Saturday, October 16, 2010

Parallel universe, six months from now

And maybe here, as well? Stay tuned

Cancer is a man-made disease, controversial study claims

(I've actually done some research along these lines and came up with a similar theory, that cancer was the result of exposing ourselves to millions of unnatural and toxic chemical compounds every day of our lives, things that all other human generations were never exposed to nor exposed in such vast amounts of them. Cancer is what chemicals, poison, corruption and materialism combine in our bodies to form.--jef)


Rarity of cancer in Egyptian mummies suggests modern environmental factors
By Charles Q. Choi - 10/15/2010

Is the common nature of cancer worldwide purely a man-made phenomenon? That is what some researchers now suggest.

Still, other specialists in cancer and in human fossils have strong doubts about this notion.

Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for roughly one in eight of all deaths in 2004, according to the World Health Organization. However, scientists have only found one case of the disease in investigations of hundreds of Egyptian mummies, researcher Rosalie David at the University of Manchester in England said in a statement. (The researchers did not reply to repeated queries made via phone and e-mail.)

The rarity of cancer in mummies infers it was scarce in antiquity, and "that cancer-causing factors are limited to societies affected by modern industrialization," researcher Michael Zimmerman at Villanova University in Pennsylvania said in a statement. "In an ancient society lacking surgical intervention, evidence of cancer should remain in all cases."

Zimmerman was the first to diagnose cancer in an Egyptian mummy by analyzing its tissues on a microscopic level, identifying rectal cancer in an unnamed mummy who had lived in the Dakhleh Oasis during the Ptolemaic period 1,600 to 1,800 years ago.

David and Zimmerman also analyzed ancient literature from Egypt and Greece for hints of cancer, as well as medical studies of human and animal remains going back to the age of dinosaurs. They suggested evidence of cancer in animal fossils, non-human primates and early humans was scarce, with a few dozen uncertain examples. As they analyzed ancient literature, they did not find descriptions of operations for breast and other cancers until the 17th century, and the first reports in the scientific literature of distinctive tumors have only occurred in the past 200 years, such as scrotal cancer in chimney sweepers in 1775, nasal cancer in snuff users in 1761 and Hodgkin's disease in 1832.

One possible reason cancers might have been comparatively rare in antiquity is that the short life span of individuals back then precluded the development of the disease. Still, the researchers did note some people in ancient Egypt and Greece did live long enough to develop such diseases as atherosclerosis, Paget's disease of bone, and osteoporosis.
'Sin' of modern societies

David and Zimmerman therefore argue that cancer nowadays is largely caused by man-made environmental factors such as pollution and diet. They detailed their findings in the October issue of the journal Nature Reviews Cancer.

"In industrialized societies, cancer is second only to cardiovascular disease as a cause of death, but in ancient times, it was extremely rare," David said in a statement. "There is nothing in the natural environment that can cause cancer."

Despite that statement, dinosaurs did develop cancer well before humans were on the scene. Also, others argue the short life spans of antiquity could be a profoundly effective reason as to why cancer might have been rare then.

"Cancer is very rare in modern societies in humans under age 30," oncologist Dr. John Glaspy at UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center told LiveScience. "In ancient times, people rarely lived to be much older than that. So cancer was rare. The 'sin' of modern societies is having people live to be much older."

Another concern when examining the fossil record is that skeletal remains might not preserve cancers very well. "To see cancers with the skeletal record, you really have to have a tumor that's affecting bone," paleoanthropologist John Hawks at the University of Wisconsin at Madison said in a phone interview. "Although there might be few confirmed diagnoses of tumors in bones, it's because cancer is a difficult diagnosis to make from bone."

Hawks did note that modern lifestyles could certainly lead to much higher rates of cancer than in the past, but not necessarily due to pollution.

"When it comes to cancers such as breast cancer, we know the age that a woman first has children or not makes a lot of difference in whether they get breast cancer, and back then people had children early, which would have put them into a lower-risk category," Hawks said.

Another Epidemic? Half of US teens ‘meet criteria for mental disorder’

(God, this is so transparent... Pharmaceutical Drug Cos. fund a "study" that *SURPRISE* determines half of all teens are mentally ill and would need to be prescribed *SURPRISE SURPRISE* drugs they manufacture! What a coincidence! I mean, the odds of this happening? And you know, it's all about those kids' mental health, not the huge new profit source their study created for them.

I imagine the study resembled this:
1. Are you ever sad?

2. Have you ever been depressed?

3. Do you ever wear black colored clothing?

4. Have you ever heard a sad song or seen a sad movie?

5. Has anyone of whom you've ever been aware ever died?

6. Has anyone ever broken up with you or you them?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you are likely mentally ill. Take this survey to your local government approved corporate drug distribution center and pick up your total immersion Paxil/Zoloft/Prozac booster pack immediately. School admission is dependent upon student having been administered booster pack. A blood test may be necessary for confirmation.)

(It blows me away that they are trying to categorize puberty and all its fun emotions, hormone levels, and confusion as a mental illness!--jef )


By Agence France-Presse - Thursday, October 14th, 2010

WASHINGTON — Around half of US teens meet the criteria for a mental disorder and nearly one in four report having a mood, behavior or anxiety disorder that interferes with daily life, American researchers say.

Fifty-one percent of boys and 49 percent of girls aged 13-19 have a mood, behavior, anxiety or substance use disorder, according to the study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

In 22.2 percent of teens, the disorder was so severe it impaired their daily activities and caused great distress, says the study led by Kathleen Merikangas of the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH). (NIMH? Really? Don't guess these shrinks ever read the books with the same name?--jef)

"The prevalence of severe emotional and behavior disorders is even higher than the most frequent major physical conditions in adolescence, including asthma or diabetes," the study says.

Mental problems do not get the same attention from public health authorities even though they cost US families around a quarter of a trillion dollars a year, according to the study.

Around nine percent of all US children have asthma and less than a quarter of one percent of all people under the age of 20 have diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Merikangas and a team of researchers analyzed data from the National Comorbidity Study-Adolescent Supplement, which surveyed more than 10,000 US teens.

The study is the first to track the prevalence of a broad range of mental disorders in a nationally representative sample of US teens.

They found that nearly a third of the teens met the criteria for the most common mental disorder among US youth, anxiety disorders, which include social phobia and panic "attacks".

This class of disorder also had the earliest median onset age, occurring in children as young as six years old.

Behavior disorders, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, were the next most common condition (19.1 percent), followed by mood disorders (14.3 percent) such as depression.

Eleven percent of teens with a mood disorder, 10 percent with behavior disorders and eight percent who had anxiety disorders, especially social phobics, met the criteria for severe impairment, meaning their condition affected their day-to-day life and caused them great distress.

Teen mental disorder rates mirror those seen in adults, suggesting that most adults develop a mental disorder before adulthood, say the researchers, calling for earlier intervention and prevention, and more research to determine what the risk factors are for mental disorders in youth.

AG: US will enforce marijuana laws despite Prop 19 vote results

(Why? What positive results are gained by this? Holder is no different from his predecessor--just one more example in a long series of them making up the evidence pile that says the Democrats and Republicans are no different from each other, serving the same corporate interests. California is on the verge of passing a law based on a popular vote, and Holder is going to waste millions of dollars that could better be used in prosecuting actual criminals and investigating actual crimes. Justice Dept? I think not. Where is the Justice in this?--jef)


AG Holder Just Another Oppressor in a long line of them and Completes the Bleak Review on Obama's Poor choices for Key Positions in his Administration
By Ron Brynaert - Friday, October 15th, 2010

Less than three weeks before California voters hit the polls, the Justice Department issued a preemptive message concerning a ballot measure making worldwide headlines.

"Attorney General Eric Holder says the federal government will enforce its marijuana laws in California even if the state's voters approve a ballot measure to legalize the drug," Pete Yost reports for the Associated Press.

He made the comments in a letter to former chiefs of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter, dated Wednesday.

"We will vigorously enforce the CSA against those individuals and organizations that possess, manufacture or distribute marijuana for recreational use, even if such activities are permitted under state law," Holder wrote.
He also said that legalizing recreational marijuana in California would be a "significant impediment" to the government's joint efforts with state and local law enforcement to target drug traffickers, who often distribute marijuana alongside cocaine and other drugs. Holder said approval of the ballot measure would "significantly undermine" efforts to keep California communities safe.

An Annenberg Digital News blog notes, "Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and District Attorney Steve Cooley along with former DEA officials are scheduled to announce Holder's position at a press conference outside of Sheriff's headquarters Friday morning."

We know three things:
  • Holder called off the DEA last year from targeting medical marijuana operations in the 13 states permitting medicinal use of pot.
  • A Justice Department spokeswoman recently said, "It is premature to speculate what steps we would take in the event that California passes its ballot measure."
  • Nine former DEA heads wrote a letter to Holder in August, asking him to sue California and prevent Prop 19 from going into effect if it is passed.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Retribution for a World Lost in Screens

By Chris Hedges

Nemesis was the Greek goddess of retribution. She exacted divine punishment on arrogant mortals who believed they could defy the gods, turn themselves into objects of worship and build ruthless systems of power to control the world around them. The price of such hubris was almost always death.

Nemesis, related to the Greek word némein, means “to give what is due.” Our nemesis fast approaches. We will get what we are due. The staggering myopia of our corrupt political and economic elite, which plunder the nation’s wealth for financial speculation and endless war, the mass retreat of citizens into virtual hallucinations, the collapsing edifices around us, which include the ecosystem that sustains life, are ignored for a giddy self-worship. We stare into electronic screens just as Narcissus, besotted with his own reflection, stared into a pool of water until he wasted away and died.

We believe that because we have the capacity to wage war we have the right to wage war. We believe that money, rather than manufactured products and goods, is real. We believe in the myth of inevitable human moral and material progress. We believe that no matter how much damage we do to the Earth or our society, science and technology will save us. And as temperatures on the planet steadily rise, as droughts devastate cropland, as the bleaching of coral reefs threatens to wipe out 25 percent of all marine species, as countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh succumb to severe flooding, as we poison our food, air and water, as we refuse to confront our addiction to fossil fuels and coal, as we dismantle our manufacturing base and plunge tens of millions of Americans into a permanent and desperate underclass, we flick on a screen and are entranced.

We confuse the electronic image, a reflection back to us of ourselves, with the divine. We gawk at “reality” television, which of course is contrived reality, reveling in being the viewer and the viewed. True reality is obliterated from our consciousness. It is the electronic image that informs and defines us. It is the image that gives us our identity. It is the image that tells us what is attainable in the vast cult of the self, what we should desire, what we should seek to become and who we are. It is the image that tricks us into thinking we have become powerful—as the popularity of video games built around the themes of violence and war illustrates—while we have become enslaved and impoverished by the corporate state. The electronic image leads us back to the worship of ourselves. It is idolatry. Reality is replaced with electronic mechanisms for preening self-presentation—the core of social networking sites such as Facebook—and the illusion of self-fulfillment and self-empowerment. And in a world unmoored from the real, from human limitations and human potential, we inevitably embrace superstition and magic. This is what the worship of images is about. We retreat into a dark and irrational fear born out of a cavernous ignorance of the real. We enter an age of technological barbarism.

