens of billions in taxpayer dollars: Bank of America, Citigroup, AIG, General Motors, Chrysler, GMAC and Chrysler Financial.

General Motors’ CEO Fritz Henderson will see his 2009 compensation more than double from 2008, to $5.5 million. Meanwhile, under the forced bankruptcy of the company at the hands of the Obama administration, GM workers have suffered mass layoffs and deep cuts in pay and benefits.

Feinberg’s report, and a second document issued by the Federal Reserve calling for vague new principles to guide compensation packages at the banks regulated by the Fed, have been presented by both supporters and opponents in official circles as a serious check on the self-enrichment of the financial elite.

The Wall Street Journal published an editorial denouncing the measures as the end of “what used to be known as American capitalism.”

The Obama administration was happy to be accused of being anti-Wall Street. It gave the president a chance to adopt a populist pose and present himself as sharing the outrage over bankers’ salaries felt by working people.

“I’ve always believed that our system of free enterprise works best when it rewards hard work,” Obama said Thursday at the White House. “But it does offend our values when executives of big financial firms—firms that are struggling—pay themselves huge bonuses even as they continue to rely on taxpayer assistance to stay afloat.”

This rhetoric is 180 degrees at odds with reality. The Obama administration made available up to $23.7 trillion in loans, guarantees and direct cash infusions to the big financial institutions. Its number one priority has been to rescue these institutions, which play a central role in the world capitalist system and serve as the principal guardians of the wealth of the ruling elite.

Obama commissioned the Feinberg report to provide political cover as the economic crisis deepens. American society is heading into an unprecedented social and political crisis—beginning with a winter in which foreclosures, evictions, utility shutoffs and spreading homelessness will unfold against the backdrop of record bonuses on Wall Street.

The White House is also supplying a bit of rhetorical ammunition to its liberal defenders, such as the Nation magazine. They are increasingly being discredited by their praise for the “progressive” character of the new administration, even as Obama betrays all of his election-year promises and, in all essentials, continues the policies of Bush and the Republicans—wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, bailouts for the wealthy, wage and benefit cuts for workers, attacks on democratic rights.

Obama’s comment about the “free enterprise system” rewarding “hard work” has been echoed by media apologists and spokesmen for the bankers, who are bemoaning the supposed chilling effects of the token restraints on pay.

A worried New York Times wrote: “Pay experts said the plan, which emerged Wednesday, could lead to the departure of the very executives needed to return the firms to health, a prerequisite to repaying taxpayer support.”

Neither from the White House nor in the press is there any examination of what these individuals have done—what heroic labor they have performed—that is worth incomes in the seven, eight and even nine digits.

These financial parasites produce no real value. On the contrary, these are people who are largely responsible for the greatest financial collapse since the 1930s, one in which their personal greed and recklessness played a significant role.

What does an investment banker do? Judge from the quarterly reports filed by Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, which have repaid their cash injections from the Troubled Asset Relief Program and are therefore exempt from even the token limits set by Feinberg. The two banks earned bumper profits and set aside near-record sums for bonuses, not by funding startup ventures and small businesses, as the mythology of “free enterprise” would suggest. Their profits came almost entirely from speculation—gambling on the price swings of currencies, stocks and bonds.

The proper fate of many of these gentlemen would be criminal investigation and prosecution, and the forfeiture of their personal fortunes to contribute to providing relief to the millions of people whose lives have been devastated by the economic consequences of their actions.

The Times noted, in its account of the Federal Reserve plan to regulate bank salaries, “The officials emphasized that the plan was not intended to make pay packages more socially equitable but was part of a broader effort by the Fed to shore up the stability of the banking system.”

Why should reducing social inequality be ruled out as a goal of public policy? The spectacle of individual bankers and CEOs raking in incomes greater than those of 500, 1,000 or even 10,000 working people is not only an outrage, it is a symptom of a deeply diseased and reactionary social order.

As the Times account demonstrates, to the extent that the new regulations have any substance, beyond their public relations value, their purpose is to curb the speculative excesses of a few bank executives in the larger interests of the financial aristocracy as a whole.

The working class has no interest in supporting Obama’s fig leaf of pay restraint for the banks—which will be cited as justification for even more draconian attacks on the wages and benefits of workers. The working class must fight not for a “reformed” capitalism, but the abolition of the profit system and the reorganization of economic life to serve the needs of the vast majority of humanity, those who work for a living.

After the Billionaires Plundered Alabama Town, Troops Were Called in ... Illegally

After the Billionaires Plundered Alabama Town, Troops Were Called in ... Illegally

Editor's Note: The shocking transfer of public wealth to Wall Street's pockets is illustrated vividly in Mark Ames' article below, which covers some very disturbing recent events in Alabama, where billionaires and banks are squeezing the locals so hard that they're literally going bankrupt just for flushing their toilets, where violence and the threat of violence are reaching a boiling point and where even the Posse Comitatus Act is under threat. "We have to tolerate the inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity and opportunity for all," said one Goldman Sachs vice-chairman recently. Well, here's a tale of the kind of inequality the finance industry expects citizens to tolerate.

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One of this year's more disturbing stories that were ignored was the illegal Army occupation of Samson, Alab., in March following a shooting spree that raged across two towns by a disgruntled worker, leaving 11 people dead.

As I wrote at the time, Michael McLendon, 27, went on a killing rampage following years of relentless corporate exploitation and harassment against him, his mother (whom he mercy-killed), and the entire rural Alabama region, which suffered like so many parts of rural America at the hands of billionaire goons like chicken oligarch Bo Pilgrim of Pilgrim's Pride notoriety.

One of the creepiest details to emerge in the shooting rampage were reports that troops from nearby Fort Rucker were brought into Samson and other surrounding areas to patrol the streets. This is a clear violation of the Posse Comitatus Act, every freedom-loving American's worst nightmare.

And now, finally, the Army officially agrees that its occupation of the Alabama streets was illegal, according to an internal report the Associated Press got a hold of, following a Freedom of Information Act filing:

An Army investigation found that soldiers should not have been sent to man traffic stops in a small Alabama town after 11 people were killed in March during a shooting spree.

An Army report released to the Associated Press on Monday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request said the decision to dispatch military police to Samson from nearby Fort Rucker broke the law. But an Army spokesman said no charges have been filed following the Aug. 10 report.

The report from the Department of Army Inspector General found the use of military personnel in Samson violated the Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits federal troops from performing law-enforcement actions. The names of those involved were redacted from the report.

According to the report, the officer's "intent was to be a good Army neighbor and help local civilian authorities facing a difficult, unique tragedy affecting the local community. There were no apparent adverse collateral effects to the support provided."

Indeed. For a lot of Americans, the sight of troops occupying their towns is their worst nightmare come true -- part of the reason that America came into existence was to create a country where this sort of thing would never happen, even if the Army's sole intent was to be a good neighbor and help old ladies cross the streets.

Strangely enough, there was almost no media coverage of the occupation -- you had to rely on various right-wing outlets like, whose article I blogged at the time, or the left-wing Democratic Underground.

But what even the right-wing anti-government people won't report is the true reason why the Army was called out in the first place, something that goes right back to the cause of the shooting rampage: billionaire exploitation of the local Alabamans, not just by the chicken oligarch, but from higher up the predator food chain -- Wall Street banking behemoth JP Morgan Chase.

You see, thanks to a combination of corporate-tax holidays (which reduce local revenues), billionaire greed like the sort that bankrupted Pilgrim's Pride, and Wall Street investment-banking scams on places like Alabama that result in corrupted local officials and bankrupted municipalities, counties and states -- now, there's no money left to fund local police forces, as the U.S. Army report reveals:

The soldiers arrived in the hours after the shootings, which stretched the town's tiny police force and county officers to the limit with several different crime scenes. The report said troops were dispatched after the Geneva County Sheriff's Office and Samson Police requested assistance from Fort Rucker to relieve law enforcement at traffic checkpoints around the crime-scene area.

As I wrote earlier this year, Pilgrim's Pride hooked up with Wall Street to leverage itself into bankruptcy while enriching the executives' family and a handful of insiders at the expense of tens of thousands of Americans workers:

In 2006, Pilgrim's Pride, then the second-largest chicken processor in the world, made a huge gamble that will seem familiar to anyone who's been following the financial crash: the company borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars, leveraging itself well beyond its means, in order to acquire a rival company and become the nation's No. 1 chicken processor, slaughtering 45 million chickens per week.

