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Corporatism and Fascism
Corporatism and Fascism
Health insurers want you to keep smoking, Harvard doctors say
By Brendan Borrell | Scientific American
Health and life insurance companies in the U.S. and abroad have nearly $4.5 billion invested in tobacco stocks, according to Harvard doctors.
“It’s the combined taxidermist and veterinarian approach: either way you get your dog back,” says David Himmelstein, an internist at the Harvard Medical School and co-author of a letter published in this week’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
The largest tobacco investor on the list, the 160-year old Prudential company with branches in the U.S. and the U.K., has more than $1.5 billion invested in tobacco stocks. The runner-up was Toronto-based Sun Life Financial, which apparently holds over $1 billion in Philip Morris (Altria) and other tobacco stocks. In total, seven companies that sell life, health, disability, or long-term care insurance, have major holdings in tobacco stock.
Why is it a big deal? “If you own a billion dollars [of tobacco stock], then you don’t want to see it go down,” says Himmelstein, “You are less likely to join anti-tobacco coalitions, endorse anti-tobacco legislation, basically, anything most health companies would want to participate in.” Read more.
In a recent unanimous decision, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned federal bribery charges against prominent Mississippi trial attorney Paul Minor, offering a ray of hope that Minor will soon be a free man.
Minor has spent the past three years a political prisoner, left to rot in jail after partisan operatives in the Bush administration targeted him for being the top funder of Democratic candidates in Mississippi...
Over the past three years that Minor spent in prison, he endured the loss of his wife Sylvia to brain cancer, a painful ordeal in which he was repeatedly denied release to be by his wife's side by the Bureau of Prisons, a subordinate arm of the DOJ. Paul's right to comfort Sylvia, to say goodbye in her final hours, and even to attend her funeral to deliver the eulogy he wrote about their 40-year marriage together, was stripped by the DOJ. Minor also remained behind bars when his son Paul Jr. was married in October, yet another important family moment this proud father will never get back.
Why was Paul Minor left rotting in jail while Sylvia passed away and Paul Jr. married? And now, with the federal bribery charges tossed out, why is he still behind bars today?
Attorney General Eric Holder had barely gotten his office set up when he ordered the Justice Department to drop charges against former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens based on prosecutorial misconduct, vowing to send a message that misconduct would not be tolerated in President Obama's DOJ.
Yet the American justice system's abhorrent treatment of Paul Minor has often been far more absurd, consistently unjust and shockingly inhumane. So why is Paul Minor continually left to rot in Pensacola federal prison camp? Read more.
CCR Denounces Blanket Decision Not to Release Guantánamo Detainees to Yemen | Press Release
Dozens of Yemenis Cleared for Release By Review Task Force in Limbo
January 5, 2010, New York – In response to news that President Obama has decided to suspend all transfers of detainees from Guantánamo to Yemen, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) issued the following statement:
Dozens of men from Yemen who have been cleared for release after extensive scrutiny by the government’s Guantànamo Review Task Force are about to be left in limbo once more due to politics, not facts. Many are about to begin their ninth year in indefinite detention.
Halting the repatriation of Yemeni men cleared by the Task Force after months of careful review is unconscionable. It will also effectively prevent any meaningful progress towards closing Guantánamo, which President Obama has repeatedly argued will make our nation safer.
As we approach the eighth anniversary of Guantánamo and the president’s failed deadline for its closure, it is important to remember that the vast majority of the men at Guantánamo should never have been detained in the first place, and that over 550 have been released and are peacefully rebuilding their lives. Most of the nearly 800 men who were brought to Guantánamo were not captured by the American military on any battlefield, but seized in broad sweeps during the chaos of the Afghan war or in other locations around the world and sold to the U.S. in exchange for substantial bounties. We know from the military’s own records that most of the detainees at Guantánamo have no link to terrorism.
When he accepted his Nobel Peace Prize, President Obama said, ‘We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it's easy, but when it is hard.’ What he said in December should be just a true a month later.
