Monday, April 21, 2014

Top 10 Guns of Sci Fi

Top 10 Guns of Sci Fi

10) Hornbill  (?)
cool sci fi gun
?

9) Arc Gun (8-D)(!!!)

District 9 Gun
District 9

8) Battlestar Galactica Gun  :-)

starbuck gun
from the original series. 

7) Lea Blaster

Lea's Gun
Ep.6

6) Captain Mal’s Gun

Captain Mal's gun from TV show Firefly. Too bad Firefly didn't have a longer life because I liked that show.

 firefly

5) Proton Pack

Proton Packs from the Ghostbusters movies.
Ghostbusters

4) Blade Runner Gun

Blade-Runner-Gun

3) Pulse Rifle

Aliens 2 Gun
Aliens







2) Han Solo Blaster

Han_Solo-scaled-blaster
 Ep. 5





1) Star Trek Phaser













Thursday, April 17, 2014

Princeton Concludes What Kind of Government America Really Has, and It's Not a Democracy

By Tom McKay April 16, 2014 


The news: A new scientific study from Princeton researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page has finally put some science behind the recently popular argument that the United States isn't a democracy any more. And they've found that in fact, America is basically an oligarchy.

An oligarchy is a system where power is effectively wielded by a small number of individuals defined by their status called oligarchs. Members of the oligarchy are the rich, the well connected and the politically powerful, as well as particularly well placed individuals in institutions like banking and finance or the military.
For their study, Gilens and Page compiled data from roughly 1,800 different policy initiatives in the years between 1981 and 2002. They then compared those policy changes with the expressed opinion of the United State public. Comparing the preferences of the average American at the 50th percentile of income to what those Americans at the 90th percentile preferred, as well as the opinions of major lobbying or business groups, the researchers found out that the government followed the directives set forth by the latter two much more often.

It's beyond alarming. As Gilens and Page write, "the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy." In other words, their statistics say your opinion literally does not matter.

That might explain why mandatory background checks on gun sales supported by 83% to 91% of Americans aren't in place, or why Congress has taken no action on greenhouse gas emissions even when such legislation is supported by the vast majority of citizens.

This problem has been steadily escalating for four decades. While there are some limitations to their data set, economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez constructed income statistics based on IRS data that go back to 1913. They found that the gap between the ultra-wealthy and the rest of us is much bigger than you would think, as mapped by these graphs from the Center On Budget and Policy Priorities:



Piketty and Saez also calculated that as of September 2013 the top 1% of earners had captured 95% of all income gains since the Great Recession ended. The other 99% saw a net 12% drop to their income. So not only is oligarchy making the rich richer, it's driving policy that's made everyone else poorer.

What kind of oligarchy? As Gawker's Hamilton Nolan explains, Gilens and Page's findings provide support for two theories of governance: economic elite domination and biased pluralism. The first is pretty straightforward and states that the ultra-wealthy wield all the power in a given system, though some argue that this system still allows elites in corporations and the government to become powerful as well. Here, power does not necessarily derive from wealth, but those in power almost invariably come from the upper class. Biased pluralism on the other hand argues that the entire system is a mess and interest groups ruled by elites are fighting for dominance of the political process. Also, because of their vast wealth of resources, interest groups of large business tend to dominate a lot of the discourse. America, the findings indicate, tends towards either of these much more than anything close to what we call "democracy."

In either case, the result is the same: Big corporations, the ultra-wealthy and special interests with a lot of money and power essentially make all of the decisions. Citizens wield little to no political power. America, the findings indicate, tends towards either of these much more than anything close to what we call "democracy" — systems such as majoritarian electoral democracy or majoritarian pluralism, under which the policy choices pursued by the government would reflect the opinions of the governed.

Nothing new: And no, this isn't a problem that's the result of any recent Supreme Court cases — at least certainly not the likes FEC v. Citizens United or FEC v. McCutcheon. The data is pretty clear that America has been sliding steadily into oligarchy for decades, mirrored in both the substantive effect on policy and in the distribution of wealth throughout the U.S. But cases like those might indicate the process is accelerating.

"Perhaps economic elites and interest group leaders enjoy greater policy expertise than the average citizen does," Gilens and Page write. "Perhaps they know better which policies will benefit everyone, and perhaps they seek the common good, rather than selfish ends, when deciding which policies to support.

"But we tend to doubt it."

Friday, April 11, 2014

Rigging the Electoral System for the Rich

Wednesday, April 9, 2014 by OtherWords
Either through electoral channels or a constitutional amendment, the American people must fight back against Supreme Court rulings like Citizens United and McCutcheon.
by Marge Baker


A poll conducted late last year found that more than seven in ten voters think our election system is “biased in favor of the candidate with the most money.

While nothing about this number is surprising — except, perhaps, that it’s not even higher — it does reveal the depth of cynicism characterizing Americans’ perceptions of our political system. We believe, correctly, that the system is rigged for the rich.
Especially in the wake of this month’s McCutcheon v. FEC Supreme Court decision that allowed our country’s wealthiest to dump even more money directly into our elections, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of America’s money in politics problem.

But as always, the biggest dangers create the biggest opportunities for change. With the McCutcheon ruling, the Supreme Court added fuel to an already awakened giant — a nationwide movement to reclaim our democracy that’s gaining steam like never before.

More than 150 events took place in 41 states and the District of Columbia the day the ruling came out, with activists pushing for a full range of long and short-term solutions.

A stream of rally photos showed thousands of committed citizens who are rejecting cynicism and pushing for change.

Of course, one avenue toward reducing the extent to which money is distorting politics is the courts themselves. When we cast our ballots in the last presidential elections, some of us were thinking about the connection between who we elect as president and the outcomes of campaign finance cases decided by the Supreme Court.

But not everyone recognizes that there’s a direct link. When you vote for a president, or for a senator, you’re not only electing those people for their term of office; in many ways, their most lasting legacy is who they will nominate and who gets confirmed to sit on our nation’s judiciary.

A change in the composition of the Supreme Court could have massive implications for our democracy. Both Citizens United v. FEC, the infamous case that opened the door to unlimited corporate political spending, and this month’s McCutcheon v. FEC were decided 5-4 with strong dissents. Some sitting justices have spoken out against Citizens United since it was decided.

It’s important for voters to know that our democracy was upended by a single vote. Justices Breyer and Ginsburg went out of their way to issue a separate statement in a 2012 Montana corporate spending case calling into question whether “in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway.”

As we elect new presidents who appoint new justices – and elect new senators who confirm or reject them – we can help turn the tide back toward restoring the constitutional power of the American people to impose reasonable limits on money in politics, a power demolished by the arch-conservatives on the Roberts Court.

Another equally important and parallel change effort we should be supporting is the push for a constitutional amendment to overturn Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon. Constitutional amendments are, and should be rare — reserved for the direst circumstances.

But with the power of regulating our elections and protecting our democracy stripped away from “We the People,” this is one of those moments. Everyday Americans and elected officials across the country agree: More than 16 states and 500 towns and cities have already gone on record in support of an amendment that would overturn these cases.

And 149 Members of the House and Senate are now on record in support of constitutional remedies. Such an amendment would establish an important bulwark against future right-wing Supreme Courts.

Whether by changing the court or changing the Constitution, the decisions that have gutted our campaign finance laws have got to go. Our democracy is too valuable to be undermined by a court interested in protecting wealthy special interests at the expense of the rest of us.

