Saturday, March 13, 2010

Obama spearheads nationwide assault on public schools

Obama spearheads nationwide assault on public schools

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The Obama administration is spearheading an unprecedented assault on public education in the US. The White House and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are promoting a nationwide wave of school closures, teacher and staff layoffs, attacks on teachers’ wages and conditions, and an expansion of privately run charter schools—all in the guise of education “reform.”

This agenda is being carried out in school districts across the country over the angry opposition of students, parents and teachers. At a highly-charged meeting packed with parents and teachers on Wednesday in Kansas City, Missouri, the district’s school board voted to endorse a plan by the superintendent to shut down 28 of the city’s 61 schools and to cut 700 of 3,000 jobs, including 285 teachers’ jobs.

Enrollment in Kansas City Schools has eroded in large part through the siphoning off of students by charter and private schools. Kansas City, with a population of 480,000, presently has about the same number of public school students, 17,000, as were enrolled in 1890 when the city population was just over 132,000. This is down from a high of 77,000 students in 1964.

In Detroit, a proposed plan by a coalition called “Excellent Schools Detroit” would shut down and sell off as many as 70 public schools and open up charter schools in their stead. Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Director Robert Bobb has endorsed the business-backed scheme. Bobb, who has overseen the closure of dozens of schools and a huge cut in Detroit teachers’ pay, has won warm praise from Obama and Education Secretary Duncan.

The Detroit News on Thursday quoted Bobb as saying that he is “open to chartering DPS (Detroit Public School system) schools, selling buildings to charter school operators and turning schools over to charter operators.” In praise of the plan, Bobb told the News, “It has a very strong market-driven component to it.”

In California, school districts across the state are handing out thousands of pink slips to teachers in advance of the March 15 deadline when all public school employees must be notified of potential layoffs. The Los Angeles Unified School District, which faces a $640 million budget gap, voted March 2 to send layoff notices to more than 5,200 employees, including teachers, support staff and management.

On March 4 in Massachusetts, the state’s Department of Education released a list of 35 schools where the jobs and contracts of teachers are directly threatened by the Obama administration’s policy of closing down so-called “underperforming” schools. The Boston Public Schools responded by ordering teachers at six of these schools to reapply for their jobs.

Cash-strapped school districts nationwide are grappling with growing budget shortfalls at both the local and state level. “NBC Nightly News” reported Thursday that school officials in at least 34 of the 50 states have carried out cuts. Sixty-six percent of school districts across the country have cut jobs this year, while 83 percent project cuts for the 2010-2011 academic year.

Obama’s policies have encouraged these attacks on public schools. The administration and the Democratic-led Congress have refused to provide emergency funds to enable states and localities to close huge budget deficits resulting from rising unemployment and falling tax revenues, even as they handed over trillions in taxpayer dollars to bail out the banks.

The White House is seeking to exploit the fiscal crisis to push through its anti-public education agenda, tying whatever federal funds are on offer to attacks on teachers’ jobs and pay, the closure of schools in working class communities, and the expansion of publicly subsidized but privately owned charter schools.

Speaking before an audience of business executives at the US Chamber of Commerce March 1, the president welcomed the mass firing of teachers at a public high school in Rhode Island. Obama insisted that the 74 teachers and 19 other school employees at Central Falls High School, a “failing school,” had to be held “accountable.”

As with Ronald Reagan’s mass firing of the PATCO air traffic controllers in 1981, the White House endorsement of the Central Falls firings is a signal to state and local authorities across the country to demand that teachers accept lower pay, fewer benefits and longer hours, or face the loss of their jobs.

Teachers are being scape-goated for an education crisis for which they bear no responsibility. The media has fallen into line. The editorial in Thursday’s USA Today was headlined, “Unions protect bad teachers, harming kids’ education.” The cover story of the latest edition of Newsweek is entitled “Why We Must Fire Bad Teachers.”

Under Obama’s “Race to the Top” program, states are being forced to compete for $4.3 billion in federal stimulus funds. States that prohibit merit pay or the use of test scores in teacher evaluations are ineligible for funds. Those opening up more charter schools with new, lower-paid teachers will be rewarded.

Obama’s budget for 2011 contains sweeping changes in funding for primary and secondary education, radically altering the guidelines for the distribution of federal funds to schools with high concentrations of low-income students. A significant proportion of so-called Title I funds would be distributed to poorer districts—not on the basis of economic need, but according to their “performance.”

The unstated agenda behind these moves is nothing less than the dismantling of the public school system as it has been known in the US. It is to be replaced by a largely privatized system more directly based on social class and geared more closely to the profit interests of big business.

A Democratic administration that came to power by appealing—cynically and dishonestly—to popular hostility to war and the Bush administration’s pro-business policies, has become the vehicle for carrying out the type of radical assault on public education that had long been advocated by the Republican right.

Obama’s African-American background was utilized to mask his right-wing policies, lulling working class and young voters into believing he would be more sympathetic to their needs. In this mass deception, the liberal and phony “left” advocates of identity politics played a critical role.

The far-reaching and reactionary character of the administration’s education policy is summed up by the vocal support being given by the former Republican House Speaker, Newt Gingrich. A supporter of school privatization and long-time opponent of government social programs, Gingrich has been paired with Education Secretary Duncan and Al Sharpton to promote Obama’s “Race to the Top” program.

A broad consensus has emerged within the ruling elite in support of the drive to gut the public school system, with virtually the entire liberal Democratic Party establishment on board. This is driven, in part, by the financial crisis and the bankrupting of government at every level as a consequence of the bailout of Wall Street.

More fundamentally, it is the outcome three solid decades of social and political reaction, during which public education has been starved of funds and private charter and for-profit schools have been encouraged. The democratic and egalitarian conceptions historically associated with public education have become anathema to a ruling elite that presides over staggering and ever-growing levels of social inequality.

Corporate America has no interest in siphoning off a portion of its profits to pay for educating working class youth who will leave school to find only unskilled, low-paying jobs, or no jobs at all.

Obama’s major innovation in adopting the anti-education program previously associated with the Republican right is the enlistment of the support and participation of the teachers’ unions. He chose Duncan as his education secretary for precisely that purpose. As CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, Duncan made his name by getting the teachers’ union to sign onto his program of closing public schools and setting up new charter schools.

The unions have joined the assault on public education and their own rank-and-file members in return for assurances that the inflated salaries and perks of the union executives will be preserved.

The teachers’ unions have done, and will do, nothing to defend teachers from layoffs, arbitrary firings and other attacks on their jobs and working conditions. Nor will they fight against school closures or defend the right of students to decent, quality education.

The drive to destroy public education must be stopped! The Socialist Equality Party proposes a united fight by teachers, students, parents and working people as a whole for the following demands:

• Stop all school closures and teacher layoffs. Rehire all laid-off teachers and staff!

• No charter schools. Reintegrate existing charter schools into a public education system democratically controlled by teachers, parents and the working population!

• Allocate trillions to rebuild the schools, hire new teachers, reduce class sizes and provide the most modern facilities to ensure quality education for all, from kindergarten through college!

Neither the Obama administration nor either of the two big business parties will carry out these demands. An independent mass political movement of working people must be built to fight for such a program.

This requires a new political strategy and perspective, based on a socialist program. The banks and major corporations must be nationalized under workers’ control to provide the resources to fund public education and other vital social programs. A radical restructuring of the tax system is required to redistribute the wealth from the top layers of society to the masses of working people.

The defense of education must be linked to the fight for health care, housing and other basic social needs. The colonial wars that are consuming hundreds of billions of dollars and costing the lives of millions of people in the Middle East and Central Asia must be ended, and all US and foreign troops removed from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Socialist Equality Party, its youth movement, the International Students for Social Equality, and the World Socialist Web Site are holding an Emergency Conference on the Social Crisis and War in Detroit on April 17 and 18 to discuss a socialist program to defend the working class and a strategy for building a mass political movement in the US and internationally to fight for it.

Trouble in Europe

Trouble in Europe

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One of the first notable acts of the new European Commission presided over by José Manuel Barroso was - on March 2 - to shatter the moratorium on authorization of genetically modified organisms (GMO) that had been established in Europe.

How did this moratorium, initiated in 1998, arise? From the fact that the governments of the member states did not agree to give GMOs a green light. Why didn't they agree? Because, as elected governments, they heard and understood the hostility and the distrust with which the majority of European citizens regard that technology.

Mr. Barroso - and the "elites" - deem the citizens wrong. So the commission chose to authorize the cultivation of a transgenic potato. The decision was taken without a meeting of the commissioners. The issue is no longer managed by the environment commissioner, but by the commissioner charged with "health and consumer protection," as though the GMO question were nothing but a health issue.

