Saturday, September 8, 2012

No pictures at protests? Police may block mobile devices via Apple

Apple Moves One Step Closer Toward Location-Based Camera Disabling

In June of last year, we reported on an unsettling patent filed by Apple that would allow certain infrared signals to remotely disable the camera on iPhones. It showed the potential downsides of bringing cameras into the world of wireless connectivity, which appears to be the next big thing in the camera industry. Now, a newly published patent is rekindling the fears of those who don’t want “Big Brother” controlling their devices.

U.S. Patent No. 8,254,902, published on Tuesday, is titled, “Apparatus and methods for enforcement of policies upon a wireless device.”

Here’s the short description:
Apparatus and methods for changing one or more functional or operational aspects of a wireless device, such as upon the occurrence of a certain event. In one embodiment, the event comprises detecting that the wireless device is within range of one or more other devices. In another variant, the event comprises the wireless device associating with a certain access point. In this manner, various aspects of device functionality may be enabled or restricted (device “policies”). This policy enforcement capability is useful for a variety of reasons, including for example to disable noise and/or light emanating from wireless devices (such as at a movie theater), for preventing wireless devices from communicating with other wireless devices (such as in academic settings), and for forcing certain electronic devices to enter “sleep mode” when entering a sensitive area.
If this type of technology became widely adopted and baked into cameras, photography could be prevented by simply setting a “geofence” around a particular location, whether it’s a movie theater, celebrity hangout spot, protest site, or the top secret rooms at 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, California.

++++++++++++

Apple has patented a piece of technology which would allow government and police to block transmission of information, including video and photographs, from any public gathering or venue they deem “sensitive”, and “protected from externalities.”

In other words, these powers will have control over what can and cannot be documented on wireless devices during any public event.

And while the company says the affected sites are to be mostly cinemas, theaters, concert grounds and similar locations, Apple Inc. also says “covert police or government operations may require complete ‘blackout’ conditions.”

“Additionally,” Apple says,” the wireless transmission of sensitive information to a remote source is one example of a threat to security. This sensitive information could be anything from classified government information to questions or answers to an examination administered in an academic setting.”

The statement led many to believe that authorities and police could now use the patented feature during protests or rallies to block the transmission of video footage and photographs from the scene, including those of police brutality, which at times of major events immediately flood news networks and video websites.

Apple patented the means to transmit an encoded signal to all wireless devices, commanding them to disable recording functions.

Those policies would be activated by GPS, and WiFi or mobile base-stations, which would ring-fence (“geofence”) around a building or a “sensitive area” to prevent phone cameras from taking pictures or recording video.

Apple may implement the technology, but it would not be Apple’s decision to activate the “feature” – it would be down governments, businesses and network owners to set such policies, analyzes ZDNet technology website.

Having invented one of the most sophisticated mobile devices, Apple now appears to be looking for ways to restrict its use.

“As wireless devices such as cellular telephones, pagers, personal media devices and smartphones become ubiquitous, more and more people are carrying these devices in various social and professional settings,” it explains in the patent. “The result is that these wireless devices can often annoy, frustrate, and even threaten people in sensitive venues.”

The company’s listed “sensitive” venues so far include mostly meetings, the presentation of movies, religious ceremonies, weddings, funerals, academic lectures, and test-taking environments.  ~ Banoosh

******

I wasn't going to get a smart phone anyway for various reasons, but this cements me ever reconsidering in the future. I have an older "dumb" phone with a camera that should work no matter where I am...if my battery would only keep a charge in it.--jef

Spinning Bad Financial News Into Good

September 8, 2012 | ~ Paul Craig Roberts

Friday’s payroll jobs report says that 96,000 new jobs were created in August and that the unemployment rate (U.3) fell from 8.3% to 8.1%. As 96,000 new jobs are not enough to keep up with population growth (150,000 jobs per month), the decline in the U.3 unemployment rate was caused by 368,000 discouraged job seekers giving up on finding employment and dropping out of the work force as measured by U.3.

Discouraged workers are not included in the U.3 measure of unemployment, which makes the measure useless. The only purpose of U.3 is to keep bad news out of the news. the U.3 unemployment rate only measures those who have not been discouraged by the inability to find a job and are still actively seeking employment.

The government produces another unemployment measure, U.6, which includes people who have been discouraged by the inability to find a job and have been out of the work force for less than a year. This measure of unemployment is 14.7%, a number that would get attention if reported.

When the long-term (more than one year) discouraged workers are included, the US unemployment rate is about 22%. In other words, the real US rate of unemployment is almost three times higher than the reported headline rate of 8.1%, about 23%.

What is the purpose of reporting an unemployment rate that is about one-third the real unemployment rate? The only answer is deception through Happy News.

Let’s have a look at those 96,000 jobs. What kind of high-tech, high-income super jobs is “the world’s only superpower, the indispensable nation, the world’s greatest economy and capitalist heaven” creating? The answer is lowly paid third world jobs, which is why there is not and cannot be an economic recovery. All the good jobs have been moved offshore in order to maximize the incomes of the rich.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 28,300 of the 96,000 jobs or 29% are waitresses and bartenders. http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t17.htm

Health care and social services, primarily ambulatory health care services and home health care services, provided 21,700 jobs or 22.6% of the jobs.

So, 52% of the new jobs created by the American superpower are lowly paid waitresses, bartenders, practical nurses, and hospital orderlies.

Highly paid manufacturing jobs declined by 15,000. The incomes lost by these jobs most likely exceed the income gains from the waitresses, bartenders, and hospital orderlies jobs.

Where did the other 46,000 jobs come from?

Formerly, in hard times government employment would expand, but, despite Republican propaganda, not today in today’s mean times. Government (federal, state and local) lost 7,000 jobs.

Professional and business services gained 28,000 jobs, primarily in computer systems design and related services (mainly Indians on H-1B work visas) and management and technical consulting services (mainly former corporate professional employees who now eke out a living by consulting, without pension or health benefits, with their former employers; in other words, they are working the same for less).

These three categories account for 81% of the new jobs.

Where are the remainder?

A few thousand jobs in finance and insurance, jobs that absorb consumer incomes but produce no product. Telephone, cable, water, electricity, and heating produced 8,800 jobs. Transportation and warehousing to store unsold goods produced 5,700 jobs. Retail trade, primarily food and beverage stores (alcohol), produced 6,100 jobs.

And there you have it. The “powerful American economy” is an economy that cannot produce its own clothes and shoes, or the manufactured products, including high technology products, that it consumes, or its own energy, all of which it imports by issuing more debt.

The “great hegemonic American economy” is on the verge of total collapse, because the only way it can pay for the imports that sustain it is by issuing more debt and printing more money. Once the debt and money creation undermine the dollar as world reserve currency, the US will become overnight a third world country, much to the relief of the rest of the world.

Last week Mr. Draghi, the head of the European Central Bank, announced for propaganda purposes that the ECB would buy up the sovereign debt of the troubled EU member governments if, and only if, the assisted member governments agreed to the conditionality that would be imposed.

In other words, Draghi told Greece, Spain, and italy that the ECB will buy your bonds if you do what we tell you. Draghi’s conditions are a combination of austerity on the countries’ populations and the surrender of the countries’ financial sovereignty. Since the troubled debtor countries already had that option, Draghi’s scheme doesn’t change anything. However, the NY StockExchange used Draghi’s announcement to gin up day-trading profits.

Draghi says that the money that the ECB will pour into purchasing Greek, Italian and Spanish bonds will be offset by draining reserves from the European banking system, hardly a helpful operation to stressed banks and European recession.

It is difficult to image worse news than Draghi’s. Yet, stock markets rose. This result is more evidence that financial markets are not to be trusted.

But you will never, ever, hear this fact from the financial press.

A financial system based on lies and deceptions cannot forever last.

Documents show TSA intends to deploy body scanners at Rail, Bus, Ferry terminals

this is WAY too much.--jef

Banoosh
 
Yet more documents uncovered under the Freedom of Information Act have revealed that in the year prior to rolling out radiation body scanners in airports, the TSA was drawing up long term plans to deploy the machines at “ferry terminals, railway, and mass transit stations” as well as unspecified “other locations.”

The documents, dating from 2008 were released to engineer Jon Corbett who made headlines last year by infamously posted a video of himself demonstrating how the body scanners can easily be bypassed.

“You can expect [the scanners] at train stations, bus stations, subways, highways, cruise ships, and anywhere that “transportation” happens (i.e., everywhere).” Corbett writes. “And, where the body scanners go, so does the groping, since the body scanners have at least a 40% false positive rate which needs to be resolved by blue-gloved gestapo,” he adds.

The documents also detail the fact that the TSA refused to conduct any form of study on what effect the radiation firing scanners would have on the environments they are placed into.

Indeed, the DHS specifically issued an order “exempting” the scanners from environmental review. 

HIGHLIGHTS
Scrutiny over radiation exposure was heightened last year following apparent efforts by the TSA to cover-up a “cluster” of cancer cases amongst scanner operators at Boston-Logan airport.

According to FOIA documents obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), when Union representatives in Boston discovered a “cancer cluster” amongst TSA workers linked with radiation from the body scanners, the TSA sought to downplay the matter and refused to issue employees with dosimeters to measure levels of exposure. infowars.com
The documents indicated how, “A large number of TSA workers have been falling victim to cancer, strokes and heart disease.” 

In addition, further documents obtained by EPIC show how the TSA “publicly mischaracterized” findings of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), in stating that the agency had positively confirmed the safety of full body scanners in tests.

Meanwhile, previous EPIC FOIA work also produced records showing that the DHS is actively moving to install radiation firing scanners in all manner of public places. 

The technologies include “intelligent video,” backscatter x-ray, Millimeter Wave Radar, and Terahertz Wave, and could be deployed at subway platforms, sidewalks, sports arenas, and shopping malls.

EPIC filed a specific lawsuit against the DHS for attempting to keep the program secret.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Corporate Power on Full Display at Dem and GOP Conventions


by Laura Bonham
 
In the past week, we have been witness to the spectacle of the Republican and Democratic national conventions, events where both parties leave no stone unturned in their attempts to gain the confidence of voting Americans. Perhaps the biggest and best opportunity during presidential campaigns for the parties to differentiate themselves from each other, but the similarities between the two conventions cannot be overlooked.

Beyond the highly orchestrated ceremony, canned speeches, and attempts to show off their commitments to the grassroots and diversity, both parties have clearly spent huge sums to convince Americans that a vote for the other party’s candidates is a vote for the full-blown destruction of our American culture.

Long ago both parties abandoned their grassroots and the attendant disruptions that made conventions exciting and interesting to watch. Today’s national delegates, comprised of elected officials and the Party faithful, are tasked with formalizing the selection of nominees for president and vice president, which is already well-decided long before the conventions take place.  Non-committed delegates are pressured to vote the “right” way for the sake of party unity, and the Party’s platform, which is largely ignored by its elected officials and candidates, is finalized. There is no spontaneity; both are equally boring.

Dissident voices are squelched.  Ron Paul and his Libertarian Republican supporters were dissed at their convention where an unscripted moment of actual rebellion (and good TV) broke out on the floor. While many may disagree with their positions, not only do Libertarian Republicans remain true to their political principles, they have remained supporters of the Party. It is easy to understand their reaction at the convention, and the potential for them to abandon Romney for Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson. 

While there is little controversy within the Democratic Party this year, the party is on the same trajectory with their progressive wing, as demonstrated at their 2004 convention in Boston where party bosses subjected Kucinich delegates to vigorous verbal arm-twisting in an attempt to show unanimous solidarity for Kerry.

By virtue of their wealth, titans of industry have always had more voice in our elections than the average individual.

Unable to secure a presence through the regular Machiavellian channels of party participation, Progressive Democrats of America has sponsored a shadow convention for the past two national conventions, after their organizing convention in Boston during the Democratic convention in 2004. One can only wonder how many progressive Democratic voters will abandon Obama for Green Party candidate Jill Stein or the newly forming Justice Party candidate Rocky Anderson.

