Saturday, February 19, 2011

How Courts Avoid Doing Justice

Monday 14 February 2011

It is apparent that in order to put more than 2.3 million people behind bars and keep them there, while simultaneously building a prison guard/police arm of the state that numbers in the millions, courts must make credible findings that an enormous number of American citizens are violent, dangerous, and worthy of extended imprisonment. Such a goal requires creativity in redefining what is “dangerous” to our society and why the incarceration of so many people is in the national interest.

It is too blatant and obvious for the courts to simply say that being poor or black is justification enough to imprison somebody. They have to put it into language that is palatable to Americans.

Thus, in order to find so many people guilty of the massive array of crimes established by the state, courts have had to construct an elaborate maze of rules and exceptions, authorizing and sustaining the convictions of so many people, and making sure that their criminal appeals go nowhere (except to profit those in the legal system fortunate enough to make a living by it). This maze is comprised of a series of rules that, on their own, appear reasonable, but when taken as a whole, demonstrate the total contempt courts have for the judicial process, and highlight the result-oriented nature of the process.

We all are familiar with how the law loves archaic Latin phrases that the typical
American knows nothing about: stare decisis (a rule is a rule); habeas corpus (bring us the body, dead or alive), ad infinitum (give us more money indefinitely) and res ipse loquitor (we can talk you blind), are obvious and well-known examples; but what is less known is how courts go about convicting the innocent in spite of laws forbidding it.

Here are just a handful of the excuses conjured up by result-oriented jurists to avoid letting the innocent out of our jails or prisons:
1) Waiver. An example: If you didn’t file your motion to suppress evidence when you should have, we don’t have to consider the fact the police unlawfully broke into your home and car, and seized evidence that would not have been admissible at trial. But you didn’t raise the argument when you should have. It is not our fault that your lawyer was asleep or drunk during the hearing.

2) Procedural Default. The federal court doesn’t have to consider the issues you’ve raised in your habeas corpus proceeding, because you didn’t raise those issues adequately when you were in front of the state court. Even if your argument would have won on the merits, you lose, because the state court didn’t get a chance to rule on it first.

3) Speculative. An example: You are arguing that the lethal injection procedure the state is going to use to kill you is cruel and unusual punishment, and will subject you to unwarrranted and excessive pain. But that argument is too speculative, and you can’t raise it until you can PROVE that the pain is unreasonably harsh. Perhaps you should consider filing again if, once you’re dead, it turns out you were correct. (Honestly, that is the law in Ohio.)

4) Timeliness. An example: You had one year within which to file your habeas corpus petition, and you filed it a day late. We won’t consider it, and you die in prison, regardless of how meritorious your claims are.

5) Presumption of correctness: You are arguing that your trial was unfair, but we, the court, are going to presume that everything was done correctly, and you have the burden of proving that the trial was unfair. The fact that your argument is as reasonable as the state’s doesn’t matter. You lose because of the presumption. But what about the presumption of innocence? Oh, that only applies before you are convicted. Afterwards, the presumption is that the trial was fair and you are therefore guilty as charged.

6) Legislative matter, not judicial. You are arguing that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment, but the legislature has declared it to be the law. If you don’t like their decision, ask them to change the law. Don’t ask us to tell them how to do their job.

7) Factual innocence ain’t enough. The judge says: You might be factually innocent of the charged crime, but your trial was “fair” and that’s good enough for us. Conviction affirmed. (A gift from the U.S. Supreme Court!)

8) State’s Rights. We know that the federal government authorizes you to engage in the conduct we’re prosecuting you for, but this is Texas, buddy. And here, you’re going to jail for it. This is not to be confused with “federalism” that says: even though the state has legalized the use of marijuana, the federal law says it’s illegal, and since federal law trumps state law (except when we prefer the state law), you can’t smoke pot, regardless of what your state electorate says.

9) Harmless Error. This is the favorite excuse for courts throughout the nation: the reliable catch-all “harmless error.” The court explains: “We understand that the prosecutor didn’t give you the exculpatory evidence that would have shown you were innocent. The police lied about your conduct. One of the jurors used to date the victim. The trial judge accepted money to rule against you. BUT, we find these little problems to be “HARMLESS ERROR” and we know, down deep, that you are guilty as hell. Conviction affirmed!

While the examples of these excuses might seem exaggerated, they are precisely what it is like to practice law in American courts these days. It is virtually impossible to read an appellate court decision that doesn’t rely upon one or all of these excuses to create an insurmountable obstacle course assuring that those charged with crimes do the time.

Picture yourself entering a labyrinth – you walk down the hallway and enter the first room. A big sign on the wall reads “Procedural default.” You turn around and keep searching for the next room. You find it, enter, and the sign reads “Harmless Error.”

Same result every which way you turn. Welcome to the courthouse.

Internet 'kill switch' bill gets a makeover

February 18, 2011 by Declan McCullagh, CNET

A Senate proposal that has become known as the Internet "kill switch" bill was reintroduced this week, with a tweak its backers say eliminates the possibility of an Egypt-style disconnection happening in the United States.

As CNET reported last month, the 221-page bill hands Homeland Security the power to issue decrees to certain privately owned computer systems after the president declares a "national cyberemergency." A section in the new bill notes that does not include "the authority to shut down the Internet," and the name of the bill has been changed to include the phrase "Internet freedom."

"The emergency measures in our bill apply in a precise and targeted way only to our most critical infrastructure," Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said yesterday about the legislation she is sponsoring with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn). "We cannot afford to wait for a cyber 9/11 before our government finally realizes the importance of protecting our digital resources."

But the revised wording (PDF) continues to alarm civil liberties groups and other critics of the bill, who say the language would allow the government to shut down portions of the Internet or restrict access to certain Web sites or types of content. Even former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak didn't actually "shut down" the Internet: at least at first, a trickle of connections continued.

"It still gives the president incredible authority to interfere with Internet communications," ACLU legislative counsel Michelle Richardson said today. If the Department of Homeland Security wants to pull the plug on Web sites or networks, she said, "the government needs to go to court and get a court order."

That concern was punctuated by a report yesterday that Homeland Security erroneously seized 84,000 Web domains and took them offline. Former congressman Bob Barr, now an NRA board member and newspaper columnist, wrote that the mistake shows that "no government--no matter how benign or well-meaning--should be empowered to control the Internet."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation said today that it continues to have concerns about the Lieberman-Collins bill. "The president would have essentially unchecked power to determine what services can be connected to the Internet or even what content can pass over the Internet in a cybersecurity emergency," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. "Our concerns have not changed."

Some of the companies and industry groups listed as supporting last June's version of the bill, before the protests in Egypt, the FBI's push on Internet wiretapping, and the Justice Department's campaign for Internet data retention, stopped short of endorsing the revised version.

Larry Clinton, president of the Internet Security Alliance, pointed to his letter to the Senate committee last year saying the legislation "is in need of additional refinement." Clinton said in an e-mail today that "much more needed to be done before we could support enactment."
Microsoft said it did not have a position on the legislation. "The bill language just came out, and so we really need to review it before we can provide further comment," a representative said today.

From "Protecting Cyberspace" to "Internet Freedom"

Many portions of the revised bill, also sponsored by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), are generally uncontroversial, dealing with topics such as boosting the federal government's information security, recruiting federal "cybersecurity personnel," and funding research into secure versions of Internet protocols. (The bill previously was called the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act; as part of its makeover it's been renamed the "Cybersecurity and Internet Freedom Act.")

But all of the recent attention has been focused on the sections handing the president emergency powers. The new version follows the same process as the old one: President Obama would be given the power to "issue a declaration of a national cyberemergency." Once that happens, Homeland Security would receive sweeping new authorities, including the power to require that so-called critical companies "shall immediately comply with any emergency measure or action" decreed.

No "notice" needs to be given "before mandating any emergency measure or actions." That means a company could be added to the "critical" infrastructure list one moment, and ordered by Homeland Security to "immediately comply" with its directives the next.

The U.S. Senate's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which Lieberman chairs, appears to believe that it's not necessary to include explicit judicial review of the president's emergency authority once exercised, believing it's implicit. Any such lawsuit filed by a targeted company would likely focus on language saying the emergency decrees should be "the least disruptive means feasible."

The president may declare a "cyberemergency" for 30 days, and extend it for one 30-day period, unless Congress votes to approve further extensions.

Homeland Security will "establish and maintain a list of systems or assets that constitute covered critical infrastructure" and that will be subject to those emergency decrees.

Homeland Security is only supposed to place a computer system (which could include a server, Web site, router, and so on) on the list if certain requirements are met. First, the disruption of the system could cause "severe economic consequences" or worse. Second, the system is "a component of the national information infrastructure," such as the Internet, or relies on that infrastructure. Third, it can't be placed on the list "based solely" on any First Amendment-protected activities.

