May 302014
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

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Introduction

The European parliamentary elections witnessed a major breakthrough for the right-wing parties throughout the region.  The rise of the Right runs from the Nordic countries, the United Kingdom, the Baltic and Low countries, France, Central and Eastern Europe to the Mediterranean.

Most, if not all, of these emerging right-wing parties mark a sharp break with the ruling neo-liberal, Christian and Social Democratic parties who have presided over a decade of crisis.

The ‘new Right’ cannot be understood simply by attaching negative labels (‘fascist’, ‘racist’ and ‘anti-Semitic’).  The rise of the Right has to be placed in the context of the decay of political, social and economic institutions, the general and persistent decline of living standards and the disintegration of community bonds and class solidarity. The entire existing political edifice constructed by the neo-liberal parties bears deep responsibility for the systemic crisis and decay of everyday life.  Moreover, this is how it is understood by a growing mass of working people who vote for the Right.

The so-called ‘radical Left’, usually defined as the political parties to the left of the governing Social Democratic parties, with the exception of SYRIZA in Greece, have failed to capitalize on the decline of the neo-liberal parties.  There are several reasons that account for the lack of a right-left polarization.  Most of the ‘radical Left’, in the final account, gave ‘critical support’ to one or another of the Labor or Social Democratic parties and reduced their ‘distance’ from the political-economic disasters that have followed.  Secondly, the ‘radical Left’s’ positions on some issues were irrelevant or offensive to many workers: namely, gay marriage and identity politics.  Thirdly, the radical Left recruited prominent personalities from the discredited Labor and Social Democratic parties and thus raised suspicion that they are a ‘new version’ of past deceptions. Fourthly, the radical Left is strong on public demonstrations demanding ‘structural changes’ but lacks the ‘grass roots’ clientelistic organizations of the Right, which provide ‘services’, such as soup kitchens and clinics dealing with day-to-day problems.

While the Right pretends to be ‘outside’ the neo-liberal establishment challenging the assumption of broad powers by the Brussels elite, the Left is ambiguous: Its support for a ‘social Europe’ implies a commitment to reform a discredited and moribund structure.  The Right proposes ‘national capitalism’ outside of Brussels; the Left proposes ‘socialism within the European Union’.  The Left parties, the older Communist parties and more recent groupings, like Syriza in Greece, have had mixed results.  The former have generally stagnated or lost support despite the systemic crisis.  The latter, like Syriza, have made impressive gains but failed to break the 30% barrier.  Both lack electoral allies.  As a result, the immediate challenge to the neo-liberal status quo comes from the electoral new Right parties and on the left from the extra-parliamentary social movements and trade unions.  In the immediate period, the crisis of the European Union is being played out between the neo-liberal establishment and the ‘new Right’.

The Nature of the New Right

The ‘new Right’ has gained support largely because it has denounced the four pillars of the neo-liberal establishment:  globalization, foreign financial control, executive rule by fiat (the Brussels troika) and the unregulated influx of cheap immigrant labor.

Nationalism, as embraced by the new Right, is tied to national capitalism:  Local producers, retailers and farmers are counterpoised to free traders, mergers and acquisitions by international bankers and the giant multinationals. The ‘new Right’ has its audience among the provincial and small town business elite as well as workers devastated by plant closures and relocations.

The ‘new Right’s’ nationalism is ‘protectionist’ – seeking tariff barriers and state regulations to protect industries and workers from ‘unfair’ competition from overseas conglomerates and low-wage immigrant labor.

The problem is that protectionism limits the imports of cheap consumer goods sold in many small retail shops and affordable to workers and the lower middle class.  The Right ‘dreams’ of a corporatist model where national workers and industries bond to oppose liberal competitive capitalism and class struggle trade unions.  As the class struggle declines, the ‘tri partite’ politics of the neo-liberal right is reconfigured by the New Right to include ‘national’ capital and a ‘paternalistic state’.

In sum, the nationalism of the Right evokes a mythical past of harmony where national capital and labor unite under a common communal identity to confront big foreign capital and cheap immigrant labor.

Political Strategy: Electoral and Extra-Parliamentary Politics

Currently, the new Right is primarily oriented to electoral politics, especially as it gains mass support.  They have increased their share of the electorate by combining mass mobilization and community organizing with electoral politics, especially in depressed areas. They have attracted middle class voters from the neo-liberal right and working class voters from the old Left.  While some sectors of the Right, like the Golden Dawn in Greece, openly flaunt fascist symbols – flags and uniforms – as well as provoking street brawls, others pressure the governing neo-liberal right to adopt some of their demands especially regarding immigration and the ‘deportation of illegals’.  For the present, most of the new Right’s focus is on advancing its agenda and gaining supporters through aggressive appeals within the constitutional order and by keeping the more violent sectors under control.  Moreover, the current political climate is not conducive to open extra-parliamentary ‘street fighting’ where the new Right would be easily crushed.  Most right-wing strategists believe the current context is conducive to the accumulation of forces via peaceful methods.

Conditions Facilitating the Growth of the Right

There are several structural factors contributing to the growth of the new Right in Europe:

First and foremost, there is a clear decline of democratic power and institutions resulting from the centralization of executive – legislative power in the hands of a self-appointed elite in Brussels.  The new Right argues effectively that the European Union has become a profoundly authoritarian political institution disenfranchising voters and imposing harsh austerity programs without a popular mandate.

Secondly, national interests have been subordinated to benefit the financial elite identified as responsible for the harsh policies that have undermined living standards and devastated local industries.  The new Right counterpoises ‘the nation’ to the Brussels ‘Troika’ – the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission.

Thirdly, ‘liberalization’ has eroded local industries and undermined communities and protective labor legislation.  The Right denounces liberal immigration policies, which permit the large-scale inflow of cheap workers at a time of depression level unemployment.  The crisis of capitalism combined with the large force of cheap immigrant labor forms the material basis for right-wing appeals to workers, especially those in precarious jobs or unemployed.

Right:  Contradictions and the Double Discourse

The Right, while criticizing the neo-liberal state for unemployment, focuses mainly on the immigrants competing with nationals in the labor market rather than on the capitalists whose investment decisions determine levels of employment and unemployment.

