Welcome login | signup
Language en es fr

Forum Post: The Oligarchy Doesn't Care About Democracy, Just Rigged Markets

Posted 4 years ago on April 7, 2014, 3:14 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5909)
This content is user submitted and not an official statement

The Oligarchy Doesn't Care About Democracy, Just Rigged Markets

Monday, 07 April 2014 10:40
By Mark Karlin, Truthout | Author Interview


In All the Presidents' Bankers: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Power, Wall Street journalist (and former Goldman Sachs executive) Nomi Prins writes a painstakingly researched history of the financial industry's collusion with the White House to create a self-serving United States financial policy. Get the book directly from Truthout by clicking here.

Through thorough research and incisive writing, Nomi Prins has revealed how tightly Wall Street and White House policy have been aligned for more than a century. This is a difficult relationship to nail down, but Prins - as one reviewer noted - "followed the money." As a result, All the Presidents' Bankers is a must-read blockbuster of a book that names names and nails down the reality that US domestic and foreign policy is largely driven by the interests of economic hegemony and consolidated wealth.

Prins, a former executive on Wall Street and now an author and journalist, knew where to find the evidence - and it is startling to read the details.

In an extensive interview with Truthout, Prins discusses "the hidden alliances that drive Amercan power."

Mark Karlin: Could your book have been called Wall Street Financiers Are America's Co-Presidents?

Nomi Prins: Yes, that's a great way to describe the symbiotic relationship between the men that run the White House and those that run Wall Street. But equally, the title could have been American Presidents are Wall Street's Co-Bankers. When I set out to research this book, I specifically did not want to write another book about how bankers rule the world. Many people, myself included, have written books along that "dog wags the tail" theme. But I wanted to explore the relationships between the men that reside at the two poles of power over America, those who are elected to the White House and those that govern over its finances, and about how long, and to what extent, they operate on the same page.

What I found, is that that for the past century, mutually reinforcing relationships amongst the most powerful men in the past century were drivers of American domestic, national and foreign policy than just the government was, no matter who the president, or what the party in the Oval. I found that every president had connections of various degrees of closeness with the most influential bankers during his term. I knew these associations existed throughout the decades, but I was surprised to discover just how prevalent they were.

In addition, beyond the prevalent collaborations through the years, many of the key players, or 'operators,' as John Galbraith referred to them in his book about the 1929 crash, are related in some way. As I examined this genealogy of power in America, I found an elite "family tree," with branches of blood, intermarriage and protégé-mentorship connections that has shaped America on behalf or from the perspective of its members, and not necessarily the population as a whole.

Reading your new book, I get the feeling that the privileged few in the private sector who control most of America's money, de facto, don't really give a whit about democracy. What they are focused on is free markets for the plutocracy like a laser. Is that your perspective?

The notion of free markets, mechanisms where buyers and sellers can meet to exchange securities or various kinds of goods, in which each participant has access to the same information, is a fallacy. Transparency in trading across global financial markets is a fallacy. Not only are markets rigged by, and for, the biggest players, so is the entire political-financial system.

The connection between democracy and free markets is interesting though. Democracy is predicated on the idea that every vote counts equally, and in the utopian perspective, the government adopts policies that benefit or adhere to the majority of those votes. In fact, it's the minority of elite families and private individuals that exercise the most control over America's policies and actions.

The myth of a free market is that every trader or participant is equal, when in fact the biggest players with access to the most information and technology are the ones that have a disproportionate advantage over the smaller players. What we have is a plutocracy of government and markets. The privileged few don't care, or need to care, about democracy any more than they would ever want to have truly "free" markets, though what they do want are markets liberated from as many regulations as possible. In practice, that leads to huge inherent risk.

All the President's Bankers begins in early 1900s. You detail the attempts to rein in Wall Street, which the financial industry inevitably reverse. Change only appears to occur temporarily after a huge economic setback. But in 2008, Wall Street nearly destroyed the economy and got a taxpayer bailout. Is the hidden alliance that drives American power, as you call it, becoming even more solidified?

The alliance between leaders in Washington and on Wall Street has undergone a series of character changes over the past century. In the early 1900s, when President Teddy Roosevelt - widely perceived as a "trustbuster" - was breaking up the monopolies in certain industries, he didn't 'bust' the banking industry because he was facing a great financial panic in 1907 and decided he needed J.P. Morgan's help to thwart it. In the 1910s, Taft and Wilson aligned with the bankers in establishing the Federal Reserve, and then Wilson and the bankers aligned in war-financing efforts during WWI. In the 1920s, Hoover, Coolidge and Harding and the bankers aligned to endorse a spirit of political isolationism at home, laissez-faire banking policy, and financial internationalism as US bankers pushed into Europe again to take advantage of their ailing former competitors' post-war weakness, with transactions that ultimately combusted during the 1929 crash and Great Depression. In the 1930s to the 1970s though, something changed. Between the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War and into the early 1970s, bankers were more content to be careful, to support general American expansion abroad and national interest at home, and their practices were more subdued and less speculative.

By the 1970s, things changed again; bankers found that Middle-East oil was a good source of financial independence from the US government's domestic initiatives. With Chase and Citibank leading the charge, US bankers recycled "petrodollars" into Latin American loans, got into trouble and needed the Reagan-Bush government to bail them out. It did, and from that moment on and through the major 1994 and 1999 deregulation under the Clinton administration, they increased their risk-taking and divergent path from the public interest, and though associations between bankers and presidents continued, and general national and financial policy goals were the same, bankers became more globally predatorial and had less interest in helping to sustain the general good at home. The recent 2008 crisis and time since then is the culmination of that attitude, coupled with the enabling and support by presidents of both parties, of their practices and power concentration, without requiring anything from them in return to benefit the population.



Read the Rules
[-] 2 points by JGriff99mph (507) 4 years ago

The myth of a free market is that every trader or participant is equal, when in fact the biggest players with access to the most information and technology are the ones that have a disproportionate advantage over the smaller players. What we have is a plutocracy of government and markets.

Yup. Gas is way up. Due to more people driving? Nope. All centrally controlled nonsense via Wal St and tptb.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

You point out that most of our presidents and bankers are pretty interchangeable in terms of pedigree. How is that?

Going back a hundred years, the Roosevelt family was very wealthy. President Taft was a blue-blood New Englander whose ancestors came to America in its infancy. James Roosevelt, FDR's father, was one of the founders of the elite Metropolitan Club in Manhattan. One of its cofounders was the most powerful banker - from a combined financial, political and legacy impact - America has ever known: J.P. Morgan. FDR attended Harvard, as did Jack Morgan, J.P. Morgan's son, as well as Thomas Lamont, senior partner at Morgan, who became chairman after Jack's death. Lamont lived in FDR's home during WWI, paying an obscene amount of rent for those days, that mere mortals could not.

