Friday, August 12, 2011

"Malefactors of Great Wealth"

High-Stakes Blackmail

When I recalled that phrase recently, I was sure it had been coined by Franklin D. Roosevelt against the Big Business opponents of the New Deal. In fact, when I looked it up I was surprised to learn that the memorable words were used by Republican President Theodore Roosevelt in a speech at Provincetown, Mass, to accuse the "Trusts" of causing the financial "panic" of 1907. He went on to say:

". . . [these men] combine to bring about as much financial stress as possible, in order to discredit the policy of the government and thereby secure a reversal of that policy, so that they may enjoy unmolested the fruits of their own evil-doing. . . I regard this contest as one to determine who shall rule this free country—the people through their governmental agents, or a few ruthless and domineering men whose wealth makes them peculiarly formidable because they hide behind the breastworks of corporate organization."

Not a bad description of the political class war being waged by Wall Street and the extremists of the Right against the majority of us a century later.

So why can't a Democratic President talk about the "Malefactors of Great Wealth" who are responsible for the economic catastrophe we face today? Could it have something to do with the fact that wealthy individuals and corporations fund the expensive electoral campaigns of both political parties, and so ensure that the solutions supported by the majority of people – raising taxes on the wealthy and the corporations, putting people to work, ending the wars, protecting Social Security and Medicare -- are simply off the agenda? Fake Republican populism is allowed in our system, since it is easily deflected (by racism, among other means) away from the real perpetrators. Democratic populism is unacceptable, because it might be taken seriously.

Here's a truth: when people cannot identify the source of their troubles they are much more likely to accept a bad situation as a kind of natural disaster with no fault and no solution. That's why it is important to name the agents of our economic meltdown and the obstacles to common-sense budget policies: the big banks, the corporations and wealthy individuals who pay hardly any taxes, the profiteers and cheerleaders for endless wars -- and the politicians who serve them.

Words matter. When politicians talk about cutting programs overwhelmingly supported by the public they say "entitlement reform" to mask what they are about. It's not surprising that the Right and its media supporters would use that slippery euphemism, but the expression has also become the standard term in political discourse and the mainstream press among those who should know better. "Entitlement reform" allows folks naively to imagine that politicians are talking about ending giveaways to some "other" undeserving people. But what the so-called "reformers" want is simply to cut Social Security and Medicare. (Social Security, by the way, is paid for out of its own payroll taxes and has so far contributed not one dime to the deficit; Medicare costs are rising rapidly because of the inefficiencies and waste in our privately-run healthcare system, which costs on average double what any other country pays on a per capita basis and yields worse results in all the health indices – life expectancy, infant mortality, chronic diseases and access to medical treatment -- that can be measured.)

As high-stakes budget blackmail continues, and politicians of both parties sharpen their knives for the social programs most of us want, now is the moment to demand instead a focus on creating jobs and reviving the economy.

But how can we afford the big investments in infrastructure and education that will put people back to work? After all, we have a "debt crisis" with the credit rating of the US government downgraded and the stock market tanking because of excessive deficit spending, right? Actually not. Those right-wing fundamentalists who claim to believe in the magic of the market are quick to ignore its message when it challenges their cherished fantasies. The stock market is falling because of the pessimistic outlook for the US economy. Meanwhile, mountains of cash are streaming into the safe haven of "downgraded" US treasury notes – so much so that the government can now borrow whatever it needs at virtually no (or even negative!) interest rates when adjusted for inflation. That is, cash-flush individuals, banks and corporations are paying the US government to hold their money safely. There are just no mattresses big enough!

It has never been easier for the government to finance what is required to invest in our economy -- even before we are able to make the necessary cuts in war and military spending that are also needed. Serious economists calculate that the resulting growth will more than pay for the money we spend today as the jobs picture and the economy improve. And those infrastructure projects in mass transportation, clean energy, rebuilt roads and bridges (you name it) will continue to pay off well into the future. Think of it as a home improvement loan.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

US Advisory Group on Fracking Has Abundant Ties to Energy Industry

Thursday, August 11, 2011 by
As first recommendations emerge from Energy panel, scientists seek ouster of the chairman, John Deutch - a former CIA chief and director of Energy companies
by Evan Bush

All but one member of a government advisory panel weighing the safety of one of the most contentious forms of energy development, known as fracking, have financial ties to the natural gas industry, scientists and some environmental groups are asserting. The scientists called for the ouster of its chairman, former CIA director John Deutch, who sits on the boards of two energy-related companies.

The group, which reports to Energy Secretary Seven Chu, is concluding that development of shale gas can be done safely provided that companies fully disclose the chemicals used in fracturing liquids, and that they face monitoring of their activities and rigorous standards for emissions of airborne contaminants.

While the Energy Department doesn't regulate natural gas production, the Environmental Protection Agency is still months from reaching conclusions in its own study, and the panel is leaving largely unaddressed the most sensitive issue of toxic chemicals that may make their way into drinking water supplies, opponents of fracking fear the Energy panel's recommendation can give a boost to the industry.

The committee, formed in May, was tasked to review fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, in which gas companies pump sand, water and chemicals into wells drilled into the ground to break up the earth below in order to release and then capture natural gas. Critics say fracking could be tainting groundwater, killing wildlife and, as iWatchNews has reported , giving off methane gas that contributes to global warming.

Earlier this year, in his State of the Union address, President Obama endorsed natural gas as part of the solution to feed the nation's energy needs, and then sought to have the advice from the Energy Department panel.

In a letter to Chu , 28 scientists complained that the committee, formally known as the Natural Gas Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board, "appears to be performing advocacy-based science and seems to have already concluded that hydraulic fracturing is safe." The scientists ask Chu to replace Deutch "with a person with no financial ties to the natural gas and oil industry," as well as add "independent members" to the committee.

An environmental group, the Environmental Working Group, previously objected to the advisory group's makeup, saying Deutch received more than $1.4 million from energy companies Schumberger and Cheniere Energy between 2006 and 2009.

Other members of the committee said to have current financial ties to the natural gas and oil industry are Stephen Holditch, Kathleen McGinty, Susan Tierney, Daniel Yergin and Mark Zoback. The scientists said their "conflicts of interest make it appear that the subcommittee is designed to serve industry at taxpayer expense rather than serving President Obama and the public with credible advice."

Energy Department spokesperson Tiffany Edwards defended the committee's composition, saying it is "balanced" and that each member has experience and expertise, including technical and practical knowledge. "Some have said that the panel is too weighted toward industry, while others say it is too weighted towards environmentalists. We think we got it just right, and having a diversity of perspectives will only strengthen the final product."

Industry representatives often serve on government advisory boards, including the one that advises Energy Department Secretary Chu. As iWatch News has reported, Chu's advisory board on energy policy includes one of the president's big campaign fundraisers, a venture capitalist who has invested in companies receiving seed money from the Energy Department.

A 1972 federal law, the Federal Advisory Committee Act, requires only that advisory committees be “fairly balanced.” There are an estimated 900 formal advisory groups scattered across the government, comprising some 65,000 committee members who counsel more than 55 agencies, according to a 2008 Government Accountability Office report . By advising agencies such as the EPA, FDA and Energy Department, members of the advisory committees can influence standards for food safety, environmental protection and energy use.

The role of advisory committees can be more important than it might seem. Industry players or technical experts with a vested interest in agency decisions gain access to regulators and a platform to advance arguments in Congress. Sometimes, agencies have faced legal challenges for ignoring the recommendations of advisory committees.

While the Obama White House has advertised efforts to minimize the direct influence of registered lobbyists, efforts at a crackdown have been soft. Last year, Obama appeared to call for an end to the membership of lobbyists on advisory committees – in the form of an announcement on a White House blog by Norm Eisen, then the president’s special ethics counsel. Lobbyists and executives from Boeing, International Paper Co., IBM and 13 other companies and trade organizations quickly complained - and threatened to circumvent the requirement by having their lobbyists simply stop registering.

