Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Real Economic Picture

By: Paul Craig Roberts | February 2, 2012

If you have any money and you want to understand the lies that “your” government tells you with statistics, subscribe to John Williams

John Williams is the best and utterly truthful statistician that we the people have.

The charts below come from John Williams Hyperinflation Report, January 25, 2012. The commentary is supplied by me.

Here is the chart of real average weekly earnings deflated by the US government’s own measure of inflation, which as I pointed out in my recent column, Economy 101, understates true inflation.

This chart (below) shows the behavior of inflation as measured by “our” government’s official measure, CPI-U (bottom line) and John Williams measure which uses the official methodology of when I was Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury. The gap between the top and bottom lines represents the amount of money that was due to Social Security recipients and others whose income was indexed to inflation that was diverted by the government to wars, police state, and bankers’ bailouts.

This next chart shows the gains that gold and the Swiss franc have made against the US dollar. The Swiss franc is the top line and gold is the bottom. When gold and the Swiss franc rise, the dollar is falling. Notice that during President Reagan’s first term, when I was in the Treasury, gold and the Swiss franc dropped, that is, the dollar rose in purchasing power. Obviously, the supply-side policy that Reagan implemented strengthened the US dollar. It was only with the advent of the Bush policy of endless trillion dollar wars, reaffirmed by Obama, that the US dollar and economy collapsed relative to gold and hard currencies.

The recent drop in the Swiss franc is due to the Swiss government announcing that the country’s exports could not tolerate any further run up in the franc’s value, and that the Swiss central bank would print new francs to accommodate future inflows of dollars and euros. In other words, Switzerland was forced to import US inflation in order to protect its exports.

Here is nonfarm payroll employment. As you can see, the US economy has been in recession for four years despite the easiest monetary policy and largest government deficits in US history.

Here is consumer confidence. Do you see a recovery despite all the recovery hype from politicians and the financial media?

Here is housing starts. Do you see a recovery?

Here is real GDP deflated according to the methodology used when I was in the US Treasury.

Here is real retail sales deflated by the traditional, as contrasted with the current, substitution-based, measure of inflation.

These graphs courtesy of John Williams make it completely clear that there is no economic recovery. In place of recovery, we have hype from politicians, Wall Street, and the presstitute media. The “recovery” is no more real than Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” or Iranian “nukes” or the Obama regime’s phony story of assassinating last year an undefended Osama bin Laden, allegedly the mastermind of Islamic terrorism, left by al Qaeda to the mercy of a US Seal team, a man who was widely reported to have died from renal failure in December 2001, a man who denied any responsibility for 9/11.

A government and media that will deceive you about simple things such as inflation, unemployment, and GDP growth, will lie to you about everything.

Poisoned in the Fields

Victims of Agrochemicals Break Their Silence

“My wife washed her face with rain water the day after they fumigated farmland about three kilometers from here and she started getting rashes on her arms and her body. That was a year ago. Now she’s very affected, she’s been diagnosed with lupus and is undergoing chemotherapy.” Jorge Mérola, a farmworker from Villa del Carmen in the middle of Uruguay’s soy region, speaks from the depths of a pain that is easy to understand, but almost impossible to relay to others.

A local doctor explained that the marks on Mérola’s skin are caused by “agrochemicals” sprayed over fields from small planes. “Six of my calves died with the same symptoms. They go stiff, they have no muscular mobility, and their jaws lock. The same thing happened to some neighbors,” he explains between long pauses.

When asked why he didn’t report what happened to his wife, Mérola reveals his abysmal distrust of authorities: “I didn’t want to report this to the Ministry of Livestock because a while ago there were a lot of fish dying in the Yi river, and their response was that it was because there wasn’t enough oxygen in the water. With that kind of response, I didn’t want to report anything.”

Mérola’s testimony is one of the many included in the video Collateral Damages (Efectos Colaterales), a documentary made by Redes Amigos de la Tierra Uruguay (Friends of the Earth in Uruguay) and the Programa Uruguay Sustentable (Sustainable Uruguay Program). Reporters Ignacio Cirio and Edgardo Matiolli led the production and it will be released in early February. It can be found on Radio Mundo’s web page. It’s the first visual work that presents proof of the serious human consequences of fumigations.

Breaking the Silence

All the workers interviewed by Cirio demonstrate a keen understanding of the changes in local production: the introduction of crops like soy and fumigation with agrochemicals, the spread of monoculture farming to such an extent that “you see yourself getting closed in on,” as Isabel Olivo, from the Rural Women’s Group Network, puts it. Despite being active in grassroots organizations, Olivo admits “you feel like you have no weapons to fight it.”

Mérola’s case shows the solitude of those affected by fumigations—a solitude characterized by the distance and absence of the State and the complicity of actors like doctors who should be playing an active role. In spite of the seriousness of what happened to his wife, Mérola did only one interview, on the Sarandí del Yi radio station, which Cirio picked up and turned into the beginning of his investigation. Today his project is one of the very few to break the silence.

“Those affected don’t see the State as an entity that guarantees their rights,” he affirms, after traveling hundreds of kilometers across the areas most affected by fumigations like Florida, Flores, Durazno, Paysandú and Salto.

“Professor Elsa Gomez filed a complaint after her school was sprayed two times in a row. When public health workers interviewed her, they demanded proof that would link the health problems with agrochemicals. The State doesn’t protect them, but it makes demands of them,” concludes Cirio. Gomez teaches in a small town in the province of Durazno. In Collateral Damages she explains how the planes sprayed pesticides just meters from the school over the course of several days in 2009 without anyone showing, at least publicly, the slightest sign of concern.

“There are many things that people don’t want to come out and say, because they’re neighbors, because they rely on each other, but I know of cases that have been covered up and I see how they go out to fumigate with broken equipment,” says Luis Ferreira, who was president of the school commission in Merinos, in the province of Paysandú. His son, like other children, has stomach problems and vomits every time the planes fumigate less than 100 meters away from the school.

In his film, Cirio interviews beekeepers who have watched their hives disappear, small-scale livestock owners and farmers, village neighbors, nurses and teachers who discover the consequences of agrochemicals for their students’ bodies. He didn’t interview any doctors. When asked about the silence of those who are aware of the situation and its causes, he reflects: “Businesses make deals with schools, social clubs and hospitals. The doctors don’t say anything.”

On several occasions the team that made Collateral Damages had problems with “mosquito” (a vehicle for land fumigation) drivers who saw them filming. Some of them got out of their vehicles and wanted to know what the piece was about. “They have orders not to let themselves be filmed,” Cirio concludes.

In spite of the difficulties, he found that rural and small town inhabitants were aware of the growing problem they are facing. This is because, among other things, “they are informed, they travel, they ask questions and, for this reason, they demand that the government carry out an in-depth study of the situation.” Onelia Dominguez, a nurse’s assistant in the town of Rincón de Valentín, believes that the workers don’t demand adequate working conditions because they’re afraid they’ll lose their jobs. She agrees with Cirio that “no one has ever come to investigate.”

