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Tomgram: Andy Kroll, Welcome to America, Sucker

Tom of TomDispatch.com wrote:

Yes, you've heard plenty about Bernie Madoff and his $65 billion Ponzi scheme, and maybe even about Allen Stanford, the garrulous Texan who built a sprawling Caribbean compound from his $8 billion Ponzi scheme. But what about "mini Madoff," "Miami Madoff" and "Montreal Madoff"? What about all the fraudulent real-estate schemes and farm-grain schemes or the Ponzi built on investments in state-worker uniforms and the one that siphoned off retirement funds from bus drivers? What about the two brothers in Williamstown, Michigan, themselves bilked in a Ponzi scheme, who turned from prey to predator, and used their church and family ties to bilk neighbors out of $50 million for nonexistent gas and oil exploration in the Southwest?

TomDispatch associate editor and regular contributor Andy Kroll has done a remarkable job of mapping the U.S. as a coast-to-coast "Ponzi nation" at a time when an open credit spigot, a booming housing market, and visions of unimaginable wealth on Wall Street left practically every American with dreams of future riches. It was an extraordinary era, one that may have left the "roaring Twenties" in the dust, and its legacy, as Kroll lays it out, is a mood that has its own striking dangers. As he writes, "Disillusionment with the past decade is such that many Americans now simply assume that our world is little but a giant Ponzi scheme."

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

Tomgram: Andy Kroll, Welcome to America, Sucker
By Andy Kroll | TomDispatch

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

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

The Crisis in Iceland: Every Bubble Ends in Rubble


The Crisis in Iceland: Every Bubble Ends in Rubble
By Richard C. Cook

A friend asked me at brunch recently about the situation in Iceland. Here is a commentary:

The small nation of Iceland–population 320,000–doesn’t produce much of anything. During the 60s and 70s Icelandic Airlines had a pretty good business running the cheapest flights you could find between the US and Europe, but that is long in the past. They do catch some fish out of the dwindling North Atlantic fisheries, and a few tourists who like the geysers and cold-weather wilderness hiking show up. That’s about it.

Technologically the Icelanders are highly competent, which helps them produce sufficient geothermal and hydroelectric energy to produce their own electricity.

During the worldwide explosion of high finance, particularly during the early to mid-2000s, they became investors, applying their skills as robust ex-Vikings to working the world’s financial markets. By big-time borrowing from European banks, including British ones, they were able to leverage their credit into substantial stock and bond holdings. Iceland was once one of Europe’s poorest nations, but now it began to feel and act rich.

Unfortunately, when the world’s financial system tanked in 2008-2009, Iceland fell hard and fast. The investors lost not only their shirts but also their thermal underwear, and their creditors–led again by Britain–found them in default. With the banks going, well—bankrupt–and the Icelandic government taking them over, the creditors naturally looked to the government to make good on the nation’s debts. The government approached the International Monetary Fund for bailout loans, with the IMF, as is its wont, expecting them to raise taxes and cut public services in order to free up money.

First Iceland, Then The World

First Iceland, Then The World
By Michael Collins | Election Fraud News

The public is angry. Why should the public pay for the bankers mistakes. Iceland blogger Halldor Sigurdsson

Who cleans up the mess when ignorant, greedy bankers rack up massive debt then go broke? The people of Iceland made a strong statement Saturday. The sins of big bankers and government regulators shouldn't fall on the citizens. By a 93% to 2% margin, they voted down a proposal requiring them to cover bad debt incurred by one of the nation’s oldest and largest banks. Covering the debt would have cost Iceland's 317,000 citizens around $17,000 each.

Iceland's national referendum was the first opportunity for the people of any nation to vote directly on who pays when the financial elite fail.

 

As citizens voted, Iceland's Prime Minister was dismissing the importance of the vote and promising to negotiate a payment scheme obligating citizen subsidies for bad debt created by Iceland's beyond-bad bankers.

Icelanders are struggling with a collapsed economy. Businesses are failing at a startling rate, unemployment is soaring, and the prospects for the future are simply not there. Yet the British and Dutch governments demand that their swindled citizens receive compensation from beleaguered Icelanders. Where were the British and Dutch central banks and politicians while their citizens were being fleeced? Aren't the rulers of these countries aware that the failed Icelandic bank was owned by wealth investors, not the citizens?