The Right attacks the authoritarian nature of the European Union, but its own structures, ideology and history pre-figure a repressive state.

The Right rightly proposes to end foreign elite control of the economy, but its own vision of a ‘national state’, especially one linked to NATO, multi-national corporations and imperial wars, will provide no basis for ‘rebuilding the national economy’.

The Right speaks to the needs of the dispossessed and the need to ‘end austerity’ but it eschews the only effective mechanism for countering inequalities – class organization and class struggle.  Its vision of the ‘collaboration between productive capital and labor’ is contradicted by the aggressive capitalist offensive to cut wages, social services, pensions and working conditions.  The new Right targets immigrants as the cause of unemployment while obscuring the role of the capitalists who hire and fire, invest abroad, relocate firms and introduce technology to replace labor.

They focus the workers’ anger ‘downward’ against immigrants, instead of ‘upward’ toward the owners of the means of production, finance and distribution who ultimately manipulate the labor market.

In the meantime the radical Left’s mindless defense of unlimited immigration in the name of an abstract notion of ‘international workers solidarity’ exposes their arrogant liberal bias, as though they had never consulted real workers who have to compete with immigrants for scarce jobs under increasingly unfavorable conditions.

The radical Left, under the banner of ‘international solidarity’, has ignored the historical fact that ‘internationalism’ must be built on the strong national foundation of organized, employed workers.

The Left has allowed the new Right to exploit and manipulate powerful righteous nationalist causes.  The radical Left has counterpoised ‘nationalism’ to socialism, rather than seeing them as intertwined, especially in the present context of an imperialist-dominated European Union.

The fight for national independence, the break-up of the European Union, is essential to the struggle for democracy and the deepening of the class struggle for jobs and social welfare. The class struggle is more powerful and effective on the familiar national terrain – rather than confronting distant overseers in Brussels.

The notion among many radical Left leaders to ‘remake’ the EU into a ‘Social Europe’, the idea that the EU could be converted into a ‘European Union of Socialist States’ simply prolongs the suffering of the workers and the subordination of nations to the non-elected bankers who run the EU.  No one seriously believes that buying stocks in Deutsch Bank and joining its annual stockholders meetings would allow workers to ‘transform’ it into a ‘People’s Bank’.  Yet the ‘Bank of the Banks’, the ‘Troika’, made up of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF, set all major policies for each member state of the European Union. Un-rectified and remaining captive of the ‘Euro-metaphysic’, the Left has abdicated its role in advancing the class struggle through the rebirth of the national struggle against the EU oligarchs.

Results and Perspectives

The Right is advancing rapidly, even if unevenly across Europe. Its support is not ephemeral but stable and cumulative at least in the medium run.  The causes are ‘structural’ and result from the new Right’s ability to exploit the socio-economic crisis of the neo-liberal right governments and to denounce authoritarian and anti-national policies of the unelected EU oligarchy.

The new Right’s strength is in ‘opposition’.  Their protests resonate while they are distant from the command centers of the capitalist economy and state.

Are they capable of moving from protest to power?  Shared power with the neo-liberals will obviously dilute and disaggregate their current social base.

The contradictions will deepen as the new Right moves from positions of ‘opposition’ to sharing power with the neo-liberal Right.  The massive roundups and deportation of immigrant workers is not going to change capitalist employment policies or restore social services or improve living standards.  Promoting ‘national’ capital over foreign through some corporatist union of capital and labor will not reduce class conflict.  It is totally unrealistic to imagine ‘national’ capital rejecting its foreign partners in the interest of labor.

The divisions within the ‘nationalist Right’, between the overtly fascist and electoral corporatist sectors, will intensify.  The accommodation with ‘national’ capital, democratic procedures and social inequalities will likely open the door to a new wave of class conflict which will expose the sham radicalism of the ‘nationalist’ right.  A committed Left, embedded in the national terrain, proud of its national and class traditions, and capable of unifying workers across ethnic and religious ‘identities’ can regain supporters and re-emerge as the real alternative to the two faces of the Right – the neo-liberal and the ‘nationalist’ new Right.  The prolonged economic crisis, declining living standards, unemployment and personal insecurity propelling rise of the nationalist Right can also lead to the emergence of a Left deeply linked to national, class and community realities.  The neo-liberals have no solutions to offer for the disasters and problems of their own making; the nationalists of the new Right have the wrong -reactionary – answer.  Does the Left have the solution?  Only by overthrowing the despotic imperial rule of Brussels can they begin to address the national-class issues.

Post-script and final observations:

In the absence of a Left alternative, the working class voters have opted for two alternatives: Massive voter abstention and strikes.  In the recent EU election, 60% of the French electorate abstained, with abstention approaching 80% in working class neighborhoods.  This pattern was repeated or even exceeded throughout the EU – hardly a mandate for the EU or for the ‘new Right’.  In the weeks and days before the vote, workers took to the streets.  There were massive strikes of civil servants and shipyard workers, as well as workers from other sectors and mass demonstrations by the unemployed and popular classes opposing EU-imposed ‘austerity’ cuts in social services, health, education, pensions, factory closures and mass lay-offs.  Widespread voter abstention and street demonstrations point to a huge proportion of the population rejecting both the neo-Liberal Right of the ‘Troika’ as well as the ‘new Right’.

Nov 142013
 

By J. Iddhis Bing, 99GetSmart

Greeks protest austerity cuts in Syntagma Square, Athens. Photography by Elias Theodoropoulos

Greeks protest austerity cuts in Syntagma Square, Athens. Photography by Elias Theodoropoulos

It’s hard work getting the news from the news these days, especially if you want to know about a country like Greece. Far-away birthplace of democracy, a bit exotic, Mediterranean lifestyle, Zorba, rumored to be different. What does any of that mean? Strange things are happening there but what is going on precisely? The Greeks ran up quite a tab at the bar, or so the financial dailies tell us on a regular basis.