That might have given the executives a nice, big hard-on, but it also meant they would have to come up with more money to pay for all that debt. So the company did do what every post-Reagan company has done and gotten away with: it made the workforce pay for the executives' bonuses.

That meant squeezing lower-middle-class workers for more work for less pay, or in Pilgrim's case, more work for no pay: In August 2007, the U.S. Department of Labor filed a lawsuit against Pilgrim's Pride accusing it of grossly undercompensating its employees. That same year, 10,000 Pilgrim's Pride employees launched a class-action lawsuit demanding compensation for their work.

The damage extended well beyond Pilgrim's Pride's plants. With bankruptcy came huge unpaid local tax bills, leading to further layoffs and reduced services for the already-beleaguered locals:

Suwannee County could be out about $2 million if Pilgrim's Pride doesn't pay its property-tax bill, according to property appraiser Lamar Jenkins.

The biggest taxpayer in the county filed for bankruptcy protection Dec. 1. Now it's not clear when -- or if -- the bill will be paid.

"It's certainly going to put a hurt on the budget of the county," Jenkins told the [Suwanee] Democrat by phone Thursday. Jenkins said the unpaid bill represents 7.4 percent of the money local schools get from property taxes; 5.3 percent of county funds from that source; and 8 percent of the money the Suwannee River Water Management District receives from local property-tax revenues.

A spokesman for Pilgrim's did not respond to a request for comment.

Bo Pilgrim, the head of Pilgrim's Pride, once told his Texas church that he was worth over $1 billion before the market crash, and he's still worth hundreds of millions. His rapacity was boundless, and in the end it was the undoing of Pilgrim's Pride -- not the Pilgrim family, mind you, which is still filthy disgusting rich, but the company is through.

Last month, 64 percent of Pilgrim's Pride was sold to JBS, a Brazilian beef giant, making it the largest meat company in the world, topping America's Tyson. The American cattle industry tried to block the deal, which it says could result in the destruction of the American beef industry, but the Justice Department already approved JBS' takeover.

In the billionaires' Third World model for America, it makes awful sense that a Brazilian meat company would take control of a bankrupt, corrupt American chicken company. For Wall Street and the billionaires, the more they destroy in America, the richer they get, consequences be damned. And anyway, it's not like Pilgrim's Pride was a model of corporate responsibility while under American ownership; just read some of the comments on this recent Reuters article:

Gilmer, Texas, Sep. 8, 2009 -- working as a supervisor in mt pleasant plant use to be injoyable, but lately they expect you to work 50/70 hours for no extra pay. pilgrims pride does not care about family life just their money. Everyone is afraid to say anything, because upper management may let you go with no warnning because you voiced your oppion

robert, Carrollton, Ga. -- i work carrollton,ga former goldkist plant we were goldkist 1 plant now we fill like we in pure hell working for pilgrim pride these people want you to kiss there ass and work three times hard for same money no rasied in two years old chicken farmer

Doddridge, Ark. -- While I was raising chickens for Pilgrim's Pride, I became friends with many lower management employees of the company. The manner in which they were terminated was just simply unmerciful. While the growers had the brunt of the financial devastion, many that were nearing retirement were left with no prospects of employment in the near future. I know some that have had to uproot their families and settle for a considerable more modest lifestyle with their retirement benefits in doubt after a number of years of employment. It is just a shame that Bo Pilgrim has pocketed the money of many hard working people. I still believe Bo needs to be in the jail cell next to Bernie Madoff.

The comments section is where you'll find the real, unvarnished, ungrammatical rage among America's cheated majority, because for the most part, people are too desperate and afraid to complain in public.

But here's the rub: Selling Pilgrim's Pride to a Brazilian meat monopoly doesn't mean things will get better for Alabamans. Just weeks after the buyout was announced, Pilgrim's Pride closed another plant, this one in northern Alabama. According to the AP:

A chicken-processing plant owned by Pilgrim's Pride Corp. is shutting down this week after almost six decades, putting more than 600 people out of work and creating ripples that will be felt all over town.

The city of almost 20,000 is preparing for the end of a relationship that began in 1952 when James Beasley founded Sweet Sue Poultry, which originally ran the plant. Owners included Beatrice Foods and ConAgra before Pilgrim's Pride purchased the business in 2003.

Which looks a lot like an even more depressing Pilgrim's Pride story from a few months earlier, this from rural Arkansas. The town of Clinton filed a lawsuit in June against Pilgrim's Pride, accusing it of turning the town into a "ghost town":

"With its largest and sole remaining employer, Pilgrim's, now evacuated, the city faces a crisis of revenue, bond payments and economic devastation, and as a result of the Pilgrim's evacuation is threatened with becoming a modern-day ghost town," the lawsuit filed by the city said. "This serious economic situation is, however, a direct consequence of Pilgrim's illegal purpose in shuttering the Clinton plant and operations."

This story is repeated all over the rural South. So guess who put together the deal that bankrupted Pilgrim's Pride? Lehman Bros., the king of bankruptcy.

On the other side of the deal, serving Gold Kist, was Merrill Lynch, which also collapsed last year. But Merrill's banker in the Pilgrim's Pride acquisition is still doing well, thank you very much. In fact, he was recently hired by JPMorgan Chase as vice chairman of mergers and acquisitions.

Which makes perfect sense, because JPMorgan Chase has been laying waste to Alabama on a level that makes Pilgrim's Pride's destruction look downright humanitarian. JP Morgan Chase has plundered so much wealth from one county in Alabama, using a complex derivatives scheme and old-fashioned bribery, that some locals are calling it "Armageddon." According to Bloomberg:

In its 190-year history, Jefferson County, Ala., has endured a cholera epidemic, a pounding in the Civil War, gunslingers, labor riots and terrorism by the Ku Klux Klan. Now this namesake of Thomas Jefferson, anchored by Birmingham, is staring at what one local politician calls financial "Armageddon."

The spectacle -- a tax struck down, about 1,000 county employees furloughed, a politician indicted over $3 billion in sewer debt that may lead to the largest municipal bankruptcy in history -- has elbowed its way up the ladder of county lore.

"People want to kill somebody, but they don't know who to shoot at," says Russell Cunningham, past president of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Jefferson County's debacle is a parable for billions of dollars lost by state and local governments from Florida to California in transactions done behind closed doors. Selling debt without requiring competition made public officials vulnerable to bankers' sales pitches, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill for borrowing gone awry.

[T]he county bet on interest-rate swaps, agreements that a representative of New York-based JPMorgan Chase & Co. told commissioners could reduce their interest costs. Instead, the swaps -- covering more than $5 billion in all -- blew up during the credit crisis after ratings for the county's bond insurers fell.

JPMorgan, through spokeswoman Christine Holevas, declined to comment for this story.

Yeah, why bother commenting to the public when you own the bastards? JPMorgan, which took $25 billion in direct bailout money and tens of billions more in backdoor subsidies and handouts, just posted a massive $3.6 billion quarterly profit, and has set aside at least $11.1 billion for management bonuses. Meanwhile, Alabamans can't afford to flush their toilets.

This is what inequality looks like. From Wall Street, it must look extremely appealing; for the rest of America, it's a nightmare that's only getting worse.

So far, it's clear that Birmingham and the entire Jefferson County are following the wretched script of a typical Third World scenario, where the Wall Street bankers corrupt the politicians and eventually bankrupt the place and then, while the corpse is still warm and the bankruptcy deals are cut, Wall Street makes sure it's first in line to profit off the chaos it created, while its corrupt local shill (in this case Birmingham's mayor) takes the fall for the crime of accepting the JP Morgan bribes … and the locals get screwed worst of all, paying off the bill for years or decades.

Just this week, it emerged that Goldman Sachs, employer of Brian "Inequality Is Good" Griffiths, bilked the state of New Jersey using a similar scheme involving interest-rate swaps on bonds that don't even exist. According to Bloomberg, New Jersey is considering raising its gasoline tax to pay the $1 million a month they have to pay out to Goldman for the scam -- a regressive tax that once again takes from the struggling middle class and poor, and puts in thepockets of the billionaires.