Overcoming the Solitude

Although the indifference of both the government and the university is the main cause for the silence among the victims, this is also a population with little opportunity to make itself heard.

In March of 2001, the Uruguayan Ministry of Livestock, Agriculture and Fishing prohibited aerial spraying closer than 500 meters from schools and land spraying closer than 300 meters “to diminish the risk of exposure to intrinsically dangerous substances.” But to comply with the rules, someone must control or report abuses. Isabel Cárcamo, from the Red de Acción en Plaguicidas (RAP-AL), said, “We have had the experience of working with communities that find it very difficult to denounce the impact of fumigations, either because they have relatives working in crop-dusting or because it’s their livelihood, or because they live in small towns where everyone knows everyone and the business even ‘helps’ the community.”

It’s the same problem that the anthropologist Carlos Santos detected. Beekeepers, for example, “confront the dilemma of not reporting the death rate of the bees so they don’t get kicked off the place where they’ve been allowed to set up their hives or lose whatever space they have,” because filing a complaint causes trouble for the landowner who rents the land used for growing soy.

Dr. María Elena Curbelo pointed out that in the vicinity of Bella Unión, an agroindustrial city where she’s been working for 16 years, rice and sugar cane plantations are sprayed with pesticides. This has led to congenital deformities in newborns and year-round respiratory problems.

She affirmed that there are various cases of pediatric leukemia in the region. She recognized that “while there were fumigations on the edge of town and one part of the population wanted to complain, the workers preferred to not risk their jobs and the people opted to remain silent.”

Most people affected by fumigation live in small towns, where everyone knows each other and there exists a persistent “cultura de esperar”–a culture of expecting someone else to solve their problems. People look to rural bosses (caudillos), landowners, and now businessmen or the government. In Uruguay, they are small towns with between 400 and two thousand inhabitants.

The rural population is systematically declining throughout Latin America. Uruguay is perhaps the most alarming case– only five percent of Uruguayans live in rural areas. Adults between the ages of 50 to 65 represent 42% of the rural population. It’s not hard to conclude that the population is in a slow process of extinction. The model of production with its disastrous health effects adds to out-migration by making rural life inhospitable.

“The Ministry of Public Health can’t recruit doctors who want to live in these places. Under such conditions,” Cirio says, “there’s an awareness of the seriousness, but there are only a few isolated efforts made with little support from organizations or professional associations.”

Cárcamo insists that powerful interests are behind the silence surrounding the effects of agrochemicals. “There is no political interest. If there were, it would be necessary to question the country’s so-called production model and the use of biofuel, among other things. The issue will really only be exposed when a political decision is made. One example is the contrast between the aggressive campaign against tobacco, while nothing is said about the impacts of the daily ingestion of agrochemicals through food and water. And the worst thing is that smoking is something you can choose, but eating and drinking water aren’t.”

Brazil, World Champion in Agrochemicals

According to a recent report by the Movimento Sem Terra (MST), Brazilian society is more and more aware of the health problems caused by agrochemical contamination. “Toxins are one of the pillars that sustain the agribusiness production model,” the organization affirms. It defines the model as export-oriented and characterized by the expulsion of families from the countryside.

Since 2008, Brazil holds first place in world rankings of agrochemical use, even though it is not the largest agricultural producer. Billions of liters are poured onto crops, and this is a practice that even the MST has not escaped. In 2010, a national campaign against agrochemicals was born and created official entities like the National Cancer Institute (INCA), Fiocruz and the Sanitary Vigilance Agency. Specialists have no doubt that agrochemicals are related to cancer. According to the INCA, in the next two years one million Brazilians will be diagnosed with cancer and only six out of every ten of those affected will recover. Furthermore, there will be consequences for millions of people who experience a number of afflictions every year. In a recent conference in Rio de Janeiro, Joâo Pedro Stédile, MST coordinator, complained that in the movement’s settlements “there are instances of breast cancer in 13 and 14 year-old girls” (Carta Maior, December 20).

Brazil’s 2011 Human Rights report, released in December by the Social Network of Justice and Human Rights explains that each year 5,600 people are poisoned with agrochemicals while only half the cases are reported. Based on reports from the Ministry of Health, the report concludes that every year there are 2,300 “suicide attempts” made with agrochemicals. The southern region prides itself on agribusiness, but at the same time this model explains 75 percent of deaths there. This surprising revelation led various scientists to undertake field studies.

One study published in the Revista Brasileira de Saúde Ocupacional by the Ministry of Labor notes the connection between suicides and the massive use of agrochemicals because organophosphates, among other things, produce psychological disorders. “Scientific evidence shows that exposure to pesticides can cause irrevocable health damages. For example, advanced neuropathy is a result of overexposure to organophosphates. Indeed, exposure is associated with a long list of symptoms and with significant deficits in neurobehavioral performance and abnormalities in nervous system functions.

The journal of the Brazilian Association of Postgraduates in Public Health also published case studies based on a survey of 102 rural workers from Nova Friburgo. They concluded that there is a direct relationship between emotional and psychological disturbances and exposure to agrochemicals.

Argentina: Doctors in Fumigated Towns

In the agricultural cycle of 1990, the Argentine countryside received 35 million pounds of pesticides. In 2010, agribusinesses used more than 300 million liters of toxins. The numbers continue to grow. In 1996, when fumigation with glyphosate began, about two liters were used per hectare. By 2010, the figure had increased to more than ten liters, and there is some land fumigated with more than twenty liters per hectare.

This data was presented during the First National Conference of Doctors in Fumigated Towns, in August 2010 in Córdoba, Argentina. The conference was held by the Department of Medical Sciences of the National University of Cordoba. A hundred and sixty doctors from ten provinces and dozens of towns attended.

The conference led to the creation of the University Environment and Health Network, committed to following up on health problems created by agrotoxins.

The event’s final report states, “The doctors pointed out that, generally speaking, they have served the same populations for more than 25 years, but they find that recent years have been completely different, and they link the differences directly to systematic fumigation with pesticides.” Rodolfo Páramo, pediatric and neonatal doctor at the Malabrigo hospital in the Norte de Santa Fe reported the disturbing rate of twelve deformations of 200 births in 2006.

The neonatal service at the Perrando Hospital in Resistencia, Chaco, released its own statistics: in 1997, there were 19.5 deformities in every 10,000 newborns. In 2008, the number tripled to 85.3. In the same period, the land area planted in soybeans in the province quadrupled.

The final conference report took into account the many testimonies and reports presented and concluded, “It’s important to point out that official epidemiological reports are scant. According to what the doctors say —relying on their own figures acquired through observation— public health officials haven’t heeded the alarm from health groups and reports from the general population.” The Chaco report is “one of the only such reports generated publicly with interjurisdictional participation.”

Medardo Ávila Vázquez, coordinator of the medical network, stated that despite the scientific evidence presented, authorities from national and health care sectors are unwilling to accept reality and, in particular, unwilling to acknowledge the pathological changes in the rural population.