CCR has led the legal battle over Guantanamo for the last seven years – sending the first ever habeas attorney to the base and sending the first attorney to meet with a former CIA “ghost detainee” there. CCR has been responsible for organizing and coordinating more than 500 pro bono lawyers across the country in order to represent the men at Guantanamo, ensuring that nearly all have the option of legal representation. In addition, CCR has been working to resettle the approximately 60 men who remain at Guantánamo because they cannot return to their country of origin for fear of persecution and torture.
Thousands of poor farmers in India have committed suicide over the past decade as changes in India's agricultural policy set off a widening spiral of debt and despair, one environmental activist said Tuesday.
"The farmer suicides started in 1997. That's when the corporate seed control started," Vandana Shiva told CNN's Christiane Amanpour. "And it's directly related to indebtedness, and indebtedness created by two factors linked to globalization."
For Shiva, who works with farming communities across India, those two factors were the ceding of control of the seed supply to the corporate chemical industry -- leading to increased production costs for already-struggling farmers -- as well as falling food prices in a global agricultural economy.
An estimated 200,000 farmers have taken their own lives in India over the past 13 years, according to Indian government statistics.
"The combination is unpayable debt, and it's the day the farmer is going to lose his land for chemicals and seeds, that is the day the farmer drinks pesticide," Shiva said. "And it's totally related to a negative economy, of an agriculture that costs more in production than the farmer can ever earn." Read more.
Counterterrorism In Shambles; Why?
By Ray McGovern and Coleen Rowley
Yesterday, a blogger with the PBS’ NewsHour asked former CIA analyst Ray McGovern to respond to three questions regarding recent events involving the CIA, FBI, and the intelligence community in general.
Two other old intelligence hands were asked the identical questions, queries that are typical of what radio/TV and blogger interviewers usually think to be the right ones. So there is merit in trying to answer them directly, such as they are, and then broadening the response to address some of the core problems confronting U.S. counter-terror strategies.
After drafting his answers, McGovern asked former FBI attorney/special agent Coleen Rowley, a colleague in Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) to review his responses and add her own comments at the end. The Q & A is below:
Question #1 – What lapses in the American counter terrorism apparatus made the Christmas Day bombing plot possible? Is it inevitable that certain plots will succeed?
The short answer to the second sentence is: Yes, it is inevitable that “certain plots will succeed.” A more helpful answer would address the question as to how we might best minimize their prospects for success. And to do this, sorry to say, there is no getting around the necessity to address the root causes of terrorism or, in the vernacular, “why they hate us.”
If we don’t go beyond self-exculpatory sloganeering in attempting to answer that key question, any “counter terrorism apparatus” is doomed to failure. Honest appraisals can tread on delicate territory, but any intelligence agency worth its salt must be willing/able to address it.
Delicate? Take, for example, what Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the “mastermind” of 9/11, said was his main motive. Here’s what the 9/11 Commission Report wrote on page 147. You will not find it reported in the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM):
HR 676 music.
the highest percentage of Democrats to date (45%) indicated this week that they are either unlikely to vote, or certain not to vote.
Once more, doing things badly (health care “reform”, an inadequate stimulus, refusing to properly take on the banks) or doing things the base opposed (escalating in Afghanistan) has a price.
In 1994 Clinton lost Congress. He lost it in large part because of NAFTA, failing at health care reform and the the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell fiasco. Democratic base voters stayed home and Republicans were motivated. Doing “moderate” things didn’t make Republicans not vote against Democrats, but it did make Democrats not vote Democrats.
Clinton may have gone on to win re-election in 1996, but after losing Congress, he did very few truly progressive things and did or signed off on many non-progressive things, like Welfare “reform” and gutting Glass-Steagall (a major reason for the financial crisis.)
Obama stands to repeat. Read more.
Bush administration officials came up with all kinds of ridiculously offensive rationalizations for torturing prisoners. It’s not torture if you don’t mean it to be. It’s not torture if you don’t nearly kill the victim. It’s not torture if the president says it’s not torture.
It was deeply distressing to watch the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sink to that standard in April when it dismissed a civil case brought by four former Guantánamo detainees never charged with any offense. The court said former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the senior military officers charged in the complaint could not be held responsible for violating the plaintiffs’ rights because at the time of their detention, between 2002 and 2004, it was not “clearly established” that torture was illegal.
