Monday, November 21, 2011

Asia-Pacific: US Ramps Up Global War Agenda

Asia-Pacific: US Ramps Up Global War Agenda

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Like a schoolyard bully, President Barack Obama is flexing American military muscle as he currently sweeps through the Asia-Pacific region. The nominal impetus for the tour was the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit held in Hawaii last week. But rather than discussing “economics” (the E in APEC), the salient focus for Obama and his entourage appears to be “war” – and in particular laying down battle lines to China.

Testy relations with China is nothing new for Washington given recent months of US haranguing over trade and finance, but what Obama’s bombast signals is a sinister ramping up of the militarist agenda towards Beijing.

As if bouncing underlings and lackeys into his gang, the American president has moved on from Honolulu with stopovers in Australia, Indonesia and elsewhere. Given the primary economic power of China in the hemisphere, it might be thought appropriate for Obama to make a cordial visit to Beijing to discuss partnerships and policies to revive the global economy. But no. The omission of China on this major US tour seems to be a deliberate snub to Beijing and a message to the region: that China is to be isolated and ringfenced. This is the stuff of warmongering writ large.

The blatant aggression is naturally smoothed over and made palatable by the Western mainstream media. Reporting on Obama’s unilateral belligerence at the APEC, the Washington Post bemoans: “Try as he might to focus Asian and Pacific leaders on forging new economic partnerships during a regional summit here, President Obama has spent much of his time in private meetings with his counterparts discussing another pressing concern: national security [that is, US military power].”

The Financial Times reports breathlessly: “Barack Obama will not set foot in China during his swing through the Asia-Pacific region… yet the country’s rapid economic ascent and military advances will provide the backdrop for almost everything he does on the trip.”

Note the assertion that it is China’s “military advances” that are prompting US concerns, not the more reasonable and realistic observation that Washington is the one beating the war drums.

The FT goes on to say: “The Pentagon is quietly working on a new strategy dubbed the AirSea Battle concept, which is designed to find ways to counter Chinese military plans to deny access to US forces in the seas surrounding China.”

In “seas surrounding China” it may be thought by some as entirely acceptable for Beijing to “deny access to US forces”. But not, it seems, for the scribes at the FT and other Western mainstream media, who transform US offence/Chinese defence into Chinese offence/US defence. One can only imagine how that same media would report it if China announced that it was intending to patrol nuclear warships off California.

As previously noted by Michel Chossudovsky at Global Research, the South China Sea’s untapped reserves of oil and other minerals are a major driver in US maneouvring. China stands to have natural territorial rights to these deposits and has much more valid claim to the wealth than the US, whose counter-claims on the matter seem at best arrogant and at worst provocative. Again, one can imagine the US and mainstream media reaction if China was eyeing oil and gas fields off Alaska.

But there is a bigger geopolitical agenda here, as Global Research has consistently analysed. The increasing US militarism in Asia-Pacific is apiece with the globalization of war by the US/NATO and its allies. The shift in policy is, as the Washington Post lamely tells us, “the US reasserting itself as a leader in the Asia-Pacific after years of focusing on [illegal] wars in the Middle East.”

However, this is not a dynamic that should be viewed as somehow normal and acceptable. This is, as we have stated, an escalation of global aggression by powers that are “addicted to war” as a matter of policy.

Top of the US hit list is China. Washington’s criminal wars in Iraq and Libya have in particular been aimed at cutting China out of legitimate energy investments in the Middle and East and North Africa (and Africa generally). That in itself must be seen by Beijing as a flagrant assault on its overseas’ assets. Not content, it seems, with achieving that dispossession of vital Chinese energy interests, Washington is now pushing its insatiable appetite all the way into China’s domain. But such unprecedented aggression is made to appear by the US government and the dutiful mainstream media as a natural entitlement where refusal by the other party is perversely presented as “military plans to deny access”.

Obama’s visit to Australia this week is undoubtedly aimed at further twisting the threat to China. In Darwin, the US president is overseeing the opening of a base that will see for the first time US Marines being able to conduct war games on Australian soil. Thousands of kilometers from China, this development may at first seem inconsequential. But then we are told that the move is designed to station US military “out of the reach of Chinese ballistic missiles”. The insinuation is unmistakable and menacing: China is an imminent threat. Somehow, without issuing any such aggressive moves, Beijing is suddenly made to look as if it is prepared to launch ballistic missiles at US installations.

It is tempting to call this US-led dynamic of global war “dysfunctional”. But, disturbingly, it is not merely dysfunctional. The global war dynamic is a function of the collapse of capitalism and democracy in the US and Europe (the brutal police crackdown on Occupy protesters across the US is evidence of the latter). War on the world is the logical outcome of this failed system, as history has already shown us with the horrors of World War One and Two.

Karl Marx once noted: “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce”. To avert another “farce” in which the horrors of history are repeated, we need to once and for all challenge the root cause: capitalism.

Asia-Pacific: US Ramps Up Global War Agenda

Asia-Pacific: US Ramps Up Global War Agenda

Go To Original

Like a schoolyard bully, President Barack Obama is flexing American military muscle as he currently sweeps through the Asia-Pacific region. The nominal impetus for the tour was the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit held in Hawaii last week. But rather than discussing “economics” (the E in APEC), the salient focus for Obama and his entourage appears to be “war” – and in particular laying down battle lines to China.

Testy relations with China is nothing new for Washington given recent months of US haranguing over trade and finance, but what Obama’s bombast signals is a sinister ramping up of the militarist agenda towards Beijing.

As if bouncing underlings and lackeys into his gang, the American president has moved on from Honolulu with stopovers in Australia, Indonesia and elsewhere. Given the primary economic power of China in the hemisphere, it might be thought appropriate for Obama to make a cordial visit to Beijing to discuss partnerships and policies to revive the global economy. But no. The omission of China on this major US tour seems to be a deliberate snub to Beijing and a message to the region: that China is to be isolated and ringfenced. This is the stuff of warmongering writ large.

The blatant aggression is naturally smoothed over and made palatable by the Western mainstream media. Reporting on Obama’s unilateral belligerence at the APEC, the Washington Post bemoans: “Try as he might to focus Asian and Pacific leaders on forging new economic partnerships during a regional summit here, President Obama has spent much of his time in private meetings with his counterparts discussing another pressing concern: national security [that is, US military power].”

The Financial Times reports breathlessly: “Barack Obama will not set foot in China during his swing through the Asia-Pacific region… yet the country’s rapid economic ascent and military advances will provide the backdrop for almost everything he does on the trip.”

Note the assertion that it is China’s “military advances” that are prompting US concerns, not the more reasonable and realistic observation that Washington is the one beating the war drums.

The FT goes on to say: “The Pentagon is quietly working on a new strategy dubbed the AirSea Battle concept, which is designed to find ways to counter Chinese military plans to deny access to US forces in the seas surrounding China.”

In “seas surrounding China” it may be thought by some as entirely acceptable for Beijing to “deny access to US forces”. But not, it seems, for the scribes at the FT and other Western mainstream media, who transform US offence/Chinese defence into Chinese offence/US defence. One can only imagine how that same media would report it if China announced that it was intending to patrol nuclear warships off California.

As previously noted by Michel Chossudovsky at Global Research, the South China Sea’s untapped reserves of oil and other minerals are a major driver in US maneouvring. China stands to have natural territorial rights to these deposits and has much more valid claim to the wealth than the US, whose counter-claims on the matter seem at best arrogant and at worst provocative. Again, one can imagine the US and mainstream media reaction if China was eyeing oil and gas fields off Alaska.

But there is a bigger geopolitical agenda here, as Global Research has consistently analysed. The increasing US militarism in Asia-Pacific is apiece with the globalization of war by the US/NATO and its allies. The shift in policy is, as the Washington Post lamely tells us, “the US reasserting itself as a leader in the Asia-Pacific after years of focusing on [illegal] wars in the Middle East.”

However, this is not a dynamic that should be viewed as somehow normal and acceptable. This is, as we have stated, an escalation of global aggression by powers that are “addicted to war” as a matter of policy.