Iceland's size and the very dire circumstances offer a focused preview for citizens around the world. The banks make bad deal after bad deal. When they're about to fail, the government steps in with a taxpayer bailout. It doesn't matter which faction of the narrow political spectrum is in charge. The message is starkly clear -- when the banks fail, you pay. The solution is presented to citizens as a fait accompli, a mandatory submission to indefinite financial slavery for the benefit of the failed financial elite. The will of the people doesn't matter even when there's a direct vote.

The failed financial enterprises that control global commerce are opening their new show on the road in Iceland. Greek citizens are next in line for indentured servitude, thanks to their lying leaders and Wall Street's Goldman Sachs.

Medical Billing Advocates Could Help You Save Big

Medical Billing Advocates Could Help You Save Big
Why Using an Advocate Makes Sense Even If Your Insurance Pays a Contracted Rate
By Elisabeth Leamy | ABC News

Excerpts:

...you can save thousands by hiring a medical billing advocate to find and fight hospital billing errors for you. Eighty percent of hospital bills contain errors, according to Medical Billing Advocates of America.

Millions of Americans...have health insurance plans that charge "coinsurance" rather than a flat co-pay. Coinsurance means you are charged a percentage of your medical care. The most common cost-sharing arrangement is an 80/20 plan, where the insurance company pays 80 percent of your bill and you pay the other 20 percent. Twenty percent of a big bill for a major hospitalization is a lot of money.

Insurance policies have maximum lifetime limits that they will pay out. Often, those lifetime limits are not as generous as they should be, and you may have no choice if you are insured through your employer and not given many options. Therefore, you want to keep your costs down as much as possible to stay away from that lifetime limit on coverage. Read more.

End-of-Life Warning at $618,616 Makes Me Wonder Was It Worth It

End-of-Life Warning at $618,616 Makes Me Wonder Was It Worth It
By Amanda Bennett | Bloomberg

Excerpt:

Along with my colleague Charles Babcock, I spent months poring over some 4,750 pages of documents collected from six hospitals, four insurers, Medicare, three oncologists, and a surgeon. Those papers tell the story of a system filled with people doing their best. And they raise complex questions about a health-care system that consumes 17 percent of the economy.

Days to Decipher

As I leafed through the stack of documents, it was easy to see why 31 percent of the money spent on health care goes to paperwork and administration, according to research published in 2003 by the New England Journal of Medicine. That number has either stayed the same or grown, said Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, a professor at Harvard Medical School and a co-author of the study cited by the journal. Some bills took days to decipher. What did “opd patins t” or “bal xfr ded” mean? How could I tell if the dose charged was the same as the dose prescribed?

The documents revealed an economic system in which the sellers don’t set and the buyers don’t know the prices. The University of Pennsylvania hospital charged more than 12 times what Medicare at the time reimbursed for a chest scan. One insurer paid a hospital for 80 percent of the $3,232 price of a scan, while another covered 24 percent. Insurance companies negotiated their own rates, and neither my employers nor I paid the difference between the sticker and discounted prices.

‘It’s Completely Insane’

In this economic system, prices of goods and services bear little relation to the demand for them or their cost to make -- or, as it turns out, the good or harm they do. Read more.

FLASH: TRUTH is bad for the economy

Intense War News Reduces Ability to Remember Ads

ScienceDaily (Mar. 4, 2010) — A new study shows that the more graphic and intense war news is, the less likely that viewers -- regardless of political beliefs -- will remember the advertising that follows the news.

However, the researchers did find that lower-intensity programming resulted in a better recall of the
advertising by proponents of the war.

Part VI: How to Fight Back and Win: Common Ground Issues That Must Be Won — The Economic Elite Vs. The People of the USA

Part VI: How to Fight Back and Win: Common Ground Issues That Must Be Won — The Economic Elite Vs. The People of the USA
By David DeGraw | AmpedStatus Report

This is the final part of a six-part report. Click on the links below to view earlier parts. After reading this, please consider getting involved with this effort by clicking the link at the bottom of this post.

