Friday, June 3, 2011

Sanders: Oil speculators behind high gas prices

By David Edwards - Posted on 06.3.11

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) says that the soaring gas prices are the fault of oil speculators on Wall Street.

“Ten years ago oil speculators controlled about 30 percent of the oil futures market,” Sanders explained. “Today Wall Street speculators control over 80 percent of that market.”
“Their sole function in life is to speculate to drive oil prices up and to make money,” he added.

Watch this video from WCAX, uploaded June 2, 2011.

US: The Danger of Indefinite Detention

(Mainstream media not giving this the airtime it deserves, and this surprises whom? Thanks to Thomas for the share. And I agree with Scalia's statement. How weird is that?--jef)


by Antonio Ginatta - The Hill - June 1, 2011

The House Judiciary committee plans on Thursday to move forward a bill to create a system of indefinite detention for immigrants in the United States. The bill would allow the government to detain deportable immigrants who can’t be sent home for as long as they live.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has described H.R. 1932 as a way to protect “endangered” U.S. citizens from “criminal immigrants.” He did not mention that the bill does away with the constitutional protection against indefinite detention, nor did he mention that the bill very likely violates U.S. obligations under international human rights law.

To understand the scope of Chairman Smith’s bill, take the example of someone who commits a crime and serves a five-year term. If he’s a U.S. citizen, after his prison sentence, he is released into society. If he’s an immigrant, lawfully in the country or not, the U.S. can move to deport him after his five years in prison.

However, if he is a legal immigrant but from a country such as Cuba, with which the U.S. does not have diplomatic relations, he probably cannot be deported. There are a handful of countries around the world with which the U.S. has such constrained diplomatic relations that deportation is very difficult.

What this bill would do is allow the government to lock that person up indefinitely. All it would take is a written certification every six months from the Homeland Security secretary that the detainee is a risk to the community.

So a person who completes his sentence is suddenly subject to a lifetime in detention based purely on the unilateral and unappealable decision of an administration appointee. It gives that official full authority to subject someone to incarceration well beyond the criminal sentence imposed by the judge or jury.

Many other countries have clear rules preventing the indefinite detention of immigrants. The European Court of Human Rights has held that detention of immigrants must end when realistic prospects of deportation do not exist. Argentina limits detention after a final deportation order to 45 days; Brazil says 60 days, after which the detainee must be released under supervision.

Freedom from arbitrary detention, including prolonged indefinite detention, is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the U.S. ratified in 1992. Currently, the U.S. is in line with Europe and with countries that do not favor indefinite detention of immigrants after the decision to deport becomes final. Many immigrants in the U.S. spend years in detention before a final order of deportation is issued. Afterward, the detention limit is typically six months, unless deportation is reasonably foreseeable.

Chairman Smith’s bill wants to do away with this six-month limit. He contends that obstinacy by countries like Iran in repatriating detainees requires this draconian change. But it violates the Constitution’s due process clause, which applies to immigrants as well as citizens. He also argues that community safety requires indefinite detention, but there are alternatives to keep our communities safe without wildly expanding the government’s power to lock people up.

What the Judiciary Committee will be debating on Thursday is nothing less than trading core constitutional protections for vague promises of security.

Justice Antonin Scalia stated once that the “very core of liberty secured by our Anglo-Saxon system of separated powers has been freedom from indefinite imprisonment at the will of the Executive.”

This bill gives the president imperial power over the judiciary and the legislature when it comes to locking up immigrants. Congress should reject this bill.

South Park Lampoons the US/Big Pharma's Overmedication of Kids

(It's hilarious. The Chinese/Japanese racial stereotype co-plot gets kind of annoying , but Butters being diagnosed for Multiple Personality Disorder for using his imagination is the real story. It's funny cuz it's sad. There's a twist ending, too.--jef)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Mavericks Staged Huge 4th Quarter Comeback, Winning Game 2 and tying the NBA Finals 1-1



















Down by 15 with 7 minutes to go (88-73), Dallas scored 22 points to just 5 by Miami to pull out a 95-93 win

Posted Jun 02 2011

MIAMI (AP) Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks put a stunning end to their misery in Miami.

Now they can win their first NBA title without ever coming back to South Florida.

Nowitzki made the tie-breaking layup with 3.6 seconds left, and the Mavericks roared back from 15 points down in the fourth quarter to beat the Heat 95-93 on Thursday night and tie the NBA finals at one game apiece.

Capping a furious rally by scoring Dallas' final nine points, Nowitzki's final two baskets were left-handed - despite a torn tendon on that non-shooting hand. He finished with 24 points.

Dwyane Wade had 36 points for Miami, but his desperation 3-pointer was off at the buzzer.

Game 3 is Sunday in Dallas.

Seemingly out of the game when the Heat led 88-73 with 7:15 remaining, Dallas held the Heat to just one field goal from there, a 3-pointer by Mario Chalmers with 24.5 seconds that tied it just 2 seconds after Nowitzki's 3 had made it 93-90.

But after a timeout, Jason Kidd ran the clock down before getting the ball to Nowitzki, who drove into the lane, spun back to the left and made the layup.

Jason Terry, largely silent since the first half of Game 1, fueled the comeback with a couple of jumpers and finished with 16 points. Shawn Marion had 20 points for the Mavericks, who had lost four straight finals games in Miami since taking a 2-0 lead in the 2006 series.

They were about to go down 2-0 this time before Nowitzki, who insisted his injured finger wouldn't hinder him, led a rally even more amazing than the one that won Game 4 of the Western Conference finals, when the Mavs trailed Oklahoma City by 15 in the fourth quarter before pulling it out in overtime.

LeBron James scored 20 points for the Heat.

Key plays in the comeback:

BP Wants Thousands of Oil Spill Claims Tossed

(The oil industry, particularly BP,  is manned by the the lowest scumbags in the world. Through their incompetence and negliegence, they have ruined lives, health, livelihoods of people and have caused deaths o many others. They deserve a special place in hell for continuing to fuck with these people.--jef)


By SABRINA CANFIELD - Court House News Service -
Friday, May 27, 2011

 NEW ORLEANS (CN) - A BP attorney told a federal judge Thursday that thousands of lawsuits for economic damages must be dismissed because they were filed before claimants tried to settle through BP's $20 billion Gulf Coast Claims Facility, administered by Kenneth Feinberg.

     Oil spill defendants also claimed immunity from liability for the toxic dispersant Corexit, saying they simply made "decisions that should have been made by the United States government."

     BP and other oil-spill defendants, including Nalco, which makes Corexit, told U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier that they are immune from liability because they were simply following orders that should have been handed down by the president of the United States under the National Environmental Emergencies Contingency Plan.

     "The point we are trying to make, your honor, is that the claims the plaintiffs are making - that the dispersants are too dangerous, etc. - these were decisions that should have been made by the United States government," Mary Rose Alexander, attorney for Nalco, told Judge Barbier toward the hearing's end.

     BP attorney Andrew Langan said the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) was set up to help claimants settle out of court. He said that one stipulation for filing an economic damages lawsuit against BP is that a claimant must have filed a claim with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) and been denied.

     But now that the lawsuits have been filed, Barbier, who is presiding over the consolidated litigation, wondered how to address the issue of presentment to the GCCF.

     "I could rule as a matter of law - which you have asked me to do - but I don't want to down the road have to deal with individual rulings on 100,000 claims," Barbier told Langan.

     Earlier Thursday, Barbier said the number of lawsuits so far filed in the multi-district litigation "is probably something north of 120,000 - 130,000 cases."

     Ninety-five thousand claimants have joined the litigation by filing short-form joinders that were created to allow plaintiffs to join the litigation without excessive paperwork.

     The GCCF meanwhile has been criticized for requiring extensive documentation from claimants.