Top of the US hit list is China. Washington’s criminal wars in Iraq and Libya have in particular been aimed at cutting China out of legitimate energy investments in the Middle and East and North Africa (and Africa generally). That in itself must be seen by Beijing as a flagrant assault on its overseas’ assets. Not content, it seems, with achieving that dispossession of vital Chinese energy interests, Washington is now pushing its insatiable appetite all the way into China’s domain. But such unprecedented aggression is made to appear by the US government and the dutiful mainstream media as a natural entitlement where refusal by the other party is perversely presented as “military plans to deny access”.

Obama’s visit to Australia this week is undoubtedly aimed at further twisting the threat to China. In Darwin, the US president is overseeing the opening of a base that will see for the first time US Marines being able to conduct war games on Australian soil. Thousands of kilometers from China, this development may at first seem inconsequential. But then we are told that the move is designed to station US military “out of the reach of Chinese ballistic missiles”. The insinuation is unmistakable and menacing: China is an imminent threat. Somehow, without issuing any such aggressive moves, Beijing is suddenly made to look as if it is prepared to launch ballistic missiles at US installations.

It is tempting to call this US-led dynamic of global war “dysfunctional”. But, disturbingly, it is not merely dysfunctional. The global war dynamic is a function of the collapse of capitalism and democracy in the US and Europe (the brutal police crackdown on Occupy protesters across the US is evidence of the latter). War on the world is the logical outcome of this failed system, as history has already shown us with the horrors of World War One and Two.

Karl Marx once noted: “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce”. To avert another “farce” in which the horrors of history are repeated, we need to once and for all challenge the root cause: capitalism.

Retired Philadelphia Police Captain Ray Lewis Arrested at OWS, Calls NYPD Rationale ‘a Farce’

Retired Philadelphia Police Captain Ray Lewis Arrested at OWS, Calls NYPD Rationale ‘a Farce’

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“As soon as I’m let out of jail, I’ll be right back here and they’ll have to arrest me again.” – Ray Lewis



Today 200-plus people were arrested before 1:00 p.m. in New York City for participating in peaceful, non-violent protests related to Occupy Wall Street, which has seen perhaps its most trying turn of events in the past week. Among those arrested was retired Philadelphia Police Captain Ray Lewis (pictured above), who said, “All the cops are just workers for the one percent, and they don’t even realize they’re being exploited.”

Ray Lewis, who retired in 2004, has a lot of interesting things to say, and I want you to hear as much of it as possible.

“They complained about the park being dirty,” he said over the OWS Livefeed last night. “Here they are worrying about dirty parks when people are starving to death, where people are freezing, where people are sleeping in subways and they’re concerned about a dirty park. That’s obnoxious, it’s arrogant, it’s ignorant, it’s disgusting.”

What does that say about NYPD’s credibility? This guy did not run the police department of Anytown, USA – he ran the police department in Philadelphia, a city that can only be compared to a few other American cities in terms of size and scope, namely New York.

And that is where the heart of the protest has returned, after switching coasts and residing in Oakland, California for a moment. Not to detract from other occupations, but the mother of them all has returned to pivotal status.

Mayor Bloomberg has taken full responsibility for the NYPD’s actions two days ago. Last night Keith Olberman called for Mayor Bloomberg to resign. What does that say about him, that on national television his resignation is being requested?

To give an idea why Olberman took it to this level, an Associated Press report issued less than an hour ago reports that protesters were “bloodied during the arrests” today. Forget the question of legitimacy, the tactics are wrong.

Peaceful, verbal negotiation is systematically being rejected as a viable tactic in favor of physical aggression.

In another excerpt from a late night (circa 2 a.m.) interview done over OWS Livestream, Ray Lewis said the following about police tactics:

You should, by law, only use force to protect someone’s life or to protect them from being bodily injured. If you’re not protecting somebody’s life or protecting them from bodily injury, there’s no need to use force. And the number one thing that they always have in their favor that they seldom use is negotiation–continue to talk, and talk and talk to people. You have nothing to lose by that. This bullrush–what happened last night is totally uncalled for when they did not use negotiation long enough.

He is referring to the eviction, during which protesters were maimed, their property destroyed, and for what? Cleanliness? That reasoning is an insult to 1st Amendment rights, Mayor Bloomberg.

Today marks two months of Occupy Wall Street, and the authorities have made their position clear. New York City is at fever pitch.

Inform yourself, talk to your friends and family, understand that popular movements in the United States are fundamentally American. “Every generation needs a new revolution.” – Thomas Jefferson.

We skipped a couple generations, but this one has found its revolution in Occupy Everywhere. Next time you hear someone dismiss the Occupy movement as a bunch of hippies, remember Ray Lewis.

If you are thinking about donating to an occupation, organizers of Occupy Wall Street encourage you to donate to other chapters – as it were – since in Manhattan they have already received ample resources.

And for your viewing pleasure, the man himself, Ray Lewis:

And here’s Ray Lewis getting arrested by New York’s finest:

How the 99% Won in the Fight for Worker Rights

How the 99% Won in the Fight for Worker Rights

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No headlines announced it. No TV pundits called it. But on the evening of November 8th, Occupy Wall Street, the populist uprising built on economic justice and corruption-free politics that’s spread like a lit match hitting a trail of gasoline, notched its first major political victory, and in the unlikeliest of places: Ohio.

You might have missed OWS's win amid the recent wave of Occupy crackdowns. Police raided Occupy Denver, Occupy Salt Lake City, Occupy Oakland, Occupy Portland, and Occupy Seattle in a five-day span. Hundreds were arrested. And then, in the early morning hours on Tuesday, New York City police descended on Occupy Wall Street itself, fists flying and riot shields at the ready, with orders from Mayor Michael Bloomberg to evict the protesters. Later that day, a judge ruled that they couldn't rebuild their young community, dealing a blow to the Occupy protest that inspired them all.

Instead of simply condemning the eviction, many pundits and columnists praised it or highlighted what they considered its bright side. The Washington Post's Ezra Klein wrote that Bloomberg had done Occupy Wall Street a favor. After all, he argued, something dangerous or deadly was bound to happen at OWS sooner or later, especially with winter soon to arrive. Zuccotti Park, Klein added, "was cleared... in a way that will temporarily reinvigorate the protesters and give Occupy Wall Street the best possible chance to become whatever it will become next."

The New York Times' Paul Krugman wrote that OWS "should be grateful" for Bloomberg's eviction decree: "By acting so badly, Bloomberg has made it easy to see who won’t be truthful and can’t handle open discourse. He’s also saved OWS from what was probably its greatest problem, the prospect that it would just fade away as time went on and the days grew colder."

Read between the lines and what Klein, Krugman, and others are really saying is: you had your occupation; now, get real. Start organizing, meaningfully connect your many Occupy protests, build a real movement. As these columnists see it, that movement -- whether you call it OccupyUSA, We Are the 99%, or the New Progressive Movement -- should now turn its attention to policy changes like a millionaire's tax, a financial transaction fee, or a constitutional amendment to nullify the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision that loosed a torrent of cash into American elections. It should think about supporting political candidates. It should start making a nuts-and-bolts difference in American politics.

But such assessments miss an important truth: Occupy Wall Street has already won its first victory its own way -- in Ohio, when voters repealed Republican governor John Kasich's law to slash bargaining rights for 350,000 public workers and gut what remained of organized labor's political power.

Commandeering the Conversation

Don't believe me? Then think back to this spring and summer, when Occupy Wall Street was just a glimmer in the imagination of a few activists, artists, and students. In Washington, the conversation, such as it was, concerned debt, deficit, and austerity. The discussion wasn’t about whether to slash spending, only about how much and how soon. The Washington Post's Greg Sargent called it the "Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop" -- and boy was he right.

A National Journal analysis in May found that the number of news articles in major newspapers mentioning "deficit" was climbing, while mentions of "unemployment" had plummeted. In the last week of July, the liberal blog ThinkProgress tallied 7,583 mentions of the word "debt" on MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News alone. "Unemployment"? A measly 427.

