Saturday, December 10, 2011

Maryland Verdict: GOP Guilty In Voter Suppression, Fraud

Maryland Verdict: GOP Guilty In Voter Suppression, Fraud

Last-minute robo-calls in 2010 tried to discourage African-American vote

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A Maryland jury on Tuesday convicted Paul E. Schurick, the 2010 campaign manager for Republican ex-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., of four counts of election law violations stemming from an Election Day decision to make thousands of recorded telephone calls into African-American homes telling likely voters that the Democratic candidate was on his way to winning -- implying there was no need for them to vote. The gambit came after exit polls showed Ehrlich losing.

The election law violations concerned trying to influence votes through fraud, failing to identify the source of the call, and conspiring to commit those crimes. The charges and convictions are rare in the arcane world of election law; usually last-minute dirty tricks are not caught or prosecuted. The Maryland convictions could send a message to Wisconsin, where an AlterNet investigation reported on Monday about similar deceptive messaging from Republican opponents of a statewide recall petition drive to unseat Gov. Scott Walker.

In Wisconsin, the fake messaging was telling petition circulators that they had enough signatures to put the recall question on the ballot and encouraged people to burn or destroy their signed petitions. Perhaps the Maryland verdict -- especially on the conspiracy charge, as that covers incitement of a crime -- will prompt Wisconsin prosecutors to look more carefully for the ringleaders in that state's increasingly dirty recall fight.

More Radioactive Water Leaks at Japanese Plant

More Radioactive Water Leaks at Japanese Plant

TOKYO — At least 45 tons of highly radioactive water have leaked from a purification facility at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, and some of it may have reached the Pacific Ocean, the plant’s operator said Sunday.

Nearly nine months after Fukushima Daiichi was ravaged by an earthquake and tsunami, the plant continues to pose a major environmental threat. Before the latest leak, the Fukushima accident had been responsible for the largest single release of radioactivity into the ocean, threatening wildlife and fisheries in the region, experts have said.

The new radioactive water leak called into question the progress that the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, appeared to have made in bringing its reactors under control. The company, known as Tepco, has said that it hopes to bring the plant to a stable state known as a cold shutdown by the end of the year.

The trouble on Sunday came in two stages, a Tepco statement said. In the morning, utility workers found that radioactive water was pooling in a catchment next to a purification device; the system was switched off, and the leak appeared to stop. But the company said it later discovered that leaked water was escaping, possibly through cracks in the catchment’s concrete wall, and was reaching an external gutter.

In all, as much as 220 tons of water may now have leaked from the facility, according to a report in the newspaper Asahi Shimbun that cited Tepco officials.

The company said that the water had about one million times as much radioactive strontium as the maximum safe level set by the government, but appeared to have already been cleaned of radioactive cesium before leaking out. Both elements are readily absorbed by living tissue and can greatly increase the risk of developing cancer.

Tepco said a check on Saturday had found no sign of the leak, suggesting that it began Saturday night or early Sunday morning. The company said it was exploring ways to stop any more water from escaping.

Since the disaster in March, workers have been struggling to cool the stricken plant’s reactors by flooding them with water, which is contaminated with radioactivity in the process and becomes a problem of its own.

Tepco installed a new circulatory cooling system in September with filters that decontaminate and recycle the cooling water. But the company acknowledges that some water has already leaked into the ocean, and thousands of tons of water remain in the flooded basements of the plant’s reactor buildings.

The Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety in France estimates that between March and mid-July, the amount of radioactive cesium 137 that had leaked into the Pacific from the Fukushima Daiichi plant amounted to 27.1 petabecquerels, the greatest amount known to have been released from a single episode. (A becquerel is a frequently used measure of radiation, and a petabecquerel is a million billion becquerels.)

Childhood poverty and hunger deepen in Oregon

Childhood poverty and hunger deepen in Oregon

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Two recent Census Bureau reports highlight the growing distress facing working class and poor children in Oregon as a result of the 2007 recession.

The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, released last week, shows that while poverty levels for children have increased across the board in 2010, it has inordinately affected minorities. An earlier report by the Census Bureau ranked Oregon the state with the highest percentage of food stamp use in the nation. Only the District of Columbia had a higher percentage.

Child poverty as a whole rose in Oregon by 2.4 percent, to 21.6 percent—identical to the national level—or one out of five in 2010. For African American children, this figure rose 13.6 percentage points over the previous year. This represents a staggering 36 percent increase, bringing the total to 49.3 percent, or from one out of three to one out of two in poverty. Hispanic children experienced an increase of 6.2 percent to 35.7 percent. Native American child poverty level expanded from 35.1 percent to 41.0 percent. Asian children saw greater poverty with an increase from 14 percent to 15.9 percent.

According to the Census Bureau, the poverty level for a family of four is $22,314. This derisory number is based on a 50-year-old “food-basket” model that has failed to keep pace with rising costs and does not address modern necessities, such as Internet access for job searches or student homework, or telephone service. Despite such a low income threshold, 120,000 additional Oregon residents fell into poverty from 2007 to 2010, according to the Oregon Center for Public Policy.

The study cites Oregon as among 10 states with higher childhood poverty rates. Others were Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, states that have long had higher levels of poverty in general and, as well, have right-to-work laws restricting unions. The AFL-CIO has historically pointed to those laws as restricting their ability to organize workers and achieve better pay for them. Also included in the 10 states, however, are Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan, all industrial states with a long history of unionization.

Census data on school district poverty show two Portland-area districts as rising to the third- and fourth-highest poverty level among large school districts in the state. Reynolds and David Douglas, both at 27 percent in 2009, rose sharply to 32 percent and 31 percent, respectively. The largest school district in the state, Portland Public Schools, now stands at the highest poverty level since 2005, at 18 percent.

Oregon’s official unemployment level has stubbornly clung to midway between 9 and 10 percent for most of this year after hitting a high of 11.6 percent in the second quarter of 2009. Unemployment—almost twice that of the low point in 2007—and underemployment have taken their toll, not just with increased poverty, but also with the attendant social miseries of homelessness and hunger.

Currently, approximately 2,000 workers are exhausting their unemployment benefits every month in the state, a figure that is forecast to climb sharply to 13,400 in January and 12,500 in February. This figure is disputed as too small by the National Employment Law Project, which predicts that 32,000 Oregon workers—along with 2 million workers nationally—will run out of benefits by January.

These conditions are what have driven Oregon to the top state in the nation for food stamp use. Data released by the Census Bureau earlier this month show almost 18 percent of the state’s residents relied on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) last year. In 2010, 23 percent more residents relied on the program at some point in the year than in 2009.

Oregon also holds the ill-starred distinction of being the state with the highest child food insecurity level in the nation. Based on US Department of Agriculture (USDA) findings, the food bank alliance Feeding America rated Oregon number one in childhood “food insecurity”. The USDA defines a household as food-insecure when family members are unable “to consistently access the adequate amount of nutritious food necessary for a healthy life.” According to the study, over 29 percent of children in this state are in situations where obtaining food regularly is a challenge. Arizona, Arkansas, Texas and Georgia are the next four states with high childhood food insecurity.

As of August of this year, more than 785,397 Oregonians were receiving food stamps. This represents an increase of more than 350,000 additional recipients since 2007. At the end of September, the Oregon Food Bank announced that it had, for the first time ever, distributed more than a million emergency food boxes in Oregon and southwest Washington in its fiscal year ending June 30.

Homelessness, according to a January 2011 one-night count, increased 29 percent over that of two years previously. Over the course of the night, 22,116 homeless people were identified. Joblessness and high rent were the two leading reasons cited for their loss of housing. Thirty percent of the homeless—6,686—were children, and 612 of those reported that they were unaccompanied by an adult.

Study documents desperate conditions facing the unemployed in America

Study documents desperate conditions facing the unemployed in America

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A study published Friday by Rutgers University documents the desperate situation facing millions of American workers who lost their jobs in the recession that began four years ago. The survey of laid-off workers, conducted by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers, found that only 22 percent of those who lost their jobs between August 2008 and August 2009 were working full-time as of August 2011.

Just 7 percent of the unemployed initially contacted by the Heldrich Center in the summer of 2009 say they have regained their previous income level. Another 23 percent say they are on their way back, having experienced a minor downward change in their quality of life that they believe to be temporary.

But a full 36 percent speak of “cataclysmic effects” of the recession and prolonged unemployment, including 21 percent whom the report’s authors consider to have been “devastated” and another 15 percent “who appear to have been wrecked by the recession.” (Emphasis in the original). The former category includes those in poor financial shape who have suffered a major decline in their standard of living, even if they believe it to be temporary. The latter comprises workers who are in poor financial shape, have suffered a major decline in lifestyle and believe the new state of affairs to be permanent.

Forty-seven percent of those surveyed say their personal financial situation is in “poor shape,” 58 percent say the economic crisis has had a “major impact” on themselves and their families, and 41 percent believe that the impact on their standard or living will be permanent.

The study found that the crisis has taken its biggest toll on those with no college education, 46 percent of whom have been “devastated” or “wrecked.” However, nearly a quarter (24 percent) of college graduates in the survey have likewise been “devastated” by the jobs crisis.

