Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bloggers, liberal groups call out centrist Dems

Oh, yes, I number myself among them! Let the challenges begin!--Pete

Coalition plans to raise money online, recruit more liberal candidates

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - A coalition of liberal bloggers and activists backed by organized labor announced a campaign Thursday to pressure Democrats to move to the left by financing challenges to centrist members of Congress.

The group, which calls itself Accountability Now, plans to raise money online and recruit liberal candidates to run in the primaries against Democratic incumbents it considers out of step with constituents.

The group has the backing of the Service Employees International Union, one of the most politically active in organized labor, and Both have raised and spent tens of millions of dollars in recent elections.

The formation of the group highlights a tricky political dynamic for Democrats that could complicate President Barack Obama's efforts to advance his agenda. The effort threatens to deepen rifts that separate the party's liberal Democratic leaders, personified by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., from the growing group of moderates who have helped the party expand its majority in Congress.

No litmus test?
Leaders of Accountability Now say they have no ideological litmus test for their targets, but it's clear they are focusing on Democrats — including some who are members of the fiscally conservative Blue Dogs and the New Democrat Coalition — who typically side with business interests.

"What we're set up to oppose is the influence of lobbying money," said Jane Hamsher of the blog "The danger is that (Democrats are) going to become as responsive to the influence of money over their constituents as Republicans did."

Backers of the movement say they're hoping their efforts will give Obama greater latitude to push liberal policies in key areas such as health care by creating an organized and well-funded group of Democrats who can act as a counter to more conservative voices in the party.

They also say Accountability Now is a way to keep Democrats from losing touch with their constituents, which they argue is what sentenced Republicans to minority status.

"This is not an ideological crusade," said Markos Moulitsas, creator of the blog DailyKos and a supporter of the group. "What we want to do is move the Democratic Party to the mainstream."

Top Democrats skeptical
Still, mainstream is in the eye of the beholder, and Moulitsas said the group will target those who "keep saying this is a center-right nation."

Top Democrats are skeptical of such enterprises. They fear they will highlight damaging divisions within the party and potentially cost Democrats congressional seats.

"Anything that increases the chance of a seat falling into Republican hands is a mistake," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the head of Democrats' House campaign committee.

Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the Democrats' Senate campaign chief, said he wasn't familiar with the group, but called it "a bad idea."

"The bottom line is that we need candidates who reflect their state, and the values of that state, and their ability to win that state, and having primaries for ideological purposes is not the way in which Democrats continue to have a majority," Menendez said.

Success in Maryland
The organizers have had one prominent success already. They helped fuel and fund the successful primary campaign by liberal Democratic Rep. Donna Edwards that toppled eight-term Democratic Rep. Al Wynn in Maryland's Prince George's County.

And some of the same players were instrumental in Ned Lamont's successful 2006 primary challenge to Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut in frustration over his backing of the Iraq war. Lieberman switched parties and won re-election as an Independent.

Even Edwards said it's "foolish to believe that one can mount those kinds of efforts successfully in all districts, or even most districts." But she said the effort could add heft to liberal lawmakers' attempts to make their voices heard "as loudly as we've heard from the conservative forces of our party and the Republicans. That will serve President Obama really well," she added.

The group, which has raised $500,000 so far, is scrutinizing lawmakers' voting records and polls reflecting public opinion in their districts to find opportunities to launch challenges.

"The key," said Jeff Hauser, the executive director, "will be where there's a gap between the incumbent and their constituents."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Inhumane Sheriff Arpaio finally taken to task for his crimes

AlterNet: Finally, the Law Goes After Joe Arpaio -- the Most Abusive Sheriff In America
By Emptywheel, Firedoglake
You have probably heard of the shamelessly self professed "Toughest Sheriff in America", Maricopa County Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. For years he has been making a PR spectacle of himself, all the while running an unconstitutionally deplorable jail system, letting inmates die under tortuous conditions, and violating the civil rights and liberties of everybody in sight, especially minorities. Last week, the House Judiciary Committee made public a critical and public step to rein in the Most Abusive Sheriff In America.

From the HJC press release:
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), and Immigration Subcommittee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.-my representative! Yay!), Constitution Subcommittee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), and Crime Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) called on Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to investigate allegations of misconduct by Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Sheriff Arpaio has repeatedly demonstrated disregard for the rights of Hispanics in the Phoenix metropolitan area. Under the guise of immigration enforcement, his staff has conducted raids in residential neighborhoods in a manner condemned by the community as racial profiling. On February 4, 2009, Arpaio invited the media to view the transfer of immigrant detainees to a segregated area of his "tent city" jail, subjecting the detainees to public display and "ritual humiliation." Persistent actions such as these have resulted in numerous lawsuits; while Arpaio spends time and energy on publicity and his reality television show, "Smile… You're Under Arrest!", Maricopa County has paid millions of dollars in settlements involving dead or injured inmates.
It is time for the federal government to step in and uphold the rule of law in this country, even in Maricopa County."
"Law enforcement is not a game or a reality show, it is a public trust," said Scott. "There is no excuse for callous indifference to the rights of the residents of Arizona, whether in their neighborhoods or as pretrial detainees."

