"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘U.S. Economy’

No End In Sight: California Boils In Worst Ever 400 Year Drought; Water Shortages Intensify; U.S. Food Supply Threatened

In Uncategorized on February 7, 2014 at 6:24 pm

California-Drought-2013

Oldspeak: “The worst drought in the history of the state of California is happening right now.  And considering the fact that the rest of the nation is extremely dependent on produce grown in California and cattle raised in the western half of the U.S., this should be of great concern to all of us… California Governor Jerry Brown has just declared a water emergency, and reservoirs throughout the state have dropped to dangerously low levels. Unless a miracle happens, there is simply not going to be enough water to go around for the entire agriculture industry… The reason why the agriculture industry in California is so important is because it literally feeds the rest of the nation…. And it isn’t just the U.S. that is dealing with this kind of drought.  The largest freshwater lake in China that was once about twice the size of London, England has almost entirely dried up because of the ongoing drought over there…. Meanwhile, global demand for food just continues to rise… If this drought ends and the western half of the nation starts getting lots of rain, this could just be a temporary crisis…. However, the truth is that scientific research has shown that the 20th century was the wettest century in the western half of the country in 1000 years, and that we should expect things to return to “normal” at some point.-Michael Snyder

“It should be obvious that our civilization is a planetary wide progress trap. We extract ever more toxic and non-renewable energy, which requires that we use and poison ever more of our most precious, rapidly dwindling and irreplaceable resource water, the burning of that energy has heated and altered the planet to pre-human conditions, and the climate will at some point we don’t know change to be uninhabitable for most life on earth. The U.S. food supply is under acute threat, so much so, the U.S. Agriculture secretary had to come out and say “When you take a look at the intensity of the storms that we have seen recently and the frequency of them, the length of drought, combined with these snowstorms and the sub-zero weather that we’ve experienced, the combination of all those factors convinces me that the climate is changing. And it’s going to have its impact, and will have its impact and is having its impact on agriculture and forestry.” The western U.S. and other regions around the world have entered an era of mega-drought. Our actions are accelerating the destruction of the resources we need to survive. We need to start preparing to do with less. Less food, less water, less arable land, less breathable air. The age of abundance is coming to a close.” -OSJ

By Michael Snyder @ The Economic Collapse:

If the extreme drought in the western half of the country keeps going, the food supply problems that we are experiencing right now are only going to be the tip of the iceberg.  As you will see below, the size of the U.S. cattle herd has dropped to a 61 year low, and organic food shortages are being reported all over the nation.  Surprisingly cold weather and increasing demand for organic food have both been a factor, but the biggest threat to the U.S. food supply is the extraordinary drought which has had a relentless grip on the western half of the country.  If you check out the U.S. Drought Monitor, you can see that drought conditions currently stretch from California all the way to the heart of Texas.  In fact, the worst drought in the history of the state of California is happening right now.  And considering the fact that the rest of the nation is extremely dependent on produce grown in California and cattle raised in the western half of the U.S., this should be of great concern to all of us.

A local Fox News report that was featured on the Drudge Report entitled “Organic food shortage hits US” has gotten quite a bit of attention. The following is an excerpt from that article…

Since Christmas, cucumbers supplies from Florida have almost ground to a halt and the Mexican supply is coming but it’s just not ready yet.

And as the basic theory of economics goes, less supply drives up prices.

Take organic berries for example:

There was a strawberry shortage a couple weeks back and prices spiked.

Experts say the primary reasons for the shortages are weather and demand.

And without a doubt, demand for organic food has grown sharply in recent years.  More Americans than ever have become aware of how the modern American diet is slowly killing all of us, and they are seeking out alternatives.

Due to the tightness in supply and the increasing demand, prices for organic produce just continue to go up.  Just consider the following example

A quick check on the organic tree fruit market shows that the average price per carton for organic apples was $38 per carton in mid-January this year, up from an average of just $31 per carton last year at the same time. At least for apple marketers, the organic market is heating up.

Personally, I went to a local supermarket the other day and I started to reach for a package of organic strawberries but I stopped when I saw that they were priced at $6.99.  I couldn’t justify paying 7 bucks for one package.  I still remember getting them on sale for $2.99 last year.

Unfortunately, this may only be just the beginning of the price increases.  California Governor Jerry Brown has just declared a water emergency, and reservoirs throughout the state have dropped to dangerously low levels.

Unless a miracle happens, there is simply not going to be enough water to go around for the entire agriculture industry.  The following is an excerpt from an email from an industry insider that researcher Ray Gano recently shared on his website

Harris farms has released a statement saying they will leave about 40,000 acres fallow this year because the FEDS have decided to only deliver 10% of the water allocation for 2014. Lettuce is predicted to reach around $5.00 a head (if you can find it). Understand the farmers in the Salinas valley are considering the same action. So much for salad this summer unless you grow it yourself.

The reason why the agriculture industry in California is so important is because it literally feeds the rest of the nation.  I shared the following statistics yesterday, but they are so critical that they bear repeating.  As you can see, without the fruits and vegetables that California grows, we would be in for a world of hurt

The state produces 99 percent of the artichokes grown in the US, 44 percent of asparagus, a fifth of cabbage, two-thirds of carrots, half of bell peppers, 89 percent of cauliflower, 94 percent of broccoli, and 95 percent of celery. Leafy greens? California’s got the market cornered: 90 percent of the leaf lettuce we consume, along with and 83 percent of Romaine lettuce and 83 percent of fresh spinach, come from the big state on the left side of the map. Cali also cranks a third of total fresh tomatoes consumed in the U.S.—and 95 percent of ones destined for cans and other processing purposes.

As for fruit, I get that 86 percent of lemons and a quarter of oranges come from there; its sunny climate makes it perfect for citrus, and lemons store relatively well. Ninety percent of avocados? Fine. But 84 percent of peaches, 88 percent of fresh strawberries, and 97 percent of fresh plums?

Come on. Surely the other 49 states can do better.

Are you starting to understand how much trouble we could be in if this drought does not end?

About now I can hear some people out there saying that they will just eat meat because they don’t like vegetables anyway.

Well, unfortunately we are rapidly approaching a beef shortage as well.

On January 1st, the U.S. cattle herd hit a 61-year low of 89.3 million head of cattle.

The biggest reason for this is the 5 year drought that has absolutely crippled the cattle industry out west…

Back in the late fall 2013 there was a freak snowstorm that killed close to 300,000+ cattle. This is a major hit to the cattle market.

I know in Texas where they still have a 5 year drought they are dealing with, they are having to ship grass bails in from Colorado, Utah and other parts of the country just to feed the cattle. Ranchers are sending their female cattle to the slaughter houses becasue they can not afford to feed them anymore. It is the females that help re-stock the herd. SO if you are slaughtering your females, your herd does not grow. It is expected that the US will not see cattle herd growth returning until 2017, maybe even later.

This is a problem which is not going away any time soon.

According to the Washington Post, the U.S. cattle herd has gotten smaller for six years in a row, and the amount of beef produced is expected to drop to a 20 year low in 2014…

The U.S. cattle herd contracted for six straight years to the smallest since 1952, government data show. A record drought in 2011 destroyed pastures in Texas, the top producing state, followed the next year by a surge in feed-grain prices during the worst Midwest dry spell since the 1930s. Fewer cattle will mean production in the $85 billion beef industry drops to a 20- year low in 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.

It would be hard to overstate how devastating this ongoing drought has been for many ranchers out west.  For example, one 64-year-old rancher who lives in Texas says that his herd is 90 percent smaller than it was back in 2005 because of the drought

Texas rancher Looney, who is 64 and has been in the cattle business his whole life, said his herd is still about 90 percent below its size from 2005 because of the prolonged dry weather. It will take years for the pastures to come back, even if there is normal rainfall, he said. About 44 percent of Texas was in still in drought in the week ended Jan. 7, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

And it isn’t just the U.S. that is dealing with this kind of drought.  The largest freshwater lake in China that was once about twice the size of London, England has almost entirely dried up because of the ongoing drought over there.

Meanwhile, global demand for food just continues to rise.

If this drought ends and the western half of the nation starts getting lots of rain, this could just be a temporary crisis.

However, the truth is that scientific research has shown that the 20th century was the wettest century in the western half of the country in 1000 years, and that we should expect things to return to “normal” at some point.

So is that happening now?