——-I: Casualties of Economic Terrorism, Surveying the Damage
——-II: The Rise of the Economic Elite
——-III: Exposing Our Enemy - Meet the Economic Elite
——-IV: The Financial Coup d’Etat
——-V: Overcoming the Divide and Conquer Strategy
——-VI: How to Fight Back and Win: Common Ground Issues That Must Be Won

VI: How to Fight Back and Win:——Common Ground Issues That Must Be Won

Throughout this report, I have presented statistical and fact-based evidence to demonstrate that a strategic attack has been launched against 99% of Americans. Despite the efforts of the mainstream media and most current politicians, awareness of this reality is spreading throughout the United States.  Common Ground Issues That Must Be WonA recent Rasmussen poll found that only 21% of Americans think that the government has the consent of the governed. An Opinion Research Corp. survey revealed that 86% believe “the system of government is broken.”

An overwhelming majority of the population has come to the realization that our government doesn’t effectively represent us anymore. It is just a matter of time before people start taking it upon themselves to begin organizing on a mass scale. Our survival instinct will soon overwhelm our conditioned passivity and erupt into a powerful countervailing force. However, the longer we hesitate and delay action, the harder it will be to obtain economic and political justice.

We cannot continue to stand by and watch our nation be raped and pillaged like this. We can no longer remain idle and passive while our families’ futures are destroyed as we are sentenced to a slow death.

It’s time for 99% of Americans to mobilize and aggressively move on common sense political reforms.

We will obviously have many differences on how our country should be run, but we can all come together to dismantle the Economic Elite by making several pivotal political reforms. As long as the game is rigged in favor of the Economic Elite, we will all lose. So let’s find common ground and focus on several obvious battles that we need to win, and can win:

Election Reform

“The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which all other rights are protected. To take away this right is to reduce a man to slavery.”
– Thomas Paine, Dissertation on the First Principles of Government

Dodd Abandons Efforts to Create Consumer Financial Protection Agency

Dodd Abandons Efforts to Create Consumer Financial Protection Agency | Democracy NOW!

Senate Banking Committee Chair Christopher Dodd has abandoned efforts to create an independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency. President Obama had proposed creating the agency to protect consumers against abuses in mortgages, credit cards and other forms of lending. In its place, Dodd is expected to propose the creation of a Bureau of Financial Protection inside the Treasury Department. Dodd’s proposed bureau will have far less power and would not be allowed to enforce rules on banks with less than $10 billion in holdings or enforce rules against non-bank financial operations, such as payday lenders. Dodd’s decision is seen as a victory for Republicans and many business groups who have campaigned against forming a new agency to protect consumers.

Part IV: The Financial Coup d’Etat — The Economic Elite Vs. The People of the United States of America

Part IV: The Financial Coup d’Etat — The Economic Elite Vs. The People of the United States of America
By David DeGraw | AmpedStatus Report
This is the fourth-part of a six-part report. Part one can be viewed here, part two here, three here. Part five will be posted Tuesday. To be notified via email, subscribe to our newsletter here.

——-I: Casualties of Economic Terrorism, Surveying the Damage
——-II: The Rise of the Economic Elite
——-III: Exposing Our Enemy - Meet the Economic Elite
——-IV: The Financial Coup d’Etat
——-V: Overcoming the Divide and Conquer Strategy
——-VI: How to Fight Back and Win: Common Ground Issues That Must Be Won

IV: The Financial Coup d’Etat
 The Financial Coup d'Etat -- Economic Elite Vs. The PeopleAlthough most of the Economic Elite live and operate inside the US, they are not concerned for our future. To them, the entire world is theirs and they work intimately with other elites throughout the world against the interests of the US public. Ever since the days of Henry Ford, the Economic Elite have needed a thriving US middle class to increase growth and profits, but now, in the global economy, they view the US middle class as obsolete. They increasingly look globally for profits and they would rather pay cheap labor in countries like China and India. On top of the millions of jobs they have already shipped overseas to increase profits at our expense, they are planning to ship an additional 25% of current US jobs overseas as well.

They now see us as the biggest obstacle to their continued consolidation of wealth and resources. This is why they have stepped up their attack on us.

If you want further proof of this, all one needs to do is study the Wall Street bailout. The entire bailout is strategically designed to eliminate the US middle class. Every time you hear the word “bailout,” you should think “coup d’état.” Here is the definition of coup d’état:

“A coup d’état or coup for short, is the sudden unconstitutional deposition of a government, usually by a small group of the existing state establishment… to replace the deposed government with another…. A coup d’état succeeds when the usurpers establish their legitimacy if the attacked government fail to thwart them, by allowing their (strategic, tactical, political) consolidation and then receiving the deposed government’s surrender; or the acquiescence of the populace and the non-participant military forces.