The full official text of the letter to Napolitano and Holder is here.
It is high time that somebody on the national scene notice, and the Federal government take action on, the egregious and violative conduct of Joe Arpaio.

Joe Arpaio is a two bit carnival barker and huckster, not a dedicated law enforcement official. The opportunistic man came into office running against a fellow Republican and incumbent Maricopa County Sheriff, Tom Agnos, by bad mouthing Agnos and arguing that the entire Maricopa County Sheriff's Department needed to be cleaned up. In fact, Arpaio's winning campaign was predicated upon his willingness to mock the very department he was running to lead and promise to expose the dirty laundry of Agnos and the Sheriff's Department for its involvement in the infamous Buddhist Temple Murder case (link is a fascinating three part story), a seminal case in textbooks on coerced confessions (from the fact that four separate coerced false confessions were obtained to a single crime). Arpaio promised to restore honor to the department, and also swore he would serve only one term in office. Five terms and seventeen years later, Arpaio has failed miserably on both promises.

Read Entire Article

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Coulter flies her bigot flag...again.

Columnist Ann Coulter Defends White Supremacist Group | Hatewatch | Southern Poverty Law Center

Columnist Ann Coulter Defends White Supremacist Group

Posted By Mark Potok

Rabid far-right commentator Ann Coulter is known across America for [1] sliming everyone and everything she disagrees with. Al Gore is a “total fag” and another one-time presidential candidate, John Edwards, is the same. Democrats are “gutless traitors” and their convention a “Spawn of Satan” gathering. Muslims are “ragheads” and America should “kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.” Jews are people who need to be “perfected.” The New York Times building and its editorial staff should be bombed. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens should have “rat poisoning” mixed into his food. Princess Diana “ostentatiously [had] sex in front of [her] children.” The Rev. Al Sharpton is “a fat, race-baiting black man.” President Bill Clinton was “a very good rapist,” and North Korea should be “nuked.”

But despite denouncing school desegregation as a “spectacular” failure, Coulter has generally avoided bolstering white supremacist hate groups. Until now, that is.

In her latest foaming-mouth tome — Guilty: Liberal “Victims” and Their Assault on America, released on Jan. 6 — Coulter spends the better part of three pages defending a group called the [2] Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), which The New York Times had described as a “thinly veiled white supremacist organization.” Coulter begs to differ. The CCC, Coulter opines, is “a conservative group” that has unfairly been branded as racist “because some of the directors of the CCC had, decades earlier, been leaders of a segregationist group.” “There is no evidence on its Web page that the modern incarnation of the CCC supports segregation,” she says. “Apart from some aggressive reporting on black-on-white crimes — the very crimes that are aggressively hidden by the establishment media — there is little on the CCC website suggesting” that the group is racist. Indeed, its main failing is “containing members who had belonged to a segregationist group thirty years earlier.”

Coulter could hardly be more wrong. And even if she can’t find time to read beyond a page of the CCC’s website, she really ought to know — after all, the organization where she frequently speaks, the Conservative Political Action Committee, has publicly banned the CCC from its annual gathering because it is racist. Also in the late 1990s, Jim Nicholson, then-chairman of the Republican National Committee, asked GOP members to stay away from the CCC because of its “racist and nationalist views.”

How could conservative Republicans be inspired to say such ugly things? Let us count the ways.

The CCC’s columnists have written that black people are “a retrograde species of humanity,” and that non-white immigration is turning the U.S. population into a “slimy brown mass of glop.” Its website has run photographic comparisons of pop singer Michael Jackson and a chimpanzee. It opposes “forced integration” and decries racial intermarriage. It has lambasted black people as “genetically inferior,” complained about “Jewish power brokers,” called gay people “perverted sodomites,” and even named the late Lester Maddox, the baseball bat-wielding, arch-segregationist former governor of Georgia, “Patriot of the Century.”

One day, the CCC ran photos on its home page of accused Beltway snipers John Muhammad and John Malvo, 9/11 conspirator Zacharias Moussaoui and accused shoe-bomber Richard Reed. “Notice a Pattern Here?” asked a caption underneath the four photos. “Is the face of death black after all?” On another occasion, its website featured a photo of Daniel Pearl, the “Jewish Wall Street Journal reporter” who had just been decapitated by Islamic terrorists. In the photo, Pearl was shown with his “mixed-race wife, Marianne.” The headline above the couple’s picture was stunning even for the CCC: “Death by Multiculturalism?” The CCC Arkansas chapter ran an essay waxing nostalgic for the days “when racial separation was the norm.”

But to Ann Coulter, there is “no evidence” on its website that the CCC “supports segregation.” Mostly, she says, the group — which was formed from the debris of the White Citizens Councils that Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall once called “the uptown Klan” — is about “a strong national defense, the right to keep and bear arms, the traditional family, and an ‘America First’ trade policy.” Indeed, she says, The New York Times and other critics of the CCC are simply liberals “who have no principles.”