To those entranced by images, the world is a vast stage on which they are called to enact their dreams. It is a world of constant action, stimulation and personal advancement. It is a world of thrills and momentary ecstasy. It is a world of ceaseless movement. It makes a fetish of competition. It is a world where commercial products and electronic images serve as a pseudo-therapy that caters to feelings of alienation, inadequacy and powerlessness. We may be locked in dead-end jobs, have no meaningful relationships and be confused about our identities, but we can blast our way to power holding a little control panel while looking for hours at a screen. We can ridicule the poor, the ignorant and the weak all day long on trash-talk shows and reality television shows. We are skillfully made to feel that we have a personal relationship, a false communion, with the famous—look at the outpouring of grief at the death of Princess Diana or Michael Jackson. We have never met those we adore. We know only their manufactured image. They appear to us on screens. They are not, at least to us, real people. And yet we worship and seek to emulate them.

In this state of cultural illusion any description of actual reality, because it does not consist of the happy talk that pollutes the airwaves from National Public Radio to Oprah, is dismissed as “negative” or “pessimistic.” The beleaguered Jeremiahs who momentarily stumble into our consciousness and in a desperate frenzy seek to warn us of our impending self-destruction are derided because they do not lay out easy formulas that permit us to drift back into fantasy. We tell ourselves they are overreacting. If reality is a bummer, and if there are no easy solutions, we don’t want to hear about it. The facts of economic and environmental collapse, now incontrovertible, cannot be discussed unless they are turned into joking banter or come accompanied with a neat, pleasing solution, the kind we are fed at the conclusion of the movies, electronic games, talk shows and sitcoms, the kind that dulls our minds into passive and empty receptacles. We have been conditioned by electronic hallucinations to expect happy talk. We demand it.

We confuse this happy talk with hope. But hope is not about a belief in progress. Hope is about protecting simple human decency and demanding justice. Hope is the belief, not necessarily grounded in the tangible, that those whose greed, stupidity and complacency have allowed us to be driven over a cliff shall one day be brought down. Hope is about existing in a perpetual state of rebellion, a constant antagonism to all centers of power. The great moral voices, George Orwell and Albert Camus being perhaps two of the finest examples, describe in moving detail the human suffering we ignore or excuse. They understand that the greatest instrument for moral good is the imagination. The ability to perceive the pain and suffering of another, to feel, as King Lear says, what wretches feel, is a more powerful social corrective than the shelves of turgid religious and philosophical treatises on human will. Those who change the world for the better, who offer us hope, have the capacity to make us step outside of ourselves and feel empathy.

A print-based culture, as writer Neil Postman pointed out, demands rationality. The sequential, propositional character of the written word fosters what Walter Ong calls the “analytic management of knowledge.” But our brave new world of images dispenses with these attributes because the images do not require them to be understood. Communication in the image-based culture is not about knowledge. It is about the corporate manipulation of emotions, something logic, order, nuance and context protect us against. Thinking, in short, is forbidden. Entertainment and spectacle have become the aim of all human endeavors, including politics, which is how Stephen Colbert, playing his television character, can be permitted to testify before the House Judiciary Committee. Campaigns are built around the manufactured personal narratives of candidates, who function as political celebrities, rather than policies or ideas. News reports have become soap operas and mini-dramas revolving around the latest celebrity scandal.

Colleges and universities, which view students as customers and suck obscene tuition payments and loans out of them with the tantalizing promise of high-paying corporate jobs, have transformed themselves into resorts and theme parks. In this new system of education almost no one fails. Students become “brothers” or “sisters” in the atavistic, tribal embrace of eating clubs, fraternities or sororities. School spirit and school branding is paramount. Campus security keeps these isolated enclaves of privilege secure. And 90,000-seat football stadiums, along with their millionaire coaches, dominate the campus. It is moral leprosy.

The role of knowledge and art, as the ancient Greeks understood, is to create ekstasis, which means standing outside one’s self to give our individual life and struggle meaning and perspective. The role of art and scholarship is to transform us as individuals, not entertain us as a group. It is to nurture this capacity for understanding and empathy. Art and scholarship allow us to see the underlying structures and assumptions used to manipulate and control us. And this is why art, like intellectual endeavor, is feared by the corporate elite as subversive. This is why corporations have used their money to deform universities into vocational schools that spit out blinkered and illiterate systems managers. This is why the humanities are withering away.

The vast stage of entertainment that envelops our culture is intended to impart the opposite of ekstasis. Mass entertainment plays to the basest and crudest instincts of the crowd. It conditions us to have the same aspirations and desires. It forces us to speak in the same dead clichés and slogans. It homogenizes human experience. It wallows in a cloying nostalgia and sentimentalism that foster historical amnesia. It turns the Other into a cartoon or a stereotype. It prohibits empathy because it prohibits understanding. It denies human singularity and uniqueness. It assures us that we all have within us the ability, talent or luck to become famous and rich. It forms us into a lowing and compliant herd. We have been conditioned to believe—defying all the great moral and philosophical writers from Socrates to Orwell—that the aim of life is not to understand but to be entertained. If we do not shake ourselves awake from our electronic hallucinations and defy the elites who are ruining the country and trashing the planet we will experience the awful and deadly retribution of the gods.

Glenn Beck's Rampant Misuse of Founding Fathers Myths

Glenn Beck and the Tea Party re-write American history to serve their agenda.
By Sally Kohn, Christian Science Monitor
Posted on October 15, 2010

Fox News television host Glenn Beck says the idea of "collective salvation" - that our fates are linked - is "dangerous to the Constitutional republic." He argues that related notions of social justice, redistribution, and ending oppression are fundamentally anti-American, communist creeds. American's Founding Fathers would disagree. They embraced collective redemption and the protection of the common good.

The Constitution made clear from its first lines the collectivist intent of the American enterprise:
"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
Our collective best interest. 
A union. For the common defense. General welfare. Justice. Though our unity has endured serious trials, America was not by accident called the United States of America. In a letter to James Madison, George Washington wrote, "We are either a united people, or we are not. If the former, let us, in all matters of general concern act as a nation, which have national objects to promote, and a national character to support. If we are not, let us no longer act a farce by pretending to it."

The message remains clear today. We cannot just say we are a nation and cling to an inflated sense of nationalism while, in practice, ignoring the needs and humanity of our fellow Americans. We have to act like a nation a" working together as a nation for our collective best interest.

In his first inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson said that we must "unite in common efforts for the common good." Chief among those "common efforts" was America itself.

Hard-earned lessons in cooperation
Yes, the colonists fled the tyranny of the British crown, but the choice they made was democracy over monarchy, not extreme individualism over statehood. Certainly, their spirit of independence still undergirds the American character today, but our history is also a testament to hard-earned lessons in cooperation.

The American Revolution and subsequent founding of the United States of America were definitive acts of collective salvation, deciding that we could be more as a nation than as individuals alone.

Why equality matters
Within this context, the Founding Fathers saw the importance of ensuring a level playing field within the new republic - that the common good of equality could never be achieved by people on unequal footing. John Adams wrote, "Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people; and not for profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men."

Sure, some of our Founding Fathers had a long way to go in their day-to-day treatment of women, people of color, and minority religions - and that's putting it mildly. But those principles of equality and insurances for common good were written into our founding documents with great purpose. And they have paved the way for every future step toward equality this country has made.

The Founders, in their wisdom, never said America was perfect. They made clear they were working to perfect the union, which subsequent generations would continue.

In the Federalist Papers, Madison elaborated that society's unequal groupings - the landed versus those without property, creditors versus debtors, and so on - are "much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good." Beck and other pundits have labeled "oppression" a bad word the left uses to play victim and blame conservatives.

The consequences of oppression
But founders like Madison were acutely aware of real oppression within America's borders - and the very real consequences of this inequality on the country as a whole. The "principle task" of government is to regulate and balance these interests toward the ideal of equality, Madison wrote.

Glenn Beck's narrative claims working class, mostly white folks in America are being undermined by the needs of poor people and people of color - needs prioritized by an allegedly biased and socialist President Obama. In Beck's mind, "collective salvation" isn't collective at all but code for putting some people's interests first. It's an ironic critique considering that conservative economic policies have for decades put the needs of big business and the richest of the rich ahead of everyone else, whether black or white, middle class or poor.

Sharing apple pie
Even more ironic is that Beck himself actually embraces "collective salvation" - the idea that none of us can be saved until all of us are saved.

He isn't directing Americans to turn inward and solve their problems alone. Beck wants you to watch his show, come to his march in Washington, call your representatives, talk to your neighbors, agitate in your church - making clear that he knows individual problems of such magnitude can only be solved through collective action.

If only Beck and other pundits, quick to point fingers, would go a step further and see that all of our problems - falling wages for working people, rising cost of living, foreclosures, crumbling education infrastructure, racial tension, insecurity - cannot just be solved by one group binding together in a pitched partisan battle against "the other." Instead, all of us must work in "common efforts for the common good."

Collective salvation isn't anathema to America; it's essential to the Founders' vision. It's as American as sharing apple pie.

White House Opposes Freezing Foreclosures in the Face of Rampant Fraud

Treasury and Obama are facing huge financial pressure
By Nomi Prins, AlterNet
Posted on October 15, 2010

At first, there was a deafening silence from Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke on the foreclosure front. It was as if they: 1) didn’t read the news; or 2) were afraid someone would notice afresh their incompetence in dealing with the ongoing housing crisis and deteriorating economy, while convincing everyone that the bank bailouts and subsidizations were good for us.

Last week, while Senator Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others in Congress were dispensing irate pre-election sound-bites, attorneys general across the country were gearing up for investigations. Banks were reluctantly announcing foreclosure moratoriums because it’s quarterly earnings season and uncertainty is bad for stock prices, and Geithner was defending TARP and mixing it up with China over the dollar. Meanwhile, the Fed was gearing up to buy more Treasuries, like some kind of rapacious alien that eats its progeny, because no one else wants our debt.

But that changed when Geithner came out of hiding yesterday with a stance. (Bernanke is still in hiding, but will support Geithner’s view soon.) Unsurprisingly, Geithner chose to side with the likes of conservatives and CNBC. Thus, his response to Charlie Rose when asked whether he supported banks in declaring a foreclosure moratorium was: “No, I wouldn’t say it that way.”