The commission based its ruling on the opinion of the European Food Safety Authority, which itself had been criticized by the member states themselves (Council of Ministers, December 2008). And the authorization bestowed involves a GMO that contains an inserted antibiotic-resistant gene, while all the discussion that took place during the 1990's had concluded that such genes must not be used - a conclusion inscribed in the 2001-18 directive that is supposed to guide all decisions in the matter.

A denial of democracy, a determination to bend to producers' desiderata, implicit contempt for any agriculture that would not be industrialized: that's what this decision is. But there is a more serious aspect that affects the European ideal itself. In order to continue to impose GMOs, the commission wants each member state to be able to choose whether to authorize GMOs within its boundaries. That amounts to dividing the Union, allowing it to be pulled in all directions over an eminently significant question which is not one of simple national preference, but involves common agricultural policy. It is a ratification of Europe's weakness in the direction desired by the "godfather" it never succeeds in ridding itself of - the United States.

The commission's decision echoes another failure, in Copenhagen, where Europe abandoned direction of the discussion on climate change to the United States and emerging countries. During the 1990's and at the beginning of the 2000's, Europe was beginning - through GMO, through climate measures - to find a path of environmental diplomacy through which it was outlining a model of development respectful of humans and of the environment.

Europe is abandoning that ambition, undoubtedly the only one that gave it any meaning. The Eurocrats and the "elites" should not be surprised if Europeans most decidedly do not adhere to the feeble conglomeration in thrall to multinationals that is being imposed upon them.

Ponzi Nation How Get-Rich-Quick Crime Came to Define an Era

Welcome to America, Sucker

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"I landed in this country with $2.50 in cash and $1 million in hopes, and those hopes never left me," Charles Ponzi once told the New York Times. An Italian, who emigrated to the New World in 1903, his glory, such as it was, involved leaving countless immigrants and other Americans with only $2.50 in their pockets and nothing to hope for.

While he was hardly the first Ponzi schemer, he milked his particular con with particular success and dramatic flair in the 1920s. Ever since, his name has been attached to any scam in which you promise outrageous returns -- he offered a 50% return on investment in only 45 days -- and pay off old investors with the money eagerly offered by newer ones. The aura of success only brings in more money until, of course, it all goes bust. Ponzi’s last recorded words to a reporter caught the financial-showman spirit of his time: “Even if they never got anything for it,” he said of those whose lives he destroyed, “it was cheap at that price. Without malice aforethought I had given them the best show that was ever staged in their territory since the landing of the Pilgrims! It was easily worth fifteen million bucks to watch me put the thing over."

Like the early years of the twenty-first century, the 1920s was a moment in our history when many people thought wealth was there for the asking, more or less for free. Of course, such a moment, such a mood, opens the door to every scam artist in sight and there are always many like Ponzi ready to offer a “helping” hand. The remarkable Stephen Sondheim has since his youth been fascinated by two brothers, Addison and Wilson Mizner, one a visionary architect, the other Charles Ponzi’s rightful heir, who created Boca Raton, Florida, as a Ponzi land scheme for the wealthy in the 1920s. Bounce, his musical about them, caught the extravagant spirit of fraud in our own age, the Madoff era, as well as theirs.

TomDispatch associate editor and regular contributor Andy Kroll focuses in his latest post on two brothers of this century who could undoubtedly star in Bounce II. Never, it seems, had the American landscape been quite so stuffed with get-rich-quick schemers as in the last boom years before the global economy melted down in 2008. Kroll offers a veritable Ponzi-scheme mapping of America. (If you have a moment, catch him discussing the geometry of delusion in the Ponzi Era on the latest TomCast audio interview by clicking here, or download it as a podcast by clicking here.) Tom

Ponzi Nation
How Get-Rich-Quick Crime Came to Define an Era
By Andy Kroll

Every great American boom and bust makes and breaks its share of crooks. The past decade -- call it the Ponzi Era -- has been no different, except for the gargantuan scale of white-collar crime. A vast wave of financial fraud swelled in the first years of the new century. Then, in 2008, with the subprime mortgage collapse, it crashed on the shore as a full-scale global economic meltdown. As that wave receded, it left hundreds of Ponzi and pyramid schemes, as well as other get-rich-quick rackets that helped fuel our recent economic frenzy, flopping on the beach.

The high-water marks from that crime wave, those places where the corruption reached its zenith, are still visible today, like the 17th floor of 885 Third Avenue in midtown Manhattan, the nerve center of investment firm Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities -- and, as it turned out, a $65 billion Ponzi scheme, the largest in history. Or Stanfordville, a sprawling compound on the Caribbean island of Antigua named for its wealthy owner, a garrulous Texan named Allen Stanford who built it with funds from his own $8 billion Ponzi scheme. Or the bizarrely fortified law office -- security cards, surveillance cameras, hidden microphones, a private elevator -- of Florida attorney Scott Rothstein, who duped friends and investors out of $1.2 billion.

The more typical marks of the Ponzi Era, though, aren’t as easy to see. Williamston, Michigan, for instance, lacks towering skyscrapers, Italian sports cars, million-dollar mansions, and massive security systems. A quiet town 15 miles from Lansing, the state capital, Williamston is little more than a cross-hatching of a dozen or so streets. A “DOLLAR TIME$” store sits near Williamston’s main intersection -- locals affectionally call it the "four corners" -- and its main drag is lined with worn brick buildings passed on from one business to the next like fading, hand-me-down jeans. It’s here, far from New York or Antigua, that thanks to two brothers seized by a financial fever dream, the Ponzi Era made its truest, deepest American mark.

Jay and Eric Merkle, active church members and successful local businessmen, were well known among Williamston’s residents. In 2004, the brothers discovered that an oil-and-gas venture, which they had invested in and which promised them quick, lucrative returns, was a scam. They’d been duped. Their next move should have been simple: turn in the crooks and get on with their lives, their pockets a few dollars lighter. Jay and Eric, however, grasped the spirit of their age and made another decision entirely -- they teamed up with the guys who had ripped them off, in the process switching from prey to predator.

That first venture actually floundered, but in 2005, court records show, they started their own Ponzi scheme, Platinum Business Industries (PBI). Based in Williamston, PBI claimed it was socking its investors’ money into lucrative oil and gas exploration opportunities in Oklahoma and Texas, and it promised the investors absurdly high returns -- 6% a month, or 72% a year. Despite such promises, the brothers assured town locals handing over their hard-earned dollars that little risk was involved. Even if the energy exploration didn’t pay off, the land acquired by PBI was valuable and could be sold to offset any losses.

Like Madoff in Palm Beach, the Merkles in Williamston exploited local ties -- church and family -- to reel in new investors; and like Madoff's investment fund, PBI, too, was a complete sham, and a classic Ponzi scheme -- that is, an investment scam in which existing investors’ returns are paid for with money from new investors. In the case of PBI, there was no energy exploration in Oklahoma and Texas.

Some of the money they received from later investors the Merkles used to pay off earlier ones and give their scheme the look of success. But in their case, there was a rub. The Merkles were distinctly creatures of the Ponzi Era: they evidently couldn’t help themselves. Even as they ran their own Ponzi racket, documents show, they were getting fleeced. What they weren't paying out in fake returns the Merkles bet on high-yield, get-rich-quick schemes in the U.S. and abroad that had nothing to do with oil and gas -- and other Ponzi schemers and con artists were robbing them blind.

Their financial crime spree collapsed in 2008. Dead-broke, with investigators closing in, they told investors that various foreign governments and banks had frozen their assets. The brothers then asked them to wire more than a million dollars to Nigeria, Ghana, and other countries as “fees” to release their money, even as they warned them against cooperating with an FBI investigation. Then, on a brisk autumn day in October 2008, the feds arrested to the two brothers; the game was up. In all, via PBI and other scams, they had duped more than 600 investors out of $50 million, robbing some of their life savings.

When compared to Madoff’s or Stanford’s heists, that sum was little more than pocket change. But the Merkle brothers caught the true, democratic spirit of a decade of an unrestrained magical thinking that infected rich and poor, successful and ne’er-do-well, the financially savvy and neophytes who couldn’t tell a stock from a bond. Think of their story as a parable for the Ponzi Era: they were taken, decided to become takers, took others, then got taken again. In the rush for the pot of gold at rainbow’s end, they bet everything Main Street had to offer, believing they could get away with it.

