Saturday, February 20, 2010

Wall Street’s War Against Main Street America

Wall Street’s War Against Main Street America

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Former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson wrote an op-ed in The New York Times, (Feb. 16)[1] outlining how to put the U.S. economy on rations. Not in those words, of course. Just the opposite: If the government hadn’t bailed out Wall Street’s bad loans, he claims, “unemployment could have exceeded the 25 percent level of the Great Depression.” Without wealth at the top, there would be nothing to trickle down.

The reality, of course, is that bailing out casino capitalist speculators on the winning side of A.I.G.’s debt swaps and CDO derivatives didn’t save a single job. It certainly hasn’t lowered the economy’s debt overhead. But matters will soon improve, if Congress will dispel the present cloud of “uncertainty” as to whether any agency less friendly than the Federal Reserve might regulate the banks.

Mr. Paulson spelled out in step-by-step detail the strategy of “doing God’s work,” as his Goldman Sachs colleague Larry Blankfein sanctimoniously explained Adam Smith’s invisible hand. Now that pro-financial free-market doctrine is achieving the status of religion, I wonder whether this proposal violates the separation of church and state. Neoliberal economics may be a travesty of religion, but it is the closest thing to a Church that Americans have these days, replete with its Inquisition operating out of the universities of Chicago, Harvard and Columbia.

If the salvation is to give Wall Street a free hand, anathema is the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency intended to deter predatory behavior by mortgage lenders and credit-card issuers. The same day that Mr. Paulson’s op-ed appeared, the Financial Times published a report explaining that “Republicans say they are unconvinced that any regulator can even define systemic risk. … the whole concept is too vague for an immediate introduction of sweeping powers. …” Republican Senator Bob Corker from Tennessee was willing to join with the Democrats “to ensure ‘there is not some new roaming regulator out there … putting companies unbeknownst to them under its regime.’”[2]

Mr. Paulson uses the same argument: Because the instability extends not just to the banks but also to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers, A.I.G. and Wall Street underwriters, it would be folly to try to regulate the banks alone! And because the financial sector is so far-flung and complex, it is best to leave everything deregulated. Indeed, there simply is no time to discuss what kind of regulation is appropriate, except for the Fed’s familiar protective hand: “delays are creating uncertainty, undermining the ability of financial institutions to increase lending to businesses of all sizes that want to invest and fuel our recovery.” So Mr. Paulson’s crocodile tears are all for the people. (Except that the banks are not lending at home, but are shoveling money out of the U.S. economy as fast as they can.)

As Mr. Obama’s chief of staff Emanuel Rahm put it, a crisis is too good a thing to waste. It’s a con man’s old trick to pressure the victim to make a decision fast. Having created the crisis, Wall Street wants to use its momentum to knock out any potential checks to its power. “No systemic risk regulator, no matter how powerful, can be relied on to see everything and prevent future problems,” Mr. Paulson explained. “That’s why our regulatory system must reinforce the responsibility of lenders, investors, borrowers and all market participants to analyze risk and make informed decisions,” In other words, blame the victims! The way to protect victims of predatory bank lending (and crooked sales of junk securities) is not new regulations but just the opposite: “to simplify the patchwork quilt of regulatory agencies and improve transparency so that consumers and investors can punish excesses through their own informed investing decisions.” Simplification means the Fed, not a Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

Moving in for the kill, Mr. Paulson explains that the Treasury is bare, having used $13 trillion to bail out high finance in 2008-09. So he warns the government not to run a Keynesian-type budget deficit. The federal budget should move into balance or even surplus, even if this accelerates the rise in unemployment and decline in wage levels as the economy moves deeper into recession and debt deflation. “We must also tackle what is by far our greatest economic challenge — the reduction of budget deficits — a big part of which will involve reforming our major entitlement programs: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.” The economy thus is to be sacrificed to Wall Street rather than reforming finance so that it serves the economy more productively. It is simple mathematics to see that if the government cannot raise taxes, it must scale back Social Security, other social welfare spending and infrastructure spending.

What is remarkably left out of account is that today’s financial crisis centered on public debts is largely fiscal crisis. It is caused by replacing progressive taxation with regressive taxes, and above all by untaxing finance and real estate. Take the case of California, where tears are being shed over the dismantling of the once elite University of California system. Since American independence, education has been financed by the property tax. But Proposition 13 has “freed” property from taxation – so that its rental value can be borrowed against and turned into interest payments to banks. California’s real estate costs are just as high with its property taxes frozen, but the rising rental value of land has been paid to the banks – forcing the state to slash its fiscal budget or else raise taxes on labor and consumers.

The link between financial and fiscal crisis – and hence the need for a symbiotic fiscal-financial reform – is just as clear in Europe. The Greek government has pre-sold its tax revenues from roads and other infrastructure to Wall Street, leaving less future revenue to pay its public debt. To cap matters, paying income tax is almost voluntary for wealthy Greeks. Tax evasion is hardly necessary in the post-Soviet states, where property is hardly taxed at all. (The flat tax falls almost entirely on labor.)

Throughout the world, scaling back the 20th century’s legacy of progressive taxation and untaxing real estate and finance has led to a public debt crisis. Property income hitherto paid to governments is now paid to the banks. And although Wall Street has extracted $13 trillion in bailouts just since October 2008, the thought of raising taxes on wealth to pay just $1 trillion over an entire decade for Social Security or health insurance is deemed a crisis that would lead Wall Street to shut down the economy. It is telling governments to shift to a regressive tax system to make up the fiscal shortfall by raising taxes on labor and cutting back public spending on the economy at large. This is what is plunging economies from California to Greece and the Baltics into fiscal and financial crisis. Wall Street’s solution – to balance the budget by cutting back the government’s social contract and deregulating finance all the more – will shrink the economy and make the budget deficits even more severe.

Financial speculators no doubt will clean up on the turmoil.



Notes

[1] Henry M. Paulson Jr., “How to Watch the Banks,” New York Times op-ed., February 16, 2010

[2] Tom Braithwaite, “Senators oppose ‘systemic risk’ curbs,” Financial Times, February 16, 2010.

War Propaganda: Western Media, Not Israeli Hasbara

War Propaganda: Western Media, Not Israeli Hasbara

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With the dreadful threat of yet another Israeli war in the Middle East looming, Israeli propaganda machine is likely to go into full gear.

In fact, trial balloons have already been sent out bearing supposedly unrehearsed comments by former Israeli Army general and current Minister Yossi Peled, suggesting that another war is on its way. More recently, Israel's ultra-right and unabashedly racist Foreign Minister Avigador Lieberman threatened to topple the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad in case of a war.

And so it begins.

Historically, Israel has, with one understandable exception, determined the time and place of all of its wars with the Arabs. The only time Israeli forces were attacked in 1973 involved an Arab attempt to regain territories that were captured by Israel in 1967.

When Lieberman uttered his "message that should go out to the ruler of Syria from Israel" to an audience at Bar Ilan University, he was effectively saying that Israel will topple the Syrian government when it decides the time was ripe for war. And considering Peled's earlier statement that war was imminent, the only possible conclusion would be that a "regime change" in Syria is high on the Israeli agenda. It also perhaps represents the last chance of fulfilling the US neoconservative vision - that of "A New Strategy for Securing the Realm".

This inference should have been evident and thus sent shockwaves throughout the world, and especially through the US media which now know fully the price of the Israeli-neocon folly.

So why do Western mainstream media, especially in the US, continue to guard Israel's image so protectively, at times even devotedly, when the country's belligerence is so blatant? And if some in the media are indeed well intentioned in their coverage, why do they continually miss the many clear signs pointing to Israeli criminality and aggression?

A growing reference that is once again floating among political and media analysts is that Israel has greater mastery than the Arabs over fighting media wars. Often cited, for example, is the National Information Directorate, an Israeli propaganda center that was established a few months prior to the devastating war on Gaza last year. Ironically, the center was established after recommendations made by an Israeli inquiry into the equally bloody Israeli war against Lebanon in 2006 - ironically because independent war inquiries often chastise the army for violation of human rights, as opposed to recommending the establishment of a "hasbara" - more like propaganda - body to justify the crimes committed against civilians.

Still, even such "hasbara" should have had little impact on the Western media's depiction of Israeli crimes and hostilities toward its neighbors.

One could possibly consider the claim that Israel's media success story is the brainchild of Israel's own media expertise under very specific circumstances: That Israeli spokespersons are icons of articulation and charm; that Palestinian retaliations to Israeli crimes in Gaza were vile and gruesome; that the Israeli media blackout was so successful that Western journalists had no other way of finding any credible, decipherable facts; that there are no Arab spokespersons who are well-informed and articulate enough to present even a semblance of a coherent narrative to challenge the one offered by Israel.

But none of these scenarios are convincing. Icsraeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is as faltering in English as he is in his mother tongue. The Palestinian resistance merely killed 13 Israelis, 10 of whom were soldiers - and recently "regretted" the killing of the three civilians - while Israel killed over 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and remains unmoved. The Israeli media blackout of Gaza during the war - which continues even now - hardly prevented footage and reports from beaming to all corners of the earth, thanks to the valiant efforts of Arab media and independent reporters, photographers and cameramen from all over the world, supplemented by the United Nations and other independent groups' findings. All of this made the scope of the tragedy known to all. And finally, the most eloquent and involved Palestinian and Arab academics, diplomats and activists can be found in every major Western city and reputable university or research institute.

Yet somehow it was Israel that "claim(ed) success in PR war", according to Anshel Pfeffer in the Jewish Chronicle, days after the initial Israel attack on Gaza. Pfeffer quoted Avi Pazner, Israel's former ambassador to Italy and France, and "one of the officials drafted in to present Israel's case to the world media," as claiming that "whenever Israel is bombing, it is hard to explain our position to the world ... but at least this time everything was ready and in place."