Why? Geithner’s logic follows the typical blame-the-little-guy-for-taking-on-too-much-debt-to-buy-a-house-he-couldn’t-afford pattern, coupled with old-style fear-mongering: if you wait and analyze what’s really going on, it might be bad for the housing recovery. And, what housing recovery is that? The one in which 25-30 percent of homes being sold are REOs (bank owned real-estate, a.k.a. foreclosed properties). On a trading floor, that’d be considered "churning," not new value.

The free-market, let the banks do what they do mentality was what allowed them to create a $14 trillion mountain of securities backed by precarious mortgages to begin with. Don’t look at what they’re doing, that might hurt the boom. Don’t ask them for anything in return for bailouts -- that might clog the system. Don’t stop them from churning foreclosed properties -- that might stop the recovery.

But the real reason for Geithner’s reluctance about a foreclosure moratorium is that he’s scared stiff about those securities – because even if he won’t admit it, he knows that the bailout wasn’t just about TARP and Bernanke isn’t just an economic savior.

The government owns or is backing trillions of dollars worth of assets predicated on the same or similar suspicious loans that defaulted during the 2008 crisis period, which they did nothing to stop (or force banks to restructure).

Instead, the Fed now owns nearly $1.5 trillion of toxic assets that have no bid (meaning no one but the Fed wants them). They would have less of a bid if there was even more uncertainty about the loans that fill them. The Treasury is directly backing $400 billion of government-sponsored entity (GSE) securities, and is indirectly backing another $6.8 trillion. If foreclosed homes couldn’t be sold because of fraudulent paperwork or had to wait for more detailed inspections, you can imagine how difficult selling assets stuffed with faulty loans might be. If it’s tough to find a title for a foreclosed home, think how tough it is to back the related loan out of a pyramid of securities sitting on top of it.

See, the loan that might be analyzed in a foreclosure situation could be part of a chain connecting the underlying home to 20 or 50 different securitized assets, all depending on it for either the interest payments the loan was supposed to provide, or the value of the foreclosure property if those payments stopped (in Wall Street speak, the "recovery value"). If a foreclosed property isn’t selling, it’s not recovering any money back to any asset waiting for it. Think what that can do to the value of toxic assets living at the Fed and the Treasury Department. Kill it.

The reason TARP and all the other subsidies happened was that Hank Paulson, Ben Bernanke, Tim Geithner (the pillage gang) and the most powerful Wall Street CEOs were scared. Banks had stopped trusting each other (no one cared about the person who couldn’t pay their mortgage, or had their home taken, whatever the reason). When there is no confidence in the market, there is no bid for securities, no matter what the reason.

The banks couldn’t pay for all their leverage and they were facing bankruptcy if the system remained seized up. So the gang paid to keep the securitization market going, by finding a home or back-up home for the assets. They did not propose any remotely effective plan to help individuals at the loan level (a far cheaper solution, as I outlined in It Takes a Pillage). They merely enabled the worst practices and excesses to keep going in the name of saving the country from a greater depression, by shifting them to Washington and providing the illusion of demand for them.

Foreclosure fraud is not new. Many sane people and organizations have been talking about fraud for years -- you don’t manufacture $14 trillion worth of mortgage-backed securities and all their permutations and mega leverage out of $1.4 trillion worth of subprime loans in five years without cutting a lot of corners. Banks knew that. But when the value of their assets plummeted, unlike individual borrowers, they got to dump them on the Fed and the Treasury department, while receiving cash injections and guarantees, and cheap money subsidies in return.

Geithner’s stance is a sad reminder of how much things have resumed to business as usual. Back while he was campaigning for votes, President Barack Obama advocated a foreclosure moratorium, as did Senator John McCain. That notion of halting the ejection of people from their homes seems so – election 2008. When he first won the presidency, Obama continued to advocate for a 90-day moratorium. But, that’s when things were still bad for the banks and the markets. That was before profits, and bonuses and stock prices came chugging back, along with bank power.

The Bank of America didn’t quiver in its federally subsidized boots because Harry Reid asked (not even demanded, because really, he can’t), for a moratorium on foreclosures last week. It capitulated because it owns a bunch of REO properties it wants to dump (and lawsuits are generally time-consuming and messy). It’s not alone. JPM Chase’s REO portfolio last quarter was double in size vs. its earlier quarter and nearly 30 times what it was last year. Wells Fargo’s REO portfolio also nearly doubled, and Citigroup’s REO pool last quarter was up 81 percent over the prior year. The GSEs, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are sitting on a record number of REOs on their books they haven’t been able to sell.

Selling REOs to hedge, private equity and asset management funds in bulk is the hot new business. (Small now, but so were CDOs when I first warned about them in my 2004 book, Other People's Money.) Banks aren’t being nice to those deadbeat borrowers who were too dumb to foresee a housing and financial market collapse due to the overzealous fee-seeking attitudes of securitizing and trading banks. No, having gotten a multi-trillion dollar federal life raft, the big banks are prudently trying to salvage a growing business.

Meanwhile, Geithner and Bernanke are helping them, desperately trying to maintain the illusion of recovery and the narrative that their previous efforts worked, amidst the stockpile of crap they own and the slew of ongoing loan-level problems they will steadfastly do nothing to address.

Sex and the Orgasm Gap

(Whether a product of evolution or some cultural phenomenon, this is a truism about orgasms: men will nearly always have them during a sexual encounter, but whether a woman does or not depends more on her, and less her partner. From the point of getting an erection, most men will have an orgasm--it's practically a foregone conclusion. But the woman's arousal levels, pleasure plateaus and whether she "gets there" has less to do with her partner than it does with herself. A woman learns how to give herself an orgasm before any partner can ever hope to. The saddest thing in the world--in a figurative sense, of course--is a grown woman who has never experienced an orgasm, or isn't sure if she has. One of the most arousing things in the world is when she finally does get to experience one and there is no longer any doubt.--dr. ruth-jef)


Are Men Still Dominating Women in Bed?

A recent comprehensive survey of the sexual practices of men and women in America - sponsored by the condom maker Trojan - contains some shocking news. Anal sex is sharply on the rise, and not just among gay men, but among heterosexuals, too – including women. And a rather high percentage of young teenagers – for example, 30% of 14-16 year olds – are engaging in oral sex. The survey also found that at least 41 different sexual positions are now commonly practiced in bed - and indeed, elsewhere.

Holy tantra, you might say.

But the survey also reveals another stunning - but perhaps not so surprising - statistic. While a whopping 85% of the men surveyed said that their last sex partner had enjoyed an orgasm, only 64% of the women said they'd "gotten off." In other words, it appears there's still a big "orgasm gap" between men and women having sex.

Are readers as shocked as I am to learn that some women might be faking their orgasms just to please their men? Either because they love them, and don't want them to feel bad, or because they know that men with bolstered egos will treat them better?

As we all know, faking is a time-honored female tradition. And for feminists, of course, it's a reflection of just how much male sexual standards and needs still oppress women. Women, they insist, shouldn't fake: they should simply demand better sex. But anyone who's seen the movie When Harry Meets Sally knows that there's probably a hidden comedian - and possibly, a future diva - inside every woman who fakes convincingly.

But there's another possible explanation for the climax gap. Men simply over-reported the incidence of female orgasm to survey researchers because they didn't want to appear unable to "satisfy" their women. And, in fact, either level, 85% or 64%, is still on the high side historically. Remember that in 1976, the famous Hite Report, found that only 30% of women were achieving orgasm duriung interocurse.

No pun intended, but you’ve come along way baby.

Keep in mind, though, the difference being measured here isn't actually a difference in satisfaction levels during sex, or even male and female orgasm levels per se. It's simply the difference between what men are reporting and what women are reporting. And that’s where the fiundings of the latest study seem to require much deeper investigation.

For example, for those who still find the traditional feminist view of the orgasm gap so compelling, consider this: a number of major national surveys conducted in recent years indicate that almost as many men report faking orgasms - 30-50% - as women do. And with expanded condom use, men can do that more easily than ever before.

It could be that men fake for the same reason women do: to keep their partner’s vanity intact. But there's also the recent and apparently growing problem of male impotence - re-branded as "erectile dysfunction" - which has spawned a multibillion dollar prescription drug industry. Some men, especially older men, may be taking longer than women to achieve an orgasm, and are increasingly starting to fake theirs, too.

There's also the issue of prostitution, a largely (though not exclusively) male-serving industry. One in ten men admit to paying prostitutes for sex, but some researchers believe the figure is actually much higher. Sex workers are paid not only to pleasure their clients, but also to appear pleased by them: it not only keeps them coming – it keeps them coming back. Would male respondents have included them in their answers perhaps?

It’s unlikely that many prostitutes would have made it into the female survey pool, and this could be boosting the male numbers also.

But there's actually a fourth possibility that the sex survey seems to have largely glossed over. It could be that a large and growing number of men are also having sex with other men, and are including this sex – and its more easily observable outcome - in their orgasm rate. Naturally, man-on-man sex wouldn't appear in women's orgasm rate because the sex wasn't with them. So it could be that the sex study is reporting orgasm rates based on entirely different population samples, in fact.

But there's also a problem with this hypothesis. About 8% of the men and 7% of the women in the survey reported that they were gay – rates that are consistent with past surveys. And, in theory, each gender had the same opportunity to report same-sex partners in their survey responses.

So, for same-gender sex to affect the orgasm gap, we would have to assume that men are doing it - and doing it far more to completion - than women are.

There may be good reason to believe that, in fact. Why? For one thing, because a lot of men having same-gender sex don't necessarily identify as "gay" or even "bi." They may be living and acting in the straight world but still engaging in male sex covertly, or "on the down low." And women, however eager for sex they may be - and they're certainly far more eager than commonly thought, according to nearly all surveys - are still less prone to have casual gay or bi sex than men. This is especially true of gay women, surveys show.

So, would increased same-gender sex by men – especially higher than average casual sex - account for such a sizable orgasm gap across both genders? You would think so. But apparently, the researchers who conducted the study don't. The percentage spread – 21 points - is simply too large, they say.

Personally I favor a multi-causal explanation. Women are still faking at higher rates than men, men are prone to exaggerate their prowess, they're still doing it big-time with prostitutes, and to top it all off – no pun intended - they're also having tons of sex on the side with other men. So, add it all up and there's your 21 percent.

Perhaps, with all the new sexual experimentation reported in the survey, we should just be glad that dogs and horses can't talk, and leave it at that?

Getting Tough on Banker Crime

9 Million Stolen Homes

There are calls in this election season for establishing a moratorium of some sort on home foreclosures, and a number of large banks have even voluntarily stopped, at least until after Election Day, on foreclosing on houses. That’s fine as far as it goes, but what about the millions of homes that have already been lost or stolen over the past several years?

