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By Dave Lindorff
For years, advocates of open government, mostly on the left, but also on the right, have railed against the growing secrecy of the US government. But the focus, particularly of left critics, has been on the Intelligence budget, a $40+ billion “black box” that is completely protected from public and even congressional scrutiny, and on large swaths of the Pentagon budget, which are kept hidden allegedly for “national security” reasons.
For the most part, the American public has adopted an ovine attitude towards such secrecy, assuming that the “government knows best.”
Now, however, with the economic crisis, and the collapse of AIG, Citibank, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, General Motors, Chrysler and other leading US firms, and with bailouts that are putting taxpayers on the hook to the tune of trillions of dollars, the people are waking up, or at least are starting to get restless in their slumber.
Political science majors can be forgiven for recycling Karl Marx's prediction, made 160 years ago, that capitalism would sow the seeds of its own destruction by widening the gap between workers and "capitalists." Since the end of the Cold War and the defeat of communism 20 years ago, boardroom-authorized CEO emoluments in the Fortune 100 have gone from 40 times to 300 times factory-floor wages.
The United States has always paid for its wars. For 200 years we paid for the Revolution, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, even LBJ's Great Society, and had yet to reach a national debt of $1 trillion -- until 1982. Now our government in the past eight years has borrowed, spent, and added to the national debt $5 trillion.
The Congressional Budget Office reported that in the first four years of the Bush term, deficits were caused by: 48% tax cuts, 37% wars, and 15% increased spending. We kept the government on steroids during the Bush years and household debt of $7 trillion joined the binge.
United States of AIG
Monetary and Fiscal Failure, Fraud, and Fear of What's Next
by Stephen Lendman
Even the powerful are worried with the IMF on February 7 saying advanced economies are in "depression (and) the worst cannot be ruled out." Forecasting a 2010 recovery is "very uncertain" at this time as further financial turmoil may disrupt it regardless of policies adopted, and trouble is outpacing resources to alleviate it.
On March 10, its Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn forecast "below zero" 2009 global growth - what he termed "the worst performance in most of our lifetimes."
In a March 8, report, the World Bank expressed similar gloom saying:
By Dave Lindorff
It may not be obvious today, and certainly it’s not how the corporate media reported it, but future historians are likely to look back at March 13, 2009 as the day that American imperialism began it’s inexorable decline. That’s the day that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao announced that his country was “worried” about its holdings of over $1 trillion in US treasury securities, and warned that he wanted the US to assure China that it would maintain its good credit and “honor its promises” and “maintain the safety of China’s assets.”
There is no way that the US can accommodate Premier Wen and still finance and operate a global military system with over 1000 overseas bases, massive aircraft carrier battle groups, and with hundreds of thousands of men and women armed to the teeth with the latest high-tech military hardware, not to mention fight endless wars on the far side of the globe.
By Dave Lindorff
Back in 1966 when I was a 17-year old and just finished with my junior year in high school, I spent part of the summer working as a dishwasher and busboy at a couple of restaurants on Cape Cod. It was grueling and low-paid work, and by the time I’d done it for about five weeks, I was ready to give it up.
The road beckoned, and so I contacted a friend, Charlie Vidich, and proposed that we hitch-hike to Alaska, it being the most remote place I could think of that we could get to overland without a passport.
The idea didn’t sit well with our two respective mothers, but we prevailed on them with the help of our fathers, who I think were happy to see us out of the house, and so we packed knapsacks and bedrolls, went out on the road, stuck out our thumbs, and headed north and west.
The TARP investment is a very special type of capital that is provided by the US Treasury and is segregated in the form of preferred stock. For the Boards of Directors of the 214 banks to pay out bonuses is nothing but an embezzlement of American citizens’ capital. It is now the obligation of the new Attorney General, Eric Holder, to arrest and indict every board member and senior management of every financial company that paid out the $18.4 billion bonus.
Bizarre, weird, grotesque, outrageous, crime committed by the super elite is being called normal business mistakes and corporate irresponsibility. That might sound like a brash comment to the completely uninformed, but if I could think of even more brash adverbs to describe the mainstream, established society in America I would. We Americans elected a Congress that gave $700 billion of welfare to banks that went broke. The executives of those banks ripped off that welfare.
It is simple minded stupidity on the part of the entire broadcast and print media to characterize flagrant crime (in the words of Mr. Cuomo) to be “corporate irresponsibility”. Only $3.6 billion of the $18.4 billion was embezzled by Merrill Lynch.