Utter nonsense. As someone who has been grilled and challenged in the media for making such outrageous statements as "Israel must learn to respect international human rights," I cannot take seriously the media's claims to "objectivity". If this were the norm, no Israeli hasbara campaign would have even dented public perceptions of the criminal war. No unfeeling Israeli Army spokesperson could possibly explain the logic of the wanton destruction of Gaza, as hungry civilians were chased in an open-air prison with nowhere to escape and no one to come to their rescue.

Israeli officials continue to congratulate themselves on a job well done, and must be preparing yet another marvelous hasbara campaign to justify the killings that are yet to follow. However, there are some things that are becoming increasingly obvious, at least to the rest of us. First, the secret of Israeli "success", if any, was not its own doing, but rather stemmed from the media's decision, made years ago, to protect Israel's image. Second, despite the fanfare and self-congratulating commentary, Israel has now largely lost the media war, and the tide since the Gaza war has been turning, thanks to the underfunded, but solid and increasingly determined efforts of independent media groups, intellectuals, citizen journalists, civil society activists, artists, poets, bloggers, ordinary people and those in the media who possess the courage to challenge Israeli hasbara and its devotees.

White House, Republican Graham Team Up on Indefinite Detention Legislation

White House, Republican Graham Team Up on Indefinite Detention Legislation

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Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) said that he is working with the White House on legislation that would allow some alleged terrorists to be held indefinitely without trial.

The legislation, Graham told reporters Monday, is part of a deal to close Guantanamo Bay, which has stalled since Obama signed an executive order to shut it down on his first day in office.

According to a report published in Politico, Graham said, "I've been talking to the administration for the last couple of days. I'm encouraged that we're going to sit down and do some of the hard things we haven't done as a nation after Sept. 11."

Graham has been an outspoken opponent of Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civilian court, and has signaled that his cooperation is also contingent on having them tried in the military justice system.

On Saturday, in a weekly Republican radio address, Graham said, "the military justice system is transparent, well-staffed, subject to civilian review, and protects valuable intelligence. Above all else, it is built around the notion that we are a nation at war."

In an interview with The New York Times published Monday, Holder said that he is reconsidering his original position, and is "flexible" with regard to changing the venue of the trial and the possibility of trying Mohammed in a military tribunal.

Senator Graham has been the leading Republican voice on national security issues and detainee treatment, as well as sponsoring the Military Commissions Act of 2009, which modified rules pertaining to evidence gathered by unlawful coercion, the definition of an "enemy combatant" and the right of defendants to examine evidence and witnesses. Critics have generally seen the act as an improvement on the old commissions system.

He is also one of the few Senate Republicans to indicate a willingness to work with the White House and Senate Democrats on legislative issues, including the promotion of renewable energy. On Tuesday, he started on the campaign trail in California to promote Carly Fiorina, a Republican challenger to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California).

Graham's rightward shift and increasingly vocal opposition to a civilian trial may be due in part to an internecine struggle with Sen. Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina), who is backing a series of ultra-conservative Republican Senate candidates, including Marco Rubio in Florida and Chuck DeVore in California - who is running against Fiorina in the Republican primary.

The legislation Graham and the White House are considering would allow them to detain suspected terrorists instead of transferring them to another country or allowing them to take part in the criminal justice system.

"I think the Obama administration, after they looked at the cases at Guantanamo Bay, understands the need for a statute like that," he said.
In return, Graham would probably back President Obama's plan to close the Guantanamo Bay prison and transfer any remaining detainees to a state prison in Thomson, Illinois.

Bagram, Obama's Secret Penal Colony

Bagram, Obama's Secret Penal Colony

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They look at one another, happy and deeply moved. A little self-conscious also. How to meet again after so long? How to pick up the thread of an existence interrupted three, four years ago? They hardly know how any more. At Bagram, people lose the notion of time. This December morning, they are three who have been released from "the Americans' prison." In this Kabul alley, it's a strange spectacle to see these men squeezed into their new sky blue tunics that they've exchanged for their red prisoners' uniforms. They laugh at meeting their dear ones whom they don't dare embrace. "Is it really you, Ahmad, my brother? - I thought you were dead!" Politely, the two first ex-prisoners brush aside our questions: they're in a rush to be alone with their families after such a long absence. Soon, their silhouettes disappear, erased in Kabul's dusty wind.

Only the third lingers, happy for the opportunity to speak. No one has come to pick him up. Hadji Gul Raman relates the worst with a smile. His teeth broken by punches the day of his arrest. The air conditioning that froze his bones in midwinter. The fire extinguishers that sprayed ice water on the twenty prisoners piled up in chain-linked cells. The lack of privacy, the daily fights to use the sole toilet ... These humiliations and tortures, formerly used at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, are still standard operating procedure at Bagram, in spite of Barack Obama's declaration. In spite of the horror he seemed to profess for these aberrations of the "war against terrorists" begun by his predecessor. And yet, Raman did not experience the "techniques" in use during the first years of Bagram prison, built eight years ago. He did not live through what Omar Kadr - 15 years old at the time of his arrest - suffered; Kadr, whom the screws transformed into a living mop, wiping him across the floor after having coated it with floor wax. Or those that Dilawar - dead in 2002 after having been hung by the hands for four days, although there was no evidence against him - endured. According to the autopsy report, Dilawar's legs had doubled in volume.

So Hadji Gul Raman spent three years in this dungeon of America-at-war because, like almost all Afghans, he possessed a Kalashnikov ... One day in December 2006, Raman left with his uncles to find his cousin, Hadji Ahmed Sharkan, a district governor in Helmand province, kidnapped by traffickers - a national sport in Afghanistan. At a checkpoint, American soldiers searched them. They arrested the one holding the weapon; they ended up releasing the others. Raman never saw either lawyer or judge; it is consequently impossible to verify his version of events ... "They crossed me off the list of the living," he says. "I knew neither how long I would remain imprisoned nor where I was." How to locate a place that does not exist?

On No Map

For the Bagram detention center, located on an American military base in northwestern Kabul, does not figure on any map. The site of the biggest American military prison outside the United States is classified a defense secret. Unlike Guantanamo, no journalist has been able to visit the two sand-colored hangars surrounded by concrete. No outside observer, no Red Cross inspector, has had access to the detention center's "special" quarter where "very high-value" prisoners are interrogated. In this "black jail," as the detainees call it, the individual concrete cells have no window; the lights remain on 24/7. Last August, the American government limited time spent in these interrogation sites to ... two weeks.

Bagram, the prison which, in the words of an American military prosecutor, would make Guantanamo look like "a five-star hotel." Bagram, the dread of Afghans who all know a family member or a neighbor who disappeared one day without a trace, swallowed up by that black hole. Bagram, which American human rights activists have dubbed "Obama's Guantanamo." For after the new president's election, the American attorney general decreed that those imprisoned there - unlike those in Guantanamo - could not contest their detention before a civilian judge, nor even see a lawyer ... A decision so contrary to the principles asserted by Obama that he is today suspected of wanting to replace the Cuban penal colony with the Afghan prison. While the number of detainees at Guantanamo has continued to decline (there are now less than 200), it has rapidly increased at Bagram, particularly over the last few months. According to American Army spokesman Stephen Clutter, there are 750 today, including 30 non-Afghans and five minors. It is as though the United States, enmeshed in its struggle against terrorism and al-Qaeda, had finally determined that it couldn't, in time of war, make do without a lawless prison where every means is legitimate for "harvesting" intelligence. Initially a triage center for prisoners arrested in the Afghan theater of operations, Bagram became the final destination for suspects arrested in the framework of the war against terror.

In the early morning hours of a glacial December day, squatting men wait in the Kabul prosecutor's rose garden. They have come to enquire about their disappeared. Families from every region of Afghanistan have sent their old people: those who can no longer work in the fields sometimes camp for whole months in the capital in hope of having news about their prisoners. The prosecutor receives notables only, those who can produce a letter of recommendation signed by their tribal chieftain. The others are tossed from offices to little cubicles, directed to subalterns who chase them away with the back of a hand or rush to lose their files in the stacks of paperwork.

In the batch, there are guilty persons to be sure, authors of attacks animated by hatred of the occupier. But the majority of stories these men tell describe the extraordinary misunderstanding that has settled in between Afghans and the occupying troops. Fear and incomprehension. Culture shock, skillfully exploited by warlords or simple peasants: to get rid of a troublesome rival, all one has to do is denounce him as a dangerous Taliban to Western soldiers who understand nothing about all these quarrels. This war conducted by strikes of blind raids sends people to prison for years who are often guilty only of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Abdul Razak, a Kandahar bazaar merchant, was detained for five years at Guantanamo, then Bagram, because he had ... the same name as the Taliban minister of the interior. Abdul Rahman, also jailed in the Afghan prison, was accused of having killed a policeman who was not yet dead the day of his arrest ... The affair that brought Alam Khan, a young peasant, to Bagram is just as absurd. His father, an old man whose face is crisscrossed by deep wrinkles, railing against the Americans' lack of discernment, relates: "One day, in Zabul province, our neighbor Nasrallah shot my son, whose land he coveted, twice. During his convalescence, my son swore to take revenge. But before he could do so, Nasrallah had denounced him to the Americans to protect himself. He claimed that my son was a Taliban commandant, a certain Salim. Yet everybody knows that this Salim is not even from our district!"