Behind the talk of a legal moratorium on foreclosures, and the voluntary pause announced by some banks, lies the reality that many if not most of the mortgages in question are legally dubious. The homeowner getting a foreclosure notice frequently has no idea who the actual holder or holders of a mortgage may be, and banks that are trying to foreclose often themselves have no idea who actually holds title to the papers. This is because with the securitization of mortgages, they have been traded and re-traded, and often have even been diced up into pieces of mortgage-backed securities, so that the paper trail of ownership has been lost, perhaps irrevocably.

In some cases and some jurisdictions, federal bankruptcy courts have been tossing out foreclosure cases, saying that the foreclosing bank has no proof of ownership of the mortgage and thus cannot claim the property. It’s a little like the person who is caught speeding and shows up in court to contest the charge only to have it tossed out because the ticketing officer didn’t show up in court to make her or his case.

The truth is that there is nothing particularly virtuous about the moratorium that Bank of America and some other national banks have announced on foreclosures. They are probably only holding off because they know that they are in trouble for fraudulently signing and processing foreclosure documents claiming title to properties that they actually cannot prove they have any claim to. (It has even been suggested that the banks are temporarily halting foreclosures because they are afraid that the glut of foreclosed homes will depress the value of other properties which are in their mortgage portfolios, hurting their own balance sheets.)

But the real question is, why is nobody mentioning the over 9 million homes that have been foreclosed on already, or that have been threatened with foreclosure, in this longest and deepest recession since the 1930s.

If it is the right thing to do to put a stop to foreclosures until banks can prove ownership, then it is equally right to reverse, or pay damages for all those foreclosures that already occurred--1.3 million in 2007, 2.3 million in 2008, 2.8 million in 2009 and 1.6 million in just the first six months of this year--where there was bank fraud in the signing of documents, or where there is simply no paper trail to prove the bank in question owns the mortgage. (A difficulty is that if a foreclosed property was later sold, reversing the transaction could mean displacing another family that made a good-faith purchase from the bank, meaning that a compensation payment to the wronged first owner would be a better option.)

If an individual committed the kind of fraud that the nation’s banks have been committing in order to steal someone’s assets, she or he would be convicted of fraud and locked up in jail, yet not one banker has been locked up yet for mortgage foreclosure fraud.

This wave of foreclosures is really Grand Theft Home on an unprecedented scale. The number of homes foreclosed in 2004 was 677,000, so if we take that number as being an average foreclosure rate for ordinary times, and subtract it from the figures for following years, and if we assume that the balance of foreclosures are the result of the bank-induced recession, we’re talking about six million homes that have been stolen by the banks. If each foreclosed home over the period 2005-July 2010 was worth an average of just $50,000--probably a very conservative figure--we’d be talking about the theft through fraud or economic malpractice of some $300 billion in the assets of ordinary citizen homeowners.

Actually, of course, the theft of assets from the public has been much greater, since every time a home is foreclosed in a neighborhood, the value of all the surrounding homes plunges, but that’s a story for another day.

Just in terms of outright bank fraud and home theft, we are talking about perhaps hundreds of billions of dollars worth of property that has been stolen through forged papers. We are also talking about the heartless destruction of millions of families, who have been torn from their homes.

So why are we only discussing foreclosure moratoriums now and going forward? Why are we not seeing aggressive federal action by the Justice Department seeking restoration of title or compensation to families who have already lost their homes through bank fraud? As reported yesterday in the Washington Post, 40 state attorneys general have joined together to file court challenges to the securitization of mortgages, but so far, this effort appears aimed primarily at requiring banks and mortgage companies, going forward, to comply with all legal requirements in foreclosing on properties, not at recovering stolen property. The focus of this effort is also not on prosecuting banks and bankers for perjury, though this would certainly be possible.)

Why is Congress not aggressively investigating this colossal theft?

It’s one thing to say that financial institutions like Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase and Citibank are too big to fail. It is another to say that even though they are criminal enterprises that have perpetrated an unprecedented fraud on the public, they are too big to prosecute and to punish. That sounds like the way the Italian government has generally treated the Cosa Nostra.

Enough pussyfooting around! It’s time to make the banks and the bankers pay for their crimes. If government is to have any purpose, it must be to protect the public against crime. Even libertarians agree with that concept. And we have been robbed blind by these banks.

The problem here is that we Americans have lost any sense of community. We don’t really care about the millions who have had their homes stolen by the banksters, as long as our own homes haven’t been stolen. We’re so self-involved that we don’t even recognize that it is in our own self-interest to protect others from foreclosure because if they lose their home, our neighborhood suffers. Even the people who are acting riled up--the Tea Party folks--are only concerned about their own taxes, not about their neighbors. There were stories during the 30s of people who rallied to block auctions abd save their neighbors’ homes and farms. No stories like that today. But at least we could demand political action from our so-called political leaders.

There’s an election coming up Nov. 2. If the US Department of Justice and the attorney general offices of the 50 states cannot or will not go after the banks to demand the restoration of stolen properties to their rightful owners, and will not act to put the criminal bankers who committed fraud behind bars the way they do to the poor schmucks who pass a bad check, and if the House and Senate won’t seriously investigate these crimes by the banks, they should all be thrown out of office, Republicans and Democrats alike, and to hell with the consequences.

We couldn’t end up with anything worse than a government that coddles criminals, which is what we have right now.

Globalizing Health Care

A Prescription With Benefits

The healthcare sector rarely features prominently in trade policy. This is unfortunate, since the enormous differences in healthcare costs between countries imply that there are large potential gains from increased trade. Consider the United States. The potential benefits from increased openness and trade in health would be especially large, simply because its costs are so much higher than in any other country. But liberalization would bring benefits to other countries as well, even if these may not be quite as large.

By most measures, doctors in the US are paid far more than doctors in other countries. The disparities tend to be largest in highly paid areas of specialisation, but the gap is substantial in most areas. This gap is preserved through licensing policies that are deliberately designed to restrict both domestic and international competition.

The benefits of more open trade in healthcare would be several, though three major gains stand out.

First, supply would rise; to achieve this, greater standardization and transparency in licensing standards for medical professionals, especially doctors, would be required.

Second, more medical tourism would encourage health systems to compete for patients hunting for large savings.

And third, there would be savings for government-funded retiree healthcare, notably by introducing international healthcare vouchers.

Look at standardization first. Simplifying and standardizing professional licensing requirements so that foreign doctors could more easily qualify to practice across borders would not be qualitatively more difficult than many other issues addressed in trade pacts. In the US case, this would first require some amount of uniformity within the country. Currently, each of the 50 states has its own licensing requirements. It should be possible to have the core elements of this licensing standardized, with each state having the option to add requirements that are clearly linked to the quality of care.

These requirements should then be fully transparent, so that training for them would be as easy in India or Mexico as in the United States. The testing could even be done in foreign countries, albeit by authorized officials. Successful foreign doctors could be given the same right to practice medicine in the United States as American doctors.

A clear advantage of this would be to increase the supply of physicians in the country, leading to sharp reductions in compensation and more doctors in underserved areas. Average compensation for physicians in the US currently exceeds $200,000 a year. With 800,000 practicing physicians, if pay was reduced by 30%, the savings would exceed $50 billion annually (0.3% of GDP). It would also be easy to construct a tax structure on the earnings of foreign-trained physicians with the proceeds going to the home countries. This revenue flow could allow them to train more physicians, ensuring that the sending countries benefit from the arrangement as well.

Tourism gains

Medical tourism is a second mechanism through which the US and other countries can benefit through trade liberalisation in healthcare (see article by David Morgan in this edition). There already is a substantial flow of medical tourists to developing countries where procedures are provided at far lower costs. Most of the medical tourism from other OECD countries with near universal coverage involves cosmetic surgeries that are not covered by their healthcare systems. Not so for the US, where medical tourists often travel for major operations that are done at a fraction of the cost in the US.

There are several facilities in many developing countries that have been designed to serve a clientele of medical tourists from wealthy countries. These facilities have fully modern equipment and doctors who are trained at standards comparable to those in the wealthy countries.

However, they have a much lower cost structure. For example, heart surgery in a US hospital can easily cost more than $200,000. Hospitals in India and Thailand can offer comparable quality care for $25,000. This cost difference can easily cover the travel expenses of the patient and immediate family and still allow for enormous savings.

Medical tourism has grown rapidly, not least among people without insurance in the US. However, its growth could be facilitated through regulatory changes that would allow insurance companies to offer patients the option of using foreign facilities and sharing the savings. It would also be helpful to have a licensing system that could ensure the quality of foreign facilities. A private licensing system is already in place, but some governmental oversight could bolster confidence.

Clear rules on medical liability would also be useful in making patients more secure in taking advantage of facilities catering to medical tourists. It would also be useful to encourage developing countries to tax medical tourism and use the proceeds to support their domestic healthcare system. Such a tax would be small compared to the cost savings for patients.

Finally, the gap between healthcare costs in the US and the rest of the world offers enormous potential gains through the use of healthcare vouchers for the government-run Medicare system for retirees. It should be a relatively simple matter to negotiate a system whereby Medicare beneficiaries could buy into the healthcare systems of other wealthy countries. The US could offer a premium of 10-15% above the cost of treating older patients in these countries to give them an incentive to participate in such a program.

The potential savings would be substantial, especially when coupled with the savings from Medicaid, the program that covers non-Medicare expenses for lower income elderly. Based on pre-healthcare reform projections, in 2020, the US government could save $1,700 a year for each person in the Medicare program who opted to accept a voucher and $8,200 for each person who was dually enrolled in both Medicare and Medicaid (all numbers in 2008 dollars).

The savings to beneficiaries would vary by country, but a Medicare beneficiary using their voucher in the UK in 2020 would save $5,800 a year, including money that was refunded from the voucher. A dual eligible would save $13,700.

The savings on both sides would increase rapidly through time. By 2060, the savings to the government for each Medicare beneficiary would be $12,000 a year. For each dual beneficiary the savings would be $42,000. Someone using their voucher in the UK in 2060 would be able to pocket $26,000 a year, and a dual beneficiary would get $45,000. The savings may be somewhat less if the increased demand from patients from the US was large enough to affect prices in the receiving countries.

These projections imply enormous savings to the government from this sort of global healthcare voucher, as well as large gains to beneficiaries. The latter would be able to more than double their retirement income in many cases. In addition, the reduction in demand from having large numbers of beneficiaries getting care elsewhere would also lower healthcare costs in the US more generally.

While the potential gains to other countries may not be as marked, the savings from liberalized trade in medical services is still likely to be vast, compared with most of the areas that currently dominate the trade agenda. There is no excuse for not focusing more attention on this issue.

Bernanke Ponders the "Nuclear" Option

Rolling the Dice

Ben Bernanke's speech on Friday in Boston could turn out to be a real barnburner. In fact, there's a good chance the Fed chairman will announce changes in policy that will stun Wall Street and send tremors through Capital Hill. Along with another trillion or so in quantitative easing, Bernanke is likely to appeal to congress for a second round of fiscal stimulus, this time in the form of a two-year suspension of the payroll tax. That's what he figures it will take to jump-start spending and rev-up the flagging economy. It could be an extraordinary intervention.