Typically, a coup d’état uses the extant government’s power to assume political control of the country. In Coup d’État: A Practical Handbook, military historian Edward Luttwak says: ‘A coup consists of the infiltration of a small, but critical, segment of the state apparatus, which is then used to displace the government from its control of the remainder’, thus, armed force (either military or paramilitary) is not a defining feature of a coup d’état.”

The bailout was a financial coup, an intelligence operation to seize control of the US economy and tax system. It is similar to what the Economic Elite have done through the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in many other countries throughout the world. It is clearly a case of economic imperialism. When financial coups are carried out in other countries, they call it a Structural Adjustment Program (SAP). The end result is the theft of working class wealth, the privatization of public functions and resources, rising unemployment, the elimination of the middle class and increasing taxation and debt that turns the overwhelming majority of the nation into a peasant class. This is exactly the track we are on now.

Facing Forcelosure, Man Screws Bank by Bulldozing Home

Facing Forcelosure, Man Screws Bank by Bulldozing Home
By Joshua Holland | Alternet

Like many people, Terry Hoskins has had troubles with his bank. But his solution to foreclosure might be unique.

Hoskins said he’s been in a struggle with RiverHills Bank over his Clermont County home for nearly a decade, a struggle that was coming to an end as the bank began foreclosure proceedings on his $350,000 home.

“When I see I owe $160,000 on a home valued at $350,000, and someone decides they want to take it – no, I wasn’t going to stand for that, so I took it down,” Hoskins said. Read more.

Selling Out America to Wall Street

Selling Out America to Wall Street
By Stephen Lendman

"The (US) economy has reached its debt limit and is entering its insolvency phase. We are not in a cycle but (at) the end of an era. The old world of debt pyramiding to a fraudulent degree cannot be restored..."

Project Censored's top 2010 story was "US Congress Sells Out to Wall Street," highlighting that since 2001, "eight of the most troubled firms have donated $64.2 million to congressional candidates, presidential candidates and the Republican and Democratic parties." It's no surprise that they own them, what Wall Street Watch.org showed in a March 2009 Essential Information and Consumer Education Foundation report titled,"Sold Out: How Wall Street and Washington Betrayed America."

The accompanying press release said:

Over the past decade, "$5 billion in political contributions bought Wall Street freedom from regulation, (and) restraint." From 1998 - 2008, "Wall Street investment firms, commercial banks, hedge funds, real estate companies and insurance conglomerates (the FIRE sector)" spent over $1.7 billion in political contributions and another $3.4 billion on lobbyists, in return for which:

  • they were freed from regulation;
  • could speculate on financial derivatives and an alphabet soup of securitized garbage, including asset-backed securities (ABSs), mortgage-backed securities (MBSs), collateralized mortgage obligations (CMOs), collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), collateralized bond obligations (CBOs), credit default swaps (CDSs), and collateralized fund obligations (CFOs) - combined, sliced, diced, packaged, repackaged, and sold in tranches to sophisticated and ordinary investors, many unwittingly through mutual funds, 401(k)s, pensions, and the like;
  • could merge commercial and investment banking and insurance operations;
  • bilk investors and the public through fraudulent schemes; and
  • get trillions of bailout dollars when the economy crashed.

Kucinich Subcommittee Hearing to Probe Administration’s Response to Foreclosure Crisis

Kucinich Subcommittee Hearing to Probe Administration’s Response to Foreclosure Crisis | Press Release

Washington D.C. (February 19, 2010) – Chairman Kucinich (D-OH) today announced that the Domestic Policy Subcommittee will hold a hearing on Tuesday, February 25, 2010 entitled “Foreclosures Continue: What needs to Change in the Administration’s Response.” The hearing will be held at 2:00 p.m. in Room 2154 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

The purpose of this hearing is to examine the function and the impact of the Administration’s response to the ongoing foreclosure crisis. The Subcommittee will hear testimony from a Treasury Department official, as well as other experts who will provide insight as to the impact of the Administration’s program, and suggestions for its improvement.

Part III: Exposing Our Enemy - Meet the Economic Elite

Part III: Exposing Our Enemy - Meet the Economic Elite
By David DeGraw | AmpedStatus | Friday, February 19th, 2010

This is the third-part of a six-part report. Part one can be viewed here, part two here. Part four will be posted Sunday. To be notified via email, subscribe to our newsletter here.