Meanwhile, over in Jefferson County, Ala., there's so little left to steal from the impoverished locals that Wall Street has been forced to come up with a new, grotesquely evil plan to line their pockets: taxing the local residents for taking a shit:

In August, Bank of New York Mellon Corp., as trustee for owners of about $3 billion in sewer warrants, filed suit in Jefferson County Circuit Court seeking an appointed receiver for the sewer system. The receiver should have authority to raise rates enough to meet the debt service, the bank said in the complaint, which is pending. The sewer system is already charging customers about 300 percent more to drain bathtubs or flush toilets than a dozen years ago.

By one county estimate, average annual bills are now about $750, compared with the national average of $331, according to a 2007 survey by the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Clean Water Agencies, a coalition of utilities.

It's impossible to boost them enough without putting them beyond the means of many residents, County CommissionerJim Carns says. "We're like a guy making $50,000 a year with a $1 million mortgage."

In Wall Street's eyes, Alabamans really do shit gold.

The thing now will be to convince the locals to use their toilets rather than, say, gas to heat their homes.

As I wrote a few months ago, Jefferson County residents have become so desperate that they're being forced to choose between water and heating, as this article shows:

As nighttime temperatures plunged in Birmingham, Ala., last October, Dora Bonner had a choice: either pay the gas bill so she could heat the home she shares with four grandchildren, or send the Birmingham Water Works a $250 check for her water and sewer bill.

Bonner, who is 73 and lives on Social Security, decided to keep the house from freezing.

"I couldn't afford the water, so they shut it off," she says.

Bonner's sewer bills have risen more than fourfold in the past decade. So have those of others in Jefferson County, which has 659,000 residents and includes Birmingham, the state's largest city.

The logical outcome of the billionaires' plundering of Alabama is the same thing that happens all over the Third World: violence, fear and calling in the troops, the only way to secure the billionaires' dirty profits:

In August and September … Jefferson County residents got a taste of what bankruptcy might look like. As the county began putting about 1,000 workers on leave without pay, one disgruntled employee allegedly e-mailed bomb threats to officials and was promptly arrested, according to the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office.

Lines soon formed outside the courthouse as such tasks as renewing driver's licenses slowed.

A kind of legal civil war broke out when three county agencies -- the sheriff's department, an indigent-care hospital and the tax-assessor's office -- sued the county commission to stop the budget cuts on the grounds that they posed a danger to public safety.

Bettye Fine Collins, the commission president, declared the situation, "our Armageddon."

The state's response is right out of the Central America banana republic playbook: When there's no money left for the people, send in the troops.

The cuts in the sheriff's department budget were so severe that he was planning to call in the National Guard to keep order:

The sheriff in Alabama's most populous county may call for the National Guard to help maintain order, a spokesman said Tuesday, as a judge cleared the way for cuts in the sheriff's budget, and lawmakers reached a compromise they hope will end the budget crisis.

In light of all of this, the Army's brief, illegal occupation of a string of towns in Alabama this past spring no longer looks like a freak one-off, but rather a logical progression in the ongoing billionaire plunder of America.

It gives new meaning to what MSNBC host Dylan Ratigan is calling "corporate communism." Not only are banking billionaires on permanent state wealthfare, but even worse, as the wealth available becomes increasingly scarce and there isn't enough left to satisfy the billionaires' grotesque appetites and regular citizens' needs to flush their toilets or heat their homes, we're heading to the point that all Third World countries come to -- calling out the troops to ensure that the peasants pay their tithes to their absentee masters in New York and Connecticut and don't get all uppity like those Europeans.

Now you can see why Alabamans are loading up on so many weapons. That makes sense. Now they need to understand who the real enemy is. Not the make-believe liberal bogeymen of their nightmares. Rather, Alabamans should focus their anger on the real-world billionaires who are making this country a living hell.

Great Power Confrontation in the Indian Ocean

Great Power Confrontation in the Indian Ocean: The Geo-Politics of the Sri Lankan Civil War

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The support and positions of various foreign governments in regards to the diabolic fighting between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan military, which cost the lives of thousands of innocent civilians, says a great deal about the geo-strategic interests of these foreign governments. The position of the governments of India and a group of states that can collectively be called the Periphery, such as the U.S. and Australia, were in support of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) or Tamil Tigers, either overtly or covertly. Many of these governments also provided this support tacitly, so as not to close any future opportunity of co-opting Sri Lanka after the fighting was over.

In contrast, the governments of a group of states that can jointly be called Eurasia as a collective entity, such as Iran and Russia, supported the Sri Lankan government. The polar nature of the support by Eurasia and the Periphery for the two different combating sides in the Sri Lankan Civil War betrays the scent or odour of a much broader struggle. This is a struugle that extends far beyond the borders of the island of Sri Lanka and its region.

Why is this so? Much of the answer to such a question has to do with the formation of a growing alliance in the Eurasian landmass against the international domination of the U.S. and its allies. This Eurasian alliance was formed on the basis of the growing cohesion between Moscow, Tehran, Beijing, and their allies that has seen the animation of the Primakov Doctrine. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a security body with real military dimensions that has been called “the NATO of the East” within some foreign policy circles is a real symbol of this geo-political dynamic. In 2009, the last chapter of the Sri Lankan Civil War was very much a theatre within this process.

Enter the Chinese Dragon: The start of Sri Lankan Estrangement from the U.S. and India

2007 was a milestone year for Sri Lanka. On March 12, 2007, Colombo agreed to allow the Chinese to build a massive naval port on its territory, at Hambantota. An agreement on the construction of the port was finalized and signed by the Sri Lankan Port Authority with two Chinese companies, the China Harbor Engineering Company and the Sino Hydo Corporation. [1] The Sri Lankan government’s decision was mostly formed on the basis of economic benefits and Chinese support to end the fighting on their island.

What followed was the estrangement of Sri Lanka from the U.S. and India. It has been a U.S. policy to encircle China and to prevent it from building any ports or bases outside of Chinese territory. As a result, the U.S. shortly cut its military assistance to the Sri Lankan military. [2] Indian support for the Tamil Tigers also increased through pressure on Colombo to make Sri Lanka a federal state with autonomy for the Tamils. Beijing threw its political weight behind Colombo and also began sending large arms shipments to Sri Lanka. As an additional comparison, Chinese aid to Sri Lanka in 2008 was about a billion U.S. dollars, while U.S. aid was only 7.4 million U.S. dollars. [3]

It is from 2007 onward that Sri Lanka became a part of the alliance in Eurasia through its agreement with China and its subsequent estrangement from the U.S. and India. By the end of 2007, Sri Lanka had entrenched itself in the geo-strategic trenches with Russia, Iran, and China. These reasons and not humanitarian concern(s) are the primary rationale for support provided, in one way or another, to the Tamil Tigers by the governments of India, the U.S., Britain, Japan, Australia, Canada, and the European Union.

Sri Lankan Military ties to the Moscow-Beijing-Tehran Axis

Chinese military ties with Sri Lanka started in the 1990s, but it was in 2007 that Chinese and Sri Lankan military relations started to flower. According to Brahma Chellaney of the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, India: “China’s arms sales [were] the decisive factor in ending the military stalemate [in the Sri Lankan Civil War.]” [4] In April, just one month after the 2007 agreement between the Sri Lankan Port Authority and both the China Harbor Engineering Company and the Sino Hydo Corporation, China signed a major ammunition and ordnance deal with the Sri Lankan military. [5] Beijing also transferred, free of charge, several military jets to the Sri Lankan military, which were decisive in defeating the Tamil Tigers. [6]

Iran and Russia also began to rapidly develop their military ties with Sri Lanka after Colombo agreed to host the Chinese port in Hambantota. In this regard, Beijing, Moscow, and Tehran all have cooperation and military agreements with Sri Lanka. The visits of Sri Lankan leaders and military officials to Tehran, Moscow, and Beijing in 2007 and 2008 were all tied to Sri Lankan preparations to militarily disarm the Tamil Tigers with the help of these Eurasian states.