Thursday, February 19, 2009

AlterNet: Amy Goodman: How Two Former PA Judges Got Millions in Kickbacks to Send Juveniles to Private Prisons

By Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!

Amy Goodman: An unprecedented case of judicial corruption is unfolding in Pennsylvania. Several hundred families have filed a class-action lawsuit against two former judges who have pleaded guilty to taking bribes in return for placing youths in privately owned jails. Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan are said to have received $2.6 million for ensuring that juvenile suspects were jailed in prisons operated by the companies Pennsylvania Child Care and a sister company, Western Pennsylvania Child Care. Some of the young people were jailed over the objections of their probation officers. An estimated 5,000 juveniles have been sentenced by Ciavarella since the scheme started in 2002.

In addition to the jailing of the youths, the judges also admitted to helping "facilitate" the construction of private jails. The U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Martin Carlson, unveiled the charges last month.

Martin Carlson: These payments were made to the judges, it is alleged, in return for discretionary acts by the judges favoring these businesses, acts relating to the construction, expansion, operation of these juvenile facilities and acts relating to the placement of juveniles in these facilities.

Amy Goodman: On Thursday, Judges Ciavarella and Conahan entered guilty pleas on charges of wire fraud and income tax fraud. They're currently free on a $1 million bail bond pending sentencing. Their plea agreements call for jail sentences of more than seven years. No charges have been filed against the private prisons that paid the bribes.

Pennsylvania's Supreme Court has appointed an outside judge to review all the cases tried by Ciavarella and Conahan. But the case has prompted calls for broader reforms of the juvenile justice system in Pennsylvania and nationwide.

We're joined now by two of the thousands of youths jailed by the corrupt judges. On the line with us from Scranton, Pennsylvania, eighteen-year-old Jamie Quinn is with us. She spent more than eleven months in a privately run juvenile prison camp after being sentenced by Judge Mark Ciavarella as a first-time offender. Also on the line in the nearby town of Wilkes-Barre is twenty-two-year-old Kurt Kruger. Another first-time offender, he spent more than four months in a privately run prison--juvenile prison camp after also being sentenced by Judge Ciavarella.

And joining us in a studio in Philadelphia is Bob Schwartz. He is a co-founder and executive director of the Juvenile Law Center, which helped expose the corrupt judges and is now involved in the class-action suit brought on behalf of the jailed youths' families.

Read More

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Instead of nationalizing our banks' financial principal, Tim Geithner seems to have nationalized Bernie Madoff's financial principle: just give me your money and don't ask too many questions. - Josiah Swampoodle

Thursday, February 12, 2009

BushCo torture rules...continued?

This past Monday, attorneys representing Obama's Department of Justice took a page out of the Bush administration's playbook and adopted it as their own. DOJ lawyers stood up in a federal court and declared that, under the government's "state secrets" privilege, they intended to prevent victims of extraordinary rendition from seeking justice in U.S. courts. For the ACLU, which represents the five plaintiffs in the case, Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, this was the darkest and most disturbing of development in Obama's first term.

"Eric Holder's Justice Department stood up in court today and said that it would continue the Bush policy of invoking state secrets to hide the reprehensible history of torture, rendition and the most grievous human rights violations committed by the American government," Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU said. "This is not change. This is definitely more of the same."

Human rights groups fought hard against the abuse of the state secrets doctrine during the Bush years when it came to covering up the government's unlawful activities, from warrantless wiretapping to torture. If Obama's Department of Justice truly intends to continue this shameful practice, it is up to us to raise our voices in protest.

Counterpunch: Obama's Awful Recovery Plan

Trying To Revive The Bubble Economy

Michael Hudson

Martin Wolf started off his Financial Times column for February 11 with the bold question: “Has Barack Obama’s presidency already failed?” The stock market had a similar opinion, plunging 382 points. Having promised “change,” Mr. Obama is giving us more Clinton-Bush via Robert Rubin’s protégé, Tim Geithner. Tuesday’s $2.5 trillion Financial Stabilization Plan to re-inflate the Bubble Economy is basically an extension of the Bush-Paulson giveaway – yet more Rubinomics for financial insiders in the emerging Wall Street trusts. The financial system is to be concentrated into a cartel of just a few giant conglomerates to act as the economy’s central planners and resource allocators. This makes banks the big winners in the game of “chicken” they’ve been playing with Washington, a shakedown holding the economy hostage. “Give us what we want or we’ll plunge the economy into financial crisis.” Washington has given them $9 trillion so far, with promises now of another $2 trillion– and still counting.