     Gulf Coast lawmakers this past winter expressed frustration with the claims center, saying BP and Feinberg were intentionally stalling responses to claims to lure desperate claimants into accepting onetime quick payments, of $25,000 for businesses or $5,000 for individuals. The payments require a signed waiver stating the claimant won't litigate for more damages from BP or any of the other oil spill defendants.

     "BP's position is that any people who have claims should decide this out of court," Langan said.

     Langan said he knows that filing through the GCCF "is a huge inconvenience for the plaintiffs" and he understands the plaintiff steering committee wants to take the matters to court and "stick their stake in the ground," but he said OPA guidelines still apply.

     The next issue addressed was whether people who have lost wages because of the federal drilling moratorium can file claims with BP.

     "It is our position that 'but for causation' under OPA is not enough," Langan told the judge. Langan defined "but for causation" as that which arrives through a thought process like: "but for the oil spill I would still have a job."

     "If 'but for causation' were the standard, there would be no end to OPA litigation," Langan said.

     Barbier kept arguments moving, to stay within the 3 hours allotted for the hearing.
     Next up, Jeffrey Breit from the plaintiff steering committee told the judge the language of the Oil Pollution Act should not be read as open to debate. Much argument surrounds how OPA interacts with state and maritime law.

     Breit said that if something is not written in the act, then it isn't there. He said the act was intended as "an expansive statute" to help oil-spill victims, but the "defendant attorneys want to use OPA as a shield" against liability.

     Plaintiff liaison counsel Steve Herman said the moratorium was a foreseeable consequence of the oil spill, and BP and the other defendants are obligated to pay for lost wages resulting from the moratorium.

     Herman said "the moratorium was actually imposed by the environmental damages of the Macondo well" blowout.

     "When you have an environmental catastrophe, you expect the government to step in," Herman said. He said it wasn't the moratorium that kept companies from drilling, but the response to the oil spill.

     "Drilling in Idaho wasn't halted" in response to the spill, Herman said, only drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

     Barbier asked what Herman thought about BP's argument that thousands of claimants have joined the litigation without going first to the GCCF.

     "If they're right about the law, how do you want to handle it?" Judge Barbier asked. "I'm sure you acknowledge that a large number of claims were filed without presentment."

     Herman said it seemed a waste of resources to go through each claim individually to make sure it has been properly filed.

     Barbier did not indicate when he would rule on the matter.

     The next issue involved oil-spill response workers who have filed claims for health problems from exposure to oil and dispersant.

     Mary Rose Alexander, representing Nalco, told the judge that using Corexit on the spill was the president's decision.

     "Plaintiffs allege that the dispersants were too toxic, too dangerous, but the Clean Water Act gives this to the president to decide," Alexander said.

     Corexit is banned in several countries including, the United Kingdom, for being highly toxic. Different forms of the dispersant were used in large amounts during the Exxon Valdez spill and were later blamed for liver and kidney failure, miscarriage and fetal death, rapid destruction of red blood cells leading to severe anemia, and other health problems.

     BP continued to spray Corexit in May 2010 even after Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson told it to stop. When BP did not stop, Jackson told it to try to find a less toxic alternative.

     Michael Lyle, an attorney for O'Brien's Response Management, which bought and supplied dispersant, laid boom and performed in situ burning, said the company was acting through the federal government under the command of Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, and therefore shared in the government's immunity from liability.

     Lyle referred to a 2nd Circuit ruling on response workers that came after the World Trade Center bombings.

     "The facts are remarkably similar" to the World Trade disaster, Lyle said.

     "The 2nd Circuit said, 'We need contractors to come, we need them and we can't make them afraid of liability,'" Lyle said.

     "Actually, it was more compelling in our case, because it was the federal government controlling the response," not the state, Lyle said.

     Robin Greenwald of the plaintiff steering committee rebutted Lyle's argument, saying the difference between the World Trade Center bombings and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is that the bombings were acts of terrorism while the oil spill was caused by a company that subsequently took responsibility and coordinated its own response effort.

     "The responders - all of them - worked for BP. They worked for the polluter. The World Trade disaster contractors had a relationship with the government. But without that relationship, how can the government tell the contractors what to do?" Greenwald asked.

     The hearing addressed defendants' motions to dismiss pleading bundles B1, B2 and D1 in the consolidated oil spill litigation.

     A monthly oil spill status conference took place before the hearing. The next status conference is scheduled for July 8 at 9:30 a.m.

American Dietetic Association passing legislation to seize control over nutritionists

Tuesday, May 31, 2011 by: Ethan A. Huff, staff writer

Well-qualified nutritionists that have been trained in proper nutrition, and that understand that simple calorie counting is not enough to ensure good health, are threatened by American Dietetic Association-sponsored (ADA) legislation quietly being passed all across the US. According to the Alliance for Natural Health (ANH), the ADA has already sponsored legislation in more than 40 US states that seeks to gain complete control over the practice of nutritional therapies, and if left unchallenged, practicing nutritionists that fail to become certified under new ADA guidelines for both dietitians and nutritionists could lose their freedom to practice.

Most NaturalNews readers probably already know that official US guidelines for proper diet and nutrition are greatly lacking -- and in many cases, they are flat-out wrong and misleading. And sadly, this bad information ends up getting relayed on a wide scale through groups like the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and dietitians that have become licensed using the group's curriculum.

Nutritionists have long been free to practice nutritional therapies without the need to be specifically accredited by the ADA. Many nutritionists understand that the type and quality of food people eat, and whether or not that food has been refined or processed, for instance, is a crucially-important factor when determining whether or not dietary practices are healthy. Many dietitians, on the other hand, lack a proper understanding of real nutrition, and instead regurgitate outdated and inaccurate material that has been approved by the ADA.

What the issue comes down to is the fact that the ADA simply does not like that many practicing nutritionists are operating outside of its control. It doesn't matter whether or not nutritionists have masters or doctorate degrees, or even if they are certified under other regulatory bodies -- the ADA wants all dietitians and nutritionists under its own certifying banner, and the type of legislation it is sponsoring all across the country seeks to make this a reality.

FDA targets and accuses supplement manufacturers of being "drug dealers"

(OK, it's bad enough that the government  treats some healthy and harmless drugs as moral evils when all drugs are health matters, not moral issues; and  they allow the legal manufacture and sale of the two worst and most deadly drugs known that kill close to a million people per year (alcohol and tobacco), but to top it off, they assail the nutrition industry on behalf of the biggest drug dealers in the world, big fucking pharma. It would be hilarious if it weren't just so obviously corrupt and playing into the same hands that profit off every other government fuck-up, or cover-up, like setting a goal for 50% of school children to be on some sort of psychotropic medicine in the next 5 years.--jef)


Tuesday, May 31, 2011 by: Ethan A. Huff, staff writer

In the eyes of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there is no difference between a legitimate, scientifically-backed health claim, and a phony, made-up claim, as it concerns food and dietary supplements. Only FDA-approved drugs, you see, provide real health benefits, according to the agency. And in its continued assault against health freedom, the FDA has sent warning letters to five different companies that produce natural treatments and cures for sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs) because those companies dared to make unauthoried health claims, many of which are backed by peer-reviewed, journal-published scientific studies.

The companies being targeted -- MedaVir, Herpaflor, Viruxo Anti-Viral Support, C-Cure, and Never an Outbreak -- all made the mistake of telling their customers about the health benefits of their products without going through the laborious, multi-million dollar FDA drug approval process. As a result, the FDA has accused them all of selling unapproved drugs, and ordered them to withdraw the statements or face further regulatory action.

What is worse, though, is the fact that the FDA has decreed that any food or dietary supplement that provides any sort of health benefit is automatically a "drug." Ordinary foods like almonds, cherries, or walnuts literally become recategorized as drugs when accompanied by claims that they cure, heal, or prevent disease -- and this is currently the law of the land in the US.

