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15 August 2010 - This weekend, the world marks the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II. You'll never find a worse piece of timing than this:
According to Bloomberg and BusinessWeek, some big insurance companies have hit upon a way to make money off the benefits that should go to the families of U.S. troops who have been killed in combat.
The companies work with, or maybe just work, the Veterans Administration. They're not fly-by-night companies, either. MetLife and Prudential are among those under scrutiny by the state of New York and now by Congress.
August 14, 2010 - As Americans puzzle over why the economic stimulus package enacted more than a year ago has failed to restore vigorous job growth, one explanation has emerged from new reports: A lot of the money is not yet out the door.
Detroit is struggling with 14 percent unemployment, but as of June 30 the city had spent less than 1 percent of the $8.8 million in stimulus funds it received for energy-efficiency initiatives. In budget-strapped Arizona, Phoenix has spent even less of its $15.2 million, and in hard-hit South Florida, Fort Lauderdale has spent $66,000 of its $2 million.
By Dave Lindorff
Wall Street lobbyists may have successfully managed to emasculate most of the important parts of the financial reform bill just passed by Congress last month, but one part of that 2000-page act, which establishes as bounty for whistleblowers who expose corporate financial wrongdoing to the Securities and Exchange System, managed to slip through unscathed.
If this surprisingly strong measure is supported by strong enabling regulations at the SEC, which has until next April to draw them up and approve them, some legal experts, including at law firms that specialize in representing corporate clients, say it could have a profound effect on the behavior of American companies.
The language being used by some of these attorneys is actually pretty apocalyptic, and entertaining to read.
Here’s a comment by the corporate law firm of Seyfarth Shaw on the new whistleblower provision’s significance:
Huge executive compensation, write off corporate perks and of course to the delight of the wall street investors!
August 4, 2010 The Missouri and Kansas insurance departments said Tuesday that they were checking for complaints over a practice in which life insurance companies were reportedly profiting from the deaths of U.S. soldiers.
First revealed last week by Bloomberg News, the practice involves life insurers that reportedly earn millions in additional profits by holding a portion of the benefits from such policies and paying them out over time.
July 29, 2010 A most peculiar thing happened last week: The Washington Post ripped a federal welfare boondoggle to shreds, exposing tens of billions of dollars of waste, duplication and bureaucratic excess . . . and conservatives didn't erupt in astonishment and praise. In fact, they didn't raise a peep.
That's because the welfare queens ripping off taxpayer dollars in this case aren't poverty pimps waving the bloody flag of race and class, but military-industrial hustlers exploiting the war on terrorism to build themselves opulent and powerful fiefdoms.
By Dave Lindorff
If you want to avoid facing a tough prosecution for malfeasance, be a banker, not a biker.
That appears to be the lesson of Saturday’s front page of the Wall Street Journal, where the lead story was about how Bank of America repeatedly hid its massive bad debt holdings from regulators and investors through a creative accounting device called “repurchase agreements,” and the second story, just above the fold, was about how US Food and Drug Administration prosecutors are “Casting a Wider Net” investigating the use of steroids by competitive cyclists.
By Dave Lindorff
Looking at the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, where impact of the greed of corporate executives at British Petroleum, TransOcean and Halliburton, not to mention the greed of paid-off regulators in the Minerals Management Service and the members of the House and Senate who took dirty money to water down drilling regulations is evident, I was reminded of a prominent business leader in New York, recently deceased.
Told by his sister of a young woman she knew who had posted a sign on her wall saying, “Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have,” this executive, who had held a top position in the media, sniffed, “Ugh! That’s terrible. If people thought like that, no one would strive to do anything.”
Ring of Fire “Flash Crash” Financial Terrorism Interview
By David DeGraw | David DeGraw.org
“On May 6th of this year, the stock market took a tremendous plunge in a matter of minutes, sparking fears that the recovery we’re seeing in the economy had all been undone. But miraculously, and very suspiciously, the market skyrocketed again and all was fine. We were told that the so-called flash crash was merely the result of a trader with fat fingers who hit the wrong buttons. But Congress isn’t so sure about this, and the timing of the crash coincided with a vote on a bill that would have broken up the big banks that caused our financial meltdown. Mike Papantonio talks with David DeGraw, who submitted a report for the House Homeland Security Committee about how this crash could have been the work of financial terrorists.” Read more.