Bernanke laid out the details in a speech he gave in May 2003 to the Japan Society of Monetary Economics, in which he outlined the policies Japan should enact to beat deflation. Here's what he said:
“Rather than proposing the more familiar inflation target, I suggest that the BOJ consider adopting a price-level target, which would imply a period of reflation to offset the effects on prices of the recent period of deflation. Second, I would like to consider an important institutional issue, which is the relationship between the condition of the Bank of Japan's balance sheet and its ability to undertake more aggressive monetary policies.... Finally, and most important, I will consider one possible strategy for ending the deflation in Japan: explicit, though temporary, cooperation between the monetary and the fiscal authorities."
There it is. Bernanke is planning to reflate asset prices, purchase more government bonds, and enlist congress's support to pump liquidity into the broader economy. It's an ambitious strategy that could push the dollar over the edge, but the alternatives are equally bleak. Bernanke knows that "at best" GDP will hover around 1 to 2 per cent through 2011 while the public grows increasingly restless about soaring unemployment. He also knows that when interest rates are stuck at zero the only way the central bank can zap the economy back to life is by increasing inflation expectations. That means, the Fed has to persuade people they've “lost it” and are planning to destroy the currency via the printing presses. It's all baloney. The Fed won't destroy the dollar. They just want to use the element of surprise to give the economy a good jolt. Gold bugs think the Fed is steering the country towards hyperinflation, but they're mistaken. It's all part of a larger calculation.

Bernanke may be a died-in-the-wool class warrior, but he's no moron. His policies are designed to overshoot in order to change expectations and get consumers out of their funk. He even says so in the speech. Here's a clip:
"A concern that one might have about price-level targeting, as opposed to more conventional inflation targeting, is that it requires a short-term inflation rate that is higher than the long-term inflation objective."
The only way to stimulate economic activity is to convince people that the dollar they presently have in their pockets will be worth less tomorrow. That's what puts the Jones's back into the minivan scuttling off to the mall. But what seems like profligate spending on the Fed's part, (QE) is really just a way of restoring the pre-crisis price level. Call it asset inflation if you want, but the bottom line is, Bernanke is not going to sit back while disinflation turns to deflation, the real value of personal debts rise, and the bankruptcies, defaults and foreclosures continue to mount. He's going to pull out all the stops and carpet bomb the economy with monetary and fiscal stimulus. Here, again, is how Bernanke lays out his thesis:
"One possible approach to ending deflation in Japan would be greater cooperation, for a limited time, between the monetary and the fiscal authorities. Specifically, the Bank of Japan should consider increasing still further its purchases of government debt, preferably in explicit conjunction with a program of tax cuts or other fiscal stimulus."
Good. So Bernanke realizes that he can't go it alone. He has to get congress on board if he wants to succeed. (which is probably why the Fed's meeting was scheduled after the midterms)

Bernanke again:
“... Consider for example a tax cut for households and businesses that is explicitly coupled with incremental BOJ purchases of government debt--so that the tax cut is in effect financed by money creation. Moreover, assume that the Bank of Japan has made a commitment, by announcing a price-level target, to reflate the economy, so that much or all of the increase in the money stock is viewed as permanent.
Under this plan, the BOJ's balance sheet is protected by the bond conversion program, and the government's concerns about its outstanding stock of debt are mitigated because increases in its debt are purchased by the BOJ rather than sold to the private sector. Moreover, consumers and businesses should be willing to spend rather than save the bulk of their tax cut: They have extra cash on hand, but--because the BOJ purchased government debt in the amount of the tax cut--no current or future debt service burden has been created to imply increased future taxes. Essentially, monetary and fiscal policies together have increased the nominal wealth of the household sector, which will increase nominal spending and hence prices."
This is truly radical, but it could work. And, the quickest way to engage the policy would be by slashing the payroll tax which would, in effect, give every working man and woman in the country a raise in pay.

Bernanke's comments are also a tacit admission that the banking system is still dysfunctional and cannot provide the credit needed for the next expansion, so he is bypassing the privately-owned system altogether and transferring money to consumers directly. Naturally, this will have a positive effect on spending and on any prospects for a recovery.

The cagey Bernanke has even concocted the public relations rationale for fending off the deficit hawks who will undoubtedly point to his plan as an example of wasteful government spending.

"Isn't it irresponsible to recommend a tax cut, given the poor state of Japanese public finances? To the contrary, from a fiscal perspective, the policy would almost certainly be stabilizing, in the sense of reducing the debt-to-GDP ratio. The BOJ's purchases would leave the nominal quantity of debt in the hands of the public unchanged, while nominal GDP would rise owing to increased nominal spending. Indeed, nothing would help reduce Japan's fiscal woes more than healthy growth in nominal GDP and hence in tax revenues.....More generally, by replacing interest-bearing debt with money, BOJ purchases of government debt lower current deficits and interest burdens and thus the public's expectations of future tax obligations."
The Bernanke plan seems to do everything except whiten teeth. But wouldn't it make more sense to restructure the banking system so the toxic assets can be removed and the banks can lend freely again? And wouldn't it be better to strengthen labor unions (so that wages keep pace with productivity) so workers can generate sufficient demand to keep the economy running smoothly without panicky injections of emergency stimulus? Of course, that would mean a truce in the ongoing class war which wouldn't fly with plutocrats who take joy in seeing the unemployment lines wind from one side of the country to the other.

Bernanke's plan could work. Congress could pass emergency legislation to suspend the payroll tax for two years stuffing hundreds of billions of dollars into the pockets of struggling consumers. The Fed could make up the difference by purchasing an equal amount of long-term Treasuries keeping the yields low while the economy resets, employment rises, asset prices balloon, and markets soar. As the economy rebounds, the dollar will steadily lose ground triggering a sharp rise in commodities and an increase in exports that will spark a clash with foreign trading partners. Then what?

Yes, Bernanke's "nuclear option" could help to resuscitate economy, but it could also erode confidence in the dollar leading to the untimely demise of the world's reserve currency. It's all a roll of the dice.

How Neo-Cons Became Honorary Christians

Losing the Apocalypse

The expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948 and the disastrous decision to lie about it made an Israel Lobby in America necessary. Christians were willing participants in this destructive process from the beginning. The stated purpose of “interfaith dialogue” in the US after 1945 was for Jews and Christians to work together to oppose anti-Semitism on American soil—and there’s no reason to suspect that that most participants weren’t completely sincere about that. But Christians were also looking to Jews to help them manage their guilt and their bewilderment about the Holocaust. In some ways this was relatively easy to do, because US Christians did not have the same tradition of anti-Semitism as European Christians. But helping people manage their trauma is a tricky business, because those who do so can quickly learn to exploit it, if there is something they want very badly. Of course, Jews were more traumatized by the Holocaust than Christians, but they understood it better—it was simply a much larger and more terrifying version of what they had always gotten from Christians. On the other hand, the immensity of the Holocaust was too much for most American Christians to comprehend.

This was to some extent because Americans also have a kind of willed innocence where certain unpleasant realities are concerned—thinking and talking about the Holocaust upset certain middleclass sensibilities, although most decent American Christians probably would have admitted that it was an important subject. The entire Holocaust seemed unbelievable—nobody could really explain why it had happened, or even how it happened. The world turned to Jews for an explanation, since they had been most directly impacted. And indeed it was Jews (Hilberg, Arendt, Milgram) who generally came up with the most reliable writing about the Holocaust, with Stanley Migram arriving at perhaps the most satisfying explanation of why it had occurred. But Jews concentrated on the psychological aspects of systemic evil in Nazism, whereas those aspects of Christianity that had for many centuries been most closely associated with Christian anti-Semitism were ignored by both Christians and Jews.

If American Christians really wanted to know what caused German Christians to murder millions, they might have looked closely at their own belief in the redemptive violence of Christ’s crucifixion. Throughout the history of Christianity in Europe, it was usually when public displays of emotion about Christ’s crucifixion were most visible—around the time of Easter week, for example—that anti-Semitic outbursts were likely to happen. If Christ’s bloody death redeemed followers to eternal life, what about the Jews that voted to crucify Jesus, and continued to reject him in modern times? But it was precisely this troubling core dynamic of Christian thaumaturgy, and its historical association with anti-Semitism, that Christians didn’t want to look at. Such an inquiry was likely to lead American Christians to a dark place where they weren’t ready to go.

In addition to reading the writing of Jewish intellectuals, meeting with leaders of the organized Jewish community offered Christians some sense of meaningful response to the horror of Auschwitz. And both Jews and Christians could do this in the name of community-building in the US, without either side required to go explain or explore their own beliefs. By simply showing up for “interfaith dialogue” with Jews, Christians were able to convince themselves that they were doing something important about ending anti-Semitism. That, in turn, helped them get a handle on the guilt they were beginning to feel, as it became clearer that the political anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust had arisen directly from Christian anti-Semitism. The power of the Israel Lobby was prefigured by the rich irony of American Jews absolving “good” American Christians of guilt by association with “bad” German Christians, which became un unspoken and often unconscious dynamic of interfaith dialogue between Christians and Jews.

But why had anti-Semitism been a part of Christianity for so long? The unwillingness of US Christians to look critically at their own theology turned out to be a missed opportunity, for the liberal Protestant establishment was soon overwhelmed by a rightwing evangelical movement that greatly outnumbered them. The ultra-conservative Christians of the Religious Right generally belonged to denominations or embraced theologies associated with anti-Semitism in the past, but were quickly adjusting to the loss of anti-Semitism (which had now become a supreme example of politically incorrectness) by finding new objects of hatred in gays, Muslims and “secularist humanists.”

By the late 1960s and 1970s Jewish leaders were, on the other hand, beginning to identify with the new Jewish state Israel, which they saw as a kind of living representation of Judaism in the world of realpolitik. For the more important Jewish leaders, supporting Israel suddenly gave them legitimacy—now they were associated not merely with a religion but with an important geo-political entity. And there was another reason, again mainly unspoken: it made Jews look good in the eyes of the goyim—they were a people with no land who had taken over a land with no people, as the Zionists liked to say, and they had made the desert bloom! No more would they been seen as cloth jobbers, money speculators and subversive intellectuals with coke-bottle glasses—now their excellence as soldiers, farmers and nation-builders would be crystal clear to the non-Jewish world.

