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

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How Federal Dollars For Arizona Cotton Are Financing The Water Crisis In The American West

In Uncategorized on June 2, 2015 at 7:51 pm

https://projects.propublica.org/killing-the-colorado/assets/cotton-titles-03-d16dccec6b55a6d6b537190e01ec6794705b8e20d30753e399ad2acf7d02cfe9.jpg

Oldspeak:”Oh the demented irony. While farmers in India are literally killing themselves and selling their children in to slavery to cope with crop-losses because their government’s corruption limits the amount relief aid they receive, when their crops fail, the corruption in U.S. government is making it so farmers in the U.S. are being paid handsomely to plant cotton, a highly water-intensive crop, that there is no real market for. In a fucking desert, in the midst of a 1,000 year drought, no less. What’s crazy is without the government handouts, there’d be lots of U.S. farmers offing themselves too. Massive fossil-fueled infrastructure is required to pump millions of gallons of  precious water in to the deserts of Arizona, in spite of the fact that many farmers have been forced to fallow fields due to the drought, yet this madness continues at the behest of cotton lobbyists, insurance corporations and politicians. Ecology be damned. I’ll say one thing for Bizzaro World, it’s never boring, and never makes any fucking sense. One more reason to ignore the ongoing and upcoming climate talks. Major emitters plan to blabber about reaching agreements for emissions reductions targets, green energy and all that Jazz, at the same time they’re opening new and more sensitive areas to extract fossil fuels to burn in the death machine and heat engine that is Industrial Civilization. In the climate of insanity that exists today, (pun intended) prospects for survival grow dimmer every day. “Ignorance Is Strength” -OSJ

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State Route 87, the thin band of pavement that approaches the mostly shuttered town of Coolidge, Ariz., cuts through some of the least hospitable land in the country. The valley of red and brown sand is interrupted occasionally by rock and saguaro cactus. It’s not unusual for summer temperatures to top 116 degrees. And there is almost no water; this part of Arizona receives less than nine inches of rainfall each year.

Then Route 87 tacks left and the dead landscape springs to life. Barren roadside is replaced by thousands of acres of cotton fields, their bright, leafy green stalks and white, puffy bolls in neat rows that unravel for miles. It’s a vision of bounty where it would be least expected. Step into the hip-high cotton shrubs, with the soft, water-soaked dirt giving way beneath your boot soles, the bees buzzing in your ears, the pungent odor of the plants in your nostrils, and you might as well be in Georgia.

Getting plants to grow in the Sonoran Desert is made possible by importing billions of gallons of water each year. Cotton is one of the thirstiest crops in existence, and each acre cultivated here demands six times as much water as lettuce, 60 percent more than wheat. That precious liquid is pulled from a nearby federal reservoir, siphoned from beleaguered underground aquifers and pumped in from the Colorado River hundreds of miles away. Greg Wuertz has been farming cotton on these fields since 1981, and before him, his father and grandfather did the same. His family is part of Arizona’s agricultural royalty. His father was a board member of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District for nearly two decades. Wuertz has served as president of several of the most important cotton organizations in the state.

But what was once a breathtaking accomplishment — raising cotton in a desert — has become something that Wuertz pursues with a twinge of doubt chipping at his conscience. Demand and prices for cotton have plummeted, and he knows no one really needs what he supplies. More importantly, he understands that cotton comes at enormous environmental expense, a price the American West may no longer be able to afford.

Wuertz could plant any number of crops that use far less water than cotton and fill grocery store shelves from Maine to Minnesota. But along with hundreds of farmers across Arizona, he has kept planting his fields with cotton instead. He says he has done it out of habit, pride, practicality, and even a self-deprecating sense that he wouldn’t be good at anything else. But in truth, one reason outweighs all the others: The federal government has long offered him so many financial incentives to do it that he can’t afford not to.

“Some years all of what you made came from the government,” Wuertz said. “Your bank would finance your farming operation … because they knew the support was guaranteed. They wouldn’t finance wheat, or alfalfa. Cotton was always dependable, it would always work.”

The water shortages that have brought California, Arizona and other Western states to the edge of an environmental cliff have been attributed to a historic climate event — a dry spell that experts worry could be the worst in 1,000 years. But an examination by ProPublica shows that the scarcity of water is as much a man-made crisis as a natural one, the result of decades of missteps and misapprehensions by governments and businesses as they have faced surging demand driven by a booming population.

The federal subsidies that prop up cotton farming in Arizona are just one of myriad ways that policymakers have refused, or been slow to reshape laws to reflect the West’s changing circumstances. Provisions in early–20th-century water-use laws that not only permit but also compel farmers and others to use more water than they need are another. “Use It or Lose It” is the cynical catch phrase for one of those policies.

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Growing cotton in the desert has always been a challenge. But for many farmers, it is a proud tradition and a cherished way of life. Below: Downtown Coolidge, where drought and sinking cotton prices have had their effect. (Jake Stangel, special to ProPublica)

Western leaders also have flinched repeatedly when staring down the insatiable, unstoppable force of urban sprawl. Las Vegas authorities have spent billions of dollars inventing new ways to bring water to their ever-expanding city, yet could not cite a single development permit they had ever denied because of concerns about water.

Instead, when faced with a dwindling water supply, state and federal officials have again and again relied on human ingenuity to engineer a way out of making hard choices about using less water. But the engineering that made settling the West possible may have reached the bounds of its potential. Dams and their reservoirs leak or lose billions of gallons of water to evaporation. The colossal Navajo Generating Station, which burns 22,000 tons of coal a day in large part to push water hundreds of miles across Arizona, is among the nation’s biggest greenhouse gas polluters, contributing to the very climate change that is exacerbating the drought.

Few crises have been more emphatically and presciently predicted. Almost 150 years ago, John Wesley Powell, the geologist and explorer, traveled the Colorado River in an effort to gauge America’s chances for developing its arid western half. His report to Congress reached a chastening conclusion: There wasn’t enough water to support significant settlement.

For more than a century, Americans have defied Powell’s words, constructing 20 of the nation’s largest cities and a vibrant economy that, among other bounties, provides an astonishing proportion of the country’s fruit and vegetables.

For almost as long, the policies that shaped the West have struggled to match the region’s ambitions — endless growth, new industry, fertile farming and plentiful power — to its water supply.

Today, as the Colorado River enters its 15th year of drought, the nation’s largest reservoirs have been diminished to relative puddles. Power plants that depend on dams along the river face shortages and shutdowns that could send water and electricity prices skyrocketing. Many of the region’s farmers have been forced to fallow fields.

The still-blooming cotton farms of Arizona are emblematic of the reluctance to make choices that seem obvious. The Wuertz family has received government checks just for putting cottonseeds in the ground and more checks when the price of cotton fell. They have benefited from cheap loans for cotton production that don’t have to be fully repaid if the market slumps. Most recently, the government has covered almost the entire premium on their cotton crop insurance, guaranteeing they’ll be financially protected even when natural conditions — like drought — keep them from producing a good harvest.

Cotton in Arizona Though Land use statistics show that acres of irrigated farmland in Arizona have decreased over the past few decades, farmers planted more than 161,000 acres of cotton in Arizona in 2013, the second-highest total for any crop in the state, most of it clustered around Phoenix. (Sources: NASA/USGS Landsat, National Hydrography Dataset, USDA CropScape)

The payments, part of the U.S. Farm Bill, are a legacy of Dust Bowl-era programs that live on today at the urging of the national cotton lobby and the insurance industry. Similar subsidies support corn, rice, wheat and, indirectly, alfalfa — all of which also use lots of water. But in Arizona one of the driest states in the nation, it’s cotton that has received the most federal aid, tipping the balance on farmers’ decisions about what to plant.

Over the last 20 years, Arizona’s farmers have collected more than $1.1 billion in cotton subsidies, nine times more than the amount paid out for the next highest subsidized crop. In California, where cotton also gets more support than most other crops, farmers received more than $3 billion in cotton aid.

Cotton growers say the subsidies don’t make them rich but help bridge the worst years of losses and keep their businesses going. And because the money is such a sure thing, they have little choice but to keep planting.

“If you’re sitting on land and thinking of shifting, cotton is safer,” said Daniel Pearson, a senior fellow of trade policy studies at the Cato Institute.

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Greg Wuertz’s family has grown cotton for generations, always with the backing of federal subsidies. “Some years, all of what you made came from the government,” he said. (Jake Stangel, special to ProPublica)

Growing cotton in the desert, long term, may be doomed. In Arizona, the price for cotton has been in decline, and with it the overall planting of the crop. But when the price spikes, as it did dramatically in 2010, the growers get busy. One thing has yet to change: the government’s willingness to back and protect those still wanting to be cotton farmers.

For years, the federal support came through subsidies and price protection cash put directly in the farmer’s pocket. In Arizona, those payments could total tens of millions of dollars a year. Today, the government’s aid comes chiefly in the form of insurance subsidies — reliable and robust protections against losses that many farmers and their lobbyists hoped would be every bit as effective as cold cash. And so every year more than 100,000 acres of cotton still get planted, making the crop the second-most popular in the state.

Thus, at a time when farmers in Arizona, California and other Western states might otherwise adapt to a water-short world, federal farm subsidies are helping preserve a system in which the thirstiest crops are grown in some of the driest places.

“The subsidies are distorting water usage throughout the West and providing an incentive to use more water than would be used in an open market,” said Bruce Babbitt, Arizona’s former governor and a former U.S. Secretary of the Interior.

One night last October, in the weary twilight of the cotton harvest, Greg Wuertz nestled his white Chevy pickup by the mailboxes at the head of his street. Opening a small aluminum door, he removed an envelope containing a $30,000 insurance payment on a policy paid for by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Easy money, to be sure, but it left Wuertz uncertain.

“This kind of way of life in the West, it’s got to be different,” he said. “Water is going to be the oil of the 21st century and it should go to the best use. Right now, I don’t know if we’re doing that.”


Cotton might never have been grown in Arizona without some form of government enticement. During the Civil War, a Union blockade impounded the Southern states’ global exports. As Europe turned to new strains of cotton grown in Egypt, Arizona’s settlers, knowing the Pima Indians had long planted cotton there, thought they could replicate hot and dry North African conditions and compete. Townships reportedly offered cash to farmers willing to pioneer commercial-scale crops, according to a local historical account. Arizona’s first cotton mogul was said to be a blacksmith who abandoned his trade to take the subsidies and try farming.

Arizona, at the time, was short on people and long on land. It was also rich in freshwater aquifers, groundwater that then seemed ample enough to irrigate vast fields and turn the desert into an oasis.

When the United States first went to war in Europe, the demand for cotton surged. The fibers were used to reinforce truck tires and canvas airplane wings. The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company bought thousands of farm acres and built a factory west of Phoenix, where a city by the name of Goodyear still stands. Farmers flocked to the state in search of opportunity.

In 1929, Wuertz’s grandfather packed the family’s belongings into their old Buick and drove down from South Dakota. He strung up tents on 160 acres, six miles outside Coolidge, and planted his first rows of cotton in the months before the Great Depression. By the 1950s, cotton farming had been woven into the state’s identity; Arizona schoolchildren learned about the “Five C’s”: cattle, copper, citrus, climate and cotton.

Draw a sagging line today from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., and every state below it grows cotton. The United States is the world’s largest exporter, with 17 states producing some eight billion pounds of cotton each year, most of which gets shipped off to Asia and Europe.

California and Arizona are able to produce more than twice as much cotton on each acre they plant as can cotton powerhouses like Texas and Georgia because they irrigate their fields more often. But that also means that they use two to four times as much water per acre.

From almost the beginning, Arizona’s cotton farmers understood they were withdrawing from a finite account. “There was a sense the water would run out,” said Wuertz’s father, Howard, now 89. “You could tell there was going to be an end to it, even in the 1950s.”

They’ve made it last, in large part, because as the aquifers beneath their feet were depleted, the state brought in new supplies, mainly from the Colorado River.

Today, Wuertz’s irrigated cotton plants grow to about 4 feet tall, and are planted in even rows, about 3 feet center to center, extending for miles across furrowed fields. Every August, the bolls — pregnant pods just smaller than a golf ball — burst open, allowing their white cellulosic fiber to spring outward from hearty, splayed leaves and a small seed. Modern tractors, called cotton pickers, drive a comb through the fields, plucking the drying bolls from their stems and shooting them through a mechanical snorkel into a large basket being towed behind. Another basket, or “boll buggy,” dumps the load into a compressor, which packs the cotton into a brick 8 feet tall and 32 feet long.

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On Greg Wuertz’s farm, cotton gets harvested as it has for generations: with field hands, cotton gins and flat beds. (Jake Stangel, special to ProPublica)

The brick is hauled through Coolidge to a local gin, where computerized modern machines roll it through a whirring conveyor, separating the seeds and fibers from their leaves and chaff. The seeds are collected for animal feed or crushed for cooking oil. The lint, cleaned and dried, is strapped into 500-pound bales and shipped off through distributors who either sell the cotton or store it in vast warehouses, waiting for prices to rise and the commodity markets to buoy the crop.

Between land costs, labor, equipment, shipping and other expenses, Wuertz said he spends about $1,200 for every acre of cotton he harvests. His cotton has garnered about 62 cents per pound lately, so even if Wuertz gets four bales from each acre — a blockbuster harvest — he brings in about $1,240 and barely breaks even.

Cotton farmers can cut corners to try to eke out a profit, stretching their water, cutting back on fertilizer and making fewer laps with their tractors to save on diesel. But in years when the price is lower, water is short or demand plummets, they’ll lose money. This is when they count on federal subsidies and the crop insurance programs. If Wuertz needs an advance until his cotton is bought, the government lends it to him. If he can’t sell his cotton at a profit, the government never asks for its money back. If the price falls below a base of around 52 cents, Wuertz is insured for much of the decrease in value. If his fields produce a light yield — perhaps because he couldn’t give them enough water — he’s covered for the difference in weight, too. Other crops get subsidized insurance and loans, but none, Wuertz said, are covered as thoroughly as cotton. Add it all up, and the message from the Farm Bill is clear: Grow cotton and you will not be harmed.

“If they didn’t have insurance, it would be ugly around here,” Wuertz said. “It’d be the rope and chair. There’d be people killing themselves. It’s that bad.”


Standing in his field last fall, Wuertz cupped a tuft of cotton about the size of a softball and mused over its miraculous origins.

He gets about one-quarter of his water from the Central Arizona Project, or CAP, the system of canals that brings water from the Colorado River, some 230 miles away. The rest comes from a federally built reservoir nearby called San Carlos Lake, which, with the drought, has been diminished to little more than a bed of mud.

“There comes a time when you have to leave some to keep the fish alive,” Wuertz said wryly.