How Goldman Sachs Caused a ‘Silent Mass Murder,’ Gambling on Starvation in the Developing World
How Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, the traders at Merrill Lynch, and others caused the starvation of some of the poorest people in the world.
By Johann Hari | Alternet via People for Freedom
By now, you probably think your opinion of Goldman Sachs and its swarm of Wall Street allies has rock-bottomed at raw loathing. You’re wrong. There’s more. It turns out that the most destructive of all their recent acts has barely been discussed at all. Here’s the rest. This is the story of how some of the richest people in the world – Goldman, Deutsche Bank, the traders at Merrill Lynch, and more – have caused the starvation of some of the poorest people in the world.
It starts with an apparent mystery. At the end of 2006, food prices across the world started to rise, suddenly and stratospherically. Within a year, the price of wheat had shot up by 80 per cent, maize by 90 per cent, rice by 320 per cent. In a global jolt of hunger, 200 million people – mostly children – couldn’t afford to get food any more, and sank into malnutrition or starvation. There were riots in more than 30 countries, and at least one government was violently overthrown. Then, in spring 2008, prices just as mysteriously fell back to their previous level. Jean Ziegler, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, calls it “a silent mass murder”, entirely due to “man-made actions.”
Earlier this year I was in Ethiopia, one of the worst-hit countries, and people there remember the food crisis as if they had been struck by a tsunami. “My children stopped growing,” a woman my age called Abiba Getaneh, told me. “I felt like battery acid had been poured into my stomach as I starved. I took my two daughters out of school and got into debt. If it had gone on much longer, I think my baby would have died.”
Most of the explanations we were given at the time have turned out to be false. It didn’t happen because supply fell: the International Grain Council says global production of wheat actually increased during that period, for example. It isn’t because demand grew either: as Professor Jayati Ghosh of the Centre for Economic Studies in New Delhi has shown, demand actually fell by 3 per cent. Other factors – like the rise of biofuels, and the spike in the oil price – made a contribution, but they aren’t enough on their own to explain such a violent shift.
To understand the biggest cause, you have to plough through some concepts that will make your head ache – but not half as much as they made the poor world’s stomachs ache. Read more.
If you or I was involved in drug laundering of as little as 2 dollars and fifty cents we would be in prison.
Wachovia bank, now part of Wells Fargo via a merger, has laundered countless sums of Mexican cartel drug money and will get off with a slap of the wrist. The reason...Wells Fargo is too big to fail.
Please consider Banks Financing Mexico Gangs Admitted in Wells Fargo Deal
Just before sunset on April 10, 2006, a DC-9 jet landed at the international airport in the port city of Ciudad del Carmen, 500 miles east of Mexico City. As soldiers on the ground approached the plane, the crew tried to shoo them away, saying there was a dangerous oil leak. So the troops grew suspicious and searched the jet.
They found 128 black suitcases, packed with 5.7 tons of cocaine, valued at $100 million. The stash was supposed to have been delivered from Caracas to drug traffickers in Toluca, near Mexico City, Mexican prosecutors later found. Law enforcement officials also discovered something else. Read more.
Even though the Alaskan spill was from an Exxon Ship since that, and many other spills, the now huge oil companies have not invested in technology and crews to take care of any possible accidents nor in the needed cleanup technology for devastating accidents. If we in the construction industry cut common sense corners in building anything, especially as lessons came from past engineering mistakes or just better understanding, there'd be buildings and more collapsing all over the place or when mother nature or mother earth hits with force more deaths! Alaska's present, after 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, might be Gulf Coast's future
Were the objective of Pete Peterson's $1 billion campaign to gut Social Security any less odious, it would easy to admire it as a marvel of public opinion engineering, a true masterpiece in the manufacture of consent.
A bird's eye view of Peterson's infernal propaganda machine shows two complementary marketing strategies-one directed at political elites, the other at the "lesser people" as Obama deficit commission co-chair former Senator Alan Simpson recently described them
The former was most prominently on display in an April deficit summit which brought together a bipartisan assortment of power brokers, extending up to and including former President Clinton. Perhaps most predictive of what appears to be in the cards, members of the commission were in attendance and joined in the amen chorus as chunks from the hide of hard won New Deal entitlement programs were sliced off and made offerings to the Gods of fiscal austerity.