New American Reality: An Empire beyond Salvation

Thursday, April 10, 2014 by Common Dreams
by Ramzy Baroud

US Secretary of State John Kerry couldn’t hide his frustration anymore as the US-sponsored peace process continued to falter. After 8 months of wrangling to push talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority forward, he admitted while in a visit to Morocco on April 04 that the latest setback had served as a ‘reality check’ for the peace process. But confining that reality check to the peace process is hardly representative of the painful reality through which the United States has been forced to subsist in during the last few years.

The state of US foreign policy in the Middle East, but also around the world, cannot be described with any buoyant language. In some instances, as in Syria, Libya, Egypt, the Ukraine, and most recently in Palestine and Israel, too many calamitous scenarios have exposed the fault lines of US foreign policy. The succession of crises is not allowing the US to cut its losses in the Middle East and stage a calculated ‘pivot’ to Asia following its disastrous Iraq war.

US foreign policy is almost entirely crippled.

For the Obama administration, it has been a continuous firefighting mission since George W. Bush left office. In fact, there have been too many ‘reality checks’ to count.

Per the logic of the once powerful pro-Israel Washington-based neoconservatives, the invasion of Iraq was a belated attempt at regaining initiative in the Middle East, and controlling a greater share of the energy supplies worldwide. Sure, the US media had then made much noise about fighting terror, restoring democracies and heralding freedoms, but the neo-cons were hardly secretive about the real objectives. They tirelessly warned about the decline of their country’s fortunes. They labored to redraw the map of the Middle East in a way that they imagined would slow down the rise of China, and the other giants that are slowly, but surely, standing on their feet to face up to the post-Cold War superpower.

But all such efforts were bound to fail. The US escaped Iraq, but only after altering the balance of power and creating new classes of winners and losers. The violence of the invasion and occupation scarred Iraq, but also destabilized neighboring countries by overwhelming their economies, augmenting militancy and creating more pressure cookers in political spaces that were, until then, somewhat ‘stable’.

The war left America fatigued, and set the course for a transition in the Middle East, although not the kind of transition that the likes of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had championed. There was no ‘New Middle East’ per se, but rather an old one that is in much worse shape than ever before. When the last US soldier scheduled to leave Iraq had crossed the border into Kuwait in Dec 2011, the US was exposed in more ways than one. The limits of US military power was revealed – by not winning, it had lost. Its economy proved fragile – as it continues to teeter between collapse and ‘recovery.’ It was left with zero confidence among its friends. As for its enemies, the US was no longer a daunting menace, but a toothless tiger.

There was a short period in US foreign policy strategy in which Washington needed to count its losses, regroup and regain initiative, but not in the Middle East. The Asia pacific region, especially the South China Sea, seemed to be the most rational restarting point, and for a good reason.

Writing in Forbes magazine in Washington, Robert D. Kaplan described the convergence underway in the Asia pacific region. He wrote, “Russia is increasingly shifting its focus of energy exports to East Asia. China is on track to perhaps become Russia’s biggest export market for oil before the end of the decade.”

The Middle East is itself changing directions, as the region’s hydrocarbon production is increasingly being exported there; Russia is covering the East Asia realm, according to Kaplan, as “North America will soon be looking more and more to the Indo-Pacific region to export its own energy, especially natural gas.”

But the US is still being pulled into too many different directions. It has attempted to police the world exclusively for its own interests for the last 25 years. It failed. ‘Cut and run’ is essentially an American foreign policy staple, and that too is a botched approach. Even after the piecemeal US withdrawal from Iraq, the US is too deeply entrenched in the Middle East region to achieve a clean break.

The US took part in the Libya war, but attempted to do so while masking its action as part of a larger NATO drive, so that it shoulders only part of the blame when things went awry, as they predictably have. Since the January 25 revolution, its position on Egypt was perhaps the most inconsistent of all Western powers, unmistakably demonstrating its lack of clarity and relevance to a country with a massive size and influence. However, it was in Syria that US weaknesses were truly exposed. Military intervention was not possible – and for reasons none of which were moralistic. Its political influence proved immaterial. And most importantly, its own legions of allies throughout the Middle East are walking away from beneath the American leadership banner. The new destinations are Russia for arms and China for economic alternatives.

President Barack Obama
’s visit to Saudi Arabia in late March might’ve been a step too little too late to repair its weakening alliances in the region. Even if the US was ready to mend fences, it neither has the political will, the economic potency or the military prowess to be effective. True, the US still possesses massive military capabilities and remains the world’s largest economy. But the commitment that the Middle East would require from the US at this time of multiple wars and revolutions is by no means the kind of commitment the US is ready to impart. In a way, the US has ‘lost’ the Middle East.

Even the ‘pivot’ to Asia is likely to end in shambles. On the one hand, the US opponents, Russia notwithstanding, have grown much more assertive in recent years. They too have their own agendas, which will keep the US and its willing European allies busy for years. The Russian move against Crimea had once more exposed the limits of US and NATO in regions outside the conventional parameters of western influence.

If the US proved resourceful enough to stage a fight in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, the battle – over energy supplies, potential reserves, markets and routes – is likely to be the most grueling yet. China is not Iraq before the US invasion –broken by decades of war, siege and sanctions. Its geography is too vast to besiege, and its military too massive to destroy with a single ‘shock and awe’.

The US has truly lost the initiative, in the Middle East region and beyond it. The neo-cons’ drunkenness with military power led to costly wars that have overwhelmed the empire beyond salvation. And now, the US foreign policy makers are mere diplomatic firefighters, from Palestine, to Syria to the Ukraine. For the Americans, the last few years have been more than a ‘reality check’, but the new reality itself.

Surprising Number of Unregulated Chemicals Found in Food

Thursday, April 10, 2014 by Civil Eats
GRAS Out
by Twilight Greenaway

If you don’t recognize all the high-tech ingredients available in food and drinks these days, you’re not alone. Some of these new additions—such as glucosamine hydrochloride, gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA), or soy isoflavone extract—might show up in product marketing, while others, such as milk protein concentrate, will not. But whether new food additives are being promoted or not, a report released this week by the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) says their novelty isn’t the only reason we should be paying attention.

In fact, a fairly large loophole allows chemicals and other new food and drink additives to bypass review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because of a law passed in 1958. The law, which was intended to apply to common food ingredients like vinegar and vegetable oil—items that everyone could agree were safe to eat—allowed companies to deem ingredients in their products GRAS, or “generally recognized as safe.” Since then, the GRAS designation has continued to allow food companies to add ingredients to products without the need for FDA approval.

NRDC and others take issue with who is doing the “recognizing.” You see, while chemical companies have the option to offer up new additives for review by the FDA, they can also just call them GRAS and quietly start using them. And while the latter is considered the responsible thing to do, it’s increasingly less common.

NRDC looked closely at a list of companies, most of which have names like NutraGenesis, Biocell Technology, and NuLive Science and make additives that appear in things like energy drinks and sports bars—the relatively new gray area where supplements and food overlap. They found 275 chemicals from 56 companies, which, “appear to be marketed for use in food based on undisclosed GRAS safety determinations.”

“We took ingredients lists and matched them against FDA databases of regulated additives and we found a large number of additives on those ingredients lists that didn’t appear anywhere,” NRDC Senior Scientist and co-author of the report, Maricel Maffini, told Civil Eats. By process of illumination, she and her team were able to identify a list of so-called “self-determined GRAS ingredients.”

However, Maffini added, “We’re a research team, consumers don’t have the time or resources to do that.” In total, NRDC estimates that about 1,000 of the 10,000 additives used in food today have been added more or less on the down low by companies that don’t want to go through an official review process, don’t want their process known by competitors, or don’t want to face safety questions directly.