"There are financial ties with the industry" on the fracking advisory panel, said Kyle Ash, a lobbyist for the environmental group Greenpeace. "The administration said they weren't going to have special interests."

The letter seeking Deutch's ouster was signed by 28 scientists, including researchers and professors at the University of California, Cornell and Penn State.

While the Energy Department weighs its views on fracking, the EPA has undertaken a study on groundwater quality, due to be finished late next year. Among environmentalists' concerns: The Energy Department's advisory panel could influence the issue before that study is made public.

"We're concerned their findings could undercut the Environmental Protection Agency's findings, which have taken a lot more time and have been a lot more rigorous," said Leann Brown, spokesperson for the Environmental Working Group.

In 2009, the Department of Energy predicted that shale gas, the kind of gas that fracking produces, would account for 20 percent of the United State's total energy consumption in 2020.

In Pennsylvania, according to a study for the American Petroleum Institute, drilling in the Marcellus shale region, which is one of the most prominent in the country, has risen substantially over the past five years. In 2005, just three wells were drilled. In 2009, that number rose to 710.

The Legal Duty to Create Jobs

Lost in the Debt Ceiling Debate

The debate about the debt ceiling should have been a conversation about how to create jobs. It is time for progressives to remind the government that it has a legal duty to create jobs, and must act immediately – if not through Congress, then through the Federal Reserve.

With the U3 official unemployment reaching over 9%, the U6 unofficial real rate over 16%, and the unemployment rate for people of color more than double that of whites, it is nerve wracking to hear right wing political pundits say the government cannot create jobs. Do people really believe this canard? On Real Time with Bill Maher a few weeks ago, Chris Hayes of The Nation stated that the government should create and has in the past created jobs, but he was put down by that intellectual giant Ann Coulter who said, "but they (WPA jobs) were only temporary jobs." No one challenged her.

Most of the jobs created under the Works Progress Administration (WPA) - and there were millions of them - lasted for many years, or until those employed found other gainful employment. They provided a high enough income to allow the worker's family to meet basic needs, and they created demand for goods in an economy that was suffering, like today's economy, from lack of demand. The WPA program succeeded in sustaining and creating many more jobs in the private sector due to the demand for goods that more people with incomes generated.

The most galling thing about pundits stating with such certainty that the government cannot create jobs is the implication that the government has no business employing people. In actuality, however, the law requires the government, in particular the President and the Federal Reserve, to create jobs. This legal duty comes from three sources:
  1. full employment legislation including the Humphrey Hawkins Full Employment Act of 1978,
  2. the 1977 Federal Reserve Act, and
  3. the global consensus based on customary international law that all people have a right to a job with favorable remuneration to provide an adequate standard of living.

Full Employment Legislation

The first full employment law in the United States was passed in 1946. It required the country to make its goal one of full employment. It was motivated in part by the fear that after World War II, returning veterans would not find work, and this would provoke further economic dislocation. With the Keynesian consensus that government spending was necessary to stimulate the economy and the depression still fresh in the nation's mind, this legislation contained a firm statement that full employment was the policy of the country. As originally written, the bill required the federal government do everything in its authority to achieve full employment, which was established as a right guaranteed to the American people. Pushback by conservative business interests, however, watered down the bill. While it created the Council of Economic Advisors to the President and the Joint Economic Committee as a Congressional standing committee to advise the government on economic policy, the guarantee of full employment was removed from the bill.

In the aftermath of the rise in unemployment which followed the "oil crisis" of 1975, Congress addressed the weaknesses of the 1946 act through the passage of the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act of 1978. The purpose of this bill as described in its title is:

An Act to translate into practical reality the right of all Americans who are able, willing, and seeking to work to full opportunity for useful paid employment at fair rates of compensation; to assert the responsibility of the Federal Government to use all practicable programs and policies to promote full employment, production, and real income, balanced growth, adequate productivity growth, proper attention to national priorities.

The Act sets goals for the President. By 1983, unemployment rates should be not more than 3% for persons age 20 or over and not more than 4% for persons age 16 or over, and inflation rates should not be over 4%. By 1988, inflation rates should be 0%. The Act allows Congress to revise these goals over time.

If private enterprise appears not to be meeting these goals, the Act expressly calls for the government to create a "reservoir of public employment." These jobs are required to be in the lower ranges of skill and pay to minimize competition with the private sector.

The Act directly prohibits discrimination on account of gender, religion, race, age or national origin in any program created under the Act.

Humphey-Hawkins has not been repealed. Both the language and the spirit of this law require the government to bring unemployment down to 3% from over 9%. The time for action is now.

Federal Reserve

The Federal Reserve has among its mandates to "promote maximum employment." The origin of this mandate is the Full Employment Act of 1946, which committed the federal government to pursue the goals of "maximum employment, production and purchasing power." This mandate was reinforced in the 1977 reforms which called on the Fed to conduct monetary policy so as to "promote effectively the goals of maximum employment, stable prices and moderate long term interest rates." These goals are substantially equivalent to the long-standing goals contained in the 1946 Full Employment Act. The goals of the 1977 act were further affirmed in the Humphrey-Hawkins Act the following year.

A Global Consensus

In the aftermath of World War II, and for the short time between the end of the war and the beginning of the Cold War, there was an international consensus that one of the causes of the Second World War was the failure of governments to address the major unemployment crisis in the late 20's and early 30's, and that massive worldwide unemployment led to the rise of Nazism/facism. The United Nations Charter was created specifically to "save succeeding generations from the scourge of war." To do so the drafters stated that promoting social progress and better standards of life were the necessary conditions "under which justice and respect for obligations arising under treaties and respect for international law can be maintained."

It is no accident that one of the first actions of the UN was to draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (UDHR or the Declaration). The Declaration was ratified by all then members of the United Nations on December 10, 1948. It is an extremely important document because it not only recognized the connection between the respect for human dignity and rights, and conditions necessary to maintain peace and security. The Declaration is the first international document to recognize the indivisibility between civil and political rights (like those enshrined in the Bill of Rights) on the one hand, and economic, social and cultural rights on the other. The UDHR is the first document to acknowledge that both civil and political rights are necessary to create conditions under which human dignity is respected and through which a person's full potential may be realized. Stated another way, without political and civil rights, there is no real ability for people to demand full realization of their economic rights. And without economic rights, peoples' ability to exercise their civil rights and express their political will is replaced by the daily struggle for survival.

The Declaration, although not a treaty, first articulated the norms to which all countries should aspire. It stated that everyone has the right to an adequate standard of living. This includes the rights to: work for favorable remuneration, (including the right to form unions), health, food, clothing, housing, medical care, necessary social services, and social insurances in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability or old age. There has been a conspiracy of silence surrounding these rights. In fact, most people have never heard of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Similarly, most Americans do not know that the UN drafted treaties which put flesh on the broad principles contained in the Declaration. One of the treaties enshrines Civil and Political Rights; the other guarantees Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. These treaties were released for ratification in 1966. The United States ratified the treaty on civil and political rights and has signed but not ratified the economic, social and cultural rights treaty.

The latter treaty requires the countries which have ratified it to take positive steps to "progressively realize" basic economic rights including the right to a job. Almost all countries of the world have either signed or ratified this treaty. When most countries become party a treaty, they do so not because they think they are morally bound to follow it but because they know they are legally bound. Once an overwhelming number of countries agree to be legally bound, outliers cannot hide behind lack of ratification. The global consensus gives that particular norm the status of binding customary law, which requires even countries that have not ratified a treaty to comply with its mandate.