China, Russia, and Iran all ultimately helped arm the Sri Lankan military before the last phase of the Sri Lankan Civil War. For the Eurasian alliance the aim of ending the Sri Lankan Civil War was to ensure the materialization of the Chinese port and to prevent any possibility of regime change in Colombo, which would ensure the continuity of a Sri Lankan government allied to China, Russia, and Iran. Along with Sri Lankan officials, the governments of Iran, Russia, and China believed that unless the Tamil Tigers were neutralized as a threat that the U.S. and its allies, in possible league with India, could make attempts to overthrow the Sri Lankan government in order to nullify the Sri Lankan naval port agreement with China and to remove Sri Lanka from the orbit of Eurasia. In this context, they all threw their weight behind Sri Lanka during the fighting in 2009 and in the case of China and Russia at the U.N. Security Council.

Associated Press (AP) reported on December 23, 2007:

In the wake of the United States Senate slashing military assistance to Sri Lanka, the Russian Federation has stepped in to fill the vacuum, sending the first ever top level military delegation to Colombo to discuss military cooperation. A high level Russian military delegation led by [Colonel-General] Vladimir Moltenskoy last week met Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Army Commander [Lieutenant-General] Sarath Fonseka and Air Force Commander, Roshan Goonathilake and had visited several major military installations in the island. [Colonel-General] Molpenskoy, a veteran combat General in the Russian Army was formerly the operational commander of the Russian Forces in Chechnya. [7]

The Russian Federation, China, and Iran also all face their own separatist movements like Sri Lanka. All four nations see these movements as being supported by outside players for geo-strategic reasons. In 2007, not only did Moscow, like China, move in to fill the vacuum of military supplies left by the U.S. government after Sri Lanka agreed to build the Chinese naval port; the Kremlin also sent Colonel-General Vladimir Moltenskoy who oversaw the Russian military campaign against the separatist movement in Chechnya. Moltenskoy arrived in Sri Lanka as a military advisor to Colombo.

The aid of Tehran was also crucial for the Sri Lankan military. The Island, a Sri Lankan news source reported: “Iran had come to Sri Lanka’s rescue (...) when an LTTE [or Tamil Tiger] offensive had threatened to overwhelm the [Sri Lankan] army in Jaffna [P]eninsula. Sources said that several plane loads of Iranian [military] equipment were made available immediately after Sri Lanka sought assistance from the Iranian leadership.” [8] The Island also reported, before the arrival of a high level Iranian military delegation to Sri Lanka in 2009, that Iran, which is “widely believed to [sic.; be] a leading strategist in” the use of tactical boats, and Sri Lanka “have over the year developed strategies relating to small [tactical] boat operations.” [9]

The extent of the help Iran, Russia, and China provided to Sri Lanka also included economic support within the framework of the Sri Lankan military preparations leading to the assaults on the Tamil Tigers in 2009. The Hindu on September 21, 2009 published an article partially revealing the depth of the level and importance of the help that Sri Lanka had been receiving from Iran alone:

Iran has extended by another year the four-month interest-free credit facility granted to Sri Lanka after President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit to Iran in November 2007, state-run Daily News reported on Monday.

It said that consequent to talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian government granted the facility from January 2008 to August 31.

In 2008, Sri Lanka imported crude oil under this facility to the tune of $1.05 billion, nearly all of its requirements, easing the pressure on the country’s foreign exchange requirements in a year of significance for the government’s war with the LTTE [or the Tamil Tigers].

An additional three-month credit package at a concessionary rate of interest was also accommodated in Sri Lanka’s favour on September 3 [2009] at a meeting between the representatives of the countries in Tehran. [10]

Chinese Naval Interests and Energy Security Concerns and Sri Lanka

Why a Chinese port in Sri Lanka? Why in Sri Lanka of all places? Sri Lanka is situated at a vital maritime corridor in the Indian Ocean. This position is at a vital juncture in the maritime shipping paths of the Indian Ocean that is important for trade, security, and energy supplies. This is why Moscow, Tehran, and Beijing stand behind Colombo.

The Chinese naval port under construction and at Hambantota is part of a New Cold War to secure energy routes. [11] Most of the energy supplies going to Asia pass the southern tip of Sri Lanka. It is for this reason that the Chinese have included Sri Lanka within their project of establishing a chain of naval bases in the Indian Ocean to protect their energy supplies coming from the Middle East and Africa. Myanmar (Burma) is also part of this project and in many cases the pressure on the governments in both states is linked to their agreements to build Chinese ports with Beijing.

In league with China, Iran also has naval ambitions in Sri Lanka and the broader Indian Ocean as part of an initiative to protect the maritime routes between itself and China. China and Iran have both been expanding their naval forces. This is part of a growing trend. The seas and bodies of water around all Eurasia from the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Persian Gulf, and the the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal, the South China Sea, and the East China Sea have all been under heavy militarization over the years. In no point in history have the oceans seen such large numbers of warships at one time. This militarization process on the waves of Eurasia is ultimately tied to controlling movement and encircling the Eurasian landmass in a coming showdown.

Sri Lanka enters the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)

In 2009, Sri Lanka joined the SCO, as did Belarus. The entry of Sri Lanka into the Eurasian organization was announced at the SCO conference in Yekaterinburg, where the light was on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad following the election riots in Iran. While the SCO put its weight behind the re-election of the Iranian President, Sri Lanka thanked the organization for its collective support against the Tamil Tigers.

Both Sri Lanka and Belarus, which is also a member of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), entered the SCO as dialogue partners. [12] The entry of Sri Lanka into the SCO as a dialogue partner confirms its strategic ties and alliance with Russia, China, and Iran. Dialogue partner status in the SCO puts Sri Lanka under the umbrella of China and Russia. Although it is not spelled out in Article 14 of the SCO Charter, a dialogue partner can request protection and defensive aid under such a relationship. Dialogue partners are also financially tied to the SCO, which facilitates their integration into the coming Eurasian Union that will emerge from the cohesion of Russia, China, Iran, and their partners.

Sri Lanka and the Broader Conflict in Eurasia

In the so-called Western World double-standards were applied to the final chapter of the Sri Lankan Civil War. While the U.S. and its allies supported the military actions of Georgia to secure its territorial integrity by bringing South Ossetia and Abkhazia under its control through force in 2008 they did not do this in regards to Sri Lanka in 2009. In essence the actions of the Sri Lankan and Georgian governments were almost exactly the same: establishing government control of break-away territory through the use of military force. Yet, the reaction of the U.S. and its allies were contrastingly different in both cases. Georgia received support and Sri Lanka did not.

In addition, Georgia was legally obligated under international agreement not to use any military force to solve its internal conflict, but Sri Lanka was not. In legal terms, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, before the conflict, also enjoyed autonomous statuses within the framework of Georgia as a polity. This in no means justifies any of the deaths in Sri Lanka or the fighting in Georgia, but it does illustrate that double-standards were applied.

The reason that the U.S. and its allies supported Georgia and not Sri Lanka is tied to the encirclement of Eurasia. If there was no Chinese port being built in Sri Lanka or any ties between the Sri Lankan government and China the reaction of the U.S. government would have been much different. Most probably the American reaction would have been the same as when Israel acts against Palestinian civilians or when Saddam Hussein, as an American ally, gased the Iraqi Kurds.

The people of Sri Lanka from the Tamils to the Sinhalese are in the cross-hairs of a much larger and all enveloping global struggle. In the scenario of a possible conflict with the U.S. and the Periphery the maritime route that passes by Sri Lanka would be vital as an energy lifeline to the Chinese. The U.S. and its allies would ensure that this sea route is less secure for the Chinese by taking Sri Lanka out of the orbit of China and its allies. Even the balkanization of Sri Lanka could lead to a Tamil state that would most likely be allied to the U.S. and India, which may grant them military bases that would be in close proximity to Chinese positions in Sri Lanka.

Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG) specializing in geopolitics and strategic issues.


[1] Sri Lankan gov’t, Chinese companies sign port building agreement, Xinhua News Agency, March 13, 2007.

[2] US out, enter Russia, Associated Press (AP), December 23, 2007.

[3] Jeremy Page, Chinese billions in Sri Lanka fund battle against Tamil Tigers, The Times (U.K.),
May 2, 2009.

[4] Ibid.



[7] B. Muralidhar Reddy, Iran extends credit facility to Sri Lanka, The Hindu,
September 21, 2009.

[8] Shamindra Ferdinando, High level Iranian military delegation due in Colombo, The Island, October 9, 2009.