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Arizona schoolchildren have for years learned about the “Five C’s”: cattle, copper, citrus, climate and cotton. (Jake Stangel, special to ProPublica)

Wuertz loves to farm cotton. Fingering the plant’s thorny, rose-like leaves, he explains the difference between hirsutum, what Arizonans call Upland, or short staple cotton used for everyday clothes, and barbadense, the long-fiber Pima cotton used in high-end sheets and expensive textiles. He is stocky, wearing jeans, cowhide boots, a blue-striped button-down shirt and a broad-rimmed white cowboy hat that shields his face from view as he talks. Every 10 days, he explains, he releases his ditch gates and floods the furrows, using an irrigation technique hundreds of years old, until the roots of his plants are submerged ankle deep. If he were to do it all at once, the water Wuertz spends to produce one acre of cotton would stand 4 feet deep. The ditches flow with hundreds of millions of gallons of water every year.

For the last third of a century, Wuertz was supplied prodigious amounts of water, largely because Arizona was pushing its farmers to use as much as they could. The state’s run on water began in the 1970s, when Arizona planned its mega canal in order to lay claim to its full share of water from the Colorado River. The canal would bring more water than the state needed at the time, ultimately supplying future urban expansion as its cities and economy grew. But in the short term, Arizona had to justify the canal’s $4.4 billion federally subsidized construction cost by demonstrating to Congress that it had a plan to put all that water to use right away.

The state’s aquifers had been drawn down so much that, in places, the land had begun to settle above them. The canal project looked like a way to wean Arizona’s farmers off ground water, using river water to replace it. It looked good on paper until 1993, when the Central Arizona Project canal was completed. The cost of construction plus the cost of the power needed to pump the water made CAP water more expensive than what farmers could pump cheaply from underground. In a bind, state and federal officials slashed the price — subsidizing nearly half the true cost of the water and charging farmers just a fraction of its value to get them to use more of it.

For a while, the plan worked. Farmers made the switch, using government-subsidized canals and inexpensive power to nourish their farms for another generation. But the farms were little more than a place holder in the state’s grand plans. It was understood that as cities grew, farming in Arizona would have to change. Much of the cotton, alfalfa, wheat and citrus would eventually need to be grown somewhere else as the water from CAP was switched to supply urban areas.

“That was the deal that was struck to induce agriculture to go out of business,” said Jon Kyl, the former three-term senator and four-term congressman from Arizona.

But the transition hasn’t been completed, in part owing to the farm subsidies that have delayed change. And now the state’s intricate water supply plan is beginning to crumble.

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Farmers around Coolidge get some of their water from the Central Arizona Project, a system of canals that brings water from the Colorado River, 230 miles away. (Jake Stangel, special to ProPublica)

Drought has diminished the Colorado’s flow so much that federal officials — who control water deliveries on the southern half of the Colorado — now predict they will have to cut the state’s water deliveries through the CAP canal as soon as next year, potentially eliminating much of the farmers’ share. Meanwhile, loopholes in laws designed to conserve aquifers for exactly this situation have allowed housing developers and others to draw down resources that were supposed to be protected.

The water needs of Arizona’s cities are surging. The state’s population — less than two million in 1970 — has ballooned to more than three times that and is expected to reach 11 million within the next 30 years, turning the state into what the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University has described as a “megalopolis.”

Last year Arizona officials forecast the state could run out of water within a few decades.

“The shortages projected hitting municipal customers are really in the 2026 time frame,” said Thomas Buschatzke, the director of Arizona’s Department of Water Resources, as if a 10-year cushion was supposed to be reassuring.

Land use statistics show that acres of irrigated farmland in Arizona have decreased over the past few decades, and since 1985 they’ve dropped by more than half in the area around Phoenix. The Wuertz family sold a chunk of its fields to home developers in 2009.

But the patterns of agricultural water use make clear that it’s not just how many acres of land are planted there, but what is grown on them.

Cotton’s domestic benefits are questionable. After a price spike in 2010, production of cotton surged while global demand — and prices along with it — plummeted. Today, China, the world’s largest cotton producer, has enough cotton in warehouses to stop farming for a year. And Texas, the U.S.’s largest producer, harvests enough to cover more than one third of U.S. exports alone, relying largely on natural rainfall, not irrigation, to do it. Wuertz’s cotton — produced with Arizona’s precious water — is likely to get stacked in cavernous warehouses until the marketing cooperative he uses finds new customers. If Arizona stopped farming cotton tomorrow, Wuertz said, he’s not sure anyone would notice.

This underscores questions about whether continuing to grow these water-hogging crops at their current levels is in the public interest, and whether such an important pillar of U.S. economic policy as the Farm Bill should continue to champion them.

“The basic question is how are you going to manage your water supply? And we have managed it in a way that has subsidized agriculture,” said John Bredehoeft the former manager of the western water program for the U.S. Geological Survey, referring not just to subsidies for crops like cotton, but also the support for crops like alfalfa that are grown as feed. “If you look at the fact that half of the water use in the West is to raise cows — can you say, ‘Hey, we’ve got a water shortage in the West?’”


First established as a New Deal program to rescue farmers during the Great Depression, today’s unwieldy version of the U.S. Farm Bill wraps everything from food stamps to sugar imports into one 357-page, nearly $1 trillion law.

The measure allots about $130 billion over 10 years to protect farmers against price drops, bad weather and bad luck and to insure them against virtually any scenario that gets in the way of turning a profit.

No American law has more influence on what, where and when farmers decide to plant. And by extension, no federal policy has a greater ability to directly influence how water resources are consumed in the American West.

Until this year, the bill doled out direct subsidies for a full menu of crops. Every farmer planting commodities, including those planting cotton, got $40,000 just for signing up.

Then there are the steeply discounted business loans, which have a measurable impact on what farmers decide to plant. In many cases, to be eligible for these subsidies one year, a farmer has to have previously planted the crop — a basic component of the bill’s architecture that gives farmers an incentive to maintain “base” levels of acreage. In an analysis, the Congressional Budget Office found that the subsidies don’t just maintain the status quo, they also foster more planting, and more water use. The USDA’s marketing loans alone, for example, led to a 10 percent increase in the amount of cotton farmers planted — compared to 2.5 percent increase in the amount of wheat, and a 1.5 percent increase in the amount of soybeans produced — in part because the subsidies not only make cotton a safer bet, they also make it more competitive against alternative crops. Banks lend cotton growers money they wouldn’t lend for other crops, largely because they know the government will stand behind them.

All told, Wuertz estimates that nearly one-fifth of his income is derived from Farm Bill aid, and cotton has almost always been his largest and most important crop. According to USDA statistics compiled by the Environmental Working Group, the Wuertz family — including his brother’s and father’s farms — has received more than $5.3 million in farm bill subsidies since 1995, a portion of which may have been targeted for efficient irrigation equipment, Wuertz said.

The Farm Bill has been used in the past to steer environmental policy. It provides for withholding money, for example, from farms that would contribute to soil erosion or the destruction of wetlands. In North Dakota, where farmers were tearing out grasslands to plant corn for ethanol production, the law contains “sodbuster” provisions withholding insurance benefits from those who rip up lands the government wants to conserve.

The Farm Bill contains $56 billion for conservation, funding an effort to encourage farmers to reduce their water consumption by using more-modern equipment as well as measures meant to conserve land. Another section of the bill is aimed at saving energy. But the law’s farming incentives run counter to its far more modest water conservation initiatives.

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Cotton farming in Arizona may, in the long term, be doomed. But farmers, still backed by federal support, plant more than 100,000 acres a year. (Jake Stangel, special to ProPublica)

“There is a real disconnect between that and what the commodity and crop insurance program are promoting, and that’s a basic conflict,” said Ferd Hoefner, the policy director at National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, based in Washington, D.C.

The Farm Bill’s authors have sometimes factored in environmental concerns in specific places and tailored incentives to affect them, Hoefner said. But when it comes to cotton, the bill does not consider the related water use, and it does not distinguish between the places where it is grown. Instead, the money corresponds roughly to the amount of cotton harvested; Arizona, which ranks in the middle in terms of its cotton production, also ranks 10th among the 17 states that receive cotton aid. California, which ranked third for overall cotton production in 2013, also ranks third in subsidies over the last 20 years according to data collected by the Environmental Working Group. It’s in those places that the incentives created by the subsidies are most in conflict with the government’s aid to conserve water.

“Trying to get USDA to break down the silos is difficult,” Hoefner noted.

The Congressional Budget Office attacked this disconnect in 2006, urging the USDA to stop supporting agricultural products that act to “impede the transfer of water resources to higher value uses,” and “encourage the use of water.” Analysts advised the USDA to enhance its conservation programs, align its subsidies with those conservation efforts, and stop paying for infrastructure that makes water artificially cheap.

Every six years or so Congress has the opportunity to revisit its Farm Bill policies and update the bill. When Congress reauthorized it in 2014, however, lawmakers changed, but did not retreat in their support for cotton farming in the Southwest, despite growing awareness of the persistent water crisis in the Colorado River basin.

Instead, legislators allowed the cotton industry to write its own future. Faced with international trade pressures and allegations that subsidies — like payments triggered by price drops — were distorting the market, U.S. cotton trade associations lobbied to ramp up the USDA’s insurance program.

Rather than paying direct subsidies to cotton farmers, starting this year the USDA will use taxpayer dollars to buy farmers additional crop insurance. Policies that once covered up to around 70 percent of farmers’ losses can now be supplemented with new coverage covering up to 90 percent, cushioning the shallowest of losses. The lucrative marketing loan program that serves as a sort of price guarantee also remains in place.

Right now, though, the stubbornly low price of cotton is making Wuertz nervous that the new, enhanced insurance program won’t deliver the same revenues as the old direct subsidies. He’s temporarily cut back, then, planting less cotton this year and only the most valuable strains.

Still, the more than 161,000 acres of cotton that were planted in Arizona in 2013 accounted for almost one out of every five acres of the state’s irrigated farmland. Many believe the insurance program is likely to keep the practice going because it limits most — if not all — downsides, encouraging farmers to take big chances with limited resources.

“If I knew my 401k was guaranteed to not fall below 85 percent of its current level and there was no limit on the upside,” said Craig Cox a senior vice president at the Environmental Working Group, who was a former staff member for the Senate committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, “my portfolio would be a lot riskier than it is.”


If the Farm Bill reshuffled its incentives, water policy experts say, farmers in states that draw on the Colorado River could reduce their water usage substantially, adding large amounts back into the region’s budget.

According to research by the Pacific Institute, simply irrigating alfalfa fields less frequently, stressing the plant and slightly reducing its yield, could decrease the amount of water needed across the seven Colorado River basin states by roughly 10 percent. If Arizona’s cotton farmers switched to wheat but didn’t fallow a single field, it would save some 207,000 acre-feet of water — enough to supply as many as 1.4 million people for a year.

There’s little financial reason not to do this. The government is willing to consider spending huge amounts to get new water supplies, including building billion-dollar desalinization plants to purify ocean water. It would cost a tiny fraction of that to pay farmers in Arizona and California more to grow wheat rather than cotton, and for the cost of converting their fields. The billions of dollars of existing subsidies already allocated by Congress could be redirected to support those goals, or spent, as the Congressional Budget Office suggested, on equipment and infrastructure that helps farmers use less water.

“There is enough water in the West. There isn’t any pressing need for more water, period,” Babbitt said. “There are all kinds of agriculture efficiencies that have not been put into place.”

Today Wuertz lives with the deep uncertainty that comes with a transition he can no longer control. He told his son, Thomas, 24, that there is no future in cotton farming. He says that if Arizona farmers keep planting cotton, farming itself may be in jeopardy. But knowing that and acting on it have so far been different beasts, and Wuertz finds himself resistant to change. He tried growing more cantaloupe but had difficulty finding buyers who would take the time-sensitive crop before it rotted. He’s planting some acres he used to plant with cotton with alfalfa instead, but that uses even more water, though it commands a premium price.

In the end, Wuertz said he doesn’t know how to grow other plants as well as he knows cotton. He’s been a gin director, president of the Arizona Cotton Growers Association, head of the Arizona Cotton Research and Protection Council. His identity is wrapped up in those prickly bolls out in his fields.

“When I quit cotton all of that goes away. Ninety percent of my life is gone. It doesn’t mean a damn thing,” he said. “I’m just not ready to do that yet. And it’s not to say I won’t get there.”

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A worker sweeps cotton scraps at the gin where Wuertz brings his harvest. Wuertz says that if he stopped growing cotton, “ninety percent of my life is gone.” (Jake Stangel, special to ProPublica)

This story was co-published with Matter, a new digital magazine on Medium. Follow ProPublica on Medium for more conversation on the West’s water crisis.

5 Years Later: The Monumental Clusterfuck That Is The BP Gulf Oil Disaster Is Ongoing

In Uncategorized on April 21, 2015 at 12:45 pm
Oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico is burned in an attempt to quell its spread, June 16, 2010. (Photo: Kris Krüg)

Oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico is burned in an attempt to quell its spread, June 16, 2010. (Photo: Kris Krüg)

Oldspeak:”I had the privilege of performing in a show yesterday commemorating the 5 year anniversary of the BP Gulf Oil Disaster, “Voices From The Gulf“. A group of NYC based artists and performers from the Gulf shared their work documenting the calamity. Tragic stories in the form of letters from residents suffering the effects of the poisoning from the deadly oil and correxit cocktail were shared. This is an ongoing and incalculable ecological catastrophe. In all probability, oil is still leaking from the supposedly shut Macondo well. People and environment alike are still suffering and dying as a result of this crime. Livelihoods that depend on fishing have been decimated. And BP has aggressively and consistently demonstrated that it has little intention of fixing the clusterfuck its willful neglect and greed begot. In fact it’s actually denying 61 percent of damages and compensation claims filed by residents, and forced an unconscionable 81% of claimants to sign a  ‘Release and Covenant Not to Sue’ in which the claimant agreed not to sue BP and all other potentially liable parties. Yet, the despite the fact that this practice is INHERENTLY UNSAFE drilling continues unabated. There is literally nothing to stop this from happening again. The once bountiful and beautiful Gulf Of Mexico has been transformed in to one big Sacrifice Zone, of death and destruction.”“We’re paying the price for their greed and irresponsible exploration…They went ‘balls to the wall’ with their drilling because they didn’t care. It was just money, money, money.”George Barisich, Lifelong Commercial Shrimper. Profit Is Paramount. All else, gets fucked.” -OSJ

By Julie Dermansky @ DeSmogBlog:

Cat Island, off the Gulf Coast in Louisiana’s Plaquemines Parish, was home to a vibrant bird rookery inhabited by brown pelicans, seagulls, spoonbills, and egrets before BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Five years after the largest oil spill in American history, the barrier island has just about disappeared.

Despite ongoing efforts by former Plaquemines Parish coastal zone manager PJ Hahn to restore the island, only the needed building permits and an engineering plan have been completed.

“Cat Island was ground zero of the oil spill,” Hahn told DeSmogBlog.

Dead bird on Cat Island five years after the BP oil spill. March 31, 2015. ©2015 Julie Dermansky

He thought that the restoration of the island was a no-brainer since, while much of the oil spill’s damage was underwater and invisible, the damage to Cat Island was easy to prove. According to Hahn, not only would the island’s restoration be necessary for the birds, but it would provide a great public relations move for anyone who helped in the process.