Thanks to an open credit spigot, a booming housing market, and visions of unimaginable wealth on Wall Street, practically everyone in the United States in the past decade seemed to aspire to get rich -- and quick. Perfectly ordinary people refinanced their homes, refinanced again, and used the money they got to stake themselves at the crooked casino table of American life. Some rolled the dice in stocks, bonds, and second homes. For millions more, the gamble took the form of “investment opportunities” that promised wealth in a hurry, opportunities now exposed as little more than financial con jobs. “People were shooting for that home run,” says Peter Henning, a law professor at Wayne State University and white-collar crime expert. “They were saying, ‘I’m just as smart as Warren Buffet.’”

Today, with easy credit and the buy-now-pay-tomorrow culture that it spawned in the dustbin of history, the Ponzis and pyramid schemes of the past decade can be seen for what they really were. Not a week seems to go by without the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or the FBI or law enforcement officials busting another get-rich hustle. Yet the full scope of the criminality of the Ponzi Era remains elusive; no one yet knows just how widespread those Ponzi schemes were -- and how many may remain, hidden or in plain sight.

Beyond the headliners like Madoff and Stanford, Americans may not actually be aware of just how many schemes of this sort were abroad in our land -- but it probably doesn’t matter much either. Disillusionment with the past decade is such that many Americans now simply assume that our world is little but a giant Ponzi scheme.

Ponzis, Ponzis, Everywhere

The wave of financial crime may have peaked in 2005 or 2006, but the detritus of such collapsed schemes has left regulators and investigators ever busier. Almost four times as many Ponzi schemes broke down in 2009 -- 150 -- as in 2008 -- 40. According to the Associated Press, the FBI began more than 2,100 securities fraud cases last year, an increase from 1,750 the year before. The SEC likewise dealt out 82% more restraining orders against Ponzi schemes and similar frauds in 2009 than the previous year.

2008 belonged to Madoff, but 2009 and 2010 have displayed a far more eclectic cast of crooks. We learned of mini Madoff, Miami Madoff, and Montreal Madoff, of Ponzis targeting African Americans, Haitian Americans, and Cuban Americans. There were fraudulent real-estate schemes and farm-grain schemes. Some were banal, like a Ponzi built on investments in state-worker uniforms or one that siphoned off retirement funds from bus drivers. Others were sexier, like the high-profile Florida race-car driver who, investigators say, swindled investors for $5 million claiming to peddle iron-ore contracts, or the clutch of professional athletes, among them the National Football League’s Michael Vick, allegedly fleeced for $3 million by an elite “adviser” offering guidance on buying luxury properties and private jets. There were Ponzis piled atop each other, like a recent Detroit scam described by a state official as “a multiheaded Ponzi hydra.”

Faltering Ponzis have spread woe in Dallas and Boca Raton, Livermore and Long Island, Seattle and Atlanta. And the legacy of the past decade’s procession of white-collar criminals has indelibly marked our society in ways that go far beyond the financial losses they caused to their unfortunate investors.

Just use the word “Madoff” and see if you don’t inspire a visceral sense of revulsion in your listeners. (So notorious is the name that Bernie’s daughter-in-law wants to legally change her daughter’s last name from Madoff to Morgan to avoid “additional humiliation.”) Indeed, the Ponzi scheme is now so imprinted on the American imagination that it has, to some extent, become a prism through which we interpret the world.

The World’s a Ponzi, and We’re All Getting Duped

A decade ago, few Americans would have described the world around them in Ponzi terms, if they even knew what it was. Today, it’s become increasingly commonplace to describe American politics as a series of massive, plain-as-day Ponzi schemes. Medicare, for instance, or Social Security are regularly deemed Ponzis by right-wing protestors railing against the spread of big government. “It’s become part of the political nomenclature,” says law professor Henning. “That may be the greatest effect Madoff had. He’s now taken a term of art and made it into common public discourse.”

Last month, for instance, Tim Pawlenty, the drawling Minnesota governor and potential Republican presidential candidate, described not just Social Security and Medicare but all federal government spending as the “Ponzi scheme on the Potomac.” That scheme, Pawlenty wrote, “sooner or later” will

“come crashing down, and the loss will be mammoth... Ponzi schemes succeed because people want to believe in a free lunch as long as the easy money is rolling in. But a day of reckoning always arrives, and ours is right around the corner. The sooner we open our eyes, the sooner we can clean up this mess."

The inexorable rise of our closest economic competitor, China, is apparently a massive Ponzi, too. According to some journalists and analysts, that country’s success has been built on a bloated stock market, a growing housing bubble, cheap labor, and the promise of increasing returns. If so, it’s undoubtedly the greatest heist ever pulled in plain sight, involving the duping of China’s billion-plus inhabitants and the billions more worldwide whose lifestyles wouldn’t exist without the Middle Kingdom’s industrial rise.

To some, the Ponzi scheme knows no borders at all. Joe Romm, a climate science expert and blogger at -- a left-leaning website, since the Ponzi mindset is bipartisan -- casts our current climate nightmare as a global Ponzi. By devouring natural resources now and cavalierly spewing greenhouse gases to poison the planet’s future, Romm says, we’re mortgaging the lives of future generations:

"You can get this burst of wealth that we have created from this rapacious behavior. But it has to collapse, unless adults stand up and say, ‘This is a Ponzi scheme. We have not generated real wealth, and we are destroying a livable climate...'"

What does it mean that we so eagerly slap the label “Ponzi scheme” on those things that most frustrate, infuriate, or confound us? Why do so many Americans feel like hapless investors who have thrown away their life savings to pay off guys at the top whose only goal is to screw over everybody else?

It’s an unmistakable sign, at the very least, of a deep, simmering distrust and disillusionment, a dark undercurrent of despair spreading through our culture, whether voiced by Governor Pawlenty or a newspaper reader in rural Ohio who wrote in a letter to the editor that Social Security "is, by definition, a Ponzi scheme." Today, for Americans, the literal Ponzi schemers may be the least of it. Sooner or later, they usually go to jail. But the distrust they sparked has made its way to the very kings of finance, who, like the Ponzi-schemers, were not so long ago going to make us all rich, who struck the match and then stoked the flames of the financial crisis, who created oblique financial products like collateralized debt obligations and pick-a-pay subprime mortgages, and then walked away unscathed with multi-million dollar salaries and bonuses in their pockets.

The distrust extends as well to the government that finally jailed Madoff and is prosecuting Stanford, but has dealt a free pass to Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs and Dick Fuld of Lehman Brothers. What might be thought of as an American Ponzi mood can be seen in the rise of anti-government groups like the burgeoning Tea Party movement. The scattered “patriot” groups that comprise the Tea Partiers passionately claim the president, the Democrats, and even the Republicans are “stealing” their country and liberty from them; in some cases, they are prepared to take up arms against what they see as fraud of the largest order, which they term “socialist tyranny.”

Most disquieting in the Ponzi Era is the disillusionment it has bred, the sense that people you know or work with could be ripping you off. In Bernie Madoff’s case, there’s a possibility he deceived his own wife and children. The Merkle brothers exploited members of their church and extended family. "You work hard your whole life to be smart with your money and save and then it is taken by someone you know,” said a resident of tiny Van Wert, Ohio, who'd been duped by the Merkles. “People need to be warned that it can happen in Van Wert, too."

How long it will take for that embedded distrust to dissipate is anyone’s guess. As the victims of Madoff can attest, justice is bittersweet in the wake of a Ponzi scheme: the ringleader may spend his life in prison, his belongings publicly auctioned off as a form of catharsis as much as restitution, but investors are rarely made whole again. The scars remain.

Ours is now a Ponzi nation. There is a new mood in the land. Just how it will play out is unknown, but a sense of having been conned is still spreading -- as if not just surprising numbers of investors, but the whole country had experienced the last days of a giant Ponzi scheme. With it goes a feeling that what we’ve been living through, even in “the best of times,” wasn’t an American dream, but pure nightmare. Welcome to America, sucker.

World's billionaires grew 50 percent richer in 2009

World’s billionaires grew 50 percent richer in 2009

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2009 will be remembered by millions of ordinary people as the year they lost their job, their house, or the prospect of an education. For the rich, however, it was a bonanza.

The world’s billionaires saw their wealth grow by 50 percent last year, and their ranks swell to 1,011, from 793, according to the latest Forbes list of billionaires.

The combined net worth of these 1,011 individuals increased to $3.6 trillion, up $1.2 trillion from the year before. On average, each billionaire had his or her wealth increase by $500 million.

Four hundred and three billionaires reside in the United States. They constitute just 0.00014 percent of the country’s total population, but control 8 percent of the national wealth. Each of these individuals holds over 300 million times more wealth than the average US resident.

The list included 21 hedge fund managers, who as a group more than made up for whatever losses they incurred in 2008. Some of them, including James Simons, John Arnold, and George Soros, raked in profits during both the collapse and the market recovery.