"Zoo Smell"

Outraged by these arbitrary arrests, the committee for peace and reconciliation (charged with rallying the "moderate" Taliban to the Afghan government) and President Karzai have asked the Americans to allow the Afghan legal system to reexamine the cases of prisoners for whom their tribal chieftains vouch. The Americans - as in Iraq - finally agreed to communicate certain files to the local authorities. At this time, the committee has received over 2,300 letters from tribal chieftains which have led to hundreds of liberations. Committee member and law professor Hachimi, former adviser to the Afghan justice minister, acknowledges that these discharges have frequently been as arbitrary as the arrests: "It's too dangerous to go to the provinces to hear the protagonists. So we settle for having the detainees repeat their version of the facts. If there's no discrepancy, we propose their release. And the Americans decide ..."

Sayed Sharif Sharif, the Afghan judge charged with preparing the cases that the Americans agree to communicate to him, receives visitors in a tiny office, the cupboards of which overflow with paper. He will never forget the first time he visited the prison at Bagram: "The dogs, the zoo smell that emanated from the cages ..." Of the 600 cases he has been able to examine, 200 prisoners were immediately cleared - "judicial errors." The others were tried on minor charges and released after two years of prison. "As for the hundred or so Bagram prisoners arrested before 2007, we've never been able to obtain access to their files," says Judge Sharif.

"We Even Have to Pay the Judges"

Barack Obama, who has not given up on closing the prison at Guantanamo, has never mentioned Bagram in his speeches. Yet, after his election, he signed a decree ordering the closure of all secret sites under CIA control. That decree, however, was not applied to Bagram, because it comes under the responsibility of the Army's special forces section ... Such mystery surrounds this detention center situated in the combat zone that a good many Americans do not even know of its existence. Human rights activists' actions have lifted a corner of the veil. The American Civil Liberties Union, a New York-based NGO whose mission is "defending and preserving the individual rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States," brought a legal action and obtained a ruling obliging the American military penitentiary administration to reveal the names of most Bagram detainees. But those who figure on that list remain "enemy combatants" and still do not have the right to representation by a lawyer.

Tina Foster, a lawyer for the legal NGO headquartered in New York, the Center for Constitutional Rights, was defending Guantanamo prisoners when she realized that the worst physical maltreatment undergone by her clients had taken place at Bagram. Since she has been looking into the case of the "Afghan gulag," the young woman receives Obama's promises with skepticism. The American government has just announced that it was considering confiding the administration of the prison to the Afghan government as soon as it had trained the necessary personnel. But Tina Foster doesn't believe it. She points out that no date has been fixed for this transfer of power that is all the more hypothetical in that President Karzai, who for months has been trying - in vain - to form a government, has never been weaker. "They're not preparing to close the prison at all," states the lawyer. "On the contrary, they're enlarging it. The United States needs Bagram to be able to replace Guantanamo. With respect to the methods of the war against terror, nothing but the language has changed from the Bush administration to the Obama administration." Meanwhile, for the last few months, the Bagram prisoners against whom there is the least evidence are being progressively transferred to the Afghan Pul-e Charkhi prison - which is also being enlarged. There, they recover an identity and receive a verdict, a prelude to their exit from prison: a manner of providing a legal framework to their liberation, in the absence of any for their incarceration. But this step towards freedom is not without pitfalls, since, in the Afghan legal system, other ambushes lie in wait for "releasables." As the father of Hayatullah, a 20-year-old prisoner who has hoped for months to get out of the Pul-e Charkhi limbo, explains: "If my son is innocent, why not liberate him directly? Since he's been at Pul-e-Charkhi, we have to pay all the time, even the judges. But we don't have the means ... The rich Taliban commandants, they have comfortable cells; they've even got cell phones!"

In a confidential 700-page report on the prison system in Afghanistan ordered by Gen. David Petraeus, marine officer Douglas Stone has demonstrated the system's perversity. Of 600 prisoners incarcerated at Bagram in June 2009, at least 400 were innocent! But the detention conditions and prison overpopulation result from the multiplication of military operations, notably in the south of the country, frequently leading to the transformation of innocents into fanatics. In other words: arbitrary detentions and abuse manufacture terrorists on an assembly line; a vicious circle that the dispatch of 30,000 additional soldiers risks reinforcing. And which seriously undermines the cause for which America fights in Afghanistan. Such is the paradox of Barack Obama, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who is conducting wars on two fronts. A sincere humanist who maintains secret prisons in violation of the principles of that America which elected him.

Since Obama has been the United States president, the number of prisoners at Bagram prison has continued to rise. To answer human rights activists' criticisms, the American administration has just built a new building (cost: $67 million) as yet unoccupied. It will be able to shelter only 300 prisoners of the 750 still held in the dilapidated cages of the old prison.

Tina Foster

Since 2005, Tina Foster, a 35-year-old New York lawyer, has gone to bat for Bagram prisoners. In their name, she submits habeas corpus petitions (in principle, it is illegal in the United States to imprison anyone without a trial) but up until now, in vain. Tina Foster campaigned for Obama, thinking that he would put an end to the illegal methods implemented in the name of the "war against terror." Today, she is cruelly disappointed.

For barely two years, and thanks to the International Committee of the Red Cross, Bagram prisoners have been able to communicate with their family members through videoconferencing. The ICRC also obtained permission, in September 2008, to organize family visits within the confines of the prison. However, recently, detainees have refused to participate to protest against their conditions of imprisonment.

Khaled Sheikh Mohammed

Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of the September 11 attacks, was Bagram prison's most famous detainee. He stayed there before being sent to a secret jail in Poland, then to Guantanamo. At Bagram, he was tortured: "They stuck a tube in my anus into which water was poured," he confided to Red Cross representatives.

At the London Conference on Afghanistan, the question of national reconciliation with the Taliban was discussed ... According to the UN's Kabul representative, Norwegian Kai Eide, a first subject of discussion with the Taliban faction could bear on the "list of detainees at Bagram prison."

US Media Replays Iraq Fiasco on Iran

US Media Replays Iraq Fiasco on Iran

The treatment of Iran’s election last June, the depictions of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the alarm over Iran’s nuclear program all parallel the one-sided coverage that the U.S. news media directed toward Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and Iraq’s alleged WMD program before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

In both cases, the leading U.S. news outlets took sides; they cast developments in the “enemy” Muslim nation in the harshest possible light; they treated the leaders as unrelentingly evil; they exaggerated the threats (and potential threats) posed by the country’s weaponry, real and imagined.

Without doubt, there were many unsavory aspects to Saddam Hussein as there are with Iran’s Ahmadinejad. However, the U.S. media's depictions of the two leaders lacked nuance, with only the most extreme and unflattering interpretations of their words and actions allowed.

In short, the Times, the Post and nearly all other U.S. news outlets have behaved more like propaganda vehicles than professional journalism organizations. The anti-Iran bias, like the earlier anti-Iraq bias, is most notable on the editorial and op-ed pages but also pervades the news columns.

For instance, echoing U.S. policymakers, the U.S. news media often warns about the danger from a prospective Iranian nuclear weapon, claiming it would touch off an arms race in the Middle East.

What the news organizations almost never mention is that several countries in the region already have nuclear weapons, including Israel whose undeclared arsenal is considered one of the most sophisticated in the world.

Pakistan developed a nuclear bomb in the 1980s, with the acquiescence of the Reagan administration which saw the bomb as an acceptable tradeoff for Pakistan’s assistance in supplying the Afghan mujahedeen in a covert war against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Reagan’s Bargain/Charlie Wilson’s War.”]

Pakistan’s bitter rival, India, also possesses nuclear weapons as does Russia, meaning that Iran is surrounded by nuclear powers.

The consistent failure of the Post, the Times and other leading U.S. news organizations to mention this relevant fact denies the American people the necessary context for evaluating Iran’s behavior. Instead, Iran and its purported interest in a nuke are portrayed as the behavior of irrational extremists.

Iran, of course, insists that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, not for a bomb. And there is at this point no clear evidence that Iran is lying. Indeed, U.S. intelligence agencies have asserted that Iran abandoned its pursuit of a nuclear warhead design in 2003.

Singling Out Iran

So why is Iran being singled out for condemnation regarding its speculative interest in a nuclear weapon while Israel, Pakistan and India get a pass for their actual nuclear weapons?

One argument that U.S. news organizations make is that Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty while Israel, Pakistan and India are not and that therefore it is more objectionable for Iran to evade the treaty’s provisions than for the others to simply ignore the treaty outright.

But the argument makes little sense. It amounts to giving a pass to rogue nuclear states that have refused to sign the treaty.

The absence of this outrage is especially notable regarding Israel, even after it imposed draconian punishments against one Israeli technician, Mordechai Vanunu, for divulging facts about the nuclear program in 1986. Vanunu was kidnapped in Italy, spirited back to Israel and tried in secret. He was put in solitary confinement for 11 years during an 18-year sentence.

Even today, Vanunu faces arrest for speaking with foreigners, yet this whistleblower remains almost as big a pariah with the U.S. press as he does with the Israeli government. [See “Ellsberg on Vanunu’s Arrest.”]

While American journalists silence themselves about Israel’s secret nuclear arsenal and treat the persecution of Vanunu as somehow deserved, they rail against Iran’s nuclear program even though it is under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency and remains far short of any breakout capability for a nuclear weapon even if Iran’s government decided to build one.

Another argument, used to justify the double standard, is that Iran is a particularly dangerous nation; that it has supported Arab groups, such as Hezboilah and Hamas, which some governments in the West label “terrorist”; and that Iranian leaders reject Israel’s status as a Jewish state and have wished for that religious/ethnic designation to end.

However, many people in the Middle East and around the world consider Hezbollah and Hamas to be resistance and/or political groups that have struggled against Israeli occupation of Lebanese and Palestinian lands, respectively. While the groups have resorted to violence, sometimes against civilians, Israel doesn’t have clean hands on that point either.

Israel is renowned for its cross-border assassinations and for its conquest of neighboring territory. Israel invaded and occupied parts of Lebanon in the 1980s and engaged in a bloody offensive there as recently as 2006.