At the time of the spill, Cat Island was approximately five and a half acres, covered by a dense forest of black mangrove trees which were occupied by nesting birds. All that remains now are two small strips of land — less than an acre combined. Mangrove stumps jut out from the broken, shell-covered sandy remains of the island, at times fully submerged during high tide.

“The island was a treasure and it deserves to be restored,” Hahn told DeSmogBlog. He continues to advocate for the restoration project he spearheaded.

“It’s a hard sell for many since the island doesn’t serve as storm protection like other barrier islands that are in the process of being restored since the spill,” Hahn said.

But Cat Island and other small barrier islands, some of which have completely eroded since the spill, were perfect bird habitats because they were free of predators. Hahn believes the $6 million restoration price tag is a good investment, one that will pay for itself in dollars generated by the tourism industry. “Bird watchers from all over will come to visit the island,” he said.

Brown Pelicans and Spoonbills on Cat Island. © 2015 Julie Dermansky 

Media and Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition at Cat Island, March 31, 2015. © 2015 Julie Dermansky 

So far, the parish has raised $3 million of the $6 million needed before the rebuilding process can begin.

Shell, the only oil company to contribute, donated $1 million. Other contributors include the American Bird Conservancy and the federal Coastal Impact Assistance Program. The parish hopes to get the rest of the needed funds from the state’s “Restore Act Fund,” made up of money from that part of the BP settlement that has already been paid.

Billy Nungesser on Cat Island holding a pelican bone three years after the BP oil spill, April 18, 2013© 2013 Julie Dermansky

Billy Nungesser, Plaquemines Parish president during the spill who is now running for lieutenant governor, had been famous for his fierce criticism of BP. But now it seems he’s changed his tune.

During a town hall meeting hosted by Rush Radio in St. Tammany Parish, where residents turned out to express their concerns about the possibility of the first fracking project in their area, Nungesser gushed over the great relationship Plaquemines Parish has with the oil industry, no longer singling out BP as a bad player as he had in the past.

Though he believes residents should have a say regarding what type of industry is welcomed in their community, he said oil companies that operate in his parish “do the right thing.”

Referencing the “horrible pictures of the pelicans covered in oil,” Nungesser claimed that in the case of “a safety incident or something spilling from a platform, every company has gone beyond the call of duty in our parish to make it right. Oil companies are rebuilding those islands.”

But Cat Island is a perfect example that Plaquemines Parish “has not been made whole,” according to Hahn. “BP was asked to contribute to rebuilding Cat Island multiple times,” Hahn said, “but they haven’t given anything to help the project.”

PJ Hahn photographing nesting pelicans on Cat Island two year after the BP oil spill. © 2012 Julie Dermansky

Cat Island was not mentioned in a BP report on the condition of the Gulf issued in March which paints a picture of the Gulf Coast on the mend. According to the report, “Available data does not indicate the spill caused any significant long-term population-level impact to species in the Gulf,” and “affected areas are recovering faster than predicted.”

State and federal agencies involved in the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) took issue with BP’s report.

“It is inappropriate as well as premature for BP to reach conclusions about impacts from the spill before the completion of the assessment,” an NRDA report states. NRDA will determine how much BP and its subcontractors owe for the environmental damages.

When asked what specifically BP has done to restore Cat Island, BP media spokesperson Jason Ryan sent out a statement about other coastal restoration projects the company has contributed to. BP agreed to pay for restoration projects in advance of NRDA’s assessment, which it was not required to do. Several of the projects are underway, but rebuilding Cat Island is not one of them.

The statement from BP points out: “The state loses about a football field worth of wetlands every hour,” and that “with regard to Cat Island specifically, it was rapidly eroding before the spill, primarily due to the impacts of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.”

Though BP wouldn’t give a “Yes” or “ No” as to whether it has contributed to rebuilding Cat Island, the company wrote: “We are studying shoreline erosion on marshes and barrier islands, including Cat Island, to determine if there was any acceleration due to the spill.”

The BP spill “totally accelerated” the erosion of Cat Island,” Linda Hooper Bui, an entomologist at Louisiana State University, told DeSmogBlog.

Bui has been working on studies of insect life in Barataria Bay that she began prior to the BP oil spill, making her a witness to the ongoing erosion process impacting the island. When plants are stressed they can’t hold on to sediment, she explained. And that is what happened when the oil covered the plant life on Cat Island. “You lose the mangrove, you lose the sediment,” Bui said.

“Heavily-oiled marshes erode at double the rate of a non-oiled marsh,” Melanie Driscoll, Director of Bird Conservation for the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi flyway for the Audubon Society, told DeSmogBlog, citing a scientific peer-reviewed study done after the BP spill.

“Every year there is a delay restoring the island, there is less area for nesting,” Driscoll said. ” We need restoration to proceed as soon as possible.”

David Muth, Gulf Coast Restoration Director for the National Wildlife Federation holds up a photo of what Cat Island looked like before the BP oil spill, while standing in front of the island on March 31, 2015. ©2015 Julie Dermansky

On March 31, a trip arranged by Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition gave members of the media a chance to document what little remains of Cat Island. The National Wildlife Federation, a key player in the coalition, released a report about the health of the Gulf five years after the spill that paints a completely different picture than BP’s.

The NWF report cites several scientific studies that document the negative impact the spill had on 20 different species, including the brown pelican, which were Cat Island’s main inhabitants.

“The tragedy is brown pelicans were taken off the endangered species list the year before the spill,” Hahn said. “If there is no habitat, there are no birds. Who knows if they will come back when we finally get the island rebuilt?”

Exaustive Study Finds Atmospheric Concentrations Of Methane Gas Up To 75% Higher Than EPA Estimates

In Uncategorized on February 25, 2014 at 8:51 pm

America's natural gas system is leaky and in need of a fix, new study findsOldspeak: “Duh. When you understand that methane (b.k.a. “Natural’)  gas extraction; “fracking” creates “alarmingly high” uncontrolled gas emissions into the atmosphere. indefinitely. When you understand that methane gas leaks are persistent throughout the extraction, production and consumption cycle, this cannot be surprising. What is surprising to me is that anyone took the EPAs estimates seriously, when they for some reason, excluded natural methane sources, like wetlands and geologic seeps. With the largest sea floor methane seep in the fucking world  right off the coast of the Carolinas, and scientists have no idea how many more are out there, this makes no sense. And for some other ridiculously corrupt reason allowed methane gas extracting corporations to “self report” the emissions levels from their operations. That’s right. They don’t have to allow EPA access to their sites unless they feel like it. They just tell EPA whatever they like, and EPA has zero authority to trust but verify the numbers provided. And if Obama gets his wish to dramatically expand Methane gas extraction operations, ignoring the environmental destruction and contamination its extraction begets, we can expect this madness to get worse. Short explaination? We’re fucked.” -OSJ

By Mark Golden @ Stanford  News Service:

A review of more than 200 earlier studies confirms that U.S. emissions of methane are considerably higher than official estimates. Leaks from the nation’s natural gas system are an important part of the problem. This finding has important implications for natural gas as a possible replacement fuel for coal.

Oil and gas processing plants are significant sources of methane, Stanford researchers have found. (INSAGO / Shutterstock)

The first thorough comparison of evidence for natural gas system leaks confirms that organizations including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have underestimated U.S. methane emissions generally, as well as those from the natural gas industry specifically.

Natural gas consists predominantly of methane. Even small leaks from the natural gas system are important because methane is a potent greenhouse gas – about 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. A study, “Methane Leakage from North American Natural Gas Systems,” published in the Feb. 14 issue of the journal Science, synthesizes diverse findings from more than 200 studies ranging in scope from local gas processing plants to total emissions from the United States and Canada.

“People who go out and actually measure methane pretty consistently find more emissions than we expect,” said the lead author of the new analysis, Adam Brandt, an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University. “Atmospheric tests covering the entire country indicate emissions around 50 percent more than EPA estimates,” said Brandt. “And that’s a moderate estimate.”

The standard approach to estimating total methane emissions is to multiply the amount of methane thought to be emitted by a particular kind of source, such as leaks at natural gas processing plants or belching cattle, by the number of that source type in a region or country. The products are then totaled to estimate all emissions. The EPA does not include natural methane sources, like wetlands and geologic seeps.

The national natural gas infrastructure has a combination of intentional leaks, often for safety purposes, and unintentional emissions, like faulty valves and cracks in pipelines. In the United States, the emission rates of particular gas industry components – from wells to burner tips – were established by the EPA in the 1990s.

Since then, many studies have tested gas industry components to determine whether the EPA’s emission rates are accurate, and a majority of these have found the EPA’s rates too low. The new analysis does not try to attribute percentages of the excess emissions to natural gas, oil, coal, agriculture, landfills, etc., because emission rates for most sources are so uncertain.

Several other studies have used airplanes and towers to measure actual methane in the air, so as to test total estimated emissions. The new analysis, which is authored by researchers from seven universities, several national laboratories and federal government bodies, and other organizations, found these atmospheric studies covering very large areas consistently indicate total U.S. methane emissions of about 25 to 75 percent higher than the EPA estimate.

Some of the difference is accounted for by the EPA’s focus on emissions caused by human activity. The EPA excludes natural methane sources like geologic seeps and wetlands, which atmospheric samples unavoidably include. The EPA likewise does not include some emissions caused by human activity, such as abandoned oil and gas wells, because the amounts of associated methane are unknown.

However, the analysis also finds that some recent studies showing very high methane emissions in regions with considerable natural gas infrastructure are not representative of the entire gas system. “If these studies were representative of even 25 percent of the natural gas industry, then that would account for almost all the excess methane noted in continental-scale studies,” said a co-author of the study, Eric Kort, an atmospheric science professor at the University of Michigan. “Observations have shown this to be unlikely.”

Natural gas as a replacement fuel

Even though the gas system is almost certainly leakier than previously thought, generating electricity by burning gas rather than coal still reduces the total greenhouse effect over 100 years, the new analysis shows. Not only does burning coal release an enormous amount of carbon dioxide, mining it releases methane.

Perhaps surprisingly though, the analysis finds that powering trucks and buses with natural gas instead of diesel fuel probably makes the globe warmer, because diesel engines are relatively clean. For natural gas to beat diesel, the gas industry would have to be less leaky than the EPA’s current estimate, which the new analysis also finds quite improbable.

“Fueling trucks and buses with natural gas may help local air quality and reduce oil imports, but it is not likely to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even running passenger cars on natural gas instead of gasoline is probably on the borderline in terms of climate,” Brandt said.

The natural gas industry, the analysis finds, must clean up its leaks to really deliver on its promise of less harm. Fortunately for gas companies, a few leaks in the gas system probably account for much of the problem and could be repaired. One earlier study examined about 75,000 components at processing plants. It found some 1,600 unintentional leaks, but just 50 faulty components were behind 60 percent of the leaked gas.

“Reducing easily avoidable methane leaks from the natural gas system is important for domestic energy security,” said Robert Harriss, a methane researcher at the Environmental Defense Fund and a co-author of the analysis. “As Americans, none of us should be content to stand idly by and let this important resource be wasted through fugitive emissions and unnecessary venting.”

One possible reason leaks in the gas industry have been underestimated is that emission rates for wells and processing plants were based on operators participating voluntarily. One EPA study asked 30 gas companies to cooperate, but only six allowed the EPA on site.

“It’s impossible to take direct measurements of emissions from sources without site access,” said Garvin Heath, a senior scientist with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and a co-author of the new analysis. “But self-selection bias may be contributing to why inventories suggest emission levels that are systematically lower than what we sense in the atmosphere.”

The research was funded by the nonprofit organization Novim through a grant from the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation. “We asked Novim to examine 20 years of methane studies to explain the wide variation in existing estimates,” said Marilu Hastings, sustainability program director at the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation. “Hopefully this will help resolve the ongoing methane debate.”

Other co-authors of the Science study are Francis O’Sullivan of the MIT Energy Initiative; Gabrielle Pétron of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Colorado; Sarah M. Jordaan of the University of Calgary; Pieter Tans, NOAA; Jennifer Wilcox, Stanford; Avi Gopstein of the U.S. Department of State; Doug Arent of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis; Steven Wofsy of Harvard University; Nancy Brown of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; independent consultant Richard Bradley; and Galen Stucky and Douglas Eardley, both of the University of California-Santa Barbara. The views expressed in the study are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. government.

Howl Now: The Beaten Masses & Mass Disaster

In Uncategorized on August 14, 2013 at 3:47 pm
Howl Now: The Beaten Masses & Mass Disaster

Oldspeak: Ginsberg would be proud. 🙂 This brilliant riff mirrors sooo many of my thoughts. Enjoy. Hope it speaks to you as deeply as it did to me. :-)” –OSJ

Related Content:

By David DeGraw @ Daviddegraw.org:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by debt
Struggling to get by, dying to make ends meet
Shopping for an angry fix
Wage slaves burnin’ for the illusion,
a fleeting connection to the celebrity driven machinery of slow death
Assembly line souls who had no choice but to sacrifice themselves
to the false idols
of almighty mass consumerism as their only religion
Illuminated through the church of television
& every medium of ill communication
Force-fed into their head… mind raped, since birth
Overwhelmed, sound bite attention span
Over-prescribed, bi-polar ADD youth
Bred to be numb, a dumbed down mindless consumer drone
No depth of thought, untaught
As they slept walked through universities
Not realizing the cost of it will enslave them
in a never-ending vicious cycle of debt
Naive youth first time away from home, on their own
Targeted by credit cards & loans
& taxes… to pay for endless war… against themselves
Death by a thousand cuts
Nickel & dimed, every second of… all the time
A generation chained to a game not of their making
Rat racing, inner-self repressed, freedom denied
Thinking thoughts of suicide inside sanitized walls
Surrounded by electronic plasma radiating terror, cellular cancer
Diseased souls smoking & drinking & drowning in flashing light
Trying to escape their repetitive life
by popping ecstasy & snorting coke in a paradise of bass beats in the night
Filled with… emptiness
Having random meaningless sex, hoping not to get STDs
Searching… for any hint of love & life
as they go through the motions
Day after day more of the same meaningless game
Monotonous & mundane
Work, shop, TV, sleep
Work, shop, TV, sleep
Routine, repetition
Less than human
Nothing left to believe in…
Praying…
Yearning… for a last minute escape, that never comes, from this madness
Flipping… through channels & tabloids
Vicariously living through the stars
Daydream delusions of fame
While eating… genetically modified, supersized fast food & drinking diet coke
Running on a treadmill in a plastic paradise of silicone & botox
Energy bars & supplements
Downloading / streaming porn & sterile music
Hoping to meet someone, anyone, online
Instant messages from distant “friends”
Like, LOL, OMG
Fractured family, holiday acquaintances, obligations
Travel expenses, gifts, time you don’t have to give
Got to keep hustlin’
Bills to pay, bills to pay, bills to pay
Pills to sleep, pills to take away the pain, pills to lose… weight, wait
Wrapped in a womb of insecurity
Giving off the illusion of prosperity
Fancy car lease, overpriced homes they cannot afford
Overpriced doctor bills, overpriced education, overpriced… everything
Runnin’ w/ the Joneses
White picket fences… & mouths to feed
The fake grass is always greener
There is no other side
Shopping malls & destruction
Chemical pesticide, pissing in the water supply
Gas pump pumping toxins into the sky
Ultra Violet rays shinning through ozone curtains
The shade recedes, the tides rise
Tanning under toxic skies
Human waste penetrates skin
Go take a swim in an ocean of pollution
Bathing in… raw sewage
Change in… the weather
A species with a disease
The pathology of greed
Race to the bottom
lowest common
denominator
Dominated…
Chewed up & spit out
Downsized & outsourced
Head hunting for temp work
Without benefits, no vacation, sickness unpaid, no health care
Home searching, showerless in underwear
Hiding behind a computer screen
Staring blankly, clicking madly
Burning bloodshot aging eyes…
Pounding veins & frying caffeinated brains
Who have ceased asking the big questions
Scampering for small lives
Bread crumbs from the table, circuses of distraction
A generation expelled from freedom, unknowingly
for being passive soldiers in the falling empire
Who know their vote doesn’t count
Disillusioned & marginalized, a systematic farce
Blanketed by lies & a four year dog & pony ritual
Watching plastic puppet politicians spew scripted words from tongues on a teleprompter leash
Watching shocking scandal after scandal
Watching unprecedented crimes go unpunished
Watching our future be sold & auctioned off to the highest bidder
A cancerously corrupted civilization
An entire generation born to conform & be blind to wider reality
& anything not repetitively projected on the TV
Who sit thoughtlessly & apathetically while surroundings burn
The silent & passive desperation of a defeated generation
The beaten masses & mass disaster
Denial & death
with little time left…