This all-deficit, all-the-time debate shaped the final debt-ceiling deal, in which House Speaker John Boehner and his "cut-and-grow"-loving GOP allies got just about everything they wanted. So lopsided was the debate in Washington that President Obama himself hailed the deal's bone-deep cuts to health research, public education, environmental protection, childcare, and infrastructure.

These cuts, the president explained, would bring the country to "the lowest level of annual domestic spending since Dwight Eisenhower was president." After studying the deal, Ethan Pollock of the Economic Policy Institute told me, "There's no way to square this plan with the president's 'Winning the Future' agenda. That agenda ends." Yet Obama said this as if it were a good thing.

Six weeks after Obama's speech, protesters heard the call of Adbusters, the Canadian anti-capitalist magazine, and followed the lead of a small crew of activists, writers, and students to "occupy Wall Street." A few hundred of them set up camp in Zuccotti Park, a small patch of concrete next door to Ground Zero. No one knew how long the occupation would last, or what its impact would be.

What a game-changing few months it’s been. Occupy Wall Street has inspired 750 events around the world, and hundreds of (semi-)permanent encampments around the United States. In so doing, the protests have wrestled the national discussion on the economy away from austerity and toward gaping income inequality (the 99% versus 1% theme), outsized executive compensation, and the plain buying and selling of American politicians by lobbyists and campaign donors.

Mentions of the phrase "income inequality" in print publications, web stories, and broadcast transcripts spiked from 91 times a week in early September to nearly 500 in late October, according to the website Politico -- an increase of nearly 450%. In the second week of October, according to ThinkProgress, the words most uttered on MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News were "jobs" (2,738), "Wall Street" (2,387), and "Occupy" (1,278). (References to "debt" tumbled to 398.)

And here’s another sign of the way Occupy Wall Street has forced what it considers the most pressing economic issues for the country into the spotlight: conservatives have lately gone on the defensive by attacking the very existence of income inequality, even if to little effect. As AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka put it, "Give credit to the Occupy Wall Street movement (and historic inequality) for redefining the political narrative."

Wall Street in Ohio

The way Occupy Wall Street, with next to no direct access to the mainstream media, commandeered the national political narrative represents something of a stunning triumph. It also laid the groundwork for OWS's first political win.

Just as OWS was grabbing that narrative, labor unions and Democrats headed into the final stretch of one of their biggest fights of 2011: an up-or-down referendum on the fate of Ohio governor John Kasich’s anti-union law, also known as SB 5. Passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature in March, it sought to curb the collective bargaining rights of 350,000 police, firefighters, teachers, snowplow drivers, and other public workers. It also gutted the political clout of unions by making it harder for them to collect dues and fund their political action committees. After failing to overturn similar laws in Wisconsin and Michigan, the SB 5 fight was labor's last stand of 2011.

I spent a week in Ohio in early November interviewing dozens of people and reporting on the run-up to the SB 5 referendum. I visited heavily Democratic and Republican parts of the state, talking to liberals and conservatives, union leaders and activists. What struck me was how dramatically the debate had shifted in Ohio thanks in large part to the energy generated by Occupy Wall Street.

It was as if a great tide had lifted the pro-repeal forces in a way you only fully grasped if you were there. Organizers and volunteers had a spring in their step that hadn’t been evident in Wisconsin this summer during the recall elections of nine state senators targeted for their actions during the fight over Governor Scott Walker’s own anti-union law. Nearly everywhere I went in Ohio, people could be counted on to mention two things: the 99% -- that is, the gap between the rich and poor -- and the importance of protecting the rights of the cops and firefighters targeted by Kasich's law.

And not just voters or local activists either. I heard it from union leaders as well. Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, told me that her union had recruited volunteers from 15 different states for the final get-out-the-vote effort in Ohio. That, she assured me, wouldn't have happened without the energy generated by OWS. And when Henry herself went door-to-door in Ohio to drum up support for repealing SB 5, she said that she could feel its influence in home after home. "Every conversation was in the context of the 99% and the 1%, this discussion sparked by Occupy Wall Street."

This isn't to take anything away from labor's own accomplishments in Ohio. We Are Ohio, the labor-funded coalition that led the effort, collected nearly 1.3 million signatures this summer to put the repeal of SB 5 on the November ballot. (They needed just 230,000.) The group outspent its opponents $30 million to $8 million, a nearly four-to-one margin. And in the final days before the November 8th victory, We Are Ohio volunteers knocked on a million doors and made nearly a million phone calls. In the end, a stunning 2.14 million Ohioans voted to repeal SB 5 and only 1.35 million to keep it, a 61% to 39% margin. There were repeal majorities in 82 of Ohio's 88 counties, support that cut across age, class, race, and political ideologies.

Nonetheless, it’s undeniable that a mood change had hit Ohio -- and in a major way. Pro-worker organizers and volunteers benefited from something their peers in Wisconsin lacked: the wind of public opinion at their backs. Polls conducted in the run-up to Ohio's November 8th vote showed large majorities of Ohioans agreeing that income inequality was a problem. What's more, 60% of respondents in a Washington Post-ABC poll said the federal government should act to close that gap. Behind those changing numbers was the influence of Occupy Wall Street and other Occupy protests.

So, as the debate rages over what will happen to Occupy Wall Street after its eviction from Zuccotti Park, and some "experts" sneer at OWS and tell it to get real, just direct their attention to Ohio. Kasich's anti-union law might still be on the books if not for the force of OWS. And if the Occupy movement survives Mayor Bloomberg's eviction order and the winter season, if it regroups and adapts to life beyond Zuccotti Park, you can bet it will notch more political victories in 2012.

“Click here to read Tom Engelhardt's reponse”

Billionaires Use Tax Loophole to Lower Their Tax Rates to One Percent

Billionaires Use Tax Loophole to Lower Their Tax Rates to One Percent

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In 2009, 1,470 households reported income of more than $1 million but paid no federal income tax on it, through their use of various tax loopholes and shelters. Tax rates for millionaires have fallen by 25 percent since the mid-’90s, while one quarter of millionaires currently pay lower tax rates than the average middle-class household.

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Numbers like these are the driving force behind the Buffett rule, the administration’s proposal aimed at ensuring that millionaires can’t pay lower tax rates than middle-class families. To add to the pile of evidence that such a rule is necessary, Bloomberg News ran a segment today on billionaires who manipulate the tax code to lower their tax rate all the way down to one percent:

Warren Buffett became the de facto face of the effort to increase taxes for the nation’s wealthiest when he proclaimed his secretary had a higher tax rate than he does, his being 17 percent. But the real figure for billionaires is often a lot smaller than that. Sometimes they even have a tax rate as low as 1 percent.That’s because they derive the bulk of their income from stock appreciation, and they use complicated strategies — some of them — to make sure those gains don’t get classified as taxable income. Basically what they do is enter into transactions known as “variable pre-paid forward contracts” and it can enable them to defer paying capital gains tax until a later date…Much of the wealth never converts into income on a tax return.

Watch it:

The tax code is full of provisions that help the very wealthy, like the pernicious carried interest loophole or the preferential treatment of investment income. And the end result is a tax code that advantages the 1 percent over the 99 percent.

"Near Poor" Struggling Just Above Poverty Startle the Census

"Near Poor" Struggling Just Above Poverty Startle the Census

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Washington - They drive cars, but seldom new ones. They earn paychecks, but not big ones. Many own homes. Most pay taxes. Half are married, and nearly half live in the suburbs. None are poor, but many describe themselves as barely scraping by.

Down but not quite out, these Americans form a diverse group sometimes called “near poor” and sometimes simply overlooked — and a new count suggests they are far more numerous than previously understood.

When the Census Bureau [3] this month released a new measure of poverty [4], meant to better count disposable income, it began altering the portrait of national need. Perhaps the most startling differences between the old measure and the new involves data the government has not yet published, showing 51 million people with incomes less than 50 percent above the poverty line. That number of Americans is 76 percent higher than the official account, published in September. All told, that places 100 million people — one in three Americans — either in poverty or in the fretful zone just above it.