There was apparently no downside to the dream of Zionism—Judaism in search of Jewish identity need look no more. One became a good Jews by uncritically supporting the Jewish state, whereas Christians could prove how free of anti-Semitism they were by uncritically supporting it. After sixteen hundred years, major reconciliation of Christians and Jews! This happy picture was not sullied by any mention of the Palestinians’ tragedy, partly because information about it had been suppressed in the West, and partly because those who knew something kept their mouths shut rather than face a firestorm of denunciation by ecstatic Jews sincerely convinced that it was all a lie. The role of the Israel Lobby would be precisely to make sure nobody ever found out about what had happened to the Palestinians in 1947-49, and to keep those who did know something from talking about it. They would do this by keeping the Holocaust in the public eye as much as possible. If Jews were always the victim, how could the Palestinians be victims? Public opinion in the US tended to accommodate only one victimized group at a time.

Because of the confluence of these mainly unspoken needs, Christians and Jews adopted certain unconscious but highly charged roles that would govern “interfaith dialogue” between Christians and Jews for the rest of the 20th century. The main rule was, Don’t say anything bad about Israel. After a decent (or indecent, if you prefer) interval this was followed by its inevitable corollary: Say anything bad about Israel, and you will be publicly denounced as an anti-Semite. But these extreme conditions didn’t faze most Christians—if uncritical support for Israel was required for overcoming anti-Semitism, Christians were willing to do it.

None of this was conducive to speaking frankly, of course—nor, one must add, did it encourage anything like trust or respect. It did create an elephant in the interfaith parlor which only got larger and more fractious as the years went by. The name-change of the National Conference of Christians and Jews to the more mundane National Conference for Community and Justice may have occurred partly because of a claustrophobic sense of divisions that nobody was allowed—or could allow themselves—to talk about. To speak candidly about the origins of Israel in front of certain audiences, to mention the undeniable fact that ethnic cleansing had been used to dispossess Palestinians, and that torture and death squads were regularly used on Palestinians inside and outside Israel, was to invite a riot. Even today, campus speakers on Israel/Palestine are the only oneds that regularly require police protection.

Christians also used interfaith connections for their own corrupt purposes. As Peter Novick convincingly demonstrates in The Holocaust in American Life, Catholic leaders used interfaith connections to try to suppress the American production of The Deputy, asking “their Jewish dialogue partners to put pressure on the Jewish producer and director to cancel the play, or at least to join them in denouncing it.” The Deputy (a play that questioned Pope Pius’ unwillingness to speak out against the Nazi Holocaust) had been produced at a time of “tense politicking at Vatican Council II in Rome over a declaration repudiating anti-Semitism and absolving Jews of culpability in the death of Jesus.” According to Novick, the American Jewish Committee “did its best, albeit unsuccessfully, to prevent the play from going on—and made sure that church officials knew that it had tried.” The national tour was canceled, probably as a direct result of combined Catholic/Jewish pressure to do away with it.[1]

Needless to say, a play should never be closed down because it criticizes organized religion, any religion; and using it as a poker chip in such backstage tummeling is another example of how the Nazi Holocaust corrupts everything. If American Catholics and Jews had to suppress a play about the Holocaust to get the Pope to stop blaming Jews for the death of Jesus, the entire project of reconciliation had, certainly for the people involved in the suppression, no meaning whatsoever. Similarly, the postponement of candid discussion about Israel was both stupid and tragic, because as time went on the elephant in the parlor got bigger and bigger; and in the total absence of tough love from American Jews, the political class in Israel kept moving to the right until it had completely embraced the neo-fascist Jabotinsky form of Zionism. There was still no talk about what had happened to the Palestinians, because few people knew about it, and most Americans didn’t want to know about it.

But the few people who did know were often Jews such as Noam Chomsky, who insisted on telling the truth. Chomsky was universally condemned by major Jewish leaders and organizations as a monster, a crypto-Nazi and a betrayer of all Jews everywhere. As a young man involved in union politics, I was told by “progressives” that Noam Chomsky suffered from a form of mental illness that caused him to criticize the government of Israel because he could not come to terms with the fact that he was Jewish. He was, in other words, a self-hating Jew.

It is important to remember, however, that the unspoken decision of Christians not to discuss their doubts about Israel to their “interfaith dialogue partners” was to a large extent the creature of institutional Christianity, both Protestant and Catholic. Why? Christians overlooked the evil of Zionism because they were overwhelmed by the evil of Hitler. Christianity, the single social instrument in the West that could both explain and expiate evil, had been itself complicit in the greatest example of evil the world had ever seen. If the only way Christians could reconcile to Jews was to support Israel uncritically, they felt they had to do it. Remember that there was no theory of evil, either secular or religious, that could even begin to explain why German Christians had behaved as they did. Nor was there any immediate explanation for the next potential genocide that was now looming on the horizon in the threat of nuclear war.

Indeed, it was because nobody could explain the sudden emergence of so much evil in the middle of the 20th century that evangelicalism arose in Christianity, and extreme religious nationalism in Judaism. Both evangelicalism and religious nationalism actually fed the evil that had driven people to create them; but both, in the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, seemed to serve the need for apocalyptic solutions to apocalyptic problems.

Most Jews had never had enough organization power to engage in systemic evil, either in Europe or the US; but in Israel, for the first time, Jews had some power. With that power, they were to learn the addictive nature of sadism and aggression, which are not things that most people are anxious to discuss. And since nobody dared to talk about it, the political class of Israel, once they got a taste of it, naturally wanted more. How nice not to be the victim for once, and to try one’s hand at a little oppression of the natives!

This was formulated in memorable form by the German Jewish journalist Henryk Broder:
“Israel is presently more perpetrator than victim. But that is good and it is right. After all, for nearly two thousand years the Jews were in the role of the perennial victims, and their experiences in this role were bad indeed. Perpetrators mostly have a longer life expectancy than victims, and it is much more fun to be a perpetrator.”[2]
This disgusting endorsement of brutality was made by Broder in the German forward to A Case for Israel by Alan Dershowitz.

What Zionists now wanted, in other words, was what Christianity had always had, which was redemption through violence—but the Zionist settlers of Israel had no idea how habit-forming it was, and especially they had no idea how dangerous it was to the future of the Jewish people. Nor did they realize how fast the world was changing, and to what extent people outside Israel were internalizing the idea of universal human rights. Meanwhile Israelis were still stuck in 1948, in a time when human rights for Jews could only be guaranteed by taking away the rights of Palestinians.

* * *

Christians were desperate to expiate their guilt for the Holocaust, and Zionists were more than willing to take advantage of that desperation. It was also for this reason that those Christians and Jews that engaged in “interfaith dialogue” were engaging in a kind of hypocritical game that neither could control. Certain they never arrived at anything like real dialogue—or at least the kind of dialogue one has with people if one happens to care about them. When they sat down to have dialogue with Jews, Christians really cared more about expiating their own guilt than they did about the Jews with whom they were supposedly in dialogue. One reason for this desperation was no doubt a growing (sometimes unconscious) lack of confidence in the ability of Christianity to expiate sin. Christians were ready to let anti-Semitism go, but they did not really want to know why it had been there so long, nor did they want to know what was likely to take its place.

The evangelical movement in America quickly filled the vacuum with Islamophobia, the strident projection of guilt, anger and fear onto Muslims, and a world mission of defeating Islam and converting Muslims to Christianity in the “10-40 window,” those 28 or so Muslim-majority countries located in the forty degrees north of the equator. Many rightwing evangelicals, including Franklin Graham, supported both the Gulf and Iraq wars because they saw it as a chance to proselytize Muslims; and almost all the evangelical churches that had missions began to concentrate on the “10-40” window. As always, there was little introspection about how much of that mission would be various forms of cultural imperialism, and whether evangelicals could really help people in those countries, and how.

For Jewish leaders in the US, the rise of the ecstatic rightwing evangelicals were not such a bad deal as one might imagine. In fact, the growing political power of the Religious Right in the US produced a new kind of inclusive nomenclature, proving that American meritocracy extended to entire religions as well as to individuals—as long as the Jewish leaders involved did not look to closely at, or protest too strenuously about, the grandiose specifics of evangelical Christian world mission.

Jews were now to be upgraded to something known as “Judeo-Christianity,” a bogus expression invented by rightwing evangelicals to promote Christian nationalism and advocate in the public square for certain evangelical values without being called anti-Semitic. Jews were now to be allowed into that part of the conservative establishment that was encouraging coalition with the evangelicals of the Religious Right; and the expression “Judeo-Christian values” was unveiled to pre-empt any question of anti-Semitism. Jews were perceived as a difficult group that had a baffling tendency to vote Democratic, but whose institutional leadership was practically a domestic extension of the rightwing parties of Israel; it could therefore be used to whip the intelligentsia into line when American corporate interests were threatened in the Middle East. The expression “Judeo-Christian civilization” was used to reassure Jews that if and when the evangelicals succeeded in making their form of Christianity a state religion, Jews would have nothing to fear.

The entire issue of whether Christian evangelicals in America would continue to proselytize Jews was finessed in an interesting but dishonest way: the Religious Right would give uncritical support to the government of Israel; in return, institutional Jewish leaders would say nothing regarding the fact that evangelicals taught that Jews would go to hell unless they converted to Christianity. Later the issue of proselytizing Jews would be even more subtly finessed by a little-known provision in the dispensationalist playbook — namely, that during the End Time (the Christian evangelical term for the Second Coming of Christ), Jews would for reasons unknown suddenly convert to Christianity as the New Jerusalem arrived. The recalcitrant ones, those Jews who for some reason refused Jesus’ kind offer of conversion to Christianity, would be mass-murdered by God, who would thereby neatly finish in the End of Days what Hitler had started back at the Wannsee Conference in 1942. As long as Jews kept quiet about the essentially anti-Semitic nature of this juvenile and astonishingly bigoted theology, evangelicals would give uncritical support to whatever government had gotten itself into power in Israel. In concert with this cultural development, the Protestant old-boy network that still controlled most of the capital in the American corporate upper class would let some of “them” into the conservative establishment.

The turning point was the emergence of Henry Kissinger as a modern Mandarin of American imperialism. Some report a moment in the early 1980s when Kissinger derisively referred to a roomful of people at the Council on Foreign Relations as “You Episcopalians—“ Many of the Christians present were not Episcopalians (the days when Anglicanism dominated the boardrooms of America had passed some time before) but they all knew what Henry meant. There were going to have to open their ranks to let in some new blood. And the new ones would have to have power, not just vague and—to them—meaningless trappings of prestige.

This set the state for the empowerment of the neo-conservative movement. Neo-cons in those days were—and many still are—essentially upper-mobile, rightwing Zionists afflicted by an extreme case of ambition, aggression and power worship. They understood that if America continued to uncritically support the Likudniks in government in Israel, no concessions to the Palestinians or the Arab states would ever be necessary. Of course, the result would be permanent war, sometimes covert and sometimes hot, but their sons would never have to fight in it; and it would enable—and even encourage—the corporate upper class to set up a new neo-colonial apparatus in the Middle East. In return, Israel would become the mafia enforcers of American “interests” in Arabic-speaking lands, becoming in the process a super-militarized, highly armed camp of Arab-hating soldiers and fighter pilots, bristling with the will and the psychological need to kill Arabs on a regular basis. Jewish leaders in the US were seen—correctly—as uncritically supporting this process, by destroying or de-legitimizing every person or organization that questioned it. But the neo-conservatives went beyond the goals of most Jewish leaders, whom they wished to manipulate but not emulate. If the US could intervene in the affair of the Middle East, why couldn’t it intervene everywhere in the developing world, openly and unapologetically?