The Supreme Court could have corrected that outlandish reading of the Constitution, legal precedent, and domestic and international statutes and treaties. Instead, last month, the justices abdicated their legal and moral duty and declined to review the case.
A denial of certiorari is not a ruling on the merits. But the justices surely understood that their failure to accept the case would further undermine the rule of law.
In effect, the Supreme Court has granted the government immunity for subjecting people in its custody to terrible mistreatment. It has deprived victims of a remedy and Americans of government accountability, while further damaging the country’s standing in the world. Read more.
Are you implicitly comparing the Civil War with the war in Iraq, in order to justify President Bush’s expansion of executive power?
The idea is that the president’s power grows and changes based on circumstances, and that’s what the framers of the Constitution wanted. They wanted it to exist so the president could react to crises immediately.
Do you regret writing the so-called torture memos, which claimed that President Bush was legally entitled to ignore laws prohibiting torture?
No, I had to write them. It was my job. As a lawyer, I had a client. The client needed a legal question answered.
When you say you had “a client,” do you mean President Bush?
Yes, I mean the president, but also the U.S. government as a whole.
But isn’t a lawyer in the Department of Justice there to serve the people of this country?
Yes, I think you are quite right, when the government is executing the laws, but if there’s a conflict between the president and the Congress, then you have to pick one or the other. Read more.
According to the Chinese calendar, 2010 is the Year of the Tiger. We don’t name our years, but if we did, this one might prospectively be called the Year of the Assassin.
We, of course, think of ourselves as something like the peaceable kingdom. After all, the shock of September 11, 2001 was that “war” came to “the homeland,” a mighty blow delivered against the very symbols of our economic, military, and -- had Flight 93 not gone down in a field in Pennsylvania -- political power.
Since that day, however, war has been a stranger in our land. With the rarest of exceptions, like Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan’s massacre at Fort Hood, Texas, this country has remained a world without war or any kind of mobilization for war. No other major terrorist attacks, not even victory gardens, scrap-metal collecting, or rationing. And certainly no war tax to pay for our post-9/11 trillion-dollar “expeditionary forces” sent into battle abroad. Had we the foresight to name them, the last few years domestically might have reflected a different kind of carnage -- 2006, the Year of the Subprime Mortgage; 2007, the Year of the Bonus; 2008, the Year of the Meltdown; 2009, the Year of the Bailout. And perhaps some would want to label 2010, prematurely or not, the Year of Recovery.
Although our country delivers war regularly to distant lands in the name of our “safety,” we don’t really consider ourselves at war (despite the endless talk of “supporting our troops”), and the money that has simply poured into Pentagon coffers, and then into weaponry and conflicts is, with rare exceptions, never linked to economic distress in this country. And yet, if we are no nation of warriors, from the point of view of the rest of the world we are certainly the planet’s foremost war-makers. If money talks, then war may be what we care most about as a society and fund above all else, with the least possible discussion or debate.
In fact, according to military expert William Hartung, the Pentagon budget has risen in every year of the new century, an unprecedented run in our history. We dominate the global arms trade, monopolizing almost 70% of the arms business in 2008, with Italy coming in a vanishingly distant second. We put more money into the funding of war, our armed forces, and the weaponry of war than the next 25 countries combined (and that’s without even including Iraq and Afghan war costs). We garrison the planet in a way no empire or nation in history has ever done. And we plan for the future, for “the next war” -- on the ground, on the seas, and in space -- in a way that is surely unique. If our two major wars of the twenty-first century in Iraq and Afghanistan are any measure, we also get less bang for our buck than any nation in recent history. Read more.
Iraqi prisoners ‘were sexually humiliated by female British soldier’
Fourteen new cases of sexual abuse have been made against a secretive British Army interrogation unit
Tom Coghlan and Alice Fordham in Baghdad | Times Online
A female British soldier is accused of sexually humiliating and abusing prisoners in Iraq in a series of claims about British troops in Basra, The Times has learnt.
Five former detainees have made specific allegations against a female interrogator they knew as “Katy”.
The claims are among 14 new cases brought against a secretive British Army interrogation unit. These bring to 40 the total of pending British court cases by former Iraqi detainees.