He decided to work with groups like the Mothers of Ituzaingó, a neighborhood group in Córdoba surrounded by soy where 300 out of 5,000 inhabitants have cancer, or the Stop Fumigating Collective that opted to protest instead of dying in silence. This group insists that “there is no controllable or safe fumigation,” which is why all fumigation should be stopped.

The Ituzaingó case shows that fumigations affect the poorest of the poor. Without organization and public protest, nothing will be gained. Back in 2002 the Mothers condemned “endosulfan and heavy metals in water tanks in people’s homes,” but to this day their children keep dying of leukemia and suffering from deformities.

Avila’s data is deeply disturbing. “There are more than 12 million people affected by fumigation in the country. In these areas, the rate of birth defects is four times higher than in the cities. Cancer is responsible for 33% of deaths in Barrio Ituzaingó—the leading cause of death— while in big cities the primary causes are cardiovascular problems, which accounts for 27% of the deaths, followed by cancer at 19%.”

Obama’s Refinancing Swindle

This is the kind of thing I wish diehard Obama-maniacs would pay attention to when they start up on how great he is. The fact is he's just another politician catering to his financial supporters. Otherwise, anyone: feel free to explain why this ISN'T a horrible idea.--jef

The Banks Want to Dump Millions of Risky Mortgages Onto FHA

Barack Obama’s new housing refinance plan has nothing to do with “lowering monthly mortgage payments so responsible borrowers can stay in their homes”. That’s all public relations bunkum. The truth is the banks want to offload their garbage mortgages onto Uncle Sam to avoid hundreds of billions of dollars in losses. That’s what this refi-ruse is really all about.

The administration estimates that 3.5 million people with private label mortgages will be eligible to refinance into loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) Many of these are high risk mortgages that will eventually go into foreclosure which is why the banks want to get them off their books. Regrettably, Obama is only too happy to help them achieve that goal. Here’s a little background from the Christian Science Monitor:
“The nation now has about 30 million mortgages backed by government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs), mainly Fannie or Freddie…. About 3 million of those are “under water,” meaning the loan is now bigger than home value. Another 20 million or more have been underwritten entirely by private lenders. Some 35 percent of those, 7 million or more, are under water.” (“Obama plan to lower mortgage payments could help, but how much?”, Christian Science Monitor)
Why are so many more “private label” mortgages underwater than loans that were issued by
Fannie or Freddie?

Because the banks were lending money to every Tom, Dick and Harry who could fog a mirror. It was all a big joke. The banks didn’t really give a hoot if the borrowers were creditworthy or not because they were bundling the mortgages together into mortgage backed securities (MBS) and selling them off to investors around the world, so documentation and loan standards didn’t really matter to them. They got their pound of flesh whether the loans blew up or not. Here’s a little refresher from the Washington Post on how we got to where we are today:
“The biggest culprits in the housing fiasco came from the private sector, and more specifically from a mortgage industry that was out of control. These included lenders who originated home
loans, investment bankers who packaged them into securities, rating agencies that misjudged these securities, and global investors who bought them without much, if any, study…. 
Between 2004 and 2007, private lenders originated three quarters of all subprime and alt-A mortgage loans. These were loans to financially fragile homeowners with credit scores under 660, well below the U.S. average, which is closer to 700. But only a fourth of such loans were originated by government agencies, including Fannie, Freddie and the Federal Housing Administration. 
The dollar amount of subprime and alt-A loans made during this period by the private sector was jaw-dropping, reaching nearly $600 billion at the height of the lending frenzy in 2006. …. By contrast, government lenders made just over $100 billion in subprime and alt-A loans in 2006. Even in 2007, when the housing market was beginning its free fall, private lenders still handed out more than $300 billion via these very shaky mortgage loans…(“Fannie and Freddie don’t deserve blame for bubble,” Mark Zandi, Washington Post)
The vast amount of bad mortgages were generated by privately-owned banks, not government-sponsored entities. Keep that in mind the next time your loudmouth brother-in-law starts spouting off about how the GSE’s or the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) caused the financial meltdown. The banks were 100 percent responsible. And now they’re back for a double-dip because they still have tons of these wilting loans in their vaults and they need to get rid of them pronto. And that’s where Obama comes in. The banks are counting on the dissembler in chief to make it look like this refi-claptrap is really an effort to “provide a bit of relief for an ailing economy” or “to help working folks make their mortgage payment”. It’s all hogwash.

The reason the banks have waited this long (for another bailout) is because the 50-state robosigning case has dragged on longer than they’d anticipated. They figured the 50 state Attorneys General would roll over and play dead like the other politicians they deal with. But that hasn’t happened. The legal fight continues with no end in sight. What the banks are hoping for is a ruling “that prevents states from effectively challenging future foreclosure actions that are based on faulty prior assignments.” In other words, they want to be able to boot you out of your home whether they have proper documentation or not.

Meanwhile, the backlog of homes (that’s in some stage of foreclosure) continues to grow to record levels. When the sluice-gates finally open, an ocean of distressed homes will surge onto the market sending prices plunging and leaving bank balance sheets deep in the red. Here’s more from CNBC’s Diana Olick:
“To give you an idea of just how much the “robo” scandal is toying with the numbers, LPS compared states that require foreclosures to go through the courts versus states that don’t (judicial versus non-judicial) and found the following: 
- 50 percent of loans in foreclosure in judicial states have not made a payment in two years, as opposed to 28 percent in non-judicial states. 
Foreclosure sale rates in non-judicial states are about four times those in judicial states.” (“Robo-Reality: Final Foreclosures Fall as Pipeline Swells” Realty Check, CNBC)
The backlog of distressed homes is much greater than the data would indicate. Neither the official nor the shadow inventory accurately accounts for the bulging number of homes (10 million) currently in the pipeline.

That’s why the administration is looking for creative ways to whittle down the supply. One idea is to sell foreclosures in bulk to deep-pocket investors with the proviso that they convert them into rentals. But why give Wall Street fatcats the privilege of buying foreclosures at a discount when mom and pop investors are already scarfing them up like hotcakes? How fair is that?

The driving force behind the foreclosures-to-rental scam is that the banks want to remove the GSE’s stock of distressed homes from the competition so they can fetch a better price when their REO’s hit the market. Once again, the policy is being tailored to meet the needs of the banks not the people. Here’s more from Olick about the risks this poses to FHA:
“Critics will also argue that the FHA, which now has an inordinately, historically large share of the mortgage market, is in no position to take on any more risk. The FHA could be considered “underwater” itself, guaranteeing about $1 trillion in mortgages but sitting on just a $1.2 billion dollar cushion to cover losses. 
To that end, officials say they could create a separate fund for these loans, not the regular mutual mortgage insurance fund (MMI). This would be a special risk fund, designed to handle high losses.” (“Obama’s Mortgage Refi Plan to Go Through FHA”, CNBC)
How do you like that? The FHA is already leveraged at 100-to-1 and the banks want to add even more debt. And they want to do it in the most deceptive way possible, by creating an off-balance sheet investment vehicle where the red ink can be hidden from public view.