The neo-conservatives hit upon the idea that America would be in a much better shape to intervene on Israel’s behalf if overt or covert intervention were central to American policy everywhere in the world. Neo-conservatism was the Jabotinsky school of Zionism writ large, applied not just to Palestinians but to everybody in the developing world; and since this translated into a new and particularly lethal version of early 20th-century gunboat diplomacy, a great many old-time conservatives were attracted to it, including people who cared nothing about Israel or the Middle East. People in the Third World who did what American policy-makers demanded of them would be rewarded; those who didn’t would be imprisoned or killed. The idea of international cooperation would be completely abandoned. Behind the policy-makers would be the US corporate upper class and its phalanxes of hired intellectuals, because only those leaders created by the marketplace could really be trusted.

The neo-cons were extremely savvy about public relations and influence generally, since they, like other Zionists, tended to see the defense of Israel as mainly a public relations problem. They invented extremely effective new methods (neo-con foundations, for example) to provide political cover for their activities and goals, also providing money to buy off their political opponents and marginalize the rest. Under the tutelage of neo-cons, the “Judeo-Christian” label was more about promoting American “interests” (that is, empire) throughout the developing world, in which effort the Israelis were to be the errand boys and arms suppliers. But this idea existed and was promoted on pretty much the same wave-length as the rightwing evangelicals of the Religious Right during their rise in the 1980s and 1990s.. Call it “Judeo-Christianity,” or simply the neo-con’s unapologetic appeal to American domination, it boiled down to the same thing: some lucky Jews were to be allowed to sit at the table of empire if they did as they were told, kept the Arabs in line, and agreed not to say anything bad about the ancient Protestants that still controlled the corporate upper class, particularly that part of it interested in keeping energy based on fossil fuels (the same part that would later swing the entire Republican party behind climate denial). The old-boy network of Episcopalians and other Protestants that had mainly controlled the corporate upper class before the 1980s would now do their part by increasingly including Israel, and certain of its rich American proxies, into their imperial calculations.

The Zionist part of the Faustian bargain was to help get the Likudnik political class in Israel get what it wanted, after the collapse of final status talks in 2000, which is the ethnic cleansing of the remaining Palestinians, either slowly (by making life unbearably difficult), in installments, or all at once. By controlling almost half of the West Bank, the Israelis have made the two-state solution nearly impossible. Under a one-state solution, on the other hand, they will be able to do whatever they want to the Palestinians; and without question they will—if there is no external or internal pressures to stop them—kill and ethnically cleanse the Palestinians by the millions. The will finish the job of ethnic cleansing begun in 1947-1949.

Zionism, and then neo-conservatism, were the outgrowth of western-style imperialism, and were only incidentally a religious phenomenon at first; but this desperate and mistaken collaboration has gradually become one in which religious nationalism is by far the most dynamic, unpredictable and dangerous factor within the conservative foreign policy coalition. It is all the more volatile because of the guilt, fear and anger arising from the Holocaust and the Nazi nightmare, a free-floating trauma that nobody has been able to explain or deconstruct. For that reason, it still drives decisions made about the present and the future. Christian evangelical leaders have recently striven to adopt a more mainstream image, and embraced centrist and even progressive concerns; but the evangelical voting bloc within the Republican Party will be a reliable source of support for imperial wars for some time, not to mention torture, Muslim-baiting and obscurantism generally. But the most problematic reality is that both evangelicals and Zionists are still quite prepared to give religious labels to their organizational behavior—in other words, both are likely to support and promote the idea of a worldwide religious war against Islam, whether covert or overt. This is the most dangerous outcome of the Zionist collaboration with the Religious Right.

For neo-cons, the irrational and tribal side of the evangelical/neo-con deal has far out-stripped every other consideration; and that is what increasingly makes neo-conservatism a cult rather than a considered geo-political worldview. This has alarmed the paleo-conservatives, first because there are now almost as many Jewish billionaires as Protestant ones, but also because the old-boy Prods can no longer control the volatile Zionists they had originally hired on as errand boys and mercenaries.

The paleos are alarmed for a reason that should also alarm us, but not because it inconveniences a few rich Protestants. The neo-con approach to problem-solving is no longer rational, or based on enlightened or even informed self-interest, but has become an apocalyptic movement based on identification with the Holocaust, driven by an almost complete internalization of its trauma and an ever-present and semi-hysterical death worship of the six million. The basic neo-conservative idea is that both America and Israel must exist in a state of permanent war, an idea that neo-cons first expressed in their public letter to Netayahu in 1996 pleading against a peace deal with the Palestinians. But what country can remain in a state of permanent war? Why is that better than peace? Permanent war is an abomination, and people who believe in it are insane.

The apocalyptic, victimology-driven Jewish neo-cons who want permanent war do not flinch for a moment at the potential loss of Jewish lives; indeed, they have lived for years in a moral and emotional universe in which it is assumed as self-evident that the world hates the Jews, everybody is against them, and a new Holocaust is on the way. In fact it is so self-evident and so necessary to their weltanschauung that the neo-cons that believe in it will do almost anything to make it happen.

The more Jews that die: the more children murdered: the more the neo-cons can trumpet to the world that everybody really does hate them. Their solution is an apocalyptic one, borrowed from the most hysterical and blood-obsessed form of Christianity, but going the Christians one step better—to the neo-cons the objective is not to win the Final Battle, but to lose it, thereby acting out to ecstatic completion the total authenticity of their victim status. The apocalyptic solution is, at bottom, a dangerous, narcissistic form of public suicide that seeks the destruction of the world as its answer to the paradoxes of the human dilemma.

[1] Peter Novick, The Holocaust in American Life (New York: Mariner Books, 2000), 143-144.
[2] Hajo G. Meyer, The End of Judaism (Amsterdam: G. Meyer Books, 2007), 188.

Wall Street and the Criminalization of Immigrants

Following the Money

Over the past four years roughly a million immigrants have been incarcerated in dangerous detention facilities in our taxpayer-financed private prison system. A growing number of news reports and investigations confirm that for many of the people funneled into this system, it is a living nightmare. Children were abused, women were raped, and men died from lack of basic medical attention.

These facilities are run by two Wall Street-backed companies that actively promote the criminalization and incarceration of immigrants in the United States -the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group.

The T. Don Hutto immigrant detention facility in Taylor, Texas provides a now well-known example of the abuses that take place within private prisons for immigrants. Beginning in May 2006,the Don Hutto prison was used to house children and their parents who were on a path to deportation. Reports began to surface of widespread abusive treatment of immigrant children by staff of Corrections Corporation of America. An ACLU lawsuit filed on the basis of documented cases of abuse finally led to the closing of the Don Hutto facility for housing families in 2008. After the children were excluded, the Don Hutto only held women detainees. But the abuses continued. Evidence has surfaced that a number of women were sexually abused over the past two years in Don Hutto by CCA staff. Sexual abuse, including rape, has been documented in several detention centers.

The other large private prison corporation contracted by the federal government to run immigrant prisons is the GEO Group. The GEO detention facilities have also racked up many reports and complaints of abusive treatment of immigrant detainees and corrupt staff practices that violate the basic human rights of prisoners. Last month we spoke with the sibling of a detainee in a GEO-run facility who was denied basic medical attention for lack of funds to pay. The detainee’s family had to raise funds to get their relative medical attention in the facility from GEO. Other GEO detainees have died from a lack of medical attention.

Another relative of a GEO detainee told us that prisoners who avoid getting on the wrong side of GEO guards could aspire, at most, to a job in the prison that pays 17 cents an hour for doing office work.

GEO recently agreed to pay restitution for its employees’ physical abuse of prisoners who were strip searched in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Texas, and New Mexico. In another case, GEO was ordered to pay $40 million in the wrongful death of a prisoner in its custody in Raymondville, Texas. GEO has also been sued by seven children who were sexually assaulted by a guard while being held in a GEO facility.

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), based in Nashville, Tennessee, and the GEO Group, a global corporation based in Boca Raton, Florida are the nation’s two largest prison companies. They run highly integrated operations to design, build, finance and operate prisons. GEO rakes in $1.17 billion in annual revenue, and CCA tops that at $1.69 billion. Together these companies are principal moving forces in the behind-the-scenes organization of the current wave of anti-immigrant legislative efforts, which, if successful, would dramatically increase the number of immigrant prisoners in over 20 states.

Following the Money

GEO CEO, George Zoley, was a Bush “Pioneer” who bundled more than $100,000 in contributions for the Bush-Cheney campaigns in 2000 and 2004. In October 2003, GEO was successful in securing the contract to run the Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

GEO hired the services of lobbyists who had held influential positions in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Bureau of Prisons, Office of the Attorney General, and the office of then-Senate Majority Leader, George Mitchell, to lobby their former employers and Congress. Throughout 2005 and leading up to the largest immigration raid in U.S. history in December 2006, GEO and CCA spent a combined total of over $6 million on lobbying efforts.

On May 1, 2006, while millions of people marched in favor of immigrant rights in 102 cities across the country, GEO and CCA were lobbying the federal government for more business. The marchers, despite their historic turnout and broad citizen base, could not block the growing wave of government support of GEO’s and CCA’s business plans.

The December 2006 raid, in which over a thousand men and women employed at Swift meat-packing plants in several states were detained, marked a change in the federal government’s enforcement of the 1995 immigration law. For the first time, many of those picked up were charged with crimes such as falsifying identity documents or identity theft that carry long prison sentences, rather than misuse of a social security number, a misdemeanor.

This single change in enforcement of existing law created a potential “market” of over 10 million new felons almost overnight, multiplying the lucrative incarceration market for the private prison industry and sending a shock wave through immigrant-related communities across the country. At the time of the Swift raid, USA Today quoted the Reverend Clarence Sandoval of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Logan, Utah, as saying, “They are taking mothers and fathers and we’re really concerned about the children. I’m getting calls from mothers saying they don’t know where their husband was taken.”

Through this change in how federal law is enforced, CCA and GEO suddenly had a huge pool of captive clients, and began to rake in millions of dollars in public funds to house, transport, feed and control immigrants.

Predictably, costs to taxpayers skyrocketed. From 2006 to the present, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) budget for the identification, custody, transportation, detention and removal of immigrants has increased 51%. The U.S. Marshall budget for the custody and transportation of immigrants over the same period has increased 15%, and the Bureau of Prisons budget for detention of immigrants over the same period has gone up 9%. The billions of dollars in increased expenditures have provided the primary source for the billions in increased revenue for CCA and GEO.