Sexual abuse was routinely practised by the Joint Forward Intelligence Team (JFIT) between 2003 and 2007, it is claimed, when the unit ran the Divisional Temporary Detention Facility based at the Shaibah Logistics Base near Basra. Among the allegations is at least one case of male rape.
Interrogators are also accused of coercive practices outlawed in Britain, including threats and actual violence, the use of stress positions, sleep deprivation, exposure to heat and cold, hooding and threats to rape and murder detainees’ families. Read more.
Witness Against Torture Releases Events Schedule To Insist on Justice, Human Rights & the Rule of Law
Eight Years Too Many - Join Us to Insist on Justice, Human Rights and the Rule of Law - Say NO to Guantánamo, Bagram, and a “Gitmo North” in Illinois
Witness Against Torture, in coalition with other groups, launches The Fast and Vigil for Justice on Monday, January 11, 2010 — the eight-year mark of the opening of the prison at Guantanamo. The Fast and Vigil for Justice will features actions at the White House, Congress, and additional sites in Washington, D.C. where decisions about the lives of men at Guantánamo and other detainees are made. It will be preceded by a Bagram vigil on January 7 and a film screening on January 10, and begin with a rally at the White House on the 11th.
For updated information on the daily schedule of the Fast and Vigil and to sign up, visit www.witnesstorture.org
Thursday, January 7, 2010 - BAGRAM PRISONERS CASE IN DC COURT
8:30 a.m. Vigil outside the Court (Located at: 333 Constitution Avenue, NW@ 3rd St. NW)
Backward, Into Fear
by Missy Comley Beattie
I know with certainty that Uman Farouk Abdulmutallab, charged with attempting to take down Flight 253, is not responsible for the confiscation of a can of black-eyed peas I was trying to slide past airline security. That rule—the one about liquids—was already in place. Incentive to slip the beans through was derived from information I learned from a prior flight, one taken with my best friend who decided she didn't want to remove her computer from her carryon. Nor did she put her must-haves in clear plastic for public scrutiny. No one said a word as her bag was scanned. In fact, she easily retrieved her luggage, while I grappled with my laptop, trying to balance it and put it back in its case as I struggled to step into my shoes and, finally, reach for my cell phone, jacket, and plastic bag filled with lots of little bottles.
The young Nigerian is, however, the reason my plane (the same trip the peas were seized) was delayed this week. Because when passengers lined up to board, anyone with a bottle of water, cola, or juice, was pulled aside to have their beverages tested for explosives. One woman asked if her water would still be safe to drink after the strange strip of white whatever was magically waved over the open bottle by an agent whose hands were imprisoned in surgical gloves. How styoopid, I thought. But, then, she had a point—those gloves must have been transferring an accumulation of microbes from container to container.
Okay, I've digressed. I really meant to write about the event—you know, the one to scare Americans and highlight the gaping holes in our security. Because there were some missed opportunities. For example, the father of the “terrorist” had alerted authorities that he was concerned about the behavior of his extremist son. That's seriously reliable, like delivering him to a detention center and saying, “Our bad seed wants to blow up a passenger plane over the United States.”
But certain links weren't made by people trained to make sure certain links are always made.
Officials who consistently speak on condition of anonymity now agree with 20/20 hindsight that given all the information they had about Abdulmutallab, he should never have been allowed on that aircraft.
I bet he could have gotten a can of black-eyed peas into Detroit. But I've digressed again.
Where I'm going with all this is to an analysis of Obama's brilliant revelation: “A system failure occurred and I consider that totally unacceptable.”
You see, our Deciders and those we label “the bad guys” have a symbiotic relationship, the basis of which is both real and imagined: real because they are trying to knock each other off and imagined because they rely on propaganda.
It’s a brilliant strategy if you think about it. Make the public afraid of each other. Every person could be a terrorist - everyone is suspect. There is no better way to defeat an organized anti-war opposition than to make the people terrified of each other.
The corporate oligarchy is now doing under Obama what it could not accomplish under Bush. Total war. The anti-Bush movement in the US and worldwide was gaining too much ground. So the oligarchy let the air out of that balloon. In Bush’s place they put in a magician who has proved very effective at keeping the left off balance and thus unable to pump new life into the reeling anti-war movement.