The Conspiracy of Silence

With the duty to create jobs required by U.S. legislation, monetary policy and customary law, why has the government allowed pundits to reframe the debate and state with certainty the government cannot do what it has a legal obligation to do?

We allow it because of the conspiracy of silence which has prevented most people from knowing that the full employment laws exist, that the Federal Reserve has a job-creating mandate, and that economic human rights law has become binding on the United States as customary international law.

Congressman John Conyers of Michigan knows about the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act, and he has introduced legislation that would fund the job creation aspects of that Act in the The Humphrey-Hawkins 21st Century Full Employment and Training Act, HR 870. It would create specific funds for job training and creation paid for almost exclusively by taxes on financial transactions, with the more speculative transactions paying a higher tax.

If Congress refuses to enact this legislation, the President must demand that the Federal Reserve use all the tools relating to controlling the money supply at its disposal to create the funds called for by HR 870, and to start putting people back to work through direct funding of a reservoir of public jobs as Humphrey-Hawkins mandates.

There is nothing that would prevent the Federal Reserve from creating a fund for job training and a federal jobs program as HR 870 would require, and selling billions of treasury bonds for infrastructure improvement and jobs associated with it. The growth in jobs would stimulate the economy to the point that the interest on these bonds would be raised through increased revenue. There is no reason the Fed on its own could not add a surcharge on inter-bank loans to fund these jobs. These actions could be done without Congressional approval and would represent a major boost to employment and grow the economy. If the Federal Reserve is going to abide by its mandate to promote maximum employment, and comply with the Humphrey Hawkins Act, and the global consensus it must take these steps.

Failure of the Fed and the President to take these affirmative steps is not only illegal, it is also economically unwise. The stock market losses after the debt ceiling deal is in part based on taking almost 2 million more jobs out of the economy and will only further depress demand creating further contraction in the economy. This is not an outcome any of us can afford.

Romney Heckled Hardcore, Says Corporations are People

Who's Afraid To Hire The Jobless?

Unemployment Discrimination

WASHINGTON -- Job advertisements that require applicants to be "currently employed" are easy to find online. Yet attempts to trace the origins of such discriminatory job ads yield plenty of "It wasn't me" responses from the companies involved.

Many of the businesses insist they don't want to screen out the unemployed and blame the discriminatory language on the middlemen directly responsible for placing the ads.

Discrimination against people who are out of work is a phenomenon that's been in the news since last year, and lately it has been getting a lot more attention. Democrats in both chambers of Congress now want to make it a federal crime.

A recent report by the National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group, called out 73 businesses for asking in job postings that applicants be currently employed. "This perverse catch-22 is deepening our unemployment crisis by arbitrarily foreclosing job opportunities to many who are otherwise qualified for them," NELP said in the report.

The Huffington Post reached out to half the organizations cited in the report, and nineteen responded. While several staffing firms defended the ads, employers disavowed them, saying they'd been written by a person outside the company and that they were completely unaware of the language used.

For instance, a spokesperson for AIELLO Home Services, an HVAC company based in central Connecticut, said his company would never run a job ad that specified applicants should already have jobs.

"If you like to make money and have a flexible schedule, then a challenging and exciting opportunity awaits you," an online job ad for the company said. "And if you are currently employed, believe enough in yourself and your abilities to make a positive career and your family will be glad you did." (The ad also specified: "NO prior industry experience required!")

After HuffPost forwarded the ad to the spokesperson, marketing manager Phil Clement, he looked into it and then said it was a mistake. "The ad is a pick-up from some consultant who has helped us in the past find sales people," said Clement. "The ad is even copyrighted by him. We've just put our address at the bottom and hoped to uncover one or two experienced sales people along the way."

Clement said his company has no policy against hiring the unemployed. "AIELLO simply wants to hire good people. There is absolutely no policy written or 'understood' that we will only recruit from the employed," Clement said, adding that he himself had been out of work for two months when the company hired him this year.

"As my own hiring should testify," Clement said, "AIELLO definitely hires the unemployed."

Some staffing firms, when questioned by reporters, are upfront about their intention to recruit only people who currently have jobs. Martin Recruiting Partners, a restaurant staffing agency based in Georgia, ran ads which stated candidates "Must be currently working & ready to move for the right reason."

George Seed, the company's vice president of operations, defended the policy.

"When my clients hire me, they want people who are motivated to go to work for the right reasons," Seed said. "And if someone is currently employed in a good position, then their motivation to move to a different company would be that the company offers better benefits or offers more growth for advancement, or whatever. They're not people who have to have a job, they're people who want to move for the right reasons."

Seed, along with representatives from four other staffing agencies listed in the NELP report, said many of his clients will only consider job applicants who are presently employed and claimed they had requested the language.

But when contacted by HuffPost, representatives from some of Martin Recruiting's clients denied having a policy against recruiting the unemployed.

"We hire people all the time that are not employed," said a representative from restaurant chain Golden Corral. "I can tell you that it's not part of our criteria that they be currently employed."

A representative from Cracker Barrel also said it has no policy excluding the unemployed from applying -- nor do they request that such language be included in job postings. A spokesperson for Wendy's, another client, said hiring decisions are made by franchisees and are usually done with local candidates.

When asked to comment on the fact that some of his clients said they did not wish to discriminate against the jobless, Seed did not respond.

NELP policy co-director Maurice Emsellem, who worked on the report, said hiring firms may be amplifying the anti-unemployed message. Emsellem said that since these agencies are one step removed from the hiring decision, they may feel less responsibility to remain open to all applicants.

"I don't think these big employers are saying to these big staffing agencies, 'Do me a favor: just don't send me anyone who's unemployed,' because it's contrary to their interest," Emsellem said. "If you're one day, two days unemployed, how does that make you ineligible for the job? It doesn't."

Roughly half of the companies named in the report were staffing agencies, and many of the ones HuffPost talked to passed responsibility for any discrimination to their clients, since the agencies don't make the hiring decisions themselves. Others defended the screening as legitimate.

Cypress Hospitality Group, a Florida-based staffing agency listed in the report, defended the ads it posted. "I don't see how 'current or very recent tenure' is discriminatory," a spokesperson said.

Express Employment Professionals, a staffing agency based out of Oklahoma City, listed an ad for a "reputable manufacturing firm" which sought a "motivated, self-directed full time receptionist" who was "currently employed."

In response to an inquiry about the NELP report, Express Employment said that the ad was not designed to discourage the unemployed, but to recruit people who will take the job seriously.

"We understand the impact the recession has had on today's workplace," the company said in a statement. "It has always been, and will always be, in our best interest to recruit from the unemployed, underemployed, or those looking for new opportunities. Unfortunately, some people mistakenly view job opportunities with staffing companies as short-term or temporary in nature. The ad in question was meant to define the job as long term. It was not intended to discourage unemployed job seekers."

Three companies said the ads cited by NELP were six months to a year old, but NELP said its review happened during a four-week period in March and April of 2011.

Several non-staffing companies named in the report disavowed the ads completely.

"We have no knowledge of the language [in the job postings]," said a representative for Allstate Insurance in Huntsville, Ala. "Perhaps for a part-time position, we have no problem hiring unemployed people. We actually receive state support to hire the unemployed."

Lakeshore Technical College, whose ad for a teaching job in Cleveland, Wis. called for a "currently employed" applicant, said that campus police officer was the only position for which they would require someone to be currently employed. Human resources director Kathy Kotajarvi explained that this is because of a policy with the local sheriff's department.

"The reason we said that is all our campus police have to be currently certified and employed by our local county sheriff's department," Kotajarvi said. "The sheriff has to certify them, and if they're not currently employed he will not certify them."

Lakeshore Technical College has a large number of unemployed workers who enroll in classes there trying to get retrained. Kotajarvi also said she knows they've hired several people who were unemployed in recent months.