Thanks to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, Maffini and her co-authors got ahold of correspondence between a number of chemical companies and FDA staff members involved in review processes that resulted in withdrawals by the companies. If the FDA rejects a GRAS notice, it informs the company of its safety concerns and makes those concerns public. But if a company withdraws its request for review, the public is left in the dark.

In one example, Maffini and her team looked into a chemical called EGCG, made from an extract of green tea. “We found out the GRAS notice had been submitted to [the FDA] and withdrawn several times. However, it’s really popular in sports drinks, energy drinks, etc.,” she said.

“While the company was basically explaining that these types of purified chemicals were ‘just like green tea,’ FDA had concerns about EGCG,” Maffini said. In letters to the company, the agency pointed to studies that raised health questions, such as an association with fetal leukemia, and one paper that cited evidence that the chemical caused genetic damage in human cells.

And this is just one example. As the report reads, “companies found their chemicals safe for use in food despite potentially serious allergic reactions, interactions with common drugs, or proposed uses much greater than company-established safe doses.

Of course, NRDC isn’t suggesting that everything added to food under the GRAS rule is unsafe. The point is merely that, under the current system, there is no way for most consumers to know either way. And while many additives appear on ingredient lists, Maffini points out that when additives are used in “incidental” quantities, or included in categories like “natural flavors,” food companies have no obligation to disclose them.

NRDC has made a list of recommendations in the report, including that Congress require the FDA to be informed of GRAS determinations so it can confirm that each chemical’s use in food is, in fact, safe. The organization also wants to see the correspondence between FDA and the companies filing for GRAS review made public, even if they have been withdrawn. In other words, the group is pushing for a more transparent system all around. Until then, NRDC suggests that perhaps GRAS should stand for “generally recognized as secret.”

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Science Stuff (Funnies)


8 Headlines the Mainstream Media Doesn’t Have the Balls to Print

Paul Buchheit
RINF Alternative News

The following are all relevant, fact-based issues, the “hard news” stories that the media has a responsibility to report. But the business-oriented press generally avoids them.

1. U.S. Wealth Up $34 Trillion Since Recession. 93% of You Got Almost None of It.
That’s an average of $100,000 for every American. But the people who already own most of the stocks took almost all of it. For them, the average gain was well over a million dollars — tax-free as long as they don’t cash it in. Details available here.

2. Eight Rich Americans Made More Than 3.6 Million Minimum Wage Workers
A recent report stated that no full-time minimum wage worker in the U.S. can afford a one-bedroom or two-bedroom rental at fair market rent. There are 3.6 million such workers, and their total (combined) 2013 earnings is less than the 2013 stock market gains of just eight Americans, all of whom take more than their share from society: the four Waltons, the two Kochs, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett.

3. News Sources Speak for the 5%
It would be refreshing to read an honest editorial: “We dearly value the 5 to 7 percent of our readers who make a lot of money and believe that their growing riches are helping everyone else.”

Instead, the business media seems unable to differentiate between the top 5 percent and the rest of society. The Wall Street Journal exclaimed, “Middle-class Americans have more buying power than ever before,” and then went on to sputter: “What Recession?…The economy has bounced back from recession, unemployment has declined..”

The Chicago Tribune may be even further out of touch with its less privileged readers, asking them: “What’s so terrible about the infusion of so much money into the presidential campaign?”

4. TV News Dumbed Down for American Viewers
A 2009 survey by the European Journal of Communication compared the U.S. to Denmark, Finland, and the UK in the awareness and reporting of domestic vs. international news, and of ‘hard’ news (politics, public administration, the economy, science, technology) vs. ‘soft’ news (celebrities, human interest, sport and entertainment). 

The results:
  • Americans [are] especially uninformed about international public affairs.
  • American respondents also underperformed in relation to domestic-related hard news stories.
  • American television reports much less international news than Finnish, Danish and British television;
  • American television network newscasts also report much less hard news than Finnish and Danish television.

Surprisingly, the report states that “our sample of American newspapers was more oriented towards hard news than their counterparts in the European countries.” Too bad Americans are reading less newspapers.

5. News Execs among White Male Boomers Who Owe Trillions to Society
The hype about the “self-made man” is fantasy. In the early 1970s, we privileged white males were spirited out of college to waiting jobs in management and finance, technology was inventing new ways for us to make money, tax rates were about to tumble, and visions of bonuses and capital gains danced in our heads.

While we were in school the Defense Department had been preparing the Internet for Microsoft and Apple, the National Science Foundation was funding the Digital Library Initiativeresearch that would be adopted as the Google model, and the National Institute of Health was doing the early laboratory testing for companies like Merck and Pfizer. Government research labs and public universities trained thousands of chemists, physicists, chip designers, programmers, engineers, production line workers, market analysts, testers, troubleshooters, etc., etc.

All we created on our own was a disdainful attitude, like that of Steve Jobs: “We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.”

6. Funding Plummets for Schools and Pensions as Corporations Stop Paying Taxes
Three separate studies have shown that corporations pay less than half of their required state taxes, which are the main source of K-12 educational funding and a significant part of pension funding. Most recently, the report ”The Disappearing Corporate Tax Base” found that the percentage of corporate profits paid as state income taxes has dropped from 7 percent in 1980 to about 3 percent today.

7. Companies Based in the U.S. Paying Most of their Taxes Overseas
Citigroup had 42% of its 2011-13 revenue in North America (almost all U.S.) and made $32 billion in profits, but received a U.S. current income tax benefit all three years.

Pfizer had 40% of its 2011-13 revenues and nearly half of its physical assets in the U.S., but declared almost $10 billion in U.S. losses to go along with nearly $50 billion in foreign profits.

In 2013 Exxon had about 43% of management, 36% of sales, 40% of long-lived assets, and 70-90% of its productive oil and gas wells in the U.S., yet only paid about 2 percent of its total income in U.S. income taxes, and most of that was something called a “theoretical” tax.

8. Restaurant Servers Go Without Raise for 30 Years
An evaluation by Michelle Chen showed that the minimum wage for tipped workers has been approximately $2 an hour since the 1980s. She also notes that about 40 percent of these workers are people of color, and about two-thirds are women.

Monday, April 7, 2014

How We Can Fight Back Against the Supreme Court



Let me start by quoting two great men and a crook that died the other day.

"The issue today is the same as it has been throughout all history, whether man shall be allowed to govern himself or be ruled by a small elite." -- Thomas Jefferson

When asked if his payments to politicians had worked,  


Charles Keating replied, "I want to say in the most forceful way I can: I certainly hope so."

When asked outside of Independence Hall if we have a republic or a monarchy, Benjamin Franklin replied, "A republic, if you can keep it."

Well, here we are, aren't we? Right at the point where we are about to find out whether we can keep it or not. The Supreme Court has decided that a small amount of people will get to control our entire political system. Which politician or political party can resist hundreds of millions of dollars put in at once? Maybe one person can resist, maybe one party can resist for a small period of time, but eventually they will succumb.

In Congressional races, 95 percent of the time the person with more money wins. It doesn't matter if they are a Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal. It doesn't matter what their ideas are or what their ideology is. It doesn't matter what they think at all. You have more money and you will win 19 out of 20 times.

Justice Anthony Kennedy destroyed our republic. We knew Alito, Scalia, Roberts and Thomas were corporate robots. We knew they were going to say disingenuously that corporations or billionaires pouring in millions into our politicians' pockets wouldn't lead to corruption. What an unbelievable joke. But it turns out that Kennedy was the biggest joke of all. He claims that millions in campaign donations won't even result in the appearance of corruption. Can anyone with a shred of intelligence honestly believe that?