After a lost decade of flat wages and the worst downturn since the Great Depression [5], the findings can be thought of as putting numbers to the bleak national mood — quantifying the expressions of unease erupting in protests and political swings. They convey levels of economic stress sharply felt but until now hard to measure.

The Census Bureau, which published the poverty data two weeks ago, produced the analysis of those with somewhat higher income at the request of The New York Times. The size of the near-poor population took even the bureau’s number crunchers by surprise.

“These numbers are higher than we anticipated,” said Trudi J. Renwick, the bureau’s chief poverty statistician. “There are more people struggling than the official numbers show.”

Outside the bureau, skeptics of the new measure warned that the phrase “near poor” — a common term, but not one the government officially uses — may suggest more hardship than most families in this income level experience. A family of four can fall into this range, adjusted for regional living costs, with an income of up to $25,500 in rural North Dakota or $51,000 in Silicon Valley.

But most economists called the new measure better than the old, and many said the findings, while disturbing, comported with what was previously known about stagnant wages.

“It’s very consistent with everything we’ve been hearing in the last few years about families’ struggle, earnings not keeping up for the bottom half,” said Sheila Zedlewski, a researcher at the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan economic and social research group.

Patched together a half-century ago, the official poverty measure has long been seen as flawed. It ignores hundreds of billions the needy receive in food stamps, tax credits and other programs, and the similarly large sums paid in taxes, medical care and work expenses. The new method, called the Supplemental Poverty Measure [6], counts all those factors and adjusts for differences in the cost of living, which the official measure ignores.

The results scrambled the picture of poverty in many surprising ways. The measure shows less severe destitution, but a bit more overall poverty; fewer poor children, but more poor people over 65.

Of the 51 million who appear near poor under the fuller measure, nearly 20 percent were lifted up from poverty by benefits the official count overlooks. But more than half were pushed down from higher income levels: more than eight million by taxes, six million by medical expenses, and four million by work expenses like transportation and child care.

Demographically, they look more like “The Brady Bunch” than “The Wire.” Half live in households headed by a married couple; 49 percent live in the suburbs. Nearly half are non-Hispanic white, 18 percent are black and 26 percent are Latino.

Perhaps the most surprising finding is that 28 percent work full-time, year round. “These estimates defy the stereotypes of low-income families,” Ms. Renwick said.

Among them is Phyllis Pendleton, a social worker with Catholic Charities in Washington, who proudly displays the signs of a hard-won middle-class life. She has one BlackBerry and two cars (both Buicks from the 1990s), and a $230,000 house that she, her husband and two daughters will move into next week.

Combined, she and her husband, a janitor, make about $51,000 a year, more than 200 percent of the official poverty line. But they lose about a fifth to taxes, medical care and transportation to work — giving them a disposable income of about $40,000 a year.

Adjust the poverty threshold, as the new measure does, to $31,000 for the region’s high cost of living, and Ms. Pendleton’s income is 29 percent above the poverty line. That is to say, she is near poor.

While the phrase is new to her, the struggle it evokes is not.

“Living paycheck to paycheck,” is how she describes her survival strategy. “One bad bill will wipe you out.”

It took her three years to save $3,000 for the down payment on her house, which she got with subsidies from a nonprofit group, Capital Area Asset Builders. But even after cutting out meals at Red Lobster, movie nights and new clothes, she had to rely on government aid to get health insurance for her daughters, 11 and 13, and she is already worried about college tuition.

“I’m turning over every rock looking for scholarships,” she said. “The money’s out there, you just have to find it.”

The findings, which the Census Bureau plans to release on Monday, have already set off a contentious debate about how to describe such families: struggling, straitened, economically insecure?

Robert Rector, an analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, rejects the phrase “near poverty,” arguing that it conjures levels of dire need like hunger and homelessness experienced by a minority even among those actually poor.

“I don’t have any objection to this measure if you use the term ‘low-income,’ ” he said. “But the emotionally charged terms ‘poor’ or ‘near poor’ clearly suggest to most people a level of material hardship that doesn’t exist. It is deliberately used to mislead people.”

Bruce Meyer, an economist at the University of Chicago, warned that the numbers are likely to mask considerable diversity. Some households, especially the elderly, may have considerable savings. (Indeed, nearly one in five of the near poor own their homes mortgage-free.) But others may be getting help with public housing and food stamps.

“I do think this is a better measure, but I wouldn’t say that 100 million people are on the edge of starvation or anything close to that,” Mr. Meyer said.

But Ms. Zedlewski said the seeming ordinariness of these families is part of the point. “There are a lot of low-income Americans struggling to make ends meet, and we don’t pay enough attention to them,” she said.

One group likely to gain attention is older Americans. By the official count, only 22 percent of the elderly are either poor or near poor. By the alternate count, the figure rises to 34 percent.

That is still less than the share among children, 39 percent, but it erases about half the gap between the economic fortunes of the young and old recorded in the official count. The likeliest explanation is high medical costs.

Another surprising finding is that only a quarter of the near poor are insured, and 42 percent have private insurance. Indeed, the cost of paying the premiums is part of the previously uncounted expenses they bear.

Belinda Sheppard’s finances have been so battered in the past year, she finds herself wondering what storm will come next. Her adult daughter lost her job and moved in. Her adult son does not have one and cannot move out.

That leaves three adults getting by on $46,000 from her daughter’s unemployment check and the money Ms. Sheppard makes for a marketing firm, placing products in grocery stores. Take out $7,000 for taxes, transportation and medical care, and they have an income of about 130 percent of the poverty line — not poor, but close.

Ms. Sheppard pays $2,000 in rent and says her employer classifies her as part time to avoid offering her health insurance, even though she works 40 hours a week. Unable to buy it on her own, she crosses her fingers and tries to stay healthy.

“I try to work as many hours as I can, but my salary, it’s not enough for everything,” she said. “I pay my bills with very small wiggle room. Or none.”

Former JPMorgan Banker: Exploiting Consumers Is ‘The Purpose Of The Banking Organization’

Former JPMorgan Banker: Exploiting Consumers Is ‘The Purpose Of The Banking Organization’

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Wall Street banks, largely spared from the economic ruin felt by millions of Americans since the financial crisis of 2008, have returned to profitability, generating higher profits in the two-and-a-half years since the crisis than they did in nearly eight years preceding it. But that hasn’t stopped them from seeking new ways to generate revenue — like Bank of America’s proposed $5-a-month debit card fee or the millions banks have made from charging consumers to receive unemployment benefits or food stamps.

If all this makes Americans feel like Wall Street banks only view them as money-making tools, well, that’s because the banks apparently do. According to David Mooney, a former JPMorgan Chase employee, Wall Street banks see consumers as an “income stream” to exploit for profit-making purposes, Reuters reports:

David Mooney, chief executive officer of Alliant Credit Union in Chicago, one of the nation’s larger credit unions, used to work at a one of Wall Street’s top banks, JPMorgan Chase. There’s a vast cultural gap between Wall Street and his new world, he says: Old friends from the Street, he says, now jokingly refer to him as a “socialist.” A credit union is supposed to be run in the interests of all members, he says, while commercial bankers tend to see consumers as customers who can be “exploited” by layering on more fees.

Says Mooney: “I don’t say this lightly, but the consumer is simply an income stream and exploiting that is the purpose of the banking organization.”

Mooney’s bluntness may seem shocking, but his assessment shouldn’t. Wall Street banks made millions profiting off shoddy mortgage lending practices, setting the stage for the housing collapse that plunged millions of Americans into foreclosure. They made a mess of the foreclosure process, using robo-signers to speed foreclosures and foreclosing on homes they either didn’t own or that weren’t even in foreclosure. They sold deals to investors that they knew would fail, and took advantage of customers with outrageous overdraft, credit card, and other fees.

In the aftermath of the financial crisis and the horrors it exposed, Wall Street banksspent millions to prevent the passage of financial regulatory reform. Once the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act passed, they spent just as much trying to shape its rules. They opposed the formation of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the agency tasked with protecting consumers from predatory banking practices, and in concert with their Republican friends in Congress, have fought to shape who will lead the bureau and how it will work.