Take that a step further. One of FDR's 1932 election supporters was Joseph P. Kennedy, who was responsible for garnering critical votes in California by rallying the support of media mogul, William Hearst. For his help, FDR appointed Kennedy the first head of the SEC and then gave him a UK Ambassadorship post. Kennedy's son, John F., attended Harvard as did David Rockefeller, himself the product of the marriage of Winthrop Aldrich's (the Chairman of Chase from 1933-1953 and son of Nelson Aldrich, father of the Federal Reserve) daughter with John D. Rockefeller's son. JFK and David Rockefeller first met while both were studying in London in 1938, at a society coming-out party thrown for JFK's sister, Kathleen, by Joseph Kennedy. By the 1960s, JFK was president of the country and David Rockefeller, president of Chase, its most politically connected bank.

All the Presidents' Bankers is full of examples of such pedigreed-infusion through families; by blood, via intermarriages, as well as mentorships extended to a chosen few outsiders. Here, I've recounted a few of them. The point is that the fabric that has been woven from the turn of the 20th century through today, is one wound very tightly through men who comprise this "upper caste" of American society and political-financial power.

Of course, an inevitable question is this: As much as progressives admire FDR as a shining light of liberalism - while publicly chastising Wall Street - didn't he actually work with them to prevent the United States from becoming communist, which is what they feared could happen in the depression?

FDR was no exception in the field of presidential-banking relationships; indeed he was born into them. During his terms in office, he had frequent correspondence and personal contact with Jack Morgan, Thomas Lamont and Russell Leffingwell, all of whom were senior partners at, and ran, the Morgan Bank (now part of JPM Chase) at various times, Winthrop Aldrich who ran Chase, and W. Randolph Burgess who was a former NY Fed official and vice chairman of National City Bank (now Citigroup). FDR was very strong-willed and politically savvy enough to use these friends to help promote his agenda, and unafraid to piss them off and even played them against each other when it suited his purpose.

When it came to fighting communism, or promoting and pushing American-style capitalism through the globe, FDR's goals aligned with those of these elite bankers. Bankers wanted capitalism because it made them rich. FDR and the government wanted capitalism because it was intrinsic to America's political and financial identity, as both the bankers and FDR were pushing America toward greater heights as a global superpower. All these players were on the same page and supported each other during FDR's presidency.

I was reading a book by Stephen Kinzer recently in which he argued that the Dulles brothers (during the Eisenhower era) believed that the consolidation of capital in the hands of a few individuals was ideal for free-market expansion, led of course globally by the US. Hasn't their goal (as secretary of state and head of the CIA at the time) been achieved?

Kinzer's book, The Brothers, is excellent. I highly recommend it. And absolutely, their goal, and the general goal of the men that preside over politics and finance remains the same - to retain and extend power. American presidents and their cabinet members do that on a personal, national and international basis, and so do bankers. During the time that the Dulles brothers were so influential, bankers were also close with Eisenhower, personally and functionally. Eisenhower's files in this regard are fascinating and discussed in more detail in my book.

The Eisenhower Doctrine that protected US allies (read: noncommunist countries that adopted, or were pushed into, US policies) was about the notion that the government and US military would stand ready to protect capitalism, (it was called "trade") in countries that adopted capitalism and liberalized their economies, against communism. At the time, this suited the bankers, because they utilized the power of the US military to open up branches all over the world in countries that fit this criteria. Equally, bank branches, like military bases, gave the US government a financial dimension that fortified their plans for global hegemony. Bankers and presidents needed each other and had the personal and professional connections to support that need. Confining these connections to a few players made it easier to get things done. It's not different from any major corporation; the real decision-making authority is concentrated within the heads of a few head honchos at the top of the firm, and everyone else sort of does their job with mild hopes and little chance of ascending to those top spots.

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

What role do the IMF and the Word Bank have in holding a stranglehold over democracy in the US and around the world?

The World Bank, in particular, was run as a joint operation between bankers and the US government since shortly after its inception. Following on from the previous question, the World Bank was not an equal opportunity lender by any means, especially during its formative years. Instead, it gave preference to noncommunist countries and better loan terms to nations that enjoyed more substantive trade relationships with the US. In 1947, President Truman chose John J. McCloy to run the World Bank. McCloy was working at a law firm connected to the Rockefeller family at the time, having just finished serving as assistant secretary of war under FDR's appointed war secretary, Henry Stimson. McCloy was the quintessential public-private office "establishment" man and later immortalized in Kai Bird's classic work, The Chairman.

McCloy had two conditions for taking the job. First, that all World Bank bonds be sold through Wall Street Banks and second, that two of his friends from Wall Street who had experience in selling bonds, be appointed his lieutenants. He got his wish. And with that, the World Bank became a pawn of the private banks, funded by the US government (and its friends).

What that means in practice, is that Wall Street can dictate where funds are raised in the private markets for World Bank initiatives, in addition to aligning with the US government regarding what countries should get aid and what is required from them in terms of privatization, austerity and other measures in return. This suited the major bankers that wanted to expand into "aid-worthy" countries - with open markets and raw natural resources. If the World Bank wants to raise funds for a country and needs private money from the capital markets as well, Wall Street has to be on board with the choice, otherwise bonds wouldn't be sold, and money wouldn't be raised. That's why, for example, during the 1980s Third World Debt Crisis, bankers pressed Reagan to provide greater federal assistance to the World Bank - they were losing money in Latin America, and if the US government and its friends could fund the World Bank to fund those countries from the public till, these nations would have more money with which to repay their private loans from the big banks. The IMF works in the same vein. There are more examples of this in the book.

How did Bill Clinton, who campaigned on a platform of lifting up the middle class, become an acolyte of Robert Rubin?

Every Democratic presidential hopeful campaigns on a platform to help the greater population, or more recently the middle class. Woodrow Wilson campaigned against the concentrated power of Wall Street, though never named names. Yet, it was Jack Morgan he called to the White House before WWI to talk war-financing strategy, and it was Paul Warburg, one of the Federal Reserve architects, that Wilson appointed as one of the Fed's first board members. FDR campaigned against the bankers but worked with them to restructure the banking system to sustain capitalism and supported their open international trade desires because it suited his own. LBJ talked of the Great Society once he was in office, but traded favors behind the scenes with the big bankers to get his policies passed and helped them in return.

So Clinton had historical company. His treasury secretary, Robert Rubin, was a link to substantive funding and the new Eastern establishment elite. Clinton correctly calculated that he needed money and Wall Street legitimacy to get elected. Without Rubin and his friends presenting Clinton through Wall Street, like a debutante, to score funding and support, all the middle-class promises in the world might not have gotten him elected.