So, it was nice while it lasted. Democracy at the national level is dead now. We have replaced it with an open auction. This will not at some future date lead to a worst case scenario. We're already living in that scenario.

You don't have to worry about the top 1 percent. Now, the 0.00024 percent of the country who donate over a $100,000 to politicians will rule us all. Because even the federal limit of $123,200 per election cycle has now been eliminated by the McCutcheon decision. They can now spend unlimited money "contributing" to our politicians.

So, how do we escape this worst case scenario? Congress is corrupt and the Supreme Court is even worse. Luckily, there is one thing above them -- the constitution. Every generation of Americans has amended the constitution so that we may have a more perfect union. Except one. Us.

We must get money out of politics. We must amend.

At The Young Turks, we already knew how bad the situation was because every political story we covered had the same exact answer -- find which side has more money and you'll know who is going to win. So, I founded Wolf PAC, which has only one, unstoppable mission -- amend the constitution to get the corrupting influence of money out of politics. We're not interested in awareness -- we're already quite aware of how screwed we are. We're not interested in consciousness raising or being a respected institution inside Washington, DC. We're interested in results!

I didn't pick the name Wolf PAC by accident. I picked it so we could be super aggressive. I don't want to negotiate with the power brokers in Washington; I want to tear them down. The lobbyists, the special interests, the donors and the politicians who cater to them are what's wrong with our country. They robbed us of our representative government. It's time we stood up and took it back. Let's over turn their apple cart.

Our founding fathers were geniuses. They put a certain provision in the constitution because they knew that a day like this would come. We have never had to use it yet. But we have threatened it many times and that threat has been incredibly effective just as many times. The clause is Article V of the constitution and it says that you don't necessarily need 2/3 of Congress to propose an amendment. You can have 2/3 of the states circumvent a corrupted Washington and propose a convention to get the same amendment. You don't need Washington at all. 34 states propose a convention for this specific issue. 38 states ratify that amendment. And we have our democracy back.

Now, this is the point in the movie when you say -- but that's impossible. The suffragist movement got women the right to vote when they couldn't vote in the first place. Now, that was impossible. And they still got it done.

In fact, four out of the last ten amendments were proposed by Congress because of the threat of an imminent convention. We can make these guys bend to our will. They're not supposed to be the boss of us. We are supposed to live in a democracy where we control our own fate. We are supposed to be the home of liberty. And we can be that again.

Let me tell you what we've done so far without anyone noticing. We have introduced a resolution calling for this convention in ten states and have over 100 state legislators sponsoring and supporting these resolutions all across the country. We have an army of 13,000 volunteers. We are legion and we are coming.

Tell me again what isn't possible.

We were told in Vermont that we had a zero percent chance of getting this resolution passed in the state Senate. That was a week before we got it passed 28-2. How did we turn the impossible into the inevitable? How did we get true bipartisanship on this issue? Well, we have over 90 percent of the American people on our side. Republicans, Democrats, libertarians and independents all agree on only one thing -- our national politicians are bought. When the bills are introduced we get a natural avalanche of support. At the state level, an army of citizens turn out to be hard to resist.

In one of the states where we had success, our volunteers got a politician to do something he didn't want to do. The pressure of angry, concerned citizens clearly switched his position. One of those volunteers wrote me an email afterward and said, "It feels so good to get the power back."

We have gone for so long without being able to affect the course of our government, we have gone so long feeling powerless that we have forgotten what our birthright is. We are born free men and women in this country. If we rise up together, we can be that again.

Join us. Join the fight. Get up, let's get them back!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

SCOTUS Strikes Down Political Spending Limits for Rich Donors

The US govt is corrupt in every branch, every level. Wealth owns everyone and everything. Democracy--game over....



The New Citizens United
 Wednesday, 02 April 2014
By Mike Ludwig, Truthout


Demonstrations were held across the country Wednesday as the Supreme Court continued chipping away at federal campaign finance reforms with a 5-4 ruling striking down the federal cap on the total amount of money an individual donor can spend supporting candidates and political parties during a two-year election cycle.

The ruling, which split the high court along ideological lines, eliminates the aggregate the cap on the total amount of money an individual can donate to candidates and party fundraising committees during an election season, which was set at $123,200 for 2013 and 2014. That cap was so high that only a several hundred mega-rich donors reached it during the last election cycle.

Campaign finance watchdogs now estimate that a single wealthy donor could spread up to $3.6 million among candidates, party committees and some political action groups affiliated with a single party during a single election cycle. A single donor could theoretically spend twice that amount by supporting candidates and committees from both parties, according to the Sunlight Foundation.

Conservatives are hailing the ruling as a victory for free speech. Liberals and progressives say the ruling will only increase the corrupting influence that ultra-rich donors can have on politicians, dealing yet another fundamental blow to the legitimacy of American democracy. Activists organized about 140 demonstrations and events in 38 states to protest the ruling and call for legislative action.

The ruling is not as sweeping as the Supreme Court's infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, which removed caps on the amount of money that corporations and unions can spend influencing federal elections and unleashed a tidal wave of corporate campaign cash that made the 2012 elections by far the most expensive in history.

But the ruling - one of several rulings under Chief Justice John Roberts that have eroded federal and state campaign finance laws in recent years - surely will increase the ability of rich Americans to impact elections.

The ruling also could inflate the power of joint fundraising committees, which take large donations from donors and funnel the cash to candidates and party committees with full knowledge of who signed the original check.

"Eliminating these limits will now allow a single politician to solicit, and a single donor to give, up to $3.6 million through the use of joint fundraising committees," said Michael Walden, president of the Brennan Center for Justice. "Following the Citizens United decision, this will further inundate a political system already flush with cash, marginalize average voters, and elevate those who can afford to buy political access."

Wednesday's ruling in McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission does not touch limits on the amount of money an individual can give to a single federal candidate, which currently is set at $2,600.

Free Speech or Plutocracy?

The majority opinion, delivered by Roberts, claims these limits on individual donations will keep political corruption in check. The Roberts opinion, which was supported by the court's conservative justices, argues that the cap on the total amount and individual can spend during an election cycle can prevent a donor from giving to as many candidates as he or she chooses, which violates free speech rights under the First Amendment.

Like the Citizens United ruling, the majority opinion views political speech and the money spent by wealthy donors to support candidates and influence elections as one and the same.

"Contributing money to a candidate is an exercise of an individual’s right to participate in the electoral process through both political expression and political association," Roberts wrote for the majority. " ... The Government may no more restrict how many candidates or causes a donor may support than it may tell a newspaper how many candidates it may endorse."

Writing for the four dissenting justices on the liberal side of the bench, Justice Stephen Breyer argued that the ruling created a "loophole" allowing rich donors to donate millions to candidates and parties, and, coupled with the Citizens United ruling, "eviscerates our Nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve."

The case was brought before the court by the national Republican Party and Shaun McCutcheon; a wealthy businessman from Alabama who argued the cap on aggregate donations violated his First Amendment rights by prevented him from donating to Republican candidates he wanted to support in recent elections.

"Today, the court made clear that restraints on the political speech of those whose views you don't like must fail; free speech is the right of all Americans and not a revocable grant from the government of the day," said Dan Backer, the lead political counsel for McCutcheon and the Republican Party.

Campaign finance reformers, however, said the ruling is not a victory for free speech. It's a victory for the plutocracy.