But, the most disturbing similarity between the two is direct corporate sponsorship, and the more obscure soft corporate funding through their respective host committees. While the GOP Convention website proudly boasts their corporate sponsors on their homepage, the Democrats have also accepted corporate funding while trying to maintain the sheen of grassroots funding. Corporate funders for the GOP include Google, Microsoft, Wellcare, Walmart, Chevron and an assortment of energy companies among others. Democratic sponsors include AT&T, Bank of America, Duke Energy, Time Warner Cable, UnitedHealth Group, Piedmont Natural Gas, and US Airways. Coca Cola and Wells Fargo have covered their bets by sponsoring both conventions.

Corporate tentacles are more entwined in our political process than simply making the massive ad buys paid for by undisclosed sources sanctioned by the Citizens United ruling. Corporate sponsorship of the Republican and Democratic conventions has long been policy, despite attempts to curb the practice due to the clear conflict of interest. This year’s sponsors come from the healthcare, communications, oil, gas and energy, banking, automotive and housing industries – all of which have benefited from recent legislation under both Democratic and Republican administrations and are likely in line to receive additional benefits in the next administration, whichever party comes to power.

We cannot ignore the connections that wealthy patrons and their corporations have on our political process and who gets elected in this country. By virtue of their wealth, titans of industry have always had more voice in our elections than the average individual. Their influence has led to the election of politicians who support their corporate worldview and appoint judges.

Over time, the doctrine of corporate personhood became a reality as corporations – artificial entities created by government – gained inherent human rights through legislation and the courts. Because the Supreme Court decided in Buckley v. Valeo that money is speech and in prior cases that a corporation is a person, every attempt made by government to control money in politics has resulted in loopholes through which obscene amounts of money pours.

For over a decade, proponents of small “d” democracy have been working to limit the power of corporations. Immediately following the Citizens United decision, they came together to form the Move to Amend Coalition. Recognizing that corporations can and have benefited society in many ways, have an important role in a vibrant economy, and are entitled to privileges to protect themselves, Move to Amend is calling for a Constitutional amendment which clearly states that corporations are not people, are not entitled to unalienable human rights, that money is not speech and can be regulated in campaigns. 

The Capital Gains Escapades of Paul Ryan

by GERALD SCORSE
Aside from the sub-three hour marathon he never ran, the most fanciful notion to come from GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan is his proposal to eliminate capital gains taxes. The idea violates a central principle of tax equity, it mocks his tax reform and deficit-cutting pretensions, and it tends to confirm what the economist Paul Krugman has been saying for the longest time—Ryan is an over-hyped petty boy, heavy on ideology but light on fiscal chops.
 
The tax principle that Ryan would flout is called horizontal equity. Simply put, it holds that people who make similar incomes should pay similar taxes. Obviously, with no tax on capital gains, there’s no hope of horizontal equity.

Not that there’s any such equity now. Capital gains (and dividends) are hugely tax-advantaged, with the tax on long-term gains currently at an 80-year low of 15%. If the Bush tax cuts expire on schedule, the capital gains levy is set to rise to 20% in 2013—still less than the tax the middle class pays on wages.

Things might have been otherwise if Ryan had voted differently as a member of President Obama’s bi-partisan fiscal commission, a.k.a. Bowles-Simpson.

The commission, you’ll recall, was charged by the president with developing a plan to attack the federal deficit and put the nation on fiscal terra firma. Led by co-chairs Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the commission delivered as charged. A key ingredient in their plan was horizontal equity: equal taxes on all income, including capital gains and dividends.

Ryan chairs the House Budget Committee, and was the acknowledged policy-wonk leader of the Republicans on the commission. He’s fond of talking the talk on deficit reduction. Put to the test, he declined to walk the walk. He voted against the plan; it was his vote, essentially, that turned the promise of Bowles-Simpson into one more instance of gridlock, one more disillusion.

Coincidentally, another deficit-reduction plan came in close on the heels of Bowles-Simpson. This one issued from the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Debt Reduction Task Force, and it was co-chaired by former Federal Reserve official Alice Rivlin and ex-senator Pete Domenici. Its recommendations differed in important respects from Bowles-Simpson, but the plans had this in common: each called for horizontal equity, for equal taxes on all income.

In his acceptance speech at the GOP convention, Ryan slipped in a marathon-like mention of the Bowles-Simpson commission: “He [Obama] created a bipartisan debt commission. They came back with an urgent report. He thanked them, sent them on their way, and then did exactly nothing.”

Of course it was Ryan himself who effectively doomed Bowles-Simpson, making sure the report went to the White House without the necessary support to force a Congressional vote.
While the fiscal pretender Ryan calls for an end to capital gains taxes, others continue to call for horizontal equity.  A recent New York Times editorial scolded private equity firms for converting management fees into capital gains in order to take advantage of the 15% rate. “The best way to end this problem,” The Times concluded, “is to get rid of the special rate for capital gains. As long as income from investments is taxed at a lower rate than income from work, there will be no stopping the search for ways, legal or otherwise, to pay the lower rate.”

There’s another believer in horizontal equity too, but he’s no longer with us. President Ronald Reagan’s signature Tax Reform Act of 1986 called for equal taxes on all income. In a signing ceremony on the White House lawn, Reagan called the bill “a sweeping victory for fairness….and the best job-creation program ever to come out of the Congress.”

There’s no better time for an encore than 2012.

Hostility Toward the Health of the People

by ELLIOT SPERBER
Bill Clinton raised a good deal of applause the other night in his speech at the Democratic National Convention, pointing out that the Republicans made a huge mess out of the economy. And while what Clinton said was to some degree the case, it was only the case insofar as it omits a great deal of what we see in the world around us from consideration. To be sure, he neglected to mention the far larger issue that it is not only the Republicans’ economic plan, but that of the Democrats as well that makes not only a mess, but an extremely toxic, and – it should be stressed – completely unnecessary “mess” out of the entire biosphere.

It is telling that when it comes time to discuss the subject of cleaning up the big mess of the economy, no mention is made at all about the deep, structural mess that includes, among other things, a prison population in this country that is at present in excess of 2,200,000 people – a figure, by the way, that excludes minors. Indeed, the long-term economic policy in this country has involved incarceration, in one way or another, for over a century. Since the end of the Civil War – especially, but not exclusively, in the south – a sizable amount of economic growth has been attributable to prison labor. Let us not forget, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which outlaws slavery, has a prison labor exception. And, as soon as Reconstruction was prematurely terminated, the state, together with industry, lost little time in taking advantage of this exception. Through such programs as the convict lease system, newly freed slaves were put back to work in a manner that gives new meaning to the term free laborers.

As the US continues to trudge through this period of post-industrial permanent unemployment – one in which outsourcing and automation have bludgeoned the working class’s jobs along with their bargaining power – we are seeing permanently unemployed sectors of the population being permanently housed in corrections facilities. This model of social control, developed in the Jim Crow South, has for decades been applied to the entire country.

Not only do prisoners these days produce such consumer items as Victoria’s Secrets underwear, but the prisons themselves are an important sector of the economy, employing countless guards, cooks, contractors, sub-contractors, construction workers, etc. This outstanding social problem has, among other things, led to the situation where, although the US has only 5% of the world’s total population, it houses 25% of the world’s total prison population – a number unprecedented in both absolute as well as relative numbers. Moreover, through discriminatory policing, discriminatory convictions, and discriminatory sentencing – that is, by design – it is only increasing.

Clinton, and then Obama on the following night, spoke in grandiloquent terms of a new era of economic growth in sight for the United States. But even if, for the sake of argument, such growth could deflate the astronomically large prison population, it would still have no effect – at least not any salutary effect – when it comes to cleaning up the actual, concrete messes this economy systematically produces and reproduces.The ceaseless production of largely unnecessary junk food, junk clothes, junk medicine, junk toys, and their packaging, among other things, creates a literal mess, polluting our world, and spreading a cancer epidemic, not to mention climate change.

It is illustrative that in one sentence Obama mourns his mother’s death from cancer, raising the issue of health care (which his Affordable Care Act will do literally little to affordably provide to most people) and in the next he touts his salvaging of the automobile industry – an industry that leads the way not only in the production of cars, but in the production of carcinogens. Not only does pollution from automobile exhaust contribute to soaring rates of asthma, heart disease, and cancer, among other illnesses; in addition to polluting the air it pollutes the water and soil as well.

Beyond automobiles and junk, one of our most fundamental needs, the production of food, is subordinated not to the requirements of nutrition and health, but to profit. It is a well-documented fact that industrial agriculture employs fertilizers and pesticides that, in adddition to contributing to health problems through direct consumption, create monumental health problems from pollution. Vast deadzones now sprawl throughout our oceans and waterways. And where people are not harmed by these practices, they are often harmed by the intended product of these practices: food that contributes less to health than to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. From the harms caused by nuclear waste, oil production, natural gas and coal extraction, to those caused by weapons manufacturing, and their attendant wars, this economy is not just a mess, but a tremendous source and cause of disease.

And even if, contrary to not only experience but its very own logic of metastatic growth, the  capitalistic economy could continue to develop without its highly toxic shadow, for most people work itself is an occupational disease. Obama and Biden’s assertion that a job is more than a paycheck is correct. However, for most people work is less a source of satisfaction and purpose than it is a necessary evil – one that doesn’t even pay the bills these days. There is just too much work. As countless studies demonstrate, there have been huge increases in worker productivity over the years accompanied by widening disparities in pay between entry-level workers and corporate executives. Virtually all of the profit from all of this work is going to the few owners. People are not only aware of this, but are literally sick of it.

Instead of demanding decreases in taxes, people should be demanding decreases in work. Indeed, a century ago, when machines were relatively new and were hailed as labor-saving technologies, there was an expectation that the workweek would be diminished to two or three days. As we all know, no such diminution occurred. For the sake of our health, however, it should. For the sake of our health the above-mentioned economic practices that are not only not improving at all but are instead diminishing our quality of life should be eliminated. And when people speak of the mess of our economy, we should not neglect to consider the entirety of this mess. A just political-economic system would not only not reproduce these injuries, it would supply those things that people actually need. And it is a just political-economic system that we should be striving toward, not – to use present-day political parlance – more of the same. For centuries the legal maxim salus populi suprema lex esto has affirmed that ‘the health of the people is the supreme law.’ Beyond other things, this maxim subtends the emancipatory ideals of the Declaration of Independence. While it has been used to pursue harmful practices as well, for centuries it has also been used to nullify laws and practices that in one way or another trespass on the health of the people, however problematically this notion may be defined.

Perhaps the time has come to not only critically reinterpret this maxim, but in the face of a world that is becoming more and more hostile to the health of the people of the planet, to apply it to the exigencies we all today together confront.

GOP Seeks to Overturn Historic Civil Rights Law





Civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) told the audience at the Democratic National Convention Thursday night, “we have come too far together to ever turn back,” warning that Republican-led voter suppression laws are taking America back to the days when states had the right to deny voting capabilities to minority voters. Voting rights for minority voters continue to come under attack as Republican leaders are now turning to the Supreme Court to overturn historic civil rights legislation.

Several federal judges recently struck down voter suppression laws in multiple states, introduced by Republican legislators and governors, such as voter identification laws, provisional voting restrictions, limits on voter registration drives, and reduced availability for early voting.

The court rulings in Florida, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin, marked a widespread rejection of so called 'voter fraud' legislation, which seeks to greatly limit who can and cannot vote.

However, as Chris McGreal at the Guardian reports today, "Several state governments are [now] looking to the conservative-leaning supreme court, which has already expressed its doubts about racially-based policy," in order to overturn these rulings. This step would seek to challenge the historic Voter Rights Act of 1965, which gave the federal government some control over voting rules in states with a history of blocking African Americans from voting.

In question is Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires "pre-clearance" for nine states – Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia – before making changes to voting laws or procedures.

Civil rights leaders and activists have expressed concern over whether the Supreme Court will actually uphold this anti-discrimination law.