Separately, and this is where the like-minded alliance holds, Clinton truly believed in everything Rubin believed in. As Clinton wrote in his memoirs, he got "early invaluable support" from Goldman Sachs executive Ken Brody, who introduced him to various "high-powered business people," including Rubin, whose "tightly reasoned arguments for a new economic policy," Clinton later wrote, "made a lasting impression on me." It's no accident that the swipes at Glass Steagall that George H.W. Bush and his team set in motion, became reality under Clinton. The wheels were in motion already, and Clinton and Rubin sealed the deal. I found records in the Clinton Library of full-scale jubilation in the White House at the way Rubin navigated the repeal of Glass Steagall that are documented in my book. Rubin used the same exact argument and words as Bush's treasury secretary, Nicholas Brady, to fight that deregulation battle – and they hinged on the need for America to "remain competitive", and if its banks couldn't do what European banks could in mixing financial services, then it would be a blight on the nation as a whole. Parties don't' matter. Power alliances do.

It's also no accident that Hillary Clinton has received hundreds of thousands of dollars to speak at Goldman Sachs gatherings and let them know that Wall Street was treated too harshly in the wake of the 2008 crisis.

Then you had Barack Obama campaigning on a platform of change and throwing the K Street lobbyists and bankers out of the White House. Instead, he gives them the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Exactly, how does a transformation like that happen?

After Washington, Clinton's treasury secretary Robert Rubin went to make millions as a vice chairman at Citigroup. Obama's treasury secretary, Tim Geithner (who had worked as assistant treasury secretary to Rubin under Clinton), went to work for a private equity fund, an enterprise whose now-deceased founder was related to Paul Warburg, one of the architects of the Federal Reserve System and donor to Woodrow Wilson's campaigns, a century ago.

Obama's response in the aftermath of this crisis has been one of coddling the big banks as they've grown bigger. His "sweeping reform," the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, is a joke. It does nothing to constrain the power of the financial elite, because the true political-financial alliance that has allowed the big banks to become bigger, is more powerful than the actions of Congress, even if Congress had been set on doing something real, which it hasn't been. Now, America's largest banks enjoy extensive government backing, not just for deposits, but for their bad bets. The Federal Reserve is carrying a more than $4 trillion book of debt that was never raised to help the population, while it maintains near zero percent interest rates to provide the big banks cheap money.

A transformation certainly doesn't begin with a president who populates his administration with the same people whose philosophy of less rules for their friends brought us to our current situation. It won't change with Hillary Clinton for the same reasons. It wouldn't' change with Jeb Bush. Honestly, I think we're "stuck on awful" for the next decade.

[-] 4 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

You end on a pessimistic note. You again point out that the US sees the banks too-big-to-fail as essential for preserving US dominance over global financing. The Ukraine aside, in an era when armed conflict among the major financial powers appears unlikely, the federal government aids and abets Wall Street as a way of asserting American hegemony. Frederick Douglas notably said, "power concedes nothing without a demand." Yet, the paradox is that those without power appear to have little negotiating leverage in making a demand for change. Do you see anyway out of this paradox?

Author Elaine Partnow, who wrote The Quotable Woman, now in its sixth edition, 35 years ago, recently emailed me a quote from eight years ago - something I wrote in Mother Jones: "Wall Street will continue to battle for fewer restrictions under the political guise of American global competition, while Americans bear the brunt of the consequences." We know that's still true.

The other side of that coin, in light of the recent work I've done for All the Presidents' Bankers, is that this isn't just about the bankers. The presidents, Democrat or Republican, it doesn't matter, support the nation's most powerful banks and politically connected bank leaders because the most elite players in Washington truly believe that a small set of uber powerful banks and bankers, and not wide-spread financial stability or prosperity, is what gives America its global superpower edge. That's the only way to explain the deference that Congress gave JPM Chase Chairman, Jamie Dimon, when he was called to Congress to explain the Whale Trade, a huge bad bet backed by FDIC insured deposits. They asked him for economic advice.

This deference was born of social connections and partnerships and has grown into something less personal and more functional, but nonetheless ever-present all along the Washington-Wall Street Tunnel of Joint Power. Certain banks are not just too big to fail from an economic perspective, though I personally believe that had we not subsidized them, but instead subsidized individuals with failing mortgages in 2008, as opposed to providing them cheap money and other aid to use on new speculative plays, we'd all be better off right now.

Power is a shared commodity, it's shared by the most elite members of the this political-financial club who use the idea of remaining globally competitive to maintain that power. How do we get out of it? I'm afraid things have to get A LOT worse before that's even a remote possibility.

As long as America remains an ultra-capitalist construct at its top levels, we're talking a more dire crash or economic crisis after which and someone like FDR to come along, a man that could speak the language of the bankers, use them or cross them and do what was right for the population at large. We need the perspective that a stronger America is established on a strong foundation - from the ground up, not when a few at the top are strong. Aldrich touted Glass-Steagall in the front page of The New York Times and helped FDR pass it through numerous meetings in the halls of Washington because he believed that confidence in the economy was necessary at all levels of the population and this was a way to get that. Jaime Dimon would never do anything like that. But, nor would Obama or any one in the Obama administration, ever even try to push for it. They perpetuate the myth that concentrated power in the hands of a few is somehow broadly stabilizing.

A hundred years ago, Teddy Roosevelt felt the same way on the matter of banking, which is why he turned to J.P. Morgan. Bush's TS Hank Paulson, and Obama's TS Tim Geithner and Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, warned of a mega catastrophe if banks weren't bailed out in 2008. To use Naomi Klein's term, it was the financial shock doctrine, which directed even more funds to the big banks, than to the people of this country. We haven't changed much in a century. But we had a period from the 1930s to the 1960s where there was more alignment with public interest, due to regulatory rules or individual humility, than we've had since.

Now, the system is especially broken and skewed. That said, I believe that knowledge and anger is the first step towards a revolutionary-type of change. There are hundreds of millions of Americas who aren't thinking about the issues we've discussed here; millions are devouring details of what outfit Kim Kardashian wore yesterday and how her butt looked in it.

Michael Lewis' latest book on high frequency trading seems to have struck some sort of a national chord. Yet what he writes about is the mere tip of the iceberg covered in my book. He's talking about rigged markets - which have been a problem since small investors began investing with the big boys, believing they had an equal shot. I'm talking about an entirely rigged political-financial system. To that end, I hope I've been able to illuminate some dark corners of that system, as well as some with a little light in All the Presidents' Bankers.

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 5 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

Can't We Just Say the Roberts Court Is Corrupt?

Monday, 07 April 2014 09:12
By Mike Lofgren, Truthout | Op-Ed


Even in the absence of what Justice Roberts narrowly defines as "quid pro quo corruption," a court that consistently decides all relevant cases on behalf of corporate interests - most recently McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission - undermines its own legitimacy as well as the Constitution.

You cannot hope to bribe or twist, thank God! the British journalist. But, seeing what the man will do unbribed, there's no occasion to.

