Nov 112011



By Michael Lind,

A growing number of Americans suspect that the American economic system is rigged in favor of the rich and merely affluent. That growing number of Americans is right.

Here are three of the many ways that markets for compensation are rigged to benefit not only the top 1 percent but also the top 10 percent, a group that includes many well-paid professionals:

Financial sector compensation. By now the phrase “too big to fail” has become so familiar that it is known by its acronym: TBTF. What needs to be emphasized is that TBTF is the basis for the huge bonuses paid to elite American bankers who benefit from a government that socializes their losses while allowing them to keep their profits.

Here’s their business model: “We place highly leveraged bets, sometimes as much as 35 or 40 to 1. In return, the government implicitly agrees to bail out our banks, and if we’re fired, we’ve negotiated sweetheart deals with golden parachutes. If we bet right, then our banks keep the windfall profits and we get big bonuses. If we bet wrong, not to worry — the taxpayers will bail out our banks and the government will pay for the cost of the bailouts by cutting Social Security and Medicare. Suckers!”

While TBTF rigs pre-tax income for financial elites, American tax law rigs their after-tax income to their benefit. In the 1980s, capital gains tax rates were equal to income tax rates. But then in the 1990s Clinton and the Republican Congress lowered the capital gains rates. So billionaires who derive most of their money from their investments and savings pay taxes at a lower rate than the majority of Americans, who, like Warren Buffett’s proverbial secretary, rely on their labor income. …




By Richard Power

In May, I went to the site of the Tunisian protests; in July, I talked to Spain’s indignados; from there, I went to meet the young Egyptian revolutionaries in Cairo’s Tahrir Square; and, a few weeks ago, I talked with Occupy Wall Street protesters in New York. There is a common theme … On one level, today’s protesters are asking for little: a chance to use their skills, the right to decent work at decent pay, a fairer economy and society. Their hope is evolutionary, not revolutionary. But, on another level, they are asking for a great deal: a democracy where people, not dollars, matter, and a market economy that delivers on what it is supposed to do. The two are related … Joseph Stiglitz, The Globalization of Protest, 11-7-11

Not Yet Ten Days That Shook the World, But …

No, it wasn’t ten days that shook the world, but it may well prove to have been ten days that caused a few serious cracks and fissures in the edifice of greed and misanthropy.

First, in the wake of an Oakland police riot, during which Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen suffered a fractured skull, the Occupy phenomenon seized the narrative for several days. The outrage led to a day of General Strike and a temporary port shutdown. It also resulted in an extraordinary march on Wall Street by Olsen’s fellow Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

In uniform and formation, scores of veterans joined Occupy Wall Street marchers Wednesday, proclaiming “We are veterans and we are the 99%.” … “My name is Joseph Carter. I am a two-time Iraq War vet, and this is the only occupation I believe in.” Abby Zimet, Veterans Occupy: I Am Still Serving My Country, 11-3-11

Next, many thousands of engaged citizens surrounded the White House to deliver a powerful message to POTUS regarding what is perhaps the single most meaningful, unilateral action that he could take before November 2012.

Within 40 minutes a text had been sent out by the organizers saying, “We are completely circling the White House!” It ended up taking far less than 12,000 people to encircle the White House. One organizer said there were enough people that the lines around the White House were “four deep.” Bryan Farrell, Waging Nonviolence, 11-7-11

And finally, the electorate got a chance to return to the ballot box for the first time since November 2010, when it forfeited its responsibilities by staying home and allowing the Zombie Cult to gain even more power; this time, the electorate did not fail itself …

The electorate successfully rolled back attacks on collective bargaining, and fighting for the jobs of teachers and fire fighters:

Advocates for labor, women’s and immigration rights are celebrating a number of key victories in Tuesday’s state elections. In Ohio, voters defeated Republican Gov. John Kasich’s controversial limits on the collective bargaining rights of state employees … Election Day 2011: In State After State, “Remarkable Wins for Progressive Politics,” Democracy Now! 11-9-11

The electorate successfully rolled back attacks on women’s reproductive rights:

A constitutional amendment that would have defined a fertilized egg as a person failed on the ballot in Mississippi on Tuesday, dealing the so-called “personhood” movement another blow. Washington Post, 11-9-11

But do not underestimate our predicament. Our circumstances are grave, nationally and globally. Economic and environmental pressures are threatening the world with implosion. …




By Russell Berman and Bernie Becker, The Hill

Grover Norquist’s grip on the House Republican Conference is loosening.

A growing number of GOP lawmakers have disavowed Norquist’s pledge against supporting tax increases in recent days, telling The Hill they no longer feel bound to uphold a document that they signed, in some cases, more than a decade ago.