The age group most severely impacted consists of workers between the ages of 45 and 59, 48 percent of whom have been devastated. Close behind are laid-off workers aged 30 to 44, 43 percent of whom have been devastated by the crisis.

An indication of the toll—economic, social and psychological—of the slump on the unemployed is given by the responses to questions concerning the experiences of workers in the different categories. Eighteen percent of “recovering” workers sold possessions to make ends meet; 41 percent of those in a middle category called “downsized” sold possessions, as did 66 percent of those “devastated” by the crisis. Large percentages in each of these categories borrowed money from family or friends, including half of those “recovering” and two-thirds of those “devastated.”

Those surveyed commonly cut back on medical visits and reduced spending on food “so much it affects daily life.” In all of the categories, excluding the 7 percent who had “made it back,” a majority of respondents reported “strain in family relations,” including 60 percent of the downsized workers and 79 percent of the devastated workers.

The authors of the study, entitled “Categorizing the Unemployed by the Impact of the Recession”, surveyed 1,202 people who had been laid off between August 2008 and 2009, then asked the group the same questions in March 2010, November 2010 and August 2011.

Cliff Zukin, a professor of public policy and political science at Rutgers and one of the authors of the report, said, “The news is strikingly bad.” He went on to say that the data from the survey provided “a tremendous impression of dislocation and pain and wasted talent.”

Neither President Obama nor any other member of his administration has even mentioned the Rutgers report. Instead, Obama on Friday hailed the Labor Department employment report for November released the same day. That report showed a tepid increase in US payrolls and a 0.4 percent decline in the official jobless rate, caused by a mass exodus of 315,000 discouraged workers from the labor force.

It also showed that the average duration of unemployment had hit a new record of 40.9 weeks in November and the portion of the unemployed out of work for more than six months had increased to 43 percent. Bloomberg, citing Labor Department statistics, reported that 12 million people in the US were out of work and receiving no benefits in November, an increase of nearly 700,000 from the previous year.

The mass media have barely reported the Rutgers report, reflecting the callous indifference of the entire political establishment to the social devastation resulting from the jobs crisis and the policies of the government and both big business parties.

The Rutgers study is only the latest in a series of reports documenting growing poverty and social inequality and widespread social misery in the United States. Last month, the Census Bureau released a new measurement of poverty that increased the estimate of the number of poor people in the US to 49 million. Earlier the same month, a study by the Brookings Institution found that Americans living in high-poverty neighborhoods increased by one third over the past 10 years.

In October, Gallup released a poll showing that the portion of Americans who did not have enough money to buy adequate food in the past 12 months grew from 9 percent to 19 percent between 2008 and 2011. This figure was three times higher than in China, where only 6 percent of people reported not having enough money for food in the same period.

Also in October, the Congressional Budget Office reported that the richest 1 percent of US households nearly tripled their income between 1979 and 2007 and doubled their share of the national income.

These conditions are not merely the result of impersonal forces. They are the product of definite policies pursued by successive US administrations, Democratic as well as Republican, in behalf of the narrow and selfish interests of the corporate-financial elite. The Obama administration has intensified the ruling class assault on the living standards of the working class carried out by previous administrations.

Obama has rejected any serious policies to provide jobs or real relief for the unemployed, while devoting his administration’s efforts to bailing out the financial aristocracy and ensuring its further enrichment. This has included a policy of wage cutting, initiated with the forced bankruptcy of General Motors and Chrysler, and support for brutal cuts in social services, jobs, wages, health benefits and pensions at the state and local levels.

The result has been a sharp fall in labor costs and a surge in corporate profits. Since 2008, labor costs have fallen by over 3 percent, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. By comparison, in the postwar period unit labor costs on average increased 3 percent per year.

In the midst of the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression, corporate profits have risen every year since 2008. In 2009 they were up by 12.6 percent and in 2010 by 19.0 percent. They are on course to hit a new record this year.

The next step is a frontal assault on the core social programs that remain—Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, food stamps—as part of the drive to make the working class pay for the plundering of the state treasury in the multitrillion-dollar bailout of Wall Street.

In 2009, the WSWS wrote that “the current government-corporate offensive is aimed at fundamentally restructuring class relations in the US. There is to be no return to the conditions that existed prior to the current economic crisis. The aim is nothing less than the destruction of all that remains of the gains won by previous generations of workers and the impoverishment of the entire working class.”

This analysis has been completely vindicated by events. The Obama administration, acting in behalf of the capitalist class, is utilizing the crisis precipitated by the parasitic and criminal operations of the banks to carry out a social counterrevolution. The conscious aim is to destroy all of the past social gains of the working class.

The Occupy Wall Street protests, which are an initial expression of deep-rooted anger and mounting hostility toward capitalism among broad sections of the population, anticipate the emergence of mass working class struggles. They have been met with brutal repression by local governments headed by Democratic as well as Republican politicians all across the country, carried out with the tacit support of the Obama administration.

This demonstrates that the fight against social inequality, poverty and the domination of the banks is a political fight against the capitalist state and all of its parties and representatives. The only way forward is the building of a mass socialist movement of the working class to break the grip of the financial oligarchy and place the corporations and banks under the democratic control of the people, so that production can be carried out to meet social needs, not private profit.

The Deception of Media

Hundreds of Occupy LA Demonstrators Still Held Without Charges

Hundreds of OccupyLA Demonstrators Held for Days Without Charges on $5,000 Bail in Deplorable, Illegal, and Unconstitutional Conditions

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Arrestees kept on buses for hours, forced to urinate self, deprived of water, medical aid or legal assistance...

Guest blogged by Ernest A. Canning with Brad Friedman

[Article now UPDATED at bottom with new information on the LAPD release of detainees.]

Much of the good will and plaudits earned by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck for their "minimal use of force" tactics employed to clear OccupyLA demonstrators from City Hall Park earlier this week has been quickly squandered in the hours and days since. The BRAD BLOG has learned that hundreds of peaceful arrestees were kept in often deplorable conditions in the hours following their apprehension.

According to new interviews with some of the arrestees following their release, men and women alike were held without charges for hours on end, forced to urinate in their seats on a holding bus while handcuffed, cut off from attorneys, medical supplies, and drinking water, and locked away with punitively high bails while being deprived of both humane and Constitutional rights.

At this hour, almost three full days after their arrest at the OccupyLA encampment in front of Los Angeles City Hall, more than 200 of the peaceful demonstrators detained by LAPD in the evening on Tuesday and early morning hours on Wednesday --- many of them who were not even participating in the Occupation --- are still being held in jail pending $5,000 bail for their misdemeanor detentions, as detailed by radio station KPCC. Approximately fifty people have been released, some after posting bail, others for medical reasons.

KPCC went on to report that on Thursday, only 19 of those people had yet to be charged. The City Attorney's office said that, depending on the charge, some would face bail as high as $20,000.

This morning, Los Angeles Times reported that most of the 19 who were allowed to appear in L.A. County Superior Court Thursday were released without bail, but on the "condition that they not return to the City Hall area, where the protesters had camped." The Times went on to note that most of those still held without being charged have no criminal record...

Harsh treatment of arrestees, rights withheld

Amongst those who did post a $5,000 bail was Mike Prysner, a 28 year old Iraq war vet and a member of the ANSWER coalition, who disputes the positive narrative advanced by Villaraigosa and Beck and reported by many in the media (including The BRAD BLOG) on Wednesday morning.

Prysner claims he "witnessed many people being beaten by police batons," according to KPPC. Yesterday, The BRAD BLOG highlighted two videos showing apparently inappropriate treatment of photojournalists on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. One video shows an LAPD officer identified as "Escamilla" pointing a weapon directly at a peaceful citizen videographer. Another shows several officers roughly handling and cuffing a photojournalist at the OccupyLA site.

A citizen journalist and live video-streamer who prefers to be known only as "Freedom" (Brad Friedman interviewed her on KPFK/Pacifica Radio on Wednesday afternoon) has begun documenting the stories of released detainees on her UStream page.

Stories of arrestees being shot with rubber bullets, held hours on end on buses without medical care or without being allowed to urinate or drink water --- many of whom were not even inside of the City Hall Park at the time of their arrests --- are documented.

In one of "Freedom's" interviews with three young woman after their release from custody finally last night, the girls describe how they were told by police that they'd be arrested if they were on the streets on the night of November 29th, but would not be if they remained on the sidewalk. Many were then pulled off the sidewalk into the streets and arrested, according to the women.

They describe how they were shackled with plastic cords for nearly eight hours on a bus as they were driven from station to station without being booked. Chilled by a continuously running air-conditioning system, they were subjected to loud music, relentlessly played to keep them from being able to communicate with officers or each other as their hands turned blue. They were deprived medical support for conditions such as asthma.

They say they were never read their Miranda Rights.

"One of the girls asked the [Deputy] Sheriffs can we use the bathroom and he said 'Well, we can't take you there, so you might have to piss on yourself.'"