A committee report from December says that senators hope that Homeland Security will interpret that language to include a "combination" of factors, including mass casualties or evacuations, over $25 billion in damages, or "severe degradation" of national security. The suggestion, however, appears to be nonbinding and doesn't actually appear in the legislation.
One big change: Earlier versions of the bill barred companies from filing a lawsuit objecting to being placed on that list. The revised version explicitly permits judicial review as long as the lawsuit is filed in the District of Columbia.

"A state of public peril"

A 1934 law (PDF) creating the Federal Communications Commission says that in wartime, or if a "state of public peril or disaster or other national emergency" exists, the president may "authorize the use or control of any...station or device." That could sweep in the Internet, but it's not entirely clear it does. (The revised bill says that existing authority may not be used to "shut down the Internet," but does not otherwise limit it.)

In congressional testimony (PDF) last year, the Obama administration stopped short of endorsing the Lieberman-Collins bill. The 1934 law already addresses "presidential emergency authorities, and Congress and the administration should work together to identify any needed adjustments to the act," DHS Deputy Undersecretary Philip Reitinger said, "as opposed to developing overlapping legislation."

A draft Senate proposal that CNET obtained in August 2009 authorized the White House to "declare a cybersecurity emergency," and another from Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) would have explicitly given the government the power to "order the disconnection" of certain networks or Web sites. House Democrats have taken a similar approach.

In a statement, Lieberman said there's no "kill switch" in this bill.

"It is impossible to turn off the Internet in this country," he said. "This legislation applies to the most critical infrastructures that Americans rely on in their daily lives--energy transmission, water supply, financial services, for example--to ensure that those assets are protected in case of a potentially crippling cyberattack."

The ACLU's Richardson believes the problem was never a "kill switch." She said: "The question is bigger than that. It's generally, can the government interfere with communications...The question is: Are there significant protections in there?"

Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the free-market Cato Institute and a member of a Homeland Security advisory panel, says that supporters of the bill have yet to make the argument that such governmental emergency powers will do more good than harm.

"They recognize that a total Internet kill switch is totally unacceptable," Harper said today. "A smaller Internet kill switch, or a series of kill switches, is also unacceptable...How does this make cybersecurity better? They have no answer."

Ohio’s turn to revolt: Thousands flood statehouse over anti-union bill

By Stephen C. Webster, Friday, February 18th, 2011

The massive, government-crippling protests in Madison, Wisconsin have now spilled over into Ohio, where over 5,000 rallied Thursday in opposition to a bill that would eliminate collective bargaining rights for state workers.

Ohio's Senate Bill 5 is essentially the same as what Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker proposed, and it seems to be recieving about the same response. Just last week, more than 800 people showed up to protest the bill while it was still in committee, packing out the statehouse in a show of numbers that Thursday's demonstration easily topped.

The collective bargaining power of unionized workers is a key bullwark for American laborers, who've often been forced to organize throughout US history to force management into offering better pay, health insurance, greater job security, vacation time or even maternity leave. Without collective bargaining, the power of unionized workers would be reduced to their last and most extreme tool in their set: the general strike.

Teachers in Wisconsin showed earlier this week what that may look like, with more than 1,100 of them calling in "sick" and not showing up for work for one single day, to emphasize their importance in the education system.

Estimates on the number of protesters who turned out in Columbus, Ohio on Friday differed, but Cleveland's WTAM 1100 News Radio put the figure at "thousands," noting that it had grown from prior protests. The station also added that Friday's demonstration also drew a counter-protest from a group of tea party Republicans, who were "far outnumbered" by the workers.

The Columbus Dispatch reported Friday's protest attracted "about 3,500" demonstrators, with the Republican counter-protest stacking up at just over 200.

“Instead of focusing on solving the economic problems facing Ohio and creating family-sustaining jobs for the 500,000 Ohioans who still remain jobless, Sen. Jones and Senate GOP leadership are trying to scapegoat hard-working public service workers for our economic and budget woes,” Tim Burga, president of Ohio's AFL-CIO labor union federation, said in a statement.

"This bill is a partisan assault on working families and does nothing but punish workers and hurt the middle class, plain and simple. This bill would destroy the middle class because the working families this bill affects not only provide vital services, but put money and resources back into their communities, which support local merchants and other small businesses."

This video was published to YouTube by user truthaboutbills on Feb. 17, 2011. It contains adult language.

Media futurist: Time to replace the Internet

'Contact' summit to study replacing DNS with peer-to-peer, democratic networks
By Nathan Diebenow
Friday, February 18th, 2011

How can the stranglehold on humanity's digital communications be broken? One media studies professor has a revolutionary idea.

"If we have a dream of how social media could restore peer-to-peer commerce, culture, and government, and if the current Internet is too tightly controlled [by the network owners] to allow for it, why not build the kind of network and mechanisms to realize it?” asked Douglas Rushkoff, writing for Mashable earlier this month.

Rushkoff is the author of Program or be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age and a noted Internet futurist. He also teaches media studies at The New School University in Manhattan.

To foster this emerging, peer-to-peer Internet, Rushkoff announced plans for a summit called “Contact” in October at the Angel Orensanz Center in New York City.

“From the development of a new non-hierarchical Internet to the implementation of alternative e-currencies, the prototyping of open source democracy to experiments in collective cultural expression, Contact will seek to initiate mechanisms that realize the true promise of the networking revolution,” he said.

Rushkoff told Raw Story last December that authorities already have the ability to quash cyber dissent. This is due to the Internet's original design as a top-down, authoritarian device with a centralized indexing system.

Rushkoff concluded that the Internet in its current form is simply unredeemable. From the near expulsion of WikiLeaks to Egypt's Internet blackout, it became clear to him that a fundamental change must be made.

As evidenced by the troubles dealt to secrets outlet WikiLeaks, essentially all one needs to do to halt a website is delete its address from the domain name system registry. A peer-to-peer Internet would use individual computers to route traffic to sites, as opposed to one centralized server, making it more resistant to censorship.

"This is not rocket science," Rushkoff quipped.

“A p2p network protected only by laws -- that exists but for the grace of those in charge -- is not a p2p network,” he wrote. “It is a hierarchical network allowing itself to be used in a p2p fashion, when convenient to those currently in charge.”

Rushkoff previously theorized that the new system might operate like FidoNet, a pre-Internet network that relied on personal computers acting as their own servers connected by modems via telephones.

“25 years of networking later, lessons learned, and battles fought; can you imagine how much better we could do?” he asked. “So let's get on it.”

House Approves Bill With Massive Spending Cuts After All-Night Session

by Elise Foley 
WASHINGTON - After an all-night session, House Republicans early Saturday morning passed legislation that would slash $60 billion in government spending between now and the end of September, setting up a showdown with President Barack Obama, who has vowed to veto the measure.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) led the charge as the GOP cut near $61 Billion from the federal budget. The cuts, which were passed without a single Democratic vote, are aimed primarily at domestic social spending but also have policy goals -- going after the Environmental Protection Agency, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. (Hmmm, trhe House GOP wants to cut funding for our public health & land, a financial investigation bureau, a bureau to protect private investors, and an oversight group for financial products and commodities. Basically, they don't want to get caught breaking laws--jef)

Funding for the government runs out on March 4. Obama said on Tuesday he would veto the House version, while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has promised to remove many of the bill's funding cuts. So Saturday's passage makes a government shutdown more likely, not less.

The bill is a stop-gap measure - known as a continuing resolution - that would establish spending levels for the rest of the current fiscal year. An even shorter-term solution to buy the chambers more time for a compromise may be off of the table, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said on Thursday.

"We are hopeful that the Senate will take up the House passed bill that comes out of here today, tonight, tomorrow morning, whenever it is, and we hope that they will move it," he said. "But I am not going to move any kind of short term CR at current levels. When we say we're going to cut spending, read my lips: We are going to cut spending."

But he later backed off the threat, telling reporters on Friday he would allow for another stop-gap funding bill to prevent government shutdown. Details of that plan will be released "soon enough," he said.

The bill passed 235 to 189, with three Republicans joining all the chamber's Democrats in voting no.

An aide to Nancy Pelosi told Democratic chiefs of staff on Friday that he thinks a government shutdown is likely.

The final funding bill approved by the House included a number of amendments after a time-intensive process that kept lawmakers debating and voting late on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights as well. Some amendments were approved with bipartisan support, such as an effort to kill funding to a Pentagon program to build duplicate fighter jet engines. That amendment, which was supported by the Pentagon, passed on Wednesday in a 233-198 vote.

Other amendments would take additional funding from agencies that were already weakened by the original funding bill. The Environmental Protection Agency, already facing $3 billion in cuts from the main bill, would lose an additional $8.4 million for its greenhouse gas registry thanks to a measure introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kans.), which was added in a 239-185 vote.
The House also targeted the EPA's regulations on cement plants, approving in a 250-177 vote an amendment prohibiting the agency from using funds to implement or enforce the rule.
White House "czars," or advisers would also be banned after an amendment by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), which was approved on Thursday in a 249-149 vote. The amendment prohibited funds to be used to so-called czars on health care, climate change, global warming, green jobs, automobiles, Guantanamo Bay Closure, Pay and Fairness Doctrine.