Almost everything we read is filtered through the point of view of the Troika – the IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Commission – or the Greek government. We know that representatives of the Troika – established during the first stage of Greece’s “rescue” in May 2010 – have been in Greece since Tuesday of last week, meeting with the Greek government about the latest round of potential bailouts for that country. Beyond the leaks from either side, the rest, for us at any rate, is guesswork.

As of Tuesday evening, November 12, no decision had been announced. The Troika is typically very business-like with its clients, out with the whip, sign here, see you later – and then the next round of what the press like to call “belt-tightening” begins. The coalition government survived a no-confidence vote on Monday the 11th but that hardly quelled the sense that they are a very fragile edifice indeed. The people are out in the streets on a constant basis. They’re an after-thought, at least as far as the world’s media is concerned.

We do know a few things: that the Troika is a quasi-legal junta, created during the first stage of Greece’s trauma. The IMF was invited to the party at the insistence of Angela Merkel. Readers with long memories may remember that Dominique Strauss-Kahn was on his way to meet Merkel to present his plan to “save Greece,” when he was abruptly detained in New York.

The Troika’s mission is to enforce an austerity program that includes the selling-off of government assets and the decimation of public services, and that even within the IMF, there is dissension over the absurd goal of turning Greece into a productive satellite of Germany. We also know or suspect that any “bailout” of Greece will only impoverish the country yet further. That’s the public record regarding employment, savings, pensions, access to housing and food. You can read it here on Ground Report and find it many other places as well.

Language, meanwhile, gets so knocked around by the pros it throws its hands up in despair. Defeat comes at the price of rational thought: being rescued by the Troika means becoming a pauper in your own country, means your pension has vanished, you are a month or so away from losing the roof over your head and your hand is in the garbage looking for food.

None of the rescues perpetrated by the Troika have successfully rescued their target countries but instead have pitched them ever further into chaos. Bailouts are not a transfusion of money but a way of channeling money from one country (Germany, in this case) to another country (Greece) where the money is then re-routed to banks in, among other places, Germany and France in the form of debt payments.

The conservative government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, along with his coalition partner, Socialist Evangelos Venizelos, is said to be desperate not to tamper with what they consider Greece’s “success story,” one which includes massive unemployment and at least 20 percent of the population dependent on soup kitchens for the next meal. His figure is 700 million Euros to meet the debt payment schedule. The Troika is said to be looking for 2.9 billion Euros in savings from the current budget.

That explains the lack of an agreement since last Tuesday at least in part. The Troika is being held hostage. Round One to Greece.

Spectacularly, no one in the government mentions the list of 2,062 Greeks who are holding at least $1.95 billion in secret Swiss bank accounts. A list the government has had in its possession for at least three years without a single prosecution. (Interested readers can learn more here.) Articles in the local press do muse a bit about “tax collection” being a bit in arrears but without much enthusiasm.

Rumblings, such as they are, continue to be at such a low volume they can be hard to hear. Internal documents leaked from the IMF last week reveal that as early as May 2010, more than 40 IMF member states, all outside Europe, were opposed to the aid plan drawn up for Athens. (This in a report from last week’s Wall Street Journal.) The Troika itself is said to be headed for divorce. “The ECB must refrain from intervening in highly political decisions with its advice on taxes or cuts in spending. And yet that is just what it has been doing inside the troika. It must get out of it as soon as possible,” says Paul De Grauwe, a professor at the London School of Economics. In June of this year, a high official at the IMF publicly disagreed with the Troika’s agenda in Greece.

Even the pro-government publication Ekathimerini paints a decidedly gloomy picture: “Unfortunately, what this means in practical terms is that the current political system is not in a position to lead the country any further in terms of reforms. It doesn’t truly believe in these reforms and it does not have the stamina to clash with its traditional clientele,” writes Alexis Papachelas on November 10. Not exactly a ringing endorsement from a pro-government journo.

In other words: it isn’t working, it isn’t working at all, and yet our bedazzled technocrats continue to insist that it does, even if they don’t particularly believe it either. It’s the way the world does its “business.” Consider this: the Financial Times reported last weekend that Stephen King, chief economist at HSBC, “discovered” that nearly all of his bank’s country forecasts stated that the country-in-question planned to export its way to growth. (Ah, growth, endless growth. The Holy Grail, the never-ending rainbow at the end of the road. Line it up next to the other sacred cows, bailouts and rescues, and fire away.) Where they will all export to is the question, with every other country on earth frantically exporting its way to prosperity. Mars and Venus are at the head of the list, and why not? (William Pfaff has more on this.)

Greece lost some 35,000 jobs in October. So much for that success story. My sense is that the Troika’s technocrats simply live too high up in the stratosphere – somewhere near their very own cloud 9 – to be concerned with anything so gritty as jobs or hunger or survival. For them “the people” are an abstraction on the order of heroic rescues and bailouts.

The Washington Consensus is dead. Long Live the Consensus! The world, meanwhile, hangs by a thread. No one believes, fewer and fewer people vote and countries like Greece twist in the wind. Who reaps the advantage? The far right, the angry ones, the xenophobes who see us lined against each other in a global race to the End of the Line. One wonders exactly when Angela Merkel and that ardent enemy of finance François Hollande will get the message. (Before or after the rainbow? Place your bets here.)

The Troika, intent on getting in and out of Greece quickly with as few questions asked as possible, seem to have gotten stuck in transit. On Tuesday night, they were so afraid of angry cleaning ladies demonstrating in front of the Finance Ministry that they crawled on hands and knees out the building’s fire-escape to an underground garage en route to their own private cloud. That might not be, to employ yet another word that’s taken a few body blows, progress, but if a modern-day Aristophanes was anywhere nearby, he can make use of it.

As of Wednesday morning, November 13, no agreement between Greece and the IMF was in sight.When there is one, we’ll take a close look at it to see if there are any changes to the formula that has had such devastating consequences for Greece.

Dec 232011
 

 

* ONE YEAR AFTER FBI SUBPOENA, CIVIL LIBERTIES PROTECTIONS IN US FRIGHTENINGLY ERODED EVEN FURTHER

By maureen, Electronic Intifada

A year ago yesterday, I got the dreaded house call from the FBI. I was at home working when two agents rang my buzzer and asked to speak with me.