The young ladies continue to explain what happened next: "At that point they had already stopped for a rest break for themselves. And we said 'Please, can we have some water? Please, can you make it so that we can go to the bathroom...And they laughed and said, 'What about us? We're in overtime at this point.'"

"At one point, some of us were very close to just going to the bathroom in our pants, which is obviously very humiliating. One girl finally got --- her face was so red and she was so embarrassed --- she said, 'I'm just going to have to go, and I don't know what to do, because I can't take my pants down, and I don't want to pee in my pants. And so all together we surrounded her, because there were men in front of us and behind us. So we surrounded her with our backs to her, and helped her pee."

"We helped her pull her pants down slowly," one of the women explained while in tears.

"We've all agreed to not say which one of us it was, but she went to the bathroom...she just peed on the plastic bench....And then, we all helped her pull her pants up."

Another one of the women adds, "And then the cop came and, what'd he say? --- Something like 'How did that make you feel?' Laughing."

After finally being allowed to leave the bus, some eight hours later, one of the ladies explained that an officer said to them, while laughing, "Didn't you guys have fun? Wasn't it a fun ride?"

The girls say they were arrested at one a.m. on the morning of the 30th, and "ended up being processed at 5pm" the following evening after more than 12 hours.

Another released arrestee, Kevin Recinos, interviewed by "Freedom", explained that "When I was in jail, it took for one guy, he asked for water, it took 9 hours for him to get a cup of water. ... They weren't even letting people go to the bathroom sometimes...They were really treating us like animals."

$5,000 bail for misdemeanor arrests of peaceful demonstrators

Frank Mateljan, a spokesman for the City Attorney's office claims the $5,000 bail set for hundreds of detainees is consistent with the bail schedule of the L.A. County Superior Court. National Lawyers Guild attorney Carol Sobel, however, notes that, pursuant to Penal Code §853.6, the LAPD was required to immediately release most of the detainees with a written notice to appear.

Sobel also complained to the Los Angeles Times that arrested protesters had been denied access to counsel "because of staffing problems and the large influx of inmates."

While $5,000 bail is knowingly out of reach for many of the unemployed demonstrators, Chief Deputy City Attorney William Carter upped the ante, suggesting he would look for ways to make some of them pay for "damaging the park," according to the L.A. Times article.

Carter's more significant concern, however, may turn out to be the cost in civil damages the City of Los Angeles, its Mayor, and Police Chief may ultimately have to pay for violating Section 853.6 of the CA Penal Code and the First and Fourth Amendment rights of the arrested protesters.

Did $5,000 bail violate state law & U.S. Constitution?

Collins vs. Jordan (1996) entailed a landmark decision by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal that has a direct bearing on many of the events we've recently covered at The BRAD BLOG pertaining to interactions between police and Occupy Wall Street demonstrators in California and elsewhere around the country.

The complaint, in Collins, alleged that, in the wake of the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, San Francisco's Mayor Frank Jordan and its Chief of Police Richard Hongisto "decided to ban all demonstrations, peaceful and otherwise, effective May 1, 1992." The decision amounted to a declaration that a peaceful assembly was unlawful, and was followed by mass arrests and detention.

The first part of the 9th Circuit's decision in Collins is directly relevant to the question of whether the Oakland PD violated both state law and the U.S. Constitution when it declared a peaceful gathering at 14th & Broadway on the evening of Oct. 25 to be an "unlawful assembly." That declaration led to an unprovoked assault by the Oakland PD's multi-agency task force, which unleashed a barrage of tear gas, flash grenades, and other "less-lethal" weaponry on a peaceful and defenseless crowd. The assault by police in Oakland that night resulted in a critical skull fracture to U.S. Marine veteran Scott Olsen, who is now fighting to be rehabilitated from the brain damage he suffered that night.

In Collins, the appellate court made it clear that an order of the type declared in Oakland, declaring an "unlawful assembly," could not be lawfully made where there was neither violence nor the imminent threat of violence from those who had assembled. That declaration in the streets of Oakland was different from the "unlawful assembly" declaration made in Los Angeles based on "time and place" of the demonstrations in the City Hall Park (re-dubbed "Solidarity Park" by the Occupiers.)

The second part of Collins has a direct bearing to the response to OccupyLA by the Mayor and LAPD in Los Angeles. The plaintiffs alleged in the Collins case that Mayor Jordan "violated their Fourth Amendment rights by ordering them held in the Santa Rita Jail for up to 55 hours, rather than citing and releasing them pursuant to California Penal Code § 853.6."

Officials are entitled to "qualified immunity" in such cases where the official could have reasonably believed that he/she was not violating a Constitutional or statutory right.

The 9th Circuit, however, not only upheld the district court's rejection of Jordan's "qualified immunity" motion on the grounds that the detentions, in violation of Section 853.6, violated the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, but agreed with the district court that the violation of Section 853.6 gave rise to an inference that "the detentions were intended to prevent" the demonstrators from "engaging in further First Amendment activity."

Here, the condition for release without bail sought by the City Attorney's office --- that protesters vow not to return to the area of the former encampment, despite the Mayor's proud declaration that he would leave the steps of City Hall open as a "free speech area" during most hours of the day --- reflects an unconstitutional infringement on their right to conduct future protests on the public property at City Hall. [See, Best Friends Animal Society vs. Macerich Westside Pavilion Property (March 2, 2011)]

Why destroy good will?

Unlike numerous other cities where the genuine democratic movement that is Occupy Wall Street has been met with the tyranny of a militarized police state, the relationship between OccupyLA and the City of Los Angeles had been quite amicable for the most part in the two months prior to this week.

At the outset, the Los Angeles City Council filed an extraordinary Resolution in support of the L.A. "occupiers" and of the larger "Occupy Wall Street" movement as a whole.

On one rainy and cold morning in the first days of the Occupation, Mayor Villaraigosa supplied the OccupyLA encampment with ponchos. On Thanksgiving, just days before the raid at the encampment, the LAPD gave stuffed turkeys to the demonstrators.

As late as the early morning hours of Nov. 30, after the park had been cleared of demonstrators without the use of pepper spray, tear gas, or other massive shows of force, the Mayor and the Police Chief were congratulating one another for their "minimal use of force" and "constitutional policing."

Why spoil the excellent community relations developed over the last two months? Minimal force is appropriately followed by the humane handling of arrestees, full respect of legal and Constitutional rights, and minimal court entanglements between the city and those demonstrators who engaged in non-violent civil disobedience in support of their cause.

For those who agree, there is the ANSWER Coalition article, at which one can link to a letter to the Mayor calling for the immediate release of the arrested demonstrators.

For those who would like to help with bail and other costs associated with the current needs of the demonstrators, a donation page has been created here.

* * *

UPDATE 9:30pm PT: According to CBS, 187 protesters "were released without bail late Friday" without being charged. They are eligible for a pre-filing diversion program which would permit them to avoid a criminal record by completing a 90 educational program, at a cost of $375 to $400, "given by American Justice Associates focused on the balance between public rights and individual free speech rights."

The release suggests belated compliance with Penal Code § 853.6, but begs the question as to why the 187 were held for so long under a City Attorney-concocted $5,000 bail.

The late release of the 187 suggests that the present circumstance is legally indistinguishable from what occurred in the Collins case as described above.

Also, according to the latest article from KPCC, while the City Attorney had sought to prevent those charged from returning to the City Hall lawn as a condition of their release, "the court apparently denied that request." This account conflicts with the account contained in this morning's edition of Los Angeles Times (cited in our article above), which suggested the court had granted the City Attorney's request, as well as the CBS report linked above tonight, headlined "City Attorney Seeks To Ban Occupy Arrestees From City Hall."

That report says, "In some cases judges had already rejected the recommendation," suggesting that condition could still be applied to some of the arrestees at the request of the City Attorney, who sounds like the one who could, indeed, use a course "on the balance between public rights and individual free speech rights."

Los Angeles Stands Up to the Supreme Court, Looks to Revoke Corporate Personhood

Los Angeles Stands Up To The Supreme Court, Looks To Revoke Corporate Personhood

Billions of corporate dollars have poured into the 2012 Election, all thanks to the Citizens United decision by the conservative members of the Supreme Court. Towns and counties across the country have proposed or passed resolutions against corporate personhood, the most recent of which is Missoula, Montana. But now a major city in America looks to do the same next week.

The Los Angeles city council is preparing to vote on a resolution that would revoke corporate personhood. If the council votes accordingly, Los Angeles would become the biggest city in America to strike a blow against Citizens United. Here is the language of the resolution as provided by DailyKos.

“Resolution 11-0002-S123 (regarding Citizens United v. FEC).