III: Exposing Our Enemy - Meet the Economic Elite

 Exposing Our Enemy - Meet the Economic Elite

China In Record US Debt Sell-Off

China in record US debt sell-off | Al Jazeera
Submitted by Michael Munk | www.MichaelMunk.com

"Chinese leaders are deploying their reserves to try and pressure the US to stop haranguing China about its currency and trade policies and to back off from interference in its domestic political and human rights issues,"..."While China may reduce its holdings of US debt in order to send a signal to Washington - though this is not necessarily the only reason it would do so - it has no intention of selling debt to the point that it wrecks the US economic recovery, since doing so would destroy China's own economic and socio-political stability,"...

China sold a record amount of its US Treasury holdings in December, ceding its place as the world's biggest foreign holder of US debt to Japan.

According to Treasury figures released on Tuesday, Beijing sold off more than $34bn of its holdings in the final month of 2009, cutting its holding of US debt by just over 4 per cent to $755.4bn.

Japan now holds almost $11bn more US debt than China, with a total of nearly $769bn.

Japan had been the largest holder of US Treasury bonds until September 2008, when it was overtaken by China. Read more.

Drowning in Debt: What the Nation's Budget Woes Mean for You

Drowning in Debt: What the Nation's Budget Woes Mean for You
Economists Predict Cutbacks, Tax Increases That 'Aren't Even Imaginable'
By Devin Dwyer | ABC News

Over the past year alone, the amount the U.S. government owes its lenders has grown to more than half the country's entire economic output, or gross domestic product. Even more alarming, experts say, is that those figures will climb to an unprecedented 200 percent of GDP by 2038 without a dramatic shift in course.

American political and economic leaders have sounded the alarm for years about the red ink rising in reports on the federal government's fiscal health.

But now the problem of mounting national debt is worse than it ever has been before with -- potentially dire consequences for taxpayers, according to a report by the nonpartisan Peterson-Pew Commission on Budget Reform.

"It keeps me awake at night, looking at all that red ink," said President Obama in Nashua, N.H., on Feb. 2. "Most of it is structural and we inherited it. The only way that we are going to fix it is if both parties come together and start making some tough decisions about our long-term priorities."

Obama will sign an executive order tomorrow that establishes a bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform to make recommendations on how to reduce the country's debt. Read more.

America’s Global Weapons Monopoly: Don’t Call It “the Global Arms Trade”


America’s Global Weapons Monopoly: Don’t Call It “the Global Arms Trade”
By Frida Berrigan | TomDispatch.com

From TomDispatch this afternoon, a striking account of how the United States has captured the global market in advanced weapons sales and why that's not news in this country: Frida Berrigan, "America's Global Weapons Monopoly, Don't Call It 'the Global Arms Trade'"

When the media focus on the export of weaponry to the world -- and it's seldom a big story -- they invariably write about "the global arms trade" and "competition." Tom Dispatch regular Frida Berrigan, senior program associate with the New America Foundation’s Arms and Security Initiative, suggests that the language is all wrong. As it happens, the U.S. has a near stranglehold on the "trade" -- "If we’re looking at the figures for that 'trade' in a clear-eyed way," she writes, "there is really just one seller and so many buyers." After all, the U.S. controls nearly 70% of global arms exports today and the nearest "competitor," Italy (not Russia or China), a mere 9%. Imagine that.

It used to be that the United States exported goods, products, and machinery of all sorts in prodigious quantities: cars and trucks, steel and computers, and high-tech gizmos. But those days are largely over. Now, what we successfully export are things that go boom in the night -- and the Pentagon is working hard to insure that U.S. weapons makers are even more "competitive" by relaxing what export controls on weaponry now exists.

Berrigan concludes, speaking of recent multi-billion dollar U.S. arms deals: "Such deals are staggering. They contribute more bang and blast to a world already bristling with particularly lethal weaponry. They are a striking American success story in a time filled with failures. Put in the lurid but everyday terms of a nation weaned on reality television, the Pentagon is pimping for the U.S. weapons industry. The weapons industry, for its part, is a pusher for every kind of lethal technology. The two of them together are working to ensure that more of the same will flow out of the U.S. in ever easier and more lucrative ways.