Topping the list of wealthiest hedge fund managers was John Paulson, at $32 billion. Paulson made billions in 2008 by betting that the housing market would collapse, and billions more through the stock market recovery of 2009.

Only one of the 21 hedge fund managers on last year’s Forbes list fell off. This was Raj Rajaratnam of Galleon Group, who was arrested last year on charges of insider trading.

Hedge fund managers James Simons, John Arnold, and David Tepper got average returns of 62, 52, and 31 percent, respectively, between 2008 and 2010. David Tepper made $2.3 billion over the past year, while John Paulson’s wealth grew by $6 billion.

The number of US billionaires grew to 403, up from 359 last year. The Asia-Pacific region had 234 billionaires, up from 130 the last year. Europe has 248 billionaires, despite having twice the population of the United States.

The 1,011 people on this list command a phenomenal amount of personal wealth. Their holdings are larger than the gross domestic products of every country besides China, Japan, and the United States. The wealth of the 403 US billionaires could more than cover the 2008 US federal deficit, with money left over for the states.

While the number of billionaires on the list is just short of the all-time high of 1,125 reached in 2008, it represents a phenomenal rebound. At this rate, the number of billionaires will once again hit record levels next year.

Carlos Slim Helú, a Mexican telecommunications tycoon, moved up to the first position on the list at $53.5 billion, beating out Americans Bill Gates ($53 billion) and Warren Buffet ($47 billion). The wealth of all three men rose dramatically. Over the last several years Slim Helú made roughly $27 million a day compared with the average daily income of $16.50 for Mexican workers.

The rich in India and China gained among the most. “For the first time, mainland China has the most billionaires outside the US,” Forbes said in its statement. “US citizens still dominate the ranks, but their grip is slipping.”

The hedge fund managers and financiers on the list benefitted directly from the bank bailout, which transferred huge sums of public funds into the accounts of the largest financial companies. But the billionaires in every other industry were the indirect recipients the government’s wealth transfer program also.

The Wall Street Journal, commenting on the figures, wrote, “How did the world’s rich get so much richer? Stock markets…. In short, what the stock market had taketh, the stock market hath giveth back–-at least to the billionaires.”

But the stock market recovery itself is no accident; it was the direct outcome of policies pursued by both US political parties. The bailout has been financed by a policy of fiscal austerity and high unemployment. The rapid increase in the wealth of the billionaires is the result of the impoverishment of tens of millions; it is the other face of mass unemployment, poverty, utility shutoffs, and foreclosures.

Aside from direct government handouts to the banks and super-rich, the major driver of the recovery of corporate profits—and thus the stock market—was productivity growth and corporate downsizing.

In 2009, the unemployment rate rose from 7.7 to 10 percent, three million jobs were lost, and wages fell dramatically. Millions of families lost their homes and became dislocated. But productivity, the amount of output that is produced from each hour of work, rose by 7 percent.

The money freed up through the destruction of social programs, higher employee output, and corporate restructuring has found its way into the pockets of the people on Forbes’ list.

Greece: Millions join general strike against government austerity package

Greece: Millions join general strike against government austerity package

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Workers throughout Greece staged their second one-day general strike within a month yesterday to protest the austerity measures being imposed by the PASOK social democratic government of Prime Minister George Papandreou.

The strike took place just days after the Greek parliament ratified the latest austerity package, which imposes €4.8 billion ($6.5 billion) in tax increases and spending cuts. Public sector workers, in particular, are to be hit with an across-the-board pay cut of about 7 percent this year, which includes a 30 percent reduction in salary entitlements usually paid at Easter, during the summer and at Christmas.

These cuts follow the government’s initial austerity budget, which promised to cut Greece’s budget deficit by 4 percent of gross domestic product this year, including a two-year increase in the retirement age to 63, a public sector wage freeze, and mass layoffs of private contractors working for the government.

The strike involved an estimated 3 million workers, with the majority in organisations affiliated to the two main trade union federations—the private sector General Confederation of Workers of Greece (GSEE) and the public sector Civil Servants’ Confederation (ADEDY). The GSEE, with around 2 million members, and ADEDY, with 800,000 members, represent about half of the 5-million-strong Greek work force.

The strike was solidly supported and led to the shutdown of virtually all public services and transport networks nationwide. All scheduled flights to and from Greece were cancelled due to action by air traffic controllers. Trains were cancelled and buses and subways ground to a halt.

Most schools and hospitals were closed, with medical staff providing only emergency treatment. Ferry workers also joined the strike, and their boats remained in dock. Tax offices, courts and other municipal buildings were closed. All post offices and banks in Athens and nationally were shut for the day. Workers employed at National Electricity, National Water and National Telecom supported the strike.

Refuse workers in Athens struck for a sixth day, after extending their action so that it would coincide with the general strike. TV news broadcasts and newspaper production were halted as media workers, including those at state broadcaster ANA, struck alongside journalists.

The only public transport operating in Athens was the ISAP tram network, which ran for several hours in order to allow protesters to attend the main demonstration. Despite not being legally allowed to strike, a delegation of 200 officers from the police, fire and customs services attended the demonstration.

More than 30,000 workers participated. The GSEE/ADEDY protest march began in Pedio tou Areos and ended at the parliament building in Syntagma Square. Demonstrators chanted slogans including, “No Sacrifice for Plutocracy” and “Real Jobs, Higher Pay.” Banners were draped from apartment buildings reading: “No More Sacrifices, War Against War.”

Reuters cited one worker, Odysseas Panagopoulos, a 60-year-old health sector employee, who said, “The measures are unfair… We cannot make it, we have children, families. We need to find the money to support them. Banks and rich people should pay for this crisis.”

Another demonstrator said, “Well, I don’t care if Greece collapses, because I’ve already personally collapsed. I don’t have anything else to give.”

Recent opinion polls show that a majority of Greeks are now opposed to the PASOK government’s program to slash jobs, attack workers’ rights and lower their living standards.

A separate march was called by the All-Workers Militant Front (PAME), which is affiliated to the Stalinist Communist Party of Greece.

In the second largest city, Thessaloniki, in northern Greece, 14,000 people marched through the city centre to protest the cuts. Demonstrations were also held in other cities and towns, including in Ioannina, Sitia, Naxos, Veroia and the large southern city of Patras. According to one report, in Heracleion, Crete, “shops that did not allow their workers to strike were blockaded and several banks came under attack by protesters.”

Hundreds of heavily armed riot police were deployed throughout central Athens and attacked sections of the demonstration, indiscriminately using tear gas to disperse the angry crowd. Police made 16 arrests in Athens and severely injured several people in brutal beatings. Clashes between police and protesters were reported in other cities and towns.

This repression followed an order the previous day by an Athens prosecutor who called on police to forcibly remove and arrest about 150 sacked Olympic Airways workers. The unemployed workers had maintained a protest at the General Accounting Office throughout the previous week.

In calling the general strikes, the GSEE and ADEDY are not reflecting the anger of the working class, but attempting to channel in it in ways that do not endanger the government and the ruling elite in Greece. The unions seek to use the one-day strikes to diffuse mass opposition and ensure that the developing movement against the austerity measures does not escalate out of their control. To this end, the unions have called yet another one-day general strike for March 16.

The unions enthusiastically supported the election of PASOK, which is serving as the representative of Greek corporations and international finance capital in carrying out the cuts in social spending.

This week, Papandreou completed a four-nation tour, which culminated in a three-day visit to the United States to meet President Barack Obama in Washington. In a private meeting, as he had done earlier with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicholas Sarkozy, Papandreou enlisted Obama’s support for his government’s austerity measures. His trip was lauded by the Greek and international media as a success.

The praise was, however, tempered with warnings that the austerity measures have yet to be imposed. The Financial Times commented Wednesday, “But a successful performance on the international stage—his six-day trip included stops in four capitals—cannot disguise the fact that Mr. Papandreou faces deepening troubles at home.”

The class-collaborationist position of the trade unions in defence of PASOK was summed up this week in the comments of Yannis Grivas, the president of the tax collectors’ union. Speaking about the recent strikes, he declared, “It is just a symbolic protest. We understand that the austerity measures are necessary.”

In contrast to the cowardice and duplicity of the union leadership, Dimitris Daskalopoulos of the Greek employers’ association on Thursday came out firmly in support of PASOK and condemned the popular opposition to the austerity measures. “Between bankruptcy and recession, between the devil and the deep blue sea, there is no other alternative to the abyss,” he warned. “It’s necessary to start again and reform the country.”