"We hire unemployed persons for student help positions. We serve the dislocated workers, we understand what their needs are," Kotajarvi said. "We would never discriminate against anyone who's unemployed."

The report cited a Craigslist ad for Knight Transportation, a truckload company, that said candidates should be "currently employed" if they did not meet other background and experience criteria, such as 12 months of on-the-road experience in the past five years. A spokesman for Knight told HuffPost they consider all applicants on a case-by-case basis and that current employment is not a requirement.

Though the practice of restricting hiring to only those who are currently employed is legal under federal law, a NELP-commissioned survey, conducted last month by polling firm Hart Research Associates, found that 80 percent of of respondents felt discriminating against the unemployed was "very unfair. Ten percent called it "somewhat unfair."

The survey also found that 63 percent of respondents would support a law "making it illegal for companies to refuse to hire or consider a qualified job applicant solely because the person is currently unemployed."

Unlike race or gender, unemployment is not a protected status in most of the country because it has the ability to change. Helen Norton, associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Law, testified earlier this year before the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that discriminating by employment status would only be illegal if it is done to screen out a group like older workers, workers with disabilities, or minorities.

Yet at that same hearing, William Spriggs, assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Labor, pointed out that because blacks and Latinos have a higher unemployment rate, discrimination against the unemployed could disproportionately affect those groups.

"When employers exclude the unemployed from the applicant pool, they are likely to be excluding Latinos and African-Americans," Spriggs said.

In April, it became illegal in the state of New Jersey to use language in ads that discriminated against unemployed people, though lawmakers did not explicitly ban the practice of refusing to hire those who are jobless.

On July 12, Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Henry Johnson, Jr. (D-Ga.) introduced the Fair Employment Opportunity Act of 2011. The legislation, if enacted, would prohibit employers and employment agencies from refusing to consider job applicants solely because they are unemployed. (Since that sort of discrimination is difficult to prove, employers would likely retain the ability to discriminate against the jobless, at least covertly.) Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) introduced the same bill in the Senate last week.

"Losing your job through no fault of your own should never disqualify you from finding a new job," Gillibrand said.

Rich Executives Spend Millions For Bodyguards To Guard Them From Populist Anger

Meet World Protection Group Inc.'s private bodyguards, the latest trend in corporate spending.
By Josh Harkinson, Mother Jones
Posted on August 11, 2011

The Primary, tall and flinty with a graying goatee, has decided he's in the mood for shopping, a development that's got David Perez all worked up. I'm sitting with Perez in a Chevy Silverado in downtown Santa Monica. A fit ex-Marine, Perez is in charge of the Primary's six-man protection detail. For 20 minutes, we've been waiting around in a grocery store parking lot, but now the Primary has parked his Porsche 911 Carrera at a shopping strip nearly a mile away. Though Perez already has three "countersurveillance" experts on the scene, he's antsy to join them. His client has a stalker, whom one of the team members had spotted earlier. The Silverado crawls through glacial traffic. "You're driving like an old lady!" Perez barks. "Catch the green!"

Perez and his partner Mike Gomez, a bodyguard resembling The Sopranos' Silvio, finally track down their client at a Barnes & Noble. Two of the countersurveillance guys go back to scouting for menaces, while Perez and Gomez, both of whom are trained sharpshooters and martial-arts experts, step in as the Primary's "close protection" team. Shoppers stare at the entourage, straining to recognize someone famous.

The men form a barrier around their client as he stops to watch a street-magic act, browses racks at Armani Exchange, wanders in and out of a Hooters and past a Gap. And that's when everything goes haywire. The stalker sprints around a corner, trailed by one of the countersurveillance guys. He lunges at the entourage. Gomez wraps the Primary in his beefy arms and yanks him away. The other agent intercepts the assailant mid-lunge and pins him against the wall with his elbows. "He's out of play," says the Primary. The agent and the stalker untangle their arms and laugh.

The entire scenario was a training drill staged by the World Protection Group Inc., an executive protection company with offices in Beverly Hills, New York, and Mexico City. The man playing the Primary, not a real CEO but a former Secret Service agent and narc, asked that I not use his name because, he says, he often works undercover in Mexico. Earlier that morning, he had lectured a group of trainees—WPG employees and freelancers shelling out $575 for the session—about the wide, wide world of corporate security: "You are going to find yourself in places six months or a year from now that you never thought you would get to," he said. On a screen behind him, a well-dressed couple strolled from a Learjet to a Jaguar, framed by a neon sunset.

There are no reliable numbers on the growth of executive protection (EP), but the experts I spoke with say it has expanded at a rapid clip since the 1980s, with dozens of new players breaking into the game. That happens to be the same period during which the top 1 percent of US earners nearly tripled their annual income (PDF). More than a few of them, it seems, have felt compelled to hire men with guns.

I sat down with Kent Moyer, WPG's founder and CEO, in his cramped office. Moyer is trim, balding, and middle-aged. He got into private security back in the early '90s, serving a five-year stint as a bodyguard for Hugh Hefner at the Playboy Mansion. "I could write a book on just the things that I saw," he told me, "but I get paid not to write that book." He was hired, he says, because he could knock heads; he'd placed fourth in the International Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karate-do Federation championship and later trained with Steven Seagal in aikido. For a while, he played B-movie villains, like a neo-Nazi in 1994's Femme Fontaine: Killer Babe for the CIA.

Moyer quickly learned that protecting Hef was less a matter of brawn than of discreet surveillance and detailed planning. By the early aughts he'd launched WPG, with a top Hollywood talent agency as his first client. The collapse of the World Trade Center towers proved a boon for executive protection; soon after, WPG began landing corporate clients, and sales shot up by 40 to 50 percent.

Like most security professionals, Moyer won't name his clients. About 20 percent are celebrities and entertainers, he says, while the rest are wealthy individuals and corporate executives. The firm has protected senators, congressmen, former secretaries of state, and members of the Saudi royal family. As the business grew, Moyer took some time off to attend Wharton's Advanced Management Program. Executive protection "is about more than sending an off-duty cop out with a gun," he explains. "If it came to any kind of semi-organized attack, those guys would get dead real quick, because they don't have any kind of game plan."

In 2009, EP firms discovered a powerful marketing tool in the outrage over bank bailouts. "There has never been this kind of populist anger before," Eden Mendel, director of security consulting at Kroll, a risk advisory firm, told the Financial Times. "When executives are revealed on television with bonuses they become a target." Nearly 80 percent of executives polled by the American Society for Industrial Security agreed that "the need for security has increased in the current economic climate," with "general increases in crime" and "employee layoffs" cited as the biggest threats. Executive protection firms like WPG, 360 Group International Inc., and the Steele Foundation reported revenue spikes of 30 to 50 percent in 2009, despite the recession. "Our business gets better as the economy gets worse," Moyer told me.

The protection boom shows no sign of abating, despite a weaker-than-expected feedstock of anarchy—violent crime in the United States is at its lowest level in decades. Workplace violence, too, remains in a steady decline, says Eugene Ferraro, founder of a security consultancy called Business Controls Inc., which manages workplace-safety hotlines for 23,000 clients. "An executive who has ever really been confronted and their life threatened? That's kind of hard to find," he adds.

So why have top execs (and/or their boards) become such security nuts? One factor involves the need to do business in the developing world—WPG claims it can provide services in 70 countries—but that doesn't explain the domestic demand. Ferraro chalks it up to paranoia. "I get the calls," he says. "They say, 'Oh my God, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal, the sky is falling!'" The tendency of business leaders to "think over the horizon and anticipate problems" is causing them to act like they're in Mexico City or Baghdad, Ferraro says. Besides, why not play it safe when shareholders are picking up the tab? Since 2006, when publicly traded companies began disclosing corporate perks, spending on CEO security has increased an average of 15 percent a year. (Michael Dell's compensation package, for instance, includes $1.2 million for security.)