"To the czars I say, Nyet," Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) said in support of the amendment. "I will leave it to the gentleman to work out his Lenin fantasy," Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) quipped in response.

On Friday, the House approved two amendments to de-fund the president's health care law, another step toward blocking the legislation they have already voted to repeal. The amendments, both introduced by Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King, would block funding to implement health care reform and prohibit agencies from hiring staff to implement the law, effectively rendering its protections against insurance companies unenforceable.

Another longtime Republican target, Planned Parenthood, would be banned from receiving funding under an amendment offered by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), which Democrats called an "all-out war on women." The measure would prevent the organization from receiving any federal funding because it performs abortions -- even though using government money for abortions is already illegal -- undermining programs for reproductive health and pregnancy prevention.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) spoke out against the attack on Planned Parenthood after delivering an emotional account on the House floor of an emergency abortion she underwent for medical reasons.

"A continuing resolution is a mechanism to allow the government to continue to operate," Speier told HuffPost. "It should not be a vehicle for political rhetoric and high drama that was exhibited last night on an issue that was unrelated to the federal budget. It didn't create one job, it didn't reduce the deficit, so what was the point?"

Efforts by Democrats to restore funding to agencies were mostly voted down. Rep. Rush Holt's (D-N.J.) amendment to restore some funding to the CFPB was struck down on a party-line vote Thursday 163-265, leaving the bureau with only half of its current funding in the final bill. Frank attempted to restore $131 million in funds to the Securities and Exchange Commission, but that amendment also failed in a 160-270 vote.

"I've talked to a lot of people about whether they like the freedom to be cheated on credit cards, to be cheated on mortgages, to be cheated on overdraft fees, and I found that was not really a freedom they valued," Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.) said on the House floor on Thursday. "They don't really value that any more than Americans 100 years ago valued the right to buy rancid beef."

An amendment to end a tax loophole for major oil companies, introduced by Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), failed in a 251-174 vote on Friday. Democrats aimed to end subsidies to Big Oil as a revenue-booster to protect social programs, but found little support from Republicans.
"Republicans once again sided with BP, Exxon and the oil companies, not with the American taxpayer and the poorest Americans most in need of help," Markey said in a statement. "This legislation focuses on just the kind of special interest loophole that should be closed before we open attacks on programs for the poorest Americans."

Bash the Bank

Saturday, February 19, 2011 by
by Christopher Brauchli
"A power has risen up in the government greater than the people themselves, consisting of many and various and powerful interests, combined into one mass, and held together by the cohesive power of the vast surplus in the banks."
—John Caldwell Calhoun, Speech 1835

For the last quarter of 2010, JPMorgan Chase (JPMC) had a 47% jump in profits and since 2010 was such a good year it set aside $9.73 billion for its investment bankers’ bonuses. It is easy for pundits to decry such bonuses and at the World Economic Forum in Davos the bank’s president, Jamie Dimon, struck back at critics. He deplored what he described as “banker bashing” and said that bankers have become political whipping boys. He doesn’t seem to know why that is. To figure it out he could go back to JPMC’s actions in the early days of the foreclosure crisis and its unwillingness to help homeowners, whose homes were in foreclosure, modify their mortgages, an unwillingness described here and in countless other publications.

Alternatively Mr. Dimon might have considered events that would be described by Stephanie Mudick, an executive vice president in JPMC’s Office of Consumer Practices when testifying before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs on February 9th. She testified that the bank had overcharged approximately 4,500 members of the U.S. military on mortgages and had “accidentally” foreclosed on 18 service members’ homes. Stephanie expressed the bank’s “deepest regret over the mistakes we’ve made in applying these protections [for service members]. I commit to you that we will get this right.” (On February 15th it was announced that the bank would make amends by, among other things, not foreclosing mortgages on any active-duty military personnel. This will, of course, not help those who “accidentally” lost their homes or were overcharged. As one lawyer representing service members who had been cheated by the bank observed: “When I was prosecuting cases, I never had a defendant who got caught breaking the law that didn’t want to give back what they took and promise to lead a better life.”)

When berating his critics, Mr. Dimon knew about the lawsuit that was filed against the bank by Irving H. Picard in early December 2010. Mr. Picard is the bankruptcy trustee who is making claims against those who were unjustly enriched by their dealings with Bernie Madoff. According to Bloomberg News, in his suit against the bank, Mr. Picard alleges that the bank knew of Madoff’s fraudulent operation and was, according to Mr. Picard’s attorney, “willfully blind to the fraud, even after learning about numerous red flags surrounding Madoff. JPMC was at the very center of that fraud, and thoroughly complicit in it.” Some people might think the allegations in the suit would have chastened Mr. Dimon. On the other hand, maybe not. After all, a plaintiff can say anything he or she wants in court pleadings and that does not make them true, even when Bernie Madoff says the banks knew what was going on. And if those episodes did not help Mr. Dimon understand why people bash banks, he might consider the matter of the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago and New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC).

The Department of the Treasury describes the NMTC program saying it “permits taxpayers to receive a credit against Federal income taxes for making qualified equity investments in designated Community Development Entities (CDEs).” The credit totals 39 percent of the cost of the investment and is claimed over a seven-year credit allowance period. An organization that wants to receive money under NMTC must demonstrate “a primary mission of serving, or providing investment capital for low-income communities or low-income persons as defined by the Department of the Treasury. The determination as to whether an area meets the requirements is based on the most recent census which is the year 2000. As Bloomberg Markets Magazine reported on February 11, 2011, because of the use of old census data many high-end developments have occurred with NMTC funds that were not supposed to be the beneficiary of those funds. The Blackstone hotel is one of them. It opened in 2008 after a $116 million dollar renovation. Rooms at the Blackstone today go for up to $699 a night. Very few low-income persons stay there.

Prudential Financial Inc. developed the property and got $15.6 million in tax credits. JPMC was the lender and handled construction financing receiving fees and interest from the project. A spokesman for JPMC told Bloomberg Markets Magazine “We think these projects help the community.” He’s probably thinking of employment opportunities since when it opened it hired 200 workers.

As Cliff Kellogg, a former senior policy advisor at Treasury discussing the Blackstone project told Bloomberg, “Things like luxury hotels are entirely contrary to what we set out to do.” It’s probably contrary to what Mr. Dimon’s bank set out to do when it participated in the project, helped Bernie Madoff cheat investors, cheated soldiers or accidentally threw them out of their homes. As the saying goes, bad things happen. That’s no reason to bash those who received $9.73 billion in bonuses. Just ask Mr. Dimon.

Nation's Eyes Turn to Wisconsin Amid Struggle over Collective Bargaining (3 articles)

(I feel the need to compare this struggle to the one taking place between the NFL owners and players. The Wisconsin events really minimize the NFL's petty bullshit. What really matters vs What doesn't matter at all, really. 

And for anyone who thinks this uprising here is treason or a betrayal, understand this: this is not about overthrowing America, it is about removing corporate influence and corruption from the govt. The corporate sponsored Supreme Court legalized the purchase and ownership of congress, the White House, and federal courts. Every political position has a price tag, and corporate influence and corruption guides every political decision made in this country now, including the anti-labor moves of Wisconsin's state govt. 

The most important aspect to this uprising here is that it remains PEACEFUL, NON-VIOLENT, RESOLUTE and STRONG. If you are not committed to seeing this through to the end, it's OK if you'd rather watch it on the news. But history will look back on these days as the time when people all over the world said "Enough of this bullshit. Corporations aren't people, they shouldn't have influence over the govt" (which is technically fascism)"and when they break laws, they need to be punished the same way an individual who commits the same crime is punished, which means holding its executives and board responsible for crimes committed by the corporation. Corporate bottom lines do not come before the health, welfare and civil rights of the people. The people are what is most important about the United States--not it's govt, not its history, not even its security or economic standing. The people come first in America, and that has gotten way lost over the years leading up to this."

It remains to be seen how committed people will be, how the govt will respond (the Wisconsin governor has already threatened to call out the National Guard), and what changes as a result. But history is on our side. Ours is the side of what's right, what's fair and what's good for the people of this country, not the corporate bottom line. "The people...United...will never be divided!"--jef)


Saturday, February 19, 2011 by The Capital Times (Wisconsin)
Nation's Eyes Turn to Wisconsin Amid Struggle over Collective Bargaining
by Clay Barbour

MADISON, WI - The birthplace of Progressivism this week became the key battleground in a fight that has repercussions stretching from New York to California.