Indeed, one of these, the Democratic co-chair Erskine Bowles had already sang from the Peterson hymnbook a month previously: "We're going to mess with Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security" the former Clinton chief-of-staff trumpeted, "because if you take those off the table, you can't get there."
On a parallel track is the hard sell directed at the rest of the population-those of us who will be victims of the cuts. Here Peterson is careful to cover his plutocratic tracks by outsourcing these functions to America Speaks, a paradigmatic astroturf operation serving to martial "authentic" popular support for pulling the plug on Grandma's paltry monthly check. Read more.
Congress plans to close up this chapter on financial reform (HR 4173). Whether or not strong reform will be in this bill is TBD. With the BP disaster taking up all the news, Congress isn't hearing as much from citizens, and it's making them lean towards the banks. So far, our ongoing call-in days are swaying some conferees on derivatives reform. But, Thursday conferees will vote on the two remaining structural reforms in the bill, hard leverage limits and stopping taxpayer funds for derivatives.
Can you call Rep. Frank to help ask two key questions, creatively - ask if they support 716 and leverage requirements without loopholes for hedge funds. If not, cite the finance cash and ask how many calls from citizens is it going to take to outweigh the influence big bank lobbyists have had on their position?
Make your one call right now, Rep. Barney Frank (D, MA), (202) 225-5931:
Pick from these suggestions. "Hi, My name is _____ and I care about the outcome of the financial reform bill, HR 4173. I'm frustrated by the process for fixing the big banks. Congressman Frank needs to take this seriously and come out with a strong statement that the bill should not pass without hard leverage limits, without the derivatives desk spin off and without loopholes for derivatives trades and Scott Brown's favorite banks and hedge funds. What is his position?..
Rep. Frank has received $581,899 in campaign contributions in 2010, can you tell me how many citizen calls would be helpful for Rep. Frank to keep loopholes out of the derivatives and capital requirements sections?
Thanks so much, do you think Rep. Frank can read this article from economist Jane D'Arista on reform, "Why 716 is the Indispensable Reform"? We'd be relieved to know that Rep. Frank made his decision after reading this article."
In the first week of talks over a financial regulatory reform bill, Democratic lawmakers — in some cases with apparent White House backing — have been defeating or delaying reforms to protect individual investors. Instead, they are catering to corporate interests that prefer the status quo — and write big campaign checks.
At its most basic, this bill is supposed to restore stability and fairness to the markets and give Americans some confidence that their efforts to save and invest will not be undone — over and over again — by the destructive excesses of banks and corporations.
Those goals are being undermined by cynical maneuvers. Here is the damage assessment:
- Cooking the Books
- Keeping Corporate Boards Safe For Cronies
- Shortchanging the SEC Read more.
Since taking office, Obama proved himself a machine politician, not a man of the people, an earlier article explaining it this way:
He promised peace and delivered war; real health and financial reform, not same old, same old; help for millions losing jobs, homes, hope and futures, not handouts to Wall Street and other industry favorites; regulatory oversight, not the usual incestuous government-industry ties, making disasters like in the Gulf possible, and when they happen conspiring with offenders in coverup, distortion, lies, and a total disregard for the environment, wildlife, and way of life for thousands - let alone permanent damage to a vital ecosystem.
At the same time, Big Oil gets billions in subsidies, special tax breaks and other financial benefits, besides being free to operate recklessly in a regulatory-free environment. Little wonder that a disaster now threatens to become the greatest ecological one ever, gushing oil that's potentially unstoppably from multiple sea floor ruptures, worsened apparently by BP fix attempts done as PR stunts, the company and administration knowing they wouldn't work but used them anyway as a charade to fool the public.
In addition, for nearly two months, company officials:
The White House is intervening at the last minute to come to the defense of multinational corporations in the unfolding conference committee negotiations over Wall Street reform.