I had been expecting such a visit; on 24 September 2010 the FBI raided the homes of prominent anti-war and international solidarity organizers I have worked with over the years in Chicago, as well as the homes of activists in the Twin Cities and the office of the Anti War Committee there. In the weeks that followed, more Palestine solidarity organizers and Palestinian Americans in Chicago were delivered subpoenas to appear before a federal grand jury in Chicago as part of an investigation into violations of the laws banning material support for foreign terrorist organizations.

I declined to speak with the two agents who visited me; they then gave me a subpoena to appear before a federal grand jury on 25 January 2011. I spent last Christmas and New Year convinced that I would soon be in federal prison for civil contempt of court. Even though it meant we risked being jailed, all 23 of us who have been subpoenaed as part of this grand jury fishing expedition have refused to testify. We have asserted that our first amendment rights guaranteed by the US Constitution, protecting free speech and freedom of association, are being trampled on.

A first amendment issue

The grand jury — essentially a secret court in which you’re not allowed to have a lawyer, and there is not even a judge presiding over the proceedings — has been long abused as a tool of inquisition into domestic political movements. Indeed, no specific crime has been identified related to our case.

The FBI’s operations manual for the September raids, discovered last April to have been accidentally left amongst a raided activist’s files, make it clear that they wanted to question activists about associational information — who activists know and work with in the US, Colombia and Palestine, and how activists organize and what they believe. They wanted people to name everyone they know who has ever traveled to the Middle East or South America.

It is also obvious the FBI put up the LA County Sheriff to raid the home of veteran Chicano liberation activist Carlos Montes last May; he faces trumped-up technical firearms violation charges and serious prison time. The FBI was on hand during the raid to question Montes about his political associations (an organizer of the 2008 Republican National Convention protests, he was named in the search warrant used to raid the Anti War Committee office) and took material from his home related to his long history of political organizing. They even took a kuffiyeh — the traditional checkered Palestinian scarf — only one example of many demonstrating how federal agents so arbitrarily confiscated property from activists’ homes.

And while the threat of indictments looms, I am not spending Christmas and new year’s in federal prison for civil contempt of court. This is, I believe, thanks to the vocal protest that countless people around the US and around the world have made in support of the 24 of us and in support of civil liberties. This is a huge victory. But at the same time, civil liberties and constitutional protections have further eroded even in the last year. More protest must be shown before the situation gets even worse. […]

READ @ http://electronicintifada.net/blog/maureen/one-year-after-fbi-subpoena-civil-liberties-protections-us-frighteningly-eroded-even

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* IT’S TIME TO FREE BRADLEY MANNING

By The Young Turks

http://current.com/shows/the-young-turks/videos/its-time-to-free-bradley-manning

Nineteen months after U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning was first arrested, the first pre-trial hearings have finally begun. Manning faces 22 charges, including “aiding the enemy” and the unauthorized release of half a million reports and cables — even though, according to the American government, no one has been proved hurt by Wikileaks publishing the cables, and none were classified as top secret. “He did our soldiers a world of good,” Cenk says. “Time served is plenty enough time. Scooter Libby served no time and he betrayed a CIA agent. That caused real harm. Dick Cheney — no time. Karl Rove — no time. It’s time to free Bradley Manning.”

READ AND VIDEO @ http://mydd.com/users/theyoungturks/posts/its-time-to-free-bradley-manning

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* 99% PLAN NEW TAX WAR ON SUPER RICH IN 2012

By Paul B. Farrell, MarketWatch

[…] War rises from a black hole in the souls of our enraged youth

Listen to Kalle and White describing the energy driving OWS movement. It comes from deep within the collective soul of a new generation of young Americans who have been disenfranchised by clueless politicians who are trapped deep inside a corrupt two-party political system no longer capable of changing. And our youth are enraged. Listen:

“This primal cry for democracy sprang from young people who could no longer ignore the angst in their gut — the premonition that their future does not compute, that their entire lives will be lived in the apocalyptic shadow of climate-change tipping points, species die-offs, a deadening commercialized culture, a political system perverted by money, precarious employment, a struggle to pay off crippling student loans, and no chance of ever owning a home or living in comfort like their parents. Glimpsing this black hole of ecological, political, financial and spiritual crisis, the youth and the millions of Americans who joined them instinctively knew that unless they stood up and fought nonviolently for a different kind of future, they would have no future at all.”

Yes, America’s youth are the voice of the 99%, Americans inspired by the Arab Spring revolutions. American youth are fueling “the greatest social-justice movement to emerge in the United States since the civil rights era.”

But never lose sight of the real war here. Yes, there’s a war between the richest 1% of Americans who have seen their income grow 265% the past generation while the incomes of the other 99% have stagnated or fallen. Yes, the wealth gap is bigger now than it was in 1929 just before the market crashed.

Super Rich vs. America’s future

But to truly understand how this class war is predicting what lies ahead, know that class war is not just between the Super Rich and the 99%. It is more a generational war between America’s youth and a wealthy entrenched establishment. The young helped elect the president. Expected “change we can believe in.” Unfortunately it got worse, and they’re mad as hell.

Investors especially better watch out: This pent-up energy in America’s youth is building to a critical mass (as happened in Europe and the Arab world, and now in China and Russia), and it will explode across the economic and political landscape in 2012.

In the final analysis, however, you sense that in spite of their accelerating rage against the establishment, America’s youth, our next great generation, also had a sudden epiphany and learned a crucial lesson. Oh yes. Because their enemies didn’t just give them a great gift, but also inadvertently trained them in using a more aggressive special-ops, guerilla, quick-strike strategy. Listen and you’ll see what they learned in one night raid against them:

“Why can’t the American power elite engage with the nation’s young? Instead, they stayed aloof, ignored us and wished us away,” then “attacked us in Zuccotti Park in the dead of the night. Bloomberg’s raid was carried out with military precision. The surprise attack began at 1 a.m. with a media blackout. The encampment was surrounded by riot police, credentialed mainstream journalists who tried to enter were pushed back or arrested, and the airspace was closed to news helicopters. What happened next was a blur of tear gas; a bulldozer; confiscation or destruction of everything in the park, including 5,000 books; upward of 150 arrests; and the deployment of a Long Range Acoustic Device, the infamous ‘sound cannon’ best known for its military use in Iraq. … This kind of military mind-set and violent response to nonviolent protesters makes no sense. It did not work in the Middle East, and it’s not going to work in America either. This is the bottom line: You cannot attack your young and get away with it.”