As protests against Republican Gov. Scott Walker's plan to severely curb collective bargaining rights for public employees continued for a fifth day at the state Capitol Friday, demonstrators were joined by union supporters from Illinois, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, as well as national union leaders and civil rights advocate the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

The political fight has captured the nation's attention, landing on nearly every major network and spurring dialogue about its relevance for the rest of the country. To many, Wisconsin represents the line in the sand for public employee unions, who find themselves under siege in several states. Losing ground here, they fear, will cost them everywhere.

"This is a coordinated effort by the Republican Party to destroy the labor movement in this country," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, in town Friday for the largest day of rallies, estimated by Madison police at 35,000 to 40,000 people. "If Wisconsin passes this, there are at least another 12 to 15 states that will try it."

Republicans leaders who took office as part of the conservative wave the swept the nation in November are promising deep spending cuts and more fiscal discipline. Many are also fighting for major changes to labor relations.

Union membership decline

The efforts come as organized labor reels from a steady loss of members in the private sector. The public sector, with about 7.6 million members, now accounts for the majority of workers on union rolls, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Making matters worse for unions, most states are wrestling with major budget problems. It has gotten so bad that even Democratic governors — usually friendly with labor — are targeting public employees and unions as ripe for cutbacks.

Lawmakers in Tennessee, Indiana, Florida, Ohio, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Nevada and California are considering severe cuts to public employees, including layoffs, pay freezes and increased donations to employee pension and benefit plans. Collective bargaining in each of those states is in danger.

In Ohio, where lawmakers face an estimated $8 billion budget gap, the Legislature debated a bill this week that would limit collective bargaining for about 400,000 public employees. Protestors have rallied at the statehouse in Columbus, but on a far smaller scale than in Madison.

Pieter Wykoff, who works for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, said public employee contracts have gotten out of hand.

"They are an albatross around government's neck," he said. "What you are seeing is state governments across the country making a stand. Taxpayers are tired of subsidizing benefits they never get."

In New York, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo is facing a $10 billion budget gap. He has vowed to balance his budget without tax increases. One of the key parts of his plan is to cut about $550 million by freezing public employee salaries and requiring them to pay a bigger share of their pensions and benefits coverage. He has threatened unions with as many as 9,800 layoffs if they can't agree on a deal.

"We are all in the same boat when it comes to public employees," said Morris Peters, Cuomo's budget spokesman. "It's just math. You can't run from that."

Giving government tools it needs

Walker wants to remove nearly all collective bargaining rights for most of Wisconsin's 175,000 state and local government employees, allowing workers to negotiate only over salary. He has exempted most law enforcement, firefighters and Wisconsin State Patrol troopers from his proposal.

By ending state employees' ability to negotiate for their pensions and insurance rates, the governor will be able to increase employee pension contributions to 5.8 percent of salary and more than double their health insurance contributions.

Currently most state employees pay nothing toward their pensions and a modest amount for their insurance. Walker said those increases alone would save the state $30 million this fiscal year and 10 times that much in future budgets. He said that would help him overcome the $137 million hole in the current budget, and eventually help the state make up the $3.6 billion shortfall projected for the next biennial budget.

Wisconsin Education Association Council President Mary Bell and Wisconsin State Employees Union Executive Director Marty Beil have both said the state's unions are willing to consider the governor's changes to their pension and benefits plans. But the unions remain dead set against his bid to end most collective bargaining rights.

In his office Friday, a raucous crowd just outside his window, Walker stood firm on his goal.

"I know full well the negative impact collective bargaining has on a county, city, town and school district officials to balance their budget," Walker said. "We're going to give local governments the tools they've been asking for, for decades."

That promise is the stuff of nightmares for union leaders. Organized labor is expected to spend a lot of money on fights in Wisconsin, as well as the other states where lawmakers have targeted labor.

And if Walker's bill goes through, as expected, Trumka promised a massive labor uprising in the state.

"We will be in the streets," he said.


Saturday, February 19, 2011 by YES! Magazine
Wisconsin: The First Stop in An American Uprising?
It took awhile, but Wisconsin shows that the poor and middle class of the U.S. may be ready to push back. Madison may be only the beginning.
by Sarah van Gelder

The uprising that swept Tunisia, Egypt, and parts of Europe is showing signs of blossoming across the United States.

In Wisconsin, public employees and their supporters are drawing the line at Governor Scott Walker’s plan to eliminate collective bargaining and unilaterally cut benefits. School teachers, university students, firefighters, and others descended on the capital in the tens of thousands, and even the Superbowl champion Green Bay Packers have weighed in against the bill. Protests against similar anti-union measures are ramping up in Ohio.

Meanwhile, another protest movement aimed at protecting the poor and middle class is in the works. Cities around the country are preparing for a February 26 Day of Action, “targeting corporate tax dodgers.”

Learning from the UK

The strategy picks up on the UK Uncut campaign, begun when a group at a London pub—a firefighter, a nurse, a student, and others—came up with an idea that is part flash mob, part sit-in. In an article published in the Nation, reporter Johann Hari tells the story of the group’s frustration about government cutbacks. If Vodafone, one corporation with a huge back-tax bill, paid up, the cutbacks wouldn’t be needed. The group spread the word over social media, and held loud, impolite demonstrations. The idea quickly went viral, and flash mobs/sit-ins materialized at retail outlets across Britain, shutting many of them down.

Now, a US Uncut group has formed and announced a February 26 Day of Action here to coincide with UK Uncut's planned protests on the same day. Already, a dozen local events are planned. Some groups are keeping quiet about their targets, but several are targeting Bank of America. The goal, according to a statement on the US Uncut website, is “to draw attention to the fact that Bank of America received $45 billion in government bailout funds while funneling its tax dollars into 115 offshore tax havens [...] And to highlight the fact that the poor and middle class are now paying for this largess through drastic government cuts.”

The Politics of Class Warfare

Across the country, the poor and middle class have suffered from the economic collapse: jobs disappeared, mortgages sank underneath debt, and opportunities for a college education evaporated. Much of the bailout that was supposed to fix the economy went to the very institutions that caused the collapse. Many of these institutions are now using tax loopholes and offshore tax shelters to avoid paying taxes.

The poor and middle class, those who didn't cause the collapse but have felt the most pain from the poor economy, are now being asked to sacrifice again.

It took some time for a political response to coalesce. The Tea Party movement was able to direct discontent away from the Wall Street titans who brought the economy to its knees. Funding from the Koch brothers’ petro-fortune along with fawning attention from Fox News helped get the libertarian movement off the ground. But progressives remained fragmented and few built active, organized bases. Many waited for President Obama to act.

The tide may now be turning. Inspired by people-power movements around the world, people in the United States are beginning push back. The poor and middle class, those who didn't cause the collapse but have felt the most pain from the poor economy, are now being asked to sacrifice again.

Politicians are scurrying to cut spending, but fewer than one in five Americans say the federal budget deficit is their chief worry about the economy, according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center; 44 percent say they're most worried about jobs. Polls show that Americans also want spending for education, investment in infrastructure, and environmental protection. Yet spending in all these areas is up for drastic cuts in state and federal budgets.

Likewise, on the tax side, 59 percent of Americans opposed extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest, according to a Bloomberg poll. Congress cut the taxes anyway, and the package will cost $800 billion over just two years.

Until now, polls have been one of the few places where anger at government policies that favor the rich while cutting service to the middle-class has been visible. But the crowds in Madison and the momentum of US Uncut tell us that may be about to change.

As a statement on the US Uncut website puts it: “We demand that before the hard-working, tax-paying families of this country are once again forced to sacrifice, the corporations who have so richly profited from our labor, our patronage, and our bailouts be compelled to pay their taxes and contribute their fair share to the continued prosperity of our nation. We will organize, we will mobilize, and we will NOT be quiet!”

Here's a "how-to" from UK Uncut:


Things You Need to Know About the Uprising in Wisconsin
By Joshua Holland | Sourced from AlterNet
Posted at February 18, 2011

What's happening in Wisconsin is not complicated. At the beginning of this year, the state was on course to end 2011 with a budget surplus of $120 million. As Ezra Klein explained, newly elected GOP Governor Scott Walker then " signed two business tax breaks and a conservative health-care policy experiment that lowers overall tax revenues (among other things). The new legislation was not offset, and it turned a surplus into a deficit."

Walker then used the deficit he'd created as the justification for assaulting his state's public employees. He used a law cooked up by a right-wing advocacy group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC likes to fly beneath the radar, but I described the organization in a 2005 article as "the connective tissue that links state legislators with right-wing think tanks, leading anti-tax activists and corporate money." Similar laws are on the table in Ohio and Indiana.

Walker's bill would strip public employees of the right to bargain collectively for anything but higher pay (and would cap the amount of wage hikes they might end up gaining in negotiations). His intentions are clear -- before assuming office, Walker threatened to decertify the state's employees' unions (until he discovered that the governor doesn't have that power).