RESOLUTION

WHEREAS, any official position of the City of Los Angeles with respect to legislation, rules, regulations or policies proposed to or pending before a local, state or federal governmental body or agency must have first been adopted in the form of a Resolution by the City Council with the concurrence of the Mayor; and

WHEREAS, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission rolled back legal restrictions on corporate spending in the electoral process, allowing unlimited corporate spending to influence elections, candidate selection, and policy decisions, thereby threatening the voices of “We the People” and the very foundation of our democracy; and

WHEREAS, corporations are not mentioned in the Constitution, and The People have never granted constitutional rights to corporations, nor have We decreed that Corporations have authority that exceeds the authority of “We The People”

WHEREAS, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black in a 1938 opinion stated, “I do not believe the word ‘person’ in the Fourteenth Amendment includes corporations”; and

WHEREAS, money affects the quality and quantity of speech and is NOT, in itself, speech; and allowing corporations with great wealth to use it as speech effectively drowns out the protected free speech of the People in our diverse society;

WHEREAS, the Citizens decision supersedes state and local efforts to regulate corporate activity in their elections;

NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, with the concurrence of the Mayor, that by the adoption of this Motion, the City of Los Angeles hereby includes in its 20 I 1-20 12 Federal and State Legislative Programs SUPPORT for a Constitutional Amendment and other legislative actions ensuring that only human beings, not corporations, are endowed with constitutional rights and that money is not speech, and therefore the expenditure of corporate money to influence the electoral process is no longer a form of constitutionally protected speech.”

Americans all around the nation have been decrying corporate personhood since the Supreme Court made their decision. Indeed, there has been a big push for a Constitutional amendment that bans corporate personhood altogether. The push has especially gained steam since Occupy Wall Street began. One proposed demand of the OWS movement is for Congress to approve of a new amendment. If the Los Angeles council passes the resolution, it could be the spark needed to initiate even more resolutions across the United States, culminating in an eventual Constitutional amendment that would end corporate personhood and corporate money in elections, once and for all. You’ve heard the saying before: As goes California, so goes the rest of the nation. Let’s hope this holds true.

26 TRILLION Dollars In Bank Bailouts! That's Not Including TARP!

Senate Approves Indefinite Military Detention of US Citizens In America

Senate Approves Indefinite Military Detention of US Citizens In America

Efforts rejected to restrict military detention to overseas.

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The U.S. Senate on Thursday crossed a major constitutional line and authorized the American military to arrest and indefinitely detain U.S. citizens within the United States in the war on terror.

The 97-3 vote came after days of bitter debate, where hawkish proponents said the United States was part of a global battlefield where the military should be able to seize any citizen if they were part of a terrorist group attacking America. But opponents, who lost a series of attempts to limit the detention to overseas, said it would be a grave mistake of historic proportions to allow the military to arrest and hold American citizens on US soil without the right to a trial or access to civilian courts.

President Obama has pledged to veto the bill, which next goes to the House. Whether he will do so will come into focus as the 2012 defense spending bill works its way to his desk. The White House issued no statement Thursday.

Senate supporters of domestic military detention said the White House had agreed to the bill's language. But critics, such as Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-CA, whose amendments lost on Thursday, said her proposal to limit the detentions to overseas were the bill's original text on the matter. The bill emerged from the Senate Armed services Committee without a hearing on the military detention provisions.

The Supreme Court, in a recent Guantanamo case, said the military could arrest anyone, anywhere, in the war on terror. But a handful of Democrats and Republicans said the high court's opinion was excessive and unconstitutional.They urged their colleagues to put the Bill of Rights -- which gives every citizen the right to a trial in American courts -- above the urge to expand military arrest powers within the 50 states. They said the country did not do that in two World Wars in the 20th century, and that the nation's current defense and intelligence community did not seek the change in law.

The Greatest Hoax in the History of Money: The Fed, the Banks, the Lies

The Greatest Hoax in the History of Money: The Fed, the Banks, the Lies

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It took the journalists at Bloomberg News two years - and presumably lots of legal fees - to pry information out of the Federal Reserve that should have been made public long ago. We now know that the Fed's secret $7.7 trillion lending program wasn't just the most massive bank bailout ever seen, and it wasn't just free money for mega-bankers - though it was certainly both of those things. It was also the greatest hoax in stock market history.

No, scratch that. It was the greatest hoax in the history of money. And it was built on lies. How many? Let us count the ways.

Here's the first one: The banks paid back all the money back that they were given. No, they didn't. They paid back the principal on these loans. But by obtaining loans at rates far below market value, we now know they received the equivalent of $13 billion in cash giveaways.

Here's another lie: Fed economists support a free-market economy.

Ben Bernanke is a conservative economist who claims to support a free-market system. But we now know that the Federal Reserve lent astonishing sums to US banks in secret, and Bernanke fought with all the resources at his disposal to ensure that this information didn't become public. He didn't just want it to be held back to avoid a panic during the crisis. He wanted it kept secret forever.

I don't know what you call somebody like that, but I know what you don't call him: A capitalist. Free markets need transparency, so that investors and customers can make informed decisions and 'the wisdom of the market' can prevail. Nobody wanted the market to do its job. When it came to banks, they wanted it to be blind, deaf, and dumb, unable to make sound judgments about their financial soundness.

They still want it that way. They don't want investors to know how badly Wall Street executives failed at their jobs. They don't want the free market to do what it does best - thin the herd so it's free of incompetent managers like the executives who still run our largest banks.

You can believe in the free market, or you can believe in today's Wall Street. But you can't do both.

Here's another lie, one that's spread by Dimon and others: Giant banks are more efficient. Size brings efficiency in other kinds of business, but these banks needed massive help. America's six largest banks accounted on any given day for an average of 63 percent of the debt on these loans. The only thing they're more efficient at is wringing free money out of government-created institutions.

And, wow. Jamie Dimon sure is a hypocrite. As Bloomberg noted:

JPMorgan Chase & Co. CEO Jamie Dimon told shareholders in a March 26, 2010, letter that his bank used the Fed's Term Auction Facility "at the request of the Federal Reserve to help motivate others to use the system." He didn't say that the New York-based bank's total TAF borrowings were almost twice its cash holdings or that its peak borrowing of $48 billion on Feb. 26, 2009, came more than a year after the program's creation.

He also didn't mention that these favorable loans gave his bank nearly half a billion dollars in cash it otherwise wouldn't have had. Know what's convenient about that? It helps make up for the three-quarters of a billion Dimon's bank gave up to settle charges of bribery and corruption in Jefferson County, Alabama.

Chase borrowed massive sums of money, either because it was in bigger trouble than it has admitted or because it was bleeding an emergency public program out of greed. Either way, they weren't doing anybody a favor except themselves. How big a favor? Chase netted $457.9 million.

Citigroup's an even more extreme example. Once our largest bank (until continued mismanagement led to ongoing shrinkage). It only exists because Robert Rubin and other officials in the Clinton Administration, cleared the way for the largest merger in history with the enthusiastic support of the Republicans. That merger combined a bank with an insurance company, a harbinger of bad things to come in the risk area.

Citigroup's got the equivalent of a $1.8 billion gift, courtesy of Uncle Sam.

Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan sneers at his critics, especially those who think you shouldn't foreclose on families without obtaining proof that you own their mortgage. "Oh, sure," he said in response to government demands, "we'll do our homework."

Bank of America's gift came to $1.5 billion.

Goldman Sachs shouldn't have been eligible for any Fed giveaways because it wasn't a commercial bank. But a special "waiver" allowed Goldman allowed to become commercial bank so it could be rescued from actions it took before it was a commercial bank. Before that it was an investment bank. Yet, strangely, it seems to have kept operating as an investment bank even after the transition, too, even though commercial banks aren't allowed to do that.

Understand that? Don't take it personally if you don't. You're not supposed.

Goldman Sachs's take? Just under $1 billion.

Washington's always telling us that bankers may have done naughty things, but they weren't illegal things. That gets us to our next lie: There's no evidence that bank executives have committed crimes. Thanks to Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, we may be about to discover whether that's true regarding foreclosures and mortgage filings. But when it comes to stock fraud, the evidence is already piling up.

The Federal Reserve and the US government may have stopped believing in the free market, but the law hasn't. It's a crime to deceive investors about the financial condition of your business, either by lying or by failing to provide the right information. Eliot Spitzer, who knows a thing or two about prosecuting financial crimes, hit the nail on the head when he asked: "where are the inquiries into the false statements made by the bank CEOs? And where are the inquiries about the Fed and Treasury officials who stood by silently as bank representatives made claims that were false, misleading, or worse?"

(Spitzer also proposes a five-point action plan that should be implemented immediately. His piece is well worth a read.)

How about this fib? The media's done a good job reporting on the banks. There's some great reporting going on out there -- Bloomberg, ProPublica, the Huffington Post, the Nation, the New York Times - but they're the exceptions.

Television's still a wasteland most of the time. Are you as sick of the "we got all the money back" line as I am? CNN personality Erin Burnett infamously used it to make an Occupy Wall Street demonstrator look stupid. But the reason he didn't know that because it isn't true. Banks paid back the principal but got a freebie from the interest. That's real money - billions of dollars of it.

You know that. I know that. But Erin Burnett, CNN financial reporter, doesn't seem to know that.

We're not condemning all television. Scott Pelley did a great report about homelessness on 60 Minutes just last week. But most channels haven't found the time to fully or accurately report on the enormity of this secret loan program. They've pretty much taken a pass on what, barring some ancient event I'm forgetting, is the greatest financial hoax in history.