To be eligible for Obama’s refi-program, borrowers will need a credit score (FICO) above 580,(which is extremely low), they’ll have to be employed, and they’ll have to be current on their mortgage payments. (for the last 6 months) In other words, lending standards are being eased so the banks can dump as many high-risk mortgages on the FHA as possible. Obama breezily refers to these abysmal lending standards as “cutting through the red tape.”

Applicants will also be able to refinance under the Obama’s program with loan balances up to (get this) 140 percent of the value of their home. So, even if you owe $560,000 on a home that is currently worth $400,000–and you don’t have a dime’s worth of equity in the house–have no fear–you can still get money from Uncle Sugar. This isn’t a good way to keep people in their homes. It just turns them into debt slaves.

One last thing, all the talk about a “bank tax” is pure blather. The banks will be more than happy to cough-up $5 billion or so if it means they’ll be able to jettison the hundreds of billions in crappy loans on their books. As far as they’re concerned, that’s money “well spent”.

Koch Brothers Convene Super-Secret Billionaires' Meeting for 2012 Elections

Some of America's wealthiest Republicans flew into Palm Springs last weekend to update their stealthy political strategy for 2012.
By Lee Fang, Republic Report
Posted on February 4, 2012

At a retreat last weekend, dozens of wealthy donors convened in a large golf resort in Indian Wells, Calif. for a four day conference to raise money and plot out election year strategy, the Republic Report has confirmed. We traveled to the conference, and spoke to a few of the attendees.

The summit, organized by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, was cloaked in secrecy. Helicopters, private security and police officers from neighboring cities patrolled the area constantly. In previous years, Supreme Court justices, some of the wealthiest businessmen in the country and Republican politicians like Congressman Paul Ryan have all gathered at these twice-annual events. The Esmerelda Renaissance, the conference venue this year, was guarded carefully with every entrance blocked and the entire 560-room resort rented out. I arrived at the hotel the night before the event, but was followed closely by security and asked to leave the next morning before the Koch meeting guests arrived.

Though the donors will funnel tens of millions of dollars into the election this year, they will not have to disclose a single cent. Using an elaborate array of foundations, nonprofits and other legal entities, the Koch network sponsored bus tours, attack ads, think tanks, and hired Tea Party organizers to shape the midterm elections two years ago. Now, they appear to be expanding their effort.

The most the public knows about these meetings has been culled from leaked audio tapes,reporting from journalists like Ken Vogel, and from an invitation I exclusively reported back in October 2010. The document I posted over a year ago explained that during the meetings, strategy is discussed, from legislative campaigns to judicial elections, and money is raised from an assortment of executives from the oil, banking, manufacturing, and real estate industries.

At the Palm Springs Airport last weekend, I ran into Phil Kerpen, the vice president of Americans for Prosperity, the Tea Party group founded by David Koch. Kerpen, who was in a rush to make it to the event, didn’t say much about the agenda. Kerpen’s group recently purchased $6 million in undisclosed attack ads against President Obama, the largest such buy of the entire campaign cycle so far.

Kerpen asked how I knew about the conference. “I thought they had stopped all leaks,” he muttered, as I walked with him through the baggage claim. Eventually he relented a bit and told me that he hopes to help achieve “aggressive cuts to government spending and to regulation to allow robust economic growth” in January 2013.

At the last Koch meeting, in Vail, Colo., Charles Koch raised several million dollars from his cohorts, while reffering to President Obama as “Saddam Hussein” and this year’s election as the “mother of all wars.” Kerpen disputed the reporting of Charles Koch’s comments, but did not elaborate on what the Koch Industries CEO really meant.

“Ask your leaker to post my speech, because it’s very good,” he added, before getting in a car with two associates.

The added secrecy was apparent even to local reporters, who were confused about why the multi-golf course Esmerelda Renaissance was locked down and why the hotel staff couldn’t talk to anyone about what was going on.

The jets provided many clues into who was attending the event. A private plane owned by wealthy mutual fund manager Foster Friess flew to the area the morning of the conference, and left the day it ended. Friess is a social conservative who has gained headlines recently for his massive backing of a super-PAC supporting Rick Santorum. He has also attended the Koch meeting in the past.

A plane belonging to billionaire investor Phil Anschutz, another regular Koch attendee and major conservative financier, arrived at a nearby airport during the event. We identified over half a dozen private planes owned by major Republican donors that also arrived in the Indian Wells area during the event, but none of their owners would respond to requests for comment. Some, like Kenny Troutt, a financier of a super-PAC that supported Rick Perry’s bid for the presidency, seem to suggest new participants to the Koch meetings.

A jet owned by Continental Resources, a large fracking company that dominates the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota, arrived at the event. The company, headed by Obama critic Harold Hamm, refused to answer any questions about the Koch meeting.

About a day after our call, a Web site that tracks private jet flights posted a note about Continental Resources: “This aircraft is not available for tracking per request from the owner/operator.”

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Democrats Who Unleashed Wall Street and Got Away With It

Thursday, February 2, 2012 by
by Robert Scheer

That Lawrence Summers, a president emeritus of Harvard, is a consummate distorter of fact and logic is not a revelation. That he and Bill Clinton, the president he served as treasury secretary, can still get away with disclaiming responsibility for our financial meltdown is an insult to reason.

Yet, there they go again. Clinton is presented, in a fawning cover story in the current edition of Esquire magazine, as “Someone we can all agree on. ... Even his staunchest enemies now regard his presidency as the good old days.” In a softball interview, Clinton is once again allowed to pass himself off as a job creator without noting the subsequent loss of jobs resulting from the collapse of the housing derivatives bubble that his financial deregulatory policies promoted.

At least Summers, in a testier interview by British journalist Krishnan Guru-Murthy of Channel 4 News, was asked some tough questions about his responsibility as Clinton’s treasury secretary for the financial collapse that occurred some years later. He, like Clinton, still defends the reversal of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, a 1999 repeal that destroyed the wall between investment and commercial banking put into place by Franklin Roosevelt in response to the Great Depression.

“I think the evidence is that I am right about that. If you look at the big players, Lehman and Bear Stearns were both standalone investment banks,” Summers replied, referring to two investment banks allowed to fold. Summers is very good at obscuring the obvious truth—that the too-big-to-fail banks, made legal by Clinton-era deregulation, required taxpayer bailouts.

The point of Glass-Steagall was to prevent jeopardizing commercial banks holding the savings of average citizens. Summers knows full well that the passage of the repeal of Glass-Steagall was pushed initially by Citigroup, a mammoth merger of investment and commercial banking that create the largest financial institution in the world, an institution that eventually had to be bailed out with taxpayer funds to avoid economic disaster for millions of ordinary Americans. He also knows that Citigroup—where Robert Rubin, who preceded Summers as Clinton’s treasury secretary, played leading roles during a critical time—specialized in precisely the mortgage and other debt packages and insurance scams that were the source of America’s economic crisis.