Another big part of EP's appeal might simply be executive convenience. Protection firms claim that they can save executives an average of 90 minutes a day by conducting "advances" of venues, having cars and elevators waiting, and thwarting unwanted advances from employees, media—whomever. "The neat thing is that we've worked all this stuff out for you," Moyer says. "You don't have to worry about it." If the Primary needs his Starbucks fix, he's likely to sit in a locked car checking email while his protector fetches a Grande.

Moyer prides himself on allowing the hoi polloi to vent their frustrations after being refused an audience with the client. "Even if you are not going to let them meet with your principal, I sit down and talk to them," he says. "That is sometimes all people need." But occasionally it can be hard to know whom to admit into a client's inner orbit. While on the job not long ago, Gomez moved to stiff-arm a thuggish-looking man—it was Jeff Zucker, then president of NBC Universal.

At WPG's training day, Gomez got a second chance to test his power of discernment. Back on Santa Monica's crowded Third Street Promenade, the Primary didn't seem to recognize a smiling man who approached, claiming to know him. Gomez raised his arms to keep the man away, but it was just a diversion. From another part of the crowd, two attackers hurled themselves at the Primary. The agents sprang to meet them with palm jabs and elbow thrusts. Sunglasses were smashed, a cellphone was sent clattering, and bodies hit the pavement as shoppers gawked. Then the men got up and shook hands—the Primary was untouched.

Off to one side, a frail street person was taking it all in. "Hey guys," he beckoned to the pumped-up team members as they headed off to grab lunch. "Can I get you to give a dollar to save the hungry people of Los Angeles?"

Verizon Strike

When You Play the Plutocrats’ Game, They Win: On Civility and Half Measures

Thursday, August 11, 2011 by
by Kristine Mattis

Like many Wisconsinites, I am feeling rather dejected after the disappointing August 9th recall elections. But unlike most of my brothers and sisters, my disappointment stems not so much from the outcome, but from the adherence to propriety and to a faith in inherently corrupt and unjust systems.

I was inspired and awed by the spontaneous and sustained uprisings in February and March and solidarity of the people of Wisconsin. Having lived numerous places throughout this country, there is no other place I would have wanted to call home at that moment. I was so proud to be among the protesters and my tendency toward negativity was suspended for a brief period. And then it ended. People went back to work (or unemployment) and though small demonstrations continued, the massive manpower and money was instead redirected toward recalling six Republican state senators and attempting to replace them with Democrats.

Though I was surprisingly impressed by the bold stand that the fourteen Democratic state senators took to protect the rights of their citizens, and though, having attended hearings in the state legislature, I have found many of these Wisconsin Democratic representatives to be supportive of the needs of the people in the state, I chose not to devote my current activism to the recall elections.

I was at the bargaining table last year when the Wisconsin state legislature and governor’s office were controlled by Democrats. Nevertheless, we state employee unions were told off the bat that any increases in any types of monetary compensation were off the table, and that our health insurance premiums would be increased. Game over. Doing anything else was too risky in “this political climate,” they said. Having worked in the U.S. House of Representatives previously, I saw firsthand the complicity and complacency of many federal Democrats, but I really had no knowledge of politics at the state level in WI. I learned quickly as, after months of negotiating, even our very crappy contracts were voted against by a couple of turncoat Democrats seeking political leverage from the incoming legion of Republicans.

In the past thirty years, state and local governments – in fact society in general - have been catering more and more to corporate interests, and consequently corporate interests have been taking over our state and our society. This has resulted in their co-opting of the only two major political parties allowed to exist in the U.S., as well as in the largest redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich in history. In real terms, massive unemployment, poverty, hunger, homelessness, and social decay has spread across America, going largely unnoticed by anyone not experiencing it, or more likely, trying their hardest to deny it. The corporate controlled media does not report it to any substantive extent. They are too busy promoting new products, gadgets and consumer distractions.

In addition to consistent tax cuts for the rich and corporations and the expenses incurred from two-plus illegal and unnecessary imperial wars, the most recent recession in 2008 - caused by the unregulated casino known as Wall Street - has caused most of the fiscal crises in the states and throughout the nation. Yet, the Wall Street bankers committed fraud, the “brilliant” Ivy-League educated economists looked blithely away as the economic system collapsed, and the government officials who should have prosecuted the thieves let the perpetrators go scot free and proceeded to blame vital public employees for the financial woes caused by the rich. They not only allowed the criminals to go away unscathed, they fed these same criminals OUR money so that they could maintain their obscene wealth. Meanwhile, all over the nation, we, who had already lost everything, were being told we had to lose MORE so that those same rich people whom we had bailed out could “save” us through their privatization of all public goods (which, of course, does nothing but fatten their pocketbooks and starve us dead).

These unspeakable acts of reverse Robin-Hood corporate socialism took place under the watch of both Democrats and Republicans. We’d all like for it to not be so, in order for us to be able to easily place blame on one side, and go to the polls to vote in the other direction, but that vote is just a half measure. It often obtains little and changes nothing.

I do not wish to blame the Democratic officials in my state, because many of them - including Rep. Tammy Baldwin, and numerous state assembly-persons and senators whom I have had the good fortune of meeting during these recent months - have proven themselves more stalwart and progressive than most. I also recognize the insidiousness of the phony “grassroots” Tea Party, their corporate sponsors, their Republican allies, and their media propaganda machine. But laying the blame for the desperate state we find ourselves in solely at the feet of the GOP is completely disingenuous. Despite the rhetoric in the media, the real conflict is not between the Democrats and the Republicans; here and throughout the world, there is not a political war but a class war – and the rich are winning by a landslide. Given that context, trying to exact change through electoral politics is futile because the system is already rigged by the plutocrats, and because if one is not willing to deviate from their system, one is bound to lose.

Many political activists working on the recall elections have been saying that we want to elect Democrats to “stop the bleeding” and then we will hold them accountable to the people. From my vantage point, I do not see bleeding; I see fatal hemorrhaging from the carotid artery that only societal change, not politics, will be able to surgically repair.

When we play the game of the plutocrats, we allow:
  • A “Citizen’s United” election in which endless corporate moneys control the outcome
  • Continuation of the false premise that Wisconsin even had a budget “crisis”
  • Media framing that “the people have spoken through their votes” (regardless of the fact that this cannot be the case in a country where corporations are considered people)
  • Domination by “middle class” in discourse, instead of discussions about poverty, racism, and severe social injustices
  • Political tricks and illegal maneuvers (see: falsification of election date on absentee ballots, consistent election irregularities in Waukesha county clerk’s office, phony robo-calls by right-wing groups, voter intimidation at polls, voter disenfranchisement through cumbersome voter ID law, etc.) going uncontested or unprosecuted
  • “Conspiracy theory” narratives to dismiss all skepticism, despite tremendous evidence of organized wrongdoings
One of the main ways we play into their game is through prevarication and civility. What should have happened, as many chanted on March 9th – the day the state Assembly illegally voted on the anti-collective bargaining bill and 7000 people immediately flooded past the gatekeepers at the capitol doors to protest – was a general strike. If our elected officials can break a law that attempts to protect the transparency of our state legislative process by pushing through a vote without due notice, then citizens should have broken a wholly unjust law that attempts to criminalize the rights of workers to not show up for work.

I’m originally from New York. New Yorkers have a justified stereotype of being rude and abrasive (often unprovoked and for no reason). By contrast, what I have found living in Wisconsin for the past two years and in the Upper Midwest for the past four, is that civility is at a premium here. As a general rule, people like to maintain decorum and do not like to complain. That can be a very nice thing, for example, when you are new in town and everyone is welcoming and nice. But it is extremely disadvantageous when one is reticent to “act out” for fear of conflict or contention.