Over the past couple of years, I have warned that Dust Bowl conditions are starting to return to the western half of the United States.  Just see this article, this article and this article.

Now the state of California is experiencing the worst drought that it has ever gone through and “apocalyptic” dust storms are being reported in Colorado and Nevada.

Just because things seem like they have always been a certain way does not mean that they will always stay that way.

Things out west are rapidly changing, and in the end it is going to affect the lives of every man, woman and child in the United States.

Betray Your Bank Before Your Bank Betrays You

In Uncategorized on April 1, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Oldspeak: “It seems a lot of customers were oblivious to the banks’ deteriorating health, or were confident they would be cared for by somebody else.” -Jonathan WeilHmmm… Sounds familiar. With U.S. megabanks engaging in the same rampant illegality, fraud, & reckless bad bets that triggered the last global economic collapse and holding more derivatives (the same toxic synthetic derivatives that crashed the global economic system last time) than that the entire global GDP, it’s not a matter of if your bank will betray you, but when. Yet, most, are oblivious.  Since the 2008, the United States economy has been like a ticking time bomb with the unregulated activities of the banks the fuse that is slowly burning. The U.S. banking system is basically insolvent.  The U.S. treasury is printing billions upon billions in increasingly devalued funny money while the Fed (a privately owned bank controlled by U.S. megabanks) is buying billions in toxic assets and securities from the insolvent megabanks to keep them in business and give the appearance of solvency. The accrued power of these giant criminal enterprises is threatening the globe again. The theft of depositors money in Cyprus is the tip of the iceberg. This will be replicated in other countries, including the U.S. and U.K.   Don’t remain oblivious to your banks deteriorating health. You would be wise to move your money to a locally oriented bank or credit union. Before it is confiscated to enrich well-appointed thieves.

Move Your Money Project

By Johnathan Weil @ Bloomberg News:

What’s a Slovenian with several hundred thousand euros in the bank supposed to do? Spread it out among at least a few different banks, that’s what. Or move the money out of the country, while it’s still possible.

Imagine what must be on the minds of any savvy depositors still left at Nova Kreditna Banka Maribor d.d., now 79 percent- owned by Slovenia’s government. It was one of only four lenders in October that failed the European Banking Authority’s latest capital-adequacy test, a ritual best known for how lax its standards are. One that flunked was Bank of Cyprus Pcl, where uninsured depositors face 40 percent losses as part of the country’s bailout terms. Another was Cyprus Popular Bank Pcl, also known as Laiki Bank, where uninsured deposits will fare far worse and the bank is being shut.

Cypriot banks’ customers were complacent after uninsured deposits went unscathed in Ireland, Greece, Spain and Portugal, the first euro-area countries to seek international rescues. Slovenians won’t have that excuse should their country be next.

The former Yugoslav republic needs about 3 billion euros ($3.8 billion) of funding this year, while its struggling banks need 1 billion euros of fresh capital, the International Monetary Fund said last week. Slovenia’s central bank this week urged the country’s new government to quickly carry out a plan to recapitalize ailing lenders. It’s a familiar pattern.

Oblivious Customers

The Central Bank of Cyprus warned months ago that the country’s banks needed an infusion of 10 billion euros — which is more than half the size of the nation’s economy — largely because of heavy losses on Greek sovereign debt held by Laiki and Bank of Cyprus. It seems a lot of customers were oblivious to the banks’ deteriorating health, or were confident they would be cared for by somebody else. The country is getting a 10 billion-euro bailout, nine months after it first asked for aid, except none of the money will go to the banks.

Suddenly it should be dawning on a lot of Europeans that deposit-guarantee limits matter. In Slovenia, the maximum is 100,000 euros per depositor, the same as in Cyprus. (Deposit- insurance programs vary among the 17 countries that use the euro.) For a few days last week, it looked as if customers at Laiki and Bank of Cyprus would lose even some of their insured deposits, which would have been a sacrilege.

That plan was scrapped, but could resurface elsewhere for all we know should some genius at the German Finance Ministry insist upon it. The one constant among bailouts of euro-area countries is that there is no rhyme or reason, much less fairness, in the way many details get worked out.

Cypriots may bemoan the inequities of their rough treatment, as might a bunch of wealthy Russians who mistook the island for a reliable financial center and failed to yank their money when they could. For the rest of Europe, the implications should be obvious. Anyone who leaves uninsured deposits in a euro-area bank is on notice that their money can and will be taken from them, if that is what’s demanded by the troika of the IMF, the European Commission and the European Central Bank.

Uninsured deposits aren’t riskless. Nor should they be. Still, it’s unclear why the euro area’s central planners sought to create a precedent that encourages capital flight from weak countries. This could lead to more instability, not less.

So far, there have been no signs of a mass exodus in countries such as Italy or Spain. But deposit migrations can happen slowly, with lots of time passing before they appear in official statistics. Or maybe little will change and most bank customers will go on believing “it can’t happen here,” until one day it does.

Restoring Normalcy

Much good might come from restoring some semblance of normalcy to the hierarchy of creditors in banking. Even better would be to see Germany try it for a change with its own zombie lenders, such as Commerzbank AG (CBK), which is still partly government-owned after its bailout in 2009.

The way it’s supposed to work at failing banks is that shareholders get wiped out first. Next the losses go up the ladder from junior debt holders to senior bondholders, and then all the way to uninsured depositors, if need be. Taxpayers and insured depositors shouldn’t have to absorb others’ losses or put money at risk to spare them. Troubled banks should have to fend for themselves.

This was the approach imposed on Cyprus. In ordinary circumstances, it would be considered fair. The best argument for why it wasn’t is that Cyprus had been lulled into believing it would be treated just as well as Europe’s other bailout recipients. The entire country got hooked on moral hazard.

Now Cyprus may be the template for the future, regardless of European governments’ recent statements to the contrary. If a bankrupt euro-area country can’t afford to recapitalize its own insolvent banks, it will have to “bail in” their owners and creditors first as a condition of receiving outside aid. Or at least that’s what Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said this week in an outburst of candor, before later retracting the statement after it triggered declines in European markets.

Wealthy depositors in Spain, Italy, Greece and elsewhere should assume he was speaking the truth the first time and take measures to protect their money, rather than trusting governments to do it for them.

(Jonathan Weil is a Bloomberg View columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer of this article: Jonathan Weil in New York at jweil6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this article: James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.net

With Liberty & Justice for 1%: America’s Three-Tiered Justice System

In Uncategorized on March 26, 2013 at 7:08 pm

Attorney General Eric Holder speaks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, June 19, 2012. On March 6, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Holder indicated that some banks may be too big to prosecute. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst / The New York Times) Oldspeak: “Big shots are above the law, the government now admits, but a three-tiered justice system has Congress churning out new bills to keep the prison industry booming. Our Congress, acting as an agent of Corporate America, is working assiduously to issue ever more novel and oppressive laws so as to keep the machinery of law enforcement operating.”- Mike Lofgren It’s no secret that inequality in the U.S. is at an all time high, surpassing the madness seen during the great depression. The top 1 percent of households by income captured 121 percent of all income gains between 2009 and 2011. This inequality concurrently permeates most every other system in our society. Education, employment, energy, social, environment, food production. And the justice system is no different.  We are living in a time where there are people for which “there is neither law nor redress. Where international treaties may apply, such as the Geneva Convention or treaties against torture, they are assumed not to exist for purposes of official US government conduct.” Where people disappear, indefinitely, based on secret charges made in secret courts. Where where Americans can be targeted for “disposition”, based on the judgment of one man. Where citizens can be constantly watched. All while the rich rape, pillage murder, and control. Above the law, free of empathy or conscience, with no fear of punishment. This status quo cannot continue to be so.

By Mike Lofgren @ Truthout:

Equal Justice under Law,” is the motto inscribed on the frieze of the United States Supreme Court building.

Sticklers for semantics say that the modifiers “equal” and “under law” in the Supreme Court’s motto are redundant, because justice by definition is equal treatment under a system of written and publicly accessible rules. Whether that is the case is precisely what is at issue in America today.