Just what “reform” means in the context of the global economic crisis was spelled out by sections of the media. The Libcom web site reported yesterday that the Conservative newspaper, Kathimerini, has called on the government to defeat the protests against the austerity measures “even if some protesters die.” The ruling elite is preparing the most ruthless repression of the working class in defence of its wealth, of which the police violence witnessed so far is only a foretaste.

There is no national solution to this crisis. Behind PASOK stand the state apparatus in Greece, the ruling classes of America and Europe, the banks and major corporations. Workers in Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, Britain and Ireland have also struck in opposition to austerity measures that are being imposed by their respective governments to make the working class pay for trillions of dollars in public money handed over to the banks. The struggle being waged by the workers in Greece must be seen as just one front in this developing struggle by workers throughout Europe, which must assume a conscious, organised and programmatic form in a Europe-wide and international struggle.

US and Europe drift toward trade war

US and Europe drift toward trade war

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In the wake of the financial crisis that erupted in 2008, leading capitalist nations and blocs of nations are employing increasingly aggressive forms of protectionism to advance their interests.

The issue of protectionism arose sharply this week when the European aviation company EADS announced it was abandoning its bid for a $35 billion contract to build 179 tanker jets for the US military.

Politicians in Berlin and Paris angrily accused the administration in Washington of protectionism in favour of Boeing, the leading US manufacturer of military planes. One leading member of the German Free Democratic Party, part of the ruling coalition in Berlin, called upon his government “to pressure the United States to cease its protectionist tendencies.”

Others were even more blunt. Joachim Pfeiffer of the Christian Social Union, another partner in the German coalition government, fumed: “This is a scandalous, unacceptable act. This needs to become a political issue with the USA.”

Garrelt Duin of the opposition Social Democratic Party declared, “This is a sleight of hand on the part of the Yanks… The Americans only talk about free competition when it is to their advantage. You can’t simply change the rules of the game just because you don’t like the winner.”

For its part, the French Foreign Ministry sent a threatening letter to the United States on Tuesday warning that Europe would “consider the implications” of the Pentagon’s decision to favour Boeing over the European consortium EADS.

There can be no doubt about the use of protectionist measures by the US administration. They have been a hallmark of the administration led by President Barack Obama, backed by his allies in the trade union bureaucracy. However, the complaints being made by European politicians are utterly hypocritical.

A number of media commentaries have made clear that America, Europe and individual nations within Europe have for many years jealously guarded the interests of their own defence industries. Only days ago a number of European countries agreed to free up €3.5 billion to enable EADS to complete the construction of the A400M military transport.

The German Handelsblatt wrote: “The common transatlantic defense market is little more than an illusion… In fact, Europe doesn’t really have an open defense market… The Germans, Brits and French guard their domestic defense industries very closely, hindering public bidding processes and mergers.”

Differences between the Atlantic partners are not restricted to the sphere of military contracts.

Another growing rift emerged this week with the announcement by leading German and French politicians that they favored the establishment of a European Monetary Fund. Against the background of the European debt crisis, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble called for such a European fund, quickly adding that it would not represent a rival to the US-dominated International Monetary Fund. But it is well understood that a European Monetary Fund would, in fact, represent precisely that. One comment in the Financial Times summed up the feeling in European political circles: “The thought of Washington bailing out a eurozone country is intolerable.”

The plans for such a European fund are in their early stages and there are influential politicians and financial interests in Europe that are opposed, but the thinking behind the project is clear. Leading European nations, with Germany to the fore, are seeking the same powers to override the national sovereignty of individual countries and impose drastic austerity programs as those exercised by the IMF—but without the interference of the United States.

Similar considerations lie behind the recent announcement by the French and German governments they are contemplating measures to prevent various forms of speculation, such as credit default swaps and short-selling against currencies and government bonds. The objections being raised in European capitals against such forms of speculation are not based on any principled opposition. The governments in Berlin and Paris were quite willing to provide hundred of billions of euros to their respective banks to cover their losses from such practices. Their main concern is the predominance of US banks in this field and their ability to wreak havoc on the euro. Some minimal legislation, they have concluded, could assist in preventing American financial interests from unduly intervening in European financial affairs.

The war of words over the collapsed EADS contract and tensions over Wall Street manipulation of European markets are only the latest in a series of far-reaching political and economic conflicts between Europe and its biggest trading partner, the United States.

At the start of February, European political circles expressed consternation following an announcement by the US State Department that President Obama would not be attending a major European Union summit planned in Madrid for May.

On February 11, the European parliament voted against an agreement that would have allowed American investigators access to European bank data transfers via the SWIFT network. American officials reacted with shock to the decision.

The list of contentious issues between the transatlantic partners could be extended to include the Afghanistan war, environmental policy, and the US response to the earthquake in Haiti.

Further conflicts are looming in the sphere of trade and economic policy. Europe is currently preparing to sign a number of free trade agreements with Asian countries. Summing up the European strategy recently, the European trade commissioner deplored the fact that Europe had been unable to transform its economic power into political influence, and laid out the continent’s priorities for the immediate future: “India, Canada, Ukraine, Latin America, the Mediterranean area are likely to dominate our agenda over the next two years … together with upcoming talks with Singapore and the updating of our trade relationship with China.”

The same race for markets and raw materials is being pursued by American big business. Major confrontations between European and US interests in these regions are inevitable.

For over five decades following the Second World War, a firm political partnership between the US and Europe based on a strong America and a weak Europe was the bedrock of relative stability in the Western Hemisphere. This partnership is now rapidly unraveling. The post-war industrial powerhouse of America has long since been in decline, and Europe, led by Germany and France, is increasingly flexing its political and military muscles.

Protectionism and trade war are the invariable response by the major capitalist powers to the deepening crisis. The cheerleaders for such a policy are the trade unions and social democratic bureaucracies. Their promotion of economic nationalism is inseparable from their support for brutal austerity measures by their respective governments against the working class.

The fault lines which led to two world wars in the last century are still in place. The only means to prevent trade war from once again turning into armed conflict between nations is the independent mobilization and unification of the working class.

ALL OUT! March 20 anti-war actions

ALL OUT! March 20 anti-war actions

U.S. imperialism’s crimes against the Iraqi people are so great that no amount of lying in the corporate media can wipe them out. That doesn’t stop these manufacturers of instant misinformation from trying. They have hypocritically presented a patently fraudulent election, held under an occupying power and administered by a puppet regime, as a sterling example of democracy and courage.

There are still nearly 100,000 U.S. troops in Iraq seven years after the illegal aggression, plus an equal number of “contractors” — mercenaries. The U.S. occupation has left more than 1 million dead and created 5 million refugees. It has exacerbated ethnic and religious differences leading to the brink of a partition of the country. Its puppet regime has been pressured to pass laws turning over Iraqi natural wealth to imperialist concerns, thus sowing the seeds of a potential civil war.

But the corporate media, by apparent prior agreement, writes glowingly of Iraqis dipping their fingers in ink as if the election were a proof of Iraqi sovereignty.

All the more reason why anyone who opposed this war at the beginning, and the millions more who want it over with now, should head to the protest in Washington or other regional centers on March 20 to make their voices as strong and dramatic as they can.

Just as in the days of war criminal George W. Bush, a Republican, U.S. wars and occupations continue in Iraq under the Democratic Party administration, even expanding in Afghanistan and stretching into Pakistan. The Pentagon is also intervening in Somalia and Yemen and continually threatening Iran, with or without a first strike by the Israeli military. Not to speak of other interventions threatened in the Caribbean, South America and the Pacific.

In this period, the workers in the United States have been hit with the worst capitalist recession since the 1930s — one in which a short-lived recovery for the stock market has brought no recovery to the job market, despite colossal bailouts to the banks and brokerage houses by the Obama administration. This crisis at home has focused attention here on the desperate economic questions facing the working class and oppressed peoples.

But there is no way to separate the need to fight imperialist war from the need to struggle on basic economic issues. The two struggles must be carried on simultaneously and intertwined.

The March 20 demonstrations, in Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco, called by the Answer Coalition to mark the seventh anniversary of the criminal U.S. invasion of Iraq, raise the slogans: U.S. Out of Afghanistan and Iraq; Free Palestine; Reparations for Haiti; and Money for Health Care, Jobs and Education. Many other anti-imperialist, anti-war, community and progressive organizations have endorsed these actions, including the International Action Center and the Bail Out the People Movement.

Workers World has endorsed them, too, and calls again upon the working-class and progressive people to mobilize participation in them throughout the country.