But he's spinning the measure as something else -- a bitter pill state workers must swallow in order to save Wisconsin's government. So the first things you need to know are:
1. Wisconsin's public workers  have already "made sacrifices to help balance the budget, through 16 unpaid furlough days and no pay increases the past two years," according to the Associated Press. The unions know their members are going to have to make concessions on benefits, but they rightly see the assault on their fundamental right to negotiate as an act of war. 

2. There are already 13 states that restrict public workers' bargaining rights and it hasn't helped their bottom lines. As Ed Kilgore notes,  "eight non-collective-bargaining states face larger budget shortfalls than either Wisconsin or Ohio," and " three of the 13 non-collective bargaining states are among the eleven states facing budget shortfalls at or above 20%."  

3. This isn't just about public employees. What even a majority of the protesters don't know is that Walker's law would also place all of the state's Medicaid funding in the hands of the governor.  State senator Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton -- one of the Dem law-makers who fled the state to block a vote on the bill -- told local media that this amounted to "substantial Medicaid changes" that put "the governor, all of a sudden... in charge of Medicaid, which is SeniorCare, which is BadgerCare ...and he has never once said what he intends to do” with those programs. But the provision led journalist Suzie Madrak to conclude that "the end game for all this is to defund state Medicaid programs and make it impossible to serve as part of the new health care safety net."

4. Health-care costs, rather than workers' greed, are what has driven up the price of employees' benefits. But generally speaking, those public sector health-care costs have grown at a slower clip than in the private sector.

5. Public employees' pensions account for just 6 percent of state budgets.
This has nothing to do with the state's fiscal picture. Aside from potentially undermining Wisconsin's public health-care system, it's really about destroying the last bastion of unionism in the American economy: public employees. As Addie Stan wrote on AlterNet's front page:
Walker is carrying out the wishes of his corporate master, David Koch, who calls the tune these days for Wisconsin Republicans. Walker is just one among many Wisconsin Republicans supported by Koch Industries -- run by David Koch and his brother, Charles -- and Americans For Prosperity, the astroturf group founded and funded by David Koch. The Koch brothers are hell-bent on destroying the labor movement once and for all.
Consider these facts:

6. Last year, more working people belonged to a union in the public sector (7.9 million) than in the private (7.4 million), despite the fact that corporate America employs five times the number of wage-earners.  37 percent of government workers belong to a union, compared with just 7 percent of private-sector employees. 

7. Whether in the public or private sector, union workers earn, on average, 20 percent more than their non-unionized counterparts. They also have richer retirement and health benefits -- the “union compensation premium” rises to almost 30 percent when you include those bennies.
That workers can still negotiate from a position of strength somewhere in the US is simply unacceptable to the right, and that's what this is about. As you might expect, the tool they're using in their campaign is a pack full of lies and distortions about public employees. Here are some answers to those falsehoods:

8. Public sector workers have, on average, more experience and higher levels of education than their counterparts in the private sector (they are twice as likely to have a college degree). 
9. When you adjust for those factors, they make, on average, 4 percent less than their private-sector counterparts.

10. Like any group of workers with a high union density, they have better benefits, on average. But even including those benefits,   state and local employees still make less in total compensation than they would doing the same work in the private sector. 

11. In 2007, the average pension for a public sector worker was $22,000. Not exactly caviar dreams.

12. Many public employees are not eligible for Social Security -- those pensions, and whatever they can put away on their own, is all that they'll have in their golden years.

(Unless otherwise indicated, you can find links to the data for all of the above in my piece, "Right-Wingers Using Public Employees as 21st-Century Welfare Queens.")

The Right has made great political progress getting Americans to ask the question: "How come that guy’s getting what I don’t have?" It’s the crux of the politics of grievance. Progressives need to get Americans to ask a different question: "What’s keeping me from getting what that guy has?" At least part of the answer is the Right’s decades-long assault on private sector workers’ ability to organize, and the latest battle is being waged in Wisconsin.

The Next US Revolution has Begun, Ready or Not!

The fight against corporatism and corporate control over every aspect of the govt and our lives has begun in Wisconsin.

Victories Handed to Corporate America by the Supreme Court -- So Far

"Judicial activism" is way too tame a phrase for what Chief Justice Roberts & Co did here. This was a coup -- a plotted overthrow to enthrone corporate political interests.
By Jim Hightower, Hightower Lowdown
Posted on February 19, 2011

One of the great works of American political literature is Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary, first published in 1906. From A-Z, Bierce offered about a thousand irreverent definitions of political, legal, and cultural terms, getting much closer to the truth of what the words really mean than the formal definitions you'll find in Webster's. For example, consider this stinger: "LAWFUL, adj. Compatible with the will of a judge having jurisdiction."

A century later, Bierce's elucidation of the term pretty well nails the Roberts Court, the five-man junta of Chief Justice John Roberts and his fellow black-robed corporados on the Supreme Court: Sam Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas. For these extremist judicial activists, 'lawful' is whatever they will it to mean, even if their rulings defy logic, reality, the will of the people, the Founders' clear intentions, legal precedent, common sense, and any sane measure of justice.

While the executive and legislative branches of government receive constant (and often scathing) media scrutiny, the daily decrees of the judicial branch are given only sporadic and mostly superficial coverage. Yet, at the judiciary's highest level, the Roberts Court has become openly and aggressively political, deliberately rigging the scales of justice to enthrone big corporations -- the least democratic force in our society -- over the rest of us.

From behind the imposing marble walls of Washington's majestic Supreme Court building, this slim majority of five unelected, unaccountable government officials with lifelong tenure has been hurling bombs at our democracy. They've hit us with decision after decision enhancing the power of corporations at the direct expense of workers, consumers, local communities, our air and water, voters, the elderly, and... well, anyone and everyone who stands up in court to resist the rise of corporate hegemony in America.

[INTERESTING ASIDE: Teabag-wagging mad-as-hellers say that the overriding purpose of their uprising is to restore political authority to 'the people' by shrinking the intrusive power of an out-of-touch, big, bad federal government. So, where are they? You don't get bigger, badder, more intrusive, and more out of touch than having a cabal of federal judges operating from a secretive government bunker twisting the law of our land for the sole benefit of America's largest, self-serving corporations. The Supreme Court's corporate bloc has evolved into the most dangerous branch of the federal government, routinely using its arbitrary power to undermine the people's democratic authority over our country's economy, environment, and political process. But we hear not a peep about this from Tea Party leaders, or from such camp followers as Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, and certainly not from the congressional Republican leaders who now purport to be the carriers of the teabag agenda. Curious, huh?]

The four biggest corporate hits of the Roberts Court

To comprehend the depths of this court's mendacity, we have to start with a rude fact: John Roberts lied.

When nominated by George W in 2005 to be America's top jurist, Roberts had to convince skeptical Senate Democrats that he would not be a partisan hack and/or a corporate shill who'd use his judicial gavel to hammer the law into shapes favored by the moneyed powers. The skepticism was richly deserved, for Roberts had long served corporations as a Washington lawyer (making him a millionaire) and had been a faithful GOP team player (including his legal work in 2000 to help George W wrest Florida and the presidency away from Al Gore).

Thus, to soothe the senators and charm the media, Roberts began his Senate confirmation hearing by drawing a folksy, Norman-Rockwellesque sports analogy to his judicial philosophy: "Judges are like umpires. Umpires don't make the rules. They apply them... They make sure everyone plays by the rules. But it's a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ballgame to see the umpire." He added that the distinguishing mark of his court would be one of "modesty and humility."

Roberts' entire confirmation performance was a pants-on-fire lie, but neither the Democrats nor the media called him on it. As a result, we were stuck with a chief justice who quickly forged a narrow 5-4 majority and went on a rampage of slash-and-burn judicial activism. By stomping on traditional principles of conservative jurisprudence, jettisoning clear Court precedents, perverting constitutional and statutory language, ignoring logic, distorting legislative intent, and simply making up laws, these Supremes have delivered a rash of sweeping victories to the corporate class, including these four top hits:

1. Lilly Ledbetter, 2007. For decades, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. had quietly been stiffing this longtime, loyal employee on her paycheck. A manager in the tire giant's Alabama plant, Ledbetter was unaware that she was being paid substantially less than her male counterparts -- a clear violation of federal anti-discrimination laws. Only learning of this maltreatment late in her career, Ledbetter sued Goodyear for the back pay she was owed. The corporation fought her all the way to the Supreme Court.

No go, ruled Roberts, Alito, Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas. Under the statute, they sniffed, employees must file any bias suit within 180 days after the discrim-ination begins, and Ledbetter's suit had come 21 years after Goodyear started cheating her, so... tough luck, lady.

Forget heartless, this ruling was mindless. And needlessly picayune. Obviously, your honors, Ms. Ledbetter could not have filed within 180 days, since she didn't know she was being shorted! The honest way to interpret the statute would be that the 180-day limit begins after she became aware of the violation. But the Roberts Five were not looking for rationality, much less justice -- they were on a deliberate mission to rewrite and restrict the pay discrimination law for the benefit of corporate discriminators.