HOWL NOW

“Bradley Manning Has Become a Martyr”–WikiLeaks’ Publisher Julian Assange On Guilty Verdict

In Uncategorized on August 1, 2013 at 4:52 pm

https://i0.wp.com/www.havanatimes.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/julian-assange.jpgOldspeak: “The verdict is clearly an attempt to crush whistleblowers. It’s not going to crush whistleblowers. The problems that exist in the security state in the West, and a few other countries, as well,  are as bad as they have ever been, they’re rapidly accelerating. We now have a state within a state in the United States. There are more than five million people with security clearances, more than one million people with top-secret security clearances. The majority of those one million people with top-secret security clearances work for firms like Booz Allen Hamilton and so on, where they are out of the Freedom of Information Act, where they are out of the inspector general of intelligence’s eye. That is creating a new system, a new system of information apartheid, a new asymmetry of information between different groups of people. That’s relating to extensive power inequalities with the—if you like, the essence of the state, the deep state, the intelligence community, lifting off from the rest of the population, developing its own society and going its own way.

And we have a situation now where young people, like Edward Snowden, who have been exposed to the Internet, who have seen the world, who have a perspective, who have seen our work, the work of—allegedly of Bradley Manning and others, don’t like that. They do not accept that. They do not accept that the U.S. Constitution can be violated, that international human rights law norms can be conspicuously violated, that this information apartheid exists. That system cannot continue. We even saw Michael Hayden acknowledge that in an interview in Australia recently, that in order to function, the National Security Agency, the CIA, and so on, has to recruit people between the ages of 20 and 30. Those people, if they’re technical and they’re exposed to the Internet, they have a certain view about what is just. And they find that they’re—in their jobs, the agencies that they work for do not behave in a legal, ethical or moral manner. So the writing is on the wall for these agencies.” -Jullian Assange

“The writing is indeed on the wall for the gargantuan surveillance state and its controllers. It’s simple physics really. There are infinitely more people who want the internet open and free, than those who want it closed, sureveiled and exclusively used for profit and control. The people who want to control it have to hire people who want it open and free to work at their surveillance agencies.  It’s only a matter of time before the people who want it open and free, outnumber the people who want it closed and controlled at these agencies.  Thomas Drake, William Binney, John Kiriakou, Sibel Edmonds, Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Glenn Grunwald, Laura Poitras, are just the latest in a long line brave souls who’ve defiantly declared “we don’t need no thought control.…” Exposing the truth, lies, corruption, waste, fraud, abuse, unconstitutionality, murder, torture, violence, intimidation, censorship, that our government engages in in our name, with our tax dollars (granted significantly less so, increasingly funded by the corporatocracy). Knowing all we know we can no longer act surprised and appalled when some dude that just saw his family killed in a drone strike tries to blow up times square. Or when two disillusioned kids who’d previously attended CIA workshops, blow up a pressure cooker at the Boston Marathon. Meanwhile our selected officials vote to continue funding our nations extra-legal attrocities. Our government is making us less safe, with its secret panopticon equipped war machine. But it is as Mr. Assange said the writing is on the wall.  The apparatus is too large to hide from view now. The time of soma induced control is coming to an end.  .” -OSJ

By Amy Goodman &  Nermeen Shaikh @ Democracy Now:

The sentencing hearing for Army whistleblower Bradley Manning begins today following his acquittal on the most serious charge he faced, aiding the enemy, but conviction on 20 other counts. On Tuesday, Manning was found guilty of violating the Espionage Act and other charges for leaking hundreds of thousands of government documents to WikiLeaks. In beating the “aiding the enemy” charge, Manning avoids an automatic life sentence, but he still faces a maximum of 136 years in prison on the remaining counts. In his first U.S. television interview since the verdict, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange discusses the Manning “show trial,” the plight of National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, and the verdict’s impact on WikiLeaks. “Bradley Manning is now a martyr,” Assange says. “He didn’t choose to be a martyr. I don’t think it’s a proper way for activists to behave to choose to be martyrs, but these young men — allegedly in the case of Bradley Manning and clearly in the case of Edward Snowden — have risked their freedom, risked their lives, for all of us. That makes them heroes.” According to numerous press reports, the conviction of Manning makes it increasingly likely that the U.S. will prosecute Assange as a co-conspirator. During the trial, military prosecutors portrayed Assange as an “information anarchist” who encouraged Manning to leak hundreds of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The sentencing hearing for jailed Army Private Bradley Manning begins today, one day after he was convicted of six counts of violating the Espionage Act and over a dozen other charges for giving WikiLeaks hundreds of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables, raw intelligence reports and videos from the Iraqi and Afghan battlefields and elsewhere. Military judge Colonel Denise Lind found Manning not guilty on the most serious charge of aiding the enemy, which carried a potential life sentence without parole. Reporters who were in the courtroom say Manning showed no emotion as he stood to hear Judge Lind read the verdict. The sentencing phase of his trial is expected to last at least a week with more than 20 witnesses set to appear. The 25-year-old Manning faces a maximum of 136 years in prison.

AMY GOODMAN: In a statement to The Guardian, Manning’s family expressed thanks to his civilian lawyer, David Coombs, who worked on the case, which has now lasted three years. An unnamed aunt of Manning said, quote, “While we’re obviously disappointed in today’s verdicts, we’re happy that Judge Lind agreed with us that Brad never intended to help America’s enemies in any way. Brad loves his country and was proud to wear its uniform,” she wrote.

Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, responded to the verdict Tuesday saying, quote, “It seems clear that the government was seeking to intimidate anyone who might consider revealing valuable information in the future.”

Meanwhile, House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Rogers and Democratic Ranking Member Dutch Ruppersberger issued a joint statement that, quote, “justice has been served,” adding, “There is still much work to be done to reduce the ability of criminals like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden to harm our national security.”

Well, today we spend the hour on the Manning verdict and its implications. We begin with Julian Assange, founder and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, which published the secret cables obtained by Bradley Manning. According to numerous press reports, the conviction of Manning makes it increasingly likely that the United States will prosecute Assange as a co-conspirator. During the trial, military prosecutors portrayed Assange as an information anarchist who encouraged Manning to leak hundreds of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents.

Julian Assange joins us via Democracy Now! video stream from the Ecuadorean embassy in London. He took refugee in the embassy in June of 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he’s wanted for questioning around sex assault allegations but has never been charged. He remains in the embassy there because the British government promises to arrest him if he steps foot on British soil. This is his first interview with a U.S. TV show since the Manning verdict.

We welcome you back to Democracy Now!, Julian Assange. What is your response to the verdict?

JULIAN ASSANGE: Thank you, Amy. First of all, I must correct you. I have been given political asylum in this embassy in relationship to the case that is in progress in the United States. It’s a common media myth that’s put about that my asylum here is in relation to Sweden. It is not. Here I am.

My reaction to the verdict yesterday, well, first of all, really one of surprise in relation to the timing. This is a case that has been going for three years, two months at trial, over 18 months of interlocutory motions, at least 40,000 pages of judgments and evidence that the judge was required to read. But she has made her decision on 21 separate counts over the weekend. We said at the very beginning of this process that this was a show trial. This is not a trial where any justice can come about, because the framing of what was possible to debate was set from the very beginning. It was not possible for Bradley Manning’s team to say that he was well-intentioned. Motive was taken out of the case. The prosecution has not alleged that a single person came to harm as a result of Bradley Manning’s alleged actions, not a single person. And, in fact, no evidence was presented that anyone was indeed harmed. The defense is not allowed to argue that that means that these charges should be thrown out.

And so what we are left with here is 20 convictions for Bradley Manning. Five of those are for espionage. This is a case where everyone agrees that Bradley Manning provided the media information about war crimes and politics, some of which was published by the media. There is no allegation that he worked with a foreign power, that he accepted any personal benefit for the disclosures that he engaged in. And yet, we see him being convicted for five charges of espionage. It is completely absurd. It cannot possibly be the case that a journalistic source, who is not communicating with a foreign power, who is simply working for the American public, can be convicted of five counts of espionage. That is a abuse, not merely of Bradley Manning’s human rights, but it is an abuse of language, it’s abuse of the U.S. Constitution, which says very clearly the Congress will make no law abridging the freedom of the press or of the right to speech. That’s clearly been subjugated here.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Julian Assange, you said yesterday that the aiding the enemy charge for which Bradley Manning was acquitted was absurd, and it was put forward, quote, “as a red herring,” you said. Could you explain what you mean by that?

JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, you will have seen the way WikiLeaks has made its statements today. We have Bradley Manning, right now, despite having been acquitted of effectively being a traitor, aiding the enemy—he was acquitted of that—but he faces 136 years in prison, which is more than a life sentence. So, this aiding the enemy charge, while it has attracted a lot of people’s attention, because it has a possible life sentence or death penalty, really, it was just part of the extent of overcharging in this case. You know, at the very minimum, perhaps Bradley Manning could have been charged, say, with mishandling classified information. Of course, I think he should be acquitted of such a charge, because under the First Amendment and a number of other obligations we all have, he should be free to break one obligation to fulfill another: the higher obligations of exposing crimes and satisfying the Constitution. But where we have a aiding the enemy charge soaking up our public attention and many people going, “Oh, well, look, the justice system is just, because it’s taken this one out,” actually, this is one charge out of 21 different offenses. He’s still up for 136 years. The substantive aspect that a alleged journalistic source, pure in their motives, as far as there are any allegations for, and who received no financial payment, has been now convicted of five counts of espionage, that is absurd.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to break, but we’re going to come back to this discussion. We’re speaking to Julian Assange, our exclusive interview with him inside the Ecuadorean embassy. He’s been granted political asylum by the country of Ecuador but can’t leave the embassy for fear of the British government arresting him. Julian Assange is the founder and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks. We’ll continue with him in a moment.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. This is the broadcast on the day after the Bradley Manning verdict was announced, that he was acquitted of aiding the enemy but found guilty on a number of espionage-related and other charges. He faces 136 years in prison. The sentencing phase of the trial begins today 9:30 Eastern time at Fort Meade, where the court-martial has taken place. Just after the Bradley Manning verdict was announced Tuesday, Associated Press reporter Matt Lee asked State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki to comment on the verdict. Let’s go to a clip of their exchange.

MATTHEW LEE: What is the State Department’s reaction to the verdict in the Manning trial?

JEN PSAKI: Well, Matt, we have seen the verdict, which I know just came out right before I stepped out here. I would—beyond that, I would refer you to the Department of Defense.

MATTHEW LEE: Well, for the—

JEN PSAKI: No further comment from here.

MATTHEW LEE: For the entire trial, this building had said that it wouldn’t comment because it was pending, it was a pending case. And now that it’s over, you say you’re still not going to comment?

JEN PSAKI: That’s correct. I would refer you to the Department of Defense.

MATTHEW LEE: Can I—OK, can I just ask why?

JEN PSAKI: Because the Department of Defense has been the point agency through this process.

MATTHEW LEE: Well, these were State Department cables, exactly. They were your property.

UNIDENTIFIED: State Department employees were [inaudible].

JEN PSAKI: We don’t—we just don’t have any further comment. I know the verdict just came out. I don’t have anything more for you at the time.

MATTHEW LEE: Well, does that mean—are you working on a comment?

JEN PSAKI: I don’t—

MATTHEW LEE: Are you gratified that this theft of your material was—

JEN PSAKI: I don’t expect so, Matt, but if we have anything more to say, I promise everybody in this room and then some will have it.

MATTHEW LEE: OK. I’m a little bit surprised that you don’t have any comment, considering the amount of energy and time this building expended on assisting the prosecution.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Associated Press reporter Matt Lee questioning State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki right after the verdict came down. Our interview continues with Julian Assange, founder and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks. Your response to the government’s, U.S. government’s, lack of response and what this means also, Julian, in your own case?

JULIAN ASSANGE: It’s quite interesting to see the State Department doing that. The State Department has made many comments about this affair over the past three years, saying—Secretary Clinton, for example, saying that this was—once again, an absurd piece of rhetoric—an attack on the entire international community by our publishing organization and, I assume, by proxy, by our source, she would say.

Well, look, this investigation against our organization is the largest investigation and prosecution against a publisher in United States history and, arguably, anywhere in—anywhere in the world. It involves over a dozen different government departments. The tender for the DOJ to manage the documents related to the prosecution—the broader prosecution against WikiLeaks and myself, and not just the Manning case—is $1 [million] to $2 million per year just to maintain the computer system that manages the prosecution’s documents. So I assume those sort of statements by the State Department are a mechanism to reduce the perception of their involvement, which has been extensive over the last three years.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to turn to comments made by Trevor Timm, who’s the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, regarding your likely prosecutions or the consequences of Manning’s verdict for you. He said—although he agreed that the verdict brings the government closer to prosecuting you, he said, quote, “Charging a publisher of information under the Espionage Act would be completely unprecedented and put every decent national security reporter in America at risk of jail, because they also regularly publish national security information.” Julian Assange, your response?

JULIAN ASSANGE: Yeah, I agree. We’ve been saying this for three years now. It’s nice to see, finally, that in the past three months or so the mainstream press in the United States, at least McClatchy and The New York TimesWashington Post has been a bit more problematic—have woken up to the reality of what this case means for all national security reporters and, even more broadly, for publishers.