A true reform – one designed to undo the systemic market distortions that led to the real estate bubble – would have set out to reverse the Clinton-Rubin repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act so as to prevent the corrupting conflicts of interest that have resulted in vertical trusts such as Citibank and Bank of America/Countrywide/Merrill Lynch. By unleashing these conglomerate grupos (to use the term popularized under Pinochet with Chicago Boy direction – a dress rehearsal of the mass financial bankruptcies they caused in Chile by the end of the 1970s) the Clinton administration enabled banks to merge with junk mortgage companies, junk-money managers, fictitious property appraisal companies, and law-evasion firms all designed to package debts to investors who trusted them enough to let them rake off enough commissions and capital gains to make their managers the world’s highest-paid economic planners.

Today’s economic collapse is the direct result of their planning philosophy. It actually was taught as “wealth creation” and still is, as supposedly more productive than the public regulation and oversight so detested by Wall Street and its Chicago School aficionados. The financial powerhouses created by this “free market” philosophy span the entire FIRE sector – finance, insurance and real estate, “financializing” housing and commercial property markets in ways guaranteed to make money by creating and selling debt. Mr. Obama’s advisors are precisely those of the Clinton Administration who supported trustification of the FIRE sector. This is the broad deregulatory medium in which today’s bad-debt disaster has been able to spread so much more rapidly than at any time since the 1920s.

The commercial banks have used their credit-creating power not to expand the production of goods and services or raise living standards but simply to inflate prices for real estate (making fortunes for their brokerage, property appraisal and insurance affiliates), stocks and bonds (making more fortunes for their investment bank subsidiaries), fine arts (whose demand is now essentially for trophies, degrading the idea of art accordingly) and other assets already in place.

The resulting and real estate bubbles were not inevitable, not economically necessary. They were financially engineered by the political deregulatory power acquired by banks corrupting Congress through campaign contributions and public relations “think tanks” (more in the character of doublethink tanks) to promote the perverse fiction that Wall Street can be and indeed is automatically self-regulating -- a travesty of Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand.” This hand is better thought of as covert. The myth of “free markets” is now supposed to consist of governments withdrawing from planning and taxing wealth, so as to leave resource allocation and the economic surplus to bankers rather than elected public representatives. This is what classically is called oligarchy, not democracy.

This centralization of planning, debt creation and revenue-extracting power is defended as the alternative to Hayek’s road to serfdom. But it is itself the road to debt peonage, a.k.a. the post-industrial economy or “Information Economy.” The latter term is another euphemistic travesty in view of the kind of information the banking system has promoted in the junk accounting crafted by their accounting firms and tax lawyers (off-balance-sheet entities registered on offshore tax-avoidance islands), the AAA applause provided as “information” to investors by the bond-rating cartel, and indeed the national income and product accounts that depict the FIRE sector as being part of the “real” economy, not as an institutional wrapping of special interests and government-sanctioned privilege acting in an extractive rather than a productive way.

“Thanks for the bonuses,” bankers in the United States and England testified this week before Congress and Parliament. “We’ll keep the money, but rest assured that we are truly sorry for having to ask you for another few trillion dollars. At least you should remember our theme song: We are still better managers than the government, and the bulwark against government bureaucratic resource allocation.” This is the ideological Big Lie sold by the Chicago School “free market” celebration of dismantling government power over finance, all defended by complex math rivaling that of nuclear physics that the financial sector is part of the “real” economy automatically producing a fair and equitable equilibrium.

This is not bad news for stockholders of more local and relatively healthy banks (healthy in the sense of avoiding negative equity). Their stocks soared and were by far the major gainers on Tuesday’s stock market, while Wall Street’s large Bad Banks plunged to new lows. Solvent local banks are the sort that were normal prior to repeal of Glass Steagall. They are to be bought by the large “troubled” banks, whose “toxic loans” reflect a basically toxic operating philosophy. In other words, small banks who have made loans carefully will be sucked into Citibank, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo – the Big Four or Five where the junk mortgages, junk CDOs and junk derivatives are concentrated, and have used Treasury money from the past bailout to buy out smaller banks that were not infected with such reckless financial opportunism. Even the Wall Street Journal editorialized regarding the Obama Treasury’s new “Public-Private Investment Fund” to pump a trillion dollars into this mess: “Mr. Geithner would be wise to put someone strong and independent in charge of this fund – someone who can say no to Congress and has no ties to Citigroup, Robert Rubin or Wall Street.”

None of this can solve today’s financial problem. The debt overhead far exceeds the economy’s ability to pay. If the banks would indeed do what Pres. Obama’s appointees are begging them to do and lend more, the debt burden would become even heavier and buying access to housing even more costly. When the banks look back fondly on what Alan Greenspan called “wealth creation,” we can see today that the less euphemistic terminology would be “debt creation.” This is the objective of the new bank giveaway. It threatens to spread the distortions that the large banks have introduced until the entire system presumably looks like Citibank, long the number-one offender of “stretching the envelope,” its euphemism for breaking the law bit by bit and daring government regulators and prosecutors to try and stop it and thereby plunging the U.S. financial system into crisis. This is the shakedown that is being played out this week. And the Obama administration blinked – as these same regulators did when they were in charge of the Clinton administration’s bank policy. So much for the promised change!