A measure that had been generally agreed to by both the House and Senate, which would have affirmed the SEC's authority to allow investors to have proxy access to the corporate decision-making process, was stripped by the Senate in conference committee votes on Wednesday and Thursday. Five sources with knowledge of the situation said the White House pushed for the measure to be stripped at the behest of the Business Roundtable. The sources -- congressional aides as well as outside advocates -- requested anonymity for fear of White House reprisal.
The White House move pits the administration against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who told Barney Frank (D-Mass.) to stand strong against the effort.
"I met with the Speaker today and she said, 'Don't back down. I'll back you up,'" Frank, the lead House conferee, told HuffPost. "Maxine Waters is very upset, as are CalPERS and others."
Advocates said that the corporations fought the issue primarily over executive compensation concerns. Given proxy access, investors could rein in executive salaries. The Business Roundtable is a lobby of corporate CEOs. Read more.
The National Center on Family Homelessness (NCFH) studies and reports on the phenomenon, including its causes and consequences. On March 10, 2009, it launched a Campaign to End Child Homelessness, and on the same day released "America's Youngest Outcasts: State Report Card on Child Homelessness." It discovered one in 50 homeless children annually (about 1.5 million), saying it's dedicated to ending the problem - now even greater than during the timeline of the study, largely preceding the current economic crisis.
Whether homeless "by economic hardship, domestic violence," war, or other reasons, affected families lose more than homes. They lose health, safety, and the ability to support themselves, their children especially impacted.
Data from 2005 - 06 was the most complete available for the report. Selected 2007 - 08 data was used when possible, including for minimum wage and Fair Market Rent. The last National Survey of Children's Health was completed in 2003.
Though perceived as an urban issue, rural homelessness is some of the most hidden - complicated by limited access to services, transportation, and affordable housing. Some families move in with relatives or friends. Many others find shelter in abandoned shacks, vehicles, campgrounds, or dilapidated structures on private land. Overall, an estimated 9% of homeless people are rural. Their lower visibility, however, "suggests that this subgroup is not fully represented (in the study) and may contribute to a significant undercount."
Brown Bag Lunch Vigils at 100 congress members' local offices on Wednesday, June 16, will carry the message "Hands Off Medicare and Social Security." Organizer and National Director of Progressive Democrats of America Tim Carpenter explains: "Cuts to Medicare and Social Security will not balance the budget, but ending the wars assuredly will."
This national day of events comes as the House of Representatives is considering for passage $33.5 billion to escalate an unpopular war in Afghanistan, the U.S. economy is faltering, and a presidential commission is working on what most observers expect will be a proposal to slash Social Security and Medicare. "This is not a debate over the size of our government," said Carpenter, "but over what we will use our government for-killing or saving lives."
Participating organizations include Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, Democrats.com, WarIsACrime.org, Healthcare NOW!, Unions for Single Payer, United for Peace and Justice, CODEPINK, and the Backbone Campaign. Brown Bag Vigils have been ongoing since January, on the third Wednesday of the month.
Brownbaggers are asking members of the House to publicly commit to voting No on any bills that fund wars, to publicly urge their colleagues and the House leadership to make the same commitment, and to protect Medicare and Social Security. This position necessarily includes opposition to the proposed $33.5 billion supplemental expected in the coming days to fund an escalation of the war in Afghanistan.
Congress members' commitments are tracked at http://defundwar.org
Complete information on Brown Bag Vigils is available online: http://tinyurl.com/brownbagvigil
Progressive Democrats of America was founded in 2004 to transform the Democratic Party and our country. We seek to build a party and government controlled by citizens, not corporate elites--with policies that serve the broad public interest, not just private interests. PDA is a grassroots PAC operating inside the Democratic Party, and outside in movements for peace and justice. Our inside/outside strategy is guided by the belief that a lasting majority will require a revitalized Democratic Party built on firm progressive principles.
By Charles M. Young
Last March I went to the Left Forum in New York, which is a yearly gathering of liberals, progressives, anarchists, socialists, communists, hippies, punks, mystics, conspiracy theorists and anti-conspiracy theorists who are all trying to figure out how to get to a decent future from the indecent present. Nobody, of course, knows how to do that. There may not even be a path to a decent future from the indecent present, but I always find the Left Forum hopeful because a few thousand people in one place are at least putting their minds to the problem.