"Global arms trade? Send that one back to the Department of Euphemisms. Pimps and pushers with a lucrative global monopoly on a killing drug -- maybe that’s the language we need. And maybe, just maybe, it’s time to launch a 'war on weapons.'”

America’s Global Weapons Monopoly
Don’t Call It “the Global Arms Trade”

By Frida Berrigan | TomDispatch

On the relatively rare occasions when the media turns its attention to U.S. weapons sales abroad and shines its not-so-bright spotlight on the latest set of facts and figures, it invariably speaks of “the global arms trade.”

Let’s consider that label for a moment, word by word:

*It is global, since there are few places on the planet that lie beyond the reach of the weapons industry.

*Arms sounds so old-fashioned and anodyne when what we’re talking about is advanced technology designed to kill and maim.

*And trade suggests a give and take among many parties when, if we’re looking at the figures for that “trade” in a clear-eyed way, there is really just one seller and so many buyers.

How about updating it this way: “the global weapons monopoly.” Read more.

Part II: The Rise of the Economic Elite — Economic Elite Vs. The People

Part II: The Rise of the Economic Elite — Economic Elite Vs. The People
By David DeGraw | Amped Status

This is the second-part of a six-part report. Part one can be viewed here, part three will be posted on Friday. To be notified via email, subscribe to our newsletter here.

——-I: Causalities of Economic Terrorism, Surveying the Damage
——-II: The Rise of the Economic Elite
——-III: Exposing Our Enemy: Meet the Economic Elite
——-IV: The Financial Coup d’Etat
——-V: Overcoming the Divide and Conquer Strategy
——-VI: How to Fight Back and Win: Common Ground Issues That Must Be Won

II: The Rise of the Economic Elite

“The war against working people should be understood to be a real war…. Specifically in the U.S., which happens to have a highly class-conscious business class…. And they have long seen themselves as fighting a bitter class war, except they don’t want anybody else to know about it.” — Noam Chomsky

As a record number of US citizens are struggling to get by, many of the largest corporations are experiencing record-breaking profits, and CEOs are receiving record-breaking bonuses. How could this be happening; how did we get to this point?

The Economic Elite have escalated their attack on US workers over the past few years; however, this attack began to build intensity in the 1970s. In 1970, CEOs made $25 for every $1 the average worker made. Due to technological advancements, production and profit levels exploded from 1970 - 2000. With the lion’s share of increased profits going to the CEOs, this pay ratio dramatically rose to $90 for CEOs to $1 for the average worker.

As ridiculous as that seems, an in-depth study in 2004 on the explosion of CEO pay revealed that, including stock options and other benefits, CEO pay is more accurately $500 to $1.

Paul Buchheit, from DePaul University, revealed, “From 1980 to 2006 the richest 1% of America tripled their after-tax percentage of our nation’s total income, while the bottom 90% have seen their share drop over 20%.” Robert Freeman added, “Between 2002 and 2006, it was even worse: an astounding three quarters of all the economy’s growth was captured by the top 1%.”

Due to this, the United States already had the highest inequality of wealth in the industrialized world prior to the financial crisis. Since the crisis, which has hit the average worker much harder than CEOs, the gap between the top one percent and the remaining 99% of the US population has grown to a record high. The economic top one percent of the population now owns over 70% of all financial assets, an all-time record.

VR Celebrates 5-Year Anniversary By Exposing Chamber of Commerce's Campaign for Corporate Takeover of America


VR’s Five Year Anniversary:Help Us Celebrate With Ads Exposing The Chamber Of Commerce’s Campaign For The Corporate Takeover Of America
Join Our Stop The Chamber Campaign

This week, thanks to all your participation, VR celebrates its five year anniversary of grassroots activism and government accountability. We look forward to the next five years with more campaigns and greater citizen involvement. Let’s start with a full page ad in Washington and Internet ads exposing the Chamber of Commerce for its billion dollar campaign to put elections in the hands of corporations rather than the American people.

Last month, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations can spend unlimited amounts of money to manipulate elections. The driving force behind this decision was the Chamber of Commerce and its army of corporate bad guys. Since the decision, we have learned that the Chamber spent $144 million for lobbying in 2009 — more than either the Democrats or Republicans. The Chamber has announced plans to spend more than ever in 2010 to elect candidates that support polluters and robber barons.