Repeat that “bottom line: You cannot attack your young and get away with it” And yet, that’s exactly what Wall Street, America’s Super Rich, their lobbyists, and all their bought politicians are doing: “Attacking our young.” Attacking our next generation. Attacking America’s future.

Our leaders are ideologically blind to the need to invest and invest big in jobs before this accelerating rage reaches a critical mass and ignites, triggering another American Revolution and the Second Great Depression.

READ @ http://www.marketwatch.com/Story/story/print?guid=901AE114-2A5C-11E1-B371-002128040CF6

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* UNPRECEDENTED FRAUD, TOOTHLESS WATCHDOGS

By Barry Ritholtz, The Big Picture 

“Why there hasn’t been more robust prosecution is a mystery.

-Raymond Brescia, visiting professor, Yale Law School

Reuters has an outrageous article detailing the absurdity of the lack of prosecution of financial crimes in modern America. It is a shocking to watch the United States, a nation that once followed the Rule of Law, slip into a banana republic.

“Four years after the banking system nearly collapsed from reckless mortgage lending, federal prosecutors have stayed on the sidelines, even as judges around the country are pointing fingers at possible wrongdoing.

The federal government, as has been widely noted, has pressed few criminal cases against major lenders or senior executives for the events that led to the meltdown of 2007. Finding hard evidence has proved difficult, the Justice Department has said.

The government also hasn’t brought any prosecutions for dubious foreclosure practices deployed since 2007 by big banks and other mortgage-servicing companies.

But this part of the financial system, a Reuters examination shows, is filled with potential leads.

Foreclosure-related case files in just one New York federal bankruptcy court, for example, hold at least a dozen mortgage documents known as promissory notes bearing evidence of recently forged signatures and illegal alterations, according to a judge’s rulings and records reviewed by Reuters. Similarly altered notes have appeared in courts around the country.

And it gets much worse.

• Despite laws against it, banks have foreclosed on active-duty U.S. soldiers who are legally eligible to have foreclosures halted. Attorneys representing service members estimate banks have foreclosed on up to 30,000 ACTIVE military personnel, mostly while they were in Iraq and Afghanistan.

• There has been — literally — “tens of thousands of fraudulent documents filed in tens of thousands of cases.” Sworn affidavits have been filed containing false information. This is easily prosecuted perjury.

• The size and scope of the fraud on the U.S. court system is unprecedented in U.S. history

• NY State court judge Arthur Schack, ruled in 2010 that pleadings by the Baum Law — who handle 40% of NY foreclosures — were “so incredible, outrageous, ludicrous and disingenuous that they should have been authorized by the late Rod Serling, creator of the famous science-fiction television series, The Twilight Zone.“  There has been no fraud prosecution to date.

• Banks have routinely filed falsified mortgage promissory notes — in some cases, six different documents have been filed, all claimed to be the original. At the least 5 must be forgeries — an easy felony to prosecute.

Read the entire article if you want to be outraged and send your blood pressure skyrocketing. […]

READ @ http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2011/12/unprecedented-fraud-toothless-watchdogs/

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* REP. JOHN YARMUTH: “MONEY IS SPEECH” WAS TRAGIC FOR THIS COUNTRY

By msnbc

[…] Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) has proposed a Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United along with Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC).  His proposed amendment declares that spending on elections does not qualify as protected speech under the First Amendment.  It would also give Congress the authority to create a public financing system as the sole source of funding for federal elections and designates a national holiday for the purpose of voting.

“Corporate money equals influence, not free speech,” Rep. Yarmuth said on The Dylan Ratigan Show. “The last thing Congress needs is more corporate candidates who don’t answer to the American people. Until we get big money out of politics, we will never be able to responsibly address the major issues facing American families – and that starts by ensuring our elections and elected officials cannot be bought by the well-off and well-connected.”

[…]

Yarmuth said that this is at the heart of the Citizens United decision:

It doesn’t really matter whether corporations are considered people or not if you consider campaign expenditures as free speech. Because then it doesn’t matter who has access to that right. When you deal with just the corporate side of it, you’re still allowing people like the Koch brothers on the right, or even George Soros on the left, to spend millions and millions of dollars in an anonymous way to influence the system. So you need to get at the core of it and “say money spent on elections is not speech.” Therefore the Congress can regulate how much you can spend, if you can spend anything, and who can spend it. If you don’t get at that fundamental question, Congress really can’t regulate.

The second part of his amendment states that “Congress shall have the power to enact a mandatory public financing system to provide funds to qualified candidates in elections for Federal office, which shall be the sole source of funds raised or spent with respect to Federal elections.”

But why not just mandating that Congress must do this?  As Rep. Yarmuth explained, “we would have liked to have done it that way. most of the advice that we got that it would be — that you really can’t tell the Congress to enact a certain policy.”

Section three states “Congress shall set forth a legal public holiday for the purposes of voting in regularly scheduled general elections for Federal office.”  Rep. Yarmuth explained, “we need to have a national commitment to voting and to get out the vote, to make it easier for people to do it. The idea that people have to negotiate work and child care and all of these other logistical things to cast a vote for the most important thing they’ll do as a citizen is nonsense. ”

Rep. Yarmuth said that the Founding Fathers never could have anticipated the millions that would be spent in elections.  ”They wanted the right of the individual to go to the town square and say whatever he or she wanted to say. Everybody still has that right. This whole idea of money is speech is something that be fabricated by those who want to buy influence on the system. And people like my senator, Mitch McConnell, have been pounding this home for 25 years now, and he finally got it institutionalized in a Supreme Court decision. It was very, very tragic for the country,” said Rep. Yarmuth. […]

READ AND VIDEO @ http://www.dylanratigan.com/2011/12/21/rep-john-yarmuth-money-is-speech-was-tragic-for-this-country/

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* PRIVATIZING MONEY

By Alan Grayson, Daily Kos

Yesterday, the European Central Bank (ECB) announced that it will hand out $645,000,000,000 in three-year loans to European banks. Which the ECB printed out of thin air, like Monopoly money! The interest rate will be one percent per year.