And while we're on the topic of Occupy, let's thanking them for the fact we'll probably never hear this next lie again: "Wall Street and Main Street rise and fall together." Banks got massive giveaways. And despite their recent credit downgrade they're doing fine, thank you very much. The rest of the country? Not so much. In fact, let's do a quick inventory:

Robert Rubin made an estimated $155 million during his tenure at Citigroup.

One in four mortgages in this country is still underwater.

Brian Moynihan at Bank of America got promoted, then made that 'homework' wisecrack.

Twenty-four million Americans are un- or under-employed, including record numbers of young people and African-Americans.

The CEO of Goldman Sachs , Lloyd Blankfein, still has his job.

Poverty has soared to record levels since the financial crisis.

Erin Burnett, who made fun of a young demonstrator for not being aware of the misinformation she had repeated, still has an evening news program on CNN. She is engaged to be married to a Citigroup executive.

College graduates' unemployment rate rose last month, while the total amount of student loan debt in the United States is now greater than the total amount of credit card debt.

Jamie Dimon made a second career out of complaining that bankers are being unfairly criticized, even as Chase became the largest bank in the United States - and the world.

Jefferson County, Alabama, where Chase was forced to settle charges of bribing local officials, recently declared bankruptcy.

Twenty Examples of the Obama Administration Assault on Domestic Civil Liberties

Twenty Examples of the Obama Administration Assault on Domestic Civil Liberties

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The Obama administration has affirmed, continued and expanded almost all of the draconian domestic civil liberties intrusions pioneered under the Bush administration. Here are twenty examples of serious assaults on the domestic rights to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, the right to privacy, the right to a fair trial, freedom of religion, and freedom of conscience that have occurred since the Obama administration has assumed power. Consider these and then decide if there is any fundamental difference between the Bush presidency and the Obama presidency in the area of domestic civil liberties.

Patriot Act

On May 27, 2011, President Obama, over widespread bipartisan objections, approved a Congressional four year extension of controversial parts of the Patriot Act that were set to expire. In March of 2010, Obama signed a similar extension of the Patriot Act for one year. These provisions allow the government, with permission from a special secret court, to seize records without the owner’s knowledge, conduct secret surveillance of suspicious people who have no known ties to terrorist groups and to obtain secret roving wiretaps on people.

Criminalization of Dissent and Militarization of the Police

Anyone who has gone to a peace or justice protest in recent years has seen it – local police have been turned into SWAT teams, and SWAT teams into heavily armored military. Officer Friendly or even Officer Unfriendly has given way to police uniformed like soldiers with SWAT shields, shin guards, heavy vests, military helmets, visors, and vastly increased firepower. Protest police sport ninja turtle-like outfits and are accompanied by helicopters, special tanks, and even sound blasting vehicles first used in Iraq. Wireless fingerprint scanners first used by troops in Iraq are now being utilized by local police departments to check motorists. Facial recognition software introduced in war zones is now being used in Arizona and other jurisdictions. Drones just like the ones used in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan are being used along the Mexican and Canadian borders. These activities continue to expand under the Obama administration.

Wiretaps

Wiretaps for oral, electronic or wire communications, approved by federal and state courts, are at an all-time high. Wiretaps in year 2010 were up 34% from 2009, according to the Administrative Office of the US Courts.

Criminalization of Speech

Muslims in the US have been targeted by the Obama Department of Justice for inflammatory things they said or published on the internet. First Amendment protection of freedom of speech, most recently stated in a 1969 Supreme Court decision, Brandenberg v Ohio, says the government cannot punish inflammatory speech, even if it advocates violence unless it is likely to incite or produce such action. A Pakistani resident legally living in the US was indicted by the DOJ in September 2011 for uploading a video on YouTube. The DOJ said the video was supportive of terrorists even though nothing on the video called for violence. In July 2011, the DOJ indicted a former Penn State student for going onto websites and suggesting targets and for providing a link to an explosives course already posted on the internet.

Domestic Government Spying on Muslim Communities

In activities that offend freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and several other laws, the NYPD and the CIA have partnered to conduct intelligence operations against Muslim communities in New York and elsewhere. The CIA, which is prohibited from spying on Americans, works with the police on “human mapping”, commonly known as racial and religious profiling to spy on the Muslim community. Under the Obama administration, the Associated Press reported in August 2011, informants known as “mosque crawlers,” monitor sermons, bookstores and cafes.

Top Secret America

In July 2010, the Washington Post released “Top Secret America,” a series of articles detailing the results of a two year investigation into the rapidly expanding world of homeland security, intelligence and counter-terrorism. It found 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence at about 10,000 locations across the US. Every single day, the National Security Agency intercepts and stores more than 1.7 billion emails, phone calls and other types of communications. The FBI has a secret database named Guardian that contains reports of suspicious activities filed from federal, state and local law enforcement. According to the Washington Post Guardian contained 161,948 files as of December 2009. From that database there have been 103 full investigations and at least five arrests the FBI reported. The Obama administration has done nothing to cut back on the secrecy.

Other Domestic Spying

There are at least 72 fusion centers across the US which collect local domestic police information and merge it into multi-jurisdictional intelligence centers, according to recent report by the ACLU. These centers share information from federal, state and local law enforcement and some private companies to secretly spy on Americans. These all continue to grow and flourish under the Obama administration.

Abusive FBI Intelligence Operations

The Electronic Frontier Foundation documented thousands of violations of the law by FBI intelligence operations from 2001 to 2008 and estimate that there are over 4000 such violations each year. President Obama issued an executive order to strengthen the Intelligence Oversight Board, an agency which is supposed to make sure the FBI, the CIA and other spy agencies are following the law. No other changes have been noticed.

Wikileaks

The publication of US diplomatic cables by Wikileaks and then by main stream news outlets sparked condemnation by Obama administration officials who said the publication of accurate government documents was nothing less than an attack on the United States. The Attorney General announced a criminal investigation and promised “this is not saber rattling.” Government officials warned State Department employees not to download the publicly available documents. A State Department official and Columbia officials warned students that discussing Wikileaks or linking documents to social networking sites could jeopardize their chances of getting a government job, a position that lasted several days until reversed by other Columbia officials. At the time this was written, the Obama administration continued to try to find ways to prosecute the publishers of Wikileaks.

Censorship of Books by the CIA

In 2011, the CIA demanded extensive cuts from a memoir by former FBI agent Ali H. Soufan, in part because it made the agency look bad. Soufan’s book detailed the use of torture methods on captured prisoners and mistakes that led to 9-11. Similarly, a 2011 book on interrogation methods by former CIA agent Glenn Carle was subjected to extensive black outs. The CIA under the Obama administration continues its push for censorship.

Blocking Publication of Photos of U.S. Soldiers Abusing Prisoners

In May 2009, President Obama reversed his position of three weeks earlier and refused to release photos of US soldiers abusing prisoners. In April 2009, the US Department of Defense told a federal court that it would release the photos. The photos were part of nearly 200 criminal investigations into abuses by soldiers.

Technological Spying

The Bay Area Transit System, in August 2011, hearing of rumors to protest against fatal shootings by their police, shut down cell service in four stations. Western companies sell email surveillance software to repressive regimes in China, Libya and Syria to use against protestors and human rights activists. Surveillance cameras monitor residents in high crime areas, street corners and other governmental buildings. Police department computers ask for and receive daily lists from utility companies with addresses and names of every home address in their area. Computers in police cars scan every license plate of every car they drive by. The Obama administration has made no serious effort to cut back these new technologies of spying on citizens.

Use of “State Secrets” to Shield Government and Others from review

When the Bush government was caught hiring private planes from a Boeing subsidiary to transport people for torture to other countries, the Bush administration successfully asked the federal trial court to dismiss a case by detainees tortured because having a trial would disclose “state secrets” and threaten national security. When President Obama was elected, the state secrets defense was reaffirmed in arguments before a federal appeals court. It continues to be a mainstay of the Obama administration effort to cloak their actions and the actions of the Bush administration in secrecy.

In another case, it became clear in 2005 that the Bush FBI was avoiding the Fourth Amendment requirement to seek judicial warrants to get telephone and internet records by going directly to the phone companies and asking for the records. The government and the companies, among other methods of surveillance, set up secret rooms where phone and internet traffic could be monitored. In 2008, the government granted the companies amnesty for violating the privacy rights of their customers. Customers sued anyway. But the Obama administration successfully argued to the district court, among other defenses, that disclosure would expose state secrets and should be dismissed. The case is now on appeal.

Material Support

The Obama administration successfully asked the US Supreme Court not to apply the First Amendment and to allow the government to criminalize humanitarian aid and legal activities of people providing advice or support to foreign organizations which are listed on the government list as terrorist organizations. The material support law can now be read to penalize people who provide humanitarian aid or human rights advocacy. The Obama administration Solicitor General argued to the court “when you help Hezbollah build homes, you are also helping Hezbollah build bombs.” The Court agreed with the Obama argument that national security trumps free speech in these circumstances.