Two weeks ago, Congress held hearings on ways to blunt the Chamber’s takeover of all branches of government. The Brennan Center testified about the Chamber’s shameful and illegal practice of laundering money for big corporations in order to avoid disclosure requirements, comparing it to people using Swiss bank accounts to avoid paying US taxes.

We want to expose the Chamber’s illegal, unethical and opaque practices with a full page print ad in Washington and ads across the Internet. Our last print ad drew lots of attention from the mainstream media, with Fox News and Rush Limbaugh calling us out for taking on big corporations, and their fans warning us to back off of the Chamber. We had to complain to the FBI to stop the threats.

Let’s let them know that we are not intimidated and we will continue to expose the Chamber’s corruption. Our ads will call on Congress and the Department of Justice to investigate the Chamber’s money laundering operation with full subpoena power, grand jury action and public hearings. We need your help.

Please help us with a donation and pass this on to your friends. We need to stop the Chamber’s assault on democracy so make sure to join our StopTheChamber campaign at www.stopthechamber.com.

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Sanders Grills Geithner and Takes on Deficit Blame Game

Sen. Sanders questioned Treasury Sec. Geithner at a Budget Committee hearing and talked about Republican efforts to shift blame for record deficits away from their own unpaid-for spending habits during the Bush presidency. Watch Secretary Geithner bob and weave his way around the questions, appearing to agree without directly doing so.

Federal Lobbying Climbs in 2009 as Lawmakers Execute Aggressive Congressional Agenda


Federal Lobbying Climbs in 2009 as Lawmakers Execute Aggressive Congressional Agenda | Open Secrets
Efforts by Health, Business Industries Help Push Influence Peddling to New Heights

At nearly $266.8 million, the pharmaceutical and health products industry’s federal lobbying expenditures not only outpaced all other business industries and special interest areas in 2009, but stand as the greatest amount ever spent on lobbying efforts by a single industry for one year....In 2009, this sector spent nearly $544 million on federal lobbying efforts, up almost 12 percent from its 2008 total of about $487 million.

The economy stunk. Corporations slashed jobs. And some firms, once juggernauts of American industry, simply ceased to exist.

But for federal lobbyists, 2009 proved to be a year of riches unlike any other, a Center for Responsive Politics analysis indicates.

In all, federal lobbyists’ clients spent more than $3.47 billion last year, often driven to Washington, D.C.’s power centers and halls of influence by political issues central to the age: health care reform, financial reform, energy policy.

That figure represents a more than 5 percent increase over $3.3 billion worth of federal lobbying recorded in 2008, the previous all-time annual high for lobbying expenditures. And it comes in a year when a recession persisted, the dollar’s value against major foreign currencies declined and joblessness rates increased....

To explore the Center for Responsive Politics' full lobbying database, go here.

The database now includes a new feature, available here, which allows users to easily see how lobbying activity among sectors and industries has changed from quarter to quarter. Read more.

New Mexico House Votes 65-0 To Move State's Money To Credit Unions, Community Banks

New Mexico House Votes 65-0 To Move State's Money To Credit Unions, Community Banks | Huffington Post

New Mexico's House of Representatives voted Monday to pass a bill that allows the state to move $2 billion - $5 billion of state funds to credit unions and small banks.

The municipal funds bill was approved 65-0 (roll call - PDF), and is subject to a vote by New Mexico's Senate. Governor Bill Richardson told the bill's sponsor that he supports the legislation.

Credit Union Times, spoke to one banker who believes that the bill got a boost from Huffington Post's Move Your Money campaign:

The altered view of New Mexico lawmakers in favoring local control of state funds, officials said, follows national mention of the New Mexico effort in the "Move Your Money" campaign of New York pundit Arianna Huffington in her online Huffington Post columns. Read more.

Kucinich: Medicare for All, the Idea Whose Time Has Come


Kucinich: Medicare for All, the Idea Whose Time Has Come | Press Release

Washington D.C. (February 8, 2010) – Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) today sent a letter to President Obama commending him for calling for new ideas and a renewed discussion about health care reform. Kucinich requested that supporters of Medicare for All be represented at the upcoming February 25 health care summit.

“I hope you will invite a representative of the community that is advocating for the only health care that has consistently proven to address each of the criteria you have outlined for a satisfactory health care plan: Medicare for All,” wrote Kucinich.