Does Your Representative Show the Military Industrial Complex Enough Love? (I'm Naming Names)

Does Your Representative Show the Military Industrial Complex Enough Love? (I’m Naming Names)

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Today in America there is a big and under-reported issue. There are actually people out there, some of them unbelievably in Congress, crazy enough to challenge that great American institution, the military industrial complex. Who doesn’t love Halliburton? Or Dick Cheney? Or the Iraq War? Or useless projects that do nothing more than enrich and empower an already powerful and rich elite?

I’ll tell you who. 65 good for nothin’ Congresspeople. They’re the ones who today voted against a symbolic resolution to get our troops out of Afghanistan.

Now, cutting the snark, so many of the other 356 don’t even have the gall to vote against a symbolic resolution to end a war! I understand that some people honestly support it, but when less than half of the country supports the war in Afghanistan, it’s a bad sign that all of these Congresspeople still do:

Adler (NJ)
Barton (TX)
Bishop (GA)
Bishop (NY)
Bishop (UT)
Bono Mack
Brady (PA)
Brady (TX)
Braley (IA)
Broun (GA)
Brown (SC)
Brown, Corrine
Brown-Waite, Ginny
Burton (IN)
Carson (IN)
Castor (FL)
Coffman (CO)
Connolly (VA)
Davis (CA)
Davis (KY)
Davis (TN)
Diaz-Balart, M.
Donnelly (IN)
Edwards (TX)
Franks (AZ)
Garrett (NJ)
Gingrey (GA)
Gordon (TN)
Green, Al
Green, Gene
Hall (NY)
Hall (TX)
Hastings (WA)
Herseth Sandlin
Johnson (GA)
Johnson, Sam
Jordan (OH)
Kilpatrick (MI)
King (IA)
King (NY)
Kirkpatrick (AZ)
Klein (FL)
Kline (MN)
Larsen (WA)
Lee (NY)
Lewis (CA)
Lofgren, Zoe
Lungren, Daniel E.
Markey (CO)
McCarthy (CA)
McCarthy (NY)
McMorris Rodgers
Meek (FL)
Meeks (NY)
Miller (FL)
Miller (MI)
Miller (NC)
Miller, Gary
Moore (KS)
Moore (WI)
Moran (KS)
Moran (VA)
Murphy (CT)
Murphy (NY)
Murphy, Patrick
Murphy, Tim
Pastor (AZ)
Poe (TX)
Price (GA)
Price (NC)
Roe (TN)
Rogers (AL)
Rogers (KY)
Rogers (MI)
Rothman (NJ)
Ryan (OH)
Ryan (WI)
Scott (GA)
Scott (VA)
Smith (NE)
Smith (NJ)
Smith (TX)
Smith (WA)
Thompson (CA)
Thompson (MS)
Thompson (PA)
Van Hollen
Wilson (OH)
Wilson (SC)
Young (AK)

Now, here there is no differentiation from Republicans and Democrats (perhaps, fittingly). But if you go to this website, the names in italics are Republicans and the normal lettering is Democrats.

The people on the above list voted to continue the growth and proliferation of one of the most destructive forces in our nation today. Military contractors, war profiteers, corrupt political cronies, the worst of the worst lobbyists – all of these and more are what make up the military industrial complex. Until we end our modern day empire and stop spending more on our military by far than every other nation on earth, we will not rein in these problems, or probably any other major problem, for that matter.

And those brave representatives who were willing to go against the President, the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, both parties’ leadership in the House, and the military industrial complex were:

Davis (IL)
Edwards (MD)
Frank (MA)
Hastings (FL)
Jackson (IL)
Jackson Lee (TX)
Johnson (IL)
Johnson, E. B.
Larson (CT)
Lee (CA)
Lewis (GA)
Markey (MA)
Miller, George
Nadler (NY)
Neal (MA)
Pingree (ME)
Polis (CO)
Sánchez, Linda T.
Sanchez, Loretta

Also worth listing are the 19 cosponsors, along with the original sponsor Dennis Kucinich:

Rep Baldwin, Tammy [WI-2] – 3/4/2010
Rep Capuano, Michael E. [MA-8] – 3/4/2010
Rep Clarke, Yvette D. [NY-11] – 3/4/2010
Rep Conyers, John, Jr. [MI-14] – 3/4/2010
Rep Davis, Danny K. [IL-7] – 3/4/2010
Rep Farr, Sam [CA-17] – 3/9/2010
Rep Filner, Bob [CA-51] – 3/4/2010
Rep Grayson, Alan [FL-8] – 3/4/2010
Rep Grijalva, Raul M. [AZ-7] – 3/4/2010
Rep Johnson, Timothy V. [IL-15] – 3/4/2010
Rep Jones, Walter B., Jr. [NC-3] – 3/4/2010
Rep Lee, Barbara [CA-9] – 3/4/2010
Rep Massa, Eric J. J. [NY-29] – 3/4/2010
Rep Michaud, Michael H. [ME-2] – 3/4/2010
Rep Paul, Ron [TX-14] – 3/4/2010
Rep Pingree, Chellie [ME-1] – 3/4/2010
Rep Serrano, Jose E. [NY-16] – 3/4/2010
Rep Stark, Fortney Pete [CA-13] – 3/9/2010
Rep Woolsey, Lynn C. [CA-6] – 3/4/2010

One representative in particular that deserves the limelight for this (other than Dennis Kucinich, of course) is Patrick Kennedy, who was breathing fire and righteously condemning the press on the floor of the House for their terrible irresponsibility:

These people deserve praise for their decision to stand up for peace in Congress! Here’s a tool from the House website to write to any representative that you wish to:…

If you want to write to yours (like mine, Democrat Allyson Schwartz of PA-13) for voting against this or if you want to praise a representative for supporting it, please do so!

And while you’re at it, why not join me on March 20th at the peace march in Washington DC? I’ll be with the World Can’t Wait people, carrying an American flag with the stars in the shape of a peace sign…

Pentagon Advisers Rake In Billions Off Their Own Advice

Super Pentagon Conflict of Interest: Advisors Rake in Billions

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On January 5, 2010 the U.S. Department of Defense announced the appointment of 39 new members, and 12 senior fellows, to the Defense Science Board (DSB) -- a federal panel that provides "independent, informed advice and opinion on scientific, technical, manufacturing, acquisition process, and other matters of special interest to the Department of Defense."

In a handout accompanying the Pentagon's press release, new members -- who serve one- to four-year terms -- were identified mostly by their former government jobs and past employers, with only a few current affiliations given.

At a quick glance, the new roster of Defense Science Board consultants looks to be a select group of eminent former federal officials, top academics and a handful of industry executives. On further investigation, a more troubling picture emerges. While it often isn't apparent in their short biographies, the people overseeing top defense contractors that sell the Pentagon billions of dollars in scientific and technical innovations each year, are, in fact, the very people advising the Pentagon on what scientific and technical matters to focus on in the years ahead.

Founded in 1956, the Defense Science Board was designed to provide the Pentagon with general guidance based on cutting-edge scientific and technical expertise, not specific suggestions on which weapons systems, vehicles or other materiel to purchase. However, the board produces numerous influential reports each year and wields more power than most DoD study groups since it reports directly to the Defense Secretary and the Under Secretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics -- the person who controls the Pentagon's purse strings.

That man, Ashton Carter, who, upon taking office last year, was expected to shake up the culture of the military-corporate complex, stated on the announcement of the new appointees, "Secretary of Defense [Robert] Gates believes the DSB needs to be a professional board representing the best scientific and expert advice available to the Department of Defense." A glimpse at the current resumes of new DSB members and fellows raises questions about just who these powerful men and women are really “representing” and whether anything much has changed at the Pentagon.

Even in the military-corporate complex world of Pentagon-paid propagandists and lavish lobbying, the DSB members whose current affiliations are listed in the handout should raise eyebrows. One, Wanda Austin is the president and chief executive officer of the Aerospace Corporation, a top-tier defense contractor that received more than $800 million in contracts from the Pentagon in 2009.

Another, Maureen Baginski, is a former executive assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who, only days before being named to the DSB, was appointed vice president of intelligence business, and also national security adviser, at Serco, a defense contractor that received more than $290 million in DoD contracts in 2009.

Also among those disclosing their present affiliations are former DoD general counsel, Judith Miller, now the general counsel, senior vice president and member of the board of directors of Bechtel (which received DoD contracts worth more than $2 billion in 2009) and Lewis Von Thaer, the president of General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems, a division of the fourth largest U.S. defense contractor (and the beneficiary of $16 billion in contracts from the Pentagon in 2009).