"While some of the companies market these products as dietary supplements, these products are all drug products under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), as they are offered for the treatment of disease," stated the FDA in a press release about the STD supplements. "These drug products, which are offered for the treatment of STDs, may not be introduced into interstate commerce without an FDA-approved new drug application (NDA)."

In other words, no food or supplement product can bear health claim labels without first gaining the FDA rubber stamp of approval, and being recategorized as a drug. It does not matter if scientific studies have verified that an herb, substance or food has health-promoting properties -- if the FDA has not first been paid to approve it, then there is no place for it in the medicinal realm.

This is why groups like the Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) are urging those in the natural health community to support the Free Speech about Science Act  which will end the censorship of legitimate science and restore freedom of speech to natural health.

Danish laws ban products fortified with vitamins--allege they are threat to public health

Thursday, June 02, 2011 by: Ethan A. Huff, staff writer

So-called food safety laws enacted in Denmark back in 2004 have restricted the sale of any food products that contain added vitamins and minerals, and all on the outlandish premise that such nutrients are a threat to public health. And just recently, the country banned Marmite, a popular food spread sourced from the UK, because it contains added B vitamins.

Perfectly aligned with Codex Alimentarius and the recent EU ban of many herbal remedies, the Danish restrictions allow only the sale of fortified foods and dietary supplements that have been pre-approved by the government . And gaining approval works much the same way as it does in the US with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and pharmaceutical drugs -- pay a large sum of money to the regulatory body (mafia) in charge, and purchase approval for your product.

But apparently Marmite slipped through the regulatory cracks, as a single Danish shop that has been supplying the spread to mostly English customers for years was finally discovered by authorities. So the harmless product joins many breakfast cereals, beverages, and other consumer products with added vitamins that have already been banned in Denmark, as it will no longer be permitted for sale to Danish consumers -- unless, of course, the Marmite company decides to jump through the regulatory hoops and purchase approval.

"All the English people here are shaking their heads in disbelief and say that it is insane," said Marianne Orum, owner of the Danish shop that, up until recently, had been selling Marmite. "It's becoming impossible to run a business in this country. We are not allowed to do anything anymore. It is the way Denmark is going."

Meanwhile, efforts are underway to push the same highly-restrictive measures in the US. The recent passage of S. 510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, represents a global effort to thwart national food sovereignty and bring all nations under the same type of regulatory system as that of Denmark .


Marmite made illegal in Denmark
By Bruno Waterfield - 24 May 2011

According to the marketing slogan it is a taste that you either love or hate. But Danes will no longer get the chance to make up their own minds on Marmite after the British delicacy was banned under food safety laws.

The strongly flavoured dark brown spread made from brewer's yeast has joined Rice Crispies, Shreddies, Horlicks and Ovaltine prohibited in Denmark under legislation forbidding the sale of food products with added vitamins as threat to public health.

Many well known breakfast cereal and drink brands have already been banned or taken off supermarket shelves after Danish legislation in 2004 restricted foods fortified with extra vitamins or minerals.

But Marmite had escaped notice as an exotic import for a small number of ex-pats until the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration telephoned Abigail's, a Copenhagen shop selling British food, to ban the famous yeast spread.

"I don't eat it myself, I don't like it but Marmite was one of our best selling products. Not a day goes by without someone coming in and asking for it," said Marianne Ørum, the shop owner.

"All the English people here are shaking their heads in disbelief and say that it is insane. I agree but it is the law. It's becoming impossible to run a business in this country. We are not allowed to do anything anymore. It is the way Denmark is going."

The shop has now started a "Bring back Marmite" campaign to overturn a ban that is seen as discriminating against Britons living and working Denmark.

Lyndsay Jensen, a Yorkshire born graphic designer working in Copenhagen, told the British ex-pat website, that Britons would carry on spreading Marmite on their toast, even if it meant smuggling it in to Denmark.

"They don't like it because it's foreign," she said. "But if they want to take my Marmite off me they'll have to wrench it from my cold dead hands."

The sale of any foodstuff with the "addition of vitamins, minerals and other substances" must be first approved by the Danish authorities after a health scare over their effect on children or pregnant women when combined with other foods with high vitamin levels.

A spokesman for the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration said: "I cannot comment on the Marmite case because our expert is away until Thursday."

Japanese seniors volunteer for ‘suicide’ nuclear jobs

(I find this very moving and inspiring.--jef)

Japanese seniors volunteer at Fukushima
As roughly 450 workers remain at the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, the world watches with increasing anxiety at what will become of them.

Unable to take the suspense and the guilt at being among those who promoted the reactors to begin with, a group of Japanese seniors have stepped up to offer their services to their country one last time.

Called the “suicide corps” by one official, they say all they want to do is be of service if the jobs might risk the lives of younger people. While the government hasn’t yet said whether they would be used for any such purpose, talks were reportedly underway.

The end of Japan’s nuclear crisis, however, is still nowhere in sight.

This video is from CNN, broadcast Wednesday, June 1, 2011.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Crazy Liberals

Geithner and Goldman, Thick as Thieves

Wednesday, June 1, 2011 by
by Robert Scheer

What was Timothy Geithner thinking back in 2008 when, as president of the New York Fed, he decided to give Goldman Sachs a $30 billion interest-free loan as part of an $80 billion secret float to favored banks? The sordid details of that program were finally made public this week in response to a court order for a Freedom of Information Act release, thanks to a Bloomberg News lawsuit. Sorry, my bad: It wasn’t an interest-free loan; make that .01 percent that Goldman paid to borrow taxpayer money when ordinary folks who missed a few credit card payments in order to finance their mortgages were being slapped with interest rates of more than 25 percent.

One wonders if Barack Obama was fully aware of Geithner’s deceitful performance at the New York Fed when he appointed him treasury secretary in the incoming administration. The president was probably ignorant of this particular giveaway, as were key members of Congress. “I wasn’t aware of this program until now,” Barney Frank, D-Mass., who at the time chaired the House Financial Services Committee, admitted in referring to Geithner’s “single-tranche open-market operations” program. And there was no language in the Dodd-Frank law supposedly reining in the banks that compelled the Fed to reveal the existence of this program.

It was merely one small part of that reckless policy of throwing mad money at the banks while ignoring the plight of homeowners whom the banks had swindled, a plan pursued by both the Bush and the Obama administrations that set the stage for the current slide into a double-dip recession. On Tuesday it was reported that home values have continued an eight-month decline back to their lowest point since the recession began. With housing in deep trouble there can be no rebound of consumer confidence or job creation, and the first-quarter growth rate was an anemic 1.8 percent even as Wall Street profits and bonuses flourished. Wages are stagnant, unemployment claims have recently risen and, as The Wall Street Journal headlined on Tuesday, “Economists Downgrade Prospects for Growth.” That same edition of the Journal reported that 44.6 million Americans now survive on food stamps, an 11 percent increase in that misery index over the past year, while Geithner’s friends at Goldman are doing quite well.

Actually, Goldman wasn’t even a bank and was therefore ineligible for those massive government handouts until Geithner helped gain approval for the instant conversion of Goldman from an investment house to a commercial bank. Goldman was granted that status, and with it access to the Fed’s lending, soon after the privilege had been denied to the fellow investment bank Lehman Brothers (the $30 billion mentioned above was in addition to the $43.5 billion Goldman borrowed from other Fed programs). Although Lehman was allowed to go belly up, Geithner engineered the massive bailout of AIG, a move that turned out to be a cover for passing money to AIG’s clients, including the aforementioned Goldman Sachs. The man’s intentions were clear, even if all the secret details were not, when Obama picked him to be his point man in salvaging an economy that Geithner had done much to wreck.