Israel also has conducted a harsh occupation of Palestinian lands, assassinating Palestinian leaders and taking prized lands for Israeli settlers in defiance of United Nations resolutions and the intermittent protests of Israel’s chief ally in Washington. Israeli forces killed more than 1,000 Palestinians, most of them civilians, in an offensive in Gaza a year ago.

By contrast, Iran has for generations been a relatively peaceful regional power. Its eight-year war with Iraq began when Saddam Hussein’s forces invaded Iran in 1980, possibly with a “green light” from the United States and Sunni Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia, which feared the spread of Iran’s Shiite fundamentalism. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Lost History Hurts Obama’s Iran Bid.”]

The war was sustained by President Ronald Reagan’s secret decision to tilt toward Iraq. Further, any objective observers would have to recognize that the United States has been the most active nation on earth intervening in other countries’ affairs over the past six decades, often violently.

Links to Terrorists

As for links to terrorist organizations, Pakistan and the United States have arguably dirtier hands than Iran.

In the 1980s, during the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, Pakistan collaborated with Sunni Muslim extremists, including Saudi Osama bin Laden and other violent operatives who later formed al-Qaeda . In the 1990s, Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, nurtured the Taliban and backed their takeover of Afghanistan, remaining their staunchest ally up to the 9/11 attacks.

The ISI also is known to deploy militants against India in the disputed territory of Kashmir, and Pakistan has been the base for bloody terrorist attacks such as the 2008 massacre in Mumbai, India.

The United States, too, is far from blameless on the terrorism front. To this day, U.S. authorities harbor known Cuban terrorists in Miami and elsewhere, including Luis Posada Carriles who was implicated in the mid-air bombing of a Cubana airliner in 1976. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Bush Hypocrisy: Cuban Terrorists.”]

Since detonating two nuclear bombs against Japan at the end of World War II, U.S. officials have periodically discussed or threatened nuclear attack against other countries if they didn’t comply with American wishes, including non-nuclear states like North Vietnam when President Richard Nixon was engaged in his so-called “madman” strategy.

Even today, while complaining about Iran’s suspected interest in building a nuclear weapon, U.S. authorities, including President George W. Bush and apparently President Barack Obama, have left open the possibility of nuking Iran. They have made a point to insist that “all options are on the table,” and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while a candidate for President, threatened to “obliterate” Iran if it attacked Israel.

Yet, to read the leading American newspapers, one would assume that Iran was the only dangerous country operating in that part of the world.

Bias on the Election

There also is the curious way the U.S. media handled the Iranian election last June 12.

The New York Times and the Washington Post editorialists routinely describe the election as “fraudulent,” without any qualification or factual substantiation. This is similar to how Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt pronounced in 2002 and early 2003 that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

Only later, after the U.S. invasion and the discovery of no caches of WMD did Hiatt concede that maybe the Post should not have been so categorical.

“If you look at the editorials we write running up [to the war], we state as flat fact that he [Hussein] has weapons of mass destruction,” Hiatt said in an interview with the Columbia Journalism Review. “If that’s not true, it would have been better not to say it.” [CJR, March/April 2004]

Yes, there was a time in American journalism when it was considered serious business to state as fact something that was not true. However, in Hiatt’s case – despite the deaths of more than 4,300 American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis – there has been no change in the leadership of the Post’s editorial pages.

Hiatt, like his counterparts at the New York Times, is now certain that the Iranian election was “fraudulent” without equivocation. The evidence, however, points in a much more uncertain direction.

Many of the assumptions of the U.S. and Western press about election fraud turned out to be false, such as the belief that Azeris would have voted heavily for one of their own, Mir Hossein Mousavi, instead of for Ahmadinejad.

But a pre-election poll, sponsored by the New America Foundation, found a 2-to-1 breakdown for Ahmadinejad among Azeris. Part of the reason appeared to be that Ahmadinejad had poured government resources into that area.

Another frequent complaint from the Western press was that Ahmadinejad’s claim of victory came too fast, but that ignored the fact that Mousavi was out with a declaration of victory before any votes were counted. The first partial results, showing Ahmadinejad in the lead, came out hours later.

The reason why Ahmadinejad might have really won the election was that his support was concentrated among the urban and rural poor who benefited from government food giveaways and jobs programs and who tend to listen more to conservative clerics in the mosques.

Mousavi seemed to acknowledge this point when he released his supposed proof of the rigged election, accusing Ahmadinejad of buying votes by providing food and higher wages for the poor. At some Mousavi rallies, his supporters reportedly would chant “death to the potatoes!” in a joking reference to Ahmadinejad’s food distributions.

Yet, while passing out food and raising pay levels may be a sign of “machine politics,” such tactics are not normally associated with election fraud.

Generally speaking, Mousavi had the backing of the urban middle class and the well-educated, especially in the more cosmopolitan capital of Tehran where universities became a center for protests against Ahmadinejad. The president’s policies – and his offensive comments questioning the Holocaust – have created hardships for this voting bloc, which has found it hard to travel and do business in the face of Western sanctions and restrictions.

So, the election outcome could have been explained simply by Iran’s middle class and intellectuals voting heavily for Mousavi, while larger numbers of poor and conservative Muslims might have broken for Ahmadinejad.

Opposing a Recount

The last real hope for definitive evidence proving that Ahmadinejad’s victory was fraudulent may have passed when Mousavi rejected the possibility of a recount. Instead Mousavi insisted on an entirely new election.

Mousavi’s objection to a recount drew support from the New York Times’ top brass. “Even a full recount would be suspect,” the Times wrote in an editorial. “How could anyone be sure that the ballots were valid?”

But one reason for a recount is that examining ballots can unearth evidence of fraud, especially if ballot-box stuffing was done chaotically or if the tallies were simply fabricated without ballots to support them, as some Western observers have speculated regarding Iran.

This perception gap between the West and Iran over the legitimacy of the election now has become a powerful point of dispute between the two sides.

A poll by WorldPublicOpinion.org questioned 1,003 Iranians across the country between Aug. 27 and Sept. 10, 2009, discovering that 81 percent said they considered Ahmadinejad to be the legitimate president of Iran. Only 10 percent called him illegitimate, with eight percent offering no opinion.

Sixty-two percent said they had strong confidence in the election results and another 21 percent said they had some confidence in the official vote count, for a total of 83 percent expressing favorable views on the election. By comparison, only 13 percent said they had little or no confidence in the results.

Those poll results were either ignored by the U.S. news media or discounted as the result of fearful Iranians simply saying what their government wanted to hear. However, similar polls have been conducted in countries around the world, including during the U.S. military occupation of Iraq, and have been regarded as useful measures of public opinion.

In the six months following that poll, the Post, the Times and other Western news outlets have continued to insist that the Iranian election was “fraudulent,” thus giving moral backing to street protests seeking to overthrow Ahmadinejad.

However, if the election indeed was legitimate, then the American news media is helping to create political support for the removal of a democratically elected government.

Bush and Regime Change

A similar situation occurred in Iran in 1953 when the United States and Great Britain opposed Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, who was seeking to nationalize Iran’s oil resources. The CIA undertook a propaganda campaign to depict Mossadegh as unstable while also passing out millions of dollars to rally big crowds demanding his ouster.

Given that history – and Iran’s inclusion on President George W. Bush’s “axis of evil” list – it would not be unreasonable for the Iranian government to suspect that the United States, possibly with its UK junior partner, is conducting a new covert operation today.

Prior to the June 12 election in Iran, it was well known and widely reported that Bush had signed a covert action finding targeting Iran’s Islamic government with a major program of propaganda and political destabilization.

In the July 7, 2008, New Yorker magazine, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh wrote that late the previous year, Congress had agreed to Bush’s request for a major escalation in covert operations against Iran to the tune of up to $400 million.

“The Finding was focused on undermining Iran’s nuclear ambitions and trying to undermine the government through regime change,” one person familiar with its contents told Hersh. The operation involved “working with opposition groups and passing money,” the person said.

Other news organizations reported similar facts, with Bush administration officials even citing the aggressive covert action as one reason why the Israelis should tamp down their heated rhetoric about launching a military strike against Iran’s nuclear sites.

Yet, when the Mousavi campaign took on the appearance of a “velvet revolution,” with Mousavi claiming victory before any ballots were counted and then organizing mass demonstration when the official vote count went against him, the U.S. press corps mocked any suggestion from Ahmadinejad’s government that foreign operatives might have had a hand in the disruptions.

Not to say that Mousavi’s campaign was orchestrated from outside Iran – nor to suggest that it didn’t speak for genuine grievances inside Iran – but the U.S. press corps behaved as if it had forgotten its own earlier reporting about the CIA covert operation. It was hard to avoid the conclusion that the big American media was taking sides with Mousavi.

The Iran-Contra Connection

Truly objective journalism at least might have included some historical facts about the three chief opposition leaders and their longstanding (often secret) ties to the West.

In the 1980s, then Prime Minister Mousavi was, in effect, the control officer for Manucher Ghorbanifar, the Iranian agent who hooked up with neoconservative activist Michael Ledeen for clandestine Iran-Contra weapons shipments that involved both the United States and Israel.

In November 1985, as one of the missile shipments via Israel went awry, Ghorbanifar conveyed Mousavi’s anger to the White House.

"On or about November 25, 1985, Ledeen received a frantic phone call from Ghorbanifar, asking him to relay a message from the prime minister of Iran to President Reagan regarding the shipment of the wrong type of HAWKs,” according to Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh’s Final Report.

“Ledeen said the message essentially was ‘we've been holding up our part of the bargain, and here you people are now cheating us and tricking us and deceiving us and you had better correct this situation right away.’”