"The question is not whether Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act will be struck down, but when and how. Will it die a death of a thousand cuts? Or will it be killed with one swift blow?" Nathaniel Persily, a Columbia University law professor, told the Guardian.

"There has been a proliferation of cases that aim to take down and rip out this core provision of the Voting Rights Act," said Debo Adegbile, acting president and lead counsel of the NAACP legal defense fund. "I think it's fair to say that the supreme court invited these challenges."

Speaking to the DNC Thursday, Lewis continued:
Brothers and sisters, do you want to go back? Or do you want to keep America moving forward? My dear friends, your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful, nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union. Not too long ago, people stood in unmovable lines. They had to pass a so-called literacy test, pay a poll tax. On one occasion, a man was asked to count the number of bubbles in a bar of soap. On another occasion, one was asked to count the jelly beans in a jar—all to keep them from casting their ballots.
Today it is unbelievable that there are Republican officials still trying to stop some people from voting. They are changing the rules, cutting polling hours and imposing requirements intended to suppress the vote. The Republican leader in the Pennsylvania House even bragged that his state’s new voter ID law is “gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state.” That’s not right. That’s not fair. That’s not just.

Americans Are Disposable - That IsThe Message From Both Parties

September 7, 2012~ Paul Craig Roberts
If political conventions are ranked on a one to ten scale for intelligence, I give the Republican Convention zero and the Democrats one.

How can the United States be a superpower when both political parties are unaware of everything that is happening at home and abroad?

The Republicans are relying for victory on four years of anti-Obama propaganda and their proprietary programed electronic voting machines. For nearly four years Republican operatives have flooded the Internet with portraits of Obama as a non-US citizen, as a Muslim (even while Obama was murdering Muslims in seven countries), and as a Marxist (put in power by the Israel Lobby, Wall Street, and the military/security complex).

Most Republican voters will vote against Obama based on these charges despite the curious fact that no committee in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives held a hearing to determine if Obama is a citizen. If Obama were not a citizen, why would the very aggressive House Republicans not capitalize on it. It would be easy for a Congressional committee to determine if Obama were a citizen. Despite the propaganda, the Republicans in office have shown no interest in the propaganda charges spread by Republican operatives over the Internet.

Either Republicans have no confidence in the charges and do not want to end up proving with Congressional hearings that Obama is a citizen, or the Republicans, having destroyed every other aspect of the US Constitution, reducing it to “a scrap of paper,” feel that making an issue of the last remaining Constitutional provision other than the Second Amendment would be the height of hypocrisy and don’t want to risk opening the constitutional issues that Republicans have run roughshod over.

If the Republicans can destroy habeas corpus, due process, violate both US statutory and international law, ignore the separation of powers, and create a Caesar, why can’t the Democrats run a non-citizen?

Why didn’t the Republican convention raise the issue about the Obama regime’s claim that the executive branch has the power to assassinate US citizens without due process of law? No such power exists in the US Constitution or in US statutory law. This gestapo police state claim exists only as an assertion. Republicans ignored this most important of all issues, because they support it.

Why didn’t the Democrat convention raise the issue that the Republicans took us to wars based on 9/11 assertions without ever conducting an investigation of 9/11? No qualified high-rise architect, structural engineer, physicist, chemist, or national security expert believes a word of the US government’s 9/11 story. Neither do the first responders who were on the scene and witnessed and experienced the event.

Many experts keep their opinions to themselves, because otherwise the federal grants to their universities are over and done with or their architectural and engineering businesses are boycotted by patriotic former clients.

Regardless of these risks, there are 1,700 architects and engineers who have sent a petition to Congress that they do not believe one word of the official explanation and who demand a real investigation.

Why did not either party raise the question of how can the US economy recover when corporations have offshored millions of US middle class jobs, both manufacturing jobs and professional service jobs. For at least a decade, the US economy has been able to create only lowly paid domestic non-tradable (not exportable) service jobs, such as waitresses, bartenders, and hospital orderlies.

Both parties talk total nonsense about jobs. The Republicans say they can create jobs by not taxing the rich. The Democrats say they can create jobs by financing jobs programs. The Republicans say that the Democrats’ jobs programs simply take money from business investments and give it to those who patronize bars and the drug trade. The Democrats say that the low taxes of the Republicans just subsidize yachts, exotic cars, private aircraft, and $800,000 wrist watches for the one percent, most of which is produced abroad.

Neither political party will admit that when US corporations offshore their production for US markets, Americans are removed from the incomes associated with the production of the goods and services that they consume.

Offshoring is defended by both moronic political parties as “free trade.” In fact, offshoring is the gift of what was US GDP to China, India, and the other countries to which US corporations locate their production that they sell to Americans. US GDP goes down, the GDP of the countries who make the American goods sold to Americans goes up. The idiot free market economists call the de-industrializing of America “free trade.”

As an intelligent economist–an oxymoron– would know, destroying consumer incomes by moving their jobs to other countries, leaves consumers without incomes to purchase the imported offshored goods. 

Neither American political party recognizes this disconnect. Neither party can afford to recognize it, as both parties are dependent on corporate campaign financing, and offshoring boosts executive bonuses and share prices. A political party that opposes offshoring of US jobs simply does not get financed.

So, the great “superpower,” the “indispensable nation,” the world hegemon, is going into an election, and no one knows what are the stakes.

Why did not either political party ask: if Washington has demonized Iran, why did the 120 countries that comprise the non-aligned movement convene in Iran last week?

Is Washington’s propaganda failing? Can Washington no longer convince the world that the countries that Washington wants to destroy are evil and must be destroyed?

If Washington’s propaganda is failing, the world rule of the hegemonic power will not succeed. As world rule is Washington’s goal in keeping with the neoconservative ideology, then Washington is failing and is not the superpower it pretends to be.

Most credible foreign policy experts, none of which either political party has, believe that Washington has thrown away US “soft power” by its obvious lies and unjustified military attacks on seven Muslim countries, its encirclement of Russia with missile bases, and its encirclement of China with air, naval, and troop bases.

In other words, Washington’s moral force no longer exists. All that exists is financial and military force, and both will fail as they are insufficient.

Neither party asked why the US is at wars with Muslims for Israel. Why should Americans be losing lives and limbs for Israel while going broke and running up enormous war debts for our children and grandchildren? The answer from both parties is to blame the country’s bankruptcy on what Washington does for its own economically disenfranchised citizens. America’s financial problems are all the fault of Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, food stamps, housing subsidies, Pell grants–any and every thing that gives a leg up to the non-one percent.

In short, the attitude of both parties is: if you are not the one percent, you are disposable.

Both Obamacare and the alternative Republican voucher program dispose of ill Americans who confront potentially terminable diseases. The American people and the ill no longer count; only the budget counts. Letting the elderly die sooner is cheaper. We can therefore afford more wars for hegemony and more tax cuts for the one percent.

Have any peoples in human history ever been less represented by their government and political parties than Americans?

The US government represents Israel and the one to ten percent. Everyone else is disposable.

Regardless of the political party whose lever is pulled in November, every American who votes will be voting for Israel and for their own demise.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

America's Police State on Steroids At the Conventions--When Did Dissent Become a Crime?

Protests in Tampa and Charlotte have been swarmed by police and enveloped in surveillance.
September 6, 2012  |  

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- In cities hosting large gatherings such as the national political conventions or international summits, we’ve come to expect a massive militarized police presence, even as the ranks of protesters thin. But what happens to all of the new high-tech cop toys and newly passed ordinances once conventioneers leave town? They stay.

I was at the alternative journalist flophouse in Charlotte on Sept. 4, the first day of the Democratic National Convention, when I received word of kettled protesters a few blocks away. I had just met FireDogLake reporter Kevin Gosztola, and after forming a mutual admiration society, we raced outside.

We hoofed past siren-flashing police cars blocking side streets, hiking alongside an empty roadway. Walls of blue loomed ahead. Our hands went to our sides and drew cameras. As we neared a broad intersection, protesters appeared behind a double line of police using bicycles as barricades. The entire intersection was encircled by hundreds of ground troops, motorcycle cops, commanders, surveillance units and vehicles. Media flitted along the perimeter and uncertainty coursed through observers. Why had hundreds of police barricaded the protesters, were they going to sweep them up, would violence break out?

In turned out the protesters were conducting an impromptu street blockade, preventing delegate buses from proceeding on their appointed route. The police moved to funnel the protesters into an isolated grass field lined with metal fencing, the “free-speech prison.” It was devoid of life, save for CODEPINK’s Medea Benjamin on a loudspeaker demanding: “Free Bradley Manning,” and “We don’t want a war with Iran.” A dozen anarchists approached the cage and broke into the “Hokey Pokey,” sticking their left arms in and singing, “You do the hokey-pokey and kiss your rights goodbye, that’s what it’s all about.”

It was a replay of the final night in Tampa, Fla., at the Republican National Convention. There, perhaps 150 protesters also blocked an intersection, delaying delegates exiting the convention after Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech. Nearly 400 police penned in the protest, and at every intersection visible, up to two blocks away, squads of police waited in reserve. A crew of seven Guardian Angels had deputized themselves as back-ups in case the police were overwhelmed, their tee shirts and bodies having seen better days.

Police-to-Protester Radio Incalculably Wide

Protests in Tampa and Charlotte have been surrounded by media, swarmed by police and enveloped in surveillance. Perhaps because of the military-like mobilization, arrests have been rare and police in both cities have not prevented unpermitted marches, though they have been tightly managed. There were only two reported arrests [3] in Tampa, and activists who dropped banners and locked down at a coal-fired power plant were not arrested.

On Tuesday, Sept. 4, ten undocumented immigrants were hauled off after staging a nonviolent civil disobedience action. Police also nabbed three protesters, including one for wearing a mask and another for allegedly crossing a police line [4] – something I did multiple times without incident. Of course, I was wearing a suit, and the protesters were a bit scruffier, lending weight to activists’ contention that police single them out based on their appearance.

I moved on to a Planned Parenthood rally taking place nearby. I talked my way through the first layer of Secret Service despite lacking credentials. The crowd was a pink haze of tee shirts bearing the slogan, “2012 Yes We Plan,” with the zero replaced by a circular package of birth-control pills. With the branded tees, pink signs declaring “Women are watching and we’re voting Obama,” and canned speeches for Obama, it had all the spontaneity of a corporate rock concert, as soothing to the Democratic Party machine as a river of pink Pepto-Bismol. Unlike the feral anarchists outside, the pro-choice troops inside the Democratic fold were free of a suffocating police presence.

Drones, “less-lethal” weapons and anti-dissent laws

The feds gave $50 million each to Tampa and Charlotte for security for the conventions, and it showed in the police mobilization and shiny new equipment ranging from bicycles and “less lethal weapons” to communications gear and medieval-style armor for cops and horses. Given the fact that protesters amounted only to a few hundred, it’s suspicious that thousands of police needed to be deployed -- more than were in evidence for massive protests in Washington, D.C. against the Iraq War a decade ago.

The biggest impact of militarized policing is not at the conventions themselves, but in the long term. The two political conventions coincide with the Summer Olympics. The international games proved to be a handy way to push out the poor from city centers by constructing stadiums and Olympic villages that are repurposed for tourism, consumption and high-end housing. Similarly, conventions and summits like NATO, G8, the RNC and DNC are part of the trend of intensifying the policing of poor and dissidents.

In some cases the convention policing leads to a more aggressive posture. In Denver, which hosted the 2008 DNC, 200 police in riot gear [5] used their toys on Occupy Denver last October, attacking [6] them with rubber pellets, mace, batons and pepper spray. In Chicago [7], new laws passed to stifle dissent at NATO protests there in May were made permanent, as were laws passed in Charlotte [8] for the DNC. (The Tampa laws had a sunset clause.)

The covert side of policing summits and conventions is more disturbing. Tactics like infiltration, spying and provocateurs sometimes come to light when raids of activist spaces, pre-emptive arrests and contrived terrorist plots are sprung and the victims snared. Other elements remain covert.