The three-pronged Treasury program seems to be only Stage One of a two-stage “dream recovery plan” for Wall Street. Enough hints have trickled out for the past three months in Wall Street Journal op-eds to tip the hand for what may be in store. Watch for the magic phrase “equity kicker,” first heard in the S&L mortgage crisis of the 1980s. It refers to the banker’s share of capital gains, that is, asset price inflation in Bubble #2 that the Recovery Program hopes to sponsor.

The first question to ask about any Recovery Program is, “Recovery for whom?” The answer given on Tuesday is, “For the people who design the Program and their constituency” – in this case, the bank lobby. The second question is, “Just what is it they want to ‘recover’?” The answer is, the Bubble Economy. For the financial sector it was a golden age. Having enjoyed the Greenspan Bubble that made them so rich, its managers would love to create yet more wealth for themselves by indebting the “real” economy yet further while inflating prices all over again to make new capital gains.

The problem for today’s financial elites is that it is not possible to inflate another bubble from today’s debt levels, widespread negative equity, and still-high level of real estate, stock and bond prices. No amount of new capital will induce banks to provide credit to real estate already over-mortgaged or to individuals and corporations already over-indebted. Moody’s and other leading professional observers have forecast property prices to keep on plunging for at least the next year, which is as far as the eye can see in today’s unstable conditions. So the smartest money is still waiting like vultures in the wings – waiting for government guarantees that toxic loans will pay off. Another no-risk private profit to be subsidized by public-sector losses.

Read More

Michael Hudson is a former Wall Street economist. A Distinguished Research Professor at University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC), he is the author of many books, including Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (new ed., Pluto Press, 2002) He can be reached via his website,

Joaquin Phoenix on Letterman: Public Meltdown?

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting: Media Flock to Fox Star Spectacle of Human Degradation

This guy is bigotry and ignorance personified. That he has a loyal following diminishes my faith in the collective intelligence and compassion of humankind. We simply cannot treat our fellow humans as chattel and slaves, no matter the circumstance. These immigrant convicts have already been sentenced to their punishment, and statistics show that some may have been wrongly convicted. That fact alone indicates that they all must be treated humanely, at the very least. The sheriff's desire for publicity causes him to further disregard human and civil rights. Arpaio's karmic debt is massive, indeed.--Pete

02/07/2009 by Gabriel Voiles, FAIR

La Frontera Times reporter Alfredo Gutierrez has the latest (2/6/09) from new Fox reality show star Joe Arpaio. The Arizona sheriff, under FBI investigation for violating civil rights in his crusade against immigration, recently marched all of the Maricopa County immigrant detainees--chained together in full prisoner uniforms--down the street "from the Durango Jail to the [new segregated] facility":

The parade was on a public road, Gibson Street in Phoenix, but the road was closed to all but the press. The press was notified of the public spectacle the day before and arrangements were made for all media to be present and photograph and film the prisoners. All the major television stations were present as were newspapers and radio and television helicopters hovered overhead. The forced march though short had one intended effect: it was a publicity orgy for the sheriff.

Remarking on "a particular sadness in witnessing this spectacle of human degradation," Gutierrez writes that "the symbolism was unmistakable, the men of color, the public humiliation, the forced march, the segregated camp"--but for the ever-sensationalistic U.S press, the only symbol that really matters is a dollar sign.

Protests of the corporate media embrace of bigotry and of Sheriff Arpaio directly are afoot across the U.S. and online.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

AlterNet: Poor Little Rich Kids: Wall Street Elites Whine About Obama's Pay Caps

Listen while the wealthy classes whine about their hardships should they be expected to live on a mere 500K--Pete:

Poor Little Rich Kids: Wall Street Elites Whine About Obama's Pay Caps
By Ali Frick, Think Progress

Today, President Obama announced that top executives' pay at companies accepting TARP funds would be capped at $500,000, with any additional compensation coming only in the form of stock options that could not be cashed until the government had been repaid.

As news of the plan leaked last night, wealthy Wall Street went into panic mode, insisting that the caps would ruin the financial industry. It's "a nightmare for any financial institution," CNBC host Joe Kernen proclaimed this morning, while Fox Business host Alexis Glick said it was evidence of Obama being "a little anti-business." Others insisted that the "draconian" caps would drive the "best and the brightest" away from Wall Street and that Obama's anger over executive bonuses was misplaced:

"That is pretty draconian -- $500,000 is not a lot of money, particularly if there is no bonus." [James F. Reda, founder and managing director of James F. Reda & Associates]

"If I didn't pay [bonuses], the people were going to go. ... These people didn't choose to cure cancer. These people didn't choose to do public service work...These people chose to make money." [Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric]

"The consequences of it are going to be a massive brain drain of senior talent from those companies that have taken TARP money to those companies that have not." [Donald Straszheim, managing principal at Straszheim Global Advisor]

"Companies that need the most talented people to fix their problems won't be able to pay them." [Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer]

Announcing the plan today, Obama emphasized that the key to bolstering the financial system was restoring trust. "And in order to restore trust, we've got to make certain that taxpayer funds are not subsidizing excessive compensation packages on Wall Street," he said. Making it clear that he doesn't "disparage wealth," Obama emphasized that outlandish executive pay was both in bad taste and bad strategy:

For top executives to award themselves these kinds of compensation packages in the midst of this economic crisis is not only in bad taste -- it's a bad strategy -- and I will not tolerate it as President. We're going to be demanding some restraint in exchange for federal aid -- so that when firms seek new federal dollars, we won't find them up to the same old tricks.