Norquist’s advocacy group, Americans for Tax Reform, lists 238 House signers of its Taxpayer Protection Pledge, but several House Republicans, and at least one Democrat, now say the anti-tax group is being deceptive and want their names taken off the list.

“I haven’t signed it since 1994,” Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) said, explaining that he didn’t even remember endorsing the pledge until Americans for Tax Reform produced the original document earlier this year.

In its publicly displayed list of signers “in the 112th Congress,” Norquist’s group includes several members who say they have specifically refused to sign the pledge during their most recent campaigns.

The sheet of paper they signed years ago, the lawmakers say, is no longer valid.

“My driver’s license expires. The milk in my refrigerator expires. My gym membership expires, and I find the website to be a little deceptive,” LaTourette said.

Norquist immediately dismissed the claim, which was echoed by several other House Republicans.

“Does that even pass the laugh test?” Norquist told The Hill. “A promise not to do something doesn’t have a time limit.

“I haven’t even had junior state legislators pull that crap,” Norquist added. …




By Eric W. Dolan, The Raw Story’s Glenn Greenwald, a former constitutional rights attorney, said the media’s reaction to the “Occupy Wall Street” movement highlighted how mainstream media journalists had become part of the elite class.

“If you look at, say, a host on MSNBC, what you’re actually seeing is a very high ranking employee of what was General Electric and now is Comcast, who makes many millions of dollars a year and has a make-up artist sitting in front of their face for an hour applying all sorts of make-up and another person working on their hair.”

He said that journalists had traditionally been people outside of power who acted as watchdogs to aid the powerless, but that mainstream journalists now identified with the powerful.

“It has converted them into watchdogs over power into spokespersons and servants to people in power,” Greenwald explained in conversation with Salon founder David Talbot.

He noted that at first the media ignored the “Occupy Wall Street” protest in New York City and then portrayed the protesters as misguided or confused.

“Why is the son of the CEO of Chevron and the fiancé of the second highest ranking executive at Citigroup scornful of Wall Street protesters? It’s because this is who our media class is, they are integrated fully into the political class.”




The inside story of how the Republicans abandoned the poor and middle class to pursue their relentless agenda of tax cuts for the wealthiest one percent

By Tim Dickinson

… Today’s Republican Party may revere Reagan as the patron saint of low taxation. But the party of Reagan – which understood that higher taxes on the rich are sometimes required to cure ruinous deficits – is dead and gone. Instead, the modern GOP has undergone a radical transformation, reorganizing itself around a grotesque proposition: that the wealthy should grow wealthier still, whatever the consequences for the rest of us.

Modern-day Republicans have become, quite simply, the Party of the One Percent – the Party of the Rich.

“The Republican Party has totally abdicated its job in our democracy, which is to act as the guardian of fiscal discipline and responsibility,” says David Stockman, who served as budget director under Reagan. “They’re on an anti-tax jihad – one that benefits the prosperous classes.”

The staggering economic inequality that has led Americans across the country to take to the streets in protest is no accident. It has been fueled to a large extent by the GOP’s all-out war on behalf of the rich. Since Republicans rededicated themselves to slashing taxes for the wealthy in 1997, the average annual income of the 400 richest Americans has more than tripled, to $345 million – while their share of the tax burden has plunged by 40 percent. Today, a billionaire in the top 400 pays less than 17 percent of his income in taxes – five percentage points less than a bus driver earning $26,000 a year. “Most Americans got none of the growth of the preceding dozen years,” says Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist. “All the gains went to the top percentage points.” …




By Yasha Levine, Texas Observer

CHARLES AND DAVID KOCH are the most powerful right-wing billionaires of our time. They have spent hundreds of millions bankrolling a broad attack against Social Security, organized labor, financial regulations, environmental protection and public education. The brothers plan to spend at least $200 million trying to elect right-wing, anti-government Republicans in 2012, according to Politico. They seem hell-bent on dragging America back to the dark days of unregulated capitalism. The history of their grandfather in Texas may help explain why.

Little has been written about Harry Koch. He’s the least-known member of the Koch family, which has been marching under the same laissez-faire banner for the past three generations. Harry Koch emigrated to America in 1888, settled in a North Texas railroad town and became a newspaper publisher and aggressive corporate booster. He advocated for railroad and banking interests, amassing wealth and helping big business fight organized labor and squelch reforms.

Much of the Koch brothers’ ideology can be found in Harry Koch’s newspaper editorials of nearly a century ago. Take, for instance, the Kochs’ current fight against Social Security. Harry Koch took part in a multi-year right-wing propaganda campaign to shoot down New Deal programs. Grandfather and grandsons employ eerily familiar talking points to bash government pension and welfare programs.