Speculation was rife if drones would be employed during the RNC. A Tampa police spokeswoman denied [9] that any of the “60 local, state or federal agencies involved in the security operation of the Republican National Convention will utilize air or ground drones.” But a private company, United Drones, was adamant that it would be flying drones for an unnamed private party during the convention. The morning after the RNC ended, as I drove into Tampa across the Howard Frankland Bridge with a legal observer, we spotted a low-flying aircraft. It looked like a large model aircraft with no obvious cockpit to hold a pilot, but was moving much faster than highway traffic.

Militarized and pre-emptive policing

Alex S. Vitale, associate professor in sociology at Brooklyn College and author of City of Disorder [10] and numerous reports on protest policing [7], told AlterNet that he pinpoints the “intense changes” in policing to the 1999 World Trade Organization Ministerial in Seattle that was disrupted by nonviolent protests. (The much-reported window-breaking by self-described anarchists took place after and away from the much larger nonviolent actions.) But there is no across-the-board standard, he cautions. “Policing is more militarized or pre-emptive in depending on the department,” he says.

“[P]olicing in the U.S. is very decentralized,” Vitale explains, and “the handling of protests is left to the local police.” At the 2000 RNC in Philadelphia, says Vitale, there was a “heavy police response, pre-emptive arrests, mass arrests, holding people on exorbitant bail.”

In New York at the 2004 RNC, the police response was “pre-emptive,” as Vitale describes it, complete with “mass arrests, infiltration and surveillance.” In 2000 at the DNC in Los Angeles, the ACLU lambasted the LAPD for creating “an orchestrated police riot [11]” after shooting tear gas and rubber bullets into a crowd at a rally for which organizers held a permit. Vitale says there was a “more militarized response” at the 2008 RNC in St. Paul.

Thus, the decision to give protests some breathing room in Tampa and Charlotte is notable because of past convention experiences, as well as the police attacks on Occupy camps in the last year. That may explain the absence of outright police aggression. Given the highly scripted nature of the conventions, 16,000 journalists looking for a story, and the prominence of Occupy Wall Street, chaos on the streets could have bumped the canned convention speeches from the top headline.

Vitale says: “Local officials want to minimize the level of dissent because to them, it’s all a very high-risk endeavor. They don’t want to get caught with the protests interrupting the events in any way.”

The danger of speaking out: 'Jesus, it's a war zone.'

I mention to Vitale that the Occupy Movement succeeded in part because it was theater: People acted out a new society in public. The flip side was the theater of the police response -- from the military-style assault on Occupy Oakland to the stormtrooper gear of Portland’s police to the cinematic staging of thousands of New York police sealing the financial district the night of May Day.

Vitale agrees there is an element of spectacle. He says the militarization of policing “communicates a symbolic message to participants and public that speaking out is dangerous and must be treated as a violent threat. The use of body armor and vehicles is almost never warranted. It communicates a message of fear and violence.”

That spectacle was on full display in Tampa and Charlotte. The day after Hurricane Isaac swiped Tampa, I wandered through the security zone, perhaps a quarter mile around the convention’s outer security perimeter. Stopping at a Salvation Army truck for some cold water, the only other civilian was a sun-crisped local. Appearing dazed, he gestured to the empty streets, speaking to no one in particular, “It’s a military zone. Jesus. It’s a war zone.”

Squads of camouflage-clad cops marched by; pelotons of bicycle police cruised streets; posses of horse-mounted police stood at the ready; heavy-duty golf carts crammed with law-enforcement personnel zipped by; platoons of riot police shadowed protesters; two-man teams on overpasses scanned areas below with binoculars, Secret Service in bulletproof vests secured checkpoints; assault boats plied the water; choppers circled above.

While there is federal involvement in policing conventions says Vitale, “I’ve always resisted the notion that we can explain the intensification of policing as a result of federal intervention. The military, fed law enforcement and local law enforcement have all become less tolerant of dissent. They are all experimenting with new techniques and technologies to aggressively contain the dissent. They are all learning from each other.”

Keeping away all but militants and fanatics: "making money off orange jumpsuits"

In the security state, democracy has withered. In Tampa during the Republican National Convention, what was known as the “free speech zone” was a portable stage on a crumbling road slicing through barren brownfields. The Westboro Baptist Church [12] – the “God hates fags” gang that pickets the funerals of dead U.S. soldiers based on the logic that they were killed as divine retribution for believing “it’s OK to be gay” – entered the zone one afternoon. As a handful toted flamboyant posters of hate, more than 100 police took up position.

A minute after I chanced upon them, a hundred or so anarchists marched on the scene chanting, “We’re here, we’re queer, we’re anarchists, we’re going to fuck you up!” Dozens of reporters and cameraman stalked the edges like lions hunting antelopes. As the protesters encircled the Westboro crew, mixing insults with pleas for tolerance, 100 riot police pounded the street as they rounded the corner. More police poured in from every direction and a helicopter swooped in.

Despite the tension, no violence occurred. Vermin Supreme [13], the performance activist who sports an upside-down boot affixed to his head, gently dissuaded the police from breaking heads by pointing out over a bullhorn that there was no need for aggression against peaceful protests. The anarchists had made their point and went on their way. But the city of Tampa had also made its point. In the militarized convention space, the only groups exercising the right to dissent are left-wing militants and right-wing fanatics.

There is a strategy to this. Vitale says, “We are producing urban spaces in many cities that are hostile to dissent. The summits accentuate that by adding in a layer of barricades and intensive policing.” The purpose of the intensive policing, he argues, is to insulate the rich and powerful who attend the conventions “from the rabble.” He adds: “Dictators have been doing this sort of thing for generations.”

I asked Vitale if these conventions are pop-up police states. He countered, “I’ve been to police states, and you get shot if you demonstrate, not spend a night in jail.”

That’s true -- for most Americans. But at a rally against voter suppression in Tampa, Life Malcolm, a member of the Black People’s Advancement and Defense Organization, described his hometown.

“Tampa is a police state," Malcolm said. "Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week we are under constant surveillance. We see the police on every street corner, in their cars, on their bicycles, or on foot patrol in our communities. All night long their helicopters are whirling overhead when we are trying to read with our children, put them bed or be romantic with our mates. The police beat us up, scare us, lock us up, harass us. You can’t even walk down the street being black, drive down the street being black.”

As a consequence, said Malcolm, “In our neighborhoods nobody comes outside. Everybody is boarded up in the house because they are afraid to come outside the house and be caught by the police like some kind of animal. In the state of Florida, they used to make their money off oranges, now they make their money off people in orange jumpsuits.”

Long after the media and politicians are gone, dozens of local and state police agencies will be back at work, showered with new weapons, technology and laws to contain troublemakers and undesirables. No matter who wins in November, the march toward a police state will continue unabated.

The Party of Hate


(This article was written by a member of Reagan's cabinet.--jef)


Republicans Cross the Rubicon
 by PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS

Does anyone remember when National Public Radio was an independent voice?

During the 1980s NPR was continually on the case of the Reagan administration. NPR certainly had a Democratic slant, and a lot of its reporting about the Reagan administration was one-sided. Yet, NPR was an independent voice, and it frequently got things correct.

In the 21st century that voice has disappeared, which was the intention of the George W. Bush regime. Bush put a Republican woman in charge who made it clear to NPR producers and show hosts that the federal part of their funding was at risk.

Money often over-rules principle, and when corporations added their really big money NPR collapsed. Today the local stations still pretend to be funded by listeners, but if you have noticed, as I have, there are now a large number of corporate advertisements, disguised in the traditional terms “with support from . . .” If you are not listening to classical music, you are listening to corporate advertisements.

Today the entire “mainstream media” is closed to truth-tellers. The US media is Washington’s propaganda ministry. The US media has only one function–to lie for Washington.

What reminded me of NPR’s surrender was NPR’s August 31 report with its two regular talking voice political pundits discussing the Republican Convention and Romney’s speech. After witnessing the Republicans at their nominating convention at Tampa violate all their own rules and ride roughshod over the Ron Paul delegates, one expected some discussion of the Republican Party’s refusal to allow Ron Paul to be placed in nomination or his delegate account to be announced.

The operative question was obvious: How can the American people trust the Republicans with the awesome power of the executive branch when the Republican Party just finished demonstrating for all to see its Stalinist qualities by crushing the anti-war, anti-police state wing of its party?

The authoritarianism was gratuitous. Romney had a sufficient number of delegates to be nominated. It would have cost Romney nothing to follow the rules and allow Ron Paul to be placed in nomination and his delegate numbers to be reported. Instead, Romney wrote off the liberty contingent of the Republican Party. The Brownshirts demonstrated their power.

The last Republican who wrote off a chunk of his own party was Barry Goldwater, and he went down to crushing defeat. Makes one wonder if the Republicans are relying on those electronic voting machines programed with proprietary Republican software that leave no paper trail. The Democrats have acquiesced to Republican election theft. There have been numerous cases where exit polls indicate that voters chose a different candidate than the one chosen by the Republican programmed voting machines.

One would have thought that NPR and its pundits would have found the parallel with Goldwater worth comment, but the suppression of the Ron Paul delegates was already down the memory hole.

One would also have thought that NPR and its pundits would have found Clint Eastwood’s speech a fascinating topic of discussion. Eastwood had a Republican National Committee approved speech, but discarded it. Instead, Eastwood stood beside an empty chair and pretended to be talking to Obama, but it could just as well have been Romney in the chair. By pretending to be talking to Obama, Eastwood made his points without eliciting boos from the Republican audience.

Not many in the Republican audience caught on, but there were some stony faces when Eastwood said “I haven’t cried that hard since I found out that there are 23 million unemployed people in this country.” More stony Republican faces when Eastwood showed his opposition to the Iraq and Afghan wars and asks the chair, “why don’t you just bring them [the troops] home tomorrow morning?” Those who thought he was digging at Obama cheered; those who realized he was criticizing hardline Republican positions were displeased.

But NPR and the US media in general are uncomfortable with such real news as a political party being told off by one of its heroes and a political party sufficiently stupid to repeat Barry Goldwater’s mistake. The establishment might complain. The money might dry up or employees be fired for permitting such a story to be aired. The Democrats lost their independent financing when jobs offshoring destroyed the unions. There are no longer countervailing powers to Wall Street and the corporations, which have been endowed by the Republican US Supreme Court with First Amendment rights to purchase US elections and placed in charge of the US Treasury, the regulatory agencies and the Federal Reserve.

In Tampa the Republicans wrote off the Ron Paul vote, because they are enamored of power and its gratuitous demonstration. Can people so desirous of power and the thrill of its use be trusted to let go of power when they lose the next election? There are enough presidential executive orders and national security orders, even some signed by the Democrat Obama, that any president can assert them and refuse to face election.

Once Rome accepted Julius Caesar’s coup, the Roman Republic was gone. Those who tried to save the Roman Republic by assassinating Caesar failed, because the majority of the legions had gone over to the dictatorship, which promised them more money than the Republic had. Caesar’s name became the title for Rome’s dictators.

In the US, even your friendly local police have gone over to dictatorship. And they are armed with its tools. A friend, a competitive shooter for accuracy, told me that as he left his gun club on August 27, a local sheriff department entered in a military armored vehicle, something one would expect to see on a battlefield, followed by a large sheriff’s department truck full of military equipment. He says that the gun club allows local police to use the club’s facilities so that club members are not stopped and harassed about their firearms as they go to and from the club. He reports that the police will line up 30 abreast, with automatic weapons, not allowed to club members, and fire at one target, with 30 police emptying 30-round magazines at the same target.

He once asked our protectors if they were practicing for some competition. The answer was, “No, we are preparing to control the outcome when there is trouble.”

Control is the operative word. We have seen for a number of years now that the Republican Party is power-addicted. Remember when the Bush administration fired the US Attorneys who refused the order to indict only Democrats? Remember the Republican Party’s transparent frame-up of popular Alabama Democratic governor Don Siegelman? Evidence indicates that the Republican operative Karl Rove took advantage of a Republican federal judge, vulnerable according to news reports to corruption charges, and a compliant Republican US attorney in Alabama to railroad Governor Siegelman. The message to Democrats was: if you get elected in our Southern Territory, we will get you.