One of the Democrats in the recall elections said in an interview that she did not like the recent changes in Wisconsin government, because things had become so divisive and people could not compromise. Given the current state of affairs, I would say that compromise is not in order. When it comes to balancing a budget by hampering or eliminating all of the social safety nets for the poor in order to enhance incentives for corporate interests, a legislator who seeks a balanced “compromise” on these unequal terms is not a legislator that any citizen needs. Likewise, a citizen who would rather retract into her (not-so) comfortable life by casting a vote rather than by challenging an unjust political and social system is not a citizen who will be victorious for her cause. Right now, I hope that Wisconsinites can realize that when battling plutocracy, one must leave one’s civility at the door. Maybe now’s the time to take a lesson from the New Yorkers; maybe now’s the time to stop playing by their rules and to be belligerent, obstinate, and uncompromising.

Americans Elect 2012

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


London Riots - Day 4: Vigilantes Take to the Streets

Reclaiming the streets: Sikhs defend their temple and locals protect their pubs as ordinary Britons defy the rioters

  • Met Police warn public against use of vigilante justice as crowds of football fans patrol roads intent on 'protecting the streets'
  • Warning comes as murder probe launched in Birmingham after deaths of three men 'killed while protecting community from looters'
  • Hundreds launch public patrols following claims riot police teams were told to 'stand and observe' looters rather than confront yobs
By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 11:31 AM on 10th August 2011

Some armed with swords, some carrying hockey sticks, defiant Sikhs stood guard outside their temples last night.

More then 700 men, some in their 80s, took to the streets to protect the homes, businesses and places of worship in Southall, West London.

The residents rallied together in a show of unity against looters echoed in other parts of the country as ordinary Britons attempted to reclaim the streets.

Resistance: Dozens of Sikhs stage a display of defiance against the rioters outside London's largest temple in Southall yesterday
Resistance: Dozens of Sikhs stage a display of defiance against 
the rioters outside London's largest temple in Southall yesterday

'Protection': A large group gathers on the streets of Eltham as crowds form intent on warding off looters in London
'Protection': A large group gathers on the streets of Eltham as crowds form intent on warding off looters in London

On patrol: The Met Police have been forced to warn people against forms of vigilante justice following the crowds of people forming intent on 'protecting the streets'
On patrol: The Met Police have been forced to warn people 
against forms of vigilante justice following the crowds of 
people forming intent on 'protecting the streets'

Pictures of the crowds emerged as the Met Police today urged the public against forming groups intent on vigilante justice.

Many of those who gathered in the late night public patrols had done so after becoming frustrated by the lack of police response to the riots.
It was only on Monday night that police tactics changed and armoured vehicles called Jankels were used to disperse the crowds.

A survey of British adults has revealed that one in three would support the police's use of live ammunition on rioters.

The poll of over 2,500 adults also showed that nine out of ten Britons believe police should be able to use water cannons to deal with the growing unrest.

The YouGov survey for the Sun showed widespread support for the various police tactics available.

Over three quarters 77 per cent) of those surveyed also support using the army ho help deal with the situation.

And worryingly for the government, over half (57 per cent) think David Cameron has handled the riots badly.

A massive 85 per cent are also convinced that the majority of rioters will go unpunished.
Large groups gathered in Enfield, north London, and Eltham, south east London, last night and joined police in patrolling the streets.

One video filmed in Enfield shows a huge crowd surge through the streets near the London suburb's Southbury Road station.

But while many pictures this week have shown crowds clashing with police in destructive stand-offs, the video clearly shows officers and crowds running in the same direction in a bid to ward off looters.

However, Met Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steve Kavanagh told Sky News: 'What I don't need is these so-called vigilantes, who appeared to have been drinking too much and taking policing resources away from what they should have been doing - which is preventing the looting.

'These are small pockets of people. They're frustrated, they're angry, and that's totally understandable.

'The sadness of those images through the night and the night before last will affect everyone.

'But the support that we need is to allow those officers to prevent looting and prevent crime.

'Ironically, when you see those images with no police available, the police are now having to go and do the vigilantes as well as the other problems that they've got. That needs to stop.'

One of those involved in the Enfield patrol, Nick Davidson, told Sky News: 'We've had enough of the police just standing there... while people are looting and ruining the whole area.

'Everybody here pays tax and we've all had enough of it. We're sickened by the police doing absolutely nothing.

'They're not policing our streets, we have to police them.'

One man in his 20s, who would not give his name said: 'We won't stand for it. If anyone wants to come down here and start looting tonight, let them try - we'll be ready for them.

'We're here to protect the town. What went on last night was a disgrace. It shouldn't be allowed.'

In Southall, the locals rallied to keep the rioters at bay following reports of a planned attack on the area. It is just a few miles from Ealing, which was targeted on Monday night. Each of the Sikh temples was guarded by around 200 men.

Not in our town: Large groups of people run through Enfield, north London intent on 'protecting the streets' from rioters
Not in our town: Large groups of people run through Enfield, 
north London intent on 'protecting the streets' from rioters

Reclaiming the streets: The group made their way through Enfield flanked by police officers during the late night patrol
Reclaiming the streets: The group made their way through 
Enfield flanked by police officers during the late night patrol

Amarjit Singh Klair from nearby Hounslow, who helped rally the men, said: ‘We are working along side the police, they’re doing what they can but they are stretched. 
‘Why shouldn’t we defend our homes, businesses and places of worship? This is our area. There’s lots of talk about it kicking off here. But we’re ready for them.’

Hooded youths could be seen scouting the area but appear to be have frightened off. Only a handful of police could be seen patrolling the area. 
The Sikh community were running a military style operation to protect themselves after almost 100 rioters tried to attack the heart of the area early on Tuesday. 

With few police around, elders at London’s largest Sikh temple in Havelock Road resorted to telephoning male worshippers for help. 

Last night groups of Sikh men stood guard at different parts of the town, keeping in touch via their mobiles. 

One man in his 20s said: ‘They caught us off guard last night but we still managed to get people together to protect the area. We saw them putting on their balaclavas preparing to jump out of three cars but we charged at them and managed to chase them off.’

On guard: Groups of Sikh men stood around different parts of the town, keeping in touch via mobile phone to crush any potential trouble
On guard: Groups of Sikh men stood around different parts of the town,
keeping in touch via mobile phone to crush any potential trouble

Turkish shopkeepers who stood guard outside their businesses and chased off looters on Monday night have been hailed as heroes. 

When the gangs of youngsters arrived to wreak havoc in Dalston, East London, on Monday night, the men, armed with baseball bats, snooker cues and even chair legs, sent them packing.

Trouble started about 8.30pm when a group of 15 youths set fire to a bus. Later another mob of around 20 arrived. Kebab shop owner Omer Asili, 29, said: ‘The police were telling us not to chase them, but it was only down to us that they went away.’

Drought-Stricken Texas Town to Recycle Urine

Desperate Times, Desperate Measures
By: Megan Gibson

We all know that recycling is a good thing. But recycling sewage water?

According to Discovery News, the drought in Texas has gotten so desperate that the town of Big Spring is considering recycling toilet water for its 27,000 residents.While it sounds unusual (and more than a little gross) it's not that uncommon. NASA for example, has a system where they filter urine directly to salvage water. 

However, the process in Texas would work a little differently than NASA's system. "We're taking treated effluent (wastewater), normally discharged into a creek, and blending it with (traditionally supplied potable) water," Big Spring's district manager, John Gran, told Discovery.

Which might not be enough to reassure the squeamish, but with less than 0.1 inches of rain in the region for months, you do what you have to do.

'Anonymous' Hackers Vow to 'Kill' Facebook

 In a YouTube message from the collective that hacked the Syrian Ministry of Defense website Sunday, Anonymous says it will "kill" Facebook on November 5th, one day before election day, for the sake of "privacy." 