Tier I: The Great and the Good

Events since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 have provided plenty of fodder for the belief that there is one law for the rich and another for the common clay. Practical as opposed to explicit inequality before the law is common in societies all over the world; it usually boils down to how legal procedures are applied as opposed to what the letter of the law is on the statute books. Officials who are pledged to uphold the law will invariably protest that they are neutral and unimpeachable executors of justice and that it is unthinkable to suggest they are administering a rigged system. Honi soit qui mal y pense! (“Shamed be he who thinks evil of it.”) is their usual indignant attitude when the rabble becomes pushy.

It is unclear if there was a rare outbreak of candor among officials in Washington during the past two weeks, or whether they simply calculated that the system has so completely slipped from public control that it doesn’t matter if forbidden truths are spoken. On March 6, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Eric Holder stated the following: “I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy.” Yes, well, that could explain it. When the banks hold a gun to the head of the economy, it is no longer the relationship between regulator and regulated, but a hostage relationship. A relationship made even more complex, no doubt, by the fact that the hostage-taker is also the principal corporate funder of the bosses of the putative hostage negotiators.

Apparently none of his senatorial interrogators had the wit to ask the following of the attorney general: Why would criminally prosecuting a handful of senior executives at a financial institution be more economically damaging than levying a civil fine? HSBC’s $1.9-billion settlement with the Justice Department for money-laundering is almost derisory in view of its $21.9 billion in global profits during the past year, but if anyone is going to suffer from that small subtraction from the bank’s revenues, it is likely to be shareholders and depositors who had nothing to do with the crime rather than the management who committed it. And even in an extreme situation, where most or all of a bank’s management were criminally involved, the government could seize the bank and operate it as a conservator in the manner of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Innocent stakeholders would be protected, thus nullifying Holder’s fear-mongering about endangering the world economy.

Thus it requires only a moment’s thought to conclude that it is not the size, complexity or fragility of the financial system that stays the hand of criminal prosecution, but the status of the persons within those institutions. Apparently, robbing a bank is a criminal activity depending which side of the teller’s window you are on and whether you are upper management or a $12-an-hour cashier. The Senate has given no indication of being overly concerned: After a perfunctory hearing, the Banking Committee favorably reported the Wall Street-connected Mary Jo White to the full Senate for confirmation as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The dead giveaway that the fix was in was the fact that committee Republicans, who ordinarily obstruct nominees purely out of habit, did not raise a peep of objection. White, like Holder, is not a fan of prosecuting the executives of big banks.

Tier II: The Great Unwashed

Perhaps the big shots are above the law. This does not mean, however, that the mighty wheel of justice does not turn in this country. Somebody must be getting prosecuted, given that the United States has more incarcerated people in its jurisdiction than any other country, including China, which has four times our population. The incarceration rate is no accident: The vast accretion of harsh punishments for essentially victimless crimes like drug possession, mandatory minimum sentences and “three strikes” provisions in many state laws virtually guarantee the highest rate of imprisonment since the days of Stalin’s gulags.

Our Congress, acting as an agent of Corporate America, is working assiduously to issue ever more novel and oppressive laws so as to keep the machinery of law enforcement operating. Even the right of possession and free use of an article legally obtained by legitimate purchase, a right celebrated by libertarian economists, can be nullified when corporations deem it necessary to extract rents. Pursuant to the Millennium Digital Copyright Act, it is now illegal to alter a cell phone that you bought and paid for if you are dissatisfied with the service provider that the phone manufacturer has an exclusive agreement with. How illegal? – a $500,000 fine and five years in prison (double for repeat offenders). Apparently citizens no longer have a freehold in this country; they are instead serfs dwelling on a feudal demesne at the sufferance of their corporate landlords.

State legislatures have kept up with Congress in this endeavor. One might think the exposure of animal cruelty and unsanitary conditions in the corporatized farming and food processing industries would cause lawmakers to be indignant against the perpetrators and desirous of protecting the safety of the food supply. But no, state legislatures have directed their fury against the citizen-activists who exposed the wrongdoing by levying heavy penalties against surreptitious photographing of the outrages.

With draconian sentences looming over defendants, it is no wonder that most criminal processes end in plea bargains rather than jury trials: Even an accused person believing himself innocent may plead guilty to lesser charges (charges that still land him in prison, albeit for a shorter term) rather than face either bankrupting legal fees or suffer an incompetent appointed counsel and the possibility of a sentence lasting decades.

Incompetent or not, even the constitutional right of counsel is not always provided, as the attorney general himself has admitted. The big banks, with their extensive in-house legal departments and endless reserves of cash, have no such worries. Their attorneys are skillful enough, and have sufficient resources, to file change-of-venue motions so as to escape the wrath either of unfriendly judges or – one of the worst engines of injustice since the Inquisition – demagogic district attorneys itching for higher office and lusting for juries to inflame. As a practical matter, ordinary citizens have no such protection.

Some officials have conceded the infeasibility of locking up more and more people, perhaps less because of the ethical issues involved than because of the fiscal drain attendant with incarcerating so many bodies. Traditionally a function of the state, prisons represent a large input of taxpayer dollars whose only output, other than license plates, is a social sense of safety and security (an intangible and hard-to-prove value). But Corporate America has come up with an answer to that as well: the private prison industry. In addition to promising security, the growing private prison lobby can offer a much more tangible benefit to politicians: campaign donations. We can be sure that consultants for this industry will invent more and more ingenious felony statutes for state legislatures to pass into law so as to keep their prisons full and profits flowing, as we have already seen happen in Arizona.

Tier III: The Untouchables

Thus far we have dealt with the law: law that is perhaps hatched with malign intent, corruptly enforced and unequally applied, but at any rate law that exists openly in the US Code or the state statutes. But justice for foreigners and discrete categories of American citizens enters the realm of the Wild West, where there is neither law nor redress. Where international treaties may apply, such as the Geneva Convention or treaties against torture, they are assumed not to exist for purposes of official US government conduct.

Should the plaintiff, a group like Amnesty International, say, argue on behalf of injured parties before a United State court, the plaintiff lacks standing because he is not an injured party. Should the injured party himself seek redress, he lacks standing because of his status at the time of the alleged crime. Should all else fail, and the court needs to avail itself of some excuse not to hear the case, it employs the state secrets privilege, a completely fictitious, made-up doctrine deriving from an incident whereby the executive branch, in asserting that classified information would be revealed, committed perjury. There was no classified information, but the rabbinical automatons of the federal judiciary have pretended for the past 50 years that the government’s having lied about whether a fatal plane crash involved classified information must henceforth and forever be twisted into a reason why the government’s assertions about classified information must always be taken as true, definitive and legally binding.

One suspects a similar morass of dishonesty lies behind the present administration’s policy on the use of drones for the purposes of assassination. For instance, in deciding to carry out assassinations, did President Obama or his predecessor go to the trouble of revoking Executive Order 11905, Executive Order 12036, or Executive Order 12333, all of which prohibit assassinations? Or were they merely reinterpreted to mean that a ban on assassination means “not unless you really want to?” Unquestionably the latter, because someone deemed it useful to keep the old executive orders on the books as sacred artifacts one could point to as examples of how virtuous we are – much in the same manner as the Roman curia, ever rife with corruption and intrigue, is charged with regulating the veneration of holy relics.

As for when the policy is to be implemented, the administration has done its best to keep that secret. It has maintained a close hold on the alleged documents describing the policy in detail, but has purposely leaked a white paper that supposedly summarizes the policy. Here one gets a sense of ad hoc improvisation: Since John Brennan and other administration officials had already publicly stated that drone strikes were only used to disrupt “imminent” threats of attack, the white paper appears to have been engineered ex post facto to prevent the administration from being constrained by Brennan’s words. In the paper itself “imminent” is gradually redefined over the course of several paragraphs so that it no longer means a criminal action is temporally nigh, but rather inheres in the status of the individual so targeted. Thus are certain persons beneath the law: Their status assumes their intended action, so they are fair game for assassination.

The white paper qualifies this startling legal theory (which is rather similar to the Commissar Order, albeit the shooting occurs at greater distance) by helpfully stating that such operations would not be conducted if civilian casualties would be “excessive.” One supposes the definition of the term “excessive” is as elastic as that of “imminent;” in any case unofficial estimates suggest civilian casualties in the thousands, including several hundred children.

One is tempted to conclude that there really is no administration-level drone policy, let alone one constrained by law, except a sham one, which is cobbled together after the fact to construct a plausible justification whenever complaints arise. At the lower level, drone employment is constrained neither by the military code, nor the laws of war nor by any other applicable treaty. It is probably just an intelligence-driven target set applied to a checklist: Does target X-ray fit “terrorist signatures” alpha, bravo, charlie and delta? If the boxes can be checked, the government operative (or contractor) hits the switch.