But never fear, we have “freedom and democracy.” George W. Bush told us so himself.

The weak, chicken-hearted Obama administration has not commuted Siegelman’s outrageous sentence. The inability of the Democrats to stand up for their own members and their own principles is the best indication we have that Republican tyranny will prevail.

It didn’t take Caesar George W. Bush 10 minutes to wipe out the prison sentence of vice president Dick Cheney’s chief aid for revealing the identity of a CIA operative, a felony under US law. But the Obama Justice (sic) Department supports Karl Rove’s destruction of one of its most popular governors.

It was the German left-wing’s weak opposition to the National Socialists that gave the world Hitler.

The Republican Party has become the Party of Hate. Decades of frustration have made Republicans mean. They object to everything that has happened since the Great Depression in the 1930s to make the US a more just and humane society.

The Republican Party wants power so that it can smash all vestiges of regulation and welfare and all those of whom Republicans disapprove: the poor, the minorities, liberals, the imagined “foreign enemies,” war protestors and others who challenge authority, those American weaklings who have compassion for the unfortunate, the US Constitution, that pinko-liberal-commie document that coddles criminals, illegal aliens, and terrorists, and all dissenters from the policy of enriching the one percent at the expense of the 99 percent.

Above all else, the Republicans want to turn Social Security and Medicare into profit centers for private corporations.
Would the world be surprised if Republicans donned brown shirts? America has declared itself to be “the indispensable nation,” justifying its hegemony over the world. Any country that does not submit to Washington is “a foe.” The neoconservative propaganda that America is the indispensable nation with a right to world hegemony sounds a lot like “Deutschland uber alles.”

A decade ago the Bush regime demonstrated that it could over-ride US statutory law, the US Constitution, and the constitutional separation of powers in order to concentrate unaccountable power in the office of the president.

The Democrats, when they gained control of Congress in the mid-term elections, did nothing about the unprecedented legal and constitutional crimes of George W. Bush. The Democratic Speaker of the US House of Representatives, who could easily have impeached George W. Bush for his obvious crimes against US law and the US Constitution, announced that “impeachment is off the table.” Money was more important to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi than the rule of law.

When a people have no political party that represents them, they are doomed to tyranny.

And to war.

Russia and China are in the way of Washington’s hegemony. Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, has declared Russia to be “our number one geopolitical foe” for opposing Washington’s plans to overthrow by violence the Syrian government. Why is overthrowing the Syrian government so advantageous to Washington that Romney in a fit of pique recklessly brought the United States into direct confrontation with Russia?

Arrogance and hubris lead to wars. Do Americans really want a person as president who is so reckless as to gratuitously declare a large nuclear-armed country to be our number one enemy? The American and Israeli trained Georgian army did not last an hour when the former Soviet republic foolishly, on Washington’s encouragement, provoked the Russian bear.

Meanwhile the Obama regime, concerned with China’s rapid economic rise, has indicated that it thinks China is the number one enemy. The Obama regime has forgot that China, when a primitive, backward country, fought the US to a stalemate in Korea more than a half century ago.

The Obama regime has announced that the US Navy is being repositioned to the Eastern Pacific, that the US regards the South China Sea as America’s national interest, and that new naval, air, and troop bases are being established in the Philippines, South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere in the region. The purpose of these bases is to block China’s access to energy and raw materials, which is what Washington did to Japan in the 1930s.

Are Americans aware that the hubris and idiocy of their political leaders have now saddled Americans with the burden of two number one enemies, both well equipped with armies and nuclear weapons? Only Iran can be happy about this as it moves Iran off the front burner.

Washington is putting its forward military bases in place, and the propaganda war is being cranked up. The subservient British press was quick to fall in line with Washington. A British reader of my column reports that the Guardian/Observer and New Statesman are at Putin’s throat: “Every day this week we’ve had Russia/Putin hate stories. Headlines such as ‘medieval dictatorship’ as we saw in last Sunday’s Observer [August 26] are common. In this week’s New Statesman we have a front page picture of Putin with the headline ‘Putin’s reign of terror.’ They’ve got Putin with a crown on his head and dressed as a Tsar-like figure. It’s a relentless information battlefield assault on Russia.”

Another line of Washington’s attack on Russia is Washington’s covert backing of Chechnya terrorist groups in the Caucasus and funding of front groups in Russia for protest and terrorist organizations. Allegations of corruption and stolen elections come primarily from Washington-funded groups operating in Russia. See http://www.globalresearch.ca/al-qaeda-blitzkrieg-wests-terror-battalions-eye-russia-next/ and http://landdestroyer.blogspot.com/2012/08/bombshell-us-neo-cons-state-department.html Through these methods, Washington hopes to destabilize the Russian government and to isolate it internationally in order to remove a barrier to Washington’s hegemony.

Two of Romney’s right-wing neoconservative advisors said that Romney as president would “confront Moscow on its poor record on democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.” The western media will not comment on the irony of these propagandistic allegations against Russia issuing from the US, the country that has destroyed habeas corpus and due process protections of the accused, tortured detainees in violation of the Geneva Conventions and its own statutory law, kidnaps, tortures, and assassinates foreign nationals as well as its own citizens, supports terrorism against Libya, Syria, Iran, and Russia, runs roughshod over international law, never submitting to law itself but using law as a weapon against governments that it has demonized, while it carries on military operations against seven Muslim countries without a declaration of war.

The Nuremberg Trials of Germans after World War II established that naked aggression is a war crime. Naked aggression, renamed by Washington, “preemptive war,” has become the operative principle of US foreign policy.

As Putin remarked, Washington is guilty of the crimes of which it accuses others, but Washington permits all things to “the indispensable nation.”

Amerika uber alles!

RNC 2012: Crazy Never Sleeps






(Still not voting for either party. Seems to me someone who ISN'T bought and sold like the Republicans and Democrats are would produce better numbers than both put together.)



Greed and Debt: The True Story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital (Bain bailout documents included)

How the GOP presidential candidate and his private equity firm staged an epic wealth grab, destroyed jobs – and stuck others with the bill


By MATT TAIBBI -  Rolling Stone - AUGUST 29, 2012

The great criticism of Mitt Romney, from both sides of the aisle, has always been that he doesn't stand for anything. He's a flip-flopper, they say, a lightweight, a cardboard opportunist who'll say anything to get elected.

The critics couldn't be more wrong. Mitt Romney is no tissue-paper man. He's closer to being a revolutionary, a backward-world version of Che or Trotsky, with tweezed nostrils instead of a beard, a half-Windsor instead of a leather jerkin. His legendary flip-flops aren't the lies of a bumbling opportunist – they're the confident prevarications of a man untroubled by misleading the nonbeliever in pursuit of a single, all-consuming goal. Romney has a vision, and he's trying for something big: We've just been too slow to sort out what it is, just as we've been slow to grasp the roots of the radical economic changes that have swept the country in the last generation.

The incredible untold story of the 2012 election so far is that Romney's run has been a shimmering pearl of perfect political hypocrisy, which he's somehow managed to keep hidden, even with thousands of cameras following his every move. And the drama of this rhetorical high-wire act was ratcheted up even further when Romney chose his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin – like himself, a self-righteously anal, thin-lipped, Whitest Kids U Know penny pincher who'd be honored to tell Oliver Twist there's no more soup left. By selecting Ryan, Romney, the hard-charging, chameleonic champion of a disgraced-yet-defiant Wall Street, officially succeeded in moving the battle lines in the 2012 presidential race.

Like John McCain four years before, Romney desperately needed a vice-presidential pick that would change the game. But where McCain bet on a combustive mix of clueless novelty and suburban sexual tension named Sarah Palin, Romney bet on an idea. He said as much when he unveiled his choice of Ryan, the author of a hair-raising budget-cutting plan best known for its willingness to slash the sacred cows of Medicare and Medicaid. "Paul Ryan has become an intellectual leader of the Republican Party," Romney told frenzied Republican supporters in Norfolk, Virginia, standing before the reliably jingoistic backdrop of a floating warship. "He understands the fiscal challenges facing America: our exploding deficits and crushing debt."

Debt, debt, debt. If the Republican Party had a James Carville, this is what he would have said to win Mitt over, in whatever late-night war room session led to the Ryan pick: "It's the debt, stupid." This is the way to defeat Barack Obama: to recast the race as a jeremiad against debt, something just about everybody who's ever gotten a bill in the mail hates on a primal level.

Last May, in a much-touted speech in Iowa, Romney used language that was literally inflammatory to describe America's federal borrowing. "A prairie fire of debt is sweeping across Iowa and our nation," he declared. "Every day we fail to act, that fire gets closer to the homes and children we love." Our collective debt is no ordinary problem: According to Mitt, it's going to burn our children alive.

And this is where we get to the hypocrisy at the heart of Mitt Romney. Everyone knows that he is fantastically rich, having scored great success, the legend goes, as a "turnaround specialist," a shrewd financial operator who revived moribund companies as a high-priced consultant for a storied Wall Street private equity firm. But what most voters don't know is the way Mitt Romney actually made his fortune: by borrowing vast sums of money that other people were forced to pay back. This is the plain, stark reality that has somehow eluded America's top political journalists for two consecutive presidential campaigns: Mitt Romney is one of the greatest and most irresponsible debt creators of all time. In the past few decades, in fact, Romney has piled more debt onto more unsuspecting companies, written more gigantic checks that other people have to cover, than perhaps all but a handful of people on planet Earth.

By making debt the centerpiece of his campaign, Romney was making a calculated bluff of historic dimensions – placing a massive all-in bet on the rank incompetence of the American press corps. The result has been a brilliant comedy: A man makes a $250 million fortune loading up companies with debt and then extracting million-dollar fees from those same companies, in exchange for the generous service of telling them who needs to be fired in order to finance the debt payments he saddled them with in the first place. That same man then runs for president riding an image of children roasting on flames of debt, choosing as his running mate perhaps the only politician in America more pompous and self-righteous on the subject of the evils of borrowed money than the candidate himself. If Romney pulls off this whopper, you'll have to tip your hat to him: No one in history has ever successfully run for president riding this big of a lie. It's almost enough to make you think he really is qualified for the White House.

The unlikeliness of Romney's gambit isn't simply a reflection of his own artlessly unapologetic mindset – it stands as an emblem for the resiliency of the entire sociopathic Wall Street set he represents. Four years ago, the Mitt Romneys of the world nearly destroyed the global economy with their greed, shortsightedness and – most notably – wildly irresponsible use of debt in pursuit of personal profit. The sight was so disgusting that people everywhere were ready to drop an H-bomb on Lower Manhattan and bayonet the survivors. But today that same insane greed ethos, that same belief in the lunatic pursuit of instant borrowed millions – it's dusted itself off, it's had a shave and a shoeshine, and it's back out there running for president.

Mitt Romney, it turns out, is the perfect frontman for Wall Street's greed revolution. He's not a two-bit, shifty-eyed huckster like Lloyd Blankfein. He's not a sighing, eye-rolling, arrogant jerkwad like Jamie Dimon. But Mitt believes the same things those guys believe: He's been right with them on the front lines of the financialization revolution, a decades-long campaign in which the old, simple, let's-make-stuff-and-sell-it manufacturing economy was replaced with a new, highly complex, let's-take-stuff-and-trash-it financial economy. Instead of cars and airplanes, we built swaps, CDOs and other toxic financial products. Instead of building new companies from the ground up, we took out massive bank loans and used them to acquire existing firms, liquidating every asset in sight and leaving the target companies holding the note. The new borrow-and-conquer economy was morally sanctified by an almost religious faith in the grossly euphemistic concept of "creative destruction," and amounted to a total abdication of collective responsibility by America's rich, whose new thing was making assloads of money in ever-shorter campaigns of economic conquest, sending the proceeds offshore, and shrugging as the great towns and factories their parents and grandparents built were shuttered and boarded up, crushed by a true prairie fire of debt.