Under Obama's new guidelines, Wall Street salaries will be tied at least nominally to performance, so that, as Obama said, "executives are compensated for sound risk management and rewarded for growth measured over years, not just days or weeks." By contrast, in 2008, when "the brokerage units of New York financial companies lost more than $35 billion," their executives were rewarded with nearly $20 billion in bonuses.

What's more, Wall Street insiders should keep in mind that $500,000 is still ten times the median household income and $100,000 more than President Obama makes.

Ali Frick is a Research Associate for The Progress Report and at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
© 2009 Think Progress All rights reserved.
View this story online at:

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Drug Policy Alliance Action Center - More Medical Marijuana Raids in California

Who's really in charge here?

While on the campaign trail, President Obama promised to end medical marijuana raids in places like California where the right to use marijuana on a doctor's recommendation is protected.

And now, the DEA has raided not one, but at least four medical marijuana dispensaries in California. Either those were hollow promises or President Obama's Department of Justice is not respecting his stated positions.

Sick patients who use medical marijuana in states like California are in grave danger from these wasteful abuses of federal power. You can do something to help.

Last week, thousands of DPA Network supporters like you faxed the White House imploring President Obama to end these raids. He has yet to respond -- so now is the time to take the next step.

By taking just a few moments to call the White House now and urge President Obama to honor his campaign promise to end these raids, you can protect sick and dying patients. There are detailed instructions on the website.

DPA Network is already working behind the scenes with our allies in Congress to pressure the new administration to stand up for justice. Together, we can ensure the safety of patients across the country, but only if you take action.

I'll be sure to keep you posted as the situation continues to develop.

Bill Piper
Director, Office of National Affairs
Drug Policy Alliance Network

P.S. Did you miss my note last week regarding Obama and Medical Marijuana? It's not too late to join the more then 3,100 people who've faxed the White House on this issue. You can also read the news about the most recent raid, and I've pasted below the phone number for the White House, but it's most helpful for coordination efforts if you use the take action button above and log your call.

Who to Contact: The White House, at (202) 456 - 1414.

What to Say: "I just read that the DEA made several raids recently on medical marijuana patients and providers in California. I’m calling to urge President Obama to put a stop to this."

Additional Talking Points (choose one):

* "I'm mad that my tax dollars are being used to harass cancer and AIDS patients."

* "I know that President Obama said last year that if he was president he wouldn’t waste law enforcement resources undermining state medical marijuana laws. I really hope he puts a stop to these wasteful raids."

* "President Bush spent eight years undermining state medical marijuana laws. I hope President Obama doesn't spend eight years doing the same."

* “I support medical marijuana and hope Obama does, too.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Global Economic Meltdown, Country By Country

Guardian - In Athens, it was students and young people who suddenly mobilized to turn parts of the city into no-go areas. They were sick of the lack of jobs and prospects, the failings of the education system and seized with pessimism over their future. This week it was the farmers' turn, rolling their tractors out to block the motorways, main road and border crossings across the Balkans to try to obtain better procurement prices for their produce."

International Herald Tribune - A French minister flew to the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe for talks aimed at ending a 13-day general strike over pay and prices that has paralyzed the French territory and threatens to fuel dissent at home. Business leaders have warned of economic ruin if the dispute is not resolved soon and officials are anxious to prevent any contagion to the French mainland, where unions are demanding more government action to tackle the economic crisis. . . An alliance of 47 unions and local bodies known as the Lyannaj kont pwofitasyon - whose name in Creole means "Let's stand up to fight against all sorts of abuses" - began their protest on Jan. 20 over the cost of living. They have drawn up a list of 146 demands including an increase in the minimum salary of E200, or $257, a freeze on rents and a cut in taxes and food prices. They also want an immediate 50-cent reduction in the price of a liter of petrol.

Foreign Policy - The financial crisis has gotten so severe in Britain that it has earned London a new nickname in the international media: Reykjavik-on-Thames. The question in Britain is no longer when the economy will enter a recession, but when it will enter a depression, with many bracing for a slump that could rival the 1930s in severity. . .

Guardian - More than 10,000 people converged on the 13th century cathedral to show the Latvian government what they thought of its efforts at containing the economic crisis. The peaceful protest morphed into a late-night rampage as a minority headed for the parliament, battled with riot police and trashed parts of the old city. The following day, there were similar scenes in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital next door"

Foreign Policy - Latvia is arguably the one country that most resembles Iceland, and not just because of the cold climate. The small, developing country's lofty growth rates in recent years were fueled by heavy investment from elsewhere in Europe, massive foreign debt, booming consumption, and minimal savings. After growing at an extraordinary 12.2 percent rate in 2006, Latvia's economy is now the weakest of the 27 EU member states. . . . The International Monetary Fund has approved a $7.3 billion bailout package for Latvia, but a long road to recovery remains.