Even Clinton, in a rare moment of honest appraisal of his record, conceded that his signing of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act (CFMA), legalizing those credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations, was based on bad advice. That advice would have had to come from Summers, his point man pushing the CFMA legislation, which Clinton signed into law during his lame-duck days.

When the British interviewer reminded him of Clinton’s comment, Summers, as is his style, simply bristled: “Again, you make everything so simple, when in fact it’s complicated. Would it have been better if the whole financial reform legislation had passed in 1999, or 1998, or 1992? Yes, of course it would have been better. But … at the time Bill Clinton was president, there essentially were no credit default swaps. So the issue that became a serious problem really wasn’t an issue that was on the horizon.”

That is a lie. Credit default swaps had been sold at least since 1991, and collateralized debt obligations of all sorts quickly became the rage during the Clinton years. Summers surely remembers that Brooksley Born, the legal expert on such matters that Clinton appointed to head the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), warned about the ballooning danger of those unregulated derivatives. Born, who served with Summers as one of four members of the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets, tried repeatedly and in vain to get her colleagues to act. When her pleas fell on deaf ears she issued a “concept release” calling attention to an unregulated derivatives market that was even then spiraling out of control.

The CFMA legislation that Summers pushed and Clinton signed was a specific rebuke to Born’s efforts. As Summers testified at the time before a Senate committee: “As you know, Mr. Chairman, the CFTC’s recent concept release has been a matter of great concern, not merely to Treasury, but to all those with an interest in the OTC [over-the-counter] derivatives market. In our view, the Release has cast the shadow of regulatory uncertainty over an otherwise thriving market—raising risks for stability and competitiveness of American derivative trading. We believe it quite important that the doubts be eliminated.”

Those doubts were eliminated by the new law exempting all of that troubling OTC derivatives trading from all existing regulations and regulatory agencies. Summers argued in his congressional testimony that there was no reason for any government regulation of what turned out to be tens of trillions of dollars in toxic assets:

“First, the parties to these kinds of contracts are largely sophisticated financial institutions that would appear to be eminently capable of protecting themselves from fraud and counterparty insolvencies and most of which are already subject to basic safety and soundness regulation under existing banking and securities law.

“Second, given the nature of the underlying assets involved—namely supplies of financial exchange and other financial instruments—there would seem to be little scope for market manipulation of the kind seen in traditional agricultural commodities, the supply of which is inherently limited and changeable.”

Has any economist ever gotten it so wrong?

Wall Street Journal Slammed for Giving Platform to Climate Change Deniers

Wednesday, February 1, 2012 by Common Dreams

In response to an op-ed printed late last week in the Wall Street Journal, signed by sixteen 'scientists' and entitled, 'No Need to Panic About Global Warming,' forty climate scientists have penned a letter, printed in today's WSJ, arguing that taking advice on climate change from scientists who have either "no expertise in climate science" or "extreme views that are out of step with nearly every other climate expert" is akin to allowing dentists perform heart surgery.

A letter from some 40 leading scientists, which the Wall Street Journal published, noted that 97% of researchers who publish on climate change agree the phenomenon is real and caused by humans.

Suzanne Goldenberg reports for The Guardian:
The Wall Street Journal  has received a dressing down from a large group of leading scientists for promoting retrograde and out-of-date views on climate change
In an opinion piece run by the Journal on Wednesday, nearly 40 scientists, including acknowledged climate change experts, take on the paper for publishing an article disputing the evidence on global warming. 
The offending article, No Need to Panic About Global Warming, which appeared last week, argued that climate change was a cunning ploy deployed by governments to raise taxes and by non-profit organisations to solicit donations to save the planet. 
It was signed by 16 scientists who don't subscribe to the conventional wisdom that climate change is happening and is largely man-made - but as Wednesday's letter points out, many of those who signed don't actually work on climate science.

Here's the full letter, along with the signatories:

Do you consult your dentist about your heart condition? In science, as in any area, reputations are based on knowledge and expertise in a field and on published, peer-reviewed work. If you need surgery, you want a highly experienced expert in the field who has done a large number of the proposed operations. 
You published "No Need to Panic About Global Warming" (op-ed, Jan. 27) on climate change by the climate-science equivalent of dentists practicing cardiology. While accomplished in their own fields, most of these authors have no expertise in climate science. The few authors who have such expertise are known to have extreme views that are out of step with nearly every other climate expert. This happens in nearly every field of science. For example, there is a retrovirus expert who does not accept that HIV causes AIDS. And it is instructive to recall that a few scientists continued to state that smoking did not cause cancer, long after that was settled science. 
Climate experts know that the long-term warming trend has not abated in the past decade. In fact, it was the warmest decade on record. Observations show unequivocally that our planet is getting hotter. And computer models have recently shown that during periods when there is a smaller increase of surface temperatures, warming is occurring elsewhere in the climate system, typically in the deep ocean. Such periods are a relatively common climate phenomenon, are consistent with our physical understanding of how the climate system works, and certainly do not invalidate our understanding of human-induced warming or the models used to simulate that warming. 
Thus, climate experts also know what one of us, Kevin Trenberth, actually meant by the out-of-context, misrepresented quote used in the op-ed. Mr. Trenberth was lamenting the inadequacy of observing systems to fully monitor warming trends in the deep ocean and other aspects of the short-term variations that always occur, together with the long-term human-induced warming trend. 
The National Academy of Sciences of the U.S. (set up by President Abraham Lincoln to advise on scientific issues), as well as major national academies of science around the world and every other authoritative body of scientists active in climate research have stated that the science is clear: The world is heating up and humans are primarily responsible. Impacts are already apparent and will increase. Reducing future impacts will require significant reductions in emissions of heat-trapping gases. 
Research shows that more than 97% of scientists actively publishing in the field agree that climate change is real and human caused. It would be an act of recklessness for any political leader to disregard the weight of evidence and ignore the enormous risks that climate change clearly poses. In addition, there is very clear evidence that investing in the transition to a low-carbon economy will not only allow the world to avoid the worst risks of climate change, but could also drive decades of economic growth. Just what the doctor ordered.
  • Kevin Trenberth, Sc.D, Distinguished Senior Scientist, Climate Analysis Section, National Center for Atmospheric Research
  • Richard Somerville, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego
  • Katharine Hayhoe, Ph.D., Director, Climate Science Center, Texas Tech University
  • Rasmus Benestad, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, The Norwegian Meteorological Institute
  • Gerald Meehl, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Climate and Global Dynamics Division, National Center for Atmospheric Research
  • Michael Oppenheimer, Ph.D., Professor of Geosciences; Director, Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy, Princeton University
  • Peter Gleick, Ph.D., co-founder and president, Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security
  • Michael C. MacCracken, Ph.D., Chief Scientist, Climate Institute, Washington
  • Michael Mann, Ph.D., Director, Earth System Science Center, Pennsylvania State University
  • Steven Running, Ph.D., Professor, Director, Numerical Terradynamic Simulation Group, University of Montana
  • Robert Corell, Ph.D., Chair, Arctic Climate Impact Assessment; Principal, Global Environment Technology Foundation
  • Dennis Ojima, Ph.D., Professor, Senior Research Scientist, and Head of the Dept. of Interior's Climate Science Center at Colorado State University
  • Josh Willis, Ph.D., Climate Scientist, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
  • Matthew England, Ph.D., Professor, Joint Director of the Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Australia
  • Ken Caldeira, Ph.D., Atmospheric Scientist, Dept. of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution
  • Warren Washington, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, National Center for Atmospheric Research
  • Terry L. Root, Ph.D., Senior Fellow, Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University
  • David Karoly, Ph.D., ARC Federation Fellow and Professor, University of Melbourne, Australia
  • Jeffrey Kiehl, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Climate and Global Dynamics Division, National Center for Atmospheric Research
  • Donald Wuebbles, Ph.D., Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Illinois
  • Camille Parmesan, Ph.D., Professor of Biology, University of Texas; Professor of Global Change Biology, Marine Institute, University of Plymouth, UK
  • Simon Donner, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Canada
  • Barrett N. Rock, Ph.D., Professor, Complex Systems Research Center and Department of Natural Resources, University of New Hampshire
  • David Griggs, Ph.D., Professor and Director, Monash Sustainability Institute, Monash University, Australia
  • Roger N. Jones, Ph.D., Professor, Professorial Research Fellow, Centre for Strategic Economic Studies, Victoria University, Australia
  • William L. Chameides, Ph.D., Dean and Professor, School of the Environment, Duke University
  • Gary Yohe, Ph.D., Professor, Economics and Environmental Studies, Wesleyan University, CT
  • Robert Watson, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Chair of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia
  • Steven Sherwood, Ph.D., Director, Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
  • Chris Rapley, Ph.D., Professor of Climate Science, University College London, UK
  • Joan Kleypas, Ph.D., Scientist, Climate and Global Dynamics Division, National Center for Atmospheric Research
  • James J. McCarthy, Ph.D., Professor of Biological Oceanography, Harvard University
  • Stefan Rahmstorf, Ph.D., Professor of Physics of the Oceans, Potsdam University, Germany
  • Julia Cole, Ph.D., Professor, Geosciences and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Arizona
  • William H. Schlesinger, Ph.D., President, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
  • Jonathan Overpeck, Ph.D., Professor of Geosciences and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Arizona
  • Eric Rignot, Ph.D., Senior Research Scientist, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory; Professor of Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine
  • Wolfgang Cramer, Professor of Global Ecology, Mediterranean Institute for Biodiversity and Ecology, CNRS, Aix-en-Provence, France

The Rapidly Expanding, Secret 'No-Fly List'

AP report shows number has doubled in past year to 21,000
Thursday, February 2, 2012 by Common Dreams

The classified list of individuals on the U.S. government's "no-fly list" has more than doubled in the last year.
According to the Associated Press, the list now has jumped from 10,000 a year ago to 21,000 now. 

They add:
The flood of new names began after the failed Christmas 2009 bombing of a Detroit-bound jetliner when the US government lowered the standard for putting people on the list and scoured its files for anyone who qualified. "We learned a lot about the watchlisting process and made strong improvements, which continue to this day," said Timothy Healy, director of the Terrorist Screening Center, which produces the no-fly list.Among the most significant new standard is that a person doesn't have to be considered only a threat to aviation to be placed on the list.People considered a broader threat to domestic or international security or who attended a terror training camp are also included, said a US counter-terrorism official who spoke on condition of anonymity. As agencies complete the reviews of their files, the pace of growth is expected to slow, the counter-terrorism official said.
On its website the Terrorist Screening Center writes this of its mission:
Consolidate the Government’s Watchlists into a Single Database 
Before the TSC was created, various government agencies maintained nearly a dozen separate watchlists designed to screen persons of interest to U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials. While some lists were shared, there was little integration and cooperation, and there was no central clearinghouse where all law enforcement and government screeners could access the best information about a potential person of interest. That all changed when TSC consolidated the government’s approach to terrorism screening and today, the TSC is the global authority for watchlisting and identifying known and suspected terrorists.Maintain the Terrorist Watchlist, the No-Fly List, and the Selectee ListThe Terrorist Watchlist (a.k.a., the Terrorist Screening Database or TSDB), contains thousands of records that are updated daily and shared with federal, state, local, territorial, tribal law enforcement, and Intelligence Community members as well as international partners to ensure that individuals with links to terrorism are appropriately screened. The No-Fly and Selectee Lists are two much smaller subsets of the Terrorist Watchlist.

In June of 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the no-fly list.
"More and more Americans who have done nothing wrong find themselves unable to fly, and in some cases unable to return to the U.S., without any explanation whatsoever from the government," said Ben Wizner, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. "A secret list that deprives people of the right to fly and places them into effective exile without any opportunity to object is both un-American and unconstitutional." 
"Without a reasonable way for people to challenge their inclusion on the list, there's no way to keep innocent people off it," said Nusrat Choudhury, a staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. "The government's decision to prevent people from flying without giving them a chance to defend themselves has a huge impact on people's lives - including their ability to perform their jobs, see their families and, in the case of U.S. citizens, to return home to the United States from abroad."

The Health Care Racket

Follow the Bills

Looking at millions of individual bills that makeup the 2.7 trillion dollars of annual health care costs opens a gigantic window on the massive waste, redundancy, profiteering, fraud and sometimes criminal over-billing.

Here is a partial example of what I mean, in the words of Philip M. Boffey, the estimable science writer for the New York Times:

“Why does an appendectomy in Germany cost roughly a quarter what it costs in the United States? ($3,285 compared to $13,123). Or an MRI scan cost less than a third as much, on average, in Canada? ($304 compared to $1,009).
“Americans continue to spend more on health care than patients anywhere else. In 2009, we spent $7,960 per person, twice as much as France, which is known for providing very good health services. And for all that spending, we get very mixed results—some superb, some average, some inferior—compared with other advanced nations.”

Moreover, France and Germany, Italy, England, Canada, Belgium, Sweden and all other western countries plus Japan and Taiwan cover almost all their citizens, unlike the U.S. where 50,000,000 people are uninsured.

Boffey, who wrote a book on the National Academy of Sciences, (The Brain Bank of America: An Inquiry into the Politics of Science), under our sponsorship in 1975 goes on to cite the comparative price report of the International Federation of Health Plans in 2010. They are stunning! For Britain, Canada, France, Germany and the U.S. respectively, the average cost in dollars for bypass surgery is $13,998, $22,212, $16,325, $27,237 and in the U.S. $59,770. For cataract surgery the bill is $1,299, $927, $3,352, N.A. and in the U.S. $14,764.