So now it’s Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Somalia and Yemen. Next could be Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. National Public Radio (NPR) reporter Tom Gjelten did a story called “Afghan War Could Spill Over Into Central Asia” on December 31 that upped the fear meter and brought back the Vietnam-war era worry of the “domino theory”. You must watch the slight of hand...the modus operandi in action again.
Bush, or John McCain for that matter, would have been resisted at every step of this new escalation. But many “progressives” are frozen into place by the handiwork of the magician and a deferential Congress under the control of the other war party. The “execution” of this masterstroke has worked as well as the insides of an expensive Swiss watch.
The oil and military industrial oligarchy have created a situation where the public is so primed for fear by the slavish media that they are ready to strip their constitutional rights down to the bare bone in order to be “protected” by big daddy.
The suicide bomber who killed at least six Central Intelligence Agency officers in a base along the Afghan-Pakistan border on Wednesday was a regular CIA informant who had visited the same base multiple times in the past, according to someone close to the base's security director.
The informant was a Pakistani and a member of the Wazir tribe from the Pakistani tribal area North Waziristan, according to the same source. The base security director, an Afghan named Arghawan, would pick up the informant at the Ghulam Khan border crossing and drive him about two hours into Forward Operating Base Chapman, from where the CIA operates.
Because he was with Arghawan, the informant was not searched, the source says. Arghawan also died in the attack.
The story seems to corroborate a claim by the Taliban on the Pakistani side of the border that they had turned a CIA asset into a double agent and sent him to kill the officers in the base, located in the eastern Afghan province of Khost.
The infiltration into the heart of the CIA's operation in eastern Afghanistan deals a strong blow to the agency's ability to fight Taliban and al Qaeda, former intelligence officials say, and will make the agency reconsider how it recruits Pakistani and Afghan informants. Read more.
Just before Christmas, the US President, Barack Obama, signed into law one of his country's biggest aid pledges of the year. It was bound not for Africa or any of the many struggling countries on the World Bank's list.
It was a deal for $US2.77 billion ($3 billion) to go to Israel in 2010 and a total of $US30 billion over the next decade.
Israel is bound by the agreement to use 75 per cent of the aid to buy military hardware made in the US: in the crisis-racked US economy, those military factories are critical to many towns.
For the first time the US is also providing $US500 million to the Palestinian Authority, including $US100 million to train security forces, under the strict proviso that the authority's leadership recognises Israel.
For many years Israel has been the largest recipient of US foreign aid, followed by Egypt ($US1.75 billion), which also receives most of its assistance in tied military aid.
The Congressional Research Service says that the US spent 17 per cent of its total aid budget - or $US5.1 billion - on military aid in 2008, of which $US4.7 billion was grants to enable governments to receive equipment from the US. Read more.
A Pentagon plan to demolish its prison at Bagram, Afghanistan, amounts to destroying evidence in the cases of detainees who say they were tortured there, an attorney said Thursday.
Ramzi Kassem, counsel for a number of Guantanamo and Bagram prisoners, was responding to notification of the planned demolition filed a day earlier with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The Defense Department plans to finish moving all prisoners by Jan. 19 from the Bagram facility to a new one built nearby, according to the notification filed Wednesday by the Justice Department. Then the Pentagon ''intends to immediately begin the necessary steps for the demolition,'' the document said.
Kassem, also a professor of law at the City University of New York, said the site should be preserved as evidence and as a crime scene.
''What took place at Bagram is at the heart of many, if not most, Guantanamo cases,'' he said in an e-mail. ''That facility is relevant to accounts of torture and coercion raised by many (Guantanamo Bay) prisoners -- and by present Bagram prisoners -- in their various cases before the military commissions and in criminal and habeas proceedings in federal court.'' Read more.
National coordinated campaign unites to revoke corporate "constitutional rights"
ReclaimDemocracy.org and a broad alliance of grassroots pro-democracy groups are preparing to make 2010 a breakthrough year for the Democracy Movement. To accomplish this, we're building the broadest coalition yet to confront and revoke runaway corporate power. The focus: amending the U.S. Constitution to overturn the Court-created notion of applying constitutional rights to corporations.