Geithner’s priorities were all too obvious from his days in the Clinton administration’s Treasury Department when he worked first under former Goldman honcho Robert Rubin and then Lawrence Summers, who took six-figure speaking fees from Goldman and other banks while he was an adviser to candidate Obama. It was the recommendation of Rubin and Summers that landed Geithner the job as president of the New York Fed, where he faithfully followed the policy lead of Goldman-CEO-turned-Treasury-Secretary Henry Paulson.

It was back then and is now accurate to speak, as a New York Times headline once put it, of U.S. politics dominated by “The Guys From ‘Government Sachs’ ”—but on an international scale. From the crisis in Greece, where Goldman manufactured toxic tax-based derivatives with abandon, to its betting against the success of the mortgage-based derivatives that Goldman designed and sold to others, the company was nothing short of a massive wrecking ball in the international economy.

Oh yes, what did Goldman do with that taxpayer money it borrowed back in 2008? It needed the money to cover the lousy bets of its Fixed Income, Currencies and Commodities trading unit, which had lost $320 million. Typical of the Goldman dealings in that arena was the $1.3 billion solicited from Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s Libya sovereign wealth fund, which according to a report in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal lost 98 percent of its value and almost cost some Goldman executives doing business in Tripoli their lives.

But they survived, as the guys from Goldman always do. With the general “no banker left behind” program pursued by Geithner under both George W. Bush and Obama, the theory was that saving the banks would save the country. The first part worked out brilliantly, but the second act never occurred.

iHate Tax Dodgers Like Apple Computer

I’m an Apple fan. I’m writing on my third Mac laptop in a decade. I’ve purchased over $100,000 of Apple products on behalf of a company I’ve worked for over the same period. Plus all those iTunes gift cards for my teenage daughter.

So I was disappointed to learn that Apple is a tax dodger.

Sure, Apple pays some U.S. corporate income taxes. It looks downright patriotic next to master tax dodgers like General Electric and Boeing that have paid zero U.S. taxes for years. But Apple pays far less than it should.

Here's how: Apple shifts patents and intellectual property, which are among their biggest assets, to subsidiaries in other countries that are low and no-tax havens. These include Ireland and the Netherlands, which have especially favorable tax rates on royalties from intellectual property.

When Apple sells an iPad or a MacBook, it allocates a portion of the profits to the offshore subsidiary that owns the patent. This tax dodge is sometimes referred to as the “Irish Two Step” or the “Dutch Sandwich.” But for Apple, we should call it the “Offshore Tax Haven Shuffle.”

Last year, Apple claimed that just 13.9 percent of its profits came from U.S. operations. This is a fantastic fib. Consider all those Americans walking around with iPhones, iPods, iPads, and MacBooks. Think of all those folks buying music on iTunes, sending a buck to Apple for each song. Think of customers lined up at those glitzy Apple stores, like the three-story iPlex down the street from me in Boston.

How is it possible that less than 14 percent of this company's profits come from the United States? Is it because Europeans and the expanding middle classes of India and China are snatching up Apple products by the boatload?

Nope. That low percentage is an accounting fiction that goes to the heart of the tax dodge. Apple methodically shifts its U.S. profits off shore.

Another clue that Apple is ethically rotten is that they are spearheading a national coalition to lobby Congress for a “tax holiday” for offshore profits.

Apple has teamed up with other technology companies like Google, Oracle, Cisco, Microsoft and Adobe, drug giant Pfizer, and utility leaders including Duke Energy to form “WinAmerica,” a slickly messaged campaign to press Congress for an $80 billion tax cut.

U.S. firms have stashed over $1.2 trillion in profits offshore. They want Congress to allow them to “repatriate” these profits at a 5 percent tax rate rather than the 35 percent rate that's legally due when foreign earnings are brought back stateside. If Congress approves this “tax holiday,” Apple alone will dodge an estimated $4 billion in taxes.

Given the budget cuts our communities are facing, it seems reckless for Congress to even consider another tax giveaway to companies playing offshore games. It’s unfair to individual taxpayers and small businesses that have to pick up the slack for tax shufflers like Apple.

In 2004, Congress passed a similar tax holiday — with Apple dodging $255 million at the time. These tax dodgers argue they will create jobs if they’re allowed to bring their profits home lightly taxed. But independent studies show that the 2004 tax holiday did little to create jobs. In fact, profits mostly went to boost stock prices and CEO pay, and enable companies to buy back stock.

Apple should disclose more information to its shareholders, customers and the public. At a time of huge public service cuts and fiscal austerity, why should we the taxpayers give Apple a $4 billion tax break?

Congress should reject the corporate tax holiday for the obvious reason that it encourages bad behavior. If these global companies know that every six years Congress will bail them out with a tax holiday, they’ll continue their off shore games.

Apple may be cool, but until it stops gaming the system and pays its fair share, the company is just another lowly tax dodger.

A Volatile Agenda on Agriculture

The U.S.-Colombia free trade pact would reinforce a system that leaves farmers and consumers at the mercy of volatile prices and markets.
Barack Obama's trade policy, as embodied by the pending U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement, sadly resembles George W. Bush's blueprint. It promotes export growth and investment at the expense of local economies and resilient food systems. This is unfortunate, not only because it fails to deliver the "21st-century" trade agenda President Obama promised on the campaign trail, but also because it ignores some of the key lessons from NAFTA and the 2008 global food price crisis.

For decades, the primary problem for agriculture has been low prices, which compel farmers to continue to produce more and more to make up in volume what they lose in falling prices, and to seek ever expanding markets at home and abroad. Cheap imports have flooded developing countries, devastating poor, small-scale farmers, while failing to stabilize incomes for American growers.

Trade policy isn't neutral. It's a specific set of rules that tend to favor specific actors. Rather than learning the lessons of the 2008 food price crisis — that governments need the ability to shield key markets from extreme volatility — this agreement simply replicates the 20th-century model.

Like NAFTA did for Mexicans, the U.S.-Colombia agreement would subject Colombian farmers to immediate competition from U.S. exports. Duties on 70 percent of U.S. farm exports of wheat, barley, soy, and most processed foods would be eliminated immediately. The deal would also abolish Colombia's "price bands," which kick in to protect local farm goods when prices fall.

While prices are high for now, many Colombian farmers will find it difficult to compete with goods whose prices can vary so dramatically. As in Mexico under NAFTA, tariffs on corn and a few other sensitive products will be phased out over a longer period. In Mexico, NAFTA pushed more than two million farmers out of agriculture. That shows how even a long transition may be inadequate when no real alternatives for rural employment exist. Many of those farmers were compelled to migrate to urban areas or the United States to find work.

The Obama administration says that this trade deal will help the South American nation, citing the Colombian government's proposals to restore lands to people displaced by civil conflicts. Yet there's no assurance that farmers facing competition from U.S. exports or new investments facilitated by expanded trade would be able to stay on their land.

In the wake of the free trade pact among the United States, Central America, and the Dominican Republic known as DR-CAFTA, the non-profit group ActionAid documented numerous cases of Guatemalan farmers who were pressured by palm oil and sugar producers to sell their land to make way for industrial-scale production of a single crop. Many of these farmers had been granted titles in the wake of that country's civil war, only to lose them again when inadequate access to credit and other inputs made it impossible for them to earn a living.
This new trade deal also calls for deregulating foreign investment rules, which could put new pressure on land as mining companies expand operations. Apparently, our trade negotiators aren't heeding the lessons learned from the NAFTA and DR-CAFTA deals.

This export-led model has a downside for U.S. farmers too. Despite rising agricultural exports, the number of small, commercially viable American farms has dropped by 40 percent in the last 25 years. Very small farms serving local markets (and relying on off-farm income) and very large farms have increased substantially.

U.S. farmers, like their Colombian counterparts, need reliable public support and consistent market signals so that they can invest in local, regional, and national food production to feed their communities and their nations. Trade should supplement local food systems, not seek to replace them. The U.S.-Colombia pact would reinforce a system that leaves farmers and consumers at the mercy of volatile prices and markets. Instead, we need a new approach that ensures fair, healthy, and resilient food systems for all.