You know, the approach here has been to smash the insider and the outsider, as it was only one name on the table for an insider, and that was Bradley Manning; it was only one organization as the publisher, the outside force, that’s WikiLeaks, and most prominently represented by me. So in order to regain a sense of authority, the United States government has tried to, rather conspicuously, smash Bradley Manning and also the WikiLeaks organization. At least for WikiLeaks, the organization, it has not succeeded. It will not succeed. It is bringing great discredit on itself. Its desire for authority or perception of authority is such that it is willing to be seen as an immoral actor that breaches the rule of law, that breaches its own laws, that engages in torture against its youngest and brightest. In the case of Bradley Manning, the U.N. formally found against the United States, special rapporteur formally finding that the United States government had engaged in cruel and abusive treatment—cruel and inhumane treatment of Bradley Manning.

AMY GOODMAN: Julian Assange, I also want to ask you about BSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who remains, as you know, at the Moscow airport, who you’re deeply involved with helping to try to find a place of asylum. In a letter sent last week to the Russian minister of justice, the U.S. attorney general, Eric Holder, assured Russia that Snowden will not be executed or tortured if he’s sent back to the United States. Holder wrote, quote, “Mr. Snowden will not be tortured. Torture is unlawful in the United States.” He went on to say, “If he returns to the United States, Mr. Snowden would promptly be brought before a civilian court convened under Article III of the United States Constitution and supervised by a United States District Judge.” Holder also added, quote, “We believe [that] these assurances eliminate these asserted grounds for Mr. Snowden’s claim that he should be treated as a refugee or granted asylum, temporary or otherwise.” Can you tell us what you understand to be the latest situation for Snowden and what your involvement with Edward Snowden is, why he is so significant to you, what his actions have been?

JULIAN ASSANGE: Edward Snowden’s freedom is a very important symbol. Bradley Manning’s incarceration is also an important symbol. Bradley Manning is now a martyr. He didn’t choose to be a martyr. I don’t think it’s a proper way for activists to behave, to choose to be martyrs. But these young men—allegedly in the case of Bradley Manning and clearly in the case of Edward Snowden—have risked their freedom, risked their lives for all of us. That makes them heroes. Now, Bradley Manning has been put into a position, quite unjustly, where he is facing 136 years. That brings disrepute upon the United States government and upon its system of justice. Edward Snowden has seen what has happened to Bradley Manning. The Ecuadorean government, in their asylum assessment of me, looked at what happened to Bradley Manning.

U.S. guarantees about torture mean nothing. We all know that the United States government simply redefines its torturous and abusive treatment of prisoners—stress positions, restriction on diet, extreme heat, extreme cold, deprivation of basic things needed for living like glasses or the company of others—it simply redefines that as not being torture. So, its word is worth nothing, in this particular case. In relation to the death penalty, guarantees about the death penalty have more credence, but we wouldn’t want Edward Snowden to be in a Jack Ruby-type situation. That’s quite a possibility for him, that if he ended up in the United States prison system, that given the level of vitriol that exists against him by the administration, that he would not be safe from police, he would not be safe from prison guards, and he would not be safe from other prisoners. There’s no question that he would not—there’s no question that he would not receive a fair trial.

Similarly, the charges against him are political. There’s only allegations on the table at the moment that he acted for a political purpose: to educate all of us. Those are the only allegations that exist. It is incorrect that extraditions should take place for a political purpose. He’s clearly been exercising his political opinion. But we have seen amazing statements by the White House in relation to Edward Snowden’s meeting with Human Rights Watch, based in New York, Amnesty International, based in London, that that should not have happened, that that was a propaganda platform for Edward Snowden. I mean, this is incredible to see Jay Carney, a White House spokesperson, denouncing Edward Snowden for speaking to human rights groups. Edward Snowden cannot possibly receive a fair judicial process in the United States. Under that basis, he has applied for asylum in a number of different countries. I believe that Russia will afford him asylum in this case, or at least on a temporary or interim basis. And a number of other countries have offered him asylum.

AMY GOODMAN: Julian, what—Julian, what is the problem? Last week, there was breaking news that the Russian—that Russia had granted him temporary asylum, but now it is said that he has never been given those papers, so he can’t leave the—what, the airport lounge.

JULIAN ASSANGE: This is just the media. This is a case where there’s a lot of demand for information, so people just invent it, or they amplify some particular rumor.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Julian Assange, very quickly, before we conclude, the U.S. government now classifies 92 million documents a year—this is an unprecedented number—with over four million people cleared for security clearance. Can you explain what you think the significance of this is and has been for whistleblowers, and what the Manning verdict says to future potential whistleblowers?

JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, the verdict is clearly an attempt to crush whistleblowers. It’s not going to crush whistleblowers. The problems that exist in the security state in the West, and a few other countries, as well, as bad as they have ever been, they’re rapidly accelerating. We now have a state within a state in the United States. There are more than five million people with security clearances, more than one million people with top-secret security clearances. The majority of those one million people with top-secret security clearances work for firms like Booz Allen Hamilton and so on, where they are out of the Freedom of Information Act, where they are out of the inspector general of intelligence’s eye. That is creating a new system, a new system of information apartheid, a new asymmetry of information between different groups of people. That’s relating to extensive power inequalities with the—if you like, the essence of the state, the deep state, the intelligence community, lifting off from the rest of the population, developing its own society and going its own way.

And we have a situation now where young people, like Edward Snowden, who have been exposed to the Internet, who have seen the world, who have a perspective, who have seen our work, the work of—allegedly of Bradley Manning and others, don’t like that. They do not accept that. They do not accept that the U.S. Constitution can be violated, that international human rights law norms can be conspicuously violated, that this information apartheid exists. That system cannot continue. We even saw Michael Hayden acknowledge that in an interview in Australia recently, that in order to function, the National Security Agency, the CIA, and so on, has to recruit people between the ages of 20 and 30. Those people, if they’re technical and they’re exposed to the Internet, they have a certain view about what is just. And they find that they’re—in their jobs, the agencies that they work for do not behave in a legal, ethical or moral manner. So the writing is on the wall for these agencies.

AMY GOODMAN: Julian, I know you have to go, but I want to quickly ask one more time: What does the verdict in the Bradley Manning case—faces 136 years in prison—mean for you? Your name and WikiLeaks came up repeatedly throughout the trial. We know of a grand jury investigation of you and WikiLeaks in Virginia. Do you in fact know that there is a sealed indictment for you? And what does this mean for your time at the Ecuadorean embassy and your chance of getting out?

JULIAN ASSANGE: Based on conversations with the DOJ between my U.S. lawyers and the DOJ spokespersons, we know a lot. We know that Neil MacBride, the Virginia DA, has the grand jury process. My U.S. lawyers believe that it is more probable than not that there is a sealed indictment. It’s the only explanation for the DA behavior. The DOJ has admitted that the investigation against me and WikiLeaks proceeds.

In relation to the Manning verdict, we will continue to fight that. We have a lot of people now in his coalition. Bradley Manning’s support team has been great. The Center for Constitutional Rights also have been excellent, Michael Ratner, who’s been on your own program. That team understands what is going on; has been deployed, to a degree, to defend Mr. Snowden in public; and presumably, when the time comes, will also defend us. I am completely confident that the U.S. will not succeed in extraditing me, because I have asylum at this embassy. In relation to the broader attack on the rest of our staff, that’s still very much in the fight, but we’re not going to go down easy.

AMY GOODMAN: We just have this breaking news, which says that the Obama administration will make public a previously classified order that directed Verizon Communications to turn over a vast number of Americans’ phone records, according to senior U.S. officials. The formerly secret order will be unveiled before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that’s scheduled to begin in 20 minutes from our broadcast time right now. The order was issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to a subsidiary of Verizon in April. Your response to that, finally, Julian? And then we’ll let you go.

JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, Edward Snowden already made the order public, so, I mean, this is absurd. This is like our release of Guantánamo Bay documents and other documents. These have already been made public, and now the administration is going to apparently wave some magical pixie dust to remove the contaminant of it being formerly classified by the administration. So, I mean, here we have an example that there’s actually no disclosure before the public, until there is unauthorized disclosure before the public. If I’m incorrect, and this is not the document that Snowden has already revealed—

AMY GOODMAN: It is. It is the document.

JULIAN ASSANGE: Yeah, so, I mean, it’s—there’s some magical-like process going on here where there’s holy documents and unholy documents. Holy documents are documents that this classification state within a state, five million people with security clearances, have somehow done something, to sprinkle some absurd holy water on. These are just pieces of paper with bits of information on them and bureaucrats putting a stamp on them. That’s the reality. We’ve got to remove this religious national security extremism. It is a new religion in the United States and in some other countries. It’s absurd. It’s ridiculous. It needs to go.

AMY GOODMAN: Julian Assange, we want to thank you for being with us, founder and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, granted political asylum by Ecuador last year and sought refuge over a year ago at the Ecuadorean embassy in London.

In 2009 Obama Administration Committed To Creating An Unprecedented Level Of Openness In Government. In 2012 Government Censorship & Secrecy Hit All Time High

In Uncategorized on March 15, 2013 at 11:29 am

Oldspeak:“In this weeks edition of “Doublethink Theater” We have a quote from President Obama’s First day in office, January 21, 2009 “Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.”  Then this from his Memo on Transparency and Open Government: “My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.  We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government. Government should be transparent.  Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing.  Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset. My Administration will take appropriate action, consistent with law and policy, to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use.” Fast forward to 2013 and a quote from Alexander Abdo, ACLU National Security Project Attorney: “We’ve seen a meteoric rise in the number of claims to protect secret law, the government’s interpretations of laws or its understanding of its own authority. In some ways, the Obama administration is actually even more aggressive on secrecy than the Bush administration”  And this from Federal Judge Colleen McMahon after ruling against the New York Times and ACLU in its request to see government records providing legal justification for its assassination program: “I find myself stuck in a paradoxical situation in which I cannot solve a problem because of contradictory constraints and rules — a veritable Catch-22. I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the executive branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret.” Yes. YET ANOTHER instance of Senator Obama saying and doing one thing & President Obama saying and doing THE EXACT OPPOSITE. After authoring such transparency promoting law as The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act as a Senator, President Obama’s administration has censored & denied more requests for information than ever before, while taking much longer to respond to requests in general. Upholding “secret laws”. Flouting the constitution. Making legally unchallengeable secrecy claims. Prosecuting and jailing more government whistleblowers than any other President in history. While those who’ve engage in the fraud, waste, abuse and malfeasance whistleblowers have reported, continue to do so unmolested with no fear of reprisal;  in fact, in some egregious cases actually being rewarded with promotions.  Given these precedents, you can safely infer that next Administration will be even less transparent in its operations. Less responsive to the people.  America’s Inverted Corptalitarian Kleptocracy, will continue to grow, weakening representative democracy until the country collapses under the weight of rampant greed, criminality and corruption.  All in the name of “National Security”.
“2+2=5”.
“Ignorance Is Strength”.

By Jack Gillum & Ted Bridis @ The Associated Press:

The Obama administration answered more requests from the public to see government records under the Freedom of Information Act last year, but more often than it ever has it cited legal exceptions to censor or withhold the material, according to a new analysis by The Associated Press. It frequently cited the need to protect national security and internal deliberations.

The AP’s analysis showed the government released all or portions of the information that citizens, journalists, businesses and others sought at about the same rate as the previous three years. It turned over all or parts of the records in about 65 percent of all requests. It fully rejected more than one-third of requests, a slight increase over 2011, including cases when it couldn’t find records, a person refused to pay for copies or the request was determined to be improper.

The AP examined more than 5,600 data elements measuring the administration’s performance on government transparency since Obama’s election.

People submitted more than 590,000 requests for information in fiscal 2012 — an increase of less than 1 percent over the previous year. Including leftover requests from previous years, the government responded to more requests than ever in 2012 — more than 603,000 — a 5 percent increase for the second consecutive year.

When the government withheld or censored records, it cited exceptions built into the law to avoid turning over materials more than 479,000 times, a roughly 22 percent increase over the previous year. In most cases, more than one of the law’s exceptions was cited in each request for information.

The government’s responsiveness under the FOIA is widely viewed as a barometer of the federal offices’ transparency. Under the law, citizens and foreigners can compel the government to turn over copies of federal records for zero or little cost. Anyone who seeks information through the law is generally supposed to get it unless disclosure would hurt national security, violate personal privacy or expose business secrets or confidential decision-making in certain areas.

The AP’s review comes at the start of the second term for Obama, who promised during his first week in office that the nation’s signature open-records law would be “administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails.” The review examined figures from the largest federal departments and agencies. Sunday was the start of Sunshine Week, when news organizations promote open government and freedom of information.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement that during the past year, the government “processed more requests, decreased the backlog, improved average processing times and disclosed more information pro-actively.” Schultz said the improvements “represent the efforts of agencies across the government to meet the president’s commitment to openness. While there is more work to be done, this past year demonstrates that agencies are responding to the president’s call for greater transparency.”

In a year of intense public interest over deadly U.S. drones, the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, terror threats and more, the government cited national security to withhold information at least 5,223 times — a jump over 4,243 such cases in 2011 and 3,805 cases in Obama’s first year in office. The secretive CIA last year became even more secretive: Nearly 60 percent of 3,586 requests for files were withheld or censored for that reason last year, compared with 49 percent a year earlier.

Other federal agencies that invoked the national security exception included the Pentagon, Director of National Intelligence, NASA, Office of Management and Budget, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Federal Communications Commission and the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Homeland Security, Justice, State, Transportation, Treasury and Veterans Affairs.

U.S. courts are loath to overrule the administration whenever it cites national security. A federal judge, Colleen McMahon of New York, in January ruled against The New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union to see records about the government’s legal justification for drone attacks and other methods it has used to kill terrorism suspects overseas, including American citizens. She cited an “Alice in Wonderland” predicament in which she was expected to determine what information should be revealed but unable to challenge the government’s secrecy claim. Part of her ruling was sealed and made available only to the government’s lawyers.

“I find myself stuck in a paradoxical situation in which I cannot solve a problem because of contradictory constraints and rules — a veritable Catch-22,” the judge wrote. “I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the executive branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret.”

The AP could not determine whether the administration was abusing the national security exemption or whether the public was asking for more documents about sensitive subjects. Nearly half the Pentagon’s 2,390 denials last year under that clause came from its National Security Agency, which monitors Internet traffic and phone calls worldwide.

“FOIA is an imperfect law, and I don’t think that’s changed over the last four years since Obama took office,” said Alexander Abdo, an ACLU staff attorney for its national security project. “We’ve seen a meteoric rise in the number of claims to protect secret law, the government’s interpretations of laws or its understanding of its own authority. In some ways, the Obama administration is actually even more aggressive on secrecy than the Bush administration.”