Ghorbanifar also had dangled the possibility of Reagan’s national security adviser Robert McFarlane meeting with high-level Iranian officials, including Mousavi. In May 1986, when McFarlane and White House aide Oliver North took their infamous trip to Tehran with the inscribed Bible and the key-shaped cake, they were planning to meet with Mousavi.

Another leading figure in today’s opposition, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, also sat at the center of the web of arms deals that Israel arranged for Iran in its long war with Iraq. Rafsanjani, who was then parliamentary chairman, built his personal fortune, in part, as a war profiteer benefiting from those lucrative deals with Israel. [For more on the arms deals, see Ari Ben-Menashe’s Profits of War.]

A third key opposition leader, Mehdi Karoubi, and his brother Hassan also were linked to the secret arms deals. Mehdi Karoubi has been identified as an intermediary as early as 1980 when he reportedly had contacts with Israeli and U.S. intelligence operatives and top Republicans working for Ronald Reagan. [See Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]

The brother, Hassan Karoubi, was another Iran-Contra figure, meeting with Ghorbanifar and Ledeen in Geneva in late October 1985 regarding missile shipments in exchange for Iranian help in getting a group of U.S. hostages freed in Lebanon, according to Walsh’s report.

Normally, such an unusual line-up of opposition leaders might be expected to raise some eyebrows in the U.S. press corps. If the CIA or Israeli intelligence were trying to achieve regime change in Iran, they might reasonably reach out to influential figures with whom they’ve had prior relationships.

But all that history, as well as the media’s prior knowledge of Bush’s covert operation seeking “regime change” in Iran, disappeared, not to be mentioned in the volumes of reporting about the June 12 election. The stories all were about spontaneous demonstrations in protest of Ahmadinejad’s allegedly fraudulent reelection.

The U.S. news media may understandably view Ahmadinejad with disdain, for his bluster and especially his outrageous comments about the Holocaust. Sometimes that repulsion has been palpable, such as when New York Times executive editor Bill Keller personally traveled to Iran to witness the election and co-authored a news analysis that started with a joke about Ahmadinejad having lice in his hair. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Taking Sides in Iran.”]

But one might at least have hoped that the death and destruction in Iraq would have taught these media figures a painful lesson: that sometimes loose talk about foreign “enemies” can contribute to horrendous human suffering.

Journalists might also recall the old principles of the profession: fairness, commitment to facts, and objectivity.

STRUGGLING TOWNS BEGIN PRINTING THEIR OWN CASH

STRUGGLING TOWNS BEGIN PRINTING THEIR OWN CASH

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In an echo of the Great Depression, local currencies with their own special flavors are popping up all over in attempts to give commerce and communities a lift.

Last year, two Detroit businessmen were bemoaning the local economy—no one in the city had cash, and when they did, they spent it in the suburbs. Then the pair hit on a solution: Print their own money. Thus was born the “Detroit Cheer,” a local scrip accepted by a handful of city businesses, including a pizzeria, an electrician, a few local pubs and a doggy day care center.

Residents can also exchange it at a few area bars for greenbacks, but the cheer is vastly more colorful. It features a chiseled Greco-Roman superhero (the Spirit of Detroit) towering Godzilla-like over the city skyline, cupping a tiny family in one hand and a sunburst representing God in the other.

Detroit isn’t the only city sporting its own currency. Since the market bottomed nearly 18 months ago, there’s been an interest in local scrips not seen since the 1930s Great Depression. Law professor Lewis Solomon states in his book, Rethinking Our Centralized Monetary System, that there is no legal prohibition to creating a local currency system in the United States.

The IRS, FBI, Secret Service, Federal Reserve and Treasury Department have all declared the printing and use of local currencies to be legal.

Residents in tiny North Fork, Calif., just launched the North Fork Share and folks in Piedmont, N.C., spend the newly issued the “plenty,” a currency depicting colorful local flora and fauna. Brooklyn, N.Y., is preparing to launch the “torch,” while South Bend, Ind., is set to print Michiana Community Currency that will be commonly known as “MACs.”

Susan Witt, the executive director of the E.F. Schumacher Society, a Massachusetts think tank devoted to decentralized economies, says she gets calls daily from towns across the nation looking to join the movement.

In most cases, these communities are simply looking to boost local commerce. The currency has to be spent in town, obviously, because it’s worthless anywhere else. But a growing distrust of the U.S. dollar is also at work.

When the Treasury floats billions of bonds to get money to bail out banks and automakers, people look for alternatives. “These folks may look nutty now,” says one advocate of the alternative systems, “but wait until the dollar goes the way of the Argentine peso. Then you’ll gladly exchange your wheelbarrow of cash for a handful of our local currency.”

Towns often find the scrip flowing to the local food co-op, which soon complains that suppliers won’t take it. Until Piedmont’s “Plenty” was reissued with the backing of U.S. dollars, it was kept alive mainly by the local biodiesel seller, who used it to pay his interns.

There have been a few successes, though. The western Massachusetts “Berkshare” is accepted by an estimated 400 businesses and has circulated to the tune of $2.5 million—not bad for a region with 20,000 residents. The “Hours” currency, issued in Ithaca, N.Y., has been so entrenched for years that the local transit system is planning to accept it.

Still, University of Southern Maine sociologist Ed Collum says his study of 82 local currencies revealed a disheartening 20 percent survival rate.

Another system that has been around for decades is the barter organizations that use “trade dollars” to balance an uneven trade of goods and services. For example should Joe trade his motorcycle for Sam’s car worth $1,000 more, a deposit of 1,000 barter (or trade) dollars would have to transfer from Joe’s barter account to Sam’s, in order to balance the deal.

The bottom line is that people see the inevitable happening and are looking for their own solutions rather than depending on government.

Pennsylvania schools spying on students using laptop

Pennsylvania schools spying on students using laptop Webcams, claims lawsuit

Class-action suit alleges schools remotely activate Webcams on school-issued notebooks

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\A suburban Philadelphia school district remotely activates the cameras in school-provided laptops to spy on students in their homes, a lawsuit filed in federal court Tuesday alleged.

According to the lawsuit filed by a high school student and his parents, the Lower Merion School District of Ardmore, Pa. has spied on students and families by "indiscriminate use of and ability to remotely activate the Webcams incorporated into each laptop issued to students by the School District."

Approximately 1,800 students at the district's two high schools have been given laptops as part of a state- and federally-funded "one-to-one" student-to-laptop initiative.

Michael and Holly Robbins of Penn Valley, Pa., said they first found out about the alleged spying last November after their son Blake was accused by a Harriton High School official of "improper behavior in his home" and shown a photograph taken by his laptop.

An assistant principal at Harriton later confirmed that the district could remotely activate the Webcam in students' laptops. "Michael Robbins thereafter verified, through [Assistant Principal] Ms. Matsko, that the school district in fact has the ability to remotely activate the Webcam contained in a student's personal laptop computer issued by the school district at any time it chose and to view and capture whatever images were in front of the Webcam, all without the knowledge, permission or authorization of any persons then and there using the laptop computer," the lawsuit stated.

The Robbins claimed that the district did not tell them beforehand that their son's laptop Webcam could be activated remotely, and added that there was no mention of the functionality in any of the documentation they received or on the district's Web site.

And the privacy of non-students has been violated, the Robbins said. "By virtue of the fact that the Webcam can be remotely activated at any time by the School District, the Webcam will capture anything happening in the room in which the laptop computer is located, regardless of whether the student is sitting at the computer and using it," the lawsuit charged.

The suit accuses the school district of violating the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), and other federal and state statues, including the Pennsylvania Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Act.

Mark Haltzman of the law firm Lamm Rubenstone, and the Robbins' attorney, did not return a call for comment. A spokesman for the Lower Merion School District said early Thursday that the district had only found out about the suit hours before, and so was not able to immediately comment on the case.

If the lawsuit is granted class-action status, other students in the district and their families would be able to join the action.

The Robbins family has asked for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, and demanded that the court issue an injunction barring the district from activating students' laptop cameras.

Mounting fiscal crisis of US states and cities

Mounting fiscal crisis of US states and cities

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Despite claims that the “Great Recession” has ended, the fiscal crisis confronting US states and local governments will continue for years to come, according to a number of reports.

State and local governments have seen drastic reductions in tax revenues due to the economic crisis. Unemployed and impoverished workers pay less in income taxes and also purchase less, reducing sales tax receipts. Property and business taxes have also been driven down by the foreclosure and financial crises.

At the same time, the recession has brought demand for social services provided by state and local governments to unprecedented levels. This is especially true for states, which share with the federal government the burden of providing unemployment relief, food stamps, and Medicaid health insurance for low-income households.

But rather than being used as a means of mounting a major relief effort, state and local governments are the front line in the assault on living standards and social programs carried out in the name of “fiscal discipline.”

Almost all US states operate under laws requiring that they balance their budgets; therefore any shortfall in revenue must be met by cuts to services, layoffs, reductions in the pay of state workers, or by imposing “user fees” for services and other regressive forms of taxation targeting the working class. Both Democrat and Republican state politicians have ruled out drastic tax increases on the extremely wealthy and the major finance houses who have enriched themselves before, during, and after the financial crisis that they themselves caused.

President Obama’s stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, was not nearly enough to meet the states’ budget crises, and was only a tiny fraction of the untold trillions doled out to the biggest US banks. However, in 2009 the stimulus package did allow a number of states to defer some spending cuts for one or two years. In spite of this, 28 states actually reduced the overall size of their government workforces in 2009.

Stimulus money to the states and local governments will peak in 2010, but much of this has already been earmarked for infrastructure and “green economy” projects. At the end of 2010, stimulus funding will fall off sharply, a moment many analysts refer to as “the cliff.” Obama has all but ruled out any further assistance. Last year he used the budget crisis of California, the most populous US state, to send a signal to state and city governments that henceforth the US Treasury and Federal Reserve would be open only to Wall Street.