More than two years into the Obama administration, we're still waiting for a 21st-century trade policy.

The Darth Vaders of Business Law

Writers of the Fine Print

It is time to shine the light on the big, affluent corporate lawyers who anonymously create those non-competitive fine print contracts we all have to sign to purchase goods and services.

It's time for an open letter to these Darth Vaders of business law who have destroyed our freedom of contract and built a new road to serfdom made of corporate cement.
Dear Attorneys for Contract Incarceration:

Remember when you were at law school studying contracts? Your professor pressed you socratically to understand Hadley vs. Baxendale, et al. You spent just one or two classes on what are called "contracts of adhesion"—those fine print one-sided contracts that only make up 99% of all the contracts we'll ever sign.

There they are—page after page exuding the silent message of "take it or leave it." If you "leave it", then you must cross the street to a competitor—an insurance company, credit card firm, bank, auto dealer, hospital, realtor, airline, student loan company or cell phone company, awaiting you is the same fine-print contract designed to nail you to the mast. Then there are the shrink-wrap software contracts you can't even see before you buy.

If your contracts professor bothered to explain why so little course time is spent on these standard form contracts involving trillions of dollars in annual sales, he/she might have used the French phrase—"fait accompli." After all, the consumer signed or acquiesced in some way. That met the basic principle of a binding contract, say the courts (with a rare exception now and then) which is a meeting of the minds between the willing seller and the willing buyer.

Discussion over! As a shopper, prepare for the daily coercive harmony.

Imagine all the times you've "met the minds" of Bank of America, Metropolitan, Aetna, General Motors, Wal-Mart, American Express, AT&T, Sallie Mae, U.S. Air and your favorite time-sharing company for that vacation trip to Antigua. What a myth!

In this legal fiction land, the law presumes that you've read the fine print and understood it. Inscrutability is no defense. It doesn't matter that law professors, Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts and your partners admit to not reading the dense legalese when they shop. Why waste their time? They can't get out of contractual prison anymore than you can. But you make zillions figuring out how to lock millions of Americans into one-side anti-consumer contracts.
You misuse your intellect to create a modern contract straitjacket that gets tighter year by year. Your innovations are enforced by status-quo judges, credit ratings, credit scores and the absence of any competition over contracts between companies in the same industry.

The straitjacket is made of figurative steel fibers composed of enforceable words. Here is a partial list of your inventions which Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren aptly calls "mice type" the equivalent of "shrubbery for muggers!"

They include (1) seller's power to unilaterally change terms or assign the contract, (2) waiver provisions of the seller's liability and payment of seller's attorney fees, (3) acceleration and delinquency clauses, (4) binding arbitration and blocking the consumer's resort to the courts and right to jury trials, (5) liquidated damage clauses. On and on go the layers of incarceration.

Pretty clever maybe, but, you aren't being fair to the powerless consumers. Remember, you've got a professional code of ethics that informs you of the obligation sometimes to say no—enough already—to your demanding corporate clients even if they can always go to another law firm that they can pay handsomely to say yes. It can be, for you, a dilemma.

Listen, I've got an exit plan for those of you pondering quitting or retiring because you can no longer stand destroying peoples' freedom of contract—one of the main pillars of our democracy—with their consequential losses of money, time, health and safety.

Come to the other side. A movement for consumer contract justice is heading your way. Don't laugh as General Motors once did in the Nineteen Sixties. Don't think that the complexity of these fine prints cannot be communicated to the buying public. ABC's Peter Jennings showed the opposite with a crisp five part TV series a few years ago. This fall, a sure best seller by David Cay Johnston titled "The Fine Print" is coming out. He has prior best sellers on tax laws that clarify the abstruse to arouse readers.

There is a huge compression of repression and resentment ready to be unleashed and converted into a widely perceived injustice. Ridding themselves of the feeling that "that's the way it is," this consumer uprising will be holding you and your companies responsible by name.

Quit and join the right side of the coming historical change breaking the chains of contract bondage. Bring your knowhow and stored archives (names redacted) of "mice type" to, directed by the relentless lawyer, Theresa Amato. Soon!

Your brother in law,
Ralph Nader, Esq.

Wall Street's Role in Narco-Trafficking

"Business is Booming" 

Imagine what your reaction would be if the Mexican government agreed to pay Barack Obama $1.4 billion to deploy US troops and armored vehicles to New York, Los Angeles and Chicago to conduct military operations, set up check points, and engage in fire-fights that end up killing 35,000 US civilians on the streets of American cities. 

If the Mexican government treated the United States like this, would you consider them a friend or an enemy? 

This is exactly how the US is treating Mexico, and it's been going on since 2006.
America's Mexican policy--The Merida Initiative--is a nightmare. It's undermined Mexican sovereignty, corrupted the political system, and militarized the country. It's also resulted in the violent deaths of thousands of mostly poor civilians. But Washington doesn't give a hoot about "collateral damage" as long as it can sell more weaponry, strengthen its free-trade regime, and sluice more drug profits into its big banks. Then everything is just Jim-dandy. 

There's no point in dignifying this butchery by calling it a "War on Drugs"?

That's nonsense. What we're seeing is a giant powergrab by big business, big finance and the US Intel services. Obama is merely doing their bidding, which is why--not surprisingly--things have gotten a lot worse under his administration.  Obama has not only stepped up the funding for Plan Mexico (aka--Merida) but also deployed more US agents to work undercover while US drones carry out surveillance duty. Get the picture? This isn't some little drug bust; it's another chapter in America's War on Civilization.

Here's an excerpt from an article in CounterPunch by Laura Carlsen that gives a little background:
"The drug war has become the major vehicle of militarization in Latin America. It's a vehicle funded and driven by the U.S. government and fueled by a combination of false morals, hypocrisy and a lot of cold, hard fear. The so called ‘war on drugs’ is really a war on people, especially youth, women, indigenous peoples and dissidents. The drug war has become the main way for the Pentagon to occupy and control countries at the expense of whole societies and many, many lives.
“Militarization in the name of the drug war is happening more quickly and more thoroughly than most of us probably anticipated under the Obama administration. The agreement to establish bases in Colombia, later suspended, sent out one of the first signals of the strategy. And we've seen the indefinite extension of the Merida Initiative in Mexico and Central America, and even, sadly, war boats sent to Costa Rica, a nation with a history of peace and no army...
“The Merida Initiative funds U.S. interests to train security forces, provide intelligence and war technology, give advice on reforming the justice and penal systems and promoting human rights–all in Mexico.” (The Drug War Can't Be Improved, It Can Only be Ended, Laura Carlsen, Counterpunch)
If it looks like Obama is doing his best to turn Mexico into a military dictatorship, it's because he is. Plan Mexico is a sham that conceals the administration's real motives, which is to make sure that the lavish profits from the drug trade end up in the right people's pockets. That's what this is all about, big money.  And that's why the death toll has soared while the Mexican government's credibility has hit its lowest ebb in decades. US policy has turned large swaths of the country into killing fields and it's only getting worse. 