This decision sparked genuine public outrage, making it a flashpoint issue in the 2008 presidential race. Upon taking office in January 2009, Obama and the Democratic Congress pushed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law, shoving the justices' corporate bias right back in their faces.

2. Making up law to help polluters, 2008. The catastrophic environmental and economic disaster caused in Alaska by the Exxon Valdez supertanker in 1989 resulted in a jury award of $5 billion to the local people who were harmed. The oil behemoth's battalion of lawyers, however, stalled pay- ment for years with various legal maneuvers, before getting a federal court of appeals to cut the sum in half. Still, despite the corporation's egregious malfeasance, Exxon pushed for an even sweeter deal, finally steering the case to the safe harbor of the Roberts Court.

In 2008, nearly 20 years after the disaster, another five-man majority led by Roberts slashed the damage award to $500 million, a mere tenth of the original jury assessment -- and less than two days worth of Exxon profits.

Actually, four of the justices tried to eliminate the award altogether, arguing that a corporation should not be responsible for the reckless acts of its own managers! They fell only one vote short of imposing this creative rewrite of corporate law on us. Nonetheless, the Roberts Court satisfied its impulse to legislate from the bench by dictating a new, corporate-pleasing formula for determining punitive damages under maritime law -- a formula not found in the statute and not intended by Congress -- thus making up a law to benefit polluters.

3. Binding the EPA, 2009. The fearless five took up their legislative pens once again in two cases involving the Clean Water Act. Under this law, electric power companies must use "the best technology available" to keep from harming fish and other aquatic life when they draw from the public waterways to cool their generators.

In an environmental lawsuit involving Entergy Corporation, a giant electric utility based in New Orleans, Louisiana, the RAKST quintet came out of right field to rule that the EPA should consider the cost to the power companies when evaluating "the best" environmental technologies. This generous gift to utilities was not included in the law by the legislative branch, so the five judicial branch activists thought- fully added it themselves.

Later that same year, they also diluted the Clean Water law by siding with a mining corporation named Couer Alaska. This outfit wanted to dump a waste product called "tailings" directly into lakes. The five (plus Justice Stephen Breyer this time) cheerfully decided that this pollution is okay, as long as the polluter holds an Army Corps of Engineers permit. Never mind that such dumping is expressly banned by EPA rules, the Supremes were on a roll.

4. The grandest giveaway of all, 2010. In January of last year, these five potentates of plutocracy issued a ruling that has caused a massively destructive tectonic shift in America's political process, thrusting mountains of corporate money high above the people's democratic power. The Lowdown has covered the impact and import of the now infamous Citizens United decree by the Court (see Lowdown issues September 2009 and March 2010). But it's important to add here that the Court's edict, which magically turned inanimate corporations into "persons" (with constitutionally protected electioneering 'rights' that make them politically superior to actual persons), is not only an absurd and intolerable overreach in logic, but also in process.

"Judicial activism" is way too tame a phrase for what Roberts & Company did here. This was a coup -- a plotted overthrow of the orderly judicial process in order to enthrone corporate political interests over all others.

In June 2009, the Court quietly reached into its caseload and plucked out an obscure case brought by Citizens United, a corporate-funded political front that was challenging a mundane point in federal election law. After hearing oral arguments in this ordinary case, the Roberts majority did something extraordinary: the justices arbitrarily altered the case that had been brought to them, completely rewriting Citizens United's complaint.

Instead of addressing the group's minor question, the Court issued an order for the parties to address whether unlimited and unreported sums of corporate money should be allowed in all US elections. In other words, these scoundrels in robes created their own case proposing a sweeping change in America's democratic system.

They then rushed to judgment, giving the lawyers involved only a single month to prepare arguments on this entirely new, momentous question. They also hurried the case to the front of the line, scheduling oral arguments on it in September, before the Court would normally be in session.

In January 2010, only seven months after they'd sprung their Citizens United surprise, the five issued their constitutional rewrite. It imposes their will (i.e., egos and personal ideological bias) over: (1) the clear intention of our Constitution's framers to keep corporations out of politics; (2) a century of settled congressional law banning corporate funds in elections; (3) the laws of 22 states that prohibit corporate spending in their elections; (4) many decades of the Court's own precedents affirming the wisdom of outlawing corporate electioneering cash; and (5) the overwhelming belief of the American people, that only humans, not corporations, should be election participants.

So, exercising exquisite judicial imperiousness, five judges decided that they're wiser than all of the above, unilaterally pulling off a sneak attack that, in the words of People For The American Way, amounts to the "constitutionalization of corporate political power."

The hits keep coming!

Unfortunately, the work of the Roberts Court has only begun. Corporate CEOs and their legal/political cohorts know that the scales of justice in the federal judiciary are now weighted in their favor. The selection of most judges gets almost no attention (much less opposition) from Congress, the media, and the public. This has allowed Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II to slide hordes of corporatists onto the bench, from district courts through the Supremes. As a result, corporations are ever more inclined to run to court, where they are winning incremental and wholesale increases of corporate power over employees, environmentalists, and the rest of us.

Walmart. This retailing colossus is presently trying to weaken the ability of its mistreated workers to join together in class-action lawsuits. In the largest job bias case in US history, hundreds of thousands of women employees claim that Walmart discriminated against them in pay and promotion.

As individuals, they would not have the wherewithal to challenge one of the world's largest corporations, but by combining their grievances in a class action, they have a chance for justice. Against Walmart's vehement opposition, a court of appeals ruled last April that the ladies could band together.

In December, however, the Supremes came riding to the corporation's rescue. Seizing the case prematurely from lower courts and -- once again -- rewriting the question raised in the lawsuit, the Roberts Gang has taken jurisdiction. It will hear arguments this spring and is expected to rule in June on the fate and the future of class-action lawsuits.

AT&T. This one will affect anyone who (whether they know it or not) has a "mandatory arbitration" clause written into employment, consumer, or other contract with a corporation. These clauses restrict or even eliminate people's right to go to court if they're wronged by the corporation. A California couple alleges that AT&T bilked them on the purchase of a mobile phone, so they joined other deceived customers in a class action suit.

No, you don't, shrieked the giant's lawyers, pointing out that the arbitration clause in AT&T's phone contracts prohibits class actions. California's top state court, however, ruled against the corporation, calling its one-sided prohibition "unconscionable." So, naturally, the corporate lawyers made a mad dash to Washington, demanding that the federal justices overrule the state court. A decision is due any day now.

Clean elections. Arizona seems to have more than its share of craziness going on, but there's one area in which it has shown exemplary sanity: public financing of state elections. Despite relentless efforts by corporate lobbyists and politicos to kill the state's clean elections alternative, the law has survived since 1998. This is because it works and is widely popular, even among Republicans.

Unable to win locally, the corporate forces have now enlisted the top federal court to intervene and crush the clearly stated will of the state's people. Last November, the Roberts Court agreed to hear a challenge to Arizona's law -- an attack coming through the grossly misnamed Institute for Justice, yet another right-wing front group funded by the Koch brothers.

Even before hearing arguments on the case, the federal justices ordered that a key component of Arizona's public financing mechanism be suspended. This was in the middle of last year's state elections -- a deliberate monkey wrenching that suggests the Court will again rule against the people.

Judges gone wild

Forget modesty and humility, an aloof and arrogant judicial branch of government has arisen and become openly political. Federal judges across the country are flagrantly abusing their authority and public trust by rigging America's economic and political rules for the further enrichment of already powerful and privileged corporations. The 'umpires' have taken sides against us, and it's time to call them out.

Progressives, along with honest conservatives, must focus more on this corporate takeover of the judiciary and directly challenge the judges' service to the moneyed elites. Let me be blunt: John Roberts, the leader of the pack, has turned into an autocratic, unelected national lawmaker, imposing his political vision as the law of our land. He is doing major structural damage to America's unifying sense of fairness and justice. We can't allow him to keep hiding behind the judicial robe while he mugs us and our democratic ideals. He should be impeached.

A Time for Resistance

Friday, February 18, 2011 by The Nation
by Katrina vanden Heuvel

A friend e-mailed me this morning, "Do you think events taking place in Wisconsin might be as important as what's happening in Cairo, if the media really got the word out? Might it be the spark to halt the Tea Party Express?" Another friend e-mailed, "It's possible that this labor strike in Wisconsin could become our Uncut." (In response to Britain's draconian public spending cuts, citizens there formed UK Uncut, a Twitter-organized movement, to protest wealthy tax evaders. If the rich paid for their fair share of taxes, the movement argues, the pressure on the state budget would diminish or disappear.)