"No matter what five Supreme Court justices say, the First Amendment was never intended to provide a giant megaphone for the wealthiest to use to shout down the rest of us," said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, a progressive watchdog group that supports campaign finance reforms. "Our only hope of overturning this McCutcheon travesty - along with Citizens United - is if millions of Americans band together in saying 'Enough!' to plutocracy."

Growing Grass-Roots Momentum

For several years, a broad grass-roots movement has pushed to overturn Citizens United, either through legislation or amending the Constitution to declare that money spent influencing elections is not the same as free speech. Activists also are pushing for federal legislation that would amplify the impact of small political donations made by average Americans.

Jonah Minkoff-Zern, an activist with Public Citizen who helped organize protests in response to the McCutcheon decision, said the ruling would only spark more grassroots momentum.

"The rallies are a way for us to say, this is not going to be a dark day in history but a day of organizing hope and a call for change," Minkoff-Zern told Truthout.

In recent years, lawmakers in at least 16 states have passed resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. Minkhoff-Zern said at least 150 members of Congress have signed on in support of similar resolutions.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Economic Scam of the Century

Government Backing for Toxic Mortgage Securities?
by MIKE WHITNEY
The leaders of the U.S. Senate Banking Committee,  Sen. Tim Johnson (D., S.D.) and Sen. Mike Crapo (R., Idaho),  released a draft bill on Sunday that would provide explicit government guarantees on mortgage-backed securities (MBS) generated by privately-owned banks and financial institutions. The gigantic giveaway to Wall Street would put US taxpayers on the hook for 90 percent of the losses on toxic MBS the likes of which crashed the financial system in 2008 plunging the economy into the deepest slump since the Great Depression. Proponents of the bill say that new rules by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) –which set standards for a “qualified mortgage” (QM)– assure that borrowers will be able to repay their loans thus reducing the chances of a similar meltdown in the future. However, those QE rules were largely shaped by lobbyists and attorneys from the banking industry who eviscerated strict underwriting requirements– like high FICO scores and 20 percent down payments– in order to lend freely to borrowers who may be less able to repay their loans.  Additionally, a particularly lethal clause has been inserted into the bill that would provide blanket coverage for all MBS  (whether they met the CFPB’s QE standard or not) in the event of another financial crisis. Here’s the paragraph:
Sec.305. Authority to protect taxpayers in unusual and exigent market conditions….
If the Corporation, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, determine that unusual and exigent circumstances threaten mortgage credit availability within the U.S. housing market, FMIC may provide insurance on covered securities that do not meet the requirements under section 302 including those for first loss position of private market holders.” (“Freddie And Fannie Reform – The Monster Has Arrived”, Zero Hedge)
In other words, if the bill passes,  US taxpayers will be responsible for any and all bailouts deemed necessary by the regulators mentioned above.  And, since all of those regulators are in Wall Street’s hip-pocket, there’s no question what they’ll do when the time comes. They’ll bailout they’re fatcat buddies and dump the losses on John Q. Public.

If you can’t believe what you are reading or if you think that the system is so thoroughly corrupt it can’t be fixed; you’re not alone. This latest outrage just confirms that the Congress, the executive and all the chief regulators are mere marionettes performing whatever task is asked of them by their Wall Street paymasters.

The stated goal of the Johnson-Crapo bill is to “overhaul” mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac so that “private capital can play the central role in home finance.” (That’s how Barack Obama summed it up.) Of course, that’s not really the purpose at all. The real objective is to hand over the profit-generating mechanism to the private banks (Fannie and Freddie have been raking in the dough for the last three years) while the red ink is passed on to the public. That’s what’s really going on.

According to the Wall Street Journal,  the bill will
“construct an elaborate new platform by which a number of private-sector entities, together with a privately held but federally regulated utility, would replace key roles long played by Fannie and Freddie….”
“The legislation replaces the mortgage-finance giants with a new system in which the government would continue to play a potentially significant role insuring U.S. home loans.” (“Plan for Mortgage Giants Takes Shape”, Wall Street Journal) 
“Significant role”? What significant role? (Here’s where it gets interesting.)

The WSJ:
“The Senate bill would repurpose the firms’ existing regulator as a new “Federal Mortgage Insurance Corp.” and charge the agency with approving new firms to pool loans into securities. Those firms could then purchase federal insurance to guarantee payments to investors in those bonds. The FMIC would insure mortgage bonds much the way the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. provides bank-deposit insurance.”
Unbelievable. So they want to turn F and F into an insurance company that backs up the garbage mortgages created by the same banks that just ripped us all off for trillions of dollars on the same freaking swindle?

You can’t be serious?

More from the WSJ
“Mortgage guarantors would be required to maintain a 10% capital buffer against losses and to have that capital extinguished before the federal insurance would be triggered.”

10 percent? What the hell difference does 10 percent make; that’s a drop in the bucket.  If the banks are going to issue mortgages to people who can’t repay the debt, then they need to cover the damn losses themselves, otherwise they shouldn’t be in the banking biz to begin with, right?

This is such an outrageous, in-your-face ripoff, it shouldn’t even require a response. These jokers should be laughed out of the senate. All the same,  the bill is moving forward, and President Twoface has thrown his weight behind it. Is there sort of illicit, under-the-table, villainous activity this man won’t support?

Not when it comes to his big bank buddies, there isn’t. Now check out this clip from an article by economist Dean Baker. Baker refers to the Corker-Warner bill, but the Crapo-Johnson fiasco is roughly the same deal. Here’s Baker:
“The Corker-Warner bill does much more than just eliminate Fannie and Freddie. In their place, it would establish a system whereby private financial institutions could issue mortgage-backed securities (MBS) that carry a government guarantee. In the event that a large number of mortgages in the MBS went bad, the investors would be on the hook for losses up to 10 percent of its value, after that point the government gets the tab.
If you think that sounds like a reasonable system, then you must not have been around during the housing crash and ensuing financial crisis. At the peak of the crisis in 2008-2009 the worst subprime MBS were selling at 30-40 cents on the dollar. This means the government would have been picking up a large tab under the Corker-Warner system, even if investors had been forced to eat a loss equal to 10 percent of the MBS price.
The pre-crisis financial structure gave banks an enormous incentive to package low quality and even fraudulent mortgages into MBS. The system laid out in the Corker-Warner bill would make these incentives even larger. The biggest difference is that now the banks can tell investors that their MBS come with a government guarantee, so that they most they stand to lose is 10 percent of the purchase price.” (“The disastrous idea for privatizing Fannie and Freddie”, Dean Baker, Al Jazeera)
Just ponder that last part for a minute: “The bill would make these incentives even larger.”

Do you really think we should create bigger incentives for these dirtbags to rip us off? Does that make sense to you? Here’s more from Baker:
“The changes in financial regulation are also unlikely to provide much protection. In the immediate wake of the crisis there were demands securitizers keep a substantial stake in the mortgages they put into their pools, to ensure that they had an incentive to only securitize good mortgages. Some reformers were demanding as much as a 20 percent stake in every mortgage.
Over the course of the debate on the Dodd-Frank bill and subsequent rules writing this stake got ever smaller. Instead of being 20 percent, it was decided that securitizers only had to keep a 5 percent stake. And for mortgages meeting certain standards they wouldn’t have to keep any stake at all.
Originally only mortgages in which the homeowner had a down payment of 20 percent or more passed this good mortgage standard. That cutoff got lowered to 10 percent and then was lowered further to 5 percent. Even though mortgages with just 5 percent down are four times as likely to default as mortgages with 20 percent or more down, securitizers will not be required to keep any stake in them when they put them into a MBS.”
Hold on there, Dean. You mean Dodd Frank didn’t ”put things right”?  What the heck? I thought that “tough new regulations” assured us that the banks wouldn’t blow up the system again in five years or so. Was that all baloney?