Mitt Romney – a man whose own father built cars and nurtured communities, and was one of the old-school industrial anachronisms pushed aside by the new generation's wealth grab – has emerged now to sell this make-nothing, take-everything, screw-everyone ethos to the world. He's Gordon Gekko, but a new and improved version, with better PR – and a bigger goal. A takeover artist all his life, Romney is now trying to take over America itself. And if his own history is any guide, we'll all end up paying for the acquisition.

Willard "Mitt" Romney's background in many ways suggests a man who was born to be president – disgustingly rich from birth, raised in prep schools, no early exposure to minorities outside of maids, a powerful daddy to clean up his missteps, and timely exemptions from military service. In Romney's bio there are some eerie early-life similarities to other recent presidential figures. (Is America really ready for another Republican president who was a prep-school cheerleader?) And like other great presidential double-talkers such as Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Romney has shown particular aptitude in the area of telling multiple factual versions of his own life story.

"I longed in many respects to actually be in Vietnam and be representing our country there," he claimed years after the war. To a different audience, he said, "I was not planning on signing up for the military. It was not my desire to go off and serve in Vietnam."

Like John F. Kennedy and George W. Bush, men whose way into power was smoothed by celebrity fathers but who rebelled against their parental legacy as mature politicians, Mitt Romney's career has been both a tribute to and a repudiation of his famous father. George Romney in the 1950s became CEO of American Motors Corp., made a modest fortune betting on energy efficiency in an age of gas guzzlers and ended up serving as governor of the state of Michigan only two generations removed from the Romney clan's tradition of polygamy. For Mitt, who grew up worshipping his tall, craggily handsome, politically moderate father, life was less rocky: Cranbrook prep school in suburban Detroit, followed by Stanford in the Sixties, a missionary term in which he spent two and a half years trying (as he said) to persuade the French to "give up your wine," and Harvard Business School in the Seventies. Then, faced with making a career choice, Mitt chose an odd one: Already married and a father of two, he left Harvard and eschewed both politics and the law to enter the at-the-time unsexy world of financial consulting.

"When you get out of a place like Harvard, you can do anything – at least in the old days you could," says a prominent corporate lawyer on Wall Street who is familiar with Romney's career. "But he comes out, he not only has a Harvard Business School degree, he's got a national pedigree with his name. He could have done anything – but what does he do? He says, 'I'm going to spend my life loading up distressed companies with debt.' "

Romney started off at the Boston Consulting Group, where he showed an aptitude for crunching numbers and glad-handing clients. Then, in 1977, he joined a young entrepreneur named Bill Bain at a firm called Bain & Company, where he worked for six years before being handed the reins of a new firm-within-a-firm called Bain Capital.

In Romney's version of the tale, Bain Capital – which evolved into what is today known as a private equity firm – specialized in turning around moribund companies (Romney even wrote a book called Turnaround that complements his other nauseatingly self-complimentary book, No Apology) and helped create the Staples office-supply chain. On the campaign trail, Romney relentlessly trades on his own self-perpetuated reputation as a kind of altruistic rescuer of failing enterprises, never missing an opportunity to use the word "help" or "helped" in his description of what he and Bain did for companies. He might, for instance, describe himself as having been "deeply involved in helping other businesses" or say he "helped create tens of thousands of jobs."

The reality is that toward the middle of his career at Bain, Romney made a fateful strategic decision: He moved away from creating companies like Staples through venture capital schemes, and toward a business model that involved borrowing huge sums of money to take over existing firms, then extracting value from them by force. He decided, as he later put it, that "there's a lot greater risk in a startup than there is in acquiring an existing company." In the Eighties, when Romney made this move, this form of financial piracy became known as a leveraged buyout, and it achieved iconic status thanks to Gordon Gekko in Wall Street. Gekko's business strategy was essentially identical to the Romney–Bain model, only Gekko called himself a "liberator" of companies instead of a "helper."

Here's how Romney would go about "liberating" a company: A private equity firm like Bain typically seeks out floundering businesses with good cash flows. It then puts down a relatively small amount of its own money and runs to a big bank like Goldman Sachs or Citigroup for the rest of the financing. (Most leveraged buyouts are financed with 60 to 90 percent borrowed cash.) The takeover firm then uses that borrowed money to buy a controlling stake in the target company, either with or without its consent. When an LBO is done without the consent of the target, it's called a hostile takeover; such thrilling acts of corporate piracy were made legend in the Eighties, most notably the 1988 attack by notorious corporate raiders Kohlberg Kravis Roberts against RJR Nabisco, a deal memorialized in the book Barbarians at the Gate.

Romney and Bain avoided the hostile approach, preferring to secure the cooperation of their takeover targets by buying off a company's management with lucrative bonuses. Once management is on board, the rest is just math. So if the target company is worth $500 million, Bain might put down $20 million of its own cash, then borrow $350 million from an investment bank to take over a controlling stake.

But here's the catch. When Bain borrows all of that money from the bank, it's the target company that ends up on the hook for all of the debt.

Now your troubled firm – let's say you make tricycles in Alabama – has been taken over by a bunch of slick Wall Street dudes who kicked in as little as five percent as a down payment. So in addition to whatever problems you had before, Tricycle Inc. now owes Goldman or Citigroup $350 million. With all that new debt service to pay, the company's bottom line is suddenly untenable: You almost have to start firing people immediately just to get your costs down to a manageable level.

"That interest," says Lynn Turner, former chief accountant of the Securities and Exchange Commission, "just sucks the profit out of the company."

Fortunately, the geniuses at Bain who now run the place are there to help tell you whom to fire. And for the service it performs cutting your company's costs to help you pay off the massive debt that it, Bain, saddled your company with in the first place, Bain naturally charges a management fee, typically millions of dollars a year. So Tricycle Inc. now has two gigantic new burdens it never had before Bain Capital stepped into the picture: tens of millions in annual debt service, and millions more in "management fees." Since the initial acquisition of Tricycle Inc. was probably greased by promising the company's upper management lucrative bonuses, all that pain inevitably comes out of just one place: the benefits and payroll of the hourly workforce.

Once all that debt is added, one of two things can happen. The company can fire workers and slash benefits to pay off all its new obligations to Goldman Sachs and Bain, leaving it ripe to be resold by Bain at a huge profit. Or it can go bankrupt – this happens after about seven percent of all private equity buyouts – leaving behind one or more shuttered factory towns. Either way, Bain wins. By power-sucking cash value from even the most rapidly dying firms, private equity raiders like Bain almost always get their cash out before a target goes belly up.

This business model wasn't really "helping," of course – and it wasn't new. Fans of mob movies will recognize what's known as the "bust-out," in which a gangster takes over a restaurant or sporting goods store and then monetizes his investment by running up giant debts on the company's credit line. (Think Paulie buying all those cases of Cutty Sark inGoodfellas.) When the note comes due, the mobster simply torches the restaurant and collects the insurance money. Reduced to their most basic level, the leveraged buyouts engineered by Romney followed exactly the same business model. "It's the bust-out," one Wall Street trader says with a laugh. "That's all it is."

Private equity firms aren't necessarily evil by definition. There are many stories of successful turnarounds fueled by private equity, often involving multiple floundering businesses that are rolled into a single entity, eliminating duplicative overhead. Experian, the giant credit-rating tyrant, was acquired by Bain in the Nineties and went on to become an industry leader.

But there's a key difference between private equity firms and the businesses that were America's original industrial cornerstones, like the elder Romney's AMC. Everyone had a stake in the success of those old businesses, which spread prosperity by putting people to work. But even private equity's most enthusiastic adherents have difficulty explaining its benefit to society. Marc Wolpow, a former Bain colleague of Romney's, told reporters during Mitt's first Senate run that Romney erred in trying to sell his business as good for everyone. "I believed he was making a mistake by framing himself as a job creator," said Wolpow. "That was not his or Bain's or the industry's primary objective. The objective of the LBO business is maximizing returns for investors." When it comes to private equity, American workers – not to mention their families and communities – simply don't enter into the equation.

Take a typical Bain transaction involving an Indiana-based company called American Pad and Paper. Bain bought Ampad in 1992 for just $5 million, financing the rest of the deal with borrowed cash. Within three years, Ampad was paying $60 million in annual debt payments, plus an additional $7 million in management fees. A year later, Bain led Ampad to go public, cashed out about $50 million in stock for itself and its investors, charged the firm $2 million for arranging the IPO and pocketed another $5 million in "management" fees. Ampad wound up going bankrupt, and hundreds of workers lost their jobs, but Bain and Romney weren't crying: They'd made more than $100 million on a $5 million investment.

To recap: Romney, who has compared the devilish federal debt to a "nightmare" home mortgage that is "adjustable, no-money down and assigned to our children," took over Ampad with essentially no money down, saddled the firm with a nightmare debt and assigned the crushing interest payments not to Bain but to the children of Ampad's workers, who would be left holding the note long after Romney fled the scene. The mortgage analogy is so obvious, in fact, that even Romney himself has made it. He once described Bain's debt-fueled strategy as "using the equivalent of a mortgage to leverage up our investment."

Romney has always kept his distance from the real-life consequences of his profiteering. At one point during Bain's looting of Ampad, a worker named Randy Johnson sent a handwritten letter to Romney, asking him to intervene to save an Ampad factory in Marion, Indiana. In a sterling demonstration of manliness and willingness to face a difficult conversation, Romney, who had just lost his race for the Senate in Massachusetts, wrote Johnson that he was "sorry," but his lawyers had advised him not to get involved. (So much for the candidate who insists that his way is always to "fight to save every job.")

This is typical Romney, who consistently adopts a public posture of having been above the fray, with no blood on his hands from any of the deals he personally engineered. "I never actually ran one of our investments," he says in Turnaround. "That was left to management."

In reality, though, Romney was unquestionably the decider at Bain. "I insisted on having almost dictatorial powers," he bragged years after the Ampad deal. Over the years, colleagues would anonymously whisper stories about Mitt the Boss to the press, describing him as cunning, manipulative and a little bit nuts, with "an ability to identify people's insecurities and exploit them for his own benefit." One former Bain employee said that Romney would screw around with bonuses in small amounts, just to mess with people: He would give $3 million to one, $3.1 million to another and $2.9 million to a third, just to keep those below him on edge.

The private equity business in the early Nineties was dominated by a handful of takeover firms, from the spooky and politically connected Carlyle Group (a favorite subject of conspiracy-theory lit, with its connections to right-wingers like Donald Rumsfeld and George H.W. Bush) to the equally spooky Democrat-leaning assholes at the Blackstone Group. But even among such a colorful cast of characters, Bain had a reputation on Wall Street for secrecy and extreme weirdness – "the KGB of consulting." Its employees, known for their Mormonish uniform of white shirts and red power ties, were dubbed "Bainies" by other Wall Streeters, a rip on the fanatical "Moonies." The firm earned the name thanks to its idiotically adolescent Spy Kids culture, in which these glorified slumlords used code names, didn't carry business cards and even sang "company songs" to boost morale.

The seemingly religious flavor of Bain's culture smacks of the generally cultish ethos on Wall Street, in which all sorts of ethically questionable behaviors are justified as being necessary in service of the church of making money. Romney belongs to a true-believer subset within that cult, with a revolutionary's faith in the wisdom of the pure free market, in which destroying companies and sucking the value out of them for personal gain is part of the greater good, and governments should "stand aside and allow the creative destruction inherent in the free economy."

That cultlike zeal helps explains why Romney takes such a curiously unapologetic approach to his own flip-flopping. His infamous changes of stance are not little wispy ideological alterations of a few degrees here or there – they are perfect and absolute mathematical reversals, as in "I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country" and "I am firmly pro-life." Yet unlike other politicians, who at least recognize that saying completely contradictory things presents a political problem, Romney seems genuinely puzzled by the public's insistence that he be consistent. "I'm not going to apologize for having changed my mind," he likes to say. It's an attitude that recalls the standard defense offered by Wall Street in the wake of some of its most recent and notorious crimes: Goldman Sachs excused its lying to clients, for example, by insisting that its customers are "sophisticated investors" who should expect to be lied to. "Last time I checked," former Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack sneered after the same scandal, "we were in business to be profitable."