Less apparently tied to the military-corporate complex are a number of the seemingly innocuous academics on the panel. Many of these individuals, however, actually hail from major defense contractors, perhaps none more so than those affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and its Lincoln Laboratory. For decades, Lincoln Labs has been aiding the Pentagon with high-tech solutions to problems encountered in its war-making efforts abroad. Not surprisingly, Lincoln Laboratory's advisory board is a who's-who of DSB members. There's Eric Evans, director of Lincoln Labs and chairman of its steering committee. He is joined on the board by Donald Kerr, who the DSB bills only as a "former principal deputy director [of] national intelligence, and [professor at] George Mason University." Kerr also served as an executive vice president and director at mega-defense contractor Science Applications International Corporation (now SAIC) and currently sits on the board of trustees of the MIT-created, quasi-governmental defense contractor MITRE (which received $797 million from the Pentagon in 2009).

Also on the Lincoln Labs advisory board is John Stenbit, a former assistant secretary of defense for Networks and Information Integration, who is billed by the DSB as an "independent consultant." What's left unacknowledged in the DoD press release is that he too sits on the board of trustees of MITRE and serves on the board of directors of defense contractors ViaSat Inc. and Loral Space & Communications. Still another member of Lincoln Laboratory's advisory board is Miriam John. Billed by the DSB simply as a "vice president emeritus, Sandia National Laboratories, and independent consultant," she has also, since 2007, sat on the board of directors of SAIC, which took home more than $3 billion in contracts from the DoD in 2009.

MIT isn’t alone among colleges. In late January, new Defense Science Board-member Stephen Cross, the vice president of the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) and director of the Georgia Tech Research Institute, told a student newspaper, "There are people from everywhere from very high-level people in the Department of Defense to one person who used to be the CIA director" on the DSB. For his part, Cross said he would likely act as "a technical expert on software and architecture of systems and systems engineering and application of systems engineering principles…." He continued, "Any large organization is slow to change. So sometimes these studies are to try to help show that there is a better way to do things." Change, of course, means research and development and, in 2009, Georgia Tech received more than $130 million in contracts from the Pentagon -- much of it for R&D.

In its press announcement, the Defense Science Board notes John Deutch is a "former deputy secretary of defense" and that he currently works for MIT. What isn't mentioned is that Deutch is a former CIA director (and was also, as Susan Ferrechio of the Washington Examiner writes, "stripped of his security clearance after it was discovered he downloaded classified information on his home computer"). Also notable by its absence in his bio is the fact that Deutch, in addition to serving on the board of directors of Citigroup, the mammoth bank that got a sweetheart bailout deal from the federal government in 2008, also sits on the board of directors at defense giant Raytheon, the fifth largest DoD contractor of 2009 (with more than $15 billion in contracts). And he isn't alone. Fellow DSB member Taylor W. Lawrence (PDF) is not only a former staff director of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, but today serves as a vice president at Raytheon and heads its Missile Systems division.

The list and the omissions go on and on. Michael W. Hagee (PDF) is, indeed, as his DSB bio says, a former commandant of the Marine Corps and the president and CEO of the Admiral Nimitz Foundation, which runs the Texas-based National Museum of the Pacific War. Hagee is also, however, on the Board of Directors of Cobham plc, a defense contractor that received hundreds of millions of dollars in deals from the Pentagon in 2009.

The DSB bills Paul J. Kern as a "former Commanding General, Army Materiel Command," but he's really so much more. Kern is a revolving-door general extraordinaire who parlayed his 40 years in the Army into a retirement filled with fingers in an exceptional number of contractors' pies. For example, Kern sits on the board of directors of multi-billion dollar defense contractor ITT, military robot-maker iRobot and military contractor CoVant; serves as the president and chief operating officer of defense contractor Am General; is adviser at the Battelle Memorial Institute, another defense contractor; and serves as a senior counselor at the Cohen Group, a consulting firm headed by former defense secretary William Cohen that boasts it "knows that getting to 'yes' in the aerospace and defense market -- whether in the United States or abroad -- requires that companies have a thorough, up-to-date understanding of the thinking of government decision makers."

Kern isn't alone at iRobot. Jacques Gansler is not only a former Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics and on faculty at defense contractor, the University of Maryland, as his DSB biography states, but also sits on iRobot's board of directors.

In its press hand-out, the Defense Science Board hailed George Schneiter as both the former director of strategic and tactical systems in Office of the Secretary of Defense and an "independent consultant," without listing the firms he had worked for. In fact, Schneiter has served as a consultant to defense contractors like Boeing, the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) and Aero Thermo Technology, in addition to working for the Aerospace Corporation. IDA, a non-profit corporation that administers three federally funded research and development centers, is also home to new Defense Science Board-member David S. C. Chu who took over as its president and CEO after serving as the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness at the Pentagon.

In its press materials, the DSB also noted that James Shields works for Draper Laboratory. Once the Instrumentation Laboratory at MIT, the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory Inc. formally separated from the university during the Vietnam War, while still maintaining close associations with MIT researchers. Today, Shields serves as president and CEO of Draper, whose stated mission is to "pioneer in the application of science and technology in the national interest." What this really meant, in 2009, was over $400 million in contracts from the U.S. Navy, with lesser sums from the Army and Air Force.

New Defense Science Board senior fellow Ruth David is indeed a former deputy director for science and technology at the Central Intelligence Agency. She also, however, serves as president and CEO of Analytic Services Inc, a defense contractor that did tens of millions worth of business with the Department of Defense (as well as the Department of Homeland Security) in 2009. Alongside her is new DSB member Robert Lucky, who is billed only as a "former corporate vice president, research -- Telcordia Technologies, and independent consultant," but now serves as Analytic Services' chairman of the board of trustees. Similarly, Ronald Kerber, whom the DSB refers to as a "former deputy under secretary of defense for research and advanced technology and former executive vice president, Whirlpool Corp," was also formerly a vice president at defense giant McDonnell Douglas and currently also sits on Analytic Services' board of trustees.

It remains to be seen if the many defense contractors represented on the Defense Science Board end up doing more business with the Pentagon in the future. Until greater scrutiny is given by the mainstream media and government watchdogs, we're unlikely to know whether top industry insiders from companies with many millions, or even billions, to gain annually, can truly provide "independent, informed advice and opinion" on how the Pentagon will spend American tax dollars in the years to come.

The Business Roundtable: The Most Powerful Corporate Business Club Most Americans Have Never Heard of

The Most Powerful Destructive Corporate Business Club Most Americans Have Never Heard of

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Editor's Note: The following is Part III of David DeGraw's report, "The Economic Elite vs. People of the USA." AlterNet previously ran Part I and Part II.

DeGraw writes in the introduction to his report:

"It has now become evident to a critical mass that the Republican and Democratic parties, along with all three branches of our government, have been bought off by a well-organized Economic Elite who are tactically destroying our way of life. The harsh truth is that 99% of the US population no longer has political representation. The US economy, government and tax system is now blatantly rigged against us.Current statistical societal indicators clearly demonstrate that a strategic attack has been launched and an analysis of current governmental policies prove that conditions for 99% of Americans will continue to deteriorate. The Economic Elite have engineered a financial coup and have brought war to our doorstep. . . and make no mistake, they have launched a war to eliminate the US middle class."


Part III: Exposing Our Enemy: Meet the Economic Elite

I don’t view the Economic Elite as a small group of men who meet in secrecy to control the world. They do feature elements of conspiracy and are clearly composed of secretive organizations like the Bilderberg Group -- this is not a conspiracy theory, this is a conspiracy fact - but as a whole the Economic Elite are primarily united by ideology. They’re made up of thousands of individuals who subscribe to an ideology of exploitation and the belief that wealth and resources need to be concentrated into the fewest hands possible (theirs), at the expense of the many.

That being said, there are some definite lead players in this group and it is important that we are not too vague and expose the individuals who publicly lead them. Focusing on the fundamental structure of the US economy, we have people like Hank Paulson, Tim Geithner, Ben Bernanke, Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, Alan Greenspan, Lloyd Blankfein, Jamie Dimon, John Mack, Vikram Pandit,and John Thain.

In total, the Economic Elite are made up of about 0.5% of the US population. At the center of this group is the Business Roundtable, an organization representing Fortune 500 CEOs that is also interlocked with several lead elite organizations. Most Americans have never heard of the Business Roundtable. However, in my analysis, it is the most influential and powerful Economic Elite organization.

“The Business Roundtable joined the Business Council at the heart of both the corporate community and the policy-formation network and now has the most powerful role…. The Roundtable’s interlocks with other policy groups and with think tanks are presented [below].” -– G. William Domhoff, Who Rules America?