Washington Post, Some Perks For Wall Street Execs Have Gone UP
"Some of the nation's biggest financial firms have increased the perks and benefits they pay their chief executives, despite the glaring spotlight from a public fed up with handsome bonuses at bailed-out Wall Street banks."
I was among those raving in wonder at the the passage of the financial reform bill. And now, having figured out how little has been done, I am just raving.
"Unbelievable," said one advocate who hoped for the best but expected the worst. He was amazed it even passed. The wise men in the media immediately began making comparisons with the New Deal. The pundits praised the President and the fact that a handful of Republicans did not just say no this time.
Somehow, even the most hard-headed among us realized that something had to be done to bring Wall Street in line if only because the mood in the country on this issue is practically insurrectionary. Read more.
Michael Clauer is a captain in the Army Reserve who commanded over 100 soldiers in Iraq. But while he was fighting for his country, a different kind of battle was brewing on the home front. Last September, Michael returned to Frisco, Texas, to find that his homeowners' association had foreclosed on his $300,000 house—and sold it for $3,500. This story illustrates the type of legal quagmire that can get out of hand while soldiers are serving abroad and their families are dealing with the stress of their deployment. And fixing the mess isn't easy.
Michael went on active duty in February 2008 and was sent to Iraq. After he shipped out, his wife May slipped into a deep depression, according to court documents. "A lot of people say that the deployment is more stressful on the spouse than the actual person who's being deployed," Michael, 37, says in an interview with Mother Jones. May Clauer had two kids to take care of—a ten-year-old and a one-year-old with a serious seizure-related disorder. In addition, she was worried sick about her husband. Michael's company was doing convoy security in Iraq—an extremely dangerous job. "It was a pretty tough year for the whole company," he says. "We had IEDs, rocket attacks and mortar attacks, and a few soldiers that were hurt pretty bad and had to be airlifted back to the States."
Seeking to avoid hearing about the situation in Iraq, May stopped watching the news. She rarely answered the door, and Michael says he couldn't tell her when he went "outside the wire"—off-base. May also stopped opening the mail. "I guess she was scared that she would hear bad news," says Michael. That was why she missed multiple notices from the Heritage Lakes Homeowners Association informing her that the family owed $800 in dues—and then subsequent notices stating that the HOA was preparing to foreclose on the debt and seize the home. Read more.
The world economic crisis has ended the taboo on referring to Marx. More and more works are being published on the author of Das Kapital, and the press is publishing special sections on him.
A discussion with Edgar Morin, the philosopher and sociologist, emeritus research director at the CNRS who holds honorary doctorates from many universities around the world and with André Tosel, the philosopher and specialist in Karl Marx and Marxism, professor at the University of Nice.
Although all of the many publications dedicated to Marx lately are not of the same quality, one can nevertheless only be surprised by this sudden increase in interest in him. When such magazines as le Nouvel Observateur and le Point, each according to its political orientation, look into Marx, it is at the very least indicative of certain splits in the mainstream media, whose ideological horizon remains limited to that of capitalist society.
"It may very well be that what we are witnessing is not simply the end of the Cold War or a particular post-war phase, but the end of history as such: (...) the universal adoption of Western liberal democracy as the definitive form of human government," Francis Fukuyama, the American leader of this school of thought, wrote in 1989, the year when the Berlin Wall fell. Almost twenty years on, in October 2008, New Yorkers were demonstrating in front of the Wall Street Stock Exchange and waving signs saying "Marx was right!"
Is his "return" the automatic result of the fall of the idols of neo-liberalism? To remain at this level of thought would be to see in Marx only another conception of the finality of history, "a free and classless society," a simple alternative to Fukuyama's conceptions, which has at long last been recognized as faulty. However, that postulate of the finality of history was used a great deal to legitimize authoritarian power in the days of "really existing socialism." Read more.
Federal prosecutors will not bring criminal charges against current and former American International Group Inc. executives for their role surrounding financial contracts that nearly brought down the insurer about two years ago, according to people familiar with the matter.