Wisconsin's Republican governor and Republican-dominated legislature are moving to destroy organized labor, moving to abolish democratic rights that were the essence of the New Deal, and treating working-class Americans as though they were meaningless in our country's mosaic. Meanwhile, those who are responsible for the catastrophic financial crisis are riding high--and in the name of deficits they largely caused, they insist that those who worked a lifetime to build and own their homes, to send their children to public schools, to have security in their retirement years, to have decent medical care--that those citizens should pay the price for budgetary crises in honor, dignity and decency.

There are some who still respect the contributions of working people: Contrast what Governor Walker is doing in Wisconsin with the constructive steps the new Democratic Governor of Connecticut, Dannel Malloy, is taking to address the same problems. But there are too many cheerleaders for fiscal austerity roaming our political landscape, abetted by a mindless mainstream media's suffocating consensus.

However, as the events in Cairo, and now Wisconsin, show us, this is a moment of extraordinary possibility. It is a time for global, nonviolent challenge to anti-democratic forces, wherever they may be--forces that have enriched themselves while promising stability based on coercion, suppression of rights and profound corruption.

This remarkable moment is captured in a small book by Stéphane Hessel, a 93-year-old distinguished French diplomat, leader of the Resistance, survivor of Nazi concentration camps and drafter of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Published last October in France, Hessel's Indignez-Vous! (which could be translated as "Get Angry!" or--my preference--"Time for Outrage!") and its message of resistance and nonviolence became a publishing phenomenon--unexpectedly reaching the top of France's bestseller list and selling close to 2 million copies.

We are proudly publishing Hessel's 4,000-word manifesto in the next issue of The Nation.

Time for Outrage! forces us to ask how we can look at today's trends and not be angry. Hessel calls on the young, in France and around the world, to engage actively in defense of human and economic rights. His fervent advocacy of nonviolent activism captures the spirit of the revolutions in Tunisia and Cairo. It has also moved women marching in Italy to protest Silvio Berlusconi's barbarism to display the book’s title on placards. It is a spirit that now animates brave and defiant workers, students and their allies all over the world.

In rousing language, Hessel reminds us: "The motivation that underlay the Resistance was outrage. We, the veterans of the Resistance movements and the fighting forces of Free France, call on the younger generations to revive and carry forward the tradition of the Resistance and its ideas. We say to you: take over, keep going, get angry! Those in positions of political responsibility, economic power and intellectual authority, in fact our whole society, must not give up or let ourselves be overwhelmed by the current international dictatorship of the financial markets, which is such a threat to peace and democracy."

There is a new spark in the world and in our country--lit by citizens of conscience resisting forces that would trample economic justice, decency and dignity.

House Votes to Overturn FCC Internet Rules

Friday, February 18, 2011 by Reuters

WASHINGTON - The House of Representatives voted on Thursday to overturn proposed rules that bar Internet service providers from blocking legal content but give some discretion to ration access for bandwidth hogs.

 The vote -- which was spearheaded by Republican lawmakers determined to undo a range of Obama administration initiatives -- would block funds to implement rules proposed by the Federal Communications Commission in December.

The measure was added as an amendment to a sweeping spending bill that will fund the government for the rest of the current fiscal year.

To become law, the measure would also need to pass the Senate, where Democrats hold a majority, and get President Barack Obama's signature. No vote has been scheduled for the measure in the Senate.

In debate on Thursday, Republican Representative Steve Scalise said the rule would stand in the way of innovation and kill jobs.

"We think the FCC overstepped their boundaries," he said. "This is something that should be done and solved in the halls of Congress."

But Democratic Representative Edward Markey said killing the rule would squash innovation. He said regulators have in the past stepped in to ensure competition -- as they did when AT&T fought the sale of telephones made by other companies to replace their black rotary telephones.

"Verizon's not going to invent anything new. What they want to do is squeeze competitors," Markey said.

In a lawsuit filed in January against the rule, Verizon Communications argues the FCC overstepped its authority.

In December, the FCC voted 3-2 to ban Internet service providers like Verizon and Comcast Corp from blocking traffic but gave them some discretion to ration access and manage their networks. The FCC's two Republicans voted against the measure.

The split highlighted a divide between those who say the Internet will flourish without regulation and those who say the power of high-speed Internet providers to discriminate against competitors needs to be restrained.

Verizon filed its complaint with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

The same court ruled last year that the FCC lacked the authority to stop Comcast from blocking bandwidth-hogging applications on its broadband network, spurring the agency's most recent rulemaking effort.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Tool for Class War

Obama's 2012 Budget

Obama’s new budget is a continuation of Wall Street’s class war against the poor and middle class. Wall Street wasn’t through with us when the banksters sold their fraudulent derivatives into our pension funds, wrecked Americans’ job prospects and retirement plans, secured a $700 billion bailout at taxpayers’ expense while foreclosing on the homes of millions of Americans, and loaded up the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet with several trillion dollars of junk financial paper in exchange for newly created money to shore up the banks’ balance sheets. The effect of the Federal Reserve’s “quantitative easing” on inflation, interest rates, and the dollar’s foreign exchange value are yet to hit. When they do, Americans will get a lesson in poverty.

Now the ruling oligarchies have struck again, this time through the federal budget. The U.S. government has a huge military/security budget. It is as large as the budgets of the rest of the world combined. The Pentagon, CIA, and Homeland Security budgets account for the $1.1 trillion federal deficit that the Obama administration forecasts for fiscal year 2012. This massive deficit spending serves only one purpose--the enrichment of the private companies that serve the military/security complex. These companies, along with those on Wall Street, are who elect the U.S. government.

The U.S. has no enemies except those that the U.S. creates by bombing and invading other countries and by overthrowing foreign leaders and installing American puppets in their place.

China does not conduct naval exercises off the California coast, but the U.S. conducts war games in the China Sea off China’s coast. Russia does not mass troops on Europe’s borders, but the U.S. places missiles on Russia’s borders. The U.S. is determined to create as many enemies as possible in order to continue its bleeding of the American population to feed the ravenous military/security complex.

The U.S. government actually spends $56 billion a year, that is, $56,000 million, in order that American air travelers can be porn-scanned and sexually groped so that firms represented by former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff can make large profits selling the scanning equipment.

With a perpetual budget deficit driven by the corporate/military/industrial/security complex’s desire for profits, the real cause of America’s enormous budget deficit is off-limits for discussion.

The U.S. Secretary of War-Mongering, Robert Gates, declared: “We shrink from our global security responsibilities at our peril.” The military brass warns of cutting any of the billions of aid to Israel and Egypt, two functionaries for its Middle East “policy.”

But what are “our” global security responsibilities? Where did they come from? Why would America be at peril if America stopped bombing and invading other countries and interfering in their internal affairs? The perils America faces are all self-created.

The answer to this question used to be that otherwise we would be murdered in our beds by “the worldwide communist conspiracy.” Today the answer is that we will be murdered in our airplanes, train stations, and shopping centers by “Muslim terrorists” and by a newly created imaginary threat--”domestic extremists,” that is, war protesters and environmentalists.

The U.S. military/security complex is capable of creating any number of false flag events in order to make these threats seem real to a public whose intelligence is limited to TV, shopping mall experiences, and football games.

So Americans are stuck with enormous budget deficits that the Federal Reserve must finance by printing new money, money that sooner or later will destroy the purchasing power of the dollar and its role as world reserve currency. When the dollar goes, American power goes.

For the ruling oligarchies, the question is: how to save their power.

Their answer is: make the people pay.

And that is what their latest puppet, President Obama, is doing.

With the U.S. in the worst recession since the Great Depression, a great recession that John Williams and Gerald Celente, along with myself, have said is deepening, the “Obama budget” takes aim at support programs for the poor and out-of-work. The American elites are transforming themselves into idiots as they seek to replicate in America the conditions that have led to the overthrows of similarly corrupt elites in Tunisia and Egypt and mounting challenges to U.S. puppet governments elsewhere.

All we need is a few million more Americans with nothing to lose in order to bring the disturbances in the Middle East home to America. With the U.S. military bogged down in wars abroad, an American revolution would have the best chance of success.

American politicians have to fund Israel as the money returns in campaign contributions.

The U.S. government must fund the Egyptian military if there is to be any hope of turning the next Egyptian government into another American puppet that will serve Israel by continuing the blockade of the Palestinians herded into the Gaza ghetto.

These goals are far more important to the American elite than Pell Grants that enable poor Americans to obtain an education, or clean water, or community block grants, or the low income energy assistance program (cut by the amount that U.S. taxpayers are forced to give to Israel).

There are also $7,700 million of cuts in Medicaid and other health programs over the next five years.

Given the magnitude of the U.S. budget deficit, these sums are a pittance. The cuts will have no effect on U.S. Treasury financing needs. They will put no brakes on the Federal Reserve’s need to print money in order to keep the U.S. government in operation.