In addition, currently 625 state, county and municipality law enforcement agencies are providing identification, custody, transportation and detention of immigrants through agreements with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

According to a federal Government Accounting Office study conducted last year the cost of this program to local taxpayers is unknown because 60% of state and local governments do not keep data on their personnel, equipment, supplies and other costs related to these agreements, and therefore are not reimbursed for those costs. Whatever the exact cost, local taxpayers will feel the pinch as this program is expected to expand to all 3,100 state, county and municipal detention jurisdictions in the nation by the end of 2011. Consequently CCA and GEO can expect to increase their revenues as states and counties increasingly subcontract incarceration responsibilities to these companies.

Last year Seeking Alpha, a website of actionable stock market opinion and analysis popular on Wall Street, reported that GEO’s income from prison health care services ending in March of 2009 topped $1.0 billion, a 5.8% profit. Seeking Alpha also stated that CCA’s profit for the same period in 19 states was over $1.6 billion, with a profit margin of 9.4%. In an article entitled “Where Delinquencies Make for Good Business” the same publication noted, “Crime, unfortunately, is a growth industry and GEO Group has proven to be a successful player in the outsourcing trend for governments at many levels.” Pushing criminalization of immigrants to cast a wider net in society has been a key part of that “success.”

Soon after the Bush Administration implemented the change in law enforcement affecting immigrants, Wall Street advisors publically recommended buying stock in private prison companies like CCA and GEO. At the time, Vice President Dick Cheney was heavily invested in Vanguard, one of a handful of major shareholders in GEO.

The lobbying paid off for both companies, in huge revenue increases from government contracts to incarcerate immigrants. From 2005 through 2009, for every dollar that GEO spent lobbying the government, the company received a $662 return in taxpayer-funded contracts, for a total of $996.7 million. CCA received a $34 return in taxpayer-funded contracts for every dollar spent on lobbying the federal government, for a total of $330.4 million. In addition, both companies increased revenues over the same period from detention facility contracts with a number of states.

In 2007, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) conducted 30,407 immigration raids in workplaces, neighborhoods, and public gathering sites such as bus stops and commuter train platforms. The number of raids conducted that year was double the 2006 total. The number of immigrants placed behind bars, for what amounts to the crime of having been born in the wrong place, increased from 256,842 in 2006 to 311,169 in 2007.

As a result of fear induced by the raids and other factors, pro-immigrant May Day marches in 2007 were much smaller than those of the previous year. In mid-2007, while many activists and organizers were focused on legislative reform, public protests, eliminating the raids, and trying to help families and friends of those who had been taken away by ICE and other enforcement agencies, GEO and CCA shareholders reaped a huge profit. Both companies issued 2-for-1 stock splits that roughly doubled the value of their shareholders’ stake.

Although stockholders profited handsomely as revenues from prison contracts rose for both companies, the increase wasn’t large enough to satisfy some of their respective major shareholders. J.P. Morgan Chase, a major owner of GEO, dumped most of its stock and relinquished its leadership position in the company.

One problem for major investors seeking huge gains from the for-profit prison business was that revenue rates couldn’t keep rising because federal agencies didn’t have enough personnel to arrest and process more immigrants than the expanded number they were now handling. It became apparent that the only way to significantly raise revenue through increasing the numbers of people picked up, detained and incarcerated was to hire more law enforcement personnel.

The private prison industry now needed a new source of low-cost licensed law enforcement personnel. CCA and GEO then turned to state governments as the focus of business expansion. Both companies stepped up efforts to acquire contracts with state and local governments that were entering into lucrative agreements with the Department of Homeland Security to detain immigrants in state and local detention and correctional facilities.

The result of this shift in business focus is exemplified by CCA’s role in Arizona’s SB 1070 and both CCA’s and GEO’s roles in other legislative efforts aimed at dramatically increased numbers arrests of undocumented immigrants in over 20 states. Arizona’s Governor Jan Brewer, who received substantial campaign financing from top CCA executives in Tennessee and employs two former CCA lobbyists Chuck Coughlin and Paul Sensman, as top aides, signed SB 1070 into law on April 23.

On Friday, July 30, 2010 the Republican Governors Association, which so far this year has received over $160,000 in contributions from CCA and GEO, and their respective lobbyists, sent out a nationwide solicitation written by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer requesting contributions to fund an appeal of the partial injunction issued by a judge against SB 1070.

In addition to funds raised by the partisan appeal, Brewer’s legal effort has been bolstered by supporting briefs filed with the appeals court by three states– Florida, Texas and Virginia–that have contracts with GEO or with both GEO and CCA. The two prison companies are currently ramping up their political involvement in these states and in several others that have anti-immigrant bills moving through their respective legislatures. In all, twenty states are considering SB 1070-inspired bills, which have been endorsed by their respective Republican gubernatorial candidates, financed in large part by the Republican Governor’s Association.

Last November, CCA’s top management in Tennessee contributed the largest block of out-of-state campaign contributions received by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer.[1] CCA, which already has several detention facilities in Arizona and hopes of expanding its immigrant prison business in that state, is expected to gain a huge increase in revenues with the implementation of SB 1070. Currently, Latinos driving out of the city of Tucson in any direction are being stopped at checkpoints, where they are asked to show their papers.

GEO and CCA are now heavily involved in the governor and state legislative races in states where they plan to expand their respective shares of the prison and incarceration market. GEO, for example, backed first-term Republican Governor, Bob McDonnell, in Virginia last year, and has contributed heavily to the Republican Governor’s Association and to the Florida Republican Party. In addition to Jan Brewer in Arizona, CCA is contributing to the campaigns of both, Republican Meg Whitman, and Democrat Jerry Brown, for governor in California. CCA is also giving money to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, even though Jindal isn’t currently facing an election, and to the Republican Governors Association, which has contributed over $1.5 million to state races this year.[2]

Since the change of administration in Washington D.C., GEO has expanded its presence there by adding the services of lobbyists who formerly served in high positions in the Obama presidential campaign, the Clinton White House, and the Senate and House Appropriations committees. Currently, GEO retains the services of three Washington D.C. lobbyists who also work for Wells Fargo, GEO’s top shareholder. One of GEO’s Washington D.C. lobbyists, Barbara Comstock, is also a member of the Virginia state legislature. CCA relies on its officers to do its lobbying in Washington DC,[3] where some board members, such as former Arizona U.S. Senator Dennis DeConcini, are well-connected.

CCA’s and GEO’s share of the taxpayer-funded immigrant incarceration business has grown substantially since 2006. Today, for example, in California, anyone picked up by ICE in Los Angeles is sent to a CCA facility in San Diego, while those picked up by ICE in Seattle or Portland, OR, are sent to a GEO facility in Tacoma, Washington, because detention facilities owned and operated by the federal government are at 137% capacity, with no room to house more prisoners.

Wall Street’s Role

CCA and GEO are owned by major Wall Street institutions, which profit from the immigrant incarceration business as major shareholders.

The most influential investor in CCA is a hedge fund, Pershing Square, which is run by Wall Street investment guru activist investor, Bill Ackman. Ackman also plays a powerful role in Target Corporation and Kraft Foods. Wells Fargo is the most powerful investor in GEO.

Other major investors with the power to influence management in one or the other of the two companies are Vanguard, Lazard, Scopia, Wellington Management, FMR (Fidelity), BlackRock and Bank of America. Each of these major owners is sensitive to public opinion in one way or another. These major investors do not need to rely on either CCA or GEO to make money, since most of their money is invested in enterprises unrelated to private prisons.

By almost any measure, the increased number of deportations of immigrants has not had the desired effects on anyone other than the private prison industry. Unemployment among native-born citizens in the U.S. has skyrocketed as the number of immigrants being deported has risen to over 400,000 a year.

The United States now has more people in prison than any other country on earth. At over 2 million, the U.S. has a half million more people behind bars than China, which has the second highest number of prisoners.

One would like to think that bringing this information to Congress’s attention would be enough to compel them to abandon policies that criminalize immigrants. However, that is not likely to happen soon.

This probable reluctance on the part of Congress to act isn’t merely because of the substantial campaign contributions that Senators and members of Congress receive from the private prison industry. Most members of Congress have personal investments in one or more of CCA’s or GEO’s major shareholders.

While it is true that many people are invested in CCA or GEO through their pensions without knowing it, reports on the personal finances of some key members of Congress suggest some of them have more than a casual interest in the fortunes of CCA or GEO.

One example of a Washington DC powerhouse with a substantial financial interest in CCA is Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi, one of a small group of investors in Pershing Square, a hedge fund that holds the most stock in CCA of any of the company’s shareholders. Senator Enzi, a senior Republican who sits on the Senate Budget Committee, was awarded a 100% approval rating by U.S. Border Control (USBC), which describes itself as “a non-profit, tax-exempt, citizen’s lobby. USBC is dedicated to ending illegal immigration by securing our nation’s borders and reforming our immigration policies.”

As Congress is currently tasked with finding ways to reduce the burgeoning deficit and alleviate the suffering caused by the economic crisis, shifting priorities from programs that benefit prison companies to much-needed programs that benefit taxpayers only makes sense. Compelling Congress to abandon immigrant criminalization policies is probably going to require, among other things, that citizens convince some combination of our pension funds, Wells Fargo, and a key hedge fund or two, to pull out of the private prison industry and to go elsewhere to make money.

We should be able accomplish this. IBM and Ford, when challenged, found themselves unable to justify their investments in apartheid in South Africa. As a result of a swelling movement of students, faith-based organizations, unions and shareholders, these companies divested in 1986, contributing to the fall of the racist apartheid system and a transition to democracy.

Similarly, Wells Fargo, Pershing Square, and other financial giants shall be hard-pressed to justify investments in the massive suffering caused by the criminalization of immigrants, as a movement comes together to expose the harm done to the public good by their current investments in the immigrant prison industry.

Who knows? Some of these financial institutions might even see the wisdom in investing in companies that produce family-wage jobs.

Peter Cervantes-Gautschi is the Director of Enlace, a Portland, OR based organization focused on strategic organizing, campaigns, and training in organizational development around workers’ struggles, and the impacts of multinational corporations in the lives of people in all sectors of society. Peter has been a labor activist since 1965, starting as a young farm worker in Southern California. He is a frequent contributor to the Americas Program

[1] Arizona campaign contribution reports compiled by the National Institute On Money in State Politics show that CCA’s CEO Damon Hininger, CFO Todd Mullenger, CDO Anthony Grande, and then General Counsel, Gus Puryear, contributed to Jan Brewer’s campaign.
[2] National Institute on Money in State Politics.
[3] Center for Responsive Politics, Open