Calling out Facebook for selling privacy and working for "authoritarian governments, such as those of Egypt and Syria," Anonymous urges "hacktivists" and others to help them kill Facebook.  Their message, in full text, reads:
DATE: November 5, 2011.
Irc.Anonops.Li #OpFaceBook
Attention citizens of the world,
We wish to get your attention, hoping you heed the warnings as follows:
Your medium of communication you all so dearly adore will be destroyed. If you are a willing hacktivist or a guy who just wants to protect the freedom of information then join the cause and kill Facebook for the sake of your own privacy.
Facebook has been selling information to government agencies and giving clandestine access to information security firms so that they can spy on people from all around the world. Some of these so-called whitehat infosec firms are working for authoritarian governments, such as those of Egypt and Syria.
Everything you do on Facebook stays on Facebook regardless of your "privacy" settings, and deleting your account is impossible, even if you "delete" your account, all your personal info stays on Facebook and can be recovered at any time. Changing the privacy settings to make your Facebook account more "private" is also a delusion. Facebook knows more about you than your family.
You cannot hide from the reality in which you, the people of the internet, live in. Facebook is the opposite of the Antisec cause. You are not safe from them nor from any government. One day you will look back on this and realise what we have done here is right, you will thank the rulers of the internet, we are not harming you but saving you.
The riots are underway. It is not a battle over the future of privacy and publicity. It is a battle for choice and informed consent. It's unfolding because people are being raped, tickled, molested, and confused into doing things where they don't understand the consequences. Facebook keeps saying that it gives users choices, but that is completely false. It gives users the illusion of and hides the details away from them "for their own good" while they then make millions off of you. When a service is "free," it really means they're making money off of you and your information.
Think for a while and prepare for a day that will go down in history. November 5 2011, #opfacebook . Engaged.
This is our world now. We exist without nationality, without religious bias. We have the right to not be surveilled, not be stalked, and not be used for profit. We have the right to not live as slaves.
We are anonymous
We are legion
We do not forgive
We do not forget
Expect us
We can expect to hear much more from Anonymous, the famous hacktivists who not only hacked Syria's Ministry of Defense website, but also Sony, Visa, and MasterCard, among many others. While Anonymous members have been the target of a slew of recent arrests,  their message is clear: They will not be silenced.

Double-Dip Recession? How Our Dysfunctional Political Class Has Made Another Grueling Collapse Far Likelier

Just a few short months ago, few analysts would say publicly that the American economy was likely to slide into another grueling period of recession. That's changed.
By Joshua Holland, AlterNet
Posted on August 10, 2011

The single bright spot in this anemic “recovery” had been steadily rising stock prices. Although the market staged a modest rally on Tuesday, news of the debt ceiling deal was followed by a massive sell-off in stocks – the S&P 500 saw its biggest one-day drop in more than a year the day the deal was announced. After losing $14 trillion in household wealth in the crash, Americans' nest eggs had rebounded to some degree, but whether their 401(K)s and investment accounts hold their value in the coming months remains to be seen.

The outlook for the economy is extraordinarily bleak. But we've pulled ourselves out of deep recessions before. What's different now is the profound, tea-party stained dysfunction plaguing our political class. As I wrote recently, if the economy does end up contracting in the near future, it will be a recession driven by the “age of austerity” embraced by Washington – and the contractionary policies it has ushered in.

That scenario appears more likely today. Just a few short months ago, there were very few analysts who would predict that the American economy stood a decent chance of sliding into another period of grueling recession. The consensus held that while we were recovering far too slowly in light of the depth of the crash, we were nevertheless on the rebound. But that thinking has changed. Last week, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers estimated that there was a 33 percent chance of the economy once again falling into recession – the dreaded “double-dip.” Other economists put the likelihood a bit lower, but researchers at the Federal Reserve tell us that, since World War II, about half of the times the economy has grown as slowly as it has in the first half of this year, a recession has followed within twelve months.

For the majority of Americans, the official end of the last recession was merely an abstraction – it in now way reflected the profound economic pain tens of millions of working people continued to feel. Since 2009, when the wonks at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) set the official end of the Great Recession, the unemployment rate has edged down tick, but most of that was due to people giving up and dropping out of the workforce. The share of the population that has a job today is about the same as it was in the early 1970s, before women entered the workforce en masse.

Housing prices bottomed in 2009, then had a brief and sputtering recovery, before hitting a new low early this year, well after the official end of the recession. Around one in four homeowners with a mortgage still owe more on their properties than they're worth, and the foreclosure crisis continues unabated. New business creation has ground to a halt, people are running up credit card debt to make ends meet and new grads aren't leaving home to start out on their own.

High oil prices have squeezed already strained household budgets -- consumer spending dropped in June and “consumer confidence” about the future plunged in July. The Japanese Tsunami caused supply disruptions, the eurozone is a mess and China's economy is slowing – with our trading partners slumping, we certainly won't see an export-led boom anytime soon.

The slump in demand for companies' goods and services remains our core problem, and that problem will only be magnified as the last of the stimulus funds dry up, the temporary payroll tax break expires and extended unemployment benefit run out later this year. Without more help from Washington, states and municipalities are expected to shed 450,000 public sector jobs next year.

Last year, with the private sector economy continuing to slump, an analysis by Moody's Analytics found that almost one in five dollars in American consumers' wallets came from one government program or another. The public sector has already seen deep cuts, and that trend will only worsen with Washington's relentless focus on deficit reduction. Without those dollars, there will be fewer consumers demanding American companies' goods and services, and the private sector will continue to have little incentive to hire. Although the cuts in the debt reduction deal are “backloaded” to some degree, $70 billion in cuts will hit before the end of next year, which will cost the economy hundreds of thousands of jobs, resulting in more people out of work, missing mortgage payments and not spending much money.

And they're not done. In downgrading America's debt last week, S&P relied on some dodgy economi analysis, but its view of the political situation is spot-on: the GOP's absolutism is making governing next to impossible. Not only are all revenue raises effectively “off the table,” in all likelihood any significant effort to kick-start the economy is as well. Senator Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina, said that the debt ceiling was simply “round one” in a 15-round brawl over spending and “entitlements.” If their position were that we need to pay down the debt as soon as unemployment drops below 7 percent and the housing market stabilizes, it wouldn't be an entirely insane position. Doing so in this economic climate is ideologically driven madness.

And the real danger is that we'll get into a disastrous kind of feedback loop if the economy starts contracting. That would certainly lead to higher deficits, as tax revenues sank to new lows and the demand for anti-poverty services grew. The deficit hawks will use that rising deficit to call for more cuts, and without some new engine of private sector growth emerging, we'll stay stuck treading water. We've already lost a decade – after the dot-com bust, median incomes only surpassed those in 1999 during one year – 2006 – and have only declined since then.

In his book, Collapse, Jared Diamond looked at a bunch of societies that had seen their physical climates change and tried to determine what made some die out while others persevered. It wasn't the severity of the change, or its speed that was the determining factor, but the foresight of those societies' leaders – their ability to properly diagnose the problem and adapt – to come up with proactive solutions to the problems they faced. The economic woes we're suffering are man-made, but we may look back on the era in which American prosperity collapsed and see the same kind of stubborn refusal to acknowledge reality as a proximate cause.

Both Parties Now in Dash for Anonymous Cash

(This is a fine example of how the Republicrats and Demacans are really the same party serving the same corporate agenda--the difference being that one wears red, the other wears blue, and they've sold the myth to most voters that they are in opposition to one another--with a terrible one-act play they perform daily--when in actuality, they are owned by the same corporations, sleep with the same people, drink at the same bars, keep their money in the same Wall Street accounts, eat at the same troughs, etc. No difference.--jef)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011 by
by Kenneth P. Vogel

If anyone had doubts about the role that anonymous and untraceable money will play in the 2012 campaign ad wars, a flurry of recent reports and voluntary disclosures should put them to rest.