Humbert Wolf, from The Uncelestial City (1930)

The Supreme Court's decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission was not about aggregate limits on individual campaign donations to candidates in federal elections. The case was about what constitutes a bribe, how big that bribe has to be, and whether an electoral system can be corrupt even in the absence of a legally demonstrable cash payment to an office holder or candidate for an explicitly specified favor. The Roberts court, or five of its nine members, adopted the misanthrope's faux-naïve pose in ruling that private money in politics, far from promoting corruption, causes democracy to thrive because, money being speech, the more speech, the freer the politics. Anatole France mocked this kind of legal casuistry by saying "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."

James Fallows has reminded us that during Chief Justice John Roberts' confirmation hearing, the nominee described his own judicial approach as "Humility. Modesty. Restraint. Deference to precedent. 'We're just calling balls and strikes.' " Fallows goes on to say that that Roberts is cynical for adopting that pose to get through the hearing. It is true that he is cynical, no doubt in the same way that prostitutes are cynical women, but I don't think that term quite captures the key quality that makes Roberts decide legal cases the way he does. Nor does his cynicism differentiate him from his jurisprudential clones named Thomas, Scalia, Alito and Kennedy.

There is unquestionably a bit of role playing on the court - Scalia, the opinionated blowhard at your local saloon; Thomas, the total cipher; Alito, the professional Catholic who might have come from the curia at Rome; Kennedy, the guy who purports to be a swing vote when his mind is already made up. Roberts' role is that of chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He can't very well clown around in the manner of Scalia, who acts like Bill O'Reilly in judicial robes. The five justices' bedrock beliefs may well be as identical to one another's as those of the creepy alien children of Village of the Damned. Roberts is different only insofar as he is the more strategic front man.(1)

Roberts knows he was appointed to be a Supreme Court justice for one reason: to decide relevant cases on behalf of corporate interests. This explains why he made a political move to salvage the Affordable Care Act: The case was a matter of partisan politics before the court. Business interests were roughly divided on the law - some disliked its mandates and provisions that might drive up their costs, while others saw its potential for allowing them to dump insured employees into pools, or, alternatively to benefit from tax subsidies. Still others may have seen it as a license to mint money. ACA was a costly and convoluted way to insure more people, but Republican hacks saw only one aspect: It was Obama's initiative, so it must be opposed. Roberts saw it as a political squabble involving the other two branches, but on which there was no unified business position. It was a law whose philosophy had a Republican pedigree - the Heritage Foundation had proposed something like it more than a decade before. If a Republican were president, he might have proposed a similar bill; after all, the president who nominated Roberts engineered the Medicare Prescription Drug Act.

Roberts perceived the deeper dynamic beneath the ideological posturing over ACA, and that is why he had to be the deciding vote of a divided court to save the act. Overturning it would cause millions to question the court's legitimacy on a matter that was not crucial to business interests. Best to save one's powder for more relevant fights. That said, the four dissenting votes also had to vote as they did to render the decision subjectively moot in the minds of Republican jihadists, who would continue to fight the act tooth and nail. As it was, Roberts threw a valuable bone to the Republicans by vitiating the Medicaid mandate to the states. This made it harder to implement the law and permitted Republican governors and legislatures to work all manner of mischief.

McCutcheon was a more relevant fight, and here we see Roberts the avatar of corporations rather than Roberts the tactician. Viewing other justices' decisions through this lens also tightens the focus on an otherwise blurry image. Observers wondered why, during oral arguments in the Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby case, Scalia’s questions implied he was taking a position on religious views in the workplace opposite to the one he had taken in the 1990 Employment Division v. Smith case. In that case, Scalia ruled against employees whose firing for smoking peyote caused them to sue based on alleged violation of their first amendment right to free exercise of religion. But Scalia was perfectly consistent: In the Smith case, and as he appears likely to do in the Hobby Lobby case, Scalia upholds the rights of employers.(2) Neither one is a case about religion per se; they are cases about the superior prerogatives of employers over employees. In like manner, McCutcheon and Citizens United are not cases about campaign finance laws, nor are they, despite the artful smokescreen about free speech on the part of the court's majority, cases about free speech and whether money constitutes speech. They are cases about upholding the superior political privileges of rich interests in society as opposed to poorer ones.

We now have an algorithm to crack the Enigma Code of the Supreme Court. Once there are five members of the court who accept as self-evidently valid the 19th century concept of "freedom of contract," other issues become subsidiary. This framework explains hundreds of cases before the court and clarifies the seeming anomalies like ACA. It explains the court's position in Vance v. Ball State, which made it more difficult to sue employers for harassment, and Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., which barred remedy for pay discrimination (even Congress subsequently saw fit to redress the bias of the court’s decision). In Wal-Mart v. Dukes, the court rejected a class-action suit of women denied raises and promotions. The Roberts court also took the side of corporations against consumers in Mutual Pharmaceutical Company v. Bartlett and AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion. The Roberts Court declared unconstitutional a 1988 law that subjected corporate officers to fraud charges if they could be shown to have deprived clients of honest services.

As Oliver Wendell Holmes stated in his dissenting opinion on the 1902 Lochner case, which established as virtual court theology the freedom of contract notion (without government restrictions), from which many subsequent pro-corporation decisions have flowed, the court's majority was basing its decision on economic ideology rather than constitutional interpretation. Roberts is wise enough to know that and is wise enough to conceal his hand with occasional strategic references to the free speech or free exercise clauses in the first amendment.

A friend once complained to me about a basketball game in which the referee consistently called fouls on one team where none existed and failed to call fouls on the other team, which blatantly and repeatedly committed them. This being only a high school-level game, I asked him if he thought the referee had taken a cash bribe. "Of course not," was his answer, "he was just blatantly biased." "Is that also corruption?" was my response. Sometimes, like Humbert Wolf's British journalist, judges can be corrupted even in the absence of what Justice Roberts narrowly defines as "quid pro quo corruption." Fallows recommends that Congress enact a fixed term of office for Supreme Court justices. I think that is a good idea, although not just to obviate senescence on the court. It might also wake up citizens to the whole sorry con game if they were forced to contemplate retired honorable justices giving speeches at $500,000 a pop to corporations eager for enlightenment on the finer points of judicial interpretation.


  1. The chief justice, and only he, is empowered to appoint judges to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. That power makes him an ex officio operative of the Deep State and invests him with gravitas. As such he cannot behave like a clown or a mental vacuum.

2.The Hobby Lobby case is, on the surface, a complaint by the company that the ACA violates the religious liberties of the company’s management by forcing it to provide policies that include contraception in its employer-provided insurance to employees. If, however, the company’s pension plan invests heavily in contraceptive manufacturers, how on earth did Hobby Lobby get standing to sue? How could the company claim with a straight face that its material interests were targeted and damaged by the ACA? And how do the executives of a for-profit corporation chartered under state laws for a specific commercial purpose get to invest the corporate entity with a religious soul?