These cuts serve one purpose: to further the Republican Party’s myth that America is in economic trouble because of the poor: The poor are shiftless. They won’t work. The only reason unemployment is high is that the poor had rather be on welfare.

A new addition to the welfare myth is that recent middle class college graduates won’t take the jobs offered them, because their parents have too much money, and the kids like living at home without having to do anything. A spoiled generation, they come out of university refusing any job that doesn’t start out as CEO of a Fortune 500 company. The reason that engineering graduates do not get job interviews is that they do not want them.

What all this leads to is an assault on “entitlements”, which means Social Security and Medicare. The elites have programmed, through their control of the media, a large part of the population, especially those who think of themselves as conservatives, to conflate “entitlements” with welfare. America is going to hell not because of foreign wars that serve no American purpose, but because people, who have paid 15 per cent of their payroll all their lives for old age pensions and medical care, want “handouts” in their retirement years. Why do these selfish people think that working Americans should be forced through payroll taxes to pay for the pensions and medical care of the retirees? Why didn’t the retirees consume less and prepare for their own retirement?

The elite’s line, and that of their hired spokespersons in “think tanks” and universities, is that America is in trouble because of its retirees.

Too many Americans have been brainwashed to believe that America is in trouble because of its poor and its retirees. America is not in trouble because it coerces a dwindling number of taxpayers to support the military/security complex’s enormous profits, American puppet governments abroad, and Israel.

The American elite’s solution for America’s problems is not merely to foreclose on the homes of Americans whose jobs were sent offshore, but to add to the numbers of distressed Americans with nothing to lose the sick and the dispossessed retirees, and the university graduates who cannot find jobs that have been sent to Chine and India.

Of all the countries in the world, none need a revolution as bad as the United States, a country ruled by a handful of selfish oligarchs who have more income and wealth than can be spent in a lifetime.

Why Did Egyptians Succeed, Where Americans Fail?

Overthrowing the Invincible 

Western media always welcomes the overthrow of a dictator -- great headline news -- but this instance was greeted with less than euphoria by Western -- especially American -- leaders, who tried to soft-peddle it much as did official Egyptian media till the leader fled the palace. Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak was a generously paid ally for the US in its Middle East policy of protecting Israel, and the hesitancy of the Western -- especially US -- governments in supporting fully what should have been a poster-child of much-touted US ideals was both frustrating and highly instructive.

Canadian government support for Mubarak was even more staunch until vice-president Omar Suleiman's 20 second resignation speech 11 February, clearly written with a metaphorical gun to one or both of their heads. This craven loyalty to an autocrat reviled by his people was the US-Israeli preferred solution. Much better to cool the passionate revolutionaries, allow the system, so beneficial to Israel, to adjust and survive.

But perhaps more important, much better to continue Egypt's state-of-emergency laws that allow the regime to keep Israel critics and devout Muslims under raps, and just as important, allow the US to "render" undesirable Muslims there to be tortured. Imagine if the records of these renditions over the past decade by the US (and Canada) to Egypt were to come to light, falling into the hands of the revolutionaries, much like Britain's secret treaties in WWI fell into the Bolsheviks' hands?

"They're not going to put the toothpaste back in the tube," quipped Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper glumly. He could well be articulating -- in his own tasteless way -- the sentiments of the Egyptian military establishment, which had no use for a Mubarak dynasty and sided with the rebels, though at a considerable cost. Those now in power, nominally headed by Minister of Defence and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces Mohammed Tantawi, must push determined demonstrators out of Tahrir Square, get people back to work, shut down further strikes, and keep their US military advisers (not to mention the US president himself) assured that the centrepiece of Egyptian foreign policy remains in place. Truly a messy task.
It is hard to believe now that just a few weeks ago, Mubarak was invincible, his visage gracing at least one page in every newspaper every day, meeting with some Western leader, posing with Israeli notables, confident that he was in control of his desert ship-of-state. After the initial euphoria, and as evidence of his misrule and the perilous state that he left Egypt in pours out of newly liberated media, people are overwhelmed, irritable and depressed. People have undergone a wrenching shift in their thinking in the past three weeks.

Iranian leaders note the eerie coincidence with their own revolution of 11 February 1979 overthrowing the shah (1941-79). A national holiday, more than half the population of Iran was out on the streets celebrating along with Egyptians when Mubarak finally resigned last Friday evening. US commentators prefer to compare the revolution to the overthrow of Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos (1965-87) and Indonesian president Suharto (1968-98). They even suggest it could lead to another Iranian revolution. 

Despite the many differences, Iran and Indonesia are the closest parallels: an anti-colonial revolt against a repressive pseudo-Muslim autocrat whose corruption and nepotism undid him. Those revolts triumphed when the army and police gave up supporting the US-backed leader, much as Egypt's security apparatus did. The long repressed Muslim Brotherhood is the Sunni equivalent of the Iranian clerics. Even if the US can steer Egypt into the secular Indonesian model, it will still have to come to terms with the fact that Indonesia does not recognise Israel, that any future Egyptian government will almost surely renegotiate the 1979 peace agreement with Israel.

It seems that Egypt's suffering and oppression are something alien to Western experience. But this is far from the truth. As the fervour spread like wildfire during the first few weeks, I recalled how the leftist community in Toronto is just as self-righteous and eager for change, how neoliberalism has left Canadian society with yawning income disparities not much different than those of Egypt. The most obvious difference being that the general standard of living in Canada is higher and the middle class (still) more numerous. But the very idea of such a spectacular event as happened here to address issues of social justice is impossible to imagine there or in the US.

It struck me that the most stark and instructive parallel is not with Indonesia or Iran, but between pre-revolution Egypt and the current US, which, like Egypt, has reached the end of the same gruelling 30-year neoliberal road that Egypt did under Mubarak's reign, jettisoning any pretense of a just society. The coincidences abound: both the US and Egypt began their ill-fated journeys in that very 1981, with the ascendancy of US president Ronald Reagan and the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar El-Sadat, though El-Sadat had actually pre-empted Reaganomics with his infitah, dismantling of much of Egypt's socialism. 

Each US presidency since then has either embraced or been pressured by the exigencies of capitalism and electoral democracy to enact greater and great tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, meanwhile cutting social services and increasing spending on so-called defense. Each "new" government has regularly flouted the consensus of the electorate on all major issues, from the environment, social services, jobs, to weapons production, invasions, drug laws and the Cubas and Irans which in defiance dare to flout the empire. 

Income disparity is arguably the strongest impulse to revolt. As measured by the Gini coefficient (0 is perfect equality) Egypt stands in a far better light at .34 than the US .45 (Canada is .32).

So why did Egyptians succeed spectacularly where Americans -- in even greater need of a revolution -- fail spectacularly?

Egyptians seem to be much more politically astute than their American counterparts, more willing to admit that their leaders take bribes, lie, follow policies dictated by business or lobbies and which counter public opinion. 

But the key to understanding why a revolution like Egypt's is impossible in the US is the fact that, unlike Egypt's army (composed mostly of conscripts), the US has a mercenary (excuse me, professional) army, which would have little compunction to fire on any group threatening the sanctity of the political establishment. Conscription is a vital brick in building a democratic society, a safeguard allowing the society to be dismantled if it turns into a jail or a brothel, a brick which has been lost to the US and its satellites. A brick that Egyptian protesters used to telling effect.

Senator John Kerry said that the Egyptian people "have made clear they will settle for nothing less than greater democracy and more economic opportunities". So what are Egypt's prospects of creating a thriving democracy? They would be wise to listen to Kerry and to observe the US system, though not to copy it but on the contrary to learn from its sorry state.

Why would Americans expect a president to be fair and hear them when he must raise a billion dollars from corporations to outspend his equally compromised rival in elections? New York Times analyst Bob Herbert looked enviously at Egyptians' longing for democracy, comparing the US political system to a "perversion of democracy", bemoaning that at the very moment Egyptians are discovering it, "Americans are in the mind-bogglingly self-destructive process of letting a real democracy slip away."

And yet Americans blissfully pledge their allegiance, weep on 4 July and during presidential inaugurations, despite the unassailable evidence of the injustices both domestically and abroad of the system they live under. Egyptians, though just as nationalistic, were able to see through the facade of their pseudo-democracy and rise up to overthrow the guilty parties. They are the heroes of all true democrats in the world. The few people particularly in North America who see through their own quite transparent political facade can only look on wistfully.

What became the anthem of the revolution — "Why?" by Mohamed Munir — was written, presciently, a month before the 25 January spark that burned away (let's hope) much of the chaff accumulated during 30 years of neoliberal "reforms". He cries out to his homeland like a spurned lover who vows to take his country back from the usurpers:
If love of you was my choice
My heart would long ago have changed you for another
But I vow I will continue to change your life for the better
Till you are content with me.
How different from the equivalent American song — Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA — self-pitying and hopeless in this, the world's sole superpower:
You end up like a dog that's been beat too much
'Till you spend half your life just covering up...