Within the cult of Wall Street that forged Mitt Romney, making money justifies any behavior, no matter how venal. The look on Romney's face when he refuses to apologize says it all: Hey, I'm trying to win an election. We're all grown-ups here. After the Ampad deal, Romney expressed contempt for critics who lived in "fantasy land." "This is the real world," he said, "and in the real world there is nothing wrong with companies trying to compete, trying to stay alive, trying to make money."

In the old days, making money required sharing the wealth: with assembly-line workers, with middle management, with schools and communities, with investors. Even the Gilded Age robber barons, despite their unapologetic efforts to keep workers from getting any rights at all, built America in spite of themselves, erecting railroads and oil wells and telegraph wires. And from the time the monopolists were reined in with antitrust laws through the days when men like Mitt Romney's dad exited center stage in our economy, the American social contract was pretty consistent: The rich got to stay rich, often filthy rich, but they paid taxes and a living wage and everyone else rose at least a little bit along with them.

But under Romney's business model, leveraging other people's debt means you can carve out big profits for yourself and leave everyone else holding the bag. Despite what Romney claims, the rate of return he provided for Bain's investors over the years wasn't all that great. Romney biographer and Wall Street Journal reporter Brett Arends, who analyzed Bain's performance between 1984 and 1998, concludes that the firm's returns were likely less than 30 percent per year, which happened to track more or less with the stock market's average during that time. "That's how much money you could have made by issuing company bonds and then spending the money picking stocks out of the paper at random," Arends observes. So for all the destruction Romney wreaked on Middle America in the name of "trying to make money," investors could have just plunked their money into traditional stocks and gotten pretty much the same returns.

The only ones who profited in a big way from all the job-killing debt that Romney leveraged were Mitt and his buddies at Bain, along with Wall Street firms like Goldman and Citigroup. Barry Ritholtz, author of Bailout Nation, says the criticisms of Bain about layoffs and meanness miss a more important point, which is that the firm's profit-producing record is absurdly mediocre, especially when set against all the trouble and pain its business model causes. "Bain's fundamental flaw, at least according to the math," Ritholtz writes, "is that they took lots of risk, use immense leverage and charged enormous fees, for performance that was more or less the same as [stock] indexing."

'I'm not a Romney guy, because I'm not a Bain guy," says Lenny Patnode, in an Irish pub in the factory town of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. "But I'm not an Obama guy, either. Just so you know."

I feel bad even asking Patnode about Romney. Big and burly, with white hair and the thick forearms of a man who's stocked a shelf or two in his lifetime, he seems to belong to an era before things like leveraged debt even existed. For 38 years, Patnode worked for a company called KB Toys in Pittsfield. He was the longest-serving employee in the company's history, opening some of the firm's first mall stores, making some of its canniest product buys ("Tamagotchi pets," he says, beaming, "and Tech-Decks, too"), traveling all over the world to help build an empire that at its peak included 1,300 stores. "There were times when I worked seven days a week, 16 hours a day," he says. "I opened three stores in two months once."

Then in 2000, right before Romney gave up his ownership stake in Bain Capital, the firm targeted KB Toys. The debacle that followed serves as a prime example of the conflict between the old model of American business, built from the ground up with sweat and industry know-how, and the new globalist model, the Romney model, which uses leverage as a weapon of high-speed conquest.

In a typical private-equity fragging, Bain put up a mere $18 million to acquire KB Toys and got big banks to finance the remaining $302 million it needed. Less than a year and a half after the purchase, Bain decided to give itself a gift known as a "dividend recapitalization." The firm induced KB Toys to redeem $121 million in stock and take out more than $66 million in bank loans – $83 million of which went directly into the pockets of Bain's owners and investors, including Romney. "The dividend recap is like borrowing someone else's credit card to take out a cash advance, and then leaving them to pay it off," says Heather Slavkin Corzo, who monitors private equity takeovers as the senior legal policy adviser for the AFL-CIO.

Bain ended up earning a return of at least 370 percent on the deal, while KB Toys fell into bankruptcy, saddled with millions in debt. KB's former parent company, Big Lots, alleged in bankruptcy court that Bain's "unjustified" return on the dividend recap was actually "900 percent in a mere 16 months." Patnode, by contrast, was fired in December 2008, after almost four decades on the job. Like other employees, he didn't get a single day's severance.

I ask Slavkin Corzo what Bain's justification was for the giant dividend recapitalization in the KB Toys acquisition. The question throws her, as though she's surprised anyone would ask for a reason a company like Bain would loot a firm like KB Toys. "It wasn't like, 'Yay, we did a good job, we get a dividend,'" she says with a laugh. "It was like, 'We can do this, so we will.' "

At the time of the KB Toys deal, Romney was a Bain investor and owner, making him a mere beneficiary of the raping and pillaging, rather than its direct organizer. Moreover, KB's demise was hastened by a host of genuine market forces, including competition from video games and cellphones. But there's absolutely no way to look at what Bain did at KB and see anything but a cash grab – one that followed the business model laid out by Romney. Rather than cutting costs and tightening belts, Bain added $300 million in debt to the firm's bottom line while taking out more than $120 million in cash – an outright looting that creditors later described in a lawsuit as "breaking open the piggy bank." What's more, Bain smoothed the deal in typical fashion by giving huge bonuses to the company's top managers as the firm headed toward bankruptcy. CEO Michael Glazer got an incredible $18.4 million, while CFO Robert Feldman received $4.8 million and senior VP Thomas Alfonsi took home $3.3 million.

And what did Bain bring to the table in return for its massive, outsize payout? KB Toys had built a small empire by targeting middle-class buyers with value-priced products. It succeeded mainly because the firm's leaders had a great instinct for what they were making and selling. These were people who had been in the specialty toy business since 1922; collectively, they had millions of man-hours of knowledge about how the industry works and how toy customers behave. KB's president in the Eighties, the late Saul Rubenstein, used to carry around a giant computer printout of the company's inventory, and would fall asleep reading it on the weekends, the pages clasped to his chest. "He knew the name and number of all those toys," his widow, Shirley, says proudly. "He loved toys."

Bain's experience in the toy industry, by contrast, was precisely bupkus. They didn't know a damn thing about the business they had taken over – and they never cared to learn. The firm's entire contribution was $18 million in cash and a huge mound of borrowed money that gave it the power to pull the levers. "The people who came in after – they were never toy people," says Shirley Rubenstein. To make matters worse, former employees say, Bain deluged them with requests for paperwork and reports, forcing them to worry more about the whims of their new bosses than the demands of their customers. "We took our eye off the ball," Patnode says. "And if you take your eye off the ball, you strike out."

In the end, Bain never bothered to come up with a plan for how KB Toys could meet the 21st-century challenges of video games and cellphone gadgets that were the company's ostensible downfall. And that's where Romney's self-touted reputation as a turnaround specialist is a myth. In the Bain model, the actual turnaround isn't necessary. It's just a cover story. It's nice for the private equity firm if it happens, because it makes the acquired company more attractive for resale or an IPO. But it's mostly irrelevant to the success of the takeover model, where huge cash returns are extracted whether the captured firm thrives or not.

"The thing about it is, nobody gets hurt," says Patnode. "Except the people who worked here."

Romney was a prime mover in the radical social and political transformation that was cooked up by Wall Street beginning in the 1980s. In fact, you can trace the whole history of the modern age of financialization just by following the highly specific corner of the economic universe inhabited by the leveraged buyout business, where Mitt Romney thrived. If you look at the number of leveraged buyouts dating back two or three decades, you see a clear pattern: Takeovers rose sharply with each of Wall Street's great easy-money schemes, then plummeted just as sharply after each of those scams crashed and burned, leaving the rest of us with the bill.

In the Eighties, when Romney and Bain were cutting their teeth in the LBO business, the primary magic trick involved the junk bonds pioneered by convicted felon Mike Milken, which allowed firms like Bain to find easy financing for takeovers by using wildly overpriced distressed corporate bonds as collateral. Junk bonds gave the Gordon Gekkos of the world sudden primacy over old-school industrial titans like the Fords and the Rockefellers: For the first time, the ability to make deals became more valuable than the ability to make stuff, and the ability to instantly engineer billions in illusory financing trumped the comparatively slow process of making and selling products for gradual returns.

Romney was right in the middle of this radical change. In fact, according to The Boston Globe – whose in-depth reporting on Romney and Bain has spanned three decades – one of Romney's first LBO deals, and one of his most profitable, involved Mike Milken himself. Bain put down $10 million in cash, got $300 million in financing from Milken and bought a pair of department-store chains, Bealls Brothers and Palais Royal. In what should by now be a familiar outcome, the two chains – which Bain merged into a single outfit called Stage Stores – filed for bankruptcy protection in 2000 under the weight of more than $444 million in debt. As always, Bain took no responsibility for the company's demise. (If you search the public record, you will not find a single instance of Mitt Romney taking responsibility for a company's failure.) Instead, Bain blamed Stage's collapse on "operating problems" that took place three years after Bain cashed out, finishing with a $175 million return on its initial investment of $10 million.

But here's the interesting twist: Romney made the Bealls-Palais deal just as the federal government was launching charges of massive manipulation and insider trading against Milken and his firm, Drexel Burnham Lambert. After what must have been a lengthy and agonizing period of moral soul-searching, however, Romney decided not to kill the deal, despite its shady financing. "We did not say, 'Oh, my goodness, Drexel has been accused of something, not been found guilty,' " Romney told reporters years after the deal. "Should we basically stop the transaction and blow the whole thing up?"

In an even more incredible disregard for basic morality, Romney forged ahead with the deal even though Milken's case was being heard by a federal district judge named Milton Pollack, whose wife, Moselle, happened to be the chairwoman of none other than Palais Royal. In short, one of Romney's first takeover deals was financed by dirty money – and one of the corporate chiefs about to receive a big payout from Bain was married to the judge hearing the case. Although the SEC took no formal action, it issued a sharp criticism, complaining that Romney was allowing Milken's money to have a possible influence over "the administration of justice."

After Milken and his junk bond scheme crashed in the late Eighties, Romney and other takeover artists moved on to Wall Street's next get-rich-quick scheme: the tech-Internet stock bubble. By 1997 and 1998, there were nearly $400 billion in leveraged buyouts a year, as easy money once again gave these financial piracy firms the ammunition they needed to raid companies like KB Toys. Firms like Bain even have a colorful pirate name for the pools of takeover money they raise in advance from pension funds, university endowments and other institutional investors. "They call it dry powder," says Slavkin Corzo, the union adviser.

After the Internet bubble burst and private equity started cashing in on Wall Street's mortgage scam, LBO deals ballooned to almost $900 billion in 2006. Once again, storied companies with long histories and deep regional ties were descended upon by Bain and other pirates, saddled with hundreds of millions in debt, forced to pay huge management fees and "dividend recapitalizations," and ridden into bankruptcy amid waves of layoffs. Established firms like Del Monte, Hertz and Dollar General were all taken over in a "prairie fire of debt" – one even more destructive than the government borrowing that Romney is flogging on the campaign trial. When Hertz was conquered in 2005 by a trio of private equity firms, including the Carlyle Group, the interest payments on its debt soared by a monstrous 80 percent, forcing the company to eliminate a third of its 32,000 jobs.

In 2010, a year after the last round of Hertz layoffs, Carlyle teamed up with Bain to take $500 million out of another takeover target: the parent company of Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins. Dunkin' had to take out a $1.25 billion loan to pay a dividend to its new private equity owners. So think of this the next time you go to Dunkin' Donuts for a cup of coffee: A small cup of joe costs about $1.69 in most outlets, which means that for years to come, Dunkin' Donuts will have to sell about 2,011,834 small coffees every month – about $3.4 million – just to meet the interest payments on the loan it took out to pay Bain and Carlyle their little one-time dividend. And that doesn't include the principal on the loan, or the additional millions in debt that Dunkin' has to pay every year to get out from under the $2.4 billion in debt it's now saddled with after having the privilege of being taken over – with borrowed money – by the firm that Romney built.