While we have been calling for this action for almost the entire decade of our existence, we now find the idea reaching a "tipping point" among many other organizations.
A Teachable Moment
The Campaign to Legalize Democracy will debut publicly the day the U.S. Supreme Court announces a ruling in the potential landmark case, Citizens United v Federal Election Commission. Despite enormous anger over public subsidies, systematic credit card rip-offs, and more, it's widely expected the Court will give corporations even greater power over our government by allowing company funds to be spent in efforts to elect or defeat political candidates. If this happens, we will work quickly to channel anger where it needs to go: overruling the Court.
And after campaigning to bring “change” to Americans that included public health insurance and taking on Wall Street, President Obama and Congress have demonstrated they either are unwilling or unable to challenge the power of pharmaceutical, insurance, and financial corporations to correct our nation's most urgent problems.
We don't celebrate this failure, but we recognize the opportunity created by this disillusionment. When people believe in illusions, they are not receptive to confronting reality. One year ago, millions of Americans believed democracy could thrive and some of our worst crises improve if we elected Barack Obama and shifted control of Congress. That illusion is dead, but its demise gives birth to great opportunity.
We provoked debate over corporate "free speech" and personhood in dozens of media outlets that never had previously explored the issue when the Nike v Kasky case reached the Supreme Court. This time, however, we'll have a broad alliance amplifying the message, with a collective reach many times greater than ReclaimDemocracy.org alone.
Within 24 hours of the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling (the second week of January is the next potential time for a ruling), we'll post news on the new campaign, as will a dozen or more organizational partners. When we do, we'll be looking to our readers to also jump into action with a barrage of calls to talk radio shows, letters to the editor of your local news outlets or favorite web outlets, and more. Stay tuned!
For more on the Citizens United case, click here.
Read more on the underlying issue of Corporate Personhood.
January 1 will usher in the last year of the first decade of a new millennium and ten consecutive years of the United States conducting war in the Greater Middle East.
Beginning with the October 7, 2001 missile and bomb attacks on Afghanistan, American combat operations abroad have not ceased for a year, a month, a week or a day in the 21st century.
The Afghan war, the U.S.'s first air and ground conflict in Asia since the disastrous wars in Vietnam and Cambodia in the 1960s and early 1970s and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's first land war and Asian campaign, began during the end of the 2001 war in Macedonia launched from NATO-occupied Kosovo, one in which the role of U.S. military personnel is still to be properly exposed  and addressed and which led to the displacement of almost 10 percent of the nation's population.
In the first case Washington invaded a nation in the name of combating terrorism; in the second it abetted cross-border terrorism. Similarly, in 1991 the U.S. and its Western allies attacked Iraqi forces in Kuwait and launched devastating and deadly cruise missile attacks and bombing sorties inside Iraq in the name of preserving the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kuwait, and in 1999 waged a 78-day bombing assault against Yugoslavia to override and fatally undermine the principles of territorial integrity and national sovereignty in the name of the casus belli of the day, so-called humanitarian intervention.
Two years later humanitarian war, as abhorrent an oxymoron as the world has ever witnessed, gave way to the global war on terror(ism), with the U.S. and its NATO allies again reversing course but continuing to wage wars of aggression and "wars of opportunity" as they saw fit, contradictions and logic, precedents and international law notwithstanding.
A federal judge dismissed manslaughter charges Thursday against five Blackwater security guards in the 2007 deaths of Iraqi civilians in a Baghad square, finding that prosecutors wrongly used the men's own statements against them.
The September 2007 shootout in Baghdad's Nusoor Square left 17 Iraqis dead and two dozen wounded. The killings led Iraq's government to slap limits on security contractors hired by Blackwater, now known as Xe, and other firms.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina found that the government's case was built largely on "statements compelled under a threat of job loss in a subsequent criminal prosecution," a violation of the Fifth Amendment rights of the five men charged.
"In their zeal to bring charges against the defendant in this case, the prosecutors and investigators aggressively sought out statements the defendants had been compelled to make to government investigators in the immediate aftermath of the shooting and in the subsequent investigation," Urbina wrote in a 90-page decision.