The drastic cuts looming over the next two years may well make those of 2009 and 2010 seem mild. Kentucky, for example, has already frozen enrollment in its health insurance program that assists low-income families. But the state was spared hundreds of millions in deeper cuts by using up stimulus money and its “rainy day” fund. With these resources largely liquidated, Kentucky will face even larger budget shortfalls over the next two years that will be met through savage cuts to social programs and public education.

It is widely acknowledged, moreover, that the cuts enacted now will never be restored.

An economist with the National Association of Governors, Raymond Scheppach, has said the cuts undertaken now will be part of a “permanent retrenchment” and the revenue shortfalls are only the beginning of what will prove to be a “lost decade.”

“It will take years for the states to return to normal,” the Pew Center on the States writes, “whatever the new normal will be.”

Revenues will not return to pre-crisis levels for years. In New Jersey, tax receipts are not expected to return to their 2008 magnitude for another half decade. Michigan has less revenue this fiscal year than it did in 1997.

The crisis confronting the states has been accentuated by years of “free market” policies designed to benefit the financial elite. A graphic example of this comes from the funding systems used by the states for their workers’ retirement pensions. According to a recent survey by the Pew Center on the States, the combined funding deficit for state pension funds—the shortfall between the amount of money they have and the amount they have promised to workers—was $1 trillion in 2008. Meanwhile, a mere 5 percent of the total health care liability for retired state workers and their dependents, an estimated $587 billion, is funded.

This shortfall was calculated before the full onset of the financial crisis and therefore “does not include the market downturn that devastated many funds’ investment portfolios,” as Reuters points out in a recent article.

State governments diverted mandated revenues from workers’ retirement funds even before the financial crisis struck. Susan Urahn, director of the Pew Center on the States, called the last ten years a “decade of irresponsibility” in relation to the states obligations to their workers, during which “many states have shortchanged pension plans in good times and bad.”

As of 2008, only four states—Florida, New York, Washington, and Wisconsin—had fully funded pension funds. Illinois, home state of Barack Obama, confronts the largest proportional shortfall in its pension system, which stands at a staggering $55 billion, with just over half of outstanding obligations funded. California had the largest unfunded pension system outright midway through 2008, at almost $60 billion.

However, the Pew study did not account for the drastic reduction in the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) that took place at the end of 2008 when it was revealed that the fund was particularly exposed to a toxic admixture of inflated real estate and other assets. (See: “California pension funds paid millions to former insiders working as middlemen investors”.)

As their fiscal situation deteriorates, the states are transmitting the crisis to public schools and colleges, and to cities, towns, and counties, which are already reeling due to sharply declining real estate tax assessments.

Illinois, confronting a nearly $13 billion deficit, has simply ceased making promised payments to state agencies, including the university system. University administrators have responded by ordering furloughs for most university employees. As in California and many other states, drastic tuition increases are in store. (See “Illinois stops payments to university system, mass furloughs result”.)

The state’s delinquency in payments means that an untold number of local organizations that provide important social services have been forced to scale them back or end them completely. The Vermilion County Health Department, which includes the city of Danville, had not received $800,000 in promised funding as of December 1, 2009. In response, public health administrator Stephen Laker “had to cut programs he had built up over a 39-year career,” including maternal and child care programs, Stateline.org reported.

“For the last three recession cycles, it’s been common for states to reduce financial support for local governments during the recession, and once they come out of it, they restore most of what they’ve cut,” said Michael Pagano, dean of the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago. But, as Stateline notes, “This time is different. Now local officials are wondering whether that money will ever come back.”

These developments are provoking sharp divisions between state and local governments. Across the US, universities, public school districts and cities have made public appeals demanding promised funding and have taken legal actions against state legislatures. In California, municipalities were able to block the legislature’s attempt to cut transportation funding, and in Illinois university administrators recently held a high publicity press conference criticizing state officials for withholding money.

As tensions among federal, state, and local governments mount, press reports from America’s states, cities, and towns are indicative of a country that can no longer properly be called “rich.”

In Pawtucket, Rhode Island, the mayor is considering scaling back public street lighting to confront the state’s decision to cut back on funding to cities and towns. Stateline reports, “Raising property taxes is a difficult proposition in Pawtucket, which has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the state. Coat drives and soup kitchens are drawing more people than in any recent year, and municipal workers, who haven’t seen a raise in four years, are taking furlough days. The senior center and the library are open fewer hours and youth leagues maintain their own athletic fields.”

“Street lighting is something that people take for granted but maybe they shouldn’t,” said Mayor Jim Doyle. “We might have to start reducing the lighting in some areas of the city.”

The state of Michigan has ended its annual State Fair, a carnival and exhibition of agriculture and industry dating back to 1849. It has also scattered its state archives.

Arizona has sold and leased back the office tower in which most of its state offices are located.

And in Colorado Springs, considered to be a rather affluent US city, the Denver Post reports: “More than a third of the streetlights in Colorado Springs will go dark... The police helicopters are for sale on the Internet. The city is dumping firefighting jobs, a vice team, burglary investigators, beat cops — dozens of police and fire positions will go unfilled.

“The parks department removed trash cans last week, replacing them with signs urging users to pack out their own litter. Neighbors are encouraged to bring their own lawn mowers to local green spaces, because parks workers will mow them only once every two weeks. If that.

“Water cutbacks mean most parks will be dead, brown turf by July; the flower and fertilizer budget is zero.

“City recreation centers, indoor and outdoor pools, and a handful of museums will close for good March 31 unless they find private funding to stay open. Buses no longer run on evenings and weekends. The city won’t pay for any street paving, relying instead on a regional authority that can meet only about 10 percent of the need.”

Sharp rise in new US jobless claims

Sharp rise in new US jobless claims

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New claims for unemployment benefits rose last week at a sharper rate than expected by analysts. The number of workers filing initial claims for jobless benefits jumped by 31,000 to 473,000 in the week ending February 13, the Labor Department said Thursday.

The rise in new claims points to the persistence of high levels of unemployment throughout the US, despite the talk of economic recovery by the Obama administration and the media. Although the US economy recorded a growth in GDP last quarter and output is increasing, this is not being translated into significant increase in jobs. In many cases, employers are driving up the productivity of their current workforces, instead of hiring new workers.

The four-week moving average of jobless claims fell by 1,500 to 467,500 from the previous week’s revised average of 469,000. Many economists say the four-week average would need to fall consistently below 400,000 to indicate that the economy was about to generate net job gains. Twenty-four states recorded an increase in weekly claims.

“The 31,000 increase largely reverses a 41,000 drop in the prior week and leads to new concerns that jobless claims are stalling at a high level,” Abiel Reinhart, economist at J.P. Morgan Chase, told the Wall Street Journal.

The total number of workers drawing unemployment checks remained unchanged at 4.6 million for the week ending February 6. The number of people who have exhausted their traditional benefits and are now collecting extended payments rose by about 274,500 to 6 million in the week ending January 30. All told, there are more than 15 million Americans looking for work, with millions more no longer counted as unemployed because they have given up searching.

Since the recession began in December 2007, 8.4 million jobs have been wiped out, including more than 4 million in the last 12 months alone. The official unemployment rate stands at 9.7 percent, with the real rate—including so-called discouraged workers and those forced to work part-time—nearly twice that high.

The official unemployment rate fell last month largely because the number of workers leaving the workforce declined more rapidly than job losses, which hit 20,000 in January. In their latest forecast, Federal Reserve officials suggested the jobless rate would not fall much further this year, predicting it would be 9.6 percent in the last quarter of 2010.

Last week, the White House Council of Economic Advisers released a report saying the official unemployment rate would remain near 10 percent through 2012, and will likely stay above 6 percent until 2015 and 5 percent through 2020.

The Labor Department released a separate report Wednesday showing that employers laid off a total of 321,569 workers in the last quarter. Several companies have made recent job cut announcements.

Health insurance giant Humana Inc. will reduce its workforce by 5 percent as the company faces shrinking private-sector enrollments and cuts in government-backed Medicare payments, according to Business Week. About 2,500 jobs will be eliminated through attrition, outsourcing and shedding positions, the Louisville, Kentucky-based company said February 4 in a statement.

“This regrettable but necessary reduction in our workforce is a direct result of Humana’s need to align the size of our company with that of our membership,” said Michael McCallister, the company’s president and chief executive officer, in a statement.

Business Week also reported that billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. has cut about 3,000 jobs since December after customers scaled back orders for building-related materials.

“If you look at our carpet business, our brick business, our insulation business, all of those businesses have had significant reductions in employment,” Buffett said in an interview in Omaha, Nebraska, on Jan. 20. “The day the orders come in, we hire back. But there’s no reason to hire people if they don’t have anything to do.”

The world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, announced its first drop in sales in history, with same-store sales falling last quarter by 1.6 percent compared to a 2.4 percent increase for the same period a year ago. For the full year, Wal-Mart said its same-store sales were flat compared to a 2.8 percent increase last year.

Wal-Mart, which averages more than 100 million shoppers to its stores every week, is seen as a measure of consumer spending. “I am disappointed that [our] US comparable sales were below expectations in the quarter,” Wal-Mart CEO Mike Duke said during a prerecorded call to discuss the company’s results.

“The economy is a real challenge for many of our customers,” he added, warning that Wal-Mart’s first-quarter sales “will be difficult” due to tougher year-over-year sales comparisons and ongoing price deflation in some of its key merchandise categories, including food and electronics.

The retailer’s profits still climbed to $4.7 billion, largely because of strong international sales, including in Brazil and China.

A recent posting by outplacement firm, Challenger, Gray & Christmas noted that “an improving economy may not necessarily lead to a slowdown in job cuts for the telecommunications sector, which has announced nearly 110,000 layoffs since the beginning of 2007.” While the last two years of telecom job cuts remain significantly below the levels reached in the early 2000s, they are nearly double the 28,206 job cuts announced in 2007.