Unfortunately for Wall Street, it didn’t take blunt assessments like Mooney’s for Americans to take action. In October, 650,000 Americans joined credit unions, which, as Mooney noted, are “supposed to be run in the interests of all members.” 40,000more joined them on Bank Transfer Day earlier this month.

Wall Street, meanwhile, continues to ignore America’s anger at it, sipping champagne from rooftops while protesters march below.

Sen. Bernie Sanders: Deficit caused by wars, tax breaks and Wall Street

35 Facts About The Gutting Of America’s Industrial Might That Should Make You Very Angry

35 Facts About The Gutting Of America’s Industrial Might That Should Make You Very Angry

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Did you know that an average of 23 manufacturing facilities were shut down every single day in the United States last year? As World War II ended, the United States emerged as the greatest industrial power that the world has ever seen. But now America's industrial might is being gutted like a fish and both political parties seem totally unconcerned. Yes, we will always need trading relationships that are fair and balanced with other countries that have economic systems that are similar to our own. However, the truth is that most of our trading relationships are neither "fair" nor balanced. For example, China manipulates currency rates so that Chinese products are much cheaper than they should be, they brazenly steal our technology and we let them get away with it, they deeply subsidize their most important industries and they exploit their citizens by allowing them to be paid slave labor wages. How in the world does that resemble the "free market" at work? Predatory nations such as China do everything that they can to distort the free market. So why in the world would any rational economist ever recommend that we should keep trading with other countries that are cheating us blind? After you read the facts in this article about the gutting of America's industrial might, hopefully you will get very angry. We need the American people to start getting very upset about these very important issues.

Both major political parties promised us that globalization would be wonderful for the U.S. economy. Well, in the first decade of this century less net jobs were created than in any other decade since the Great Depression.

The "free trade" polices of the globalists have been an abysmal failure. Tens of thousands of factories, millions of jobs, and hundreds of billions of dollars of our national wealth have gone to countries that engage in predatory trade practices and that exploit slave labor pools.

How in the world are American workers supposed to compete against workers that make less than a dollar an hour (with no benefits) on the other side of the globe?

If you support the version of "free trade" that most of our politicians are promoting, then you are supporting the one world economic system that the global elite are trying to establish. In this one world economic system, American workers will increasingly be forced to compete for jobs with the cheapest labor on the planet. This will continue to force the standard of living of American workers way, way down and it will continue to absolutely destroy the middle class.

The following are 35 facts about the gutting of America's industrial might that should make you very angry....

#1 According to U.S. Representative Betty Sutton, America has lost an average of 15 manufacturing facilities a day over the last 10 years.

#2 Sadly, it looks like this trend is picking up momentum. During 2010, an average of 23 manufacturing facilities a day were shut down in the United States.

#3 Since 2001, the U.S. has lost a total of more than 56,000 manufacturing facilities.

#4 According to the Economic Policy Institute, the U.S. economy loses approximately 9,000 jobs for every $1 billion of goods that are imported from overseas.

#5 The United States has had a negative trade balance every single year since 1976, and since that time the United States has run a total trade deficit of more than 7.5 trillion dollars with the rest of the world.

#6 Back in 1979, there were 19.5 million manufacturing jobs in the United States. Today, there are 11.6 million. That represents a decline of 40 percent during a time period when our overall population experienced tremendous growth.

#7 Between December 2000 and December 2010, 38 percent of the manufacturing jobs in Ohio were lost, 42 percent of the manufacturing jobs in North Carolina were lost and 48 percent of the manufacturing jobs in Michigan were lost.

#8 Back in 1970, 25 percent of all jobs in the United States were manufacturing jobs. Today, only 9 percent of all jobs in the United States are manufacturing jobs.

#9 The United States has lost an average of 50,000 manufacturing jobs per month since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001.

#10 The Economic Policy Institute says that since 2001 America has lost approximately 2.8 million jobs due to our trade deficit with China alone.

#11 All over the United States, road and bridge projects are being outsourced to Chinese firms. Just check out the following excerpt from a recent ABC News article....

In New York there is a $400 million renovation project on the Alexander Hamilton Bridge.

In California, there is a $7.2 billion project to rebuild the Bay Bridge connecting San Francisco and Oakland.

In Alaska, there is a proposal for a $190 million bridge project.

These projects sound like steps in the right direction, but much of the work is going to Chinese government-owned firms.

"When we subsidize jobs in China, we're not creating any wealth in the United States," said Scott Paul, executive director for the Alliance for American Manufacturing.

#12 If you can believe it, the United States spends about 4 dollars on goods and services from China for every one dollar that China spends on goods and services from the United States.

#13 The U.S. trade deficit with China rose to an all-time record of 273.1 billion dollars in 2010. This is the largest trade deficit that one nation has had with another nation in the history of the world.

#14 The U.S. trade deficit with China in 2010 was 27 times larger than it was back in 1990.

#15 The new World Trade Center tower is going to be made with imported glass from China and imported steel from Germany.

#16 The new MLK memorial on the National Mall was made in China.

#17 Do you remember when the United States was the dominant manufacturer of automobiles and trucks on the globe? Well, in 2010 the U.S. ran a trade deficit in automobiles, trucks and parts of $110 billion.

#18 In 2010, South Korea exported 12 times as many automobiles, trucks and parts to us as we exported to them.

#19 Even in high technology products we are being destroyed. In 2002, the United States had a trade deficit in "advanced technology products" of $16 billion with the rest of the world. In 2010, that number skyrocketed to $82 billion.

#20 China has now become the world's largest exporter of high technology products.

#21 Back in 1998, the United States had 25 percent of the world’s high-tech export market and China had just 10 percent. Ten years later, the United States had less than 15 percent and China's share had soared to 20 percent.

#22 Manufacturing employment in the U.S. computer industry was actually lower in 2010 than it was in 1975.

#23 In 2008, 1.2 billion cellphones were sold worldwide. So how many of them were manufactured inside the United States? Zero.

#24 The United States now has 10 percent fewer "middle class jobs" than it did just ten years ago.

#25 Today, American workers are bringing home a much smaller share of economic pie. Over the past decade, the ratio of wages to GDP has been declining very steadily.

#26 Now that millions of our jobs have been exported, there aren't nearly enough jobs left for all of us. Right now, the average amount of time that a worker stays unemployed in the United States is approximately 39 weeks.

#27 There are fewer payroll jobs in the United States today than there were back in 2000 even though we have added 30 million extra people to the population since then.

#28 If you gathered together all of the workers that are "officially" unemployed in the United States today, they would constitute the 68th largest country in the world.

#29 According to one study, between 1969 and 2009 the median wages earned by American men between the ages of 30 and 50 dropped by 27 percent after you account for inflation.

#30 As the number of good paying jobs declines, America's middle class is rapidly shrinking. In 1970, 65 percent of all Americans lived in "middle class neighborhoods". By 2007, only 44 percent of all Americans lived in "middle class neighborhoods".

#31 In the United States today, corporate profits are at a record high, and yet employment numbers have still not rebounded. Obviously something is structurally wrong.

#32 The Obama administration says that there are certain things that "we don't want to make in America" anymore. If you don't believe this, just check out what U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk recently told Tim Robertson of the Huffington Post about the Obama administration's attitude toward keeping manufacturing jobs in America....

Let's increase our competitiveness... the reality is about half of our imports, our trade deficit is because of how much oil [we import], so you take that out of the equation, you look at what percentage of it are things that frankly, we don't want to make in America, you know, cheaper products, low-skill jobs that frankly college kids that are graduating from, you know, UC Cal and Hastings [don't want], but what we do want is to capture those next generation jobs and build on our investments in our young people, our education infrastructure.

#33 Jeffrey Immelt, the head of Barack Obama's highly touted "Jobs Council", has shipped tens of thousands of good jobs out of the United States.

#34 According to Professor Alan Blinder of Princeton University, 40 million more U.S. jobs could be sent offshore over the next two decades.

#35 One recent poll found that 41 percent of all Americans believe that "the American Dream has been lost".

Yes, it is fun to go out and fill up our shopping carts with "cheap products" from the other side of the world, but when we do that it destroys our jobs, our businesses and our communities.