[9] Ibid.

[10] US out, enter Russia, Op. cit.

[11] Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, The Globalization of Military Power: NATO Expansion, Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG),
May 17, 2007.

[12] B. Muralidhar Reddy, SCO dialogue partner status for Sri Lanka, The Hindu,
July 18, 2009.

Arresting Jaywalkers, Ignoring the Bank Robbery

Wall Street on the lam

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Slashing executive salaries, bonuses and perks at the seven bailed-out companies that gorged most gluttonously at the public trough is emotionally satisfying, but it shouldn't be. It's like arresting jaywalkers while ignoring the bank robbery that's happening in broad daylight down the block.

Don't get me wrong. The Obama administration's "pay czar," Kenneth Feinberg, is right to put a lid on compensation at the Not-So-Magnificent Seven: Citigroup, Bank of America, General Motors, Chrysler, GMAC, Chrysler Financial and the unforgettable AIG. Twenty-five of the biggest earners at each of those firms will have their overall compensation cut roughly in half, and most of that will come as restricted company stock, not cash. This means that what they ultimately reap, when they are eventually allowed to sell the stock, will depend on how well the company performs -- which will depend on how well the executives do their jobs.

Tying pay to performance: What a concept.

Feinberg even muscled outgoing Bank of America chief executive Kenneth Lewis into accepting no pay or bonus for this year. But Lewis will still have an estimated $70 million retirement package to keep him warm at night, so hold your tears.

It's nice to know that there must be some pooh-bah at B of A, Citigroup or AIG who will have to live without the new $90,000 Porsche Panamera he was planning to buy. But Feinberg's writ of imperial decree doesn't extend beyond those seven companies, and the rest of Wall Street gives no indication of remotely understanding what the big deal is about compensation. Goldman Sachs, for example, has a bonus pool this year of at least $16 billion and perhaps as much as $23 billion.

But all this is just a sideshow. The main event is the limited, far-too-modest attempt by the Obama administration and Congress to curb the irresponsible Wall Street practices that led to the financial meltdown -- and, if unaddressed, will lead inexorably to the next crisis.

Deregulation allowed the financial marketplace to devolve from an institution that served the overall economy -- by allocating capital most efficiently to the companies that could put it to best use -- into an institution whose primary mission was to serve itself.

The vast over-the-counter trade in instruments known as derivatives, nominally worth a staggering $600 trillion worldwide, is largely an exercise in make-believe. Firms make highly leveraged investments in exotic securities whose true value is opaque. Then they hedge these investments by buying insurance against potential losses, although the insurer doesn't have a fraction of the money it would need to make good on all its promises.

All this investing and hedging generate huge transaction fees and big profits, which can be skimmed off the top each year. Everything's fine, until there's some disruption in the real economy -- a downturn in the housing market, say. If the disruption is severe enough, the web of make-believe deals starts to unravel. At which point the government steps in and bails everybody out.

The White House and Treasury Department have proposed reforms that would ameliorate, but not eliminate, this ridiculous cycle. What the administration won't do is outlaw some kinds of derivative products or transactions; officials say that if they went down that road, they would always be one step behind Wall Street's inventiveness and greed. I think it would be worth a try.

The administration did propose that derivatives transactions go through clearinghouses and be conducted on transparent, regulated exchanges. But as reform legislation begins to work its way through Congress, Wall Street firms -- including companies that received bailout funds -- have boosted their spending on lobbying and political donations.

As a result, legislation approved Wednesday by the House Agriculture Committee -- which has jurisdiction over the futures markets -- would exempt up to 30 percent of derivatives transactions from new regulations. A bill approved Thursday by the House Financial Services Committee that would create a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, strongly opposed by most luminaries on Wall Street, was amended in the committee to exclude mortgage insurers, title insurers, accountants, lawyers and others.

Banks, meanwhile, are jacking up overdraft charges and instituting new kinds of credit card fees before any new limits kick in. Hey, get it while you can.

Capping salaries and bonuses is fine. But we need to pay attention to the guys in ski masks with bulging bags of money slung over their shoulders. They're about to jump into the getaway car.

White House unveils token bank pay restrictions

White House unveils token bank pay restrictions

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The Obama administration on Thursday confirmed plans to introduce what amounts to token measures regulating compensation at seven of the firms bailed out by the federal government.

Kenneth Feinberg, appointed by the White House to oversee pay at the firms most directly dependent on government aid, announced details of the program after the administration leaked the plans to the media Wednesday afternoon.

The plan affects only two banks (Citigroup and Bank of America), along with insurance giant American International Group (AIG) and four auto-related companies (Chrysler, General Motors, and their respective finance arms). The regulations apply to the 25 most highly paid executives and employees at each of the companies.

The headline announcement was that the cash salaries of top executives at the companies will be limited to $500,000—in itself more than ten times the median pay of American workers. This, according to some calculations, will amount to a 90 percent salary cut on average across the firms. Overall compensation, on average, will supposedly be cut in half.

These percentages are essentially fraudulent, however. An article in the Wall Street Journal Thursday noted, “Several Citigroup officials briefed on the company’s dialogue with Mr. Feinberg’s office said salaries and total compensation of the company’s highest-paid employees aren’t expected to shrink dramatically.” One executive called the announcements “a bit of a hoax,” while others dismissed it as political posturing.

Companies will be able to make up the loss in salary through compensation in the form of stock, with constraints on when the stock can be sold. This corresponds with the administration’s position that compensation should be more closely linked to long-term profit—and therefore the interests of top investors.

Moreover, the restrictions will apply only to the last two months of 2009. The executives and most highly paid employees will be allowed to keep everything they received in the first 10 months. Any constraints will be lifted as soon as the companies pay back funds granted them under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

According to calculations reported by NBC News on Thursday, 34 executives at AIG, Bank of America and Citigroup will still receive more than $1 million in upfront cash. The top pay at the firms will be between $9 and $10.5 million.

NBC further noted that Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis must give up $1.5 million in salary, but will still leave the company with $70 million in retirement and other benefits at the end of 2009.

Just a few weeks ago, Feinberg approved a $10.5 million compensation package for Robert Benmosche, the incoming chief executive of AIG. Benmosche is set to receive a base salary of $7 million, plus $3 million a year in “performance incentives.” Feinberg said this pay was justified because it was in line with industry standards.

The new compensation plan also regulates perks, including the use of corporate funds to pay for outings, jet travel and country club fees. The New York Times reported that one AIG employee in particular had received $1.5 million in expenses on corporate jet flights. Large-ticket perks will not be prohibited, however. They will just have to be approved by the government.

An article in the Wall Street Journal pointed to other ways in which the government figures are misleading. “The extent of the pay cut for most of the 175 executives will be less severe than the average for the overall group,” the newspaper noted. “That’s because the average figure will be skewed by at least a few special cases.”

The Journal pointed in particular to the case of Citigroup trader Andrew Hall. Feinberg negotiated a plan that would allow Citigroup to spin off its energy trading division so that it would not go on record paying Andrew Hall, deferring his $100 million bonus to 2010. Hall will eventually get his millions, but the government plan now lists Hall’s 2009 bonus as zero.

President Obama on Thursday endorsed these toothless measures, saying they strike the “right balance.” He declared, “I believe [Feinberg] has taken an important step forward today in curbing the influence of executive compensation on Wall Street, while still allowing these companies to succeed and prosper.”

For his part, Feinberg said that he must balance the “legitimate anger” of the population with the “absolute need under the statute to find ways to make these companies profitable.” He said that it is a “big concern” for him that executives at these companies might leave in search of higher pay. He told ABC News that he will “take another look” at the compensation regulations in 2010.

Feinberg’s proposals were worked out in close collaboration with the executives affected. According to a New York Times article published Thursday, these discussions lasted for months. The companies themselves “played a central role in the process and its outcome,” the Times noted.

Highlighting the public relations aspect of the entire process, the article states, “Both camps recognized from the beginning that bailout politics, as much as economics, would shape the final decisions.”

The Times article notes further: “The executives argued time and again that slashing pay would drive away talented employees, the very workers they needed to help turn their companies around.” In the end, they largely got want they wanted.

Perhaps most significantly, the regulations will not apply at all to the vast majority of banks and financial institutions. Feinberg insisted that it was “neither wise nor prudent” to require other companies to follow the same weak guidelines he proposed for the seven still holding TARP cash.