Boffey adds other explanatory factors. These include higher administrative costs to deal with insurance paperwork, higher insurance company profits and executive compensation and less developed electronic health records leading to costly errors.

Except for Germany there are somewhat longer waiting times for some patients to see a specialist in these countries. But in the U.S. seeing specialists is often prohibitively expensive, and if you cannot afford such services, that is the longest waiting time of all.

A recent commentary in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings last August by Charles. W. Slack and Warner V. Slack, MD suggests another compelling comparison—between outcomes in different states in the U.S. They ask “why, for example, do Mississippi, Louisiana, and Georgia have such a high rate of mortality amenable to health care when compared with Idaho, Oregon and Washington.” Wide differences between states and counties have been documented regarding the cost of identical operations, frequency of operations such as cesarean sections or hysterectomies and other surgical disparities studied under controlled variables.

Health care bills come with hefty levels of fraud. From the historic study twenty years ago by the then General Accounting Office of the Congress to the present estimates by the nation’s leading expert in this field, Professor Malcolm Sparrow at Harvard University, fully ten percent of all health care expenditures are the result of computerized billing fraud and abuse. That will be $270 billion this year.

Dr. Sparrow, an applied mathematician, says it could be higher if the federal government would simply do a more detailed study. He adds that the enforcement budget should be one percent of the estimable volume of fraud. In actual practice, the enforcement budget is less than one/tenth of one percent, even though every dollar of enforcement brings in at least seventeen dollars back. (See Dr. Sparrow’s website: )

Obviously the corporate fraud lobby is stronger than the taxpayer/consumer lobby in Washington, D.C. But why the health insurance companies, a formidable force in their own right when it comes to protecting its turf against single payer or full Medicare insurance (see do not do more to stop fraudulent billing practices, is a puzzle.

All in all, the health care industry is replete with rackets that neither honest practitioners or regulators find worrisome enough to effectively challenge. The perverse economic incentives in this industry range from third party payments to third party procedures. Add paid-off members of Congress who starve enforcement budgets and the enormous profits that comes from that tired triad “waste, fraud and abuse” and you have a massive problem needing a massive solution.

So, voters, why not start challenging all candidates for elective office to make this vast daily heist a front burner campaign issue.

New Mexico House Passes Bill Calling On Congress To Reverse Citizens United

Citizens United is exactly as they wanted it, too. Money paid to get the candidate in office who will return favors big time.--jef

New Mexico House Passes Bill Calling On Congress To Reverse Citizens United
February 1, 2012
By Stephen D. Foster Jr.

Another blow has been struck against Citizens United, and this time it’s not by a city council. The New Mexico House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday, calling for Congress to overturn Citizens United via Constitutional Amendment. The final vote was 38-29 with one independent and one Republican joining Democrats to rebuke the controversial Supreme Court case that has allowed corporations and the super wealthy to donate unlimited amounts of money to candidates through the unfettered use of SuperPACS.

The New Mexico House joins the city councils of New York City, Albany, Missoula, Los Angeles, and several others across the country in calling for an end to Citizens United. The bill now heads for the New Mexico Senate.

The notion that corporations are people is very unpopular among the American people and the movement for a Constitutional Amendment is only growing, especially since Occupy Wall Street made the repeal of Citizens United one of their key demands. Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been vocal about his support of Citizens United, going so far as to declare that corporations are people in front of a crowd in Iowa. One thing is clear though. The American people do not like the idea of corporate personhood and are furious about corporations buying elections. And rightfully so. The American people want their democracy back.

Dempsey Told Israelis U.S. Won't Join Their War on Iran

Dempsey Told Israelis U.S. Won't Join Their War on Iran
By Gareth Porter

WASHINGTON, Feb 1, 2012 (IPS) - Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told Israeli leaders Jan. 20 that the United States would not participate in a war against Iran begun by Israel without prior agreement from Washington, according to accounts from well-placed senior military officers.

Dempsey's warning, conveyed to both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, represents the strongest move yet by President Barack Obama to deter an Israeli attack and ensure that the United States is not caught up in a regional conflagration with Iran. 

But the Israeli government remains defiant about maintaining its freedom of action to make war on Iran, and it is counting on the influence of right-wing extremist views in U.S. politics to bring pressure to bear on Obama to fall into line with a possible Israeli attack during the election campaign this fall. 

Obama still appears reluctant to break publicly and explicitly with Israel over its threat of military aggression against Iran, even in the absence of evidence Iran has decided to build a nuclear weapon. 

Dempsey's trip was highly unusual, in that there was neither a press conference by the chairman nor any public statement by either side about the substance of his meetings with Israeli leaders. Even more remarkable, no leak about what he said to the Israelis has appeared in either U.S. or Israeli news media, indicating that both sides have regarded what Dempsey said as extremely sensitive. 

The substance of Dempsey's warning to the Israelis has become known, however, to active and retired senior flag officers with connections to the JCS, according to a military source who got it from those officers. 

A spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Commander Patrick McNally, offered no comment Wednesday when IPS asked him about the above account of Dempsey's warning to the Israelis. 

The message carried by Dempsey was the first explicit statement to the Netanyahu government that the United States would not defend Israel if it attacked Iran unilaterally. But Defence Secretary Leon Panetta had given a clear hint in an interview on "Face the Nation" Jan. 8 that the Obama administration would not help defend Israel in a war against Iran that Israel had initiated. 

Asked how the United States would react if Israel were to launch a unilateral attack on Iran, Panetta first emphasised the need for a coordinated policy toward Iran with Israel. But when host Bob Schieffer repeated the question, Panetta said, "If the Israelis made that decision, we would have to be prepared to protect our forces in that situation. And that's what we'd be concerned about." 

Defence Minister Barak had sought to dampen media speculation before Dempsey's arrival that the chairman was coming to put pressure on Israel over its threat to attack Iran, but then proceeded to reiterate the Netanyahu-Barak position that they cannot give up their responsibility for the security of Israel "for anyone, including our American friends". 

There has been no evidence since the Dempsey visit of any change in the Netanyahu government's insistence on maintaining its freedom of action to attack Iran. 

Dempsey's meetings with Netanyahu and Barak also failed to resolve the issue of the joint U.S.-Israeli military exercise geared to a missile attack, "Austere Challenge '12", which had been scheduled for April 2012 but had been postponed abruptly a few days before his arrival in Israel. 

More than two weeks after Dempsey's meeting with Barak, the spokesman for the Pentagon, John Kirby, told IPS, "All I can say is that the exercise will be held later this year." That indicated that there has been no major change in the status of U.S.-Israeli discussions of the issue since the postponement of the exercise was leaked Jan. 15. 

The postponement has been the subject of conflicting and unconvincing explanations from the Israeli side, suggesting disarray in the Netanyahu government over how to handle the issue. 