Chicago Anti-war Grand Jury Investigation

In September 2010, FBI agents raided the homes of seven peace activists in Chicago, Minneapolis and Grand Rapids seizing computers, cell phones, passports, and records. More than 20 anti-war activists were issued federal grand jury subpoenas and more were questioned across the country. Some of those targeted were members of local labor unions, others members of organizations like the Arab American Action Network, the Columbia Action Network, the Twin Cities Anti-War Campaign and the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. Many were active internationally and visited resistance groups in Columbia and Palestine. Subpoenas directed people to bring anything related to trips to Columbia, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Israel or the Middle East. In 2011, the home of a Los Angeles activist was raided and he was questioned about his connections with the September 2010 activists. All of these investigations are directed by the Obama administration.

Punishing Whistleblowers

The Obama administration has prosecuted five whistleblowers under the Espionage Act, more than all the other administrations in history put together. They charged a National Security Agency advisor with ten felonies under the Espionage Act for telling the press that government eavesdroppers were wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on misguided and failed projects. After their case collapsed, the government, which was chastised by the federal judge as engaging in unconscionable conduct allowed him to plead to a misdemeanor and walk. The administration has also prosecuted former members of the CIA, the State Department, and the FBI. They even tried to subpoena a journalist and one of the lawyers for the whistleblowers.

Bradley Manning

Army private Bradley Manning is accused of leaking thousands of government documents to Wikileaks. These documents expose untold numbers of lies by US government officials, wrongful killings of civilians, policies to ignore torture in Iraq, information about who is held at Guantanamo, cover ups of drone strikes and abuse of children and much more damaging information about US malfeasance. Though Daniel Ellsberg and other whistleblowers say Bradley is an American hero, the US government has jailed him and is threatening him with charges of espionage which may be punished by the death penalty. For months Manning was held in solitary confinement and forced by guards to sleep naked. When asked about how Manning was being held, President Obama personally defended the conditions of his confinement saying he had been assured they were appropriate and meeting our basic standards.

Solitary Confinement

At least 20,000 people are in solitary confinement in US jails and prisons, some estimate several times that many. Despite the fact that federal, state and local prisons and jails do not report actual numbers, academic research estimates tens of thousands are kept in cells for 23 to 24 hours a day in supermax units and prisons, in lockdown, in security housing units, in “the hole”, and in special management units or administrative segregation. Human Rights Watch reports that one-third to one-half of the prisoners in solitary are likely mentally ill. In May 2006, the UN Committee on Torture concluded that the United States should “review the regimen imposed on detainees in supermax prisons, in particular, the practice of prolonged isolation.” The Obama administration has taken no steps to cut back on the use of solitary confinement in federal, state or local jails and prisons.

Special Administrative Measures

Special Administrative Measures (SAMS) are extra harsh conditions of confinement imposed on prisoners (including pre-trial detainees) by the Attorney General. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons imposes restrictions such segregation and isolation from all other prisoners, and limitation or denial of contact with the outside world such as: no visitors except attorneys, no contact with news media, no use of phone, no correspondence, no contact with family, no communication with guards, 24 hour video surveillance and monitoring. The DOJ admitted in 2009 that several dozen prisoners, including several pre-trial detainees, mostly Muslims, were kept incommunicado under SAMS. If anything, the use of SAMS has increased under the Obama administration.

These twenty concrete examples document a sustained assault on domestic civil liberties in the United States under the Obama administration. Rhetoric aside, how different has Obama been from Bush in this area?

Bill is a human rights lawyer and law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. He also serves as Associate Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He can be reached at Quigley77@gmail.com

The Fed’s European “Rescue”: Another Back-Door US Bank / Goldman Bailout?

The Fed’s European “Rescue”: Another Back-Door US Bank / Goldman Bailout?

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In the wake of chopping its Central Bank swap rates today, the Fed has been called a bunch of names: a hero for slugging the big bailout bat in the ninth inning, and a villain for printing money to help Europe at the expense of the US. Neither depiction is right.

The Fed is merely continuing its unfettered brand of bailout-economics, promoted with heightened intensity recently by President Obama and Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner in the wake of Germany not playing bailout-ball. Recall, a couple years ago, it was a uniquely American brand of BIG bailouts that the Fed adopted in creating $7.7 trillion of bank subsidies that ran the gamut from back-door AIG bailouts (some of which went to US / some to European banks that deal with those same US banks), to the purchasing of mortgage-backed–securities, to near zero-rate loans (for banks).

Similarly, today’s move was also about protecting US banks from losses – self inflicted by dangerous derivatives-chain trades, again with each other, and with European banks.

Before getting into the timing of the Fed’s god-father actions, let’s discuss its two kinds of swaps (jargon alert - a swap is a trade between two parties for some time period – you swap me a sweater for a hat because I’m cold, when I’m warmer, we’ll swap back). The Fed had both of these kinds of swaps set up and ready-to-go in the form of : dollar liquidity swap lines and foreign currency liquidity swap lines. Both are administered through Wall Street's staunchest ally, and Tim Geithner's old stomping ground, the New York Fed.

The dollar swap lines give foreign central banks the ability to borrow dollars against their currency, use them for whatever they want - like to shore up bets made by European banks that went wrong, and at a later date, return them. A ‘temporary dollar liquidity swap arrangement” with 14 foreign central banks was available between December 12, 2007 (several months before Bear Stearn’s collapse and 9 months before the Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy that scared Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley into getting the Fed’s instant permission to become bank holding companies, and thus gain access to any Feds subsidies.)

Those dollar-swap lines ended on February 1, 2010. BUT – three months later, they were back on, but this time the FOMC re-authorized dollar liquidity swap lines with only 5 central banks through January 2011. BUT – on December 21, 2010 – the FOMC extended the lines through August 1, 2011. THEN– on June 29th, 2011, these lines were extended through August 1, 2012. AND NOW – though already available, they were announced with save-the-day fanfare as if they were just considered.

Then, there are the sneakily-dubbed “foreign currency liquidity swap” lines, which, as per the Fed's own words, provide "foreign currency-denominated liquidity to US banks.” (Italics mine.) In other words, let US banks play with foreign bonds.

These were originally used with 4 foreign banks on April, 2009 and expired on February 1, 2010. Until they were resurrected today, November 30, 2011, with foreign currency swap arrangements between the Fed, Bank of Canada, Bank of England, Bank of Japan. Swiss National Bank and the European Central Bank.

They are to remain in place until February 1, 2013, longer than the original time period for which they were available during phase one of the global bank-led meltdown, the US phase. (For those following my work, we are in phase two of four, the European phase.)

That’s a lot of jargon, but keep these two things in mind: 1) these lines, by the Fed’s own words, are to provide help to US banks. and 2) they are open ended.

There are other reasons that have been thrown up as to why the Fed acted now – like, a European bank was about to fail. But, that rumor was around in the summer and nothing happened. Also, dozens of European banks have been downgraded, and several failed stress tests. Nothing. The Fed didn’t step in when it was just Greece –or Ireland - or when there were rampant ‘contagion’ fears, and Italian bonds started trading above 7%, rising unabated despite the trick of former Goldman Sachs International advisor Mario Monti replacing former Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi’s with his promises of fiscally conservative actions (read: austerity measures) to come.

Perhaps at that point, Goldman thought they had it all under control, but Germany's bailout-resistance was still a thorn, which is why its bonds got hammered in the last auction, proving that big Finance will get what it wants, no matter how dirty it needs to play. Nothing from the Fed, except a small increase in funding to the IMF.

Rating agency, Moody’s announced it was looking at possibly downgrading 87 European banks. Still the Fed waited with open lines. And then, S&P downgraded the US banks again, including Goldman ,making their own financing costs more expensive and the funding of their seismic derivatives positions more tenuous. The Fed found the right moment. Bingo.

Now, consider this: the top four US banks (JPM Chase, Citibank, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs) control nearly 95% of the US derivatives market, which has grown by 20% since last year to $235 trillion. That figure is a third of all global derivatives of $707 trillion (up from $601 trillion in December, 2010 and $583 trillion mid-year 2010. )

Breaking that down: JPM Chase holds 11% of the world’s derivative exposure, Citibank, Bank of America, and Goldman comprise about 7% each. But, Goldman has something the others don’t – a lot fewer assets beneath its derivatives stockpile. It has 537 times as many (from 440 times last year) derivatives as assets. Think of a 537 story skyscraper on a one story see-saw. Goldman has $88 billon in assets, and $48 trillion in notional derivatives exposure. This is by FAR the highest ratio of derivatives to assets of any so-called bank backed by a government. The next highest ratio belongs to Citibank with $1.2 trillion in assets and $56 trillion in derivative exposure, or 46 to 1. JPM Chase's ratio is 44 to 1. Bank of America’s ratio is 36 to 1.

Separately Goldman happened to have lost a lot of money in Foreign Exchange derivative positions last quarter. (See Table 7.) Goldman’s loss was about equal to the total gains of the other banks, indicative of some very contrarian trade going on. In addition, Goldman has the most credit risk with respect to the capital it holds, by a factor of 3 or 4 to 1 relative to the other big banks. So did the Fed's timing have something to do with its star bank? We don't really know for sure.