None of this should be surprising. Since the Moro uprising in the Philippines, American exceptionalism as it operates abroad has been built on hecatombs of corpses. That it doesn’t bother the American public should not be surprising given the human capacity for moral compartmentalization. But lawlessness abroad cannot be walled off from domestic life: impunity for oligarchs, draconian sentences and bulging prisons for those lacking privileged status, and casual death for those beneath the law and even innocent people in the vicinity, are at bottom inevitable and inseparable once the rule of law is compromised. Apocryphal perhaps, but the following exchange describes the present American dilemma:

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

Mike Lofgren

Mike Lofgren retired on June 17 after 28 years as a Congressional staffer. He served 16 years as a professional staff member on the Republican side of both the House and Senate Budget Committees.

 

State Of The Union 2013: Obama & The Illusory State Of The Empire

In Uncategorized on February 14, 2013 at 10:51 am

Oldspeak:”Yet another brilliantly masterful oratory performance by President Obama. Rousing applause and tear-jerking gold. I found it deeply disturbing that the president spoke at length about cuts to social programs like  medicare and “entitlement reform” a.k.a. cuts to social security, but rather quickly and matter of factly, asserted that cuts to our military “would jeopardize our military readiness”. This after saying a few short months ago he would veto any efforts to get rid of automatic spending cuts. This with the knowledge that America outspends the next 20 nations COMBINED for “Defense”. Knowing all too well that 56 cents of every dollar in U.S. government discretionary spending goes to The Pentagon, NOT Medicare. Presiding over an America, the supposed bastion of liberty and freedom, that sees the world as a giant military outpost, with over 1,000 military installations dotting the globe, eclipsing the 37 citadels and fortresses mighty Roman Empire occupied in its reign of  “global domination”. He crowed about his “No Child Left Behind”- ERR… I mean “Race To The Top” Public Education privatization scam. He continued to voice his support for expansion of  environment killing oil and “natural” gas fracking, and called for “market-based solution to climate change” a.k.a. “Cap and Trade”,  a monetized, non-environment based response to the destruction of our environment. This even though real world applications of this “solution”  actually make climate change WORSE, while  it furthur divests the people from the land, placing more resources under the control of corporations. The President  flat-out lied about the legality and transparency of his unconstitutional CIA/JSOC drone/SpecOps assassination program. “President Obama has given his counterterrorism adviser, (his “assassination czar” nominee & probable future head of the CIA) John Brennan, carte blanche to run operations in North Africa and the Middle East, provided he didn’t do anything that ended up becoming an exposé in The New York Times and embarrassing the administration“. -Michael Zennie. A dizzying array of  highly compartmentalized, “off the books”, “outside the traditional command structure” direct actions with ZERO TRANSPARENCY, were/are carried out in secret wars Africa & the Middle East. The Benghazi attack was retaliation for one of these secret “direct actions” that the CIA director and Libyan Ambassador knew nothing about.  Thousands of Muslim men women and children are already dead as a result of covert/proxy wars. Including three Americans, one an innocent 16-year-old boy, summarily executed without charge, due process, or congressional oversight.  What could be more embarrassing than that? Yet, it’s viewed as “justice” and continues unabated and unaccountable. There is no acceptable legal justification of this. When Americans are subject to summary execution by the President, moral, justice and law based democracy dies. This coming from a former constitutional law professor. Knowing this, one has to wonder as  the author of this article  asks: “Does the US remain a global imperial power? Or are the Pentagon’s – and the shadow CIA’s – armies nothing more than mercenaries of a global neoliberal system the US still entertains the illusion of controlling?” -Pepe Escobar  “Ignorance Is Strength”.

By Pepe Escobar @ Asia Times:

Barack Obama would never be so crass as to use a State of the Union (SOTU) address to announce an “axis of evil”.

No. Double O Bama, equipped with his exclusive license to kill (list), is way slicker. As much as he self-confidently pitched a blueprint for a “smart” – not bigger – US government, he kept his foreign policy cards very close to his chest.

Few eyebrows were raised on the promise that “by the end of next year our war in Afghanistan will be over”; it won’t be, of course, because Washington will fight to the finish to keep sizeable counterinsurgency boots on the ground – ostensibly to fight, in Obama’s words, those evil “remnants of al-Qaeda”.

Obama promised to “help” Libya, Yemen and Somalia, not to mention Mali. He promised to “engage” Russia. He promised to seduce Asia with the Trans-Pacific Partnership – essentially a collection of corporate-friendly free-trade agreements. On the Middle East, he promised to “stand” with those who want freedom; that presumably does not include people from Bahrain.

As this was Capitol Hill, he could not help but include the token “preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons”; putting more “pressure” on Syria – whose “regime kills its own people”; and to remain “steadfast” with Israel.

North Korea was mentioned. Always knowing what to expect from the horse’s mouth, the foreign ministry in Pyongyang even issued a preemptive attack, stressing that this week’s nuclear test was just a “first response” to US threats; “second and third measures of greater intensity” would be unleashed if Washington continued to be hostile.

Obama didn’t even bother to answer criticism of his shadow wars, the Drone Empire and the legal justification for unleashing target practice on US citizens; he mentioned, in passing, that all these operations would be conducted in a “transparent” way. Is that all there is? Oh no, there’s way more.

Double O’s game
Since 9/11, Washington’s strategy during the George W Bush years – penned by the neo-cons – read like a modified return to land war. But then, after the Iraq quagmire, came a late strategic adjustment, which could be defined as the Petraeus vs Rumsfeld match. The Petraeus “victory” myth, based on his Mesopotamian surge, in fact provided Obama with an opening for leaving Iraq with the illusion of a relative success (a myth comprehensively bought and sold by US corporate media).

Then came the Lisbon summit in late 2010, which was set up to turn the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) into a clone of the UN Security Council in a purely Western format, capable of deploying autonomous military interventions – preemption included – all over the world. This was nothing less than classic Bush-Obama continuum.

NATO’s Lisbon summit seemed to have enthroned a Neoliberal Paradise vision of the complex relations between war and the economy; between the military and police operations; and between perennial military hardware upgrading and the political design of preemptive global intervention. Everything, once again, under Obama’s supervision.

The war in Afghanistan, for its part, was quite useful to promote NATO as much as NATO was useful to promote the war in Afghanistan – even if NATO did not succeed in becoming the Security Council of the global American Empire, always bent on dominating, or circumventing, the UN.

Whatever mission NATO is involved in, command and control is always Washington’s. Only the Pentagon is able to come up with the logistics for a transcontinental, global military operation. Libya 2011 is another prime example. At the start, the French and the Brits were coordinating with the Americans. But then Stuttgart-based AFRICOM took over the command and control of Libyan skies. Everything NATO did afterwards in Libya, the virtual commander in chief was Barack Obama.

So Obama owns Libya. As much as Obama owns the Benghazi blowback in Libya.

Libya seemed to announce the arrival of NATO as a coalition assembly line on a global scale, capable of organizing wars all across the world by creating the appearance of a political and military consensus, unified by an all-American doctrine of global order pompously titled “NATO’s strategic concept”.

Libya may have been “won” by the NATO-AFRICOM combo. But then came the Syria red line, duly imposed by Russia and China. And in Mali – which is blowback from Libya – NATO is not even part of the picture; the French may believe they will secure all the gold and uranium they need in the Sahel – but it’s AFRICOM who stands to benefit in the long term, boosting its military surge against Chinese interests in Africa.

What is certain is that throughout this convoluted process Obama has been totally embedded in the logic of what sterling French geopolitical analyst Alain Joxe described as “war neoliberalism”, inherited from the Bush years; one may see it as a champagne definition of the Pentagon’s long, or infinite, war.

Double O’s legacy
Obama’s legacy may be in the process of being forged. We might call it Shadow War Forever – coupled with the noxious permanence of Guantanamo. The Pentagon for its part will never abandon its “full spectrum” dream of military hegemony, ideally controlling the future of the world in all those shades of grey zones between Russia and China, the lands of Islam and India, and Africa and Asia.