“No political system can possibly guarantee either a national economic security or an individual standard of living. Government can guarantee no man a job or a livelihood,” Harry Koch wrote on February 1, 1935, nine months before Charles Koch was born.

Fast-forward 75 years and you can see Charles Koch using the same lines of attack in his company’s newsletter: “government actions … stifle economic growth and job creation, which in turn will significantly reduce the standard of living of American families.”

This summer I traveled to Quanah, the dusty North Texas railroad town that Harry Koch called home, to find out more about the life of the man who spawned the two most powerful oligarchs of our time. After spending days hunkered over newspaper archives and rifling through a century’s worth of county records in the town’s tiny courthouse, I began to see a picture emerge of a man who spent his life learning how to use newspapers and media for ideological manipulation and as a platform for pro-business agendas. As I strained to read the battered microfilm, I was constantly surprised at the degree to which Harry’s views—on everything from the economy to the role of government in a democratic society—have been passed on nearly unchanged through two generations, and are now being pushed by Charles and David Koch. …




By Ross Caputi, Information Clearing House

I did not serve my country in Iraq; I served the 1%. It was on their behalf that I helped lay siege to Fallujah, helped kill thousands of civilians, helped displace hundreds of thousands of innocent people, and helped destroy an entire city. My “service” served Exxon-Mobil, Halliburton, KBR, Blackwater, and other multinational corporations in Iraq.

My family in Massachusetts is not safer because of my service, and Iraqis are not freer. I helped oppress Iraqis in a manner far more brutal than what has been experienced by the Occupy movement at the hands of the New York and Oakland police departments.

I was an occupier and am now an #occupier. I once served the 1%, but now try to serve the 99%. That is why I must speak up when I see the Occupy movement being led astray by the same nationalism and “Ameri-centrism,” the same thoughtless praises for U.S. troops and veterans, and the same hypocrisy that led us into the so-called “War On Terror” and the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Many of us have joined the Occupy movement, because we identify as members of the 99%, but the media only began to highlight our participation after Cpl. Scott Olsen was shot in the head by the Oakland police with a projectile on Oct. 25. Olsen was immediately rushed to the emergency room, and his name soon became a rallying cry. A nationwide call was put out for vigils in solidarity with Olsen.

Going to war is not “serving our country” …




By Michel Chossudovsky

In November 2005, the New York Times published a report by William J. Broad and David E. Sanger entitled “Relying on Computer, U.S. Seeks to Prove Iran’s Nuclear Aims”. Washington’s allegations, reported in the NYT  hinged upon documents “obtained from a stolen Iranian computer by an unknown source and given to US intelligence in 2004”. (See Gareth Porter, Exclusive Report: Evidence of Iran Nuclear Weapons Program May Be Fraudulent, Global Research, November 18, 2010, emphasis added).

These documents included “a series of drawings of a missile re-entry vehicle” which allegedly could accommodate an Iranian produced nuclear weapon.

“In mid-July, senior American intelligence officials called the leaders of the international atomic inspection agency to the top of a skyscraper overlooking the Danube in Vienna and unveiled the contents of what they said was a stolen Iranian laptop computer.

The Americans flashed on a screen and spread over a conference table selections from more than a thousand pages of Iranian computer simulations and accounts of experiments, saying they showed a long effort to design a nuclear warhead, according to a half-dozen European and American participants in the meeting.

The documents, the Americans acknowledged from the start, do not prove that Iran has an atomic bomb. They presented them as the strongest evidence yet that, despite Iran’s insistence that its nuclear program is peaceful, the country is trying to develop a compact warhead to fit atop its Shahab missile, which can reach Israel and other countries in the Middle East.”(William J. Broad and David E. Sanger Relying on Computer, U.S. Seeks to Prove Iran’s Nuclear Aims – New York Times, November 13, 2005)

These “secret documents” were subsequently submitted by the US State Department to the International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA, with a view to demonstrating that Iran was developing a nuclear weapons program.

While their authenticity has been questioned on several occasions,  a recent article by investigative reporter Gareth Porter confirms unequivocally that the mysterious laptop documents are fake. The drawings contained in the documents do not pertain to the Shahab missile but to an obsolete North Korean missile system which was decommissioned by Iran in the mid-1990s. …




By Ellen Brown, Truthout

Henry Ford said, “It is well enough that the people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.”

We are beginning to understand, and Occupy Wall Street looks like the beginning of the revolution.