The Roundtable’s first year of operation was 1972, which coincided with the beginning of the CEO salary explosion, and has been the driving force behind the unprecedented concentration of wealth since their inception. Their dominance over the US economy and government is unparalleled. Their members are a Who’s Who of everything that is wrong with our economy. Here is a partial list of some of their lead members:

——-Lloyd C. Blankfein, Goldman Sachs
——-James Dimon, JPMorgan Chase & Co.
——-James P. Gorman, Morgan Stanley
——-Vikram S. Pandit, Citigroup, Inc.
——-Brian T. Moynihan, Bank of America
——-Brendan McDonagh, HSBC
——-Robert W. Selander, MasterCard Incorporated
——-Kenneth I. Chenault, American Express Company
——-Rupert Murdoch, News Corporation
——-Glenn A. Britt, Time Warner Cable Inc.
——-Philippe Dauman, Viacom, Inc.
——-Jeffrey R. Immelt, General Electric Company
——-Brian L. Roberts, Comcast Corporation
——-Steven A. Ballmer, Microsoft Corporation
——-John T. Chambers, Cisco Systems, Inc.
——-Randall L. Stephenson, AT&T Inc.
——-Ivan G. Seidenberg, Verizon Communications
——-David G. DeWalt, McAfee, Inc.
——-Steven R. Loranger, ITT Corporation
——-Paul T. Hanrahan, AES Corporation, The
——-Riley P. Bechtel, Bechtel Group, Inc.
——-W. James McNerney , Boeing Company, The
——-Rex W. Tillerson, Exxon Mobil Corporation
——-Marvin E. Odum, Shell Oil Company
——-John S. Watson, Chevron Corporation
——-James J. Mulva, ConocoPhillips
——-John B. Hess, Hess Corporation
——-James E. Rogers Duke Energy Corporation
——-J. Larry Nichols, Devon Energy Corporation
——-Ronald A. Williams, Aetna Inc.
——-David Cordani, CIGNA
——-Jeffrey B. Kindler , Pfizer Inc.
——-Angela F. Braly, WellPoint, Inc.
——-John C. Lechleiter, Eli Lilly and Company
——-Edward B. Rust, Jr., State Farm
——-Andrew N. Liveris, Dow Chemical
——-James W. Owens, Caterpillar Inc.
——-Ellen J. Kullman, DuPont
——-Edward E. Whitacre Jr., General Motors Company
——-Michael T. Duke, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

The Business Roundtable is the most powerful activist organization in the United States. Their leaders regularly lobby members of Congress behind closed doors and often meet privately with the President and his administration. Any legislation that affects Roundtable members has almost zero possibility of passing without their support.

For three major examples, look at healthcare and financial reform, along with the military budget. The healthcare reform bill devolved into what amounts to an insurance industry bailout and was drastically altered by Roundtable lobbyists representing interests like WellPoint, Aetna, Cigna, Pfizer, Eli Lilly and Johnson & Johnson. Obama and Congress are trying to please the Roundtable with a bill that supports their interests. This led to the dropping of the public-option put forth in the House bill. However, when it came to finishing the bill, Roundtable members began to walk away from the process. That’s the real reason why the reform bill has stalled. Obama met with the Roundtable on February 24th, in hopes of getting healthcare reform back on track. After that meeting, he held a bipartisan healthcare meeting with members of Congress.

Also addressed in Obama’s meeting with the Roundtable are issues concerning financial reform. Almost every aspect of financial reform has been D.O.A. thanks to Roundtable lobbyists representing the interests of Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, Bank of America, HSBC, Master Card and American Express. They even pushed to make sure Ben Bernanke was reconfirmed as the head of the Federal Reserve and they have also guided Obama into focusing on deficit reduction, now that their member companies are healthy again and making record profits after receiving trillions in government subsidies. The Roundtable played a pivotal role in the appointment of Hank Paulson, formerly the CEO of Roundtable member Goldman Sachs, who replaced Roundtable member John Snow as US Treasury Secretary. The Roundtable also strongly lobbied on behalf of current Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and White House National Economic Council Director Larry Summers. Although there has been recent talk of Geithner being replaced at the Treasury, the lead choice to replace him is Jamie Dimon, Roundtable member and CEO of JP Morgan Chase.

The drastic rise in military spending is also a result of Roundtable lobbyists pushing the interests of large military companies like Boeing and Bechtel, along with the largest oil companies like ExxonMobil, Shell, Hess and Chevron.

The Roundtable tells politicians what they want done, and the politicians do it. At times, Roundtable members even write the laws themselves. On financial reform alone, those representing Wall Street firms gave “$42 million to lawmakers, mostly to members of the House and Senate banking committees and House and Senate leaders.” During the 2008 election cycle, they gave $155 million: $88 million to Democrats and $67 million to Republicans. Keep in mind, this is the spending on just their financial reform initiative. When it came to health reform, they gave even more.

When it comes to getting elected, over 90% of the time the candidate who simply spends more money on their campaign wins the election. The Roundtable and politicians recognize this fact, so the overwhelming majority of current elected officials relied heavily on campaign funding from Roundtable members, including President Obama.

Shortly after Obama’s inauguration he held a meeting with Roundtable members at the St. Regis Hotel. The president of the Business Roundtable is John J. Castellani. Throughout the first nine months of Obama’s presidency, Castellani met with him at the White House more than any other person, with the exception of Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue. If you look at the records of people who have spent the most time with Obama in the White House, other than these two, another frequent visitor is Edward Yingling, the president of the American Bankers Association.

These organizations - the Business Roundtable, Chamber of Commerce and the American Bankers Association - along with the Federal Reserve, a secretive quasi-government private institution, form the center of the Economic Elite’s power structure. Since the bailout, the Federal Reserve has been working closely with private firm BlackRock. Due to this relationship, BlackRock has emerged as the world’s largest money manager and now manages more assets than the Federal Reserve. They also “manage many of the Treasury Department’s big investments.”

On a global level, you have economic institutions like the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, and international treaties like NAFTA. These organizations already form a de facto world government that has rights beyond our constitutional rights and national sovereignty. If the WTO makes a ruling that goes against US law, the WTO ruling supersedes US law and wins out.

Here is how Global Exchange explains these global institutions:

“The World Trade Organization is the most powerful legislative and judicial body in the world. By promoting the ‘free trade’ agenda of multinational corporations above the interests of local communities, working families, and the environment, the WTO has systematically undermined democracy around the world…. Unlike United Nations treaties, the International Labor Organization conventions, or multilateral environmental agreements, WTO rules can be enforced through sanctions. This gives the WTO more power than any other international body. The WTO’s authority even eclipses national governments.

[World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF)]

When the Bank and the Fund lend money to debtor countries, the money comes with strings attached. These strings come in the form of policy prescriptions called ’structural adjustment policies.’ These policies—or SAPs, as they are sometimes called—require debtor governments to open their economies to penetration by foreign corporations, allowing access to the country’s workers and environment at bargain basement prices. Structural adjustment policies mean across-the-board privatization of public utilities and publicly owned industries. They mean the slashing of government budgets, leading to cutbacks in spending on health care and education…. And, as their imposition in country after country in Latin America, Africa, and Asia has shown, they lead to deeper inequality and environmental destruction.”

In addition to dominating our political and economic system, the Economic Elite have already created their own private military. Their private military is now more powerful than the US military. As mentioned earlier, private mercenaries now outnumber US soldiers and receive the lion’s share of military spending.

Corporations like SAIC, Blackwater, Bechtel, Raytheon and Halliburton are composed of the most elite worldwide intelligence and military officers. These are the highly profitable and powerful entities that the Economic Elite turn to when national militaries and intelligence agencies - like the CIA, FBI or other government run entities - can’t get the job done.

For instance, SAIC, a “stealth company” that most people have never heard of, is considered to be the brains of the entire US intelligence apparatus, more powerful than the much more popularly known CIA, NSA and FBI - all agencies that SAIC is deeply intertwined with. I urge you to research SAIC to get a crash course in how the true power structure functions. You can start by reading an excellent investigative report by Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele titled, “Washington’s $8 billion shadow.”

The Economic Elite dominate US intelligence and military operations. Other than the obvious geo-strategic reasons, the never-ending and ever-expanding War on Terror’s objective is to drain the US population of more resources and further rob US taxpayers, while using our tax money to create a private military that is more powerful than the US military.

I think any logical person can see the ominous implications of having such a vast and powerful private military and intelligence complex, created for and used, in secrecy, by the Economic Elite. Outside of the blatant economic policy attacks, heavily armed and sophisticated covert powers led by small groups of Economic Elite are now a serious risk and present danger.

In conclusion, these economic and government policy forming organizations, along with their private military and intelligence corporations, form the core of the Economic Elite power structure.