Were lessons learned? Of course not. Double O Bama may have hardly read Nick Turse’s exceptional book Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, where he painstakingly documents how the Pentagon produced “a veritable system of suffering”. Similar analysis of the long war on Iraq might only be published by 2040.

Obama can afford to be self-confident because the Drone Empire is safe. [1] Most Americans seem to absent-mindedly endorse it – as long as “the terrorists” are alien, not US citizens. And in the minor netherworlds of the global war on terror (GWOT), myriad profiteers gleefully dwell.

A former Navy SEAL and a former Green Beret have published a book this week, Benghazi: the Definitive Report, where they actually admit Benghazi was blowback for the shadow war conducted by John Brennan, later rewarded by Obama as the new head of the CIA.

The book claims that Petraeus was done in by an internal CIA coup, with senior officers forcing the FBI to launch an investigation of his affair with foxy biographer Paula Broadwell. The motive: these CIA insiders were furious because Petraeus turned the agency into a paramilitary force. Yet that’s exactly what Brennan will keep on doing: Drone Empire, shadow wars, kill list, it’s all there. Petraeus-Brennan is also classic continuum.

Then there’s Esquire milking for all it’s worth the story of an anonymous former SEAL Team 6 member, the man who shot Geronimo, aka Osama bin Laden. [2] This is familiar territory, the hagiography of a Great American Killer, whose “three shots changed history”, now abandoned by a couldn’t-care-less government machinery but certainly not by those who can get profitable kicks from his saga way beyond the technically proficient torture-enabling flick – and Oscar contender – Zero Dark Thirty.

Meanwhile, this is what’s happening in the real world. China has surpassed the US and is now the biggest trading nation in the world – and counting. [3] This is just the first step towards the establishment of the yuan as a globally traded currency; then will come the yuan as the new global reserve currency, connected to the end of the primacy of the petrodollar… Well, we all know the drill.

So that would lead us to reflect on the real political role of the US in the Obama era. Defeated (by Iraqi nationalism) – and in retreat – in Iraq. Defeated (by Pashtun nationalism) – and in retreat – in Afghanistan. Forever cozy with the medieval House of Saud – “secret” drone bases included (something that was widely known as early as July 2011). [4] “Pivoting” to the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, and pivoting to a whole bunch of African latitudes; all that to try to “contain” China.

Thus the question Obama would never dare to ask in a SOTU address (much less in a SOTE – State of the Empire – address). Does the US remain a global imperial power? Or are the Pentagon’s – and the shadow CIA’s – armies nothing more than mercenaries of a global neoliberal system the US still entertains the illusion of controlling?

Notes:
1. Poll: 45% approve of Obama’s handling of the economy, CBS News, February 12, 2013.
2. The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden… Is Screwed, Esquire, February 11, 2013.
3. China Eclipses U.S. as Biggest Trading Nation, Bloomberg News, February 10, 2013.
4. Secret drone bases mark latest shift in US attacks on al-Qaeda, The Times, July 26, 2011.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Why So Secretive? The Trans-Pacific Partnership As Global Corporate Coup

In Uncategorized on November 28, 2012 at 1:46 pm

A summit with leaders of the member states of the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPP) in November, 2010. Pictured, from left, are Naoto Kan (Japan), Nguyễn Minh Triết (Vietnam), Julia Gillard (Australia), Sebastián Piñera (Chile), Lee Hsien Loong (Singapore), Barack Obama (United States), John Key (New Zealand), Hassanal Bolkiah (Brunei), Alan García (Peru), and Muhyiddin Yassin (Malaysia). Six of these leaders represent countries that were negotiating to join the group.

Oldspeak:The agreement stipulates that foreign corporations operating in the United States would no longer be subject to domestic U.S. laws regarding protections for the environment, finance or labor rights, and could appeal to an “international tribunal” which would be given the power to overrule American law and impose sanctions on the U.S. for violating the new “rights” of corporations… The international corporate tribunal would allow corporations to overturn national laws and regulations or demand enormous sums in compensation, with the tribunal “empowered to order payment of unlimited government Treasury funds to foreign investors over TPP claims…. It contains proposals designed to give transnational corporations special rights that go far beyond those possessed by domestic businesses and American citizens… The TPP would criminalize some everyday uses of the Internet,…force service providers to collect and hand over your private data without privacy safeguards, and give media conglomerates more power to send you fines in the mail, remove online content – including entire websites – and even terminate your access to the Internet….there can be heavy fines for average citizens online….you could be fined for clicking on a link, people could be knocked off the Internet and web sites could be locked off…. A proposal that could have such broad effects on environmental, consumer safety and other public interest regulations deserves public scrutiny and debate. It shouldn’t be crafted behind closed doors.” While U.S. corporate media is dutifully focused the imaginary “Fiscal Cliff” crisis,   In secret, behind closed doors, with technocrats smiling and waving in public, the transition to a transnational corporate network dominated one world government, a la Buy & Large  is continuing. This current phase of global corporate consolidation follows the previous implementation of the Transatlantic Economic Partnership, focusing primarily again on “trade liberalization”, and  “regulatory convergence” in nearly 40 areas, including intellectual property, financial services, business takeovers and the motor industry. Here we have governments, voluntarily ceding their authority to govern and regulate their nations to multinational corporations via “international corporate tribunals”. A one world government that will govern access to EVERYTHING. All while we shop our way to collapse. This is not sustainable, for the people or the planet.  Please educate yourself about these trade agreements and resist by any means you can.  “Ignorance Is Strength”, “Freedom Is Slavery”

Related Stories:

US and EU agree ‘single market’

The Trans-Pacific Partnership: This is What Corporate Governance Looks Like

The Trans-Pacific Partnership: What “Free Trade” Actually Means

By Andrew Gavin Marshall @ Occupy.com:

he Trans-Pacific Partnership is the most secretive and “least transparent” trade negotiations in history.

Luckily for the populations and societies that will be affected by the agreement, there are public research organizations and alternative media outlets campaigning against it – and they’ve even released several leaks of draft agreement chapters. From these leaks, which are not covered by mainstream corporate-controlled news outlets, we are able to get a better understanding of what the Trans-Pacific Partnership actually encompasses.

For example, public interest groups have been warning that the TPP could result in millions of lost jobs. As a letter from Congress to United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk stated, the TPP “will create binding policies on future Congresses in numerous areas,” including “those related to labor, patent and copyright, land use, food, agriculture and product standards, natural resources, the environment, professional licensing, state-owned enterprises and government procurement policies, as well as financial, healthcare, energy, telecommunications and other service sector regulations.”

In other words, as promised, the TPP goes far beyond “trade.”

Dubbed by many as “NAFTA on steroids” and a “corporate coup,” only two of the TPP’s 26 chapters actually have anything to do with trade. Most of it grants far-reaching new rights and privileges to corporations, specifically related to intellectual property rights (copyright and patent laws), as well as constraints on government regulations.

The leaked documents revealed that the Obama administration “intends to bestow radical new political powers upon multinational corporations,” as Obama and Kirk have emerged as strong advocates “for policies that environmental activists, financial reform advocates and labor unions have long rejected for eroding key protections currently in domestic laws.”

In other words, the already ineffective and mostly toothless environmental, financial, and labor regulations that exist are unacceptable to the Obama administration and the 600 corporations aligned with the TPP who are giving him his orders.

The agreement stipulates that foreign corporations operating in the United States would no longer be subject to domestic U.S. laws regarding protections for the environment, finance or labor rights, and could appeal to an “international tribunal” which would be given the power to overrule American law and impose sanctions on the U.S. for violating the new “rights” of corporations.

The “international tribunal” that would dictate the laws of the countries would be staffed by corporate lawyers acting as “judges,” thus ensuring that cases taken before them have a “fair and balanced” hearing – fairly balanced in favor of corporate rights above anything else.

A public interest coalition known as Citizens Trade Campaign published a draft of the TPP chapter on “investment” revealing information about the “international tribunal” which would allow corporations to directly sue governments that have barriers to “potential profits.”

Arthur Stamoulis, the executive director of Citizens Trade Campaign, explained that the draft texts “clearly contain proposals designed to give transnational corporations special rights that go far beyond those possessed by domestic businesses and American citizens… A proposal that could have such broad effects on environmental, consumer safety and other public interest regulations deserves public scrutiny and debate. It shouldn’t be crafted behind closed doors.”

Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, a public interest organization, undertook an analysis of the leaked document on investment and explained that the international corporate tribunal would allow corporations to overturn national laws and regulations or demand enormous sums in compensation, with the tribunal “empowered to order payment of unlimited government Treasury funds to foreign investors over TPP claims.”

Even under NAFTA, over $350 million has been paid by NAFTA-aligned governments to corporations for “barriers” to investment “rights,” including toxic waste dumps, logging rules, as well as bans on various toxic chemicals.

Because let’s be clear: for corporations, such regulations and concerns over health, safety and environmental issues are perceived solely as “barriers” to investment and profit. Thus their “government” would sue the foreign government on behalf of the corporation, on the premise that such regulations led to potential lost profits, for which the corporation should be compensated.

The TPP allows the corporations to directly sue the government in question. All of the TPP member countries, except for Australia, have agreed to adhere to the jurisdiction of this international tribunal, an unelected, anti-democratic and corporate-staffed kangaroo-court with legal authority over at least ten nations and their populations.

Further, TPP countries have not agreed on a set of obligations for corporations to meet in relation to health, labor or environmental standards, and thus a door is opened for corporations to obtain even more rights and privileges to plunder and exploit. Where corporate rights are extended, human and democratic rights are dismantled.

One of the most important areas in which the TPP has a profound effect is in relation to intellectual property rights, or copyright and patent laws. Corporations have been strong advocates of expanding intellectual property rights, namely, their intellectual property rights.

Pharmaceutical corporations are major proponents of these rights and are likely to be among the major beneficiaries of the intellectual property chapter of the TPP. The pharmaceutical industry ensured that strong patent rules were included in the 1995 World Trade Organization agreement, but ultimately felt that those rules did not go far enough.

Dean Baker, writing in the Guardian, explained that stronger patent rules establish “a government-granted monopoly, often as long as 14 years, that prohibits generic competitors from entering a market based on another company’s test results that show a drug to be safe and effective.” Baker noted that such laws are actually “the opposite of free trade” since they “involve increased government intervention in the market” and “restrict competition and lead to higher prices for consumers.”

Essentially, what this means is that in poor countries where more people need access to life-saving drugs, and at cheaper cost, it would be impossible for companies or governments to manufacture and sell cheaper generic brands of successful drugs held by multinational corporate patents. Such an agreement would hand over a monopoly of price-controls to these corporations, allowing them to set the prices as they deem fit, thus making the drugs incredibly expensive and often inaccessible to the people who need them most.

As U.S. Congressman Henry Waxman correctly noted, “In many parts of the world, access to generic drugs means the difference between life and death.”

The TPP is expected to increase such corporate patent rights more than any other agreement in history. Generic drug manufacturers in countries like Vietnam and Malaysia would suffer. So would sales of larger generics manufacturers in the U.S., Canada, and Australia, which supply low-cost drugs to much of the world.

While the United States has given up the right to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical corporations (hence the exorbitant price for drugs purchased in the U.S.), countries like New Zealand and even Canada to a lesser extent negotiate drug prices in order to keep the costs down for consumers. The TPP will grant new negotiating privileges to corporations, allowing them to appeal decisions by governments to challenge the high cost of drugs or to go with cheap alternatives. Referring to these changes, the U.S. manager of Doctors Without Borders’ Access to Medicines Campaign stated, “Bush was better than Obama on this.”

But that’s not all the TPP threatens: Internet freedom is also a major target.

The Council of Canadians and OpenMedia, major campaigners for Internet freedom, have warned that the TPP would “criminalize some everyday uses of the Internet,” including music downloads as well as the combining of different media works. OpenMedia warned that the TPP would “force service providers to collect and hand over your private data without privacy safeguards, and give media conglomerates more power to send you fines in the mail, remove online content – including entire websites – and even terminate your access to the Internet.”

Also advanced under the TPP chapter on intellectual property rights, new laws would have to be put in place by governments to regulate Internet usage. OpenMedia further warned that, from the leaked documents on intellectual property rights, “there can be heavy fines for average citizens online,” adding: “you could be fined for clicking on a link, people could be knocked off the Internet and web sites could be locked off.”

The TPP, warned OpenMedia founder Steve Anderson, “will limit innovation and free expression.” Under the TPP, there is no distinction between commercial and non-commercial copyright infringement. Thus, users who download music for personal use would face the same penalties as those who sell pirated music for profit.

Information that is created or shared on social networking sites could have Internet users fined, have their computers seized, their Internet usage terminated, or even get them a jail sentence. The TPP imposes a “three strikes” system for copyright infringement, where three violations would result in the termination of a household’s Internet access.

So, why all the secrecy? Corporate and political decision-makers study public opinion very closely; they know how to manipulate the public based upon what the majority think and believe. When it comes to “free trade” agreements, public opinion has forced negotiators into the darkness of back-room deals and unaccountable secrecy precisely because populations are so overwhelmingly against such agreements.

An opinion poll from 2011 revealed that the American public has – just over the previous few years – moved from “broad opposition” to “overwhelming opposition” toward NAFTA-style trade deals.

A major NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll from September of 2010 revealed that “the impact of trade and outsourcing is one of the only issues on which Americans of different classes, occupations and political persuasions agree,” with 86% saying that outsourcing jobs by U.S. companies to poor countries was “a top cause of our economic woes,” with 69% thinking that “free trade agreements between the United States and other countries cost the U.S. jobs.” Only 17% of Americans in 2010 felt that “free trade agreements” benefit the U.S., compared to 28% in 2007.

Because public opinion is strongly – and increasingly – against “free trade agreements,” secrecy is required in order to prevent the public from even knowing about, let alone actively opposing, agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And this, as U.S. Trade Representative Kirk explained, is a very “practical” reason for all the secrecy.

Labor Day & The Election Of 2012: It’s The Inequality, Stupid.

In Uncategorized on September 3, 2012 at 6:53 pm

http://truth-out.org/images/090312in_.jpgOldspeak:” Seems pretty self-explanatory: “As wealth and income rise to the top, moreover, so does political power. The rich are able to entrench themselves by lowering their taxes, gaining special tax breaks (such as the “carried interest” loophole allowing private equity and hedge fund managers to treat their incomes as capital gains), and ensuring a steady flow of corporate welfare to their businesses (special breaks for oil and gas, big agriculture, big insurance, Big Pharma, and, of course, Wall Street). All of this squeezes public budgets, corrupts government, and undermines our democracy. The issue isn’t the size of our government; it’s who our government is for. It has become less responsive to the needs of most citizens and more to the demands of a comparative few.“-Robert Reich

By Robert Reich @ Robert Reichs Blog:

The most troubling economic trend facing America this Labor Day weekend is the increasing concentration of income, wealth, and political power at the very top – among a handful of extraordinarily wealthy people – and the steady decline of the great American middle class.

Inequality in America is at record levels. The 400 richest Americans now have more wealth than the bottom 150 million of us put together.

Republicans claim the rich are job creators. Nothing could be further from the truth. In order to create jobs, businesses need customers. But the rich spend only a small fraction of what they earn. They park most of it wherever around the world they can get the highest return.

The real job creators are the vast middle class, whose spending drives the economy and creates jobs.

But as the middle class’s share of total income continues to drop, it cannot spend as much as before. Nor can most Americans borrow as they did before the crash of 2008 — borrowing that temporarily masked their declining purchasing power.

As a result, businesses are reluctant to hire. This is the main reason why the recovery has been so anemic.

As wealth and income rise to the top, moreover, so does political power. The rich are able to entrench themselves by lowering their taxes, gaining special tax breaks (such as the “carried interest” loophole allowing private equity and hedge fund managers to treat their incomes as capital gains), and ensuring a steady flow of corporate welfare to their businesses (special breaks for oil and gas, big agriculture, big insurance, Big Pharma, and, of course, Wall Street).

All of this squeezes public budgets, corrupts government, and undermines our democracy. The issue isn’t the size of our government; it’s who our government is for. It has become less responsive to the needs of most citizens and more to the demands of a comparative few.

The Republican response – as we saw dramatically articulated this past week in Tampa – is to further reduce taxes on the rich, defund programs for the poor, fight unions, allow the median wage to continue to fall, and oppose any limits on campaign contributions or spending.

It does not take a great deal of brainpower to understand this strategy will lead to an even more lopsided economy, more entrenched wealth, and more corrupt democracy.