The ECB will not be lending this money to the Government of Greece, even though that government is running a budget deficit of just under 10% of GDP – and the Greek GDP dropped by 5% this year.  The Government of Greece is now paying 37% per year on its ten-year bonds, when it can borrow anything at all.

The ECB will not be lending this money to the people of Spain, even though official unemployment in Spain is now at 23%.  Spain’s Economy Minister said recently that “Spain faces its deepest recession in half a century.”  Tough luck; their Christmas tree has nothing under it.

And when the European banks get this $645 billion, to whom will the banks be lending?  Anybody, or nobody.  No strings attached.  They can borrow from the ECB at 1%, lend it back to the German Government at 2%, lock in that profit, and take the next three years off.

I just have one question.

Why?

The world continues to face the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression.  Unemployment throughout Europe is over ten percent.  Entire national governments are on the verge of going broke.  Why would anyone think that THE THING THAT WE HAVE TO DO RIGHT NOW is to hand out $645 billion in more funny money to the banks?  In Europe or anywhere else?

The ECB is a public institution.  How can it possibly justify yet another bailout for selfish private interests, while the public is sent straight to hell?

If a Martian were to land in Paris today, and just read the headlines of the newspapers today, he could reach only one conclusion.  That there has been a coup in Europe, the banks are now in charge, and they’re grabbing everything that they can get their hands on.

Mark my words:  at some point, people are just not going to take it anymore.

Courage,

Alan Grayson

READ @ http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/12/22/1048077/-Privatizing-Money?via=siderec

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* IN PORTUGAL, ALL-OUT PRIVATIZATION GETS UNDERWAY

 By Mario Querioz, Common Dreams

 

 

 

 

 

A demonstrator holds a banner reading “Do not steal the future” in front of the Finance Ministry during a protest against the government’s austerity measures in Lisbon December 15, 2011. Besides selling off the state’s remaining shares in EDP, a company that brings in major profits, the government must privatise the highly lucrative national airport authority – Aeroportos de Portugal (ANA) – and is to complete the sale of Transportes Aéreos Portugueses (TAP) – the national airline – by the end of 2012. (REUTERS/Rafael Marchante)

The most far-reaching programme of privatisation of state enterprises in the history of Portugal kicked off Thursday with the sale of almost all of the state’s shares in the Energias de Portugal (EDP) utility to China’s Three Gorges Corp.

The Chinese company paid 3.5 billion dollars for a 21 percent stake, beating out Germany’s E.ON and Brazil’s Eletrobras and Cemeg, and making it the largest shareholder. The state was left with less than four percent of the shares in the power company.

Three Gorges’ victory in the bidding for EDP will open Portugal’s doors to Chinese financial institutions, making more credit available in Portugal, as the giant Chinese corporation promised Lisbon.

The privatisation of public enterprises is one of the conditions Portugal agreed to under the 110 billion dollar bailout agreed in May.

The government of conservative Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho has thus begun to sell off state assets under the austerity programme agreed with the “troika” of international creditors: the EU, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.

Besides the massive privatisation plan, the bailout package signed by the government of then socialist prime minister José Socrates and the right, which took power a month later, was conditional on austerity measures like a more flexible labour market making it cheaper and easier to fire workers, major spending cuts, a freeze on wages and pensions, tax hikes, cuts in unemployment benefits and income tax benefits and deductions, and an increase in the value-added tax.

Besides selling off the state’s remaining shares in EDP, a company that brings in major profits, the government must privatise the highly lucrative national airport authority – Aeroportos de Portugal (ANA) – and is to complete the sale of Transportes Aéreos Portugueses (TAP) – the national airline – by the end of 2012. […]

READ @ http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2011/12/23-0

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* “NUCLEAR CAN BE SAFE OR IT CAN BE CHEAP … BUT IT CAN’T BE BOTH”

By Washington’s Blog

Nuclear Power Is Unsafe Because the Operators are Pinching Pennies and Cutting Corners

Nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen was said in a recent interview that nuclear power can be made safe, but not at a competitive price:

[Interviewer] With air transport, it’s incredibly safe. Could nuclear power ever reach that level of safety?

[Gundersen] I have a friend who says that nuclear can be safe or it can be cheap, but it can’t be both.

***

It boils down to money. If you want to make nuclear safe, it gets to the point where it’s so costly you don’t want to build the power plant anyway … especially now with plummeting renewable costs.

So can you make a nuclear reactor safe? Yes. Can it also at the same time compete with renewables, which are, of course, higher [priced] than natural gas? And the answer is no.

Wall Street is demanding federal loan guarantees for this and of course we already subsidized Price-Anderson insurance. So Wall Street won’t spend the money to build it, and won’t insure it.

Gundersen is right.

As I noted in April:

Apologists for the nuclear power industry pretend there are no better alternatives, so we just have to suck it up and suffer through the Japanese nuclear crisis.

But this is wholly illogical. The truth is that we can store spent fuel rods in dry cask storage, which is much safer than the spent fuel rod pools used in Fukushima and many American reactors.

As the Nation pointed out:

Short of closing plants, there is a fairly reliable solution to the problem of spent fuel rods. It is called “dry cask storage.”

***

But there is a problem with dry cask storage: it costs money….

We could build a new, safer generation of nuclear power plants which have inherently safer designs, such as low-temperature reactors and thorium reactors.

But the owners of the nuclear plants can make more money with the ridiculous designs and cost-cutting measures used at Fukushima and elsewhere.