The Federal Reserve unveiled a concurrent plan Thursday to inspect the compensation packages of 28 large banks and several smaller ones. The Fed insisted that there will be no bans on any speculative practices or any explicit caps—in other words, there will be no real limits on executive pay.

The banks under Feinberg’s purview have a combined market capitalization of less than ten percent of the financial sector. This is only a small segment of the financial system that has received government aid. As Lawrence Summers, director of Obama’s National Economic Council, acknowledged earlier this month, “There is no financial institution that exists today that is not the direct or indirect beneficiary of trillions of dollars of taxpayer support for the financial system.”

Indeed, the largest beneficiary of the AIG bailout was Goldman Sachs, which pocketed a significant portion of the $182 billion expended by the government to bail out the insurance company.

Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and other banking giants have already paid back their TARP funds, though they are still heavily dependent on federal subsidies through other programs. Goldman Sachs is set to pay out the equivalent of its record-setting 2007 bonuses, and has set aside $16.7 billion for compensation this year.

Last year, Goldman Sachs executives Lloyd Blankfein and Gary Cohn each received around $42 million, while Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan’s chief executive, received $35 million. Vikram Pandit, the CEO of Citigroup, received $38.2 million.

The major US banks and financial firms are on track to hand out a record $140 billion in compensation this year, according to the Wall Street Journal. This is a 20 percent increase from 2008 and $10 billion more than the previous record, set in 2007. Bank bonuses are likewise set to swell this year, with Wall Street prepared to dole out $26 billion in year-end compensation. The near-record figure represents a 40 percent increase over 2008.

The aim of Thursday’s announcement is to attempt to convince the population that the government is taking some action against the banks, partly as cover for last week’s huge profit reports and partly in anticipation of year-end bonus announcements.

Whatever the administration’s hopes, however, this latest maneuver on bank pay only serves to underscore the way in which the Obama administration has advanced the interests of the financial aristocracy, funneling trillions to the banks and ensuring the fortunes of the top executives and traders, while demanding that the working class accept reductions in social spending to reduce the budget deficit and imposing cuts in the wages and benefits of workers at General Motors and Chrysler.

McCain introduces bill to block Net neutrality

McCain introduces bill to block Net neutrality

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Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) introduced a bill in the Senate on Thursday that would effectively allow Internet service providers to slow down or block Internet content or applications of their choosing.

The move came the same day as the federal government decided to move forward on an official Net neutrality policy that would prevent ISPs from making those types of decisions.

The FCC's new rules would prevent ISPs, for example, from blocking or slowing bandwidth-hogging Web traffic such as streaming video or other applications that put a strain on their networks or from charging different rates to users.

McCain's bill, the Internet Freedom Act, would block the Federal Communications Commission from making Net neutrality the law of the land. The rule preventing ISPs from slowing down certain types of content would create "onerous federal regulation," McCain argued in a written statement.

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According to a report at NetworkWorld, McCain "called the proposed Net neutrality rules a 'government takeover' of the Internet that will stifle innovation and depress an 'already anemic' job market in the US."

But supporters of Net neutrality argue that the rule is needed to ensure that Internet providers don't censor content, or slow down traffic to Web sites that are in competition with their business allies.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski argued that "reasonable and enforceable rules of the road" were needed "to preserve a free and open Internet."

"The Internet's openness has allowed entrepreneurs and innovators, small and large, to create countless applications and services without having to seek permission from anyone," he said.

But, the FCC chairman said, there have been "some significant situations where broadband providers have degraded the data streams of popular lawful services and blocked consumer access to lawful applications."

Two Republicans on the FCC also voted on Thursday to go ahead with the rule-making process, which will be open for public comment until January 14, but voiced misgivings about the plan.


As the NetworkWorld article notes, McCain was on the opposite side of the Net neutrality debate from President Barack Obama during last year's presidential campaign. During his White House campaign, President Barack Obama came out strongly in favor of Net neutrality, which is backed by companies such as Google, Amazon, Yahoo!, eBay and consumer advocacy groups, but opposed by telecommunications, wireless and cable companies.

Republicans appear to be shifting against Net neutrality and aligning themselves with the telecoms and cable companies.

This week, media watchdog Media Matters criticized conservative news host Glenn Beck for what it said was Beck's allegation that Net neutrality is a "Marxist plot," and that the point of Net neutrality is to "control content," a perspective that prompted MediaMatters and other observers to question whether Beck understands the principle of Net neutrality.

In his announcement today, McCain appeared to agree with the notion that Net neutrality represents regulation and control, rather than a lack thereof.

His bill "will keep the Internet free from government control and regulation," McCain said, as quoted by Phil Goldstein at Fierce Wireless. "It will allow for continued innovation that will in turn create more high-paying jobs for the millions of Americans who are out of work or seeking new employment. Keeping businesses free from oppressive regulations is the best stimulus for the current economy."

Troop use After Ala. Shootings Illegal

Troop use After Ala. Shootings Illegal

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An Army investigation found that Soldiers should not have been sent to man traffic stops in a small Alabama town after 11 people were killed in March during a shooting spree.

An Army report released to The Associated Press on Monday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request said the decision to dispatch military police to Samson from nearby Fort Rucker broke the law. But an Army spokesman said no charges have been filed following the Aug. 10 report.

"As a result of the findings of the report, the Army took administrative action against at least one person," Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said.

The action was less than a transfer or discharge but Garver would not elaborate.

The report from the Department of Army Inspector General found the use of military personnel in Samson violated the Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits federal troops from performing law enforcement actions. The names of those involved were redacted from the report.

The officer who made the decision to send the Soldiers thought he had the authority based on his experience with responses to Hurricanes Katrina and Andrew, the report said.

According to the report, the officer's "intent was to be a good Army neighbor and help local civilian authorities facing a difficult, unique tragedy affecting the local community. There were no apparent adverse collateral effects to the support provided."

The Army has said 22 military police and an officer were sent after Michael McLendon, 28, shot nine people to death in Samson and killed a 10th in neighboring Coffee County. The March 10 spree ended when McLendon killed himself.

The Soldiers arrived in the hours after the shootings, which stretched the town's tiny police force and county officers to the limit with several different crime scenes.

The report said troops were dispatched after the Geneva County Sheriff's Office and Samson Police requested assistance from Fort Rucker to relieve law enforcement at traffic check points around the crime scene area.

The mission in Samson lasted about five hours. The military also guarded bodies at a makeshift morgue.

The Pharmaceutical Industrial Complex: A Deadly Fairy Tale

The Pharmaceutical Industrial Complex: A Deadly Fairy Tale

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It has been a particularly bad month for the pharmaceutical industrial complex in its ongoing litigations in American courts. Among the main pharmaceutical headlines, Merck’s Gardasil vaccine for HPV, now being widely administered to pre-teens, was found to be linked to amyltrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease; following a $1.4 billion fine in promoting one of its blockbuster drugs Zyprexa off-label, deceptive correspondence was uncovered by Eli Lilly gaming the system again by promoting another one of its drugs, Cymbalta, off-label for fibromyalgia; AstraZeneca was fined $160 million for scamming the Medicaid system in Kentucky after being fined $215 million for ripping off Alabama; Glaxo lost a Pennsylvania trial for failing to warn doctors and pregnant women of the dangers of its antidepressant drug Paxil related to birth defects; and Pfizer scored a record-breaking fine of $2.3 billion for illegally marketing several drugs over the years: Bextra, Zyvox, Geodon and Lyrica. These kinds of charges, among the many others, have become a habit for drug makers for the past dozen years.

When we speak of the pharmaceutical industry complex, it does not refer solely to private drug manufacturers. The complex, like a Matrix that holds captive the health of the nation in medical slavery by its own design and manipulation, is a consortium, a spiders’ web woven with financial attachments throughout the medical profession. In addition to the pharmaceutical and medical device firms, this complex includes every government health agency—the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and or course the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—as well as drug lobbying firms now employing a large number of former Congresspersons, insurance and HMO companies, all of the leading professional medical associations such as the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the majority of medical schools and their research departments who are heavily funded by drug money, many of the most prestigious medical journals, and ultimately all of this filtering downward to the physicians who diagnose our illnesses and prescribe our medications and treatments.