Foreign Policy -The Greek economy, burdened by a debt-to-GDP ratio of more than 90 percent, is one of the shakiest in the European Union. . .

Foreign Policy - Economic damage: Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, an old U.S. enemy from the Cold War, explained the financial crisis by stating, "God is punishing the United States." But the ripple effects from the crisis will likely reach all the way to his own country. Nicaragua's economy is heavily dependent on remittances, with the central bank estimating that Nicaraguans abroad send back between $800 million and $1 billion every year. The U.S. economic downturn means that fewer Nicaraguans will have money to send home. The financial crisis has also pushed down the price of coffee, Nicaragua's main export, as investors have abandoned the commodity market.

Guardian, UK - Gordon Brown condemned wildcat strikes as "indefensible" amid efforts to prevent the row over foreign labor escalating into mass industrial action. The prime minister said he recognized that people were worried about jobs being taken by workers from other countries, but stressed that the UK was part of a single European market. . . The protests were prompted by a decision to bring in hundreds of Italian and Portuguese contractors to work on a new plant at the Lindsey oil refinery, in North Lincolnshire. Unions claim Britons were not given any opportunity to apply for the posts.

Reuters - - Peru's largest federation of mining unions said over the weekend it has agreed to call a nationwide strike starting on March 15, to protest mounting job cuts and to pressure Congress to lift caps on profit sharing.. . . Mine workers are upset by job cuts spurred by the global economic crisis, which has slammed prices for most of Peru's metal exports, the government's largest revenue source. According to the mining federation, more than 5,500 workers have lost their jobs since December, while the Labor Ministry puts the figure at 4,000.

Times, UK - The collapse of the export trade has left millions without work and set off a wave of social instability. . . China's new year of the ox portends calm but there is little sign of it as workers in Shezhen protest over unpaid wages as factories shut. Bankruptcies, unemployment and social unrest are spreading more widely in China than officially reported, according to independent research that paints an ominous picture for the world economy. The research was conducted for The Sunday Times over the last two months in three provinces vital to Chinese trade - Guangdong, Zhejiang and Jiangsu. It found that the global economic crisis has scythed through exports and set off dozens of protests that are never mentioned by the state media.

Ana, Greece - Farmers from Iraklio and Lasithi on Crete embarked on ferry boats bound for the port of Piraeus, along with their tractors and pick-up trucks, determined to take their protest to the capital. . . Amid government appeals that they leave their tractors behind, farmers on Crete had earlier disbanded their five-day road block at Linoperamata and Platani and arranged to meet at the island's port the same evening.

Reuters - Hundreds of nuclear workers joined nationwide protests against the use of foreign-contracted labor, saying Britons were losing out at a time of rising unemployment and economic recession. About 900 contractors at the Sellafield nuclear processing plant in northern England walked off the job, joining more than 1,000 others in the fuel and energy industries who have carried out impromptu strikes over foreign labor in recent days.

Guardian - Burned-out cars, masked youths, smashed shop windows and more than a million striking workers. The scenes from France are familiar, but not so familiar to President Nicolas Sarkozy, confronting the first big wave of industrial unrest of his time in the Elysee Palace. . . The latest jobless figures were to have been released yesterday, but were held back, apparently for fear of inflaming the protests."

Times, UK - Wildcat strikes flared at more than 19 sites across [Britain] in response to claims that British tradesmen were being barred from construction jobs by contractors using cheaper foreign workers."

Daily Mail, UK - Russia was rocked by some of its strongest protests yet as thousands rallied across the vast country to attack the Kremlin's response to the global economic crisis. The marches, complete with Soviet-style red flags and banners, pose a challenge to a government which has faced little threat from the fragmented opposition and politically apathetic population during the boom years fuelled by oil. Pro-government thugs beat up some of the protesters. . . About 2,500 people marched across the far eastern port of Vladivostok to denounce the Cabinet's decision to increase car import tariffs, shouting slogans urging Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to resign. . . . Meanwhile in Moscow arrests were made as about 1,000 diehard Communists rallied in a central square hemmed in by heavy police cordons.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Dave Lindorff: The Ugly Truth

The American Economy Is Not Coming Back

Via Counterpunch:

President Barack Obama and his economic team are being careful to couch all their talk about economic stimulus programs and bank bailout programs in warnings that the economic downturn is serious and that it will take considerable time to bounce back.