The question of the moment is whether next week President Obama will make a bold and powerful rejoinder. If he and the Democratic Party stand for anything, it must be to reverse this disastrous trend.

Top Economists Agree: The U.S. Is In A Depression

In Uncategorized on May 8, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Oldspeak:”You know it’s grim when the prevailing debate among economists and historians is whether the world economy faces the “Great” depression of the 1930s or the “Long” depression of the 1870s.” I like to call it a “Stealth Great Depression” The bread lines have been replaced with EBT cards, and the banks are too bigger to fail, but many of the other conditions that existed in the 1930’s and 1870’s exist today. Tent cities, high unemployment, high poverty, high homelessness, wage stagnation, high debt, mass bankruptcy etc, etc, etc… A profound difference between today’s depression and those of the past is the propaganda. It’s so exquisitely and insidiously crafted that people actually believe it over what it happening all around them in the real world. Meanwhile “Institutions (banks) that know how and why to prevent things from falling apart and which nonetheless sit back and do nothing. A global collapse is being engineered. We need a radically new way forward to avert catastrophe but all we’re being offered by our political classes is tried and false ways of the past that are clearly leading to catastrophe. A ‘sustainable future’ is being monetized. More and more people awakening to the reality that those old ways are no longer acceptable. Our civilization needs a new operating system. Or a crash is not a matter of if, but when. Greed will be our downfall.

By Washington’s Blog:

Paul Krugman released a new book yesterday called “End This Depression Now“. In the introduction, Krugman writes:

The best way to think about this continued slump, I’d argue, is to accept that we’re in a depression …. It’s nonetheless essentially the same kind of situation that John Maynard Keynes described in the 1930s: “a chronic condition of subnormal activity for a considerable period without any marked tendency either towards recovery or towards complete collapse.”

Robert Shiller said yesterday that the world is in a state of “late Great Depression”.

Many other top economists also say that were in a Depression.

We are stuck in a depression because the government has done all of the wrong things, and has failed to address the core problems.

For example:

  • The government is doing everything else wrong. See this and this

This isn’t an issue of left versus right … it’s corruption and bad policies which help the top .1% but are causing a depression for the vast majority of the American people.

AT&T Chief Says DOJ Blocked Merger With T-Mobile Will Cost Its Consumers More

In Uncategorized on May 5, 2012 at 4:22 pm

Oldspeak: “Since that deal got killed, our data prices have gone up 30%,” he said. He also blamed the blocked T-Mobile USA deal, in part, for AT&T’s decision earlier this year to impose a limit on the amount of data available to a given customer. However, he said such a move probably would have been necessary regardless of the decision, and that he regretted not imposing the cap sooner.” Austerity measures, affect you in more ways than you think. How bout that. The merger doesn’t happen, so they jack up prices to increase their perceived lost potential profits. And the argument for corporate consolidation and less choice perfectly crystallizes some of the fundamental flaws with oligarchical capitalism.  In the minds of terminal ill Capitalists, More for me, less for you = More for me, more for you. Your basic 2+2-=5 logic. This insatiable lust for more, and the idea that it is good, unbridled greed;  it is unsustainable and certainly catastrophic for our planet, and our ‘civilization’. Every thing in nature grows, and then stops growing. We’ve created a civilization in which that basic physical rule does not apply and we are reaping the consequences: ever rapid resource depletion and contamination, mass extinctions, environmental destruction and contamination, drought, starvation, overcrowding, homelessness, poverty… All because a few hundred Oligarchs want ever ‘more’.  And have conditioned us to believe that we want ever ‘more’ even though the vast majority of us never will attain Oligarchical levels of it. That simple and insidious idea; ‘more’ has led us to the brink of collapse on multiple levels, yet we’re still being told that everything is ok. Why? We need Barefoot Economics. NOW.”

Related Story:

AT&T To Buy T-Mobile: Great For Them, Bad For You

What Does Proposed AT&T And T-Mobile Merger Mean?

By Ethan Smith @ The Wall Street Journal:

The government’s decision to block AT&T Inc.’s T -0.76% takeover of Deutsche Telekom AG’s DTEGY -0.18% T-Mobile USA unit will result in higher prices to consumers, AT&T Chairman and Chief Executive Randall Stephenson contended during a public interview Wednesday.

Speaking at the Milken Institute’s annual global conference, Mr. Stephenson said that the U.S. wireless-telecommunications market can’t sustain the current number of competitors because there isn’t enough wireless spectrum for all of them.

Based on current patterns, wireless data usage will increase 75% a year for at least five years, Mr. Stephenson said.

“We’re running out of the airwaves that this traffic rides on,” he added. “There is a shortage of this spectrum.”

With or without a deal like the one his company unsuccessfully pursued, he said, competitors will be forced to drop out if they can’t find enough wireless capacity to offer more modern data services to growing numbers of customers.

“The more competitors you have, the less efficient the allocation of spectrum will be,” he said. “It’s got to change. I don’t think the market’s going to accommodate the number of competitors there are in the landscape.”

Many countries in Asia, Europe and Latin America have many fewer companies offering wireless voice and data services, letting them allocate bandwidth more efficiently, Mr. Stephenson contended.

“Since that deal got killed, our data prices have gone up 30%,” he said. He also blamed the blocked T-Mobile USA deal, in part, for AT&T’s decision earlier this year to impose a limit on the amount of data available to a given customer. However, he said such a move probably would have been necessary regardless of the decision, and that he regretted not imposing the cap sooner.

“I wish we had moved quicker to change the pricing model to make sure the people who were using the bandwidth were paying for the bandwidth,” Mr. Stephenson said.

As The Plutonomy Powers Ahead, The Realonomy Remains In Recession

In Uncategorized on February 3, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Oldspeak:‘In a Plutonomy “the rich absorb a disproportionate chunk of the economy and have a massive impact on reported aggregate numbers.” In other words, official economic statistics no longer represent the experience of the economy as a whole. More and more, they represent only the experiences of the very rich...the Realonomy has been in recession since 1999. Even at the very top of the Realonomy, people have experienced flat or declining incomes over the past 12 years…The Realonomy won’t start growing again until America addresses its runaway inequality. We need fairer taxes, higher minimum wages, and more – not less – government spending…That may all sound counterintuitive in a recession, but that’s only because we’ve gotten so used to the politics of Plutonomy. Growth isn’t enough.’ -Salvatore Babones. Not only is Growth not enough, it’s unsustainable. Infinite growth in simply IMPOSSIBLE on a planet with finite resources. The current empire in decline, the U.S. of A. one of the biggest debtor nations on the planet has not come to terms with the fact that it is indeed an empire in decline, and is generating more debt than wealth, while drawing down assets faster than they can replenish them, thus accelerating the rate of decline. “The ‘culture of debt’ has become a global issue, and it is not just financial, but defines how every society and economy now interacts with respect to their fundamental economic, human and natural assets.” -Edward B. Barbier We can’t continue down this unsustainable path indefinitely. The music will stop and the party will end. Then what? That’s what we need to be asking ourselves. Then what?

By Salvatore Babones @ Truthout:

America’s longest recession since World War II officially ended in June 2009. Since then, the economy has expanded by almost 6 percent (adjusted for inflation). All of the losses of 2007-2009 have been erased.

American economic output is now at an all-time high. So why doesn’t it feel that way?

Back in October 2005, three Citigroup stock analysts heralded the arrival of a new kind of economic system in the United States. They called it the “Plutonomy,” the economy of the rich.

They explained that in a Plutonomy “the rich absorb a disproportionate chunk of the economy and have a massive impact on reported aggregate numbers.” In other words, official economic statistics no longer represent the experience of the economy as a whole. More and more, they represent only the experiences of the very rich.

Official economic statistics show that US national income per capita grew a cumulative 10 percent between 1999 and 2011 (adjusted for inflation). In aggregate, we generate 10 percent more per person than we did 12 years ago. Where did that 10 percent growth go?

Up in the stratosphere of the American Plutonomy, the IRS reports that incomes among the top 400 American taxpayers increased 107 percent between 1999 and 2007 (adjusted for inflation). Top 400 incomes declined in 2008, but by most accounts they have now bounced back to pre-recession levels.

For people who just make it into the top 1 percent, the gains have been much more modest. Their real incomes have risen about 12 percent since 1999, depending how you count. By some estimates, the increase has been closer to 6 percent. In other words, people at the 99th percentile of the US income distribution – people making upwards of $360,000 per year – have just about kept pace with economic growth in the economy as a whole.