Right-wing independent groups are likely outpacing the left in collecting anonymous cash. The full extent of the anonymous giving is by definition impossible to know. But the recent disclosures as well as interviews with fundraising sources suggest that Republican-allied independent groups are outpacing Democratic ones in collecting undisclosed contributions to fund their political advertising, just as they did in 2010.

But, perhaps more significantly, they show that Democrats, who vociferously attacked that kind of fundraising last year, have set aside their qualms and are now active competitors in the anonymous donor arms race.

The three main anonymously funded Democratic outside groups – Priorities USA, American Bridge 21st Century Foundation and Patriot Majority – collected at least $3.7 million in untraceable contributions, and probably much more, in the first half of the year, according to voluntary disclosures and anecdotal information on ad buys.

While that’s not as much as the $5.8 million in fundraising reported in that same period by the sister organizations of those groups, which do disclose donors – Priorities USA Action, American Bridge 21st Century and Majority PAC — the feeling among some in Democratic fundraising circles is that the balance will likely tilt towards undisclosed donations as the groups seek to expand their donor bases.

And the fact that Democrats are soliciting undisclosed contributions at all at this early stage of the race illustrates the central role anonymous donors are expected to play in the run-up to the 2012 elections.

Democrats “don’t have a choice, because the other side is doing it – would you send David to fight Goliath without a slingshot?” said Erica Payne, a liberal strategist who helped create the Democracy Alliance, a network of major liberal donors.

Many such donors “feel more comfortable donating to groups that don’t disclose,” she said, because some are publicity averse and also because “as soon as their name appears in the paper as having contributed, their phone number goes on the speed dial of every congressmen, committee and party that wants to raise money.”

While it’s impossible to do an apples-to-apples comparison, conservatives seem to maintain a wide edge when it comes to anonymously funded political advertising, with groups that don’t disclose contributions including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity and the 60 Plus Association – which combined to spend tens of millions on ads boosting Republicans in 2010 – gearing up for even bigger campaigns headed into 2012.

And the biggest spending Republican group this year – Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies – is about midway through a two-month advertising binge attacking President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats that is expected to cost more than $20 million, alone.

Crossroads GPS, as the group is known, is registered under a section of the tax code – 501(c)4 – that does not require the disclosure of donors’ names, but it was actually started as a spin-off of another group that does disclose its donors – American Crossroads. That group, a new type of political action committee known as a super PAC, has seen its fundraising lag behind its non-disclosing sister group. In the first six months of 2011, according to a report filed late last month with the Federal Election Commission, it raised only $3.9 million.

The two-pronged structure of the Crossroads outfit was the model for the new Democratic outside efforts, which were created in response to the explosion of spending by a network of outside groups, including Crossroads, that were conceived by veteran GOP operative Karl Rove.

The Democratic outfits also pair 501(c)4 groups – including Priorities USA, American Bridge 21st Century Foundation and Patriot Majority – with super PACs, including Priorities USA Action, American Bridge 21st Century and Majority PAC.

Patriot Majority recently went up with $225,000-worth of ads in three states pushing back on Crossroads GPS’s attacks on Democratic senators, while American Bridge 21st Century Foundation and Priorities USA told POLITICO they’d raised $1.51 million and at least $2 million, respectively.

But such 501(c)4 groups won’t be required to file reports listing even basic information about their 2011 finances until well into next year — and they probably will never be required to disclose even a single donor’s name, making it likely that we’ll never know who funded many of the political ads aired in the run-up to the 2012 elections.

Meanwhile, the super PACs affiliated with those groups – combined with another linked super PAC called House Majority PAC – collected huge checks in the first six months of the year from labor unions and wealthy liberals in entertainment and finance, according to reports filed late last month with the FEC. And their donors are known.

The Service Employees International Union contributed a total of $1.1 million spread among the groups. Dreamworks Animation chief executive Jeffrey Katzenberg contributed $2 million to Priorities USA Action, Chicago media magnate Fred Eychaner gave $600,000 ($100,000 to House Majority PAC and $500,000 to Priorities USA Action), insurance magnate Peter Lewis gave $200,000 to American Bridge and billionaire financier George Soros gave $75,000 to House Majority PAC.

On the Republican side, American Crossroads received almost all of its cash in the first half of the year – $3.8 million – from just a handful of millionaires and corporations. Investor and former Univision chairman Jerry Perenchio gave $2 million through his trust. Dallas investor Robert Rowling, whose firm owns Omni Hotels and Gold’s Gym, gave $1 million. Texas homebuilder Bob Perry gave $500,000.

“Some people want their names listed because they want credit – they want that policymaker or candidate [supported by a super PAC] to know that they’re giving and they want them to know quickly,” said a Democratic operative involved in fundraising for independent groups. “Other people want to stay [anonymous] because they are afraid of retribution or controversy.”

Super PACs and 501(c)4s are barred from coordinating their spending with the candidates they intend to help. But the groups – which can accept unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations and unions – are often seen as a way for deep-pocketed donors to have more impact than by merely writing checks to candidates and parties, which are capped by federal rules that also bar union and corporate contributions to candidates.

It was the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC that cleared the way for the advent of superPACs as well as the rise in popularity of 501(c)4s as vehicles for political advertising. The decision, which allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited money on campaign ads, was widely criticized by Democrats, as was the explosion of advertising spending by anonymously funded conservative groups, which Obama called “a threat to our democracy. The American people deserve to know who’s trying to sway their election.”

But after the election, Obama’s allies dialed back their opposition to big-money outside spending and it wasn’t long before close allies of the president and Democratic congressional leaders had formed their own network of groups.

“We’re following all the same rules that Rove’s Crossroads is,” said Bill Burton, who served as deputy White House press secretary while Obama was attacking anonymous political spending, but now runs the Priorities groups. “We may not like the rules, but we’re not going to let Karl Rove and the (conservative billionaire) Koch brothers play by one set of rules while we are overrun with their millions.”

But Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for the Crossroads groups, told POLITICO it’s “brazen hypocrisy” for the Democratic 501(c)4s to accept anonymous donations. “If they really believe it was a threat to democracy, I don’t think you’d get involved in one of these groups,” he told the St. Petersburg Times late last month.

Yet, back when Crossroads started out last year, it, too, shunned secret donations and extolled disclosure. Its chairman, Mike Duncan, described himself in May 2010 as “a proponent of lots of money in politics and full disclosure in politics,” and said Crossroads intended to “be ahead of the curve on” transparency.

Less than one month later, with American Crossroads struggling to raise money from donors leery of having their names disclosed, operatives spun off Crossroads GPS, and its fundraising team, led by Rove, began emphasizing to prospective donors the ability to give anonymous contributions.

Fundraising took off, and together, the groups ended up raising more than $70 million in 2010, with the majority of it – $43 million – going to Crossroads GPS.

Despite their increasing prominence in political advertising, Crossroads GPS and other 501(c)4 groups, which the IRS classifies as “social welfare organizations,” are still considered something of an uncertain legal proposition and also a somewhat more restrictive political vehicle, as a result of the tax code’s requirement that they spend more than half of their money on non-campaign-related activity.

Legalities aside, former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, who for years was a leading crusader against big money in politics, suggested his party risked losing the moral high ground by joining the chase for undisclosed, unlimited cash.

Feingold – who last week launched a 501(c)4 group of his own but pledged to disclose all its contributions and to only accept only limited individual donations – told POLITICO “Democrats shouldn’t be in the game of influencing elections with anonymous, unlimited money. It’s dancing with the devil.”