We are beginning to understand that our money is created, not by the government, but by banks. Many authorities have confirmed this, including the Federal Reserve itself. The only money the government creates today are coins, which compose less than one ten-thousandth of the money supply. Federal Reserve Notes, or dollar bills, are issued by Federal Reserve banks, all 12 of which are owned by the private banks in their district. Most of our money comes into circulation as bank loans, and it comes with an interest charge attached.

According to Margrit Kennedy, a German researcher who has studied this issue extensively, interest now composes 40 percent of the cost of everything we buy. We don’t see it on the sales slips, but interest is exacted at every stage of production. Suppliers need to take out loans to pay for labor and materials before they have a product to sell.

For government projects, Kennedy found that the average cost of interest is 50 percent. If the government owned the banks, it could keep the interest and get these projects at half price. That means governments – state and federal – could double the number of projects they could afford, without costing the taxpayers a single penny more than we are paying now.

This opens up exciting possibilities. Federal and state governments could fund all sorts of things we think we can’t afford now, simply by owning their own banks. They could fund something Franklin D. Roosevelt and Martin Luther King dreamt of – an Economic Bill of Rights. …




By Calvin Woodward and Nancy Benac, AP

Richard Nixon’s grand jury testimony about the Watergate scandal that destroyed his presidency is finally coming to light.

Four months after a judge ordered the June 1975 records unsealed, the government’s Nixon Presidential Library was making them available online and at the California facility Thursday. Historians dared hope that the testimony would form Nixon’s most truthful and thorough account of the circumstances that led to his extraordinary resignation 10 months earlier under threat of impeachment.

“This is Nixon unplugged,” said historian Stanley Kutler, a principal figure in the lawsuit that pried open the records. Still, he said, “I have no illusions. Richard Nixon knew how to dodge questions with the best of them. I am sure that he danced, skipped, around a number of things.”

Nixon was interviewed near his California home for 11 hours over two days, when a pardon granted by his successor, Gerald Ford, protected him from prosecution for any past crimes. Despite that shield, he risked consequences for perjury if he lied under oath.

It was the first time an ex-president had testified before a grand jury and it is rare for any grand jury testimony to be made public. Historians won public access to the transcript over the objections of the Obama administration, which argued in part that too many officials from that era are still alive for secret testimony involving them to be made public.

The library is also releasing thousands of pages of other Watergate-era documents, several oral histories from that time and 45 minutes of recordings made by Nixon with a dictating machine.

The recordings include his dictated recollections of an odd episode late one night in May 1970 when Nixon impulsively had the Secret Service take him to the Lincoln Memorial so he could meet anti-war protesters there. He lingered with the astonished crowd and, according to accounts of that time, asked the protesters to “keep it peaceful. Have a good time in Washington, and don’t go away bitter.” …




By David Dayen, FireDogLake

Talks to create a unity government in Greece collapsed last night without a resolution, because the two parties could not agree on the terms. Then, at the last minute, Lucas Papademos was named Prime Minister. He is a political outsider and European leaders hope that he will have the ability to hold the unity coalition together long enough to pass bailout/austerity measures decided on last month. Papademos did not acquire written agreements on austerity from the opposition New Democracy party, as requested by the EU.

Everyone’s moved on to Italy, but the near-miss in Greece is a powerful foreshadow to the looming impotence of the EU. You can only go so many times to a sovereign nation and ask them to harm their populations with more austerity before their political system cannot take it. If Greece took that long to form a unity government, and given what the EU will demand of Italy, their political system – a hollow shell after being controlled by the petty ante thief Silvio Berlusconi for so long – won’t be able to handle it.

And Italy is of course the bigger problem. Its economy is seven times the size of Greece’s. There isn’t nearly enough money in the bailout fund to make a dent in their problem. Italy’s President, Giorgio Napolitano, promised that austerity measures would pass in the coming days, which would be Berlusconi’s last official act. But the speed with which bond yields have risen, the enormity of the Italian economy, the margin calls that the bond rises have triggered and a host of other factors make resolution nearly impossible. That is, as long as the ECB denies its role as a central bank:

The EFSF doesn’t have unlimited cash and a multi-year financing programme for Italy would seriously deplete funds. If it can’t save Italy, who is next? The European Central Bank (ECB), possibly, but it has been unwilling to step in for fear of “moral hazard” – the risk that euro countries will not make any move to put their accounts in order if they believe a bailout is coming. Economists fear that matters will have to get even worse before the ECB steps in. If Italy has to leave the euro and go back to the lira, the whole eurozone is in jeopardy.

The ECB keeps denying that it has the legal right to intervene, but that’s a cover for this intellectual opposition. They are more concerned about leveraging a crisis into reforms than resolving the crisis. …


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