Yep, sure was. 100% baloney. Once the banks unleashed their army of attorneys and lobbyists on Capital Hill,  new regulations didn’t stand a chance. They turned Dodd Frank into mincemeat and now we’re back to square one.

And don’t expect the ratings agencies to help out either because they’re in the same shape they were before the crash. No changes at all.  They still get paid by the guys who issue the mortgage-backed securities (MBS) which is about the same as if you paid the salary of the guy who grades your midterm exam. Do you think that might cloud his judgment a bit? You’re damn right, it would; just like paying the ratings agencies guarantees you’ll get the rating you want. The whole system sucks.

And as far as the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, well, you guessed it. The banks played a role in drafting the new “Qualified Mortgage” standard too, which is really no standard at all, since no self-respecting lender would ever use the same criteria for issuing a loan or mortgage. For example, no banker is going to say, “Heck, Josh, we don’t need your credit scores. We don’t need a down-payment. We’re all friends here, right? So, how much do you need for that mortgage old buddy, $300,000, $400,000, $500,000.  You name it. The sky’s the limit.”

No down payment? No credit scores? And they have the audacity to call this a qualified mortgage?
Qualified for what? Qualified for sticking it to the taxpayers?  The real purpose of the qualified mortgage is to protect the banks from their own shifty deals. That’s what it’s all about. It provides them with “safe harbor” in the event that the borrower defaults. What does that mean?

It means that the government can’t get its money back if the loan blows up.   The qualified mortgage actually protects the banks, not the consumer. That’s why it’s such a farce,  just like Dodd Frank is a farce. Nothing has changed. Nothing. In fact, it’s gotten worse. Now we’re on the hook for whatever losses the banks run up peddling mortgage credit to anyone who can fog a mirror.

We’ll leave the last word for Dean Baker, since he seems like the only guy in America who has figured out what the hell is going on:
“In short, the Corker-Warner plan to privatize Fannie and Freddie is essentially a proposal to reinstitute the structure of incentives that gave us the housing bubble and the financial crisis, but this time with the added fuel of an explicit government guarantee on the subprime MBS. If that doesn’t sound like a great idea to you then you haven’t spent enough time around powerful people in Washington.”
The Johnson-Crapo bill doesn’t have anything to do with “winding down” Fannie and Freddie or “overhauling” the mortgage finance industry. It’s a bald-face ripoff engineered by two chiseling senators who are putting the country at risk to beef up Wall Street’s bottom line.

It’s the scam of the century.

How Much War Does Washington Want?

by PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS


I doubt that the Ukraine crisis precipitated by Washington’s overthrow of the democratic government is over. Washington has won the propaganda war everywhere outside of Russia and Ukraine itself. Within Ukraine people are aware that the coup has made them worse off. The Crimea has already separated from the US puppet government in Kiev and rejoined Russia. Other parts of Russian Ukraine could follow.

In Kiev itself where the unelected, imposed-by-Washington dictatorial government resides, extreme right-wing Ukrainian nationalists, whose roots go back to fighting for National Socialist Germany, are at work intimidating public prosecutors, media editors, and the US imposed “government” itself. There is an abundance of videos available on the Internet, some made by the extreme nationalists themselves, that clearly reveal the intimidation of the imposed and unelected government installed by Washington.

In Kiev US bribes contend with naked neo-nazi force. Which will prevail?

The murder of ultra-nationalist Right Sector militant leader Myzychko by police of the acting Interior Minister of the American stooge government in Ukraine on March 25 has resulted in another Right Sector leader, Dmitry Yarosh, demanding the resignation of Arsen Avakov, the acting Interior Minister and the arrest of the police who killed Muzychko. Yarosh declared: “We cannot watch silently as the Interior Ministry works to undermine the revolution.” Right Sector organizer Roman Koval in Rovno, Ukraine, warned: “We will take revenge on Avakov for the death of our brother.”

How this will play out is uncertain at this time. The violence provided by the Right Sector and other ultra-nationalist groups was essential to the success of the Washington-backed coup in overthrowing the elected democratic government. But the Right Sector has emerged as both an embarrassment and a threat to the unelected coup government and to its Washington sponsors who are selling the Washington-installed puppet government as a progressive exercise in democracy. This sell is difficult when ultra-nationalist thugs are beating up the imposed government.

Could civil war break out in Kiev between the Right Sector and the government installed by Washington? We know that the Right Sector was sufficiently organized and disciplined to take over the protests. We don’t know how well organized is the Washington puppet government or what force this group has at its disposal. We don’t know whether Washington has provided mercenaries to protect the government Washington has installed. It is not clear at this time where the power balance lies between the Right Sector and the US stooge government.

The American, UK, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, EU propaganda machine has blamed Putin for all the trouble. But so far the Russian government has not had to do anything except comply with the self-determination of the people in the Russian areas of Ukraine. Much of Ukraine, as it exists or existed today, consists of Russian territories added to Ukraine by Soviet rulers.

When Ukraine became independent with Russia’s agreement when the Soviet Union collapsed, had the Russian territories first been put back into Russia from whence they came, Washington’s coup would not have resulted in the same level of crisis.

Instead, under Washington’s pressure, the Russian territory was retained by Ukraine, and in compensation Russia was given a 50-year lease on Sevastopol, Russia’s Black Sea naval base.

The purpose of the Washington financed and orchestrated coup in Kiev was to put Ukraine, with its artificial boundaries, into the EU and NATO and to evict Russia from its warm water port and ring Russia with US missile bases. Washington and its European puppets described this as “bringing democracy to Ukraine.”

Ukraine already had democracy, a young one trying to put down roots, and Washington destroyed it. As Russian President Putin observed, overthrowing a brand new democracy destroys democracy. Washington’s coup established for Ukraine the precedent that force and propaganda rule, not democracy.

But Washington cares not for democracy, only for its agenda. And Russia, China, and Iran are in the way.

The neoconservatives, who have controlled US foreign policy since the Clinton regime, concluded that the Soviet collapse meant that History has chosen America as the socio-economic system for the world. They declared the US to be “exceptional” and “indispensable” and above international law. Washington had a free pass to invade, murder, destroy, and dominate. The neoconservative claims of “American exceptionalism” sound like Hitler’s claims for the German nation. When the White House sock puppet expressed in a speech the claim of American exceptionalism, Putin replied: “God made us all equal.”

Washington’s opinion is that the exceptional and indispensable nation–the US–is above not only all other nations but also above law. What Washington does is legal. What anyone else does in opposition is illegal.

Washington’s intervention in Ukraine has unleashed dark forces. Yulia Tymoshenko, the criminal Ukrainian oligarch, who braids her hair or hair piece over her head like a crown, was released from prison by Washington’s stooges and has not stopped putting her foot, or both feet, in her mouth. Her latest in her intercepted and leaked telephone conversation is her declaration that “it’s about time we grab our guns and go kill those damn Russians together with their leader.” She declared that not even scorched earth should be left where Russia stands.


Tymoshenko was sentenced to prison by Ukrainians, not by Russians. Contrast her extreme language and Russophobia with the calm measured tones of Putin, who reaffirms Russia’s interest to continue good relations with Ukraine.

On March 23 Tymoshenko was interviewed by the German newspaper, Bild, a mouthpiece for Washington. The crazed Tymoshenko declared that Putin was even more dangerous than Hitler.