America is rightly regarded as having led much of the world in many qualitative innovations in all fields. That reputation is duly deserved. However, there is a new dynamic at work that is causing this reputation to be challenged. We are a nation that prides itself in our humanity, our sense of fairness, but today there is a growing concern that we are now being monikered as a country held hostage to a national security complex, which includes the largest military complex in the world, an obscenely expensive healthcare system and self-serving bureaucracies and private industries that serve their own financial ends. So it is not surprising that after spending this year $2.6 trillion on healthcare, we have such little health to show for it. There are second world countries where people live longer and healthier lives. And we have the worst healthcare among developed nations. So what have we received for our $2.6 trillion.

As the current healthcare debate continues to rage over in sundries—the $200 billion net profit health insurance industry—the entire deliberation over disease prevention and treatment has been overshadowed. And amidst this partisan and ideological anarchy, perpetuated by our elected officials, the media, and fueled by the pharmaceutical complex, two other areas America excels as a leader above all other developed nations is in being the premier breeding ground for the pharmaceutical industrial complex’s greatest profits and, second, as the world’s exemplar in medical fraud and corruption. The fairy tale of America’s health as being best served by drugs is a creation of this complex, a lullaby that brings ill citizens repeatedly to their doctors and hospitals for diagnosis and treatment, or simply to deny healthcare altogether to the uninsured.

The country is pacified by a blind belief that the drugs being prescribed to them have been proven safe because our government health agencies have our physical health and well-being in their best intentions. This is a lie, an extraordinarily deadly lie. Iatrogenesis, medically induced injury and death, is the number one cause of death in American medicine annually, since only a small percentage of these deaths are actually reported. Each year more Americans die from preventable deaths due to our medical system than all military causalities in the two world wars combined. This is tantamount to medical genocide. One of the major causes of these deaths is the overmedication of Americans in all ages. The constant need for profits has created an environment that allows the pharmaceutical industrial complex to use their enormous financial and political clout to literally make normal life experiences into new diseases, such as social anxiety disorder, in order to sell its drugs. The pharmaceutical industry has been given the authority to pathologize life, with the drugging of our children, seniors, etc. For example, the leading cause of AIDS deaths today is a result of liver failure. This is not a condition of HIV infection, but a direct result of the anti-HIV drug AZT. Is it little wonder then that we are being intimidated and frightened into believing that mandatory vaccination is being touted even though the science of efficacy and safety, even the need, for these new swine flu vaccines is patently unproven. It is perhaps one of the largest falsehoods ever perpetuated on humanity that dwarfs the sleaze on Wall Street.

If any one of us committed manslaughter, we would be behind bars instead of walking a crimson carpet into the offices of our elected officials in the Congress and Senate or past the gates guarded by the nation’s Cerberus, Rahm Emmanuel, to lobby the White House. Yet if we are a pharmaceutical executive, or a lobbyist representing a drug company who has collected a litany of charges including medical fraud, criminal salesmanship, gaming the insurance industries, repeated lying to federal officials, and manipulation of data regarding life-threatening adverse effects of drugs that have killed so many people, we can walk away with a fine, a surge in the stock market after a settlement, a financial bonus, and the personal satisfaction in not having to apologize so we can continue business as usual. This is the power the pharmaceutical industrial complex possesses and its usurped right to distain every noble principle in the Hippocratic Oath that every physician dedicates her or himself to live by, “That I will exercise my art solely for the cure of my patients, and will give no drug and perform no operation for a criminal purpose.”

Every American who is prescribed a drug by a physician has the belief that that pill has undergone rigorous trials to scrutinize its safety. And when there are known potential adverse effects, we blindly assume these are known to the attending physician. However, this is a myth perpetuated not only by drug makers, but by our own federal health agencies. A 2003 investigation published in The Independent in the UK reported that “under pressure from the pharmaceutical industry, the FDA routinely conceals information it considers commercially sensitive, leaving medical specialists unable to assess the true risks [of approved drugs].” One case involved a very popular over-the-counter drug, the painkiller ibuprofen. The investigators’ search uncovered concealed data showing that ibuprofen increased heart attack risks by 25 percent. Even Freedom of Information (FOI) filings to the FDA do not produce all the information being requested. For example, a group of Swiss investigators filed an FOI to procure trial data about the musculoskeletal pain drug Celecoxib and received back only 16 of the 27 trials conducted on it. A separate FOI concerning a similar drug, Valdecoxib, had pages and paragraphs deleted because sections of the document were marked as “trade secrets.” An even worse case involving a leaked report concerning internal memos and secret FDA reports provided detailed evidence that the FDA approved 9 different antidepressants, representing a total of 22 studies enrolling 4,250 children, while knowing full well that the risk of “suicide-related events” was twice as high as children taking a placebo. These are just several examples among numerous others.

The pharmaceutical industrial complex is perhaps the largest, most influential cartel in the world. This becomes evident after considering the billions of dollars and other currencies drug companies have been forced to pay for a wide variety of corruption charges. Our analysis of 724 legal settlements from a random sampling among the over one hundred thousand by pharmaceutical corporations totally $87 billion is just a small indication about how pervasive Big Pharma’s criminality since the vast majority of settlements are concluded outside of court and remain confidential.

It is extremely difficult to comprehend why the United States principle federal health agencies, particularly the FDA and National Institutes of Health (NIH), with the specific mandate to provide oversight on all pre-approved drug applications and delegated with the task to assure drugs are safe or at least specify clearly their known dangers, are so reprehensible and inept. There is only one rational answer and that is the pharmaceutical industry is the FDA’s largest client, and this relationship goes much deeper than the FDA functioning as an objective regulator investigating pharmaceutical products before being released upon the American population. It is not to far afield to suggest that as it stands now the US regulatory agencies are an extension of corporate America.

As serial offenders of product safety cover-ups for over a decade, drugs have injured and killed millions. In the case Merck’s Vioxx, this one drug has killed 44,000 people and injured 120,000 others. Only in America could you kill 44,000 and not go to jail and get a raise. Should we assume, therefore, that the pharmaceutical complex should be trusted without challenge? We have also been asked to believe that the manufacturers were guided by a sense of public service. But when examining the top ten drugs sold, the facts reveal otherwise. In one example, manufacturers marked up a drug an astounding 500,000% over its equivalent generic version. Six other drugs were marked up 2000%. Pharmaceutical companies make profits higher than oil companies.

Big Pharma’s impact is felt almost everywhere. But nowhere is it felt more than in the legal system. In a recently concluded, short-term study, we found 724 cases involving Big Pharma in which either the case ended in a verdict against the pharmaceutical company or the company settled. The number of cases is staggering, as are the dollar amounts. These cases cover practically every type of civil and criminal case. From products that kill, harm and maim, to false claims, to not paying taxes, to patent infringements, to bribery, to publishing false scientific journals. Yet, in spite of the tens of thousands of lawsuits won against Big Pharma, it still conducts business as usual.

Eli Lilly flooded state Medicaid programs with Zyprexa: its superstar, antipsychotic drug. In 2003, worldwide sales of Zyprexa grossed $4.28 billion, amounting to almost one third of Lilly’s total sales. In the United States, during the same year, Zyprexa grossed $2.63 billion. A whopping 70 percent of these sales were directly related to government agencies—principally Medicaid. Fast-forward six years to 2009, Eli Lilly pleaded guilty for having illegally marketed Zyprexa for an unapproved use to treat dementia, and will pay $1.42 billion to settle civil suits and end the criminal investigation. Lilly agreed to pay $800 million to settle civil suits. It will pay $615 million to resolve the criminal probe, and plead guilty to a misdemeanor in violation of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act for promoting Zyprexa as a dementia treatment.

Did Lilly also know of the possibility that Zyprexa could cause diabetes, which was also kept concealed under the protection of the FDA? They most certainly did, which makes their behavior all the more reprehensible. In 2002, British and Japanese regulatory agencies issued a warning that Zyprexa may cause diabetes. In addition, even after the FDA issued a similar warning in 2003, Lilly did not pull Zyprexa from the market. This becomes all the more understandable after it is taken into consideration that Lilly is also the largest maker of diabetes medications.