Since 1999, no group below the top 1 percent has even kept pace. They are the “other 99 percent.” They live in the “Realonomy.”

In the Realonomy, people make most of their money from wages, not investments. In the Realonomy, people have to worry about retirement planning and health insurance. In the Realonomy, people can’t afford to lose their jobs.

While the Plutonomy continues to grow by leaps and bounds, the Realonomy has been in recession since 1999. Even at the very top of the Realonomy, people have experienced flat or declining incomes over the past 12 years. For example, families at the 95th percentile of America’s income distribution have experienced, on average, a 1.2 percent decline in real income (income adjusted for inflation) since 1999.

Further down the ladder, the situation gets worse and worse. For families at the 80th percentile, incomes are down 1.3 percent; at the 60th percentile, down 4.4 percent; at the 40th percentile, down 7.1 percent; at the 20th percentile, down 10.5 percent.

Nor does education provide an insurance policy. Among college graduates with full-time, year-round jobs, real incomes are down 3.6 percent over the past 12 years.

On the other hand, those without college degrees or full-time jobs have fared even worse.

The simple fact is that the Realonomy has been stagnant or in recession since 1999. The Realonomy hit bottom in 2009-2010, but it still hasn’t bounced back. Only the Plutonomy is growing, not the Realonomy.

The Realonomy won’t start growing again until America addresses its runaway inequality. We need fairer taxes, higher minimum wages, and more – not less – government spending.

That may all sound counterintuitive in a recession, but that’s only because we’ve gotten so used to the politics of Plutonomy. Growth isn’t enough.

We have growth. The top of the top 1 percent is growing like crazy. It’s government’s job to redirect some of that growth to the other 99 percent.

 

Why Major Newspapers & Corporations Run Fake Job Ads To Avoid Hiring American Workers

In Uncategorized on February 3, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Oldspeak: Behold! The fruits of globalization! “Instead of being about talent, H-1B visa is about importing cheap labor. There’s an insidious way that the high-tech industry denies jobs to US citizens. It’s called the H-1B visa, which allows America’s technological firms – and other specialized employers – to bring in foreign employees, frequently at a lower wage package than might be paid to an individual with the same qualifications who is an American citizen. There are many arguments against the program, primarily the allegation that there is generally no actual shortage of US citizens with high-tech skills for the work done by H-1B visa holders. After the H-1B workers are sent back to their native nations, there are reports that they are rehired by US companies abroad to start offshore high-tech offices that move more US jobs overseas. In short, the H-1B visa could be seen as an outsourcing training program at the expense of highly skilled US professionals.” I wonder if Obama’s “Jobs Czar” GM CEO Jeffery Immelt is aware of this stealth job outsourcing sector of the economy. As CEO of a an American multinational corporation that employs 82% of its workforce outside the U.S., I would surmise, probably so. “Ignorance is Strength” “Profit Is Paramount”

Related Video

Immigration Attorneys Teach Corporations How To  Avoid Hiring Qualified Americans.

By Smoke & Mirrors:

Every Sunday, major newspapers, websites and corporations run fake job ads. Why? The goal is to prove that no qualified Americans are available, so that green cards can be secured for H1B workers (“highly-skilled” foreign workers from “high tech” to architects to nurses and Kindergarten teachers).

The claim is H-1B is a remedy for “labor shortages” and as a means of hiring “the best and the brightest” from around the world. The reality is it’s all about cheap labor.

The fundamental reason for the H1B Visa program, created in 1990, is to substitute cheap, imported, supposedly “skilled” (equivalent to American high school degree)  labor for more expensive American labor. The employer, who reaps a ton of tax advantages, doesn’t have to pay medical benefits, overtime, social security, etc., can also force the departing US worker to train their foreign replacement.  The problem is not lack of enforcement or fraud. Instead, the problem is gaping loopholes in the law.

Congress has allowed the expansion of importation under all VISA programs. 125,000 work authorized visas per month. This includes green cards, L-1, H1-b, H2-b etc  and the state hands out about 320K J-1 student work visas yearly.

Body Shops:

According to Civil Defense Attorney James Otto, who poses the question: “Whether the U.S. should allow the replacement of U.S. workers with foreigners imported under the several visa programs and should Government hire foreigners in stead of U.S workers?”, there are eight main body shops which bring in foreign workers to take American jobs. One body shop, Infosys, faces a lawsuit by former employee Jack Palmer over charges that it abused US visa programs. Per the Economic Times of India “The Infosys charges illustrate the growing conflict between the desires of multinational corporations to source cheaply (even if “cheap” has been mismeasured by not not being adjusted for risk) and what actions need to take place at a country level to make sure these very same multinationals have decent market for their goods.”

On December 7, 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, through the U.S. Embassy in India, announced that the State Department has authorized the U.S embassy to allow the admission of a limitless number of foreign workers into the U.S. to take jobs that millions of unemployed Americans could and would do.

The practical implications of the State Department’s conduct is that every U.S employer can now hire as many foreign workers as they desire to replace all American workers.

So even jobs that require face to face work are not safe from “outsourcing” because of “importing”.

Of course, this is no more the fault of the imported foreign nationals than it is the fault of the workers employed in sweatshops overseas.  The corporations treat them horrendously.  While displacing American workers, the goal is to reduce the salary level to a point where they can get qualified professional American workers at the same cheap price. Just one more government policy that result in We the People suffering in order that corporate profits soar.

Hi-Tech US Corporations Deny Skilled American Workers Jobs Through Abuse of Visa Loophole

By Mark Karlin @ BuzzFlash:

A short time ago, BuzzFlash at Truthout ran a commentary on how US global corporations don’t give a hoot about increasing jobs in America.

In it, we included a section about how Silicon Valley high-tech companies, particularly Apple, use overseas contractors to manufacture their latest technological consumer products. It has been documented that some of these contractors create such harsh conditions and pay such low wages that workers have been driven to suicide, as The New York Times and other publications have detailed.

 

In a two-part Times expose, an Apple executive claimed: “We [Apple] don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems.” That was in response to Apple shipping so many potential US jobs overseas to these slave-wage sweatshops; e.g., “90 percent of the parts of an iPhone are made outside the U.S.”

But there’s another insidious way that the high-tech industry denies jobs to US citizens. It’s called the H-1B visa, which allows America’s technological firms – and other specialized employers – to bring in foreign employees, frequently at a lower wage package than might be paid to an individual with the same qualifications who is an American citizen. There are many arguments against the program, primarily the allegation that there is generally no actual shortage of US citizens with high-tech skills for the work done by H-1B visa holders.

President Obama appeared blindsided by a question on a Google Plus interactive town hall the other day from a woman whose husband had been laid off by Texas Instruments:

Jennifer Wedel was the second to question Obama, and the four-minute exchange was among the most memorable of the 50-minute online event.

“My question to you is to why does the government continue to issue and extend H-1B visas when there are tons of Americans just like my husband with no job?” she asked.

Obama offered that industry leaders have told him that there aren’t enough of certain kinds of high-tech engineers in America to meet their needs. Jennifer Wedel interrupted him to explain that that answer didn’t match what her husband is seeing out in the real world.

“Jennifer, can I ask what kind of engineer your husband is?”

“He’s a semiconductor engineer,” she told the president, who seemed genuinely surprised.

“If you send me your husband’s resume, I’d be interested in finding out exactly what’s happening right there,” he told her. “The word we’re getting is somebody in that high-tech field, that kind of engineer, should be able to find something right away. And the H-1B should be reserved only for those companies who say they cannot find somebody in that particular field.”

Of course, the high-tech companies are telling the White House and Congress that they can’t find US citizens for the H-1B jobs, but many critics argue that many high-tech companies hire H-1B workers without even offering the positions to Americans. On top of that, after the H-1B workers are sent back to their native nations, there are reports that they are rehired by US companies abroad to start offshore high-tech offices that move more US jobs overseas. In short, the H-1B visa could be seen as an outsourcing training program at the expense of highly skilled US professionals.

It was nice of the president of the United States to offer his personal job placement services to Jennifer Wedel’s husband, but it’s a bit disturbing that the White House appears to have fallen for the Silicon Valley canard.

When it comes to the H-1B visa, it’s the same old story: follow the profits.

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