If you haven't heard much about how takeover deals like Dunkin' and KB Toys work, that's because Mitt Romney and his private equity brethren don't want you to. The new owners of American industry are the polar opposites of the Milton Hersheys and Andrew Carnegies who built this country, commercial titans who longed to leave visible legacies of their accomplishments, erecting hospitals and schools and libraries, sometimes leaving behind thriving towns that bore their names.

The men of the private equity generation want no such thing. "We try to hide religiously," explained Steven Feinberg, the CEO of a takeover firm called Cerberus Capital Management that recently drove one of its targets into bankruptcy after saddling it with $2.3 billion in debt. "If anyone at Cerberus has his picture in the paper and a picture of his apartment, we will do more than fire that person," Feinberg told shareholders in 2007. "We will kill him. The jail sentence will be worth it."

Which brings us to another aspect of Romney's business career that has largely been hidden from voters: His personal fortune would not have been possible without the direct assistance of the U.S. government. The taxpayer-funded subsidies that Romney has received go well beyond the humdrum, backdoor, welfare-sucking that all supposedly self-made free marketeers inevitably indulge in. Not that Romney hasn't done just fine at milking the government when it suits his purposes, the most obvious instance being the incredible $1.5 billion in aid he siphoned out of the U.S. Treasury as head of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake – a sum greater than all federal spending for the previous seven U.S. Olympic games combined. Romney, the supposed fiscal conservative, blew through an average of $625,000 in taxpayer money per athlete – an astounding increase of 5,582 percent over the $11,000 average at the 1984 games in Los Angeles. In 1993, right as he was preparing to run for the Senate, Romney also engineered a government deal worth at least $10 million for Bain's consulting firm, when it was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. (See "The Federal Bailout That Saved Romney")

But the way Romney most directly owes his success to the government is through the structure of the tax code. The entire business of leveraged buyouts wouldn't be possible without a provision in the federal code that allows companies like Bain to deduct the interest on the debt they use to acquire and loot their targets. This is the same universally beloved tax deduction you can use to write off your mortgage interest payments, so tampering with it is considered political suicide – it's been called the "third rail of tax reform." So the Romney who routinely rails against the national debt as some kind of child-killing "mortgage" is the same man who spent decades exploiting a tax deduction specifically designed for mortgage holders in order to bilk every dollar he could out of U.S. businesses before burning them to the ground.

Because minus that tax break, Romney's debt-based takeovers would have been unsustainably expensive. Before Lynn Turner became chief accountant of the SEC, where he reviewed filings on takeover deals, he crunched the numbers on leveraged buyouts as an accountant at a Big Four auditing firm. "In the majority of these deals," Turner says, "the tax deduction has a big enough impact on the bottom line that the takeover wouldn't work without it."

Thanks to the tax deduction, in other words, the government actually incentivizes the kind of leverage-based takeovers that Romney built his fortune on. Romney the businessman built his career on two things that Romney the candidate decries: massive debt and dumb federal giveaways. "I don't know what Romney would be doing but for debt and its tax-advantaged position in the tax code," says a prominent Wall Street lawyer, "but he wouldn't be fabulously wealthy."

Adding to the hypocrisy, the money that Romney personally pocketed on Bain's takeover deals was usually taxed not as income, but either as capital gains or as "carried interest," both of which are capped at a maximum rate of 15 percent. In addition, reporters have uncovered plenty of evidence that Romney takes full advantage of offshore tax havens: He has an interest in at least 12 Bain funds, worth a total of $30 million, that are based in the Cayman Islands; he has reportedly used a squirrelly tax shelter known as a "blocker corporation" that cheats taxpayers out of some $100 million a year; and his wife, Ann, had a Swiss bank account worth $3 million. As a private equity pirate, Romney pays less than half the tax rate of most American executives – less, even, than teachers, firefighters, cops and nurses. Asked about the fact that he paid a tax rate of only 13.9 percent on income of $21.7 million in 2010, Romney responded testily that the massive windfall he enjoys from exploiting the tax code is "entirely legal and fair."

Essentially, Romney got rich in a business that couldn't exist without a perverse tax break, and he got to keep double his earnings because of another loophole – a pair of bureaucratic accidents that have not only teamed up to threaten us with a Mitt Romney presidency but that make future Romneys far more likely. "Those two tax rules distort the economics of private equity investments, making them much more lucrative than they should be," says Rebecca Wilkins, senior counsel at the Center for Tax Justice. "So we get more of that activity than the market would support on its own."

Listen to Mitt Romney speak, and see if you can notice what's missing. This is a man who grew up in Michigan, went to college in California, walked door to door through the streets of southern France as a missionary and was a governor of Massachusetts, the home of perhaps the most instantly recognizable, heavily accented English this side of Edinburgh. Yet not a trace of any of these places is detectable in Romney's diction. None of the people in any of those places bled in and left a mark on the man.

Romney is a man from nowhere. In his post-regional attitude, he shares something with his campaign opponent, Barack Obama, whose background is a similarly jumbled pastiche of regionally nonspecific non-identity. But in the way he bounced around the world as a half-orphaned child, Obama was more like an involuntary passenger in the demographic revolution reshaping the planet than one of its leaders.

Romney, on the other hand, is a perfect representative of one side of the ominous cultural divide that will define the next generation, not just here in America but all over the world. Forget about the Southern strategy, blue versus red, swing states and swing voters – all of those political clichĂ©s are quaint relics of a less threatening era that is now part of our past, or soon will be. The next conflict defining us all is much more unnerving.

That conflict will be between people who live somewhere, and people who live nowhere. It will be between people who consider themselves citizens of actual countries, to which they have patriotic allegiance, and people to whom nations are meaningless, who live in a stateless global archipelago of privilege – a collection of private schools, tax havens and gated residential communities with little or no connection to the outside world.

Mitt Romney isn't blue or red. He's an archipelago man. That's a big reason that voters have been slow to warm up to him. From LBJ to Bill Clinton to George W. Bush to Sarah Palin, Americans like their politicians to sound like they're from somewhere, to be human symbols of our love affair with small towns, the girl next door, the little pink houses of Mellencamp myth. Most of those mythical American towns grew up around factories – think chocolate bars from Hershey, baseball bats from Louisville, cereals from Battle Creek. Deep down, what scares voters in both parties the most is the thought that these unique and vital places are vanishing or eroding – overrun by immigrants or the forces of globalism or both, with giant Walmarts descending like spaceships to replace the corner grocer, the family barber and the local hardware store, and 1,000 cable channels replacing the school dance and the gossip at the local diner.

Obama ran on "change" in 2008, but Mitt Romney represents a far more real and seismic shift in the American landscape. Romney is the frontman and apostle of an economic revolution, in which transactions are manufactured instead of products, wealth is generated without accompanying prosperity, and Cayman Islands partnerships are lovingly erected and nurtured while American communities fall apart. The entire purpose of the business model that Romney helped pioneer is to move money into the archipelago from the places outside it, using massive amounts of taxpayer-subsidized debt to enrich a handful of billionaires. It's a vision of society that's crazy, vicious and almost unbelievably selfish, yet it's running for president, and it has a chance of winning. Perhaps that change is coming whether we like it or not. Perhaps Mitt Romney is the best man to manage the transition. But it seems a little early to vote for that kind of wholesale surrender.


Mitt Romney's Federal Bailout: The Documents



Highlights from the records of the FDIC's rescue of Bain & Company

To uncover the true story behind the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation's $10 million bailout of Mitt Romney and Bain & Company,Rolling Stone made a Freedom of Information Act request that forced the FDIC to release more than 500 of pages of records. (The government, which was owed more than $30 million in all, had become a creditor to Bain when it took over the failed Bank of New England in early 1991.)


Prior to releasing the documents, the FDIC allowed Bain & Company to scour and redact the records. Dozens of pages were blacked out entirely, on Bain's claim that these nearly two-decade-old records contain secret "commercial or financial information." Most pages looked something like the image at below.


Despite Bain's censorship, the FDIC documents detail the surprising failure of the 1991 restructuring of Bain's finances engineered by Romney. The documents also illuminate, for the first time, the reckless measures that Romney resorted to in order to secure a lifeline from the federal government.

This excerpt of a 1992 analysis for the FDIC offers a recap of what was supposed to happen when Romney took charge and renegotiated Bain's debts in June 1991.

Almost immediately, however, it became clear that Romney's path to recovery was a complete failure. Bain's revenues continued to decline, and the company was soon bleeding red ink.




By March 1992 — barely nine months after the initial restructuring — Romney was hitting up the government and Bain's other creditors for a bailout, asking that the firm be allowed to repay its debts at just 35 cents on the dollar.

Why didn't Bain's creditors just push the firm into bankruptcy and divvy up its assets? After all, the firm was flush with borrowed cash following the 1991 restructuring.

The documents reveal that Romney had perverse leverage: The terms of the 1991 deal gave Bain the authority to reward its executives with massive bonuses, regardless of performance. If creditors refused to allow the firm to pay down its debt at a fraction of the legal value, in other words, Romney could begin to loot the firm's cash reserves by doling out unmerited bonus pay.


The terms of the 1991 restructuring deal required that all of Bain's creditors agree before repayment terms could be modified. Several creditors were unwilling to give in to demands for a bailout. In short: They called Romney's bluff.

Today, as a presidential candidate, Romney is running under a banner that declares: "We have a moral responsibility not to spend more than we take in." But Romney operated under a different moral calculus at the helm of Bain & Company. Even though the firm was deeply in debt and losing money, Romney decided to place executive compensation above fiscal responsibility, paying out big bonus checks beginning in April 1992. (The Romney campaign refused to disclose whether Romney himself received a bonus.) The move was all the more egregious because Bain's top performers had just been awarded a large equity stake in the company to keep them invested in the success of the turnaround effort.


In May 1992, an analyst warned the FDIC that Romney's firm had defaulted on the revenue targets of the 1991 loan agreement.


Worse, the bonus payouts had put Bain & Company on a path to bankruptcy, as this July 1992 document records.

Attempting to cut its losses, the FDIC explored the option of selling its stake in Bain & Company. But by August 1992, analysts reported to the agency that Bain & Company had "no value as a going concern."




By December 1992, Bain & Company had returned to its creditors, proposing a new bailout with even less favorable terms: The firm asked to repay its debts at "up to $.30 on each dollar."


If creditors didn't agree? Management would once again raid the company's coffers to pay themselves fat bonus checks.


According to Romney legend — and to thisofficial history on Bain's website — "Mr. Romney left Bain & Company in 1992 to return to Bain Capital."

But the government documents obtained byRolling Stone reveal that Romney remained in an official capacity with Bain & Company well into 1993, and that he was intimately involved in finessing the firm's bailout.

This March 11, 1993 document detailing the final proposal for FDIC's bailout of Bain lists "Mit Romney" [sic] as the sole entry under "principals" for the consulting firm.


In the end, the FDIC — in concert with other creditors — capitulated, agreeing to Romney's demands to do away with much of Bain's debt.

The terms of the final proposal are discussed in the same March 11, 1993 document.

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The FDIC ultimately agreed to give Bain & Company a $10 million bailout (in the form of "debt forgiveness"). The reason: analysts working for the agency — through a company called RECOLL — believed that Romney's firm would otherwise "fail," and the government would see very little money from the firm's dissolution after Romney doled out the final round of bonus pay.


To secure his bailout, Romney wrote a personal appeal on Bain & Company letterhead dated March 23, 1993, assuring balky creditors that his latest scheme would lead the firm back to "long term financial stability."

The government records show that Bain & Company's final agreement with the FDIC was signed just a week later, on March 31, 1993.