Sadly, until there’s another FED audit, or FOIA request, we’re not going to know which banks are the beneficiaries of the Fed’s most recent international largesse either, nor will we know what their specific exposures are to each other, or to various European banks, or which trades are going super-badly.

But we do know from the US bailouts in phase one of the global meltdown, that providing ‘liquidity' or ‘greasing the wheels of ‘ banks in times of ‘emergency’ does absolute nothing for the Main Street Economy. Not in the US. And not in Europe. It also doesn’t fix anything, it just funds bad trades with impunity.

6 Shocking Revelations About Wall Street's Secret Government

6 Shocking Revelations About Wall Street's "Secret Government"

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We now have concrete evidence that Wall Street and Washington are running a secret government far removed from the democratic process. Through a freedom of information request by Bloomberg News, the public now has access to over 29,000 pages of Fed documents and 21,000 additional Fed transactions that were deliberately hidden, and for good reason. (See here and here.)

These documents show how top government officials willfully concealed from Congress and the public the true extent of the 2008-'09 bailouts that enriched the few and enhanced the interests of giant Wall Streets firms. Here’s what we now know:

  • The secret Wall Street bailouts totaled $7.77 trillion, 10 times more than the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) passed by Congress in 2008.
  • Knowledge of the secret bailout funds was not shared with Congress even while it was drafting and debating legislation to break up the big banks.
  • The secret funding, provided at below-market rates, gave Wall Street banks an additional $13 billion in profits. (That’s enough money to hire more than 325,000 entry level teachers.)
  • The secret loans financed bank mergers so that the largest banks could grow even larger. The money also allowed banks to step up their lobbying efforts.
  • While Henry Paulson (Bush’s Secretary of the Treasury) was informing Congress and the public that only minor reforms were needed to protect Fannie and Freddie from collapse, he met secretly with leading Wall Street hedge fund managers -- among them his former colleagues at Goldman Sachs -- to alert them that he was about to nationalize the giant mortgage companies – a move that would eradicate nearly all the stock value of the companies. This information was enormously valuable because it allowed these hedge funds to short Fannie and Freddie and thereby make a fortune.
  • While Timothy Geithner was head of the NY Federal Reserve, he argued against legislative efforts by Senator Ted Kaufman, D-Delaware, to limit the size of banks because the issue was “too complex for Congress and that people who know the markets should handle these decisions,” Kaufman recalls. Meanwhile, Geithner was fully aware of the enormous secret loans while Senator Kaufman was kept in the dark. Barney Frank, who was authoring key bank reform legislation was also not informed of the secret loans. No one in Congress was told.

So what does this all mean?

1. The big banks and hedge funds were in much more trouble than we were led to believe.

As many of us suspected, all the big banks were on their knees begging for help – secretly – while telling their investors, the public and Congress that all was well. They had gambled and lost. Under the rules of ideal capitalism, they should have suffered some “creative destruction,” and seen their shareholder value eliminated through bankruptcy, and their managers replaced. The entire banking system should have been reorganized from top to bottom as well. Instead, these colossal failures were secretly rewarded.

2. Wall Street’s secret government made sure the largest banks would grow even larger, aided by the secret funding.

While Congress was debating legislation to break up the large banks and reinstitute Glass Steagall (to separate risky investment banking from insured commercial banking,) the secret government was using public funds to grow even larger through mergers and acquisitions. Because Congress and the public were unaware of the secret funding and ill-health of all the banks, the legislation was easily defeated. As the chart below makes painfully clear, too-big-to-fail banks grew even bigger.


3. The bigger Wall Street becomes, the more government it can buy.

This part isn’t secret. As the top six banks grew larger, they spent more funds lobbying to make sure that they wouldn’t suffer any unprofitable impacts from banking reform legislation. So after the biggest banks received hundreds of billions in secret loans, they upped their lobbying funds to maintain their size and power. Read ‘em and weep:


4. Wall Street’s secret government protects its own.

At first, it’s not easy to understand how Treasury Secretary Paulson, the former head of Goldman Sachs, could risk attending a secret meeting with giant hedge fund managers, many of whom used to work at Goldman Sachs. How could the nation’s highest ranking financial official dare to tip off these hedge fund elites about the imminent government takeover of Fannie and Freddie before Congress and the public were informed? Well, one answer is that Paulson felt obliged to warn his old comrades of the impeding nationalization. Maybe, he wanted to get them out of harm’s way just in case they were heavily involved in those markets. Or maybe he also wanted to give them a very valuable tip to profit by. But the deeper explanation, I believe, is that Wall Street’s key government officials – Paulson, Summers, Geithner, Orszag (the former Obama OMB chief who now makes millions working for CitiGroup), etc. truly believe the following:

  • Wall Street banks are the best in the world and are the cutting-edge of the American economy. They are our future.
  • Wall Street bankers and hedge fund managers are enormously smarter and sharper than the rest of us. They deserve our admiration.
  • Helping Wall Street to grow and prosper is precisely the same thing as helping all Americans and the entire economy. They deserve our support.
  • Secret meetings to provide insider information are normal on Wall Street. There’s nothing wrong with warning your friends about upcoming policy decisions that might impact their profits.
  • There’s also absolutely nothing wrong with providing trillions of dollars of secret loans to the best and the brightest and not telling Congress about it.

It’s all a closed loop of self-justification and self-deception: Wall Street is brilliant. What Wall Street does is for the good of the country. Helping Wall Street profit is good for the country. Hiding the truth from democratically elected leaders is also for the good of the country because Wall Street is brilliant and knows better.

And all this is deeply believed by Wall Street and its secret government, even though Wall Street, and Wall Street alone, took down the economy and killed 8 million jobs in a matter of months. Simply brilliant!

5. Wall Street is a clear and present danger to democracy.

Usually, I am not an alarmist. In fact, I often argue against facile conspiracy theories. I want to believe that our democracy still has promise. But, the Wall Street-induced crash and the government’s response to it has me very worried. The Bloomberg News revelations suggest that Wall Street’s secret government has enormous disdain for what remains of our democracy. The financial elites obviously believe that Congress cannot be trusted to do the right thing even when it is bought and paid for by the very banks it supposedly regulates. As for the rest of us? We’re just a financially illiterate mass to be manipulated through the mass media. Our minds too can be bought and sold through careful marketing.

This financial arrogance and corruption is enormously corrosive to our democratic values. Already, many Americans, and for good reason, no longer trust their government. Already, many Americans, and for good reason, no longer vote. Already, many Americans, and for good reason, believe that democracy as we know it is a sham. Wall Street couldn’t have written a better script to maintain its domination.

6. Occupy Wall Street is fundamentally correct, but we need more.

The occupiers dramatically attacked Wall Street elites and captured the country’s imagination with their 1 percent, 99 percent framework. And the idea is sticking and spreading. But that’s only the start. To reclaim our country from Wall Street’s secret government we will need to develop an enormous movement among the 99 percent. Although we hope it just happens spontaneously through Twitter and Facebook, we all know it will require hardcore organizing involving millions of us.

At the moment, no one knows what form it will take. But we do know this: great concentrations of power and wealth do not give up their power and wealth without an enormous fight. Wall Street’s secret government is more than ready to protect itself, even if it means subverting democracy. Our occupiers have shown great courage in helping us reclaim our democratic rights. Let’s hope it spreads…and soon.

U.S. military grows, guards opium trade in Afghanistan

War on drugs revealed as total hoax - US military admits to guarding, assisting lucrative opium trade in Afghanistan

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(NaturalNews) Afghanistan is, by far, the largest grower and exporter of opium in the world today, cultivating a 92 percent market share of the global opium trade. But what may shock many is the fact that the US military has been specifically tasked with guarding Afghan poppy fields, from which opium is derived, in order to protect this multibillion dollar industry that enriches Wall Street, the CIA, MI6, and various other groups that profit big time from this illicit drug trade scheme.

Prior to the tragic events of September 11, 2001, Afghanistan was hardly even a world player in growing poppy, which is used to produce both illegal heroin and pharmaceutical-grade morphine. In fact, the Taliban had been actively destroying poppy fields as part of an effort to rid the country of this harmful plant, as was reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on February 16, 2001, in a piece entitled Nation's opium production virtually wiped out (http://news.google.com/newspapers?n...).

But after 9/11, the US military-industrial complex quickly invaded Afghanistan and began facilitating the reinstatement of the country's poppy industry. According to the United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP), opium cultivation increased by 657 percent in 2002 after the US military invaded the country under the direction of then-President George W. Bush (http://www.infowars.com/fox-news-ma...).

CIA responsible for reinstating opium industry in Afghanistan after 9/11

More recently, The New York Times (NYT) reported that the brother of current Afghan President Hamid Karzai had actually been on the payroll of the CIA for at least eight years prior to this information going public in 2009. Ahmed Wali Karzai was a crucial player in reinstating the country's opium drug trade, known as Golden Crescent, and the CIA had been financing the endeavor behind the scenes (http://www.infowars.com/ny-times-af...).