Check out this interview with Charles Bowden who describes what life is  like for the people who live at Ground Zero in the drug war; Juarez, Mexico:
"This is in a city where people live in cardboard boxes sometimes. Ten thousand businesses have given up and closed in the last year. Thirty to sixty thousand people from Juárez, mainly the rich, have moved across the river to El Paso for safety, including the mayor of Juárez, who likes to bunk in El Paso. And the publisher of the newspaper there lives in El Paso. Somewhere between 100,000 and 400,000 people simply left the city. A lot of the problem is economic, not simply violence. At least 100,000 jobs in the border factories have vanished during this recession because of the competition from Asia. There’s 500 to 900 gangs there, estimates vary.
“So what you have is about 10,000 federal troops and federal police agents all marauding. You have a city where no one goes out at night; where small businesses all pay extortion; where 20,000 cars were officially stolen last year; where 2,600-plus people were officially murdered last year; where nobody keeps track of the people who have been kidnapped and never come back; where nobody counts the people buried in secret burying grounds, and they, in an unseemly way, claw out of the earth from time to time. You’ve got a disaster. And you have a million people, too poor to leave, imprisoned in it. That’s the city." (Charles Bowden, Democracy Now)
This isn't about drugs; it's about a crackpot foreign policy that supports proxy-armies to impose order through police-state repression and militarization.  It's about expanding US power and beefing up profits on Wall Street. 
Here's more background from author Lawrence M. Vance at the The Future of Freedom Foundation:
"An undisclosed number of U.S. law-enforcement agents work in Mexico... The DEA has more than 60 agents in Mexico. There are in addition 40 Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, 20 Marshal Service deputies, and 18 Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents, plus agents from the FBI, Citizen and Immigration Service, Customs and Border Protection, Secret Service, Coast Guard, and Transportation Safety Agency. The State Department also maintains a Narcotics Affairs Section. The United States has also provided helicopters, drug sniffing dogs, and polygraph units to screen law-enforcement applicants.
“U.S. drones spy on cartel hideouts, and U.S. tracking beacons pinpoint suspectS’ cars and phones. U.S. agents track beacons, trace cell-phone calls, read e-mails, study behavioral patterns of border incursions, follow smuggling routes, and process data about drug dealers, money launderers, and cartel bosses. According to a former Mexican anti-drug prosecutor, U.S. agents are not restricted from eavesdropping on anyone in Mexico by U.S. laws that require judicial authority as long as they are not on U.S. territory and not bugging American citizens. ("Why Is the U.S. Fighting Mexico's Drug War?"  Laurence M. Vance, The Future of Freedom Foundation)
This isn't foreign policy; it's another US occupation. And, guess who's raking in the big cashola on this sordid little scam?  Wall Street. That's right, the big banks are getting their cut just like they always do. Take a look at this excerpt from an article by James Petras titled "How Drug Profits saved Capitalism" at Global Research. It's a great summary of the objectives that are shaping the policy:
"While the Pentagon arms the Mexican government and the US Drug Enforcement Agency enforces the ‘military solution’, the biggest US banks receive, launder and transfer hundreds of billions of dollars to the drug lords’ accounts, who then buy modern arms, pay private armies of assassins and corrupt untold numbers of political and law enforcement officials on both sides of the border....
“Drug profits, in the most basic sense, are secured through the ability of the cartels to launder and transfer billions of dollars through the US banking system. The scale and scope of the US banking-drug cartel alliance surpasses any other economic activity of the US private banking system. According to US Justice Department records, one bank alone, Wachovia Bank (now owned by Wells Fargo), laundered $378.3 billion dollars between May 1, 2004 and May 31, 2007 (The Guardian, May 11, 2011). Every major bank in the US has served as an active financial partner of the murderous drug cartels...
“If the major US banks are the financial engines which allow the billion dollar drug empires to operate, the White House, the US Congress and the law enforcement agencies are the basic protectors of these banks.....Laundering drug money is one of the most lucrative sources of profit for Wall Street; the banks charge hefty commissions on the transfer of drug profits, which they then lend to borrowing institutions at interest rates far above what – if any – they pay to drug trafficker depositors. Awash in sanitized drug profits, these US titans of the finance world can easily buy their own elected officials to perpetuate the system. ("How Drug Profits saved Capitalism" , James Petras, Global Research)
Repeat: "Every major bank in the US has served as an active financial partner of the murderous drug cartels..."

The War on Drugs is a fraud. This isn't about interdiction; it's about control. Washington provides the muscle so the banks can rake in the big doe. One hand washes the other, just like the Mafia.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Post-Legal America and the National Security Complex

Is the Libyan war legal?  Was Bin Laden’s killing legal?  Is it legal for the president of the United States to target an American citizen for assassination?  Were those “enhanced interrogation techniques” legal? These are all questions raised in recent weeks.  Each seems to call out for debate, for answers.  Or does it?

Now, you couldn’t call me a legal scholar.  I’ve never set foot inside a law school, and in 66 years only made it onto a single jury (dismissed before trial when the civil suit was settled out of court).  Still, I feel at least as capable as any constitutional law professor of answering such questions.

My answer is this: they are irrelevant.  Think of them as twentieth-century questions that don't begin to come to grips with twenty-first century American realities.  In fact, think of them, and the very idea of a nation based on the rule of law, as a reflection of nostalgia for, or sentimentality about, a long-lost republic.  At least in terms of what used to be called “foreign policy,” and more recently “national security,” the United States is now a post-legal society.  (And you could certainly include in this mix the too-big-to-jail financial and corporate elite.)

It’s easy enough to explain what I mean. If, in a country theoretically organized under the rule of law, wrongdoers are never brought to justice and nobody is held accountable for possibly serious crimes, then you don’t have to be a constitutional law professor to know that its citizens actually exist in a post-legal state.  If so, “Is it legal?” is the wrong question to be asking, even if we have yet to discover the right one.

Pretzeled Definitions of Torture
Of course, when it came to a range of potential Bush-era crimes -- the use of torture, the running of offshore “black sites,” the extraordinary rendition of terrorist suspects to lands where they would be tortured, illegal domestic spying and wiretapping, and the launching of wars of aggression -- it’s hardly news that no one of the slightest significance has ever been brought to justice.  On taking office, President Obama offered a clear formula for dealing with this issue.  He insisted that Americans should “look forward, not backward” and turn the page on the whole period, and then set his Justice Department to work on other matters.  But honestly, did anyone anywhere ever doubt that no Bush-era official would be brought to trial here for such potential crimes?

Everyone knows that in the United States if you’re a robber caught breaking into someone’s house, you’ll be brought to trial, but if you’re caught breaking into someone else’s country, you’ll be free to take to the lecture circuit, write your memoirs, or become a university professor.

Of all the “debates” over legality in the Bush and Obama years, the torture debate has perhaps been the most interesting, and in some ways, the most realistic.  After 9/11, the Bush administration quickly turned to a crew of hand-picked Justice Department lawyers to create the necessary rationale for what its officials most wanted to do -- in their quaint phrase, “take the gloves off.”  And those lawyers responded with a set of pseudo-legalisms that put various methods of “information extraction” beyond the powers of the Geneva Conventions, the U.N.’s Convention Against Torture (signed by President Ronald Reagan and ratified by the Senate), and domestic anti-torture legislation, including the War Crimes Act of 1996 (passed by a Republican Congress).

In the process, they created infamously pretzled new definitions for acts previously accepted as torture.  Among other things, they essentially left the definition of whether an act was torture or not to the torturer (that is, to what he believed he was doing at the time).  In the process, acts that had historically been considered torture became “enhanced interrogation techniques.”  An example would be waterboarding, which had once been bluntly known as “the water torture” or “the water cure” and whose perpetrators had, in the past, been successfully prosecuted in American military and civil courts.  Such techniques were signed off on after first reportedly being “demonstrated” in the White House to an array of top officials, including the vice-president, the national security adviser, the attorney general, and the secretary of state.

In the U.S. (and here was the realism of the debate that followed), the very issue of legality fell away almost instantly.  Newspapers rapidly replaced the word “torture” -- when applied to what American interrogators did -- with the term “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which was widely accepted as less controversial and more objective.  At the same time, the issue of the legality of such techniques was superseded by a fierce national debate over their efficacy.  It has lasted to this day and returned with a bang with the bin Laden killing.