While Mr. Summers wants us to remember that we are a nation of laws when it comes to paying huge bonuses to A.I.G. executives, who will apply the law to former Bush administration officials who approved torture? If law dictates payment of bonuses, what law addresses money laundering? And is that law less important than the one that insures payment of bonuses? What could be more corrupt than asking banks that have been bailed out by the American taxpayer - expressly to address their loses from mortgage failures - if they approve of a foreclosure bill that would in turn bailout the taxpayer/homeowners themselves?
Still no end in sight to the corruption in Washington. While the Democrats now control both houses of Congress and the White House, the raging wildfire of corruption continues unabated.
A.I.G. bailed out to the tune of 165 billion taxpayer dollars and proceeds to pay executives what is now approaching 300 million in bonuses? The White House and Congress are "outraged, but can't do anything"?
$8 Billion dollars from CitiGroup to Dubai
$7 Billion dollars from Banks of America to China
$1 Billion dollars from JP Morgan/Chase to India
More information = Read more.
Bill would help schools, nonprofits teach financial literacy
By Les Blumenthal | McClatchy Newspapers
The numbers are startling. More than half of high school seniors have debit cards and nearly one-third have credit cards.
One-third of college students have four credits cards apiece when they graduate, and more than half of graduates have piled up $5,000 each in high-interest debt. The number of 18- to 24-year-olds who've declared bankruptcy has increased 96 percent in 10 years.
Surveys show that many of these young people also are financially illiterate: They don't understand such things as interest, minimum payments, credit reports, identity theft or that they may be paying off their school loans for years.
Former President George W. Bush is preparing for one final struggle against the odds: raising $300 million for a presidential library, museum and policy institute at a time when dollars are tight and skepticism about his presidency runs high.
The former president and first lady have already begun holding small private dinners to persuade wealthy friends to invest in a monument and incubator based on the values and events of his presidency. By this fall, he’ll be armed with architect’s renderings and will hold travel around the country to meet with groups and build support for the complex on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
Black homebuyers have been 3½ times more likely to receive a subprime loan than white borrowers, and six times more likely to get a subprime rate when refinancing, Tighe said. Blacks still were disproportionately steered into subprime loans when their credit scores, income and down payment were equal to those of white homebuyers, he said.
Melissa Murray, vice president of corporate communications for Wells Fargo & Co., called the lawsuit "totally unfounded and reckless." The bank is receiving federal bailout funds.
While Bush was still President, President Obama weighed in against impeachment, saying that impeachment should be reserved for only the most serious crimes. Now that he is President he has thus far given little or no indication that he intends to have his Justice Department prosecute George Bush or any other high level Bush administration official for their crimes. But if widespread torture, an illegal war of aggression, spying on American citizens, suspending of the right of habeas corpus, and numerous other violations of our Constitution don't constitute serious crimes, then what does?...If we think that these things are important we have a great deal of work to do, lest our country sinks into a tyranny from which it may never recover.
The Democratic Underground was born on one of the worst days in U.S history - the day that the worst President in U.S. history took office.
Now, here we are 8 years later, and we've managed to remove that cancer from our nation and replace it with something much better. Notwithstanding my many ambivalent feelings towards President Obama, I have do doubt that he will be infinitely better for our country than his predecessor.
Yet despite that, our country has been terribly scarred from the events of the past eight years, and it continues to suffer from all of the root problems that brought us the worst President in our history in 2000 and 2004. Therefore, it is worth taking a look at the root problems that brought us to this sorry state of affairs.
A.I.G. to Pay $100 Million in Bonuses After Huge Bailout
By Edmund L. Andrews and Peter Baker | NYTimes
Despite being bailed out with more than $170 billion from the Treasury and Federal Reserve, the American International Group is preparing to pay about $100 million in bonuses to executives in the same business unit that brought the company to the brink of collapse last year.
An official in the Obama administration said Saturday that Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner had called A.I.G.’s government-appointed chairman, Edward M. Liddy, on Wednesday and asked that the company renegotiate the bonuses.
Administration officials said they had managed to reduce some of the bonuses but had allowed most of them to go forward after the company’s chief executive said A.I.G. was contractually obligated to pay them.
In a letter to Mr. Geithner, Mr. Liddy wrote: “Needless to say, in the current circumstances, I do not like these arrangements and find it distasteful and difficult to recommend to you that we must proceed with them.”
The bonuses will be paid to executives at American International Group’s Financial Products division, the unit that wrote trillions of dollars’ worth of credit-default swaps that protected investors from defaults on bonds backed by subprime mortgages.