I’m reminded of an experience I had with Chinese medicine when I was living in Shanghai back in 1992. I had come down with a nasty case of the flu while teaching journalism at Fudan University on a Fulbright Scholar program. A Chinese colleague suggested I go to the university clinic. When I told him there wasn’t much point since doctors couldn’t do much for the flu besides recommend fluids and bed rest, he said, “That’s Western doctors. You could go to the Chinese medicine doctors at the clinic. They can help you.” I figured, what the hell, and we went. The doctor inquired into the lurid details of my illness—how my bowel movements looked, the color of the mucus in my nose, etc. He didn’t really examine me physically. Then he prescribed an incredible number of pills and teas and sent me home with a huge bag of stuff, and instructions on the regimen for taking them through the course of each day. I followed the directions dutifully, and my colleague came by each day to check on my progress. By the fifth day, when I was still running a fever and feeling terrible, I told him I didn’t think the Chinese medicine was working. He replied confidently, “Chinese medicine takes a long time to work.”

I laughed at this. “Sure,” I said. “But the flu only lasts a week or so, and now, when I get better, you’ll say it was the Chinese medicine, right?”

He smiled and agreed. “Yes. You are right.”

Obviously the Obama administration recognizes that it needs to keep the finger of blame for the current economic collapse squarely pointed at the Bush administration, which is certainly fair in large part (though the Clinton deregulation of the banking industry played a major part in the financial crisis and its enthusiastic promotion of globalization began the massive shift of jobs overseas that has left the nation’s productive capacity hollowed out). But it also seems to recognize that it cannot tell the bitter truth, which is that our national economy will never “bounce back” to where it was in 2007.

America, and individual Americans, have been living profligately for years in an unreal economy, propped up by easy credit which inflated the value of real estate to incredible levels, and which led people to spend way beyond their means. Ordinary middle-class working people have been encouraged to buy obscenely oversized homes at 5% down, or even no down payment. They have been lured into buying cars the size of trucks, one for each driving-aged member of the family (in our town, so many high school kids drive to school that the school ran out of parking spaces and the yellow school buses, largely empty on their runs, are referred to by the students as the “shame train,” an embarrassment to be seen riding). They’ve installed individual back-yard swimming pools, unwilling to share the water with their neighbors in community pools. Boring faux ethnic restaurant franchises of all kinds have befouled the landscape, filling up with families too stressed out to cook, and willing to endure over-salted, over-priced and tasteless cuisine and tacky plastic décor night after night.

Now this is all crashing down. Property values are in free-fall. Car sales have fallen off a cliff. Joblessness is soaring (At present, it’s approaching an official rate of 8%, but if the methodology used in 1980, before the Reagan administration changed it to hide the depth of that era’s deep recession, were applied, it would be 17% today, or one in seven workers).

Eventually, the economic slide will hit bottom and begin its slow climb back, as all recessions do, but there will be no return to the days of $500,000 McMansion developments, three-car garages and a new car every two or three years for both parents plus a car for each highschooler. Not only will banks no longer be able to offer such credit to clients. People, having been burned, will not be willing to borrow so much. Company health care benefits, pension programs or 401(k) matching programs that were slashed during this downturn will not be restored when the economy picks up again.

Over the last 20 years, America has degenerated into a nation of consumers, with 72 percent of Gross Domestic Product (sic) now being accounted for by consumer spending—most of it going for things that are produced overseas and shipped here.

That is not an economic model that is sustainable, and it is a model that has just suffered what is certainly a mortal blow.

What we are now seeing is the beginning of an inevitable downward adjustment in American living standards to conform with our actual place in the world. As a nation of consumers, and not producers, with little to offer to the rest of the world except raw materials, food crops, military hardware and bad films (none of which industries employ many people), we are headed to a recovery that will not feel like a recovery at all. Eventually, productive capacity will be restored, as lowered US wages make it again profitable for some things to be made here at home again, but like people in the 1930s looking back at the Roaring 20s of yore, we are going to look back at the last two decades as some kind of dream.

It would be better if the new administration would be honest about this, because with honesty, we could have a recovery program that would actually address the real critical issues facing the country—the decline of our educational system, the irrationality of official promotion of home ownership that has led to the proliferation not just of suburbs but of exurbs, the over-reliance on the automobile for transportation, the unprecedented waste of resources, the pillaging of the environment, not to mention the decimation of the retirement system and the creation of a vast medical-industrial complex that is sucking the life-blood out of families and businesses alike.

With honesty, we could also confront the other big obstacle to national recovery—the nation’s obsession with militarism and foreign wars. The honest truth is that the US is technically bankrupt and in a state of chronic decline, and yet the nation persists in spending a trillion dollars a year on war and preparations for war, as though America were in mortal danger from foreign enemies.

The truth is that we are not threatened by Communism, by drug lords, or by Muslim Jihadists in any serious way. Rather, we have become our own worst enemy.

The administration could start by telling us all this straight up, but the problem is, most of us probably don’t want to hear it, which explains why we’re not hearing it. It also explains why we’re about to blow another trillion or so dollars on propping up failing banks, funding pointless highway and bridge construction, and blowing up illiterate peasants in remote places like Afghanistan and Pakistan.

DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback edition). Lindorff spent five years reporting on China and Hong Kong for Business Week magazine. His current work is available at