Our addiction to cheap foreign products is incredibly self-destructive. Essentially what we are doing is that we are ripping apart pieces of our own home and throwing them into the fire in an attempt to keep it going. Eventually we will cannibalize our entire home.

And we never really think about what it is like for the slave laborers that make all these cheap products for us. The following is from an article in the Telegraph about what conditions at one major Chinese manufacturing facility are like....

So far, at least 16 people have jumped from high buildings at the factory so far this year, with 12 deaths. A further 20 people were stopped by the company before they could attempt to kill themselves.

The hysteria at Longhua, where between 300,000 and 400,000 employees eat, work and sleep, has grown to such a pitch that workers have twisted Foxconn’s Chinese name so that it now sounds like: “Run to your Death”.

If we stay on this current path, even more of our formerly great manufacturing cities will turn into post-industrial hellholes.

Once upon a time, I also bought the "free trade" propaganda hook, line and sinker. But then I opened up my mind and I learned the truth.

This nation is losing jobs, factories and wealth at a pace that is almost unbelievable.

Something desperately needs to be done.

Is there anyone out there that is willing to defend the emerging one world economic system that is stealing our jobs and killing the middle class?

If so, I challenge you to take your best shot. Leave a comment below and explain to the rest of us why we are wrong.

We need to debate these issues because the myth of "free trade" is absolutely killing us.

Please wake up and get angry about these issues America.

Why Telecoms Get Away With Screwing Customers to Pump Up Their Massive Profits

OccupyTelecom, Occupy the FCC: How the Communications Trust is Harming America’s Future

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In light of Major Mike Bloomberg’s displacement of Liberty Plaza/Zuccotti Park, the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) campaign is spreading throughout the nation and the world. Most important, its critique of inequality is getting sharper and more systematic. Its core target has been the banking and financial-services industry, but activists are turning the spotlight on other, equally pernicious sectors of the economy, including the extraction, healthcare military and prison industries. Analyses of these industries reveal a common story: the fix is in.

The nation’s communications industry traditionally escapes critical inspection. In our busy postmodern life, communications, like air, water and electricity, is essential, merely taken for granted. Whether making a phone call, emailing a friend, accessing information, paying a bill or watching a political debate or TV show, our telecommunications infrastructure is a vital link to others and the world.

On October 27 the Federal Communications Commission announced a reform plan of the Universal Service Fund (USF) as part of its implementation of the National Broadband Plan. The reform is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, President Obama’s stimulus plan. Unfortunately, the USF reform plan is going to raise your phone, broadband, Internet and wireless rates in five new ways, all designed to give more money to the phone and cable companies.

Few have raised objections to the FCC’s effort and one can only ask why? The answer is that the “communications trust” -- AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and other major telecom companies -- has taken control of the FCC, the agency that is suppose to “regulate” telecommunications and the media. The trust spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually buying off members of Congress, state legislatures and Public Service Commissions (PSCs), maintaining an army of influence peddlers and subsidizing numerous think-tanks, astroturf groups and nonprofit organizations.

OWS has put greed on the political agenda and exposed how pervasive it is throughout corporate America. The telecom trust’s use of the FCC to raise your communications rates is a direct pocketbook example of how corporate greed impacts each of us in subtle and not so subtle ways.

In order to stop the regulatory sham, Americans are urged to occupy the FCC and call for the breakup of the communications trust. On October 21, formerly striking Verizon workers and others picketed Verizon headquarters on West Street, then marched on a Verizon store on Broad Street and ended at OWS at Liberty Plaza. Now it's time to occupy the FCC as well as Verizon and the other companies that makeup the trust. (For profiles of key trust companies, see “The Telecom Scam: 5 Behemoths That Strangle Innovation and Ensure You Pay Too Much for Bad Service,” AlterNet, November 11, 2011.)

Occupation works! Last year, enraged British taxpayers shut down Vodafone stores in England and Scotland and held demonstrations against the company in 10 cities. They were incensed that the company reportedly owed the government £6 billion in unpaid taxes; in the wake of the protests, it paid £1.25 billion. (Vodafone is part owner of Verizon Wireless.)

The universal slush fund

The Communications Act of 1926 established the original Federal Radio Commission that, in 1934, became the FCC. Repeatedly over the last 85 years, it has sought to strengthen corporate control and consolidation of both the telecommunications network (the “pipes”) and the media (the “content”).

The most disturbing illustration of this policy involves how the FCC, working with the post-Reagan deregulatory Congress, has put Ma Bell back together. A quarter-century ago, the old AT&T was formally broken up; today, two of AT&T’s seven offspring, the duopoly of AT&T and Verizon, control both the nation’s wireline and wireless services. Most egregious, in January 2011, it approved Comcast’s acquisition of NBC-Universal; a few weeks after the decision, a FCC commissioner, Meredith Attwell Baker, took a job with Comcast. However, in July, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit overturned an FCC effort to weaken cross-ownership rules that would allow big media companies to buy up even more local outlets.

The FCC established the USF in 1998 and is a 15-percent surcharge on all long-distance phone bills. It ostensibly helps subsidize phone and broadband services to 18 million people living in rural America as well as to schools and libraries. To date, it has expended $25 billion subsidizing phone service in rural areas; the real benefactors have been the long-distance carriers, AT&T and Verizon.

The FCC plan to increase USF fees was announced as part of a well-choreographed exercise in picking the American people’s pockets. It will be accompanied by a much-hyped call for job creation and infrastructure build-out. However, the FCC will move to increase your telecom taxes, strengthen the telecom trust’s control over the nation’s information system and further retard America’s global competitiveness.

In announcing the USF reform, the FCC’s chairman, Julius Genachowski, finally acknowledged what the General Accounting Office (GAO) and others have long recognized: the USF is a slush fund for the telcos, where accountability is minimal and federal “regulation” essentially non-existent.

How out of control is the USF? The FCC does not audit the books of the phone companies. Some rural carriers get $10,000 a line or more in “high-cost” subsidies. In 2008, the FCC Inspector General found that in 2006 there was an overcharging error rate of 22.8 percent or $970 million. According to the Improper Payments Information Act (IPIA) of 2002, a significantly improper payment exceeds 2.5 percent of program outlays or $10 million.

Genachowski proposed to remake the USF into the Connect America Fund. According to the FCC chairman, the new fund “would ensure money is spent in a more targeted and efficient way, bringing greater fairness and benefit for consumers who pay into USF each month.” The real winners of this “reform” will be AT&T and Verizon, which have long backed the change to subsidize the build-out of their fiber optic networks. About $7.5 billion in USF monies annually go to carriers, and over the last decade-plus, these companies have received sufficient state and federal subsidies to bring broadband to every American home but have failed to do so. The real question that the FCC and Congress refuse to ask is simple: why does this goal remain unmet?

The advisory scam

The FCC’s October 27 announcement of a new fund was accompanied with fanfare about new jobs, economic growth and closing the “digital divide.” However, the real purpose of the announcement will be to introduce a series of five new rate increases. The FCC may continue USF tax. In the broadband plan, the FCC identified five additional new taxes: (i) a new “Connect America” broadband tax; (ii) a new mobile communications tax; (iii) an increase in the FCC Subscriber Line Charge; (iv) a “rebalance of rates” that will raise local rates; and, adding insult to injury, (v) additional state and federal sales taxes. These rate increases are designed to add to telecom companies’ bottom lines.

To legitimize the new effort to revise the USF, the FCC put together an advisory coalition consisting of industry and nonprofit representatives, dubbed “Connect to Compete” (CC). Like a nightmare version of the “Wizard of Oz,” pulling back the curtain on the CC reveals that the wizards pulling the FCC’s strings are none other then those it is mandated to regulate, the telecom trust of leading telcos and cable companies.

The CC program is modeled after a similar scam launched in 2000 known as Coalition for Affordable Local and Long Distance Service (CALLS). (You have to love these names.) CALLS is the model of “regulatory capture,” the process by which telcos, working through astroturf shills, co-opted consumer groups, corporate-funded research firms, a compliant media, federal bureaucrats and generous campaign financing of politicians, have effectively taken control of the FCC’s agenda. CALLS exemplifies how the artful use of a well-orchestrated and financed marketing campaign can fulfill corporate goals. (See “How AT&T, Verizon and the Telecom Giants Have Captured the Regulator Supposed to Control Them,” AlterNet, January 8, 2011.)