As the Christian Science Monitor notes:

*** Russian nuclear accident specialist Iouli Andreev, who as director of the Soviet Spetsatom clean-up agency helped in the efforts 25 years ago to clean up Chernobyl … said the sequence of events at Japan’s Fukushima I suggested that the plant’s owner, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), may have put profit before safety. The fire that broke out Tuesday in reactor No. 4s fuel storage pond may have been caused by a desire to conserve space and money, he suggested.

“The Japanese were very greedy and they used every square inch of the space. But when you have a dense placing of spent fuel in the basin you have a high possibility of fire if the water is removed from the basin,” Andreev told Reuters….

And this is not limited to Tepco. 

***

The nuclear accident was largely caused because of Tepco’s penny-pinching, just as the Gulf oil spill was caused by the fact that BP cut every corner in the book ( see this, this, this, this, and this). […]

READ @ http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2011/12/nuclear-can-be-safe-or-it-can-be-cheap-but-it-cant-be-both.html

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* IRAN AND SYRIA IN IMPERIAL CROSSHAIRS

By Iftekhar A. Khan, Information Clearing House

[…] While the western powers are proceeding against Syria overtly, they’re moving against Iran covertly. Unfortunately, the 22-member Arab League is playing a leading role in the hostilities orchestrated by the West against the two Muslim states. When the Saudi King said Assad’s removal was in Saudi Arabia’s interest, the Arab League quickly revoked Syria’s membership and asked Assad to step down. How can the Arab League, consisting of repressive monarchies and dynastic emirates, pronounce one of its member countries in the region tyrannical? SNC and Free Syrian Army are set up under Turkey tutelage. Henceforth Turkey will likely play a dominant role of a proxy in the imperial plan of regime-change in Syria. Turkey has a bit of identity problem. It has always aspired to be recognised as a modern westernised state part of Europe but the Europeans have been reluctant to accept it.

Saudi Arabia not only wants an end to Assad’s rule in Syria, it equally detests President Ahmadinjad’s government in Iran. The imperial powers are successfully using the sectarian card by playing upon religious prejudices of one sect against the other. If Saudi Arabia didn’t consider Iran its archrival, why would it buy 60 billion dollars worth of US military hardware? To add to the suspicion between the two, a treacherous plot to kill Saudi Ambassador in the US was hatched in which an Iranian citizen, a used car dealer, was to hire Mexican hit men to assassinate the Saudi envoy in Washington. The plot was so incredulous that not even the American public, which is generally considered gullible, bought it.

However, it’s confounding why the Muslim rulers allow the West to use them against their own kin. Is there any precedent of Christian nations aggressing against each other at present? None. Why does Saudi Arabia want to isolate Iran and bring down President Ahmedinejad’s government, while undercurrents of public discontent run deep in the kingdom itself? If the CIA has so far failed to instigate an uprising in Iran, despite having poured in millions, why should Saudi Arabia abet in the same against a brother Muslim country is for the House of Saud to answer.

READ @ http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article30053.htm

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* ONE NATION UNDER THE DRONE: THE RISING NUMBER OF UAVs IN AMERICAN SKIES

By Jillian Rayfield, TPMMuckraker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A secret air show in Houston. An unmanned blimp in Utah. A sovereign citizen arrested in North Dakota.

Each of these is just one small part of the bigger story of the proliferation of unmanned aircraft use within the U.S., and each is likely to become smaller still if the FAA goes through with plans to loosen regulations governing domestic use of drones.

News reports about Predator attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan are common if not always complete, but what’s gotten much less attention is the increase in unarmed drones that are buzzing around within the U.S. itself. Primarily, unarmed Predator B drones are only used by government agents to patrol the borders for illegal immigrants, but there are a (very large) handful of other agencies and companies that use smaller, unarmed drones for a slew of other purposes. And that number is only expected to grow.

The FAA says that as of September 13, 2011, there were 285 active Certificates of Authorization (COA) for 85 different users, covering 82 different unmanned unarmed aircraft types.

Though the exact breakdown of the organizations who have authorization is unclear — and the FAA would not elaborate for “privacy” and “security” reasons — in January the Washington Post reported that as of December 1, 2010, 35% of the permissions were held by the Department of Defense, 11% by NASA, and 5% by the Department of Homeland Security. The FBI and law enforcement agencies also hold some, as do manufacturers and even academic institutions.

Between pressure from trade groups (like the drone manufacturers group the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International), proposed legislation from Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) to expand the number of drone testing sites in the U.S., and petitioning from states like Oklahoma for an approved 80-mile air corridor reserved exclusively for drone development and testing, there is great potential for drone use to expand within the U.S. in the next few years.

Les Dorr, a spokesman for the FAA, says that there are currently two types of authorizations — one for public operations, as in state and local governments, and one for private entities. In each case, the application process involves telling the FAA what type and where and when aircraft will be flown, so the agency can determine if it can ensure the safety of other aircraft. Dorr said that next month the FAA hopes to propose new, looser rules for use of small unarmed Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) because “that’s where the demand is.”

He told TPM that they’re hoping to publish the new regulations in January, which will be followed by a comment period for industry and other interested parties. That usually lasts 60 days, at which point the FAA will take the comments into consideration when drafting the final language of the rule.

So who would use these small drones?

Kevin Lauscher, a Grant Assistance Specialist for the Canada-based manufacturers of the Draganfly drones, couldn’t say how many they’ve sold in the U.S. so far. But he said that aside from law enforcement agencies, they’ve sold drones to companies in real estate, manufacturing, academic institutions and even resorts. He described how some construction companies use drones for safety reasons, in place of a person on top of a crane or scaffolding.

But, the FAA said in a press release in October, though “interest is growing in civil (non-government) uses” for drones, “one of the most promising potential uses for sUAS is in law enforcement.”

“The FAA is working with urban police departments in major metropolitan areas and national public safety organizations on test programs involving unmanned aircraft,” the release says, also noting that members of law enforcement agencies participated in the committee that is drafting the new sUAS rule.

So far, there is a handful of law enforcement agencies that already have authorization to use drones, like sheriff’s departments in Queen Anne’s County, Maryland and Lane County, Oregon and the Texas Department of Public Safety. Police in Arlington, Texas have a drone they acquired to help with security during the February, 2011 Superbowl. The Mayor of Ogden, Utah is working to get an “unmanned blimp” that would fly over the city and serve as “a deterrent to crime.”