The Obama administration also more frequently invoked the law’s “deliberative process” exception to withhold records describing decision-making behind the scenes. Obama had directed agencies to use it less often, but the number of such cases had surged after his first year in office to more than 71,000. After back-to-back years when figures steadily declined, as agencies followed the president’s instructions, the government cited that reason 66,353 times last year to keep records or parts of records secret.

The Homeland Security Department, which includes offices that deal with immigration files, received more than twice as many requests for records — 190,589 new requests last year — as any other agency, and it answered significantly more requests than it did in 2011. Other agencies, including the State Department, National Transportation Safety Board and Nuclear Regulatory Commission performed worse last year. The State Department, for example, answered only 57 percent of its requests, down from 75 percent a year earlier.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services drove a dramatic increase in the number of times DHS censored immigration records under exceptions to police files containing personal information and law enforcement techniques. The agency invoked those exemptions more than 136,000 times in 2012, compared with more than 75,000 a year earlier. Even though USCIS is not a law-enforcement agency, officials used the exceptions specifically reserved for law enforcement.

Under the law, a citizen can ask the government to reconsider its decision to censor or withhold materials. In the roughly 11,000 such instances last year where that happened, the government prevailed just under half the time. In about 3,400 cases the government turned over at least some additional information. These administrative appeals took about five months each.

The only recourse after such an appeal is an expensive lawsuit or to ask the government’s FOIA mediator, the U.S. Office of Government Information Services, to intervene.

The AP’s analysis also found that the government generally took longer to answer requests. Some agencies, such as the Health and Human Services Department, took less time than the previous year to turn over files. But at the State Department, for example, even urgent requests submitted under a fast-track system covering breaking news or events when a person’s life was at stake took an average two years to wait for files.

Journalists and others who need information quickly to report breaking news fared worse last year. The rate at which the government granted so-called expedited processing, which moves an urgent request to the front of the line for a speedy answer, fell from 24 percent in 2011 to 17 percent last year. The CIA denied every such request last year.

Under increased budget pressure across the government, agencies more often insisted that people pay search and copying fees. It waived costs in 59 percent of requests, generally when the amount was negligible or the release of the information is in the public interest, a decline from 64 percent of cases a year earlier. At the Treasury Department, which faced questions about its role in auto bailouts and stimulus programs during Obama’s first term, only one in five requests were processed at no charge. A year earlier, it granted more than 75 percent of fee waivers. The CIA denied every request last year to waive fees.

The 33 agencies that AP examined were: Agency for International Development, CIA, Agriculture Department, Commerce Department, Consumer Product Safety Commission, Defense Department, Education Department, Energy Department, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Interior Department, Justice Department, Labor Department, State Department, Transportation Department, Treasury Department, Department of Veterans Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Communications Commission, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Federal Election Commission, Federal Trade Commission, NASA, National Science Foundation, National Transportation Safety Board, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Office of Management and Budget, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Securities and Exchange Commission, Small Business Administration, the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Postal Service.

Follow Jack Gillum on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jackgillum

 

 

Lords of Disorder: Billions For Wall Street, Sacrifice For Everyone Else

In Uncategorized on March 7, 2013 at 5:38 pm

Lloyd C. Blankfein.Oldspeak:”“This bank is anti-fragile, we actually benefit from downturns.”-Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan ChaseThe term “antifragile” was coined by maverick financier & analyst Nassim Taleb, whose book of the same name is subtitled “Things That Gain From Disorder.” That’s a good description of JPMorgan Chase and the nation’s other megabanks… These institutions are designed to prey off economic misery. They suppress genuine market forces in order to thrive, and they couldn’t do it without our ongoing help. The Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve are making it happen.” –Richard Eskow. One look no further than how Mr. Dimon and his sociopathic corporation  profits off the misery of the poverty stricken by administering food stamp benefits to see his demented thought in practice. “A catastrophe for you and I usually presents an opportunity for the Titans of capital. And the grievous economic crisis affecting so many American families is no exception — big business has found a number of ways to profit, directly, from Main Street’s economic pain. Like vultures descending on a rotting corpse, they’ve come up with a variety of innovative methods to pull the last scraps of meat off the bones of America’s middle-class” –Joshua Holland. It’s very clear if one chooses to look. The corprocratic controllers of our political class and economic systems, profit from disorder, downturns, and catastrophes. Money is being redirected  from the people and real economy via austerity programs to prop up and sustain these failed, morally and spiritually bankrupt enterprises.  Knowing this, how logical is it to conclude that obviously deleterious political and economic policies that have us hurtling toward economic and ecological catastrophe will be changed to benefit the people? Not very. The problem is systemic. The systems around which we organize our societies must be fundamentally changed. All the nibbling around the edges that passes for sound policy is largely illusory.If we hope to survive as civilization we can no longer allow merchants of death and disorder who dominate the Military-Financial-Political Industrial Complex to reign as Lords of Disorder.”

By Richard Eskow @ The Campaign For Americas Future:

The President’s “sequester” offer slashes non-defense spending by $830 billion over the next ten years. That happens to be the precise amount we’re implicitly giving Wall Street’s biggest banks over the same time period.

We’re collecting nothing from the big banks in return for our generosity.  Instead we’re demanding sacrifice from the elderly, the disabled, the poor, the young, the middle class – pretty much everybody, in fact, who isn’t “too big to fail.”

That’s injustice on a medieval scale, served up with a medieval caste-privilege flavor. The only difference is that nowadays injustices are presented with spreadsheets and PowerPoints, rather than with scrolls and trumpets and kingly proclamations.

And remember: The White House represents the liberal side of these negotiations.

The Grandees

The $83 billion ‘subsidy’ for America’s ten biggest banks first appeared in an editorial from Bloomberg News – which, as the creation of New York’s billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg, is hardly a lefty outfit.  That editorial drew upon sound economic analyses to estimate the value of the US government’s implicit promise to bail these banks out.

Then it showed that, without that advantage, these banks would not be making a profit at all.

That means that all of those banks’ CEOs, men (they’re all men) who preen and strut before the cameras and lecture Washington on its profligacy, would not only have lost their jobs and fortunes in 2008 because of their incompetence – they would probably lose their jobs again today.

Tell that to Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, or Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, both of whom have told us it’s imperative that we cut social programs for the elderly and disabled to “save our economy.” The elderly and disabled have paid for those programs – just as they paid to rescue Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein, and just as they implicitly continue to pay for that rescue today.

Dimon, Blankfein and their peers are like the grandees of imperial Spain and Portugal. They’ve been given great wealth and great power over others, not through native ability but by the largesse of the Throne.

Lords of Disorder

Just yesterday, in a rare burst of candor, Dimon said this to investors on a quarterly earnings call: “This bank is anti-fragile, we actually benefit from downturns.”

It’s true, of course. Other corporations – in fact, everybody else – has to survive or fail in real-world conditions. But Dimon and his peers are wrapped in a protective force field which was created by the people, of the people, and for … well, for Dimon and his peers.

The term “antifragile” was coined by maverick financier and analyst Nassim Taleb, whose book of the same name is subtitled “Things That Gain From Disorder.” That’s a good description of JPMorgan Chase and the nation’s other megabanks.

Arbitraging Failure

Dimon’s comment was another way of saying that his bank, and everything it represents, is The Shock Doctrine made manifest. The nation’s megabanks are arbitraging their own failures, and the economic crises that flow from those failures.

These institutions are designed to prey off economic misery. They suppress genuine market forces in order to thrive, and they couldn’t do it without our ongoing help. The Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve are making it happen.

We who have made these banks “antifragile” have crowned their leaders our Lords of Disorder.

Once Dimon told reporters that he explained to his seven-year-old daughter what a financial crisis is – “something that happens … every five to seven years,” which “we need to do a better job” managing.

Thanks to fat political contributions, Dimon manages them well. So do his peers. Misery is the business model. And by Dimon’s reckoning another shock’s coming any day now.

Money For Nothing

Bloomberg’s use of the word ‘subsidy’ in this instance can be slightly misleading. Public institutions don’t issue $83 billion in checks to Wall Street’s biggest banks every year. But they didn’t let them fail as they should have – through an orderly liquidation – after they created the crisis of 2008 through fraud and chicanery. Instead it allowed them to prosper from it, creating that $83 billion implicit guarantee.

As we detailed in 2011, the TARP program didn’t “make money,” either. Banks received a free and easy trillion-plus dollars from our public institution, on terms that amounted to a gift worth tens of billions, and possibly hundreds of billions.

That gift prevented them from failing. In private enterprise, this kind of rescue is only given in return for part ownership or other financial concessions. But our government asked for nothing of the kind.

Unpaid Debts

Breaking up the big banks would have protected the public from more harm at their hands. That didn’t happen.

Government institutions could have imposed a financial transaction tax, whose revenue could be used to repair the harm the banks caused while at the same time discouraging runaway gambling.  They still could.

They could have imposed fees on the largest banks to offset the $83 billion per year advantage we’ve given them. They still could.

But they haven’t. This one-sided giveaway is the equivalent of an $83 billion gift for Wall Street each and every year.

Cut and Paste

$83 billion per year: Our current budget debate is framed in ten-year cycles, which means that’s $830 billion in Sequester Speak.  You’d think our deficit-obsessed capital would be trying to collect that very reasonable amount from Wall Street. Instead the White House is proposing $130 billion in Social Security cuts, $400 in Medicare reductions, $200 billion in “non-health mandatory savings,” and $100 billion in non-defense discretionary cuts.

That adds up to exactly $830 billion.

No doubt there is genuine waste that could be cut. But $830 billion, or some portion of it, could be used to grow our economy and brings tens of millions of Americans out of the ongoing recession that is their daily reality, even as the Lords of Disorder continue to prosper. It could be used for educating our young people and helping them find work, for reducing the escalating number of people in poverty, for addressing our crumbling infrastructure, for giving people decent jobs.

It’s going to Wall Street instead.

Trillion-Dollar Tribute

The right word for that is tribute. As in, “a payment by one ruler or nation to another in acknowledgment of submission …” or “an excessive tax, rental, or tariff imposed by a government, sovereign, lord, or landlord … an exorbitant charge levied by a person or group having the power of coercion.” (Courtesy Merriam-Webster)

In this case the tribute is made possible, not by military occupation, but by the hijacking of our political process by the corrupting force of corporate contributions.

The fruits of that victory are rich: Bank profits are at near-record highs. Most of the country is still struggling to dig out from the wreckage they created but, as Demos’ Policy Shop puts it, “for the banks it’s 2006 all over again.”

On Bended Knee

“Millions for defense,” they said in John Adams’ day, “but not one cent for tribute.”

Today we’re paying for both. That doesn’t leave much for the elderly, the disabled, the impoverished, the children, or anybody else who doesn’t “benefit from disorder.” Nobody’s fighting for them in this budget battle.

That leaves the public with a clear choice: Demand solutions that are more just and democratic – or submit willingly to the Lords of Disorder.

Austerity Measures, U.S. Style, Exposed

In Uncategorized on February 21, 2013 at 8:37 pm

Quarter.We have abandoned the common good. We have been stripped of our rights and voice. Corporations write our laws and determine how we structure our society. We have all become victims. There are no politicians or institutions, no political parties or courts, that are independent enough or strong enough to resist the corporate onslaught. Greater and greater numbers of human beings will be consumed. The poor, the vulnerable, the undocumented, the weak, the elderly, the sick, the children will go first. And those of us watching helplessly outside the gates will go next.” –Chris Hedges. When you understand the key purposes for Austerity Measures, referred to euphemistically in the U.S. as “Sequestration”,  “Deficit Reduction”, “Entitlement Reform”, “Fiscal Responsibility” and “Increasing payroll tax “, are to “(1) shift the burden of paying for crisis and bailouts (from the creditors/creators of the crisis), onto the total population, (2) reduce the economic footprint (privatization/monetization) of the government, and (3) reduce creditors(/crisis creators)‘ concerns about rising US debt levels.Richard Wolff, you begin to see that this urgent and well reported “debate” over Sequestration is just the latest installment of U.S. Government Kabuki Theater.  The White House and Congress twice agreed to go into sequestration in 2011.  Both sides are not talking, they are preparing for the list of cuts and positioning for the public relations disaster afterwards. There is a high probability that these cuts will go into effect. Even in the face of mountains of evidence from past and present day Europe that austerity does not enable economic growth, but does increase the potential for violence and social unrest. Austerity functions primarily as means by which the international banking cartels and the transnational corporate network ensures attractive returns on their investments/looting/fraud/market manipulation. It enriches those in the 1% at the expense of the poor, elderly, & disenfranchised. It fails to address one essential factor that accompanies the current depression. Inequality. Inequality and wealth concentration has equaled and exceeded levels reached in the last Great Depression. Raising the minimum wage a paltry $1.75 will have no significant effect on inequality or quality of life  among the nearly 1 in 2 Americans living in or near poverty.  There is no addressing of the hidden tax of  rising food prices created by the creditors/creators of the crisis’ unregulated and dangerous speculation on commodities markets. Austerity measures will actually make life significantly worse for the poor and less fortunate, creating more sick people, less housing, more hunger, less safety. This is the first in a series of  points of danger for our economy, enshrined in a series of laws which are the result of every accommodation the president has made over the last year and a half. Over the next 10 weeks, we will lurch from crisis to crisis, and the economic decision-making apparatus will remain in chaos through his deference. The “least” among us are being sacrificed. Who will be next?”

By Richard D. Wolff @ Truthout:

Austerity policies include various combinations primarily of government spending cuts and secondarily of general tax increases. Republicans and Democrats have endorsed austerity since 2010. Austerity was the result of their deal on taxes last December 31: increasing the payroll tax on wages and salaries from 4.2 to 6.2 percent. Austerity is what they are negotiating now in regard to federal spending cuts.

After 2010, with “recovery” underway for them following bailouts for them, large private capitalist interests focused on three key interests. First, they wanted to ensure that the bailouts’ costs were not paid for by higher taxes on corporations and the rich. By stressing government spending cuts and broad-based tax increases, austerity policies serve that interest. Second, they worried about crisis-heightened government economic intervention and power and wanted to reduce them back to pre-crisis levels. Austerity’s focus on reduced government spending lessens the government’s economic footprint. Third, because big banks and other large capitalists are among the major creditors of the US government, they wanted signs that their crisis-increased holdings of US debt were safe investments for them. Austerity policies provide just those signs, as we shall show.

Austerity in the US, unlike in Europe, is renamed and packaged for the public as “deficit reduction programs” or “fiscal responsibility.” Distractions such as “fiscal cliffs” and “debt ceilings” focus public attention on mere secondary details of austerity. Politicians, media and academics use such distractions to wrangle over whose taxes will go up how much and which recipients of government spending will suffer what size cuts. They do not debate austerity itself; that is, they do not debate very idea of raising mass taxes and cutting spending in a deep and long economic downturn. They do not explore the interests served and undermined by any austerity policy. So we will.