Is the Economic Mess Going to Kill 100,000 Non-Profits?
By Eyal Press | Alternet
The intensifying economic crisis is crushing the budgets of vital non-profits across the country, and the consequences are devastating.
In the days between Christmas and New Year's Eve, Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, sat at his desk in Lower Manhattan and reached out to people who had lavished generous donations on his organization during the long, benighted tenure of George W. Bush. It was a heady moment: the era of Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales was winding to a close, and Barack Obama was about to assume office, having vowed to rescind some of his predecessor's more egregious assaults on civil liberties.
But Romero wasn't phoning his supporters to share the joy -- he was calling to plead for cash after a season (actually, several seasons) of thwarted solicitations. Throughout the spring and summer, would-be donors had explained, over and over again, that they were too busy writing checks to the Obama campaign. By the time Obama mounted the stage to deliver his acceptance speech in Chicago on election night, many had become preoccupied with something else: the implosion of the economy. As Romero worked the phone from his office on the nineteenth floor of the downtown high-rise, around the corner from the New York Stock Exchange, he could feel the aftershocks of the collapse.
The Swiss government said Friday it would cooperate on cases of international tax evasion, breaking with a long-standing tradition of protecting wealthy foreigners accused of hiding billions of dollars in the Alpine nation.
The government insisted it would hold onto its cherished banking secrecy rules, but said other countries could now expect Swiss cooperation in cases where they provide compelling evidence of tax evasion.
"We want assistance to be restricted to individual cases to prevent fishing expeditions," President Hans-Rudolf Merz told a news conference, referring to the practice of seeking information about many individuals in the hope of discovering a few tax evaders.
Make Veterans Buy Insurance: Another Idea That Really Didn't Come from the Insurance Companies, Really
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki confirmed Tuesday that the Obama administration is considering a controversial plan to make veterans pay for treatment of service-related injuries with private insurance. MORE HERE.
The net worth of American households fell by the largest amount in more than a half-century of record keeping during the fourth quarter of last year, reflecting the blow families are taking from a plunging stock market and dwindling home prices.
The Federal Reserve said Thursday that household net worth dropped by a record 9 percent in 2008's October-December period compared to the third quarter. That was the biggest decline on records that go back to 1951.
The drop represented a loss of $5.1 trillion in family net worth, leaving the total at $51.48 trillion at the end of the year. Net worth represents total assets such as homes and checking accounts minus liabilities like mortgages and credit card debt.
Jobs, in particular, are a major concern for the Chinese authorities, who fear potential social unrest as millions of migrant workers’ jobs have fallen victim to the global slowdown. “We have reserved adequate ammunition,” Mr. Wen said, adding that China’s fiscal deficit is under control and the debt level still safe. “At any time, we can introduce new stimulus,” he said, quoted by Bloomberg News.
China, the world’s biggest holder of United States government debt, on Friday expressed concern about the safety of those assets as American deficits have ballooned with costly stimulus and bailout packages aimed at rescuing the economy..
By David Bacon, New America Media
LANCASTER, CA (3/11/09) -- After months of a media war supporting and condemning it, the Employee Free Choice Act was finally introduced into Congress again this week. The bill has been debated before, but with a larger Democratic majority, its chances of passage are much greater today, and President Obama has said he'll sign it. Employers, therefore, are fighting it as never before.
President Obama has recently threatened to rescind the "blank check" the Bush administration offered to big defense contractors. So now is the time when all that planning by Lockheed Martin and the other major arms manufacturers comes into play. One of that company's major weapons systems, the F-22 Raptor, is potentially on the chopping block. How convenient then that, in the midst of an economic meltdown, Lockheed just happens to have more than 1,000 parts suppliers for that jet carefully scattered across 44 states, all of which, as far as I know, have representatives in Congress. This is pretty typical.
Which came first, the chicken thief or the golden egg?
* Newly Formed 150,000-Strong Nurses' Union Pushes for Single-Payer Healthcare *
Three of the country's top organizations of direct care registered nurses have come together to form a new national nurses' union that is advocating for a single-payer national health insurance program. The new union unifies the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, United American Nurses, and the Massachusetts Nurses Association into a 150,000-member association, making it the largest registered nurses union in US history. We speak with Geri Jenkins, a registered nurse and co-president of the union.