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

Sixteen for '16 - Number 7: Make the Bankers Squeal

Tuesday, 08 April 2014 09:56
By Salvatore Babones, Truthout | Op-Ed


If the global financial crisis has taught us anything about finance, it is not to trust the big Wall Street investment banks. The banks created the crisis, but profited from it. Millions of Americans are still mired in loss, but after a brief setback in 2008, the banks quickly recovered. They have been making money hand over fist ever since.

While wages have stagnated in the rest of the economy, the average New York banker's bonus rose to $164,530 in 2013. That's on top of an average base salary of around $200,000.(1) Wall Street bankers now make more than five times the average New York city salary, compared with less than two times the average in 1981.(2)

Investment banking is nice work, if you can get it.

The bankers' ball almost came to an end in September, 2008. Investment banks Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers and American International Group all collapsed within a few days of each other. They all owed massive sums of money to the remaining banks. If those debts had gone unpaid, the rest of the banks would have been dragged under as well.

Then at the end of September, Wall Street pulled off the most audacious raid on the public purse ever contemplated. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson threatened Congress with financial armageddon and a second Great Depression if it did not immediately provide $700 billion to bail out the remaining investment banks.

It took Congress less than one week to give Paulson his $700 billion - roughly equal to the entire annual budget of the Department of Defense. The investment banks' financial armageddon was averted. From the brink of bankruptcy, the biggest of the big Wall Street investment banks have bounced back to record profitability.

For the rest of us, the second Great Depression was not averted. We are still living it. Just ask the 16.5 million people who are currently unemployed or completely frozen out of the labor market.(3) Or the 7.1 million who want full-time employment but can only find part-time jobs.(4)

Why did our government bail out the banks instead of stimulating the economy as a whole? When Hank Paulson was appointed secretary of the Treasury in 2006, he was the CEO of the most powerful investment bank on Wall Street, Goldman Sachs. He spent almost his entire private sector career at the firm, acquiring a fortune of some $600 million in the process.

He had to sell his Goldman Sachs stock when he became Treasury Secretary, but he didn't have to sell his Goldman Sachs mindset. Hank Paulson brought with him to government the knowledge, prejudices and ways of thinking of a powerful Wall Street insider. Once a banker, always a banker.

Or perhaps that should be once a gambler, always a gambler. Hank Paulson didn't come out of the staid world of the community banker, making small loans to local businesses. He came out of the big business of Wall Street investment banking.

It has often been said that Wall Street operates on the principle of "heads we win, tails you lose." Of course it's not as simple as that. But it's not much more complicated.

Once upon a time, investment banking meant finding financing for long-term investments in industry and infrastructure that could not be met through ordinary bank loans. Those days are long gone. Today the time horizon of the investment banks is very short. Sometimes it can be mind-bogglingly short.

For example, big banks now "co-locate" their trading computers in the same rooms as the computers used by the stock exchanges to execute trades. This allows them see stock prices a few milliseconds before the rest of the world, since even electronic signals take time to get from the stock exchange to your computer.

Their co-located electronic trading platforms give investment banks the opportunity to snatch up attractive offers before real investors ever get to see them. The bankers themselves don't even see them. Their pre-programmed computers - installed literally on the same racks as the stock exchange computers - trade against you automatically.

Automated trading is the technological cutting edge of what investment banks do, but most of their activities fit the same pattern. Investment banks make enormous profits by skimming pennies off the top every time financial instruments are issued, traded, or retired. They may make mere fractions of a penny. But all those fractions add up.

The big banks can double or triple these gains by working with money that they borrow overnight at very low short-term interest rates. They also lend these funds out to companies for a few days or weeks at a time on a variety of financial markets. Again, the pennies add up.

The result is that investment banks are assembly-line money machines. They practically print money. They make profits that are inconceivable in any other line of business. And they make them consistently, year in and year out - until there's a crisis.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

That's where the gambling comes in.

Under ordinary conditions, the investment banking business model results in a consistent, almost risk-free flow of ill-gotten gains. In a normal year, investment banks can't avoid making money. It takes serious employee fraud or systems failure to bring down an investment bank.

When a crisis hits, short-term interest rates shoot up. Companies that used to roll over their routine obligations have trouble finding new financing. Investors who sold options can't deliver the goods. Stock prices start to move unpredictably. And investment banks collapse.

The big Wall Street investment banks make their money by playing an endless casino game in which they reliably win millions of small bets but occasionally lose big - very big.

In the 2007-2009 financial crisis, the losses were so severe that every major investment bank on Wall Street should have collapsed. In reality, every one of them did collapse. They only stayed in business because Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke came to the rescue.

In March 2008, investment bank Bear Sterns collapsed. Except it didn't collapse. It was rescued by an emergency loan from the Federal Reserve and then sold to JP Morgan Chase. Investors who owned Bear Sterns stock in their retirement funds lost nearly everything. Bear Sterns bondholders and counterparties - i.e., the investment banks that had lent money to Bear Sterns - lost nothing.

In September 2008, investment bank Merrill Lynch collapsed. Again federal financing was used to underwrite a fire sale, this time to Bank of America. Again, the bondholders and counterparties - the other investment banks - lost nothing.

Also in September 2008, Lehman Brothers collapsed. Unlike Bear Sterns and Merrill Lynch, Lehman brothers actually declared bankruptcy. Within hours, the Federal Reserve stepped in to provide $138 billion in emergency financing to make sure that Lehman's obligations to its trading counterparties - the other investment banks - were paid that night. Ordinary investors in Lehman Brothers lost nearly everything.

Also in September 2008, American International Group (AIG) collapsed. This time, the Federal Reserve stepped in before the company declared bankruptcy, lending AIG $85 billion in a sweetheart deal. When the Congressional bank bailout money came through, Secretary Paulson gave AIG a further $45 billion subsidy.

The list goes on. The US Treasury gave $45 billion to Citigroup, $45 billion to Bank of America, and smaller amounts to other banks and financial firms. The Federal Reserve lent similar amounts, more quietly and with no legislative strings attached.(5) Without support from the Treasury and the Federal Reserve, every investment bank in America would have disappeared in 2008, and good riddance.

Even the fabled Goldman Sachs - the firm that Hank Paulson ran before being appointed secretary of the Treasury - would have folded many times over. It may not have invested in toxic subprime mortgages, but it lent money to banks that did. When those banks went belly up, the Treasury and the Federal Reserve stepped in to make sure Goldman Sachs got paid.

To be clear, most of the bailout money has been repaid - with interest. Contrary to popular perception, the bank bailouts didn't just give money to the banks. It lent money to the banks. Put that way, maybe it doesn't seem so bad.

Except that it is that bad. The modern investment banking business model is based on levying a small but continuous tax on everything else that happens in the economy. It is in effect a financial transactions tax, but instead of the tax being collected by the government, it is collected by a cabal of big Wall Street banks.

Without government support, the investment banks' private financial transactions tax would not be sustainable. When a recession hits and tax revenues decline, governments stay in business by borrowing heavily. Investment banks that levy a financial transactions tax must be able to do the same - or collapse into bankruptcy.