Austerity promoters repeatedly insist that the dominant economic problem today is government budget deficits. They ignore why those deficits occurred (the crisis plus bailouts). They demand that both parties and the media endorse austerity because cuts in government spending and increased taxes will reduce deficits. They hype austerity as the solution all must embrace. Otherwise, they fear, a different and dangerous logic might win popular support. In that logic, since capitalism regularly causes crises that cause deficits, another solution for deficits would be changing from capitalism to another economic system not beset by regular crises.

Austerity policies, we are told, will reduce deficits and thereby meet what “the credit market” demands. In other words, those who have lent to the US government (by buying its debt securities) want guarantees of interest and repayment. By cutting government spending and raising taxes, austerity policies redirect government funds to the government’s creditors, thereby reassuring them.

Distracting references to an anonymous “market” avoid identifying the government’s creditors. However, major creditors holding US public debt are easy to list: large banks, insurance companies, large corporations, wealthy individuals and central banks around the world. Austerity justified as satisfying “the market” in fact serves those US creditors first and foremost.

Austerity is thus the policy preferred by the private capitalist interests that (1) brought on the crisis, (2) secured the government bailouts almost exclusively for themselves, and (3) are that government’s chief creditors. Led by major banks, those interests now threaten the government (that just bailed them out) with higher interest rates or no more credit unless it imposes higher taxes (mostly on others) and reduced spending (mostly on others) to lower its deficits. Distracting struggles over “fiscal cliffs” and “debt ceilings” serve nicely to disguise the reality that both parties’ austerity policies represent and illustrate gross government subservience to large capitalists.

Austerity, US style, has its Keynesian economist critics. They point out that the United States has been able to borrow trillions at historically low interest rates through this crisis. US deficits have not worried “the market” at all. Policies should therefore not be driven by deficits. Keynesians insist that raising mass taxes and cutting spending during an economic downturn will reduce outlays on goods and services by taxpayers and government, thereby worsening unemployment. They thus ridicule the argument that austerity, by cutting deficits, will stimulate investment by capitalists.

For Keynesians, austerity is thus unneeded and counterproductive. They prefer to exit the crisis by more stimulus (lower taxes and higher government spending) funded by higher deficits. The resulting economic growth, they believe, will automatically lower government budgetary imbalance. The government can then later, if and when needed, impose tax increases and reduce government spending to shrink deficits. In a growing economy, austerity policies avoid the devastating effects they have in depressed economies (as shown by the recent histories of Greece, Portugal, the UK and others).

Setting aside the question of the validity of Keynesian arguments, they miss key purposes of austerity policies. Those policies do not primarily seek to overcome crisis or resume economic growth. Rather, as argued above, they aim chiefly to (1) shift the burden of paying for crisis and bailouts onto the total population, (2) reduce the economic footprint of the government, and (3) reduce creditors’ concerns about rising US debt levels. If austerity policies achieve these objectives, their failure to end the crisis quickly is a price that corporations and the rich are more than happy to pay (or rather, have others pay).

That Republicans and Democrats concur on austerity and differ only on its secondary details testifies to what they share. Both depend financially on capitalist corporations and their top executives. Both serve and never question capitalism. For all the victims of capitalism today – the unemployed, those foreclosed out of their homes, those with reduced job benefits and job security, students with unsustainable schooling debts and poor job prospects, millions without medical insurance, and so on – supporting those parties perpetuates their victimization.

 

You Can Go To Jail For Walking Between Subway Cars. No Jail For HSBC After Laundering 800 Million For Drug Cartels & Al-Qaeda

In Uncategorized on December 14, 2012 at 4:13 pm

https://i2.wp.com/i.ytimg.com/vi/B7EGhw1-Q54/0.jpgOldspeak: “The banking corporation HSBC has escaped indictment for laundering billions of dollars for Mexican drug cartels and groups linked to al-Qaeda. Despite evidence of wrongdoing, the U.S. Department of Justice has allowed the bank to avoid prosecution and pay a $1.9 billion fine. No top HSBC officials will face charges, either.” –Amy GoodmanWhen your most elite, most powerful members of the society adopt a strategy of plundering, then they will develop a morality that doesn’t simply permit plundering, but valorizes it. And when that happens, the moral structures of the society will inevitably deteriorate. In the upper classes that leads to polite looting. In the under classes that leads to street looting. –William K. Black  This is the nature of Inverted Totalitarian Kleptocracy. Blatant, rampant and repeated, spectacular violations of the law by those in the “inner party” go unpunished.  Brutal, unyielding, heavy handed, clinical enforcement of the law for those in the “outer party” and “proles” for the most ridiculously dubious “laws”.  HSBC joins an impressive list, Bank Of America, Citigroup, Wachovia, Wells Fargo, all found to be laundering money for illegal foreign organizations. Why is HSBC laundering money for known affiliates of terrorists? How is this organization not guilty of “material support for terrorism”, for which untold Muslims and anti-government activists are disappeared regularly? And no one goes to jail. As long as corporations fiance elected officials, write regulations and the legislation that establishes regulations, madness like this will continue. And get worse.

By Matt Taibbi @ Rolling Stone:

If you’ve ever been arrested on a drug charge, if you’ve ever spent even a day in jail for having a stem of marijuana in your pocket or “drug paraphernalia” in your gym bag, Assistant Attorney General and longtime Bill Clinton pal Lanny Breuer has a message for you: Bite me.

Breuer this week signed off on a settlement deal with the British banking giant HSBC that is the ultimate insult to every ordinary person who’s ever had his life altered by a narcotics charge. Despite the fact that HSBC admitted to laundering billions of dollars for Colombian and Mexican drug cartels (among others) and violating a host of important banking laws (from the Bank Secrecy Act to the Trading With the Enemy Act), Breuer and his Justice Department elected not to pursue criminal prosecutions of the bank, opting instead for a “record” financial settlement of $1.9 billion, which as one analyst noted is about five weeks of income for the bank.

The banks’ laundering transactions were so brazen that the NSA probably could have spotted them from space. Breuer admitted that drug dealers would sometimes come to HSBC’s Mexican branches and “deposit hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, in a single day, into a single account, using boxes designed to fit the precise dimensions of the teller windows.”

This bears repeating: in order to more efficiently move as much illegal money as possible into the “legitimate” banking institution HSBC, drug dealers specifically designed boxes to fit through the bank’s teller windows. Tony Montana’s henchmen marching dufflebags of cash into the fictional “American City Bank” in Miami was actually more subtle than what the cartels were doing when they washed their cash through one of Britain’s most storied financial institutions.

Though this was not stated explicitly, the government’s rationale in not pursuing criminal prosecutions against the bank was apparently rooted in concerns that putting executives from a “systemically important institution” in jail for drug laundering would threaten the stability of the financial system. The New York Times put it this way:

Federal and state authorities have chosen not to indict HSBC, the London-based bank, on charges of vast and prolonged money laundering, for fear that criminal prosecution would topple the bank and, in the process, endanger the financial system.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that the reasoning here is beyond flawed. When you decide not to prosecute bankers for billion-dollar crimes connected to drug-dealing and terrorism (some of HSBC’s Saudi and Bangladeshi clients had terrorist ties, according to a Senate investigation), it doesn’t protect the banking system, it does exactly the opposite. It terrifies investors and depositors everywhere, leaving them with the clear impression that even the most “reputable” banks may in fact be captured institutions whose senior executives are in the employ of (this can’t be repeated often enough) murderersand terrorists. Even more shocking, the Justice Department’s response to learning about all of this was to do exactly the same thing that the HSBC executives did in the first place to get themselves in trouble – they took money to look the other way.

And not only did they sell out to drug dealers, they sold out cheap. You’ll hear bragging this week by the Obama administration that they wrested a record penalty from HSBC, but it’s a joke. Some of the penalties involved will literally make you laugh out loud. This is from Breuer’s announcement:

As a result of the government’s investigation, HSBC has . . . “clawed back” deferred compensation bonuses given to some of its most senior U.S. anti-money laundering and compliance officers, and agreed to partially defer bonus compensation for its most senior officials during the five-year period of the deferred prosecution agreement.

Wow. So the executives who spent a decade laundering billions of dollars will have to partially defer their bonuses during the five-year deferred prosecution agreement? Are you fucking kidding me? That’s the punishment? The government’s negotiators couldn’t hold firm on forcing HSBC officials to completely wait to receive their ill-gotten bonuses? They had to settle on making them “partially” wait? Every honest prosecutor in America has to be puking his guts out at such bargaining tactics. What was the Justice Department’s opening offer – asking executives to restrict their Caribbean vacation time to nine weeks a year?

So you might ask, what’s the appropriate financial penalty for a bank in HSBC’s position? Exactly how much money should one extract from a firm that has been shamelessly profiting from business with criminals for years and years? Remember, we’re talking about a company that has admitted to a smorgasbord of serious banking crimes. If you’re the prosecutor, you’ve got this bank by the balls. So how much money should you take?

How about all of it? How about every last dollar the bank has made since it started its illegal activity? How about you dive into every bank account of every single executive involved in this mess and take every last bonus dollar they’ve ever earned? Then take their houses, their cars, the paintings they bought at Sotheby’s auctions, the clothes in their closets, the loose change in the jars on their kitchen counters, every last freaking thing. Take it all and don’t think twice. And then throw them in jail.

Sound harsh? It does, doesn’t it? The only problem is, that’s exactly what the government does just about every day to ordinary people involved in ordinary drug cases.

It’d be interesting, for instance, to ask the residents of Tenaha, Texas what they think about the HSBC settlement. That’s the town where local police routinely pulled over (mostly black) motorists and, whenever they found cash, offered motorists a choice: They could either allow police to seize the money, or face drug and money laundering charges.

Or we could ask Anthony Smelley, the Indiana resident who won $50,000 in a car accident settlement and was carrying about $17K of that in cash in his car when he got pulled over. Cops searched his car and had drug dogs sniff around: The dogs alerted twice. No drugs were found, but police took the money anyway. Even after Smelley produced documentation proving where he got the money from, Putnam County officials tried to keep the money on the grounds that he could have used the cash to buy drugs in the future.

Seriously, that happened. It happens all the time, and even Lanny Breuer’s own Justice Deparment gets into the act. In 2010 alone, U.S. Attorneys’ offices deposited nearly $1.8 billion into government accounts as a result of forfeiture cases, most of them drug cases. You can see the Justice Department’s own statistics right here:

 Justice Department’s own statistics
Justice Department

If you get pulled over in America with cash and the government even thinks it’s drug money, that cash is going to be buying your local sheriff or police chief a new Ford Expedition tomorrow afternoon.

And that’s just the icing on the cake. The real prize you get for interacting with a law enforcement officer, if you happen to be connected in any way with drugs, is a preposterous, outsized criminal penalty. Right here in New York, one out of every seven cases that ends up in court is a marijuana case.

Just the other day, while Breuer was announcing his slap on the wrist for the world’s most prolific drug-launderers, I was in arraignment court in Brooklyn watching how they deal with actual people. A public defender explained the absurdity of drug arrests in this city. New York actually has fairly liberal laws about pot – police aren’t supposed to bust you if you possess the drug in private. So how do police work around that to make 50,377 pot-related arrests in a single year, just in this city? Tthat was 2010; the 2009 number was 46,492.)

“What they do is, they stop you on the street and tell you to empty your pockets,” the public defender explained. “Then the instant a pipe or a seed is out of the pocket – boom, it’s ‘public use.’ And you get arrested.”

People spend nights in jail, or worse. In New York, even if they let you off with a misdemeanor and time served, you have to pay $200 and have your DNA extracted – a process that you have to pay for (it costs 50 bucks). But even beyond that, you won’t have search very far for stories of draconian, idiotic sentences for nonviolent drug crimes.

Just ask Cameron Douglas, the son of Michael Douglas, who got five years in jail for simple possession. His jailers kept him in solitary for 23 hours a day for 11 months and denied him visits with family and friends. Although your typical non-violent drug inmate isn’t the white child of a celebrity, he’s usually a minority user who gets far stiffer sentences than rich white kids would for committing the same crimes – we all remember the crack-versus-coke controversy in which federal and state sentencing guidelines left (predominantly minority) crack users serving sentences up to 100 times harsher than those meted out to the predominantly white users of powdered coke.

The institutional bias in the crack sentencing guidelines was a racist outrage, but this HSBC settlement blows even that away. By eschewing criminal prosecutions of major drug launderers on the grounds (the patently absurd grounds, incidentally) that their prosecution might imperil the world financial system, the government has now formalized the double standard.

They’re now saying that if you’re not an important cog in the global financial system, you can’t get away with anything, not even simple possession. You will be jailed and whatever cash they find on you they’ll seize on the spot, and convert into new cruisers or toys for your local SWAT team, which will be deployed to kick in the doors of houses where more such inessential economic cogs as you live. If you don’t have a systemically important job, in other words, the government’s position is that your assets may be used to finance your own political disenfranchisement.

On the other hand, if you are an important person, and you work for a big international bank, you won’t be prosecuted even if you launder nine billion dollars. Even if you actively collude with the people at the very top of the international narcotics trade, your punishment will be far smaller than that of the person at the very bottom of the world drug pyramid. You will be treated with more deference and sympathy than a junkie passing out on a subway car in Manhattan (using two seats of a subway car is a common prosecutable offense in this city). An international drug trafficker is a criminal and usually a murderer; the drug addict walking the street is one of his victims. But thanks to Breuer, we’re now in the business, officially, of jailing the victims and enabling the criminals.

This is the disgrace to end all disgraces. It doesn’t even make any sense. There is no reason why the Justice Department couldn’t have snatched up everybody at HSBC involved with the trafficking, prosecuted them criminally, and worked with banking regulators to make sure that the bank survived the transition to new management. As it is, HSBC has had to replace virtually all of its senior management. The guilty parties were apparently not so important to the stability of the world economy that they all had to be left at their desks.

So there is absolutely no reason they couldn’t all face criminal penalties. That they are not being prosecuted is cowardice and pure corruption, nothing else. And by approving this settlement, Breuer removed the government’s moral authority to prosecute anyone for any other drug offense. Not that most people didn’t already know that the drug war is a joke, but this makes it official.

By Amy Goodman & Juan Gonzalez @ Democracy Now:

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, let’s go on to HSBC. The banking giant has escaped indictment for laundering billions of dollars for Mexican drug cartels and groups linked to al-Qaeda. The bank reportedly supplied a billion dollars to a firm whose founder had ties to al-Qaeda and shipped billions in cash from Mexico to the United States despite warnings the money was coming from drug cartels. Earlier this year, a Senate investigation concluded that HSBC provided a, quote, “gateway for terrorists to gain access to U.S. dollars and the U.S. financial system.”

Despite evidence of wrongdoing, the Justice Department has allowed the bank to avoid prosecution and pay a $1.9 billion fine. No top HSBC officials will face charges. While it’s reportedly the largest penalty ever paid by a bank, the deal has come under wide criticism. Officials reportedly agreed to seek the fine over concerns that criminal charges would have hurt the global financial system.