* Burn Your Health Insurance Bill Day: New Group Advocates Direct Action to Demand Single-Payer System *
Russell Mokhiber, editor of Corporate Crime Reporter, has just formed a new group called "Single Payer Action" that is advocating direct action to demand a single-payer health insurance system in the United States. Today, he is burning his health insurance bill outside the national meeting of the American Health Insurance Plans in Washington, D.C.
* Dr. Quentin Young, Longtime Obama Confidante and Physician to MLK, Criticizes Admin's Rejection of Single-Payer Healthcare *
While the Obama administration claims "all options are on the table" for healthcare reform, it's already rejected the solution favored by most Americans, including doctors: single-payer universal healthcare. We speak with Dr. Quentin Young, perhaps the most well-known single-payer advocate in America. He was the Rev. Martin Luther King's doctor when he lived in Chicago and a longtime friend and ally of Barack Obama. But he was noticeably not invited to Obama's White House healthcare summit last week.
Newt Gingrich is right: "It is European socialism transplanted to Washington." How else to describe an economy in which the government controls the entire financial center and is now supplying life support for the auto industry? That's on top of the existing socialist economy run by the military-industrial complex, which, thanks to George W. Bush, now absorbs upward of 60 percent of the non-entitlement federal budget.
Although we still have a way to go to catch up with the good parts of the European system, including universal healthcare, high-quality public education and decent working conditions, we do have a system that is now as socialist in budget size as Europe's. That part I get when I listen to the right-wingers on Fox News bemoaning the reversal of the Reagan Revolution. But what I don't understand is how in the world they can blame this startling turn of events on Barack Obama.
The vast majority of money allocated so far on President Obama's watch is an extension of Bush's banking bailout, which has committed trillions to failed Wall Street conglomerates. I certainly don't want to defend the bailout and personally think the banks and stockbrokers deserve to go belly up, but what does that mess have to do with Obama, who was in college when the Reagan Revolution launched the deregulation that allowed Wall Street to run wild?
Seven states posted unemployment rates larger than 10 percent in January, according to figures released Wednesday morning by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Michigan was saddled with the nation's highest jobless rate in January, 12.5 percent in statistics that were not seasonally adjusted. It had been the only state to rise above 10 percent during the previous month, December 2008.
Also topping the 10-percent mark in January were Rhode Island (11.4 percent unemployment), Oregon (10.9 percent), South Carolina (10.9 percent), California (10.6 percent), North Carolina (10.3 percent) and Nevada (10.2 percent).
Many of the biggest mortgage lenders in the U.S. have engaged in widespread, systematic schemes that ripped off hundreds of thousands of families seeking to buy a home, refinance or foreclose, according to lawsuits filed on behalf of consumers.
Scores of class-action lawsuits, from the 1990s and up to today, detail the illegal and questionable practices used by mortgage-lending companies that pushed millions into bad mortgages, then into bad refinancing loans and then into foreclosures with unfair fees.
The lawsuits have been filed by private attorneys and state attorneys general, and on behalf of NGOs.
By John F. Wasik, Bloomberg
March 11 (Bloomberg) -- It's time to stop kicking sand in the face of single-payer health care. It may be the strongest solution around to insure every American at a lower cost.
After decades of industry campaigns against this model -- dubbed by its critics as "socialized" medicine -- it's important to stop whining and evaluate the many economic benefits. Health care is a fundamental human right.
If President Barack Obama wants real change in American health care, he will have to get over the fear of even mentioning single-payer concepts. At his health-care summit last week, only the threat of a demonstration garnered late invitations for Oliver Fein and Congressman John Conyers, two leading proponents of the single-payer plan.
As the health insurance corporation lobbyists met in DC yesterday, doctors, nurses, and would-be patients protested outside, some of them for a mishmash of vague reform, most of them, including Congressman Eric Massa and the people in this video for single-payer healthcare, HR 676:
Of course the likely best outcome of a principled push for single-payer, the only solution with much chance of actually working, will be the inclusion of a public option in a hybrid reform bill. Moveon.org is, of course, going to promote whatever the president wants, but has produced the following advertisement that at least pretends to have complete confidence that a substantial public option will be part of it:
An auction of foreclosed homes in New York City on Sunday drew protesters who blamed banks for an epidemic of home losses and called for a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures.
Two dozen people marched outside a Manhattan convention center where Real Estate Disposition Corp was auctioning off several hundred foreclosed homes, chanting and carrying signs reading "Banks get bailed out, people get thrown out."
The group, Bail Out the People, plans to stage a major demonstration on Wall Street on April 3.