Tuesday morning, Qwest Communications announced that fourth-quarter earnings fell 39 percent, as more than 900,000 business and residential customers disconnected their landlines during the last three months of the year. The losses would have been much steeper were it not for increases in its high-speed Internet and cell phone business, which grew 4.5 percent and 18 percent, respectively, according to news reports.

“Verizon and AT&T also have seen significant losses in the landline customers over the past two years. Job cuts in these traditional services areas could continue to mount until each company has just enough staff to service existing lines,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Obama appoints panel to slash social programs

Obama appoints panel to slash social programs

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President Barack Obama’s establishment by executive order of a bipartisan commission on deficits on Thursday is the latest step in his administration’s attack on health care and retirement programs upon which millions of Americans depend.

The 18-member panel will propose measures to slash government spending on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. It will also consider a series of regressive taxes, including a consumption or value added tax, to force the working class to pay for the budget deficit. Its aim, according to the White House, will be to reduce the deficit from its current level of over 10 percent of gross domestic product to 3 percent by 2015.

Speaking on Thursday, Obama repeated a theme that has been a constant refrain of his administration—that partisan divisions between Democrats and Republicans are blocking the implementation of policies deemed necessary by the financial and corporate elite. “For far too long, Washington has avoided the tough choices necessary to solve our fiscal crisis,” he said. “Everything is on the table,” he added.

Obama’s selection of the panel chairs—Republican Alan Simpson and Democrat Erskine Bowles—is an indication of the far-reaching attack that is being prepared.

As a senator from Wyoming between 1979 and 1997, Simpson served as the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee’s Subcommittee on Social Security. He was among the most fervent advocates of cutting Social Security benefits by reducing their annual growth rate. His position was often to the right of Reagan administration, which he criticized for not moving quickly enough to cut social programs.

In an interview with the Washington Post on Tuesday, Simpson made clear his opposition to the very idea that retired workers should have guaranteed pension benefits. “How did we get to a point in America where you get to a certain age in life, regardless of net worth or income, and you’re ‘entitled’? The word itself is killing us.”

As chief of staff under Bill Clinton in 1997-1998, Erskine Bowles was involved in discussions between the White House and the Republican congressional leadership—particularly House Speaker Newt Gingrich—on budgetary issues. Toward the end of Clinton’s presidency, Bowles reportedly reached agreement with Gingrich on plans to partially privatize Social Security and increase the retirement age. These proposals were not implemented at the time, and Bowles left the White House declaring that the most important unresolved problem was “dealing with the long-term problems of Medicare and Social Security.”

Obama’s choice of Bowles is a deliberate affront to popular anger over bank bonuses. Bowles sits on the compensation committee of the board of directors of Morgan Stanley, one of the top Wall Street investment banks and a recipient of government bailout cash. Morgan Stanley recently paid out billions of dollars in 2009 bonuses to its top traders and executives.

The establishment of the commission further exposes what has been the central aim of Obama’s health care overhaul from the beginning—the imposition of major cuts in government spending through the reduction of health care services for tens of millions of Americans.

The Obama administration has been called on to carry out long-standing aims of the American ruling class. The economic crisis that erupted in September 2008 was seized on as an opportunity to implement an agenda of slashing so-called entitlement programs as part of a vast redistribution of wealth from working people to the financial elite. The coffers of the state have been opened for looting by the banks, to be paid for through the gutting of social programs.

In the run-up to the 2008 election, particularly after the eruption of the financial crisis in September of that year, a consensus emerged within the ruling class that Obama would be better able than his Republican opponent, John McCain, to implement major attacks on the working class. Well aware of popular hatred for Bush and a general discrediting of the Republicans, leading factions of the financial and corporate elite calculated that a Democrat and the first African-American president would be able to exploit popular illusions to politically disorient and disarm the population.

Obama, moreover, could count on various middle-class “left” organizations, which campaigned for his election largely on the basis of identity politics, to continue to promote him as a “progressive” proponent of social reform. It has not taken long for the cynicism of this operation to be exposed.

As part of his ever more open march to the right, Obama has expanded his calls for bipartisan compromise, a refrain of his administration from the outset. His incessant appeals for Republican support in the aftermath of the Democratic debacle in January’s Massachusetts Senate election reflect the ruling class consensus that the class-war measures being prepared can best be implemented by establishing a political framework based on the unity of major sections of the two big business parties.

In seeking Republican support, Obama has chided the opposition party for placing short-term political calculations over the need for united action to carry out “tough” policies.

The 2008 elections have been exposed as a complete fraud. Running on slogans of “hope” and “change,” and appealing to popular hatred of the Bush administration, Obama came to power to continue and expand the right-wing policies of his predecessor. The experience of the Obama administration has underscored the impossibility of defending the interests of working people and effecting any positive change within the framework of the two-party system.

The capitalist crisis that erupted in 2008 is far from over. Despite talk of a recovery, the restructuring of class relations has only begun, in the United States and internationally. The continuation of the capitalist system—the domination of the financial and corporate elite over all aspects of social and political life—means endless war and continual attacks on the working class, including on social programs once considered untouchable.

The Death of Foreign Lending

The Death of Foreign Lending

18 months ago, we saw the markets melting down because of ‘toxic assets’. What would happen if the dollar itself became toxic? In less than six months, the Federal Reserve created $12,220 per household in this country— including yours and mine. This gusher of cash is now being used to take over major sectors of the US economy. Meanwhile, a $4.1 trillion debt bomb is set to detonate just a few months from now. Now we discover that foreign lending to the United States is plummeting. Nobody wants dollars anymore! How far can the US dollar plunge in just one year? We’re going to find out!

The newsletter is in PDF format on the Web site and can be read here:
http://www.goldandenergyadvisor.com/page/gez/newsletter/2010-02-19-084.pdf

Manifesto of Joseph Andrew Stack

Manifesto of Joseph Andrew Stack

Go To Original

If you’re reading this, you’re no doubt asking yourself, “Why did this have to happen?” The simple truth is that it is complicated and has been coming for a long time. The writing process, started many months ago, was intended to be therapy in the face of the looming realization that there isn’t enough therapy in the world that can fix what is really broken. Needless to say, this rant could fill volumes with example after example if I would let it. I find the process of writing it frustrating, tedious, and probably pointless… especially given my gross inability to gracefully articulate my thoughts in light of the storm raging in my head. Exactly what is therapeutic about that I’m not sure, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

We are all taught as children that without laws there would be no society, only anarchy. Sadly, starting at early ages we in this country have been brainwashed to believe that, in return for our dedication and service, our government stands for justice for all. We are further brainwashed to believe that there is freedom in this place, and that we should be ready to lay our lives down for the noble principals represented by its founding fathers. Remember? One of these was “no taxation without representation”. I have spent the total years of my adulthood unlearning that crap from only a few years of my childhood. These days anyone who really stands up for that principal is promptly labeled a “crackpot”, traitor and worse.

While very few working people would say they haven’t had their fair share of taxes (as can I), in my lifetime I can say with a great degree of certainty that there has never been a politician cast a vote on any matter with the likes of me or my interests in mind. Nor, for that matter, are they the least bit interested in me or anything I have to say.

Why is it that a handful of thugs and plunderers can commit unthinkable atrocities (and in the case of the GM executives, for scores of years) and when it’s time for their gravy train to crash under the weight of their gluttony and overwhelming stupidity, the force of the full federal government has no difficulty coming to their aid within days if not hours? Yet at the same time, the joke we call the American medical system, including the drug and insurance companies, are murdering tens of thousands of people a year and stealing from the corpses and victims they cripple, and this country’s leaders don’t see this as important as bailing out a few of their vile, rich cronies. Yet, the political “representatives” (thieves, liars, and self-serving scumbags is far more accurate) have endless time to sit around for year after year and debate the state of the “terrible health care problem”. It’s clear they see no crisis as long as the dead people don’t get in the way of their corporate profits rolling in.

And justice? You’ve got to be kidding!

How can any rational individual explain that white elephant conundrum in the middle of our tax system and, indeed, our entire legal system? Here we have a system that is, by far, too complicated for the brightest of the master scholars to understand. Yet, it mercilessly “holds accountable” its victims, claiming that they’re responsible for fully complying with laws not even the experts understand. The law “requires” a signature on the bottom of a tax filing; yet no one can say truthfully that they understand what they are signing; if that’s not “duress” than what is. If this is not the measure of a totalitarian regime, nothing is.

How did I get here?

My introduction to the real American nightmare starts back in the early ‘80s. Unfortunately after more than 16 years of school, somewhere along the line I picked up the absurd, pompous notion that I could read and understand plain English. Some friends introduced me to a group of people who were having ‘tax code’ readings and discussions. In particular, zeroed in on a section relating to the wonderful “exemptions” that make institutions like the vulgar, corrupt Catholic Church so incredibly wealthy. We carefully studied the law (with the help of some of the “best”, high-paid, experienced tax lawyers in the business), and then began to do exactly what the “big boys” were doing (except that we weren’t steeling from our congregation or lying to the government about our massive profits in the name of God). We took a great deal of care to make it all visible, following all of the rules, exactly the way the law said it was to be done.

The intent of this exercise and our efforts was to bring about a much-needed re-evaluation of the laws that allow the monsters of organized religion to make such a mockery of people who earn an honest living. However, this is where I learned that there are two “interpretations” for every law; one for the very rich, and one for the rest of us… Oh, and the monsters are the very ones making and enforcing the laws; the inquisition is still alive and well today in this country.