Federal prosecutors "repeatedly disregarded the warnings of experienced, senior prosecutors assigned to the case" in doing so, he found. Read more.
By Dave Lindorff
You know, the year 2009 started out kind of nicely. We watched Barack Obama take the oath of office, serenaded by the awesome Aretha Franklin (wearing her awesome hat), after first hearing Pete Seeger sing the real Woody Guthrie verses to "This Land Is Your Land" on the steps of the Lincoln Monument.
And we saw Congress pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, to correct a scum-sucking decision by the US Supreme Court's conservative woman-hating, corporation-loving majority that said women (and minorities and the elderly) couldn't sue for pay discrimination unless they acted within six months of the initiation of the violation, even if they didn't learn about it until years later.
Why Powerful People -- Many of Whom Take a Moral High Ground -- Don't Practice What They Preach
ScienceDaily (Dec. 30, 2009)— 2009 may well be remembered for its scandal-ridden headlines, from admissions of extramarital affairs by governors and senators, to corporate executives flying private jets while cutting employee benefits, and most recently, to a mysterious early morning car crash in Florida. The past year has been marked by a series of moral transgressions by powerful figures in political, business and celebrity circles. New research from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University explores why powerful people - many of whom take a moral high ground - don't practice what they preach.
Researchers sought to determine whether power inspires hypocrisy, the tendency to hold high standards for others while performing morally suspect behaviors oneself. The research finds that power makes people stricter in moral judgment of others - while being less strict of their own behavior.
Crony capitalism unchanged
Wall St: More complicated means more profitable - Click "Read more" to watch second video.
Kucinich Questions Treasury’s Assistance to Fannie and Freddie | Press Release
Is lifting the cap on assistance a back door TARP?
Washington DC, December 29--Dennis Kucinich, Chairman of the Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, announced today his Subcommittee will launch an investigation into the Treasury Department’s recent decision to lift the current $400 billion cap on combined federal assistance to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, opening the way for additional, unlimited funds through the end of 2012. Kucinich’s investigation will include the role played by Fannie Mae chief executive Michael J. Williams and Freddie Mac chief executive Charles E. Haldeman in the decision, if any, and will seek to ensure that the additional assistance is used for homeowners and not Wall Street.
“Many questions remain unanswered regarding this move by the Treasury. Why suddenly remove the cap?”, Kucinich asked. “Indications are that Freddie and Fannie, even as millions of Americans lose their homes, have used just $111 billion of the $400 billion previously available to them.”
“Additionally, I want to determine whether Fannie and Freddie have a cohesive plan to buy up the underperforming mortgages that remain on the books of the big banks, at appropriate prices, and undertake a massive reworking of the terms of the mortgages so as to stem the foreclosure crisis that continues to plague our country,” Kucinich said. “This new authority must be used responsibly and for the benefit of American families. This cannot be used simply to purchase toxic assets at inflated prices, thus transferring the losses to the U. S. taxpayers and acting as a back door TARP.
As a result of a curiously-timed Christmas Eve announcement by the Treasury Department, the mortgage giants will have access to unlimited funds without having to come back to Congress. Since the federal government is the majority owner of both companies, their operations will remain under Administration control.
“This relationship between Treasury and Fannie and Freddie bears inspection, particularly in the wake of reports that the mortgage giants’ chief executives will now receive $900,000 each in annual compensation, bonuses of up to $6 million each, and an additional $42 million in special compensation will be spread among a dozen other executives.”
The Problem with the Revolving Door - It Brought Us Too-Big-To-Fail
By Tiffiniy Cheng | Bankster USA
Bailouts and political connections go hand in hand according to a just released academic study. The study, which was conducted by the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan researchers, shows concretely that lobbying, campaign contributions, and the finance/federal government revolving door has helped the most damaging banks despite the dangers they pose to our economy.
In the age of the bailout, blaming the revolving door between corporate lobbying and politics is so obvious that it has become almost cliche. But the reason why it is one of the greatest handicaps to our political system is critically important. The revolving door turns "survival of the fittest" on its head by masking failure, propping up underperforming companies, and hiding inefficiencies in the markets. The new study shows the extent to which political connections influenced how TARP bailout funds were paid out.