But there are some cases that are particularly concerning for civil liberties advocates. In North Dakota, a family of “sovereign citizens” was arrested with the help of a Predator B drone, borrowed from border patrol agents by the local sheriff in an effort to avoid a standoff over missing cows. In the first reported case of a drone being used to aid in the arrest of a U.S. citizen, the drone was able to detect when the family was carrying weapons so officials could move in without fear of a firefight.

There’s also the Houston Police Department, which scrapped a plan to bring on a drone shortly after KPRC-TV filmed local officials participating in a secret air show for drones, about 70 miles outside of the city. The police chief mentioned in a press conference that the drones could be used for issuing traffic tickets, and the backlash was such that the Mayor put the kibosh on the program. But, according to KPRC-TV, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office near Houston still used $300,000 in federal grant money from the DHS to buy a ShadowHawk unmanned helicopter. […]

READ @ http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/12/one_nation_under_the_drone.php?ref=fpa

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* CZECHS BID FAREWELL TO VACLAV HAVEL

By Karel Janicek, Independent UK

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Czechs and world leaders paid emotional tribute to Vaclav Havel today at a pomp-filled funeral ceremony, ending a week of public grief and nostalgia over the death of the dissident playwright who led the 1989 revolution that toppled four decades of communist rule.

Bells tolled from churches while a wailing siren brought the country to a standstill in a minute of silence for the nation’s first democratically-elected president after the nonviolent “Velvet Revolution.”

Havel’s wife Dagmar, family members, friends and leaders from dozens of countries gathered Friday at the towering, gothic St. Vitus Cathedral which overlooks Prague. Prime Minister David Cameron, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and French President Nicolas Sarkozy and  were among some 1,000 mourners who bowed their heads in front of the coffin draped in the Czech colours.

In a message read at the funeral by the Vatican’s former diplomatic representative in Prague, Pope Benedict XVI praised Havel. “Remembering how courageously Mr Havel defended human rights at a time when these were systematically denied to the people of your country, and paying tribute to his visionary leadership in forging a new democratic polity after the fall of the previous regime, I give thanks to God for the freedom that the people of the Czech Republic now enjoy,” he said.

At the end of the ceremony, Havel’s coffin was to be carried through the cathedral’s Golden Gate to Prague’s Strasnice crematorium for a private family funeral. The urn with Havel’s ashes will be buried at his family’s plot at the city’s Vinohrady cemetery alongside his first wife, Olga, who died in 1996.

Havel, whose final term in office ended in 2003, died Sunday morning in his sleep at his weekend home in the country’s north. The 75-year-old former chain-smoker had a history of chronic respiratory problems dating back to his time in prison.

Since his death, Czechs have gathered spontaneously to lay flowers and light candles at key historic sites such as the monument to the 1989 Velvet Revolution in downtown Prague, and at Wenceslas Square, where Havel once spoke before hundreds of thousands of people to express outrage at the repressive communist regime.

Similar scenes of remembrance played out across the country — in a show of emotion not seen since the 1937 funeral of Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, Czechoslovakia’s first president after the nation was founded in 1918.

“Europe owes Vaclav Havel a profound debt,” Cameron said before departing from London. “Havel led the Czech people out of tyranny … and he helped bring freedom and democracy to our entire continent.”

Czechs packed a nearby courtyard at Prague Castle and an adjacent square to watch the funeral ceremony on giant screens.

“He was our star, he gave us democracy,” said Iva Buckova, 51, who had travelled from the western city of Plzen. “He led us through revolution. We came to see him for the last time.”  […]

READ @ http://www.independent.co.uk/news/a/europe/czechs-bid-farewell-to-vaclav-havel-6280952.html

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* HAVEL’S MORAL AUTHORITY “IS A THING OF THE PAST”

By Renat Kuenzi, swissinfo.ch

Former Czech dissident and playwright Vaclav Havel, whose funeral takes place on Friday, was held in high regard around the world for his courage and moral strength.

Author Helena Kanyar-Becker, who came to Switzerland in 1969 after the repression of the Prague Spring, is among those who admired Havel. But she says his moral authority had begun to diminish during his years as president.

Havel, who played a key role in the democracy movement in communist Czechoslovakia, was elected president at the end of 1989, following the Velvet Revolution. After the breakup of Czechoslovakia, he served as president of the Czech Republic until 2003.

Havel died on December 18 at the age of 75.

swissinfo.ch: You met Vaclav Havel when you were a young student in Prague. What impression did he make on you?

Helena Kanyar-Becker: In the 1960s I regularly visited the Theatre on the Balustrade [in Prague], which was a mecca for us young students. I saw all Vaclav Havel’s plays there. Including “The Garden Party”, an absurd play about functionaries that had a huge impact. I don’t remember how many times I saw it.

swissinfo.ch: Describe the atmosphere at these productions.

H.K-B.: It was a very intimate atmosphere. Just getting hold of a ticket required creativity. The foyer was always full of young people smoking, and Havel stood on the stairs, also smoking, and waved to us. His wife Olga, a beautiful, slim woman, was in charge of the cloakroom. She also smoked constantly.

The theatre, which had about 250 seats was always packed, and there was a real understanding between the actors and the public. We laughed a lot.

“The Garden Party” wasn’t just absurd and full of humour, it was also philosophical. Hugo, the conforming ‘hero’, delivers the line: ‘Conformity is the healthy philosophy of the middle classes, without which there is no future.’ Havel was taking a swipe at people who conform. It was exactly what we wanted to hear and see.

swissinfo.ch: After the performances, did you go to a restaurant to discuss the pieces with Havel?

H.K-B.: No, there was a kind of divide between Havel and us. We only ever saw him smiling and smoking. We didn’t dare address him; we were too young. He was a kind of saint to us, who we really admired… […]

READ @ http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/culture/Havel_s_moral_authority_is_a_thing_of_the_past.html?cid=31817664