The decision brings to a close a criminal investigation that, while mostly under wraps, was widely followed. The September 2008 bailout of AIG was one of the biggest and most shocking of the financial crisis, as trading by a noninsurance unit brought down one of the most iconic financial companies world-wide.
The probe focused on Joseph Cassano, who headed a London-based unit of AIG called Financial Products, people familiar with the matter have said. Other executives at the unit, Andrew Forster and Tom Athan, also were targets of the investigation, these people said.
"The system worked," said lawyers F. Joseph Warin and Jim Walden of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, who represent Mr. Cassano, in a statement on Friday. "The large group of federal agents and prosecutors was diligent and professional throughout the investigation, and our client is grateful that they did their jobs by following the facts to the end." Read more.
Financial Lobbyists: Five for Every Member of Congress
By Steve Carpinelli | Center for Public Integrity
Businesses, trade groups and other interests hired more than five lobbyists for each member of Congress to influence financial regulatory reform legislation pending before the Senate, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis.
More than 850 banks, hedge funds, companies, associations, and other organizations hired 3,000-plus lobbyists to work on the reform bills, according to the Center’s examination of lobbying disclosure data for all of 2009 and the first quarter of 2010. However, public outrage over Wall Street’s role in the 2007-09 financial meltdown blunted industry attempts to win loopholes in the measure now before the U.S. Senate. Read more.
TomDispatch: Putting the Pentagon on a Diet, Will Bad Times and a Bad Economy Finally Discipline the Pentagon?
An expert on the Pentagon budget asks the crucial question -- are the military's free-spending days coming to an end?: Christopher Hellman, "Putting the Pentagon on a Diet, Will Bad Times and a Bad Economy Finally Discipline the Pentagon?"
For years, the Pentagon's ever more bloated budget has been sacrosanct in Washington. In fact, since all discussion of a post-Cold War "peace dividend" disappeared amid increased military spending in the 1990s, points out Christopher Hellman of the National Priorities Project, Pentagon spending has gone wild. Now, he writes, "after a decade and a half of unparalleled budget growth, top Defense Department officials are finally talking about the possible end of their spending spree. And they’re not alone." Is this, then, the moment when economic bad times edges the Pentagon budget into the ever fiercer spending debate in Washington?
Hellman vividly describes just how ridiculously "overmatched" the Pentagon is versus any other military force on earth, cleverly using the words of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to make the point. ("All told, the displacement of the U.S. battle fleet -- a proxy for overall fleet capabilities -- exceeds, by one recent estimate, at least the next 13 navies combined, of which 11 are our allies or partners. And, at 202,000 strong, the Marine Corps is the largest military force of its kind in the world and exceeds the size of most world armies.") He also considers Congressional opposition to Pentagon budget cuts and the growing realization of top Pentagon officials that they simply won't be able to spend forever as if there were no tomorrow.
Hellman concludes this way: "Make no mistake, Gates has no intention of contributing Pentagon dollars to reducing the debt. His efforts are merely an acknowledgement of our nation’s weak economy, and the fact that fewer dollars will be available for any government program, even favored military ones. This type of Pentagon re-budgeting has been likened to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic... The mere fact that even Defense Department officials are beginning to discuss fewer dollars for the Pentagon, however, offers an opportunity for Americans intent on reining in rampant military spending. It is a chance that has been a long time coming, is finally on the national agenda, and, if missed, might be an even longer time in coming again."
This is an important piece which, like the Pentagon budget, should be on the media agenda. Read it now.
WASHINGTON, May 20 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) issued the following statement after the Senate tonight voted 59 to 39 for a major Wall Street reform bill:
“As a result of the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior of Wall Street, this country was plunged into a horrendous recession. While this bill does not go as far as I would like, it is a strong beginning in the effort to reregulate huge financial institutions and to bring transparency to their often nefarious activities.
“I am especially proud that in this bill there is a major provision I authored which, for the first time, will lift the veil of secrecy at the Federal Reserve and give the American people an understanding of where trillions of their tax dollars went in the Wall Street bailout.
“I am disappointed that we could not garner the necessary votes to lower interest rates on credit cards or to begin the process of breaking up the largest financial institutions in this country which are the cause of so many of our problems. I intend to continue that effort until we succeed.”
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