This year 2014 is the 100th anniversary of World War 1. As my Oxford professor, Michael Polanyi, said, this was the war that destroyed Europe. He meant culturally and morally as well as physically. As John Maynard Keynes made clear in his prediction, the propagandistic way in which World War 1 was blamed on Germany and the “peace” that was imposed on Germany set up World War 2.

We are witnesses today to the same kind of propagandistic lies with regard to Russia that caused World War 1. In The Genesis Of The World War, Harry Elmer Barnes quotes the French chief editor of a French account of the organization of propaganda in France during World War 1. The French built a massive building called La Maison de la Presse. In this building images of people were created with hands cut off, tongues torn out, eyes gouged out, and skulls crushed with brains laid bare. These images were then photographed and “sent as unassailable evidence of German atrocities to all parts of the globe, where they did not fail to produce the desired effect.” Also provided were “fictitious photographs of bombarded French and Belgian churches, violated graves and monuments and scenes of ruins and desolation. The staging and painting of these scenes were done by the best scene-painters of the Paris Grand Opera.”

This vicious propaganda against Germany meant that Germany could be blamed for the war and that all of President Woodrow Wilson’s guarantees to Germany of no reparations and no territorial loss if Germany agreed to an armistice could be violated.

The propaganda success guaranteed that the peace settlement would be so one-sided as to set up the Second World War.

Russia has observed Washington’s strategic moves against Russian national interests and Russian sovereignty for two decades. What does Putin think when he hears the vicious anti-Russian propaganda based 100% in lies?

This is what Putin thinks: The Americans promised Gorbachev that they would not take NATO into Eastern Europe, but the Americans did. The Americans withdrew from the ABM Treaty, which prohibited escalating the arms race with anti-ballistic missile systems. The Americans arranged with Poland to deploy anti-ballistic missile bases on Poland’s border with Russia. The Americans tell us the fantastic lie that the purpose of American missile bases in Poland is to protect Europe from non-existent Iranian ICBMs. The Americans change their war doctrine to elevate nuclear weapons from a retaliatory deterrent to a pre-emptive first strike force. The Americans pretend that this change in war doctrine is directed at terrorists, but we know it is directed at Russia. The Americans have financed “color revolutions” in Georgia and Ukraine and hope to do so in the Russian Federation itself. The Americans support the terrorists in Chechnya. The Americans trained and equipped the Georgian military and gave it the green light to attack our peacekeepers in South Ossetia. The Americans have financed the overthrow of the elected government in Ukraine and blame me for the anxiety this caused among Crimeans who on their own volition fled Ukraine and returned to Russia from whence they came. Even Gorbachev said that Khrushchev should never have put Crimea into Ukraine. Solzhenitsyn said that Lenin should not have put Russian provinces into eastern and southern Ukraine. Now I have these Russian provinces agitating to return to Russia, and the Americans are blaming me for the consequences of their own reckless and irresponsible actions.

The Americans say I want to rebuild the Soviet Empire. Yet, the Americans witnessed me depart from Georgia when I had this former Russian province in my hands, thanks to the short-lived war instigated by the Americans.

There is no end to the American lies. I have done everything possible to respond to provocations in a low-key reasonable manner, offering to work things out diplomatically, as has my Foreign Minister Lavrov. But the Americans continue to provoke and to hide their provocations behind lies. The Americans brazenly bring to me a strategic threat in Ukraine. They intend to put Ukraine in NATO, the purpose of which expired with the Soviet collapse. They intend to put more missile bases on Russia’s borders, and they intended to evict Russia from its Black Sea naval base, its warm water port.

Americans have no intention of working anything out. They intend to subjugate Russia. Washington wants Russia powerless, surrounded with ABM bases that degrade our strategic deterrent to uselessness. These Americans will not work with me. They will not listen to me or to Russia’s Foreign Minister. They only hear their own call for American hegemony over the world. My only alternative is to prepare for war.

The government of China, having read Washington’s war plans for war against China and being fully away of Washington’s “pivot to Asia,” in which the “indispensable nation” announced its “safe-guarding of peace” by surrounding China with naval and air bases, understands that it has the same Washington enemy as does Russia.

What the entire world faces, every country, every individual regardless of their political orientation, is a Washington-engineered confrontation with Russia and China. This confrontation is enabled by Washington’s bought-and-paid-for European and UK puppet states. Without the cover provided by Europe, Washington’s acts of aggression would result in war crimes charges against the government in Washington. The world would not be able to enforce these charges without war, but Washington would be isolated.

The European, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, and UK governments have betrayed not only their own peoples but also the peoples of the entire world by lending the support of Western Civilization to Washington’s lawlessness.

The propaganda that the West represents the hope of the world is a great lie.

BP, not Exxon, caused the Exxon Valdez disaster


By Greg Palast
March 2014 | Read the full story at TruthDig

 
Two decades ago I was the investigator for the legal team that sold you the bullshit that a drunken captain was the principal cause of the Exxon Valdez disaster, the oil tanker crackup that poisoned over a thousand miles of Alaska’s coastline 25 years ago today, on March 24, 1989.

The truth is far uglier, and the real culprit—British Petroleum, now BP—got away without a scratch to its reputation or to its pocketbook.

Just this month, the Obama administration authorized BP to return to drilling in the Gulf.

It would be worth the time of our ever-trusting regulators to take a look at my Exxon Valdez files on BP.  They would see a decades-long pattern of BP’s lies, bribes and cover-ups that led, inexorably, to the Deepwater Horizon blowout—and that continue today within BP’s worldwide oil operations.

Here’s a sample:

Palast’s investigation of BP opens his latest film, Vultures and Vote Rustlers. Pre-release editions are available on DVD and download for a donation to Palast’s foundation for investigative reporting at http://www.palastinvestigativefund.org
And read the complete untold story of the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon disasters in Palast’s Vultures’ Picnic, BBC Newsnight’s Culture Program’s Book of the Year.



Fraud No. 1: The Emergency Sucker Boat fraud
As the principal owner of the Alaska Pipeline and Terminal, BP, not Exxon, was designated by law to prevent oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez from hitting the beach. It was BP’s disastrous failures, more than Exxon’s, that allowed the oil to devastate Alaska’s coast.

Containing an oil spill—preventing spilled crude from spreading to the shore—is not rocket science.  All you need are rubbers and suckers. It works like this:

If a tanker, oil rig or pipe bursts open, you surround it with a giant rubber skirt known as “boom.” Then you suck the oil out through vacuum hoses on board special “containment” or “skimmer” ships.

The containment ship is the firetruck of oil spills. You simply don’t let tankers out of port unless a containment ship is ready to roll. It’s against the law.

But the law has never meant much to BP.

In May 1977, as the first tankers left Valdez, BP executives promised the state of Alaska that no tanker would leave port unless there were two containment barges at the ready and loaded with boom, with one placed near Bligh Island.

In fact, on March 24, 1989, when the Exxon Valdez ran aground, right at Bligh Island, the containment barge was far away in Valdez, locked in a dry dock, its boom and hoses under Alaskan ice. As a result, by the time the emergency oil spill vessel got to the stricken ship, the oil slick was a hundred miles in circumference and beyond control.

Two decades later, I watched fireboats uselessly spraying the burning oil on the Deepwater Horizon. Once again there were no BP skimmer barges, no boom surrounding the rig. Just as in Alaska, the promised spill containment operation was a con.