Nothing better illustrates the nature of our post-legal society.  Anti-torture laws were on the books in this country.  If legality had truly mattered, it would have been beside the point whether torture was an effective way to produce “actionable intelligence” and so prepare the way for the killing of a bin Laden.

By analogy, it’s perfectly reasonable to argue that robbing banks can be a successful and profitable way to make a living, but who would agree that a successful bank robber hadn’t committed an act as worthy of prosecution as an unsuccessful one caught on the spot?  Efficacy wouldn’t matter in a society whose central value was the rule of law.  In a post-legal society in which the ultimate value espoused is the safety and protection a national security state can offer you, it means the world.

As if to make the point, the Supreme Court recently offered a post-legal ruling for our moment: it declined to review a lower court ruling that blocked a case in which five men, who had experienced extraordinary rendition (a fancy globalized version of kidnapping) and been turned over to torturing regimes elsewhere by the CIA, tried to get their day in court.  No such luck.  The Obama administration claimed (as had the Bush administration before it) that simply bringing such a case to court would imperil national security (that is, state secrets) -- and won.  As Ben Wizner, the American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who argued the case, summed matters up, "To date, every victim of the Bush administration's torture regime has been denied his day in court."

To put it another way, every CIA torturer, all those involved in acts of rendition, and all the officials who okayed such acts, as well as the lawyers who put their stamp of approval on them, are free to continue their lives untouched.  Recently, the Obama administration even went to court to “prevent a lawyer for a former CIA officer convicted in Italy in the kidnapping of a radical Muslim cleric from privately sharing classified information about the case with a Federal District Court judge.”  (Yes, Virginia, elsewhere in the world a few Americans have been tried in absentia for Bush-era crimes.)  In response, wrote Scott Shane of the New York Times, the judge “pronounced herself ‘literally speechless.’”

The realities of our moment are simple enough: other than abusers too low-level (see England, Lynndie and Graner, Charles) to matter to our national security state, no one in the CIA, and certainly no official of any sort, is going to be prosecuted for the possible crimes Americans committed in the Bush years in pursuit of the Global War on Terror.

On Not Blowing Whistles
It’s beyond symbolic, then, that only one figure from the national security world seems to remain in the “legal” crosshairs: the whistle-blower.  If, as the president of the United States, you sign off on a system of warrantless surveillance of Americans -- the sort that not so long ago was against the law in this country -- or if you happen to run a giant telecom company and go along with that system by opening your facilities to government snoops, or if you run the National Security Agency or are an official in it overseeing the kind of data mining and intelligence gathering that goes with such a program, then -- as recent years have made clear -- you are above the law.

If, however, you happen to be an NSA employee who feels that the agency has overstepped the bounds of legality in its dealings with Americans, that it is moving in Orwellian directions, and that it should be exposed, and if you offer even unclassified information to a newspaper reporter, as was the case with Thomas Drake, be afraid, be very afraid.  You may be prosecuted by the Bush and then Obama Justice Departments, and threatened with 35 years in prison under the Espionage Act (not for “espionage,” but for having divulged the most minor of low-grade state secrets in a world in which, increasingly, everything having to do with the state is becoming a secret).

If you are a CIA employee who tortured no one but may have given information damaging to the reputation of the national security state -- in this case about a botched effort to undermine the Iranian nuclear program -- to a journalist, watch out.  You are likely, as in the case of Jeffrey Sterling, to find yourself in a court of law.  And if you happen to be a journalist like James Risen who may have received that information, you are likely to be hit by a Justice Department subpoena attempting to force you to reveal your source, under threat of imprisonment for contempt of court.

If you are a private in the U.S. military with access to a computer with low-level classified material from the Pentagon’s wars and the State Department’s activities on it, if you’ve seen something of the grim reality of what the national security state looks like when superimposed on Iraq, and if you decide to shine some light on that world, as Bradley Manning did, they’ll toss you into prison and throw away the key.  You’ll be accused of having “blood on your hands” and tried, again under the Espionage Act, by those who actually have blood on their hands and are beyond all accountability.

When it comes to acts of state today, there is only one law: don’t pull up the curtain on the doings of any aspect of our spreading National Security Complex or the imperial executive that goes with it.  As CIA Director Leon Panetta put it in addressing his employees over leaks about the operation to kill bin Laden, “Disclosure of classified information to anyone not cleared for it -- reporters, friends, colleagues in the private sector or other agencies, former Agency officers -- does tremendous damage to our work.  At worst, leaks endanger lives... Unauthorized disclosure of those details not only violates the law, it seriously undermines our capability to do our job."

And when someone in Congress actually moves to preserve some aspect of older notions of American privacy (versus American secrecy), as Senator Rand Paul did recently in reference to the Patriot Act, he is promptly smeared as potentially “giving terrorists the opportunity to plot attacks against our country, undetected."

Enhanced Legal Techniques
Here is the reality of post-legal America: since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the National Security Complex has engorged itself on American fears and grown at a remarkable pace.  According to Top Secret America, a Washington Post series written in mid-2010, 854,000 people have “top secret” security clearances, “33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001... 51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks... [and] some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.”

Just stop a moment to take that in.  And then let this sink in as well: whatever any one of those employees does inside that national security world, no matter how “illegal” the act, it’s a double-your-money bet that he or she will never be prosecuted for it (unless it happens to involve letting Americans know something about just how they are being “protected”).

Consider what it means to have a U.S. Intelligence Community (as it likes to call itself) made up of 17 different agencies and organizations, a total that doesn’t even include all the smaller intelligence offices in the National Security Complex, which for almost 10 years proved incapable of locating its global enemy number one.  Yet, as everyone now agrees, that man was living in something like plain sight, exchanging messages with and seeing colleagues in a military and resort town near Islamabad, the Pakistani capital.  And what does it mean that, when he was finally killed, it was celebrated as a vast intelligence victory?

The Intelligence Community with its $80 billion-plus budget, the National Security Complex, including the Pentagon and that post-9/11 creation, the Department of Homeland Security, with its $1.2 trillion-plus budget, and the imperial executive have thrived in these years.  They have all expanded their powers and prerogatives based largely on the claim that they are protecting the American people from potential harm from terrorists out to destroy our world.

Above all, however, they seem to have honed a single skill: the ability to protect themselves, as well as the lobbyists and corporate entities that feed off them.  They have increased their funds and powers, even as they enveloped their institutions in a penumbra of secrecy.  The power of this complex of institutions is still on the rise, even as the power and wealth of the country it protects is visibly in decline.

Now, consider again the question “Is it legal?” When it comes to any act of the National Security Complex, it’s obviously inapplicable in a land where the rule of law no longer applies to everyone.  If you are a ordinary citizen, of course, it applies to you, but not if you are part of the state apparatus that officially protects you.  The institutional momentum behind this development is simple enough to demonstrate: it hardly mattered that, after George W. Bush took off those gloves, the next president elected was a former constitutional law professor.

Think of the National Security Complex as the King George of the present moment.  In the areas that matter to that complex, Congress has ever less power and, as in the case of the war in Libya or the Patriot Act, is ever more ready to cede what power it has left.

So democracy?  The people’s representatives?  How quaint in a world in which our real rulers are unelected, shielded by secrecy, and supported by a carefully nurtured, almost religious attitude toward security and the U.S. military.

The National Security Complex has access to us, to our lives and communications, though we have next to no access to it.  It has, in reserve, those enhanced interrogation techniques and when trouble looms, a set of what might be called enhanced legal techniques as well.  It has the ability to make war at will (or whim).  It has a growing post-9/11 secret army cocooned inside the military: 20,000 or more troops in special operations outfits like the SEAL team that took down bin Laden, also enveloped in secrecy.  In addition, it has the CIA and a fleet of armed drone aircraft ready to conduct its wars and operations globally in semi-secrecy and without the permission or oversight of the American people or their representatives.

And war, of course, is the ultimate aphrodisiac for the powerful.