Loretta Lynch is U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

LORETTA LYNCH: We are here today to announce the filing of criminal charges against HSBC Bank, both its U.S. entity, HSBC U.S., and the parent HSBC group, for its sustained and systemic failure to guard against the corruption of our financial system by drug traffickers and other criminals and for evading U.S. sanctions law. HSBC, as you know, is one of the largest financial institutions in the world, with affiliates and personnel spanning the globe. Yet during the relevant time periods, they failed to comply with the legal requirements incumbent on all U.S. financial institutions to have in place compliance mechanisms and safeguards to guard against being used for money laundering.

HSBC has admitted its guilt to the four-count information filed today, which sets forth two violations of the Bank Secrecy Act, a violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, or IEEPA, and violation of the Trading with the Enemy Act. As part of its resolution of these charges, HSBC has agreed to forfeit $1.256 billion, the largest forfeiture amount ever by a financial institution for a compliance failure.

AMY GOODMAN: That was U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch.

Meanwhile, HSBC Group Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver said in a statement, quote, “We accept responsibility for our past mistakes. We have said we are profoundly sorry for them.” He added the bank had, quote, “taken extensive and concerted steps to put in place the highest standards for the future.”

News of HSBC’s fine comes as three low-level traders were arrested in London as part of an international investigation into 16 international banks accused of rigging a key global interest rate used in contracts worth trillions of dollars. The London Interbank Offered Rate, known as Libor, is the average interest rate at which banks can borrow from each other. Some analysts say it defines the cost of money. The benchmark rate sets the borrowing costs of everything from mortgages to student loans to credit card accounts.

Well, for more on the latest bank scandals, we’re joined by Matt Taibbi, contributing editor for Rolling Stone magazine. His latest book is Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History.

Now, how did Forbes put it, Matt? “What’s a bank got to do to get into some real trouble around here?”

MATT TAIBBI: Exactly, exactly. And what’s amazing about that is that’s Forbes saying that. I mean, universally, the reaction, even in—among the financial press, which is normally very bank-friendly and gives all these guys the benefit of the doubt, the reaction is, is “What do you have to do to get a criminal indictment?” What HSBC has now admitted to is, more or less, the worst behavior that a bank can possibly be guilty of. You know, they violated the Trading with the Enemy Act, the Bank Secrecy Act. And we’re talking about massive amounts of money. It was $9 billion that they failed to supervise properly. These crimes were so obvious that apparently the cartels in Mexico specifically designed boxes to put cash in so that they would fit through the windows of HSBC teller windows. So, it was so out in the open, these crimes, and there’s going to be no criminal prosecution whatsoever, which is incredible.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And emails found where bank officials were instructing officials in Iran and in some other countries at how best to hide their efforts to move money into their system?

MATT TAIBBI: Exactly, yeah, and that’s true at HSBC, and apparently we have a very similar scandal involving another British bank, Standard Chartered, which also paid an enormous fine recently for laundering money for—through Iran. This, again, comes on the heels of the Libor scandal, which has already caught up two major British banks—the Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays. So, you have essentially all of the major British banks now are inveigled in these enormous scandals. We have a couple of arrests, you know, today involving low-level people in the Libor thing, but it doesn’t look like any major players are going to be indicted criminally for any of this.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And this whole argument that the bank is too big to indict because of the threat to the world financial system, most people don’t know that HSBC stands for Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. It’s a British bank that goes back to the early days of British colonialism in Asia.

MATT TAIBBI: Sure.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And is it too big to be indicted?

MATT TAIBBI: The amazing thing about that rationale is that it’s exactly the opposite of the truth. The message that this sends to everybody, when banks commit crimes and nobody is punished for it, is that you can do it again. You know, if there’s no criminal penalty for committing even the most obvious kinds of crimes, that tells everybody, investors all over the world, that the banking system is inherently unsafe. And so, the message is, this is not a move to preserve the banking system at all. In fact, it’s incredibly destructive. It undermines the entire world confidence in the banking system. It’s an incredible decision that, again, is met with surprise even with—by people in the financial community.

AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, Thomas Curry, head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the lead regulator for HSBC in the U.S., defended the settlement.

THOMAS CURRY: These actions send a strong message to the bank and to the financial services industry to make compliance with the law a priority to safeguard their institutions from being misused in ways that threaten American lives.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Thomas Curry, head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. It seems like a lot of people who are in prison right now—low-level thieves, criminals, drug launderers, people who have been accused of working with al-Qaeda—perhaps could appeal their convictions now and get out of jail.

MATT TAIBBI: Right. Right, yeah, exactly. I was in court yesterday, in criminal court in Brooklyn. I saw somebody come out of—come into court who had just been overnight in jail for walking from one subway car to another in front of a policeman. You can do real time in jail in America for all kinds of ridiculous offenses, for taking up two subway seats in New York City, if you fall asleep in the subway. People go to jail for that all the time in this country, for having a marijuana stem in your pocket. There are 50,000 marijuana possession cases in New York City alone every year. And here we have a bank that laundered $800 million of drug money, and they can’t find a way to put anybody in jail for that. That sends an incredible message not just to the financial sector but to everybody. It’s an obvious, clear double standard, where one set of people gets to break the rules as much as they want and another set of people can’t break any rules at all without going to jail. And I just don’t see how they don’t see this problem.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Matt, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer outlined some of HSBC’s alleged drug cartel ties.

ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL LANNY BREUER: From 2006 to 2010, the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico, the Norte del Valle cartel in Colombia and other drug traffickers laundered at least $881 million in illegal narcotics trafficking proceeds through HSBC Bank USA. These traffickers didn’t have to try very hard. They would sometimes deposit hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in a single day into a single account, using boxes, as Loretta said, designed to fit the precise dimensions of the tellers’ windows in HSBC’s Mexico branches.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Matt, this is like Monopoly, the board game, all over again, you know? Get out of jail free, you know.

MATT TAIBBI: Yeah.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Instead of $50, you pay $1.9 billion, but you’re still getting out of jail free.

MATT TAIBBI: And this fits in the—in with the pattern of the entire financial crisis. $1.9 billion sounds like a lot of money, and it definitely is. It’s a record settlement. No bank has ever paid this much money before. But it’s about two months’ worth of profits for HSBC. It’s not going to cripple this bank. It’s not even going to hurt them that badly for this year. It fits in line with the Goldman Sachs settlement in the Abacas case, which was hailed at the time as a record settlement. It was $575 million. But that was about 1/20th of what they got just through the AIG bailout. So, this is not a lot of money for these people. It sounds like a lot of money to the layperson, but for the crimes they committed, getting away with just money—and it’s not even their own money, it’s not their personal money, it’s the shareholders’ money—it’s incredible. It really—it literally is a get-out-of-jail-free card.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, of course, the way that big banks these days can borrow money from the U.S. Fed for no interest—

MATT TAIBBI: For free.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: For free.

MATT TAIBBI: Free.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Basically, they can just take money from the government and pay the government back.

AMY GOODMAN: What does the Justice Department, what does the Obama administration, gain by not actually holding HSBC accountable?

MATT TAIBBI: You know, I think—I’ve asked myself that question numerous times. I really believe—and I think a lot of people believe this—that the Obama administration sincerely accepts the rationale that to aggressively prosecute crimes committed by this small group of too-big-to-fail banks would undermine confidence in the global financial system and that they therefore have to give them a pass on all sorts of things, because we are teetering on the edge of a problem, and if any one of them were to fall out, it would cause a domino effect of losses and catastrophes like the Lehman Brothers business. And I think they’re genuinely afraid of that. And so, that’s the only legitimate explanation that you can possibly assign to this situation, because, as we know, Wall Street abandoned the Obama administration this year when it came to funding in the election. They heavily supported Mitt Romney and didn’t give Obama much money at all.

The “Looming Fiscal Cliff” Is a Hoax: Tax Reform As Wealth Privatization Scam & The Phony Crisis Industry

In Uncategorized on November 19, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Oldspeak:”Nothing’s “looming.” Nothing. There’s just some language in a law Congress passed last year. If they don’t want it to happen they can un-pass that law. It’s a simple as that. And do you want to know something? They don’t want it to happen. It’s a part of a long-range plan to scam the public into transferring even more of its wealth to the wealthiest among us: first by giving them lower tax rates, and then by cutting a program the public has already paid into. That way there’ll be less pressure to increases taxes on the wealthy later on. (They may also want to raid Social Security’s trust fund to pay for the deficits caused) –Richard Eskow. While the President meets with senior banking corprocrats to discuss how to avoid the latest manufactured crisis, corprocrat controlled media outlets avoid discussing the obvious and easy means to avoid austerity cuts. Probably because both parties have agreed that austerity is necessary.  Especially on public programs that are not contributing to deficit like Social Security. How long will Demopublicans engage in their latest  farcical dance masquerading as “negotiations” before they decide to sell their country to the highest bidders?  “Ignorance Is Strength”

By Richard Eskow @ The Campaign For America’s Future:

They’re dashing through the corridors of power in Washington with appropriately grim expressions this week. Congressional leaders are talking about the upcoming ‘fiscal cliff,’ which journalists are dutifully describing as a “looming crisis.”

In fact, if you do a Google News search for articles containing the words “fiscal cliff” and “looming” you’ll get 72,000 hits (as of Wednesday evening). We know because we tried it.

72,000 hits.

But nothing’s “looming.” Nothing. There’s just some language in a law Congress passed last year. If they don’t want it to happen they can un-pass that law. It’s a simple as that.

And do you want to know something? They don’t want it to happen.

Nobody Move

This phony crisis is a lot like this scene in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, where Cleavon Little as The Sheriff pretends to take himself hostage to escape an angry crowd. You may remember the gag line, which included a word we won’t use: “Nobody move or the $^((*&^(* gets it.”

Brooks crafts his throwaway lines pretty carefully, too. Look for the earnest man who says “I think he means it,” or the woman in the crowd who says “Won’t somebody help that poor man?”

Here’s how the “fiscal cliff” scam’s being played: Congressional Republicans are holding the guns to their own heads. Democrats are the town leaders, dutifully laying their weapons down.

And the American media are the gullible townfolk, carefully writing in their notebooks about the “looming” threat to their sheriff.

Johnny Law

Viewers of MSNBC know that progressives like Chris Hayes and Lawrence O’Donnell are dutifully trying to remove the word “cliff” from the nomenclature, since the effects of this law would be gradual — more like a “slope,” as they said the other night. They’re right about the “slope” part.

But it’s a tactical mistake to even engage in this kind of discussion, because there’s really no “slope” either. There’s just a law.

John Boehner’s law.

Sure, the President agreed to that law as part of a deal to settle deficit talks last year. At the time the Republicans were about to shut down the entire government. The GOP forced this law into existence.

That means the “fiscal cliff” is theirs. They own it.

Anyone who opposes disastrous, European-style austerity measures needs to stop talking about this in urgent terms. And nobody should characterize it as anything but what it really is: A deed performed by Republicans in Congress, which the same Congress can easily reverse.

That’s not just more accurate. It also places the responsibility for this pseudo-crisis exactly where it belongs.

A Gun to the Head

The motives for the hoax are easy to understand. As a Campaign for America’s Future/Democracy Corps poll reaffirmed after the election, the public overwhelmingly opposes any of the fiscal measures being negotiated as the result of this fictitious “crisis.”  A majority of voters, cutting across party lines, opposes virtually all of the ideas being discussed – including cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits, and reductions in anti-poverty programs.

Voters strongly support some steps that aren’t being debated because of this phony “crisis,” like increased investment in jobs and economic growth. These negotiations are likely have the opposite effect instead, leading to more cuts in these programs. In fact, of the many “debt deal” provisions being debated today, only tax increases for the wealthiest Americans have the majority’s approval.

No wonder Congressional Republicans are holding a gun to their own heads.

Unfortunately it’s pointed at our heads too. If Republicans get their way the entire country will be hit with austerity cuts that increase the poverty rates, hurt most people’s standard of living, and create even more unemployment.

This phony crisis is the GOP’s way of saying “Nobody move or the country gets it.” And if the public doesn’t make its voice heard, it will.

Manhattan Transfer

Here’s more proof that both the “fiscal cliff” and the “emergency” deficit talks surrounding it are a fraud: They include two issues that don’t belong in a deficit discussion at all.  One’s Social Security, which is forbidden by law from contributing to the national deficit.

The other is the scam known as tax “reform” and “tax code simplification” – which, in plain English, means a lowering of top tax rates for millionaires and billionaires – supposedly in return for reduced “tax expenditures” and increased “tax revenues” to be named at a later date.

Why would deficit talks include two ideas that won’t reduce the national debt, especially when “tax simplification” will undoubtedly increase that debt substantially? That’s an easy one: Because this phony “crisis” has nothing to do with deficits.

It’s a;; part of a long-range plan to scam the public into transferring even more of its wealth to the wealthiest among us: first by giving them lower tax rates, and then by cutting a program the public has already paid into. That way there’ll be less pressure to increases taxes on the wealthy later on. (They may also want to raid Social Security’s trust fund to pay for the deficits caused by their tax breaks.)

These “deficit” moves would transfer even more of our national treasure to the extremely rich – including those on Wall Street who created our economic crisis in the first place. That, and not a “fiscal cliff,” is what’s “looming.”

The Phony-Crisis Industry

In the past the President has sometimes seemed willing, even eager, to press for a larger “Grand Bargain.” He’s taking a tougher line today, especially about taxes on the wealthy, and should be applauded for that. He should also be urged to take an equally strong position on Medicare and Social Security, which he hasn’t done yet.

Everyone involved needs to understand that, thanks to some new fiscal and electoral math, the anti-austerity team is holding the winning hand now.

It’s true that a tougher Presidential stand would disappoint some people, especially the highly-paid professional “deficit hawks” from both parties. That includes people like former Clinton White House functionary Erskine Bowles, who ghoulishly described this artificial crisis as a “magic moment” to impose austerity measures on the American people.

Bowles is a Director of bailed-out investment bank Morgan Stanley. That means that, unlike most Americans, he would do very well under the lower tax rates proposed in these “deficit” discussions.

A repudiation of this pseudo-crisis would also embarrass professional scaremongers like Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who warned of “big financial market repercussions” if the nation goes over the “cliff.” But we haven’t seen any repercussions before.

The word for talk like that is “nonsense.” (Well, that’s one word for it.) Nobody’s going over any “cliff,” least of all the Republicans.

Dare Ya

Let’s be clear: It would be a bad thing if the provisions in this bill took effect for any length of time. But it’s time to call Boehner’s bluff. Good Democrats can’t let themselves be railroaded into austerity by this phony crisis, while the other kind – the Erskine Bowles Democrats – shouldn’t be allowed to use it as cover.

Boehner knows he’s in a weak position, which is why Republicans have quietly been looking for ways to delay the “cliff.”  Democrats should take note of that and recognize the motives behind it.

The President should go on television and say to Congress: If you won’t accept the will of the people, undo your reckless law. Democrats on the Hill should insist on up-or-down votes for provisions that the public wants. This charade won’t stop until the GOP’s bluff is called.

Boehner insists that Congressional Republicans, along with everybody else, are standing on a “cliff.” It’s time somebody dared them to jump.