To add to the confusion, Israeli and U.S. statements left it unclear whether the decision had been unilateral or joint as well as the reasons for the decision. 

Panetta asserted in a news conference Jan. 18 that Barak himself had asked him to postpone the exercise. 

It now clear that both sides had an interest in postponing the exercise and very possibly letting it expire by failing to reach a decision on it. 

The Israelis appear to have two distinct reasons for putting the exercise off, which reflect differences between the interests of Netanyahu and his defence minister. 

Netanyahu's primary interest in relation to the exercise was evidently to give the Republican candidate ammunition to fire at Obama during the fall campaign by insinuating that the postponement was decided at the behest of Obama to reduce tensions with Iran. 

Thus Mark Regev, Netanyahu's spokesman, explained it as a "joint" decision with the United States, adding, "The thinking was it was not the right timing now to conduct such an exercise." 

Barak, however, had an entirely different concern, which was related to the Israeli Defence Forces' readiness to carry out an operation that would involve both attacking Iran's nuclear facilities and minimising the Iranian retaliatory response. 

A former U.S. intelligence analyst who followed the Israeli military closely told IPS he strongly suspects that the IDF has pressed Barak to insist that the Israeli force be at the peak of readiness if and when they are asked to attack Iran. 

The analyst, who insisted on anonymity because of his continuing contacts with U.S. military and intelligence personnel, said the 2006 Lebanon War debacle continues to haunt the thinking of IDF leaders. In that war, it became clear that the IDF had not been ready to handle Hezbollah rocket attacks adequately, and the prestige of the Israeli military suffered a serious blow. 

The insistence of IDF leaders that they never go to war before being fully prepared is a primary consideration for Barak, according to the analyst. "Austere Challenge '12" would inevitably involve a major consumption of military resources, he observes, which would reduce Israeli readiness for war in the short run. 

The concern about a major military exercise actually reducing the IDF's readiness for war against Iran would explain why senior Israeli military officials were reported to have suggested that the reasons for the postponement were mostly "technical and logistical". 

The Israeli military concern about expending scarce resources on the exercise would apply, of course, regardless of whether the exercise was planned for April or late 2012. That fact would help explain why the exercise has not been rescheduled, despite statements from the U.S. side that it will be. 

The U.S. military, however, has its own reasons for being unenthusiastic about the exercise. IPS has learned from a knowledgeable source that, well before the Obama administration began distancing itself from Israel's Iran policy, U.S. Central Command chief James N. Mattis had expressed concern about the implications of an exercise so obviously based on a scenario involving Iranian retaliation for an Israeli attack. 

U.S. officials have been quoted as suspecting that the Israeli request for a postponement of the exercise indicated that Israel wanted to leave its options open for conducting a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities in the spring. But a postponement to the fall would not change that problem. 

For that reason, the former U.S. intelligence analyst told IPS he doubts that "Austere Challenge '12" will ever be carried out. 

But the White House has an obvious political interest in using the military exercise to demonstrate that the Obama administration has increased military cooperation with Israel to an unprecedented level. 

The Defence Department wants the exercise to be held in October, according to the military source in touch with senior flag officers connected to the Joint Chiefs. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Super PAC Power: The 0.1% Buying Our Elections

Wednesday, February 1, 2012 by Common Dreams
FEC disclosures yesterday show wealthy donors, corporations behind Super PAC money

Super PACS--made possible following the outcomes of two court decisions in 2010: the Citizens United v. FEC decision and the v. FEC decision--can take unlimited donations from individuals, corporations, associations and unions.

As the disclosures to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) late last night show, not only have millions been flowing to these Super PACs, the disclosures show these are clearly donations from the "0.1%" -- corporations and individuals donating tens of thousands, one hundred thousand, even donations of millions of dollars.

Mitt Romney's Super PAC Restore Our Future shows around 60 donations of $100,000 or more, with a total of around $17.9 million for the last six months of 2011.

An NBC/MSNBC report adds:

The Romney Super PAC collected seven $1 million donations, including one from Paul Singer, the billionaire and secretive head of the Elliott Management hedge fund, and two others from hedge fund kingpins Julian Robertson of Tiger Management and Robert Mercer of Rennaissance Technologies. 
Others accounting for $1 million donations included Florida energy executive Bill Koch of Oxbow Carbon, who has also been a fundraiser for Romney's presidential campaign; Miguel Fernandez, who chairs a Miami private equity firm MBF Healthcare Partners; and Rooney Holdings of Tulsa Oklahoma. 
Also giving a total of $1 million were firms headed by Frank L. VanderSloot of Idaho. He is also the co-chair of Romney's Idaho finance operation. His firms, operating under the names Melaleuca Inc., Melaleuca of Asia Ltd. Co., Melaleuca of Japan Inc., Melaleuca of Southeast Asia Inc., gave a total of $250,000. The company sells Nicole Miller Timeless Age Defying Serum and other home "wellness" remedies. Forbes magazine has a profile of VanderSloot here. 
Three executives of Bain Capital, the private equity firm formerly headed by Romney, gave a total of $625,000. 
Romney has insisted he is not involved in the Super PAC and has no control over its ad buys or messages. But further evidence that the group is working closely with Romney's interests came Tuesday night when Restore Our Future held back its required filing with the Federal Election Commission until after Romney had given his victory speech in the Florida primary.

Speaking to Chris Matthews last night on Hardball, NBC investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff talked about the influence of big-money donors on Romney's Super PAC:

Reuters adds details on Newt Gingrich's Super PAC, Winning Our Future:

Total raised as of December 31: $2.1 million
  • Sheldon Adelson - billionaire Las Vegas casino magnate who built the Venetian hotel and casino. Donation: $5 million (not reflected in the PAC's fundraising filing on Tuesday because the donation was made in January, after the December 31 cutoff for the FEC reporting period) 
  • Miriam Adelson - doctor, wife of Sheldon Adelson. Donation: $5 million (also made in January ) 
  • William Propst - real estate investor in Huntsville, Alabama. Donation: $500,000 
  • Harold Simmons - billionaire Dallas banker and pioneer of leverage buyouts, chairman and CEO of Contran Corp. Initially supported Texas Governor Rick Perry. Donation: $500,000 
  • Sivan Ochshorn - step-daughter of Sheldon Adelson. Donation: $500,000 
  • Yasmin Lukatz - casino executive in Las Vegas and step-daughter of Sheldon Adelson. Donation: $250,000
Despite these disclosures to the FEC, there remains mystery behind the non-profit arms of those super PACS.

WBUR Boston reports:
But what’s behind the headlines is the money the non-profit arms of those super PACS are raking in, such as Crossroads GPS, part of Karl Rove’s super PAC “American Crossroads.”
It’s out with a new ad Wednesday, attacking the Obama administration’s financial backing of now-bankrupt solar panel maker Solyndra. 
American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS disclosed that they raised $51 million last year, but because it’s a tax-exempt 501(c)4 group, “Crossroads GPS” does not have to disclose its donors.