"The Golden Crescent drug trade, launched by the CIA in the early 1980s, continues to be protected by US intelligence, in liaison with NATO occupation forces and the British military," wrote Prof. Michel Chossudovsky in a 2007 report, before it was revealed that Ahmed Wali Karzai was on the CIA payroll. "The proceeds of this lucrative multibillion dollar contraband are deposited in Western banks. Almost the totality of revenues accrue to corporate interests and criminal syndicates outside Afghanistan" (http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/A...).

But the mainstream media has been peddling a different story to the American public. FOX News, for instance, aired a propaganda piece back in 2010 claiming that military personnel are having to protect the Afghan poppy fields, rather than destroy them, in order to keep the locals happy and to avoid a potential "security risk" -- and FOX News reporter Geraldo Rivera can be heard blatantly lying about poppy farmers being financially supported by the Taliban, rather than the CIA and other foreign interests.

You can watch that clip here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aj-b...

So while tens of thousands of Americans continue to be harmed or killed every year by overdoses from drugs originating from this illicit opium trade, and while cultivation of innocuous crops like marijuana and hemp remains illegal in the US, the American military is actively guarding the very poppy fields in Afghanistan that fuel the global drug trade. Something is terribly wrong with this picture.

Attack on the Middle Class: First They Came for Your Paycheck. Then Your House. What's Next?

Attack on the Middle Class!!

First they came for your paycheck. Then your house. What's next?

THE REMARKABLE thing about the American middle class is that we still have one, given the job losses, housing bust, and 401(k) wipeout of the past three years—and considering that for 35 years, politicians (and the bankers who own them) have been hammering away at middle-class institutions. The assault began in the 1970s, when New York City's fiscal crisis [1] and California's property-tax revolt [2] marked the start of a long decline in public services. Next came the recession and anti-union policies of the early 1980s, whose whip's end hit the black working class especially hard. (Automakers have long been among the nation's largest private employers of African Americans. In the late '70s, one in every 50 African Americans [3] in the workforce was employed in the industry.) Thanks to the UAW, the automakers provided good jobs and pensions for workers who, in many cases, had a high-school education at best. When Chrysler hit the ropes in 1979, Congress did pitch in with a $1.5 billion loan guarantee [4] (I worked on that bill as an economist for the House banking committee), but the decade that followed still pummeled autoworkers—as they did all of American manufacturing.

The consequences are still unfolding. Total employment of manufacturing workers peaked [5] in 1979, and three decades later, we're in the endgame. Jobs in the sector are down [6] by about a third since 2000—some 6 million lost. Most of them will never be replaced. Nothing can stop the Chinese, Koreans, Vietnamese, and others from making shoes and ships and sealing wax at wages we can't compete with. And nothing will.

For a time in the 2000s, some of those job losses were offset by gains in the other hard-hat sector: construction. But the Great Recession put an end to that. Since 2007, a quarter of construction jobs have disappeared [6], more than 2 million in all—about as many as were lost in manufacturing, but from a much smaller base.

Those numbers tell of the next big middle-class tragedy—the housing bust. Homeownership was a great American success story. It rose for 60 years [7], peaking around 2004—and for most of those six decades it was an honest business, more or less. But in its last five years, the long boom was kept alive by the greatest financial swindle in world history. In the collapse that followed, an enormous amount of middle-class wealth was wiped out. Homes were once a source of pride, safety, and collateral. Now they're often a burden—and homebuilding is at lows not seen since World War II.

Is it a shock that after the Citizens United decision, Target was among the first companies to write a huge check to a political campaign?

With manufacturing and construction on the ropes, service jobs now practically comprise the whole economy [8]. Our rich folks today make their money in finance and technology; the upper middle class lives on trade, law, and medicine; and the middle class teaches and works in the civil service. The working class cooks, cleans, trucks, soldiers, stocks, repairs cars, makes beds, changes bedpans, and rings up sales. Today there are more salespeople, more hotel and restaurant workers, far more lawyers, doctors and accountants, and almost twice as many education and health workers as there are people producing tangible goods.

This isn't all bad. Conditions in stores, restaurants, and hospitals are often better than in factories. Jobs are more stable because labor in these businesses is mainly a fixed cost—an assembly line can be idled at a moment's notice, but a store needs salesclerks even when business is down. Goods made abroad are cheap, which helps consumers. The health and education sectors now have almost 30 percent more workers than they did in 2000, and that means, in part, more and better services in these areas.

The downside is that because many of these jobs aren't unionized, wages are lousy. The only thing that reliably bolsters service wages is the federal minimum wage: When it rises [9], as it did from $6.55 to $7.25 in 2009, service jobs above the minimum are forced up [10] (PDF) as well (to maintain the spread). And when Congress doesn't raise the minimum, real wages decline with inflation.

Is it any surprise that today our leading reactionaries come from retail behemoths like Wal-Mart [11]? Is it a shock that Target was among the first companies, in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United [12] decision, to write a huge check [13] to a political campaign? That fast-food chains are tenacious opponents [14] of a higher minimum wage? That hotel owners from New Orleans [15] (PDF) to Santa Monica [16] (PDF) have fought against "living wage" laws? Having thwarted the unions, they now target the government—its taxes, its regulations, and above all, its wage standards.

So: Most of the nation's remaining jobs are in services, where pay depends largely on acts of Congress. Houses are no longer valuable commodities. Private pensions are largely kaput, and many 401(k)s were also wiped out in the crash. What's left to protect economic security for ordinary Americans?

The answer, of course, is Social Security and Medicare [17]. They remain by far our greatest social policy achievements. Today, a 60-year-old man in the US has an expected life span of 20 more years [18] (PDF)—well above what was the case 50 or even 40 years ago [19] (PDF), when Social Security didn't relieve poverty and Medicare was just getting underway. Improved medical care is surely part of that. But income security is also an important factor. People who are not poor live longer than people who are [20].

Social Security prevents poverty. It's wealth, exactly like a big bond that you can't sell.

And Social Security prevents poverty. It's wealth, exactly like a big bond that you can't sell. If the monthly benefit is $1,000 and the interest rate is 2 percent, the bond is worth $600,000—and that's a bond you own, right now. You don't have to save for it: You've paid for it, up front, via the payroll tax. And there's more. As health care expert Harold Pollack [21] has pointed out [22], Social Security's Disabled Adult Child program [23] (PDF) is an insurance policy worth more than $400,000, protecting you if you happen to have a mentally or physically disabled loved one—something that could be only a car crash away.

Medicare has also been a huge success: popular, efficient, and less costly per "unit of care" provided than private medical care. Medicare is a big insurance policy you've already paid for, in full, that takes effect at 65—an age when private insurers wouldn't touch you. That's wealth, too, a huge buffer between sickness and bankruptcy.

Are you surprised that these programs are under attack? The same forces that went after the unions in the 1980s, that relentlessly pushed free-trade agreements while manufacturing jobs evaporated, and that destroyed housing values in the 2000s— they're on the prowl again. If Social Security and Medicare are cut, finance and insurance companies will skim the cream—the wealthier, healthier participants—while leaving everyone else to fend for themselves. Social Security and Medicare, they think, are easy prey, once we've been softened up by scare stories about how they're on the "brink of bankruptcy" and we "can't afford them."

It isn't true, of course. Social Security and Medicare can't go bankrupt, just as the Pentagon can't. They're not in some separate bank account or lockbox—they're government programs that we either choose to pay for or don't. And not only can we afford them, they're a bargain, providing modest comfort and decent care to people who would otherwise financially burden their families—or die.

The attack will come right after the election, when the Bowles-Simpson commission on deficit reduction [24] issues its report. It will almost surely recommend deep cuts in Social Security, probably in the form of an increase in the retirement age. This is a direct cut in benefits, targeted in an especially nasty way at minorities and all others who work harder, earn less [25] (PDF), and live shorter lives [26] (PDF) after retirement than, say, college professors or senators.

The cochairman of that commission, former GOP senator Alan Simpson [27] of Wyoming, has made his views clear. In an August email [28] (PDF) to the head of OWL [29] (née the Older Women's League), he called Social Security "a milk cow with 310 million tits." He wants you to think of Social Security as welfare, not something you've earned—a boondoggle, rather than a program that puts money into the economy every day.

The fact is, even if you were never an autoworker, were never in a union, never owned a house, even if you've never been sick and never got anything else from the New Deal—whoever you are, Social Security and Medicare help you right now. They support your business: Spending by old folks is part of the income of small and large companies everywhere, an effective and stable support for the economy. Social Security provides survivors' benefits that raise children in your schools. It will keep your parents off your back. And when you do get older, Social Security and Medicare will protect you, and they will protect your children from bankrupting themselves over you. That is, if these programs are protected, now, from their assailants.

The House has agreed to vote on the Bowles-Simpson package—whatever it eventually contains—if it passes in the Senate. So it will come down to the Senate. Will the Democrats hold the line? Or will they give in to this assault on the last bastion of the American middle class?