Kucinich, who co-authored HR 676, Medicare for All, with Representative John Conyers (D-MI), further pointed out that many states have embraced a single-payer system of health care. Most recently, the California State Senate passed a single-payer health care bill on January 27, 2010.

Read the full letter here.

Pentagon's Black Budget Tops $56 Billion

Pentagon's Black Budget Tops $56 Billion
By Noah Shachtman | Wired

The Defense Department just released its king-sized, $708 billion budget for the next fiscal year. Much of the proposed spending is fairly detailed — noting exactly how many helicopters the Pentagon plans to buy and how many troops it plans on playing. But about $56 billion goes simply to “classified programs,” or to projects known only by their code names, like “Chalk Eagle” and “Link Plumeria.” That’s the Pentagon’s black budget.

Cobbling together this round figure for the military’s hush-hush projects is easier than it seems. The Pentagon’s separate ledgers for operations, research and procurement all contain line items for “classified programs.” Add those to the nonsensically-named programs, and you’ve got yourself an estimate for the Pentagon’s secretive efforts. Read more.

Wars Spending US Into Ruin

Wars sending U.S. into ruin
Obama the peace president is fighting battles his country cannot afford
By Eric Margolis, QMI Agency | Toronto Sun

U.S. President Barack Obama calls the $3.8-trillion US budget he just sent to Congress a major step in restoring America’s economic health.

In fact, it’s another potent fix given to a sick patient deeply addicted to the dangerous drug — debt.

More empires have fallen because of reckless finances than invasion. The latest example was the Soviet Union, which spent itself into ruin by buying tanks.

Washington’s deficit (the difference between spending and income from taxes) will reach a vertiginous $1.6 trillion US this year. The huge sum will be borrowed, mostly from China and Japan, to which the U.S. already owes $1.5 trillion. Debt service will cost $250 billion.

To spend $1 trillion, one would have had to start spending $1 million daily soon after Rome was founded and continue for 2,738 years until today.

Obama’s total military budget is nearly $1 trillion. This includes Pentagon spending of $880 billion. Add secret black programs (about $70 billion); military aid to foreign nations like Egypt, Israel and Pakistan; 225,000 military “contractors” (mercenaries and workers); and veterans’ costs. Add $75 billion (nearly four times Canada’s total defence budget) for 16 intelligence agencies with 200,000 employees.

The Afghanistan and Iraq wars ($1 trillion so far), will cost $200-250 billion more this year, including hidden and indirect expenses. Obama’s Afghan “surge” of 30,000 new troops will cost an additional $33 billion — more than Germany’s total defence budget.

No wonder U.S. defence stocks rose after Peace Laureate Obama’s “austerity” budget. Read more.

The US Fiscal Deficit: Scare Stories vs. Reality

Robert Pollin: There are ways to cut the deficit without freezing social spending

To watch Part 2, click here.

For additional information on the Strategic Oil Reserves, click here.

Kucinich Subcommittee Investigation Found Possible Securities Law Violations by Bank of America in December 2009

Kucinich on new NY AG fraud charges against Bank of America and SEC settling charges against BofA for misleading shareholders
Kucinich Subcommittee Investigation Found Possible Securities Law Violations by Bank of America in December 2009 | Press Release

Washington D.C. (February 4, 2010) – Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) today made the following statement after New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced civil fraud charges against former Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis and CFO Joseph Price for misleading shareholders, and the SEC announced it would settle similar charges. Kucinich’s investigative subcommittee conducted a 9 month investigation into the matter and concluded in December 2009 that Bank of America had possibly violated securities law for failing to disclose to shareholders mounting losses at Merrill Lynch. Kucinich chairs the Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

“Attorney General Cuomo today stood up for shareholders, taxpayers and the rule of law in bringing charges against the individuals at Bank of America whose actions concealed from shareholders the mounting losses at Merrill Lynch, known before the shareholder vote on the merger. Attorney General Cuomo’s enforcement action is a critical step towards ending the culture of corruption on Wall Street. Mr. Cuomo did the country a service today,” said Kucinich.

Additionally, The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) today announced they are seeking court approval for a $150 million settlement with Bank of America for failing to inform shareholders of accelerating losses, and for concealing $3.57 billion in bonuses, at Merrill Lynch before a vote to approve the merger.

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