An article by Mike Adams, the Natural News editor, states that Merck employees had a “hit list” of doctors they sought to “neutralize.” This allegation was confirmed when documents that had been secret were revealed during a Vioxx court case. The Australian revealed that the documents surfaced in the Federal Court in Melbourne and exposed the criminal intent of Merck employees who admitted they were going to “stop funding to institutions” and “interfere with academic appointments.” One Merck employee testified (about the doctors on the hit list), “We may need to seek them out and destroy them where they live.” Merck threatened or intimidated at least eight clinical investigators, testimony in court revealed. There are other, similar stories in which Merck deals with dissent by attempting to destroy the lives and careers of academics who don’t review their drugs favorably.

Merck is steeped in a well-documented record of criminality. Such actions include, but are not limited to, intentionally hiding the liver-damaging effects of its cholesterol drug, intentionally withholding the release of clinical data that revealed the failures of another cholesterol drug; it has dumped vaccine waste and manufacturing chemicals into water supplies; it opened up offshore banking accounts to avoid paying billions of dollars in U.S. taxes, and it was caught in a huge scheme of scientific fraud when it was discovered that the company used in-house writers to secretly write so-called “independent” studies that were published in peer-reviewed medical journals.

Under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which the U.S. Department of Justice and the SEC enforce, it is illegal to bribe a foreign government official in order to obtain or retain business. Apparently, Bristol-Myers and Schering Plough were unaware of this law. According to the Associated Press, both drug makers were engaged in influencing government officials in Germany and Poland respectively.

Earlier this year, an article in the Boston Business Journal reported that a former drug company sales executive pleaded guilty in Boston federal court to telling the roughly 100 representatives she supervised that they should promote a pain drug for uses she knew had been rejected by the FDA. Bextra was the drug she pleaded guilty to inappropriately selling. Pfizer has since pulled it from the market. According to a press release from U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan's office, “Holloway was aware of the FDA's safety concerns, but...she nonetheless had her sales staff of approximately 100 employees sells Bextra for precisely the uses that the FDA refused to approve.”

The pharmaceutical complex has also infiltrated the majority of American medical schools and medical research departments. A recent survey in the Journal of the American Medical Association discovered that 60% of academic department chairs have personal ties to industry (as consultants, board members, or paid speakers), while 66% of the academic departments had institutional ties to industry. Researchers who receive funding from drug and medical-device manufacturers are up to 3.5 times as likely to state their study drug or medical device works than are researchers without such funding.

In America, one can hardly turn on the television or pick up a newspaper without reading about the hot button issue of health care reform. Why such emotion? Why are, seemingly, rational people so intransigent and unwilling to budge from their positions? Could lobbyists have anything to do with this? According to, there are 3093 lobbyists in the health field and Big Pharma now spends approximately $1.2 million daily to persuade Congress to act according to their script. An investigation conducted by Medical Verdicts & Law Weekly found that 30 key lawmakers are involved in health legislation totaling $11 million in health investments. Three of every four major health firms have at least one lobbyist who worked for a congressman. Startlingly, nine lobbyists employed by Big Pharma are former congressional staffers who are still well-connected to Capitol Hill. The conflicts of interest are everywhere. Judd Gregg (R-NH), the Obama nominee for Commerce Secretary, who withdrew because of opposition to the Administration's agenda, is a senior member of the Health Committee. He revealed that he has $254,000-$560,000 in health stocks."

In 2000, Mylan Labs settled a case for $100 million. What the numbers don’t tell you is the story behind the numbers. In 1998, Mylan raised the wholesale price of clorazepate, a generic tranquilizer, to $377.00 (for 500 tablets) from $11.36 in one year. This represents a 3000% increase on a generic drug.

It was subsequently revealed that Mylan conspired with the main manufacturer of the active, indispensible ingredient to have an exclusive agreement. The agreement prevented any other manufacturers from producing the drug, for without the active ingredient, the drug could not be made. Mylan’s deception was uncovered and it had to pay $100 million to settle an FTC antitrust case. But Mylan represents only an infinitesimal percentage of such examples. In all likelihood, the vast majority of similar cases remain undetected. The FDA’s under-regulation and erroneous oversight encourages this type of corruption.

Another case included in our study states, “TAP [Taketa-Abbott Pharmaceutical] Pharmaceutical Products Inc. -- $875,000,000 under the False Claims Act.” TAP agreed to pay $875 million to resolve criminal charges and civil liabilities in connection with its fraudulent drug pricing and marketing conduct regarding the drug Lupron, according to a press release from the Department of Justice. Lupron is used by male cancer patients to suppress the production of testosterone. Another drug worked as well, so to make Lupron the drug of choice for this condition, TAP played dirty by giving kickbacks to physicians prescribing the drug, thus ensuring its ridiculously high price would be maintained. Even though criminal indictments were filed against TAP Pharmaceutical officials, Lupron’s price remains overly inflated.

Ever wonder why Big Pharma would engage in all manner of illegal activity? In light of the steady stream of articles detailing how the elderly are oftentimes forced to choose between purchasing their medication and buying food, a good place to begin is to examine what it costs to make a drug and what Big Pharma sells it for. Life Extension magazine conducted an original investigative report in which it compared the actual price of a popular drug and how much the generic version of its active ingredients costs. Examine these figures:



(For 100 tabs/caps)

(For 100 tabs/caps)


Celebrex 100 mg




Claritin 10 mg




Keflex 250 mg




Lipitor 20 mg




Norvasc 10 mg




Paxil 20 mg




Prevacid 30 mg




Prilosec 20 mg




Prozac 20 mg




Tenormin 50 mg




Vasotec 10 mg




Xanax 1mg




Zestril 20 mg




Zithromax 600mg




Zocor 40mg




Zoloft 50mg




In order to understand how we can spend 2.6 trillion this year on healthcare, but not reduce the incidence of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, mental conditions, arthritis, etc., we must realize this is a game. With each piece of the puzzle, feeding into a single picture of a massively corrupt, unethical, and frequently illegal system controlled by relatively few corporations within the pharmaceutical complex and the health insurance industry, are the ring leaders. They in turn influence thousands of lobbyists, paid-off scientists and academicians, and policymakers, especially those who rule on important health oversight committees. Health officials and legislators in turn solicit expert witnesses, preselected by the cartels, to position their drug agendas in the most favorable manner. The pharmaceutical cartel also has direct connections with its supporting scientific advisory boards and key foundations. These foundations, supported by policy think tanks who supply the so-called independent experts, then lobby the upper echelon within the FDA, NIH, CDC, NIMH, HHS. Ideally they hire former health commissioners and legislators previously players in the game to assist those same federal agencies to see their drugs guided through the regulatory process. Public relations and advertizing firms are contracted to give the public impression that these drugs are effective and safe for the sole reason they have received official licensing. In addition, the cartel creates front organizations with consumer-friendly titles whose representatives appear at national conferences and seminars beholden to special drug interests. Finally, the drug corporations set money aside to be paid out in settlements. With the exception of class action suits, the majority of cases for injury and death are accompanied by confidentiality clauses to prevent public disclosure of data the companies wish to remain secret.

This is how the medical system is rigged and it is why we can watch 60 Minutes or read the New York Times serving as pharmaceutical shills to encourage vaccination, yet refusing to air or print the dissenting voices who have the scientific evidence to show it is a massive fraud. Therefore, the public is misled every step of the way. Victims of injury, such as the tens of thousands of children, now at 1 in 91 children, with autism spectrum disorder, are forced to fend for themselves. Parents know far better than the FDA and CDC, when their perfectly normal child after a vaccination or a series of vaccines shortly thereafter is lost, withdrawn into the dark corners of autism. And yet the pediatrician and psychologist will say the child must have had a genetic defect. The CDC, FDA and NIH, with an orchestrated voice, say it is not the vaccine. Everyone within the pharmaceutical industrial complex denies the truth. Only now, during the healthcare debate, are we seeing clearly the rampant politics of the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. The veils are finally being removed. If it were not for the healthcare debacle, we might still not know how the game is rigged and why our politicians and health officials will not tolerate any real reform and accountability at any level.

If we want to clean up American medicine, the corporate shield must be removed and politicians, health officials and pharmaceutical executives must be held accountable. If they are threatened with jail time for manslaughter by pushing dangerous drugs, then we will see less life-threatening drugs go to market.