With CC, the FCC has pulled together a diverse group of nonprofit groups including Boys and Girls Club, Goodwill and the 4H as well as Common Sense Media, Connected Nation, and the National League of Cities; AT&T, Verizon and Comcast support of the last three groups. More significant, however, it has recruited the telecom-backed Broadband Opportunity Coalition (BBOC) as its lead partner.

BBOC promotes itself as “a partnership of this country’s leading civil rights organizations that recognize the importance of bringing digital opportunities to minority communities.” Among its members are the Asian American Justice Center, National Council of La Raza (NCLR), League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), National Urban League and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), all recipients of telecom largess. It also includes One Economy, an international nonprofit backed by AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner, among others.

To further strengthen CC’s appearance of “transparency,” the FCC is working with the Media and Technology Institute of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies (MTIJCPES). The Institute claims to be “a catalyst for groundbreaking research and critical policy analysis on topics of concern to all Americans, especially African Americans and other people of color.” According to the FCC, it “will serve as the independent evaluator of Connect to Compete and will implement a longitudinal research plan that sets program metrics and assesses the short- and long-term impact of the initiative.”

Missing from the CC announcement was any mention of who are the Institute’s backers. This is in keeping with the three-card monte shell game that defines FCC “advisers.” Verizon, Comcast, Microsoft, National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTS) and CTIA, the wireless association, provided initial funding for the Institute. This is a replay of the telecom industry’s pimping of nonprofits in the AT&T/T-Mobile merger effort. (See “Shills R Us: Organizations That Get AT&T Cash Endorse its Mega-Merger with T-Mobile, ”AlterNet, June 22, 2011.)

Regulatory capture

Regulatory capture is endemic to corporatized American politics. Writing in Bureaucracy, the political scientist James Q. Wilson found that it “occurs when most or all of the benefits of a program go to some single, reasonably small interest (and industry, profession, or locality) but most or all of the costs will be borne by a large number of people (for example, all taxpayers).”

The FCC’s Connect to Compete advisory committee is an example of how regulatory capture works in telecommunications. The creation of special outside committees must conform to requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). Nevertheless, these ostensibly “independent” advisory groups are the shell games through which political buy-in is orchestrated and corporate ends like rate increases and industry consolidation are achieved.

Influence is wielded through well-coordinated “skunkworks” campaigns. Telcos harness corporate-funded think tanks, often operating as nonprofit consulting firms, hire influential lobbyists, underwrite numerous nonprofit groups and buy valuable media time. In 2010, AT&T added some 90 lobbyists to its ranks, including former Senators Trent Lott (R-MS) and John Breaux (D-LA), both of whom served on the Senate Commerce Committee; it paid the Breaux Lott Leadership Group $120,000 to lobby the House and the Senate on "issues related to" the T-Mobile merger. And one shouldn’t forget Obama’s chief-of-staff, William Daley, a former frontman for SBC which is now AT&T.

In a devastating 2004 critique of FCC policies with regard to its recruitment of advisory committees, the GAO found that nearly one quarter (22 percent) of advisers did not provide advice and some advisers had no “telecommunications viewpoint.” Only about half (54 percent) of respondents to the GAO analysis found that the FCC took “the committees’ advice into account when developing policy.” In addition, even some trade groups said they had little influence on FCC actions.

In 2005, Teletruth filed a complaint against the FCC Consumer Advisory Committee because of the multiple conflicts of interests and ethical issues surrounding its use of nonprofit advisors. It revealed how many of the nonprofit groups were actually just fronts for the phone companies or paid by them through their corporate foundations.

A review of a handful of current FCC “advisory” groups reveals just how little has changed. Tom Wheeler, former CEO of the CTIA (the wireless association) and the NCTA (the cable association), heads the Technical Advisory Committee; non-telco companies (e.g., Apple) are the corporate partners of the telcos (e.g., iPhone is sold through AT&T and Verizon). The Consumer Advisory Committee has Verizon, CTIA, NCTA, Consumer Federation of America and something called the Digital Policy Institute (backed by AT&T and Verizon) on board.

The FCC uses advisory groups as window dressing to forge policy decisions that are developed in private and in collaboration with industry influence peddlers like Lott and Daley and think-tanks like ALEC. This has drawn the ire of Congress. It is currently considering legislation (HR 1320), introduced by Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO) and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Edolphus Towns (D-NY), to amend FACA. The proposed legislation is designed to make these panels more transparent and accountable, particularly with regard to committee members’ conflicts of interest. Given the role of telecom lobbyists, one can assume this bill will die a silent death.

The racket economy

One of the insights of the ongoing OWS campaign is that American capitalism consists of a constellation of rackets. Each racket is distinguished by the self-serving, intimate interrelation of private corporate interests and the ostensibly “public” government, whether at the federal, state or local level.

Each racket involves a host of distinct businesses units, organized through both vertical and horizontal operations, and each charged with maximizing profit. For example, the telecom sector ranges from the handheld devise, the coolest “app” and the wireless and Internet connectivity as well as the infrastructure of cell towers on rooftops and lampposts and the wireline networks that knit together the nation’s communications infrastructure. In turn, this includes the scientific and other specialists who provide technical expertise; the content suppliers who create and offer the content; the banking, VCs and stock traders who provide the financing to fund startups and the telecom conglomerates; and the army of wage and salary workers (including union members) who do the day-to-day work that keeps the system running. Each sector is a profit center, a part of the whole.

A combination of corporate finesse and government complicity defines the great capitalist racket. Corporate racketeers have effectively captured the Congress and the regulatory bodies ostensibly intended for their oversight. As a consequence, no one is protecting the public good.

Nothing better illustrates how this racket is being played out than the FCC’s National Broadband Plan. Unveiled in 2010, it is conceived as a roadmap for U.S. broadband modernization for the coming decade, involving everything from public safety, education, health information technology, wireless spectrum and the economy. The revision of the USF is part of this bigger initiative.

The plan’s most ambitious goal is, within the next five years, to get 100 million Americans hooked up to broadband service with speeds of 50 Megabytes per second (Mbps) downstream. As of Q-2 2011, the U.S. ranked 15th globally in average connection data rate speed, averaging only 5.3 Mbps.

The FCC’s recent Internet speed report reveals an even more pathetic situation. It noted that 84 million Americans had an Internet connection at the end of 2010 and defined “broadband” as a one-way, downstream speed of 200 Kbps (1/5th of a Mbps), thus including anything with a string and two tin cans. Nevertheless, only 1.2 million have rates above 25 Mbps; only 48,000 have speeds “at least 100 Mbps”; only 9 percent of the population has speeds over 6 Mbps and only one half of that can do an upstream speed of “at least 3 Mbps.” The clock is ticking. (The FCC report is here.)

It is now time to Occupy Telecom and Occupy the FCC. Those involved in OWS efforts in New York and throughout the country are on the front lines addressing major political issues and pocketbook issues. They are showing that the fight against greed and corporate control of the regulatory process needs to take place at all levels of government. It is time to view each industry’s problems as being caused by a similar process of regulatory capture and self-serving corporate greed -- and to confront it. This can be done by showing up at OWS actions, occupying the FCC and telecoms as well as by undertaking virtual sit-ins that stop business as usual. America’s very future is at stake.

Fake Terror Plots, Paid Informants: The Tactics Of FBI 'Entrapment' Questioned

Fake terror plots, paid informants: the tactics of FBI 'entrapment' questioned

Critics say bureau is running a sting operation across America, targeting vulnerable people by luring them into fake terror plots

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David Williams did not have an easy life. He moved to Newburgh, a gritty, impoverished town on the banks of the Hudson an hour or so north of New York, at just 10 years old. For a young, black American boy with a father in jail, trouble was everywhere.