That is how a recession turns into a financial crisis. Recessions occur in the real economy. Financial crises occur among big investment banks. That's why countries like Canada and Germany don't even have financial crises. No Wall Street, no crisis.

The 2008 financial crisis came almost a year after the beginning of the recession in 2007. The financial crisis didn't cause the recession. The recession caused the financial crisis. Without government-subsidized financing for investment banks, the next financial crisis would be the last financial crisis. Game over for the investment banks.

Why wait for the next recession? There is an easy way to kill the investment banking business model right now - and prevent the next financial crisis from happening at all. Instead of letting the investment banks collect a private financial transactions tax, we can close the casino by enacting a public financial transactions tax.

A federal financial transactions tax would raise between $83 billion and $132 billion under a range of scenarios examined by the Congressional Research Service.(6) It would also kill the goose that lays Wall Street's golden eggs. Or to be more accurate: It would draft her into the public service.

If the next president has the courage to push a financial transactions tax through a reluctant Congress, be prepared to hear some very loud squealing. But it won't be the goose squealing. It will be the bankers.


  1. Office of the New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli (2014), "Wall Street Bonuses Went Up In 2013" (press release March 12, 2014).

  2. Office of NY State Comptroller DiNapoli (2013), "Average Salaries In New York City Securities Industry vs. All Other Private Sector Industries."

  3. Calculation based on Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Employment Situation Summary, Table A-1. Employment Status of the Civilian Population by Sex and Age, February 2014.

    1. BLS Employment Situation Summary Table A. Household Data, Seasonally Adjusted, February 2014.
  4. Bloomberg News (undated), "The Fed’s Secret Liquidity Lifelines."

  5. Mark P. Keightley (2012), "A Securities Transaction Tax: Financial Markets and Revenue Effects," CRS report R41192, Table 1.

    Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

How Many Watch Lists Fit on the Head of a Pin? Post-Constitutional America, Where Innocence Is a Poor Defense

Monday, 07 April 2014 09:09
By Peter Van Buren, TomDispatch | Op-Ed


Rahinah Ibrahim is a slight Malaysian woman who attended Stanford University on a U.S. student visa, majoring in architecture. She was not a political person. Despite this, as part of a post-9/11 sweep directed against Muslims, she was investigated by the FBI. In 2004, while she was still in the U.S. but unbeknownst to her, the FBI sent her name to the no-fly list.

Ibrahim was no threat to anyone, innocent of everything, and ended up on that list only due to a government mistake. Nonetheless, she was not allowed to reenter the U.S. to finish her studies or even attend her trial and speak in her own defense. Her life was derailed by the tangle of national security bureaucracy and pointless “anti-terror” measures that have come to define post-Constitutional America. Here's what happened, and why it may matter to you.

The No-Fly List

On September 10, 2001, there was no formal no-fly list. Among the many changes pressed on a scared population starting that September 12th were the creation of two such lists: the no-fly list and the selectee list for travelers who were to undergo additional scrutiny when they sought to fly. If you were on the no-fly list itself, as its name indicated, you could not board a flight within the U.S. or one heading out of or into the country. As a flight-ban plan, it would come to extend far beyond America's borders, since the list was shared with 22 other countries.

No one knows how many names are on it. According to one source, 21,000 people, including some 500 Americans, are blacklisted; another puts the figure at 44,000. The actual number is classified.

On January 2, 2005, unaware of her status as a threat to the United States, Ibrahim left Stanford for San Francisco International Airport to board a flight to Malaysia for an academic conference. A ticket agent saw her name flagged in the database and called the police.

Despite being wheelchair-bound due to complications from a medical procedure, Ibrahim was handcuffed, taken to a detention cell, and denied access to medication she had in hand. Without explanation, after extensive interrogation, she was allowed to board her flight. When she tried to return to America to resume her studies, however, she found herself banned as a terrorist.

Suing the United States

Stuck in Malaysia, though still in possession of a valid student visa, Ibrahim filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government, asking to be removed from the no-fly list and allowed back into the country to continue her architectural studies.

Over almost nine years, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) employed an arsenal of dodges and post-9/11 tricks to impede her lawsuit, including invoking the "state secrets doctrine” to ensure that she would never have access to the records she needed. “State secrets” is not a law in the U.S., as it is, for example, in Great Britain, where the monarch also retains “Crown Privilege,” the absolute right to refuse to share information with Parliament or the courts. Here, it is instead a kind of assumed privilege and the courts accept it as such. Based on it, the president can refuse to produce evidence in a court case on the grounds that its public disclosure might harm national security. The government has, in the past, successfully employed this “privilege” to withhold information and dead-end legal challenges. Once "state secrets" is in play, there is literally nothing left to talk about in court.

A related DOJ dodge was also brought to bear in an attempt to derail Ibrahim’s case: the use of made-up classification categories that dispatch even routine information into the black world of national security. Much of the information concerning her placement on the no-fly list, for instance, was labeled Security Sensitive Information (SSI) and so was unavailable to her. SSI is among hundreds of post-9/11 security categories created via memo by various federal agencies. These categories, too, have no true legal basis. Congress never passed a law establishing anything called SSI, nor is there any law prohibiting the disclosure of SSI information. The abuse of such pseudo-classifications has been common enough in the post-9/11 years and figured significantly in the ongoing case of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) whistleblower Robert MacLean.

Next in its end-run around Ibrahim's lawsuit, the DOJ pulled "standing" out of its bag of tricks. Standing is a legal term that means a person filing a lawsuit has a right to do so. For example, in some states you must be a resident to sue. Seeking to have a case thrown out because the plaintiff does not have standing was a tactic used successfully by the government in other national security cases. The ACLU, for instance, sued the National Security Agency for Fourth Amendment violations in 2008. The Supreme Court rejected the case in 2013 for lack of standing, claiming that unless the ACLU could conclusively prove it had been spied upon, it could not sue. In the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations showing that the NSA indeed spied widely on American citizens, the ACLU has revived the suit. It claims that the new documents provide clear evidence of broad-based surveillance and so now give it standing.

Standing was also used by the DOJ in the case of American citizen and purported al-Qaeda member Anwar al-Awlaki, whom the U.S. murdered by drone in Yemen. Prior to his son's death, attorneys for al-Awlaki’s father tried to persuade a U.S. District Court to issue an injunction preventing the government from killing him. A judge dismissed the case, ruling that the father did not have standing to sue.

In Ibrahim's no-fly case, the government argued that since she was not an American citizen, she had no standing to sue the government for its actions against her in the U.S. When all of those non-meritorious challenges failed to stop the case, the government invoked the very no-fly designation Ibrahim was challenging, and refused to allow her to travel to the United States to testify at her own trial.