Fraud No. 2: Ghost Crews
There’s no sense having a fire truck without firemen. And so, years before the Exxon Valdez grounding, Alyeska, the oil company consortium headed by BP, promised the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Congress, under oath, that the oil shipper would employ a trained and equipped crew around the clock to jump from helicopters, if needed, to contain an oil spill. My clients, the Chugach Natives of Alaska, agreed to give up ownership of the land under the Port of Valdez to the oil companies in return for those jobs.

The night the Exxon Valdez grounded, Chugach Natives watched from the beach at nearby Tatitlek Village as the tanker headed into the reef. They could have prevented the disaster—but they were helpless: BP had fired them.

To save money, BP’s Alyeska simply drew up lists of nonexistent emergency spill response workers: an imaginary crew to man phantom emergency ships.

Fraud No. 3: Phantom Equipment
And the rubber boom? That was a phantom as well. BP’s Alyeska had promised that too, in writing. The equipment was supposed to be placed along the tanker route including Bligh Island—exactly the spot where the Exxon Valdez grounded.

And so, it was no surprise to me that 21 years later in the Gulf there were neither skimmers nor boom at the site of the Deepwater Horizon.

Cover-Up and Threats
Did BP’s top executives and partners know of the ghost response teams and phantom equipment ruse? Yes, we have the documents and insiders’ testimony. Just two examples from my bulging file cabinet:

In a confidential letter dated April 19, 1984, Capt. James Woodle, BP’s commander of the port at Valdez, warned that “due to a reduction in manning, age of equipment, limited training and lack of personnel, serious doubt exists that [we] would be able to contain and clean up effectively a medium or large size oil spill.”

In response, BP threatened the captain with a file on his marital infidelities (fabricated), fired him, then forced him to destroy his files. (I’ve got the letter—can’t tell you how.  Click here.)

In September 1984, before the Exxon Valdez disaster, BP’s shipping broker, Charles Hamel, was so concerned at what he saw as an immediate danger in Alaska that he flew by Concorde to London to warn BP’s chiefs of the looming emergency. In response, BP hired ex-CIA operatives to tap Hamel’s phone and intercept his mail. BP’s black ops team even ran a toy truck with a microphone into the air vents of a building where he was speaking with a congressman. (Ultimately, BP’s spooks were captured by a team of Navy SEALs.)

BP Gets Off Cheap
The team of attorneys representing the Natives and fishermen whose lives were destroyed by the tanker spill chose to hold back the true and ugly story of systematic fraud and penny-pinching negligence by BP and its partners. We focused instead on the simpler story of human frailty and error—“drunken skipper hits reef.”

We didn’t have a choice: Oil company chiefs had told our clients—Natives who were out of cash, isolated and desperate—that they wouldn’t get a dime unless we agreed not to use the “f-word”: fraud.

And BP? Who said crime doesn’t pay? BP walked away with a nominal payment to Alaska’s Natives, fishermen and towns of $125 million—100 percent of it covered by insurance.

The Oil is Still There
In 2010 for the U.K.’s Channel 4 Television, I returned to Alaska with filmmaker Richard Rowley. In the quiet rivulets of the islands within Prince William Sound, we kicked over some stones—and the place, two decades after the spill, smelled like a filthy gas station.

Maybe it’s time for the Obama Administration, eager to welcome BP back to plunder the Gulf, to wake up and smell the crude.

Insane in the Membrane


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Bankers' Deaths Shine Light on Stress in Industry, Tunnel Vision

By Ben Moshinsky Mar 24, 2014
Bloomberg

Coroners in London are preparing to investigate two apparent suicides as unexpected deaths by finance workers around the world have raised concerns about mental health and stress levels in the industry.

The inquest into the death of William Broeksmit, 58, a retired Deutsche Bank AG (DBK) risk executive found dead in his London home in January, will start tomorrow. The inquest for Gabriel Magee, a 39-year-old vice president in technology operations at JPMorgan Chase (JPM) & Co., who died after falling from the firm’s 33-story London headquarters, is scheduled for late May.

The suicides were followed by others around the world, including at JPMorgan in Hong Kong, as well as Mike Dueker, the chief economist at Seattle-based Russell Investment Management Co. The financial world’s aggressive, hard-working culture may be hurting itself, professionals advising on mental health in the industry say.

At greatest risk are “those who have not cultivated friendships, networks, outside of their company,” said Stewart Black, professor of global leadership and strategy at IMD, a business school in Lausanne, Switzerland.

“A lot of executives keep their nose down, work hard, do great work and don’t really cultivate extra networks,” he said. “Those broader networks act as safety valves.”

Banks are starting to realize the scale of the problem, said Peter Rodgers, chairman of the City Mental Health Alliance, which counts Morgan Stanley (MS) and Bank of America Corp. among its members.

Cultural Change


When the group was set up last year banks, law firms and accountants including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS), Linklaters LLP and KPMG LLP, “no one in the City was really talking” about mental health, Rodgers said. Now they have 18 firms on their list, including the Bank of England, the central bank.

The banking sector has “seen a number of initiatives” to improve staff well-being but they “need to be accepted by a cultural change at the very top,” said Rodgers, who is also deputy general counsel at KPMG.

Magee’s family didn’t return a phone call seeking comment. Ed Adler, a spokesman for the New York-based Broeksmit Family Foundation, also didn’t return a call seeking comment. Kathryn Haynes, spokeswoman for Deutsche Bank in London, and Jennifer Zuccarelli, a spokeswoman for JPMorgan, declined to comment.

Finance “does tend to have a long-hours culture,” said Emma Mamo, who leads workplace initiatives at Mind, a U.K. mental health charity. “People can’t keep doing long hours; you need perspective and downtime.”


‘Finest Minds’


Broeksmit died on Jan. 26 at his home in Chelsea, west London, according to a memo to employees obtained by Bloomberg News. Police said he was found hanging and they aren’t treating the death as suspicious.

“He was considered by many of his peers to be among the finest minds in the fields of risk and capital management,” Deutsche Bank’s co-CEOs Anshu Jain and Juergen Fitschen wrote in the memo. They said Broeksmit was “instrumental as a founder of our investment bank.”

Dueker was found dead at the side of a highway that leads to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington state, according to the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department. He was 50.

The reviews into the deaths of Broeksmit and Magee will be overseen by a coroner, whose role is to question witnesses and police to determine where, when, how and why sudden or unexplained deaths occur, including suicides.

Magee’s inquest will be held by Mary Hassell, the coroner who said practices at Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s London office may have been a factor in the death of 21-year-old intern Moritz Erhardt from an epileptic seizure last year.

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“It may be that Moritz had been working so hard that his fatigue was a trigger for the seizure that killed him,” Hassell said at the Nov. 23 inquest. “But that is only a possibility.”

Erhardt was found unconscious in a shower at Claredale House, a student residence in East London, on Aug. 15. His parents told the coroner that their son contacted them the day before his death in a 5 a.m. e-mail and that they were worried he was working too hard and sleeping too little.

Hassell questioned Juergen Schroeder, Erhardt’s development officer at Merrill Lynch, about whether working late was necessary in investment banking.

“There is a general expectation in our profession,” Schroeder said.

Weekends Off


Bank of America told staff on Jan. 10 its junior bankers should take some weekends off. Christian Meissner, head of global corporate and investment banking at the lender, said in a memo to employees that analysts and associates should “take a minimum of four weekend days off per month.”

JPMorgan, which has had at least two suicides so far this year, isn’t a member of the City Mental Health Alliance and hasn’t publicly announced measures to deal with the aftermath of the deaths.

“JPMorgan haven’t come forward to us and we haven’t approached them either,” Rodgers said. “There’s a period of mourning. The last thing they need is us sticking our heads in. I’m confident they will come forward.”
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