Williams also made bad choices. He ended up going to jail for dealing drugs. When he came out in 2007 he tried to go straight, but money was tight and his brother, Lord, needed cash for a liver transplant. Life is hard in Newburgh if you are poor, have a drug rap and need cash quickly.

His aunt, Alicia McWilliams, was honest about the tough streets her nephew was dealing with. "Newburgh is a hard place," she said. So it was perhaps no surprise that in May, 2009, David Williams was arrested again and hit with a 25-year jail sentence. But it was not for drugs offences. Or any other common crime. Instead Williams and three other struggling local men beset by drug, criminal and mental health issues were convicted of an Islamic terrorist plot to blow up Jewish synagogues and shoot down military jets with missiles.

Even more shocking was that the organisation, money, weapons and motivation for this plot did not come from real Islamic terrorists. It came from the FBI, and an informant paid to pose as a terrorist mastermind paying big bucks for help in carrying out an attack. For McWilliams, her own government had actually cajoled and paid her beloved nephew into being a terrorist, created a fake plot and then jailed him for it. "I feel like I am in the Twilight Zone," she told the Guardian.

Lawyers for the so-called Newburgh Four have now launched an appeal that will be held early next year. Advocates hope the case offers the best chance of exposing the issue of FBI "entrapment" in terror cases. "We have as close to a legal entrapment case as I have ever seen," said Susanne Brody, who represents another Newburgh defendant, Onta Williams.

Some experts agree. "The target, the motive, the ideology and the plot were all led by the FBI," said Karen Greenberg, a law professor at Fordham University in New York, who specialises in studying the new FBI tactics.

But the issue is one that stretches far beyond Newburgh. Critics say the FBI is running a sting operation across America, targeting – to a large extent – the Muslim community by luring people into fake terror plots. FBI bureaux send informants to trawl through Muslim communities, hang out in mosques and community centres, and talk of radical Islam in order to identify possible targets sympathetic to such ideals. Or they will respond to the most bizarre of tip-offs, including, in one case, a man who claimed to have seen terror chief Ayman al-Zawahiri living in northern California in the late 1990s.

That tipster was quickly hired as a well-paid informant. If suitable suspects are identified, FBI agents then run a sting, often creating a fake terror plot in which it helps supply weapons and targets. Then, dramatic arrests are made, press conferences held and lengthy convictions secured.

But what is not clear is if many real, actual terrorists are involved.

Fort Dix Five The homes of the Fort Dix Five were raided by the FBI. Photograph: Joseph Kaczmarek/AP

Another "entrapment" case is on the radar too. The Fort Dix Five – accused of plotting to attack a New Jersey army base – have also appealed against their convictions. That case too involved dubious use of paid informants, an apparent over-reach of evidence and a plot that seemed suggested by the government.

Burim Duka, whose three brothers were jailed for life for their part in the scheme, insists they did not know they were part of a terror plot and were just buying guns for shooting holidays in a deal arranged by a friend. The "friend" was an informant who had persuaded another man of a desire to attack Fort Dix.

Duka is convinced his brothers' appeal has a good chance. "I am hopeful," he told the Guardian.

But things may not be that easy. At issue is the word "entrapment", which has two definitions. There is the common usage, where a citizen might see FBI operations as deliberate traps manipulating unwary people who otherwise were unlikely to become terrorists. Then there is the legal definition of entrapment, where the prosecution merely has to show a subject was predisposed to carry out the actions they later are accused of.

Theoretically, a simple expression, like support for jihad, might suffice, and in post-9/11 America neither judges nor juries tend to be nuanced in terror trials. "Legally, you have to use the word entrapment very carefully. It is a very strict legal term," said Greenberg.

But in its commonly understood usage, FBI entrapment is a widespread tactic. Within days of the 9/11 terror attacks, FBI director Robert Mueller issued a memo on a new policy of "forward leaning – preventative – prosecutions".

Central to that is a growing informant network. The FBI is not choosy about the people it uses. Some have criminal records, including attempted murder or drug dealing or fraud. They are often paid six-figure sums, which critics say creates a motivation to entrap targets. Some are motivated by the promise of debts forgiven or immigration violations wiped clean. There has also been a relaxing of rules on what criteria the FBI needs to launch an investigation.

Often they just seem to be "fishing expeditions". In the Newburgh case, the men involved met FBI informant Shahed Hussain simply because he happened to infiltrate their mosque. In southern California, FBI informant Craig Monteilh trawled mosques posing as a Muslim and tried to act as a magnet for potential radicals.

Monteilh, who bugged scores of people, is a convicted felon with serious drug charges to his name. His operation turned up nothing. But Monteilh's professed terrorist sympathy so unnerved his Muslim targets that they got a restraining order against him and alerted the FBI, not realising Monteilh was actually working on the bureau's behalf.

Muslim civil rights groups have warned of a feeling of being hounded and threatened by the FBI, triggering a natural fear of the authorities among people that should be a vital defence against real terror attacks. But FBI tactics could now be putting off many people from reporting tip-offs or suspicious individuals.

"They are making mosques suspicious of anybody. They are putting fear into these communities," said Greenberg. Civil liberties groups are also concerned, seeing some FBI tactics as using terrorism to justify more power. "We are still seeing an expansion of these tools. It is a terrible prospect," said Mike German, an expert at the American Civil Liberties Union and a former FBI agent who has worked in counter-terrorism.

German said suspects convicted of plotting terror attacks in some recent FBI cases bore little resemblance to the profile of most terrorist cells. "Most of these suspect terrorists had no access to weapons unless the government provided them. I would say that showed they were not the biggest threat to the US," German said.

"Most terrorists have links to foreign terrorist groups and have trained in terrorism training camps. Perhaps FBI resources should be spent finding those guys."

Also, some of the most serious terrorist attacks carried out in the US since 9/11 have revolved around "lone wolf" actions, not the sort of conspiracy plots the FBI have been striving to combat. The 2010 Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, only came to light after his car bomb failed to go off properly. The Fort Hood killer Nidal Malik Hasan, who shot dead 13 people on a Texas army base in 2009, was only discovered after he started firing. Both evaded the radar of an FBI expending resources setting up fictional crimes and then prosecuting those involved.

Yet, as advocates for those caught up in "entrapment" cases discover, there is little public or judicial sympathy for them. Even in cases where judges have admitted FBI tactics have raised serious questions, there has been no hesitation in returning guilty verdicts, handing down lengthy sentences and dismissing appeals.

The Liberty City Seven are a case in point. The 2006 case involved an informant, Elie Assaad, with a dubious past (he was once arrested, but not charged, for beating his pregnant wife). Assaad was let loose with another informant on a group of men in Liberty City, a poor, predominantly black, suburb of Miami. The targets were followers of a cult-like group called The Seas of David, led by former Guardian Angel Narseal Batiste.

The group was, perhaps, not even Muslim, as its religious practices involved Bible study and wearing the Star of David. Yet Assaad posed as an Al-Qaida operative, and got members of the group to swear allegiance. Transcripts of the "oath-taking" ceremony are almost farcical. Batiste repeatedly queries the idea and appears bullied into it. In effect, defence lawyers argued, the men were confused, impoverished members of an obscure cult.

Yet targets the group supposedly entertained attacking included the Sears Tower in Chicago, Hollywood movie studios and the Empire State Building. Even zealous prosecutors, painting a picture of dedicated Islamic terrorists, admitted any potential plots were "aspirational", given the group had no means to carry them out.

Nonetheless, they were charged with seeking to wage war against America, plotting to destroy buildings and supporting terrorism. Five of them got long jail sentences. Assaad, who was recently arrested in Texas for attempting to run over a policeman, was paid $85,000 for his work.

This year the jailed Liberty City men launched an appeal and last week judgment was handed down. They lost, and officially remain Islamic terrorists hell-bent on destroying America. Not that their supporters see it that way.

"Our country is no safer as a result of the prosecution of these seven impoverished young men from Liberty City," said Batiste's lawyer, Ana Jhones.

"This prosecution came at great financial cost to our government, and at a terrible emotional cost to these defendants and their families. It is my sincere belief that our country is less safe as a result of the government's actions in this case."