That little lesson in patriotism cost me $40,000+, 10 years of my life, and set my retirement plans back to 0. It made me realize for the first time that I live in a country with an ideology that is based on a total and complete lie. It also made me realize, not only how naive I had been, but also the incredible stupidity of the American public; that they buy, hook, line, and sinker, the crap about their “freedom”… and that they continue to do so with eyes closed in the face of overwhelming evidence and all that keeps happening in front of them.

Before even having to make a shaky recovery from the sting of the first lesson on what justice really means in this country (around 1984 after making my way through engineering school and still another five years of “paying my dues”), I felt I finally had to take a chance of launching my dream of becoming an independent engineer.

On the subjects of engineers and dreams of independence, I should digress somewhat to say that I’m sure that I inherited the fascination for creative problem solving from my father. I realized this at a very young age.

The significance of independence, however, came much later during my early years of college; at the age of 18 or 19 when I was living on my own as student in an apartment in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. My neighbor was an elderly retired woman (80+ seemed ancient to me at that age) who was the widowed wife of a retired steel worker. Her husband had worked all his life in the steel mills of central Pennsylvania with promises from big business and the union that, for his 30 years of service, he would have a pension and medical care to look forward to in his retirement. Instead he was one of the thousands who got nothing because the incompetent mill management and corrupt union (not to mention the government) raided their pension funds and stole their retirement. All she had was social security to live on.

In retrospect, the situation was laughable because here I was living on peanut butter and bread (or Ritz crackers when I could afford to splurge) for months at a time. When I got to know this poor figure and heard her story I felt worse for her plight than for my own (I, after all, I thought I had everything to in front of me). I was genuinely appalled at one point, as we exchanged stories and commiserated with each other over our situations, when she in her grandmotherly fashion tried to convince me that I would be “healthier” eating cat food (like her) rather than trying to get all my substance from peanut butter and bread. I couldn’t quite go there, but the impression was made. I decided that I didn’t trust big business to take care of me, and that I would take responsibility for my own future and myself.

Return to the early ‘80s, and here I was off to a terrifying start as a ‘wet-behind-the-ears’ contract software engineer... and two years later, thanks to the fine backroom, midnight effort by the sleazy executives of Arthur Andersen (the very same folks who later brought us Enron and other such calamities) and an equally sleazy New York Senator (Patrick Moynihan), we saw the passage of 1986 tax reform act with its section 1706.

For you who are unfamiliar, here is the core text of the IRS Section 1706, defining the treatment of workers (such as contract engineers) for tax purposes. Visit this link for a conference committee report (http://www.synergistech.com/1706.shtml#ConferenceCommitteeReport) regarding the intended interpretation of Section 1706 and the relevant parts of Section 530, as amended. For information on how these laws affect technical services workers and their clients, read our discussion here (http://www.synergistech.com/ic-taxlaw.shtml).

SEC. 1706. TREATMENT OF CERTAIN TECHNICAL PERSONNEL.

(a) IN GENERAL - Section 530 of the Revenue Act of 1978 is amended by adding at the end thereof the following new subsection:

(d) EXCEPTION. - This section shall not apply in the case of an individual who pursuant to an arrangement between the taxpayer and another person, provides services for such other person as an engineer, designer, drafter, computer programmer, systems analyst, or other similarly skilled worker engaged in a similar line of work.

(b) EFFECTIVE DATE. - The amendment made by this section shall apply to remuneration paid and services rendered after December 31, 1986.

Note:

· "another person" is the client in the traditional job-shop relationship.

· "taxpayer" is the recruiter, broker, agency, or job shop.

· "individual", "employee", or "worker" is you.

Admittedly, you need to read the treatment to understand what it is saying but it’s not very complicated. The bottom line is that they may as well have put my name right in the text of section (d). Moreover, they could only have been more blunt if they would have came out and directly declared me a criminal and non-citizen slave. Twenty years later, I still can’t believe my eyes.

During 1987, I spent close to $5000 of my ‘pocket change’, and at least 1000 hours of my time writing, printing, and mailing to any senator, congressman, governor, or slug that might listen; none did, and they universally treated me as if I was wasting their time. I spent countless hours on the L.A. freeways driving to meetings and any and all of the disorganized professional groups who were attempting to mount a campaign against this atrocity. This, only to discover that our efforts were being easily derailed by a few moles from the brokers who were just beginning to enjoy the windfall from the new declaration of their “freedom”. Oh, and don’t forget, for all of the time I was spending on this, I was loosing income that I couldn’t bill clients.

After months of struggling it had clearly gotten to be a futile exercise. The best we could get for all of our trouble is a pronouncement from an IRS mouthpiece that they weren’t going to enforce that provision (read harass engineers and scientists). This immediately proved to be a lie, and the mere existence of the regulation began to have its impact on my bottom line; this, of course, was the intended effect.

Again, rewind my retirement plans back to 0 and shift them into idle. If I had any sense, I clearly should have left abandoned engineering and never looked back.

Instead I got busy working 100-hour workweeks. Then came the L.A. depression of the early 1990s. Our leaders decided that they didn’t need the all of those extra Air Force bases they had in Southern California, so they were closed; just like that. The result was economic devastation in the region that rivaled the widely publicized Texas S&L fiasco. However, because the government caused it, no one gave a shit about all of the young families who lost their homes or street after street of boarded up houses abandoned to the wealthy loan companies who received government funds to “shore up” their windfall. Again, I lost my retirement.

Years later, after weathering a divorce and the constant struggle trying to build some momentum with my business, I find myself once again beginning to finally pick up some speed. Then came the .COM bust and the 911 nightmare. Our leaders decided that all aircraft were grounded for what seemed like an eternity; and long after that, ‘special’ facilities like San Francisco were on security alert for months. This made access to my customers prohibitively expensive. Ironically, after what they had done the Government came to the aid of the airlines with billions of our tax dollars … as usual they left me to rot and die while they bailed out their rich, incompetent cronies WITH MY MONEY! After these events, there went my business but not quite yet all of my retirement and savings.

By this time, I’m thinking that it might be good for a change. Bye to California, I’ll try Austin for a while. So I moved, only to find out that this is a place with a highly inflated sense of self-importance and where damn little real engineering work is done. I’ve never experienced such a hard time finding work. The rates are 1/3 of what I was earning before the crash, because pay rates here are fixed by the three or four large companies in the area who are in collusion to drive down prices and wages… and this happens because the justice department is all on the take and doesn’t give a fuck about serving anyone or anything but themselves and their rich buddies.

To survive, I was forced to cannibalize my savings and retirement, the last of which was a small IRA. This came in a year with mammoth expenses and not a single dollar of income. I filed no return that year thinking that because I didn’t have any income there was no need. The sleazy government decided that they disagreed. But they didn’t notify me in time for me to launch a legal objection so when I attempted to get a protest filed with the court I was told I was no longer entitled to due process because the time to file ran out. Bend over for another $10,000 helping of justice.

So now we come to the present. After my experience with the CPA world, following the business crash I swore that I’d never enter another accountant’s office again. But here I am with a new marriage and a boatload of undocumented income, not to mention an expensive new business asset, a piano, which I had no idea how to handle. After considerable thought I decided that it would be irresponsible NOT to get professional help; a very big mistake.

When we received the forms back I was very optimistic that they were in order. I had taken all of the years information to Bill Ross, and he came back with results very similar to what I was expecting. Except that he had neglected to include the contents of Sheryl’s unreported income; $12,700 worth of it. To make matters worse, Ross knew all along this was missing and I didn’t have a clue until he pointed it out in the middle of the audit. By that time it had become brutally evident that he was representing himself and not me.

This left me stuck in the middle of this disaster trying to defend transactions that have no relationship to anything tax-related (at least the tax-related transactions were poorly documented). Things I never knew anything about and things my wife had no clue would ever matter to anyone. The end result is… well, just look around.

I remember reading about the stock market crash before the “great” depression and how there were wealthy bankers and businessmen jumping out of windows when they realized they screwed up and lost everything. Isn’t it ironic how far we’ve come in 60 years in this country that they now know how to fix that little economic problem; they just steal from the middle class (who doesn’t have any say in it, elections are a joke) to cover their asses and it’s “business-as-usual”. Now when the wealthy fuck up, the poor get to die for the mistakes… isn’t that a clever, tidy solution.

As government agencies go, the FAA is often justifiably referred to as a tombstone agency, though they are hardly alone. The recent presidential puppet GW Bush and his cronies in their eight years certainly reinforced for all of us that this criticism rings equally true for all of the government. Nothing changes unless there is a body count (unless it is in the interest of the wealthy sows at the government trough). In a government full of hypocrites from top to bottom, life is as cheap as their lies and their self-serving laws.

I know I’m hardly the first one to decide I have had all I can stand. It has always been a myth that people have stopped dying for their freedom in this country, and it isn’t limited to the blacks, and poor immigrants. I know there have been countless before me and there are sure to be as many after. But I also know that by not adding my body to the count, I insure nothing will change. I choose to not keep looking over my shoulder at “big brother” while he strips my carcass, I choose not to ignore what is going on all around me, I choose not to pretend that business as usual won’t continue; I have just had enough.

I can only hope that the numbers quickly get too big to be white washed and ignored that the American zombies wake up and revolt; it will take nothing less. I would only hope that by striking a nerve that stimulates the inevitable double standard, knee-jerk government reaction that results in more stupid draconian restrictions people wake up and begin to see the pompous political thugs and their mindless minions for what they are. Sadly, though I spent my entire life trying to believe it wasn’t so, but violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer. The cruel joke is that the really big chunks of shit at the top have known this all along and have been laughing, at and using this awareness against, fools like me all along.

I saw it written once that the definition of insanity is repeating the same process over and over and expecting the outcome to suddenly be different. I am finally ready to stop this insanity. Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let’s try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well.

The communist creed: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.

The capitalist creed: From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed.

Joe Stack (1956-2010)