Next, Ibrahim's daughter, an American citizen traveling on a U.S. passport, was not allowed to board a flight from Malaysia to serve as a witness at her mother’s trial. She, too, was told she was on the no-fly list. After some legal tussling, however, she was finally allowed to fly to “the Homeland.” Why the American government changed its mind is classified and almost all of the trial transcript concerning the attempt to stop her from testifying was redacted from public disclosure.

In addition, by regularly claiming that classified information was going to be presented, the government effectively hid the ludicrous nature of the Ibrahim case from much public scrutiny. The trial was interrupted at least 10 times and the public, including journalists, were asked to leave the courtroom so that "classified evidence" could be presented.

A message of intimidation had been repeatedly delivered. It failed, however, and Ibrahim's case went to trial, albeit without her present.

Ibrahim Wins

Despite years of effort by the DOJ, Ibrahim won her lawsuit. The U.S. District Court for Northern California ordered the removal of her name from the no-fly list. However, in our evolving post-Constitutional era, what that “victory” revealed should unnerve those who claim that if they are innocent, they have nothing to fear. Innocence is no longer a defense.

During the lawsuit, it was made clear that the FBI had never intended Ibrahim to be placed on the no-fly list. The FBI agent involved in the initial post-9/11 investigation of Ibrahim simply checked the wrong box on a paper form used to send people into travel limbo. It was a mistake, a slip up, the equivalent of a typo. There was no evidence that the agent intended harm or malice, nor it seems were there any checks, balances, or safeguards against such errors. One agent could, quite literally at the stroke of a pen, end someone's education, job, and family visits, and there was essentially no recourse.

Throughout the nine years Ibrahim fought to return to the U.S., it appears that the government either knew all along that she was no threat and tried to cover up its mistake anyway, or fought her bitterly at great taxpayer expense without at any time checking whether the no-fly designation was ever valid. You pick which theory is most likely to disturb your sleep tonight.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

Ibrahim Loses

Having won her case, Ibrahim went to the airport in Kuala Lumpur to fly back to Stanford and resume her studies. As she attempted to board the plane, however, she was pulled aside and informed that the U.S. embassy in Malaysia had without notice revoked her student visa. No visa meant, despite her court victory, she once again could not return to the United States.

At the U.S. embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Ibrahim was handed a preprinted "explanation" for the visa revocation with the word “terrorist" hand-written next to the boilerplate text. Ibrahim was never informed of her right under U.S. law to apply for a waiver of the visa revocation.

Though it refused to re-issue the visa, the State Department finally had to admit in court that it had revoked the document based solely on a computer “hit” in its name-checking database, the Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS.) That hit, in turn, appeared to be a straggler from the now defunct no-fly list entry made erroneously by the FBI.

The State Department and CLASS

As is well known, the State Department issued legal visas to all of the 9/11 terrorists. In part, this was because the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies failed to tell State what they knew about the hijackers, as all were suspected to be bad guys. Then and now, such information is passed on when intelligence and law enforcement agencies make electronic entries in State's computerized lookout system. CLASS is part of the Consular Consolidated Database, one of the largest known data warehouses in the world. As of December 2009, it contained over 100 million cases and 75 million photographs, and has a current growth rate of approximately 35,000 recordsper day. CLASS also collects the fingerprints of all foreigners issued visas.

Pre-9/11, various agencies in Washington were reluctant to share information. Now, they regularly dump enormous amounts of it into CLASS. The database has grown 400% since September 11, 2001.

The problem is that CLASS is a one-way street. Intelligence agencies can put data in, but can’t remove it because State keeps the database isolated from interactive data maintenance. In addition, the basic database it uses to screen out bad guys typically only has a subject's name, nationality, and the most modest of identifying information, plus a numerical code indicating why a name was entered. One code, 3B, stands for "terrorist"; another, 2A, means "criminal"; and so forth through the long list of reasons the U.S. would not want to issue a visa. Some CLASS listings have just a partial name, and State Department visa-issuing officers regularly wallow through screen after screen of hits like: Muhammad, no last name, no date of birth, Egypt -- all marked as "critical, Category One" but with no additional information.

Nor, when the information exists but was supplied by another agency, do U.S. embassies abroad have direct access to the files. Instead, when a State Department official gets a name "hit" overseas, she must send a "Security Advisory Opinion," or SAO, back to Washington asking for more information. The recipient of that cable at Foggy Bottom must then sort out which intelligence agency entered the data in the first place and appeal to it for an explanation.

At that point, intelligence agencies commonly to refuse to share more, claiming that no one at State has the proper clearances and that department should just trust their decision to label someone a bad guy and refuse to issue, or pro-actively revoke, a visa. If, on the other hand, information is shared, it is often done on paper by courier. In other words, a guy shows up at State with a bundle of documents, waits while someone reviews them, and then spirits them back to the CIA, the FBI, or elsewhere. That way, the intelligence agencies, always distrustful of State, are assured that nothing will be leaked or inadvertently disclosed.

In cases where no more information is available, or what is available is inconclusive, the State Department might allow the visa application to pend indefinitely under the heading "administrative processing," or simply “prudentially” revoke or not issue the visa. No one wants to risk approving a visa for the next 9/11 terrorist, even if it’s pretty obvious that the applicant is nothing of the sort.

This undoubtedly is what happened to Ibrahim. Though the details remain classified, State certainly didn’t possess super secret information on her unavailable to other law enforcement or intelligence outfits. Some official surely decided to take no chances and revoked her visa “prudentially” based on the outdated information still lodged in CLASS.

Not CLASS Alone

Ibrahim's case also reveals just how many secret databases of various sorts exist in Washington. Here's how a name (your name?) gets added to one of those databases, and how it then populates other lists around the world.

A name is nominated for the no-fly list by one of hundreds of thousands of government officials: an FBI agent, a CIA analyst, a State Department visa officer. Each nominating agency has its own criteria, standards, and approval processes, some -- as with the FBI in Ibrahim's case -- apparently pretty sloppy.

The nominated name is then sent to the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) at a classified location in suburban Northern Virginia. TSC is a multi-agency outfit administered by the FBI and staffed by officials from the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, and all of the Intelligence Community.

Once a name is approved by the TSC (the process is classified), it will automatically be entered into a number of databases, possibly including but not necessarily limited to:

*the Department of Homeland Security’s no-fly list;

*that same department’s selectee list that ensures chosen individuals will be subject to additional airport screening;

*the State Department’s Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS, including CLASS-Visa for foreigners and CLASS-Passport for U.S. Citizens);

*the Department of Homeland Security’s TECS (a successor to the Treasury Enforcement Communications System), which is used in part by customs officials, as well as its Interagency Border Inspection System (IBIS), used by immigration officials;

*the Known and Suspected Terrorist File (KSTF, previously known as the Violent Gang and Terrorist Organizations File);

*TUSCAN, a database maintained by Canada;

*TACTICS, a database maintained by Australia;

*and finally, an unknown number of other law enforcement and intelligence agency databases, as well as those of other foreign intelligence services with which information may be shared.