Theoretically, the National Security Complex exists only to protect you.  Its every act is done in the name of making you safer, even if the idea of safety and protection doesn’t extend to your job, your foreclosed home, or aid in disastrous times.

Welcome to post-legal America.  It's time to stop wondering whether its acts are illegal and start asking: Do you really want to be this “safe”?

For Sale: The Desperate States of America

While we have been frantically playing defense against relentless assaults on multiple fronts, from anti-union legislation to draconian anti-choice laws to the attempted privatization of Medicare, the selling off of public assets to the private sector has received little attention.

As states face a budget shortfall of $125 billion dollars for fiscal year 2012, leaders are searching for creative ways to fill budget gaps, while refusing to consider the one legitimate solution: forcing tax-dodging corporations and the rich to pay their fair share in taxes.  Rather than upset the moneyed interests who bought their seats in office, politicians of all stripes prefer to cut pensions, close schools, slash child nutrition programs, and most importantly privatize, privatize, privatize!

In 2008, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley auctioned off the city's 36,000 parking meters to a Morgan-Stanley lead partnership, for a lump sum of $1.15 billion.  According to Bloomberg, Chicago drivers will pay Morgan Stanley at least $11.6 billion to park at city meters over the next 75 years, 10 times what the system was sold for.  The Mayor used millions from the deal to help balance the budget, but since then, Morgan Stanley has raised parking fees 42%.  It now plans on stuffing more cars into fewer metered spaces by getting rid of marking lines, raising the number of metered slots and expanding the hours that require fees.  Chicago gave up billions of dollars in revenue for a short term fix and now, if the city faces another fiscal crisis, it will be left with an asset that generates revenue for Morgan Stanley.  Despite the controversy in Chicago, the Associated Press reports that New York is exploring private options for its parking spaces as well.

Meanwhile, Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL), a member of the Tea Party Caucus, has suggested that one way to help close the nation’s budget deficit is to “start liquidating” public lands in Utah by privatizing large parts of the state, 70 percent of which is owned by the federal government.  Soon after, Utah Governor Gary Herbert hopped on board, agreeing that Ross's idea was "worth exploring."  He even went so far as to claim that the land would be better in private hands because private owners maintained Indian artifacts and burial grounds better.  Apparently his position is quite popular, since it has been embraced by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and John McCain (R-AZ), who proposed a bill which would sell off land in Utah and other western states.

The most insidious privatization scheme so far this year was in Wisconsin, the center of the state budget battles.  A provision in Republican Governor Scott Walker's budget repair bill would have empowered politicians to sell any state-owned heating, cooling, or power plant, including those located in prisons and the University of Wisconsin campuses, to anyone for any price at any time, without public approval or a call for bids.  Although the provision was ultimately removed from the budget bill just before it passed, it is expected to be taken up again later this year.

In an effort to offset an $8 billion budget deficit, Ohio Republican Governor John Kasich has proposed privatizing five prisons, a sale expected to bring in an estimated $200 million.  Florida's GOP-controlled Legislature is set to require the state to privatize prisons in South Florida, home to one-fifth of the statewide inmate population of 101,000.  Louisiana Republican Governor Bobby Jindal plans to sell three state prisons to private operators.  Similar bills have sprung up in other states, nevermind that evidence showing that private prisons actually save any money is seriously lacking.

In more desperate and bizarre attempts to fill in budget gaps the City Council in Naperville, IL is considering giving corporations exclusive rights to plaster their logos on city property.  One proposed municipal sponsorship deal would allow Kentucky Fried Chicken to repair potholes in exchange for stamping the fresh asphalt with the chicken chain's logo.

It would be foolish to assume that the push for privatization is isolated to the GOP or the states.  The "liberal" Obama administration has proposed legislation that would establish a presidentially appointed, seven-member Civilian Property Realignment Board, tasked with evaluating excess federal properties.  The surplus includes 12,000 buildings, pieces of land and other property nationwide that the federal government wants to get rid of.

According to McClatchy, the White House claims it would see savings of as much as $15 billion by no longer having to maintain or pay for utilities at some of the underused or unused facilities.  The government in 2009 reported spending $134 million to maintain buildings that have been declared excess.  It costs an estimated $1.3 billion a year to maintain federal buildings that aren't yet declared surplus but that go underused.  However, it remains unclear if and how this strategy would result in a significant enough amount of savings to make a dent in a trillion dollar deficit.

Ironically, the list includes land where the dorms in Daniel Boone National Forest are located, which once served as a camp for workers from the Civilian Conservation Corps, a Great Depression work program.  Rather than invest in jobs programs to put the unemployed back to work like FDR did during the Great Depression — an idea that the Obama administration has all but abandoned — the President has instead chosen the path of austerity and privatization, tactics that have historically been detrimental to society.

It's no secret that corporate behemoths, backed by their free-market think tanks and foundations have long dreamed of privatizing everything public.  Thus far, they have been largely successful in hollowing out the defense department by outsourcing computer, intelligence, and even combat operations to for-profit companies like Lockheed Martin, Halliburton, and Blackwater, to name a few.  We now know that this was done intentionally, strategically planned by the likes of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, who profited magnificently as a result.  The terrorist attacks on 9-11 presented the Bush administration with the opportunity to accelerate the outsourcing of war.

In the Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein thoroughly documents how wealthy elites often use times of crisis and chaos to impose unpopular policies that restructure economies and political systems to further advance their interests.  She calls these orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities, “disaster capitalism.”

While catastrophic events, such as natural disasters or terrorist attacks, are difficult to predict, economic disasters are not.  With this in mind, it's difficult to deny that the economic crisis has been somewhat manufactured to serve as a pretext for draconian cuts into social programs that the corporate state has long been eyeing.  On it's face, this theory seems conspiratorial, however a brief review of recent history demonstrates a trend of intentional crisis generation.
Paul Krugman understood this concept in 2003, during the implementation of the Bush era tax cuts for the wealthy, when he wrote the following:
"the gimmicks used to make an $800-billion-plus tax cut carry an official price tag of only $320 billion are a joke, yet the cost without the gimmicks is so large that the nation can't possibly afford it while keeping its other promises.
But then maybe that's the point. The Financial Times suggests that ''more extreme Republicans'' actually want a fiscal train wreck: ''Proposing to slash federal spending, particularly on social programs, is a tricky electoral proposition, but a fiscal crisis offers the tantalizing prospect of forcing such cuts through the back door.''
It's no secret that right-wing ideologues want to abolish programs Americans take for granted. But not long ago, to suggest that the Bush administration's policies might actually be driven by those ideologues -- that the administration was deliberately setting the country up for a fiscal crisis in which popular social programs could be sharply cut -- was to be accused of spouting conspiracy theories."
As the free-market ideologues in government continue to neglect America's aging infrastructure while making deep cuts into education funding and borrowing upwards of a trillion dollars for two failed wars, they reaffirm the perception that the government is inefficient and incapable of providing what they believe private enterprise can do better.

The fact of the matter is that those now shrieking about big government debts and deficits have spent the last decade maximizing government spending with unaffordable wars, financial deregulation, and tax cuts for the wealthy, which they knew would cost trillions of dollars.  Today, the consequences of their actions, which they were warned about, are the ploy these very same people are using to justify the accelerated demise of welfare programs, and the incremental destruction of the meager social safety net that guarantees Americans won't starve in their old age.

The core tenets of free market fundamentalism —  privatization, deregulation, and cuts to government services — has laid the foundation for the economic breakdown we are witnessing today.  And this recession-induced breakdown is being used by professional disaster capitalists to warrant more privatization, deregulation, and cuts to government services until there is nothing left.  It is clear that the continued auctioning off of pieces of the state to large corporations will result in a total loss of democratic control to the disaster capitalists who are profiting immensely from their orchestrated crisis.