The researchers found that there was a 31% increase in the likelihood of receiving bailout funds at financial companies whose executives had served on the board of the Federal Reserve. Banks that had connections with members of Congress who serve on key finance committees were found to be 26% more likely to receive bailout funds than banks without those kinds of connections. It is the revolving door between lobbyists and politicians that undermine a fair and accurate system for determining healthy policy.
But the research hits just the tip of the iceberg. Zach Carter at The Nation recently reported on a much deeper case of how the revolving door shapes U.S. policy. Our "too-big-to-fail economy" was developed in large part by one of the country's current top bank regulators; someone who has major conflict of interest with the banks he is supposed to regulate, Carter reports. Read more.
Are Presidents Afraid of the CIA?
By Ray McGovern
In the past I have alluded to Panetta and the Seven Dwarfs. The reference is to CIA Director Leon Panetta and seven of his moral-dwarf predecessors—the ones who sent President Barack Obama a letter on Sept. 18 asking him to “reverse Attorney General Holder’s August 24 decision to re-open the criminal investigation of CIA interrogations.”
Panetta reportedly was also dead set against reopening the investigation—as he was against release of the Justice Department’s “torture memoranda” of 2002, as he has been against releasing pretty much anything at all—the President’s pledges of a new era of openness, notwithstanding. Panetta is even older than I, and I am aware that hearing is among the first faculties to fail. Perhaps he heard “error” when the President said “era.”
As for the benighted seven, they are more to be pitied than scorned. No longer able to avail themselves of the services of clever Agency lawyers and wordsmiths, they put their names to a letter that reeked of self-interest—not to mention the inappropriateness of asking a President to interfere with an investigation already ordered by the Attorney General.
Three of the seven—George Tenet, Porter Goss, and Michael Hayden—were themselves involved, in one way or another, in planning, conducting, or covering up all manner of illegal actions, including torture, assassination, and illegal eavesdropping. In this light, the most transparent part of the letter may be the sentence in which they worry: “There is no reason to expect that the re-opened criminal investigation will remain narrowly focused.”
Obama's Outrageous Christmas Gift to Fannie and Freddie
By Dean Baker | Comment Is Free | Alternet
After throwing the economy into the worst downturn since the Great Depression, the financial industry has used its political power to become stronger than ever.
On Christmas night in 1776, George Washington led a surprise attack on a group of Hessian mercenaries employed by the British to suppress the American revolution. This was one of the biggest military victories of the Revolutionary War.
In the same spirit of surprise, the Obama administration announced on Christmas eve that it was removing the $400bn cap on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's access to the U.S. Treasury. The new draw is limitless. It also announced that the chief executives of the two government-controlled mortgage giants would be getting compensation packages worth $6m a year. This was another big blow for the financial sector in its effort to sap every last cent from the productive economy.
After throwing the economy into the worst downturn since the Great Depression and bringing the whole sector to the edge of collapse, the financial industry has used its political power to succor itself back to life. It is now stronger than ever.
In the last quarter, the financial sector accounted for 34% of all corporate profits, dwarfing the share reached in the mad days at the peak of the housing bubble. The economy might look bleak on Main Street, with double-digit unemployment rates and nearly 200,000 foreclosures a month, but they were dividing up $13bn in bonuses at Goldman Sachs this Christmas. Read more.
House backers of public insurance option may yield
They say focus is on keeping the costs down
By Calvin Woodward, Associated Press | Boston Globe
Some House Democrats who favor a government insurance plan, a central element of health care legislation passed in their chamber, acknowledged Sunday that it might have to be sacrificed as negotiators work out a final agreement with the Senate.
Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina, the number three Democrat in the House and one who had appealed to President Obama not to yield on the public plan, set out conditions for yielding himself.
Asked during rounds on the Sunday news shows whether he could vote for a final bill that does not embrace a public plan, Clyburn said: “Yes, sir, I can.’’
Clyburn added: “We want a public option to do basically three things: Create more choice for insurers, create more competition for insurance companies, and to contain costs. So if we can come up with a process by which these three things can be done, then I’m all for it. Whether or not we label it a public option or not is of no consequence.’’ Read more.