As Ibrahim discovered, once a name is selected, it travels deep and far into both U.S. and foreign databases. If one clears one's name from one database, there are many others out there waiting. Even a comprehensive victory in one nation’s courts may not affect the records of a third country. And absent frequent travel, a person may never even know which countries have him or her on their lists, thanks to the United States.

Once she learned that her student visa had been revoked in Malaysia, Ibrahim sued again, asking that the State Department reissue it. The government successfully blocked this suit, citing a long-established precedent that visa matters are essentially an administrative function and so not subject to judicial review.

A court did scold State for failing to notify Ibrahim of her right to seek a waiver, as it was required to do by law. To the extent that Ibrahim's case has any life left in it, her next step would be to return to the Department of Justice's bailiwick and apply for a waiver of the revocation the State Department made based on data given to it by the DOJ that both outfits know was struck down by a court. It's that “simple.” Meanwhile, she cannot return to the U.S.

Nothing to Hide?

A common trope for those considering the way the National Security Agency spies on almost everyone everywhere all the time is that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. If your cell phone conversations are chit-chats with mom and your emails tend toward forwards of cute cat videos, why should you care if the NSA or anyone else is snooping?

Ask Rahinah Ibrahim about that. She did nothing wrong and so should have had nothing to fear. She even has a court decision declaring that she never was nor is a threat to the United States, yet she remains outside America's borders. Her mistaken placement on the no-fly list plunged her head first into a nightmarish world that would have been all too recognizable to Franz Kafka. It is a world run by people willing to ignore reality to service their bureaucratic imperatives and whose multiplying lists are largely beyond the reach of the law.

Sad as it may be, the Ibrahim case is a fairly benign example of ordinary Washington practices in the post-9/11 era. Ibrahim is going about her life at peace in Malaysia. Her tangle with the United States seems to have been more a matter of bureaucratic screw-ups than anything else. No one sought to actively destroy her. She was not tortured in a CIA black site, nor left for years in a cage at Guantanamo. Her case is generally seen as, at worst, another ugly stain on the white wall we imagine we are as a nation.

But the watch lists are there. The tools are in place. And one thing is clear: no one is guarding the guards. You never know whose name just went on a list. Maybe yours?

To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

Defining the Real Terrorism

Monday, 07 April 2014 00:00
By Kim McCarten, Truthout | Op-Ed


A new definition of terrorism - one that better addresses the crimes of these times - is required.

A new law is needed in this country, something simple that addresses a critical concern, like the amendment being suggested that states corporations are not people.

Perhaps something like this:

"Any company or individual that threatens the health and well-being of Americans, or the 'essentials of life' (such as water, air, collective financial or physical health), are threats to US national security.

"These entities are terrorists and will be dealt with accordingly with the full force and powers of the federal government, as will any regulators or legislators complicit in these actions."

The need for this updated definition has presented itself many times over the past six years of economic terrorism, while elected officials and regulators throughout the government collude and protect the very Wall Street terrorists who have destroyed countless American families - and continue to do so.

With the chemical spill in West Virginia by Freedom Industries, the faux-patriotically named company that poisoned the water there, and now, the coal ash contamination in North Carolina by the Koch Brothers' Duke Energy, the need seems even more urgent.

Freedom Industries is a criminal, cowardly, incompetently run company; one of its founders, Carl Lemley Kennedy, is a two-time convicted felon, sentenced for withholding employee money that was never paid to the IRS. This shining example of modern-day Corporate America has declared bankruptcy, and its executives think they can walk away from their responsibility and leave citizens with the bills for the massive cleanup, increased costs, and current and future healthcare needs.

A Long Line of Corporate Terrorism

How many examples are there now of companies terrorizing citizens in these ways?

Vile, exploitative British Petroleum (BP), which killed the Gulf of Mexico and left the American people with the bill for the long-term consequences, including businesses destroyed and residents who are still reporting symptoms resulting from exposure to the poisonous Corexit, a product dumped in the water to supposedly contain the oil?

Or the rest of the oil industry for that matter which, while taking taxpayer subsidies and paying no taxes, has spilled oil along pipelines throughout the land and left petcoke (a refinery by-product) in piles to blow in the wind, destroying the lungs of residents for miles.

How about the way Walmart threatens the financial and physical health of its employees by refusing to pay workers enough for a 40-hour week to keep them off taxpayer-funded food stamps and Medicaid programs?

And the list would not be complete without mention of the parasitic financial industry, which has waged economic war against Americans for years, bringing our country (and others') to the brink of collapse.

West Viriginia's "Freedom Industries" is just another in a long line of terrorist companies.

Iceland, by way of contrast, hired a former police lieutenant and 100-plus researchers to track down individuals who participated in the sinking of the Icelandic banking system, IX even those who left the country, to bring them in (or back) for prosecution.

Now that's what democracy looks like. It's nothing like what's going on here.

The Definition of Real Terrorism

The legal definition of terrorism needs to reflect the times.

The FBI defines terrorism as "violents acts . . . dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law."

If poisoning the water that 300,000 Americans need to live isn't "dangerous to human life," what is?

And it was certainly a violent, destructive act against American environmental resources.

The FBI definition includes any act "calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion." Does lobbying and threatening elected officials with being ousted from office fit this definition?

Does stuffing money into the so-called election process to guarantee certain outcomes meet this requirement?

It is way past time for the useless Department of Justice, reduced to meter maids handing out tickets and fines to repeat corporate offenders (tax-deductible fines at that!), to step up to the challenge.

But sadly, they've demonstrated, along with this administration and Congress, that "The Money" is dictating all terms.

When one thinks back to what drove the first American Revolution, the offenses occurring now, including the collusion of our own government, are enormous by comparison. Compare the magnitude of what Americans are facing now to a Stamp Act or a tax on tea, and it's clear to see that it's way past time for another revolution.

Apparently, it's going to take just that: more protests, more resistance, more calling elected officials (who, thankfully, bow to pressure so easily we can use it in our favor) . . . More organized outrage, more worker strikes - American worker strikes - that will begin to turn the tide that waves of money has done to this country, our environment and our communities.

These companies have committed acts of real terrorism against the American people. They are a threat to national security, and it's time to deal with, and prosecute them, accordingly.

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

The Climate Change Wars Have Already Begun

Monday, 07 April 2014 13:45
By The Daily Take, The Thom Hartmann Program | Op-Ed


Jim Yong Kim, World Bank President, said that, "The water issue is critically related to climate change. People say that carbon is the currency of climate change. Water is the teeth." Time is running out.

This week, government officials and climate scientists from all over the world are meeting in Berlin, Germany, to finalize a U.N. study on climate change and its solutions.

While the study hasn't been released yet, a draft of it has, and it's pretty stunning.

The draft report from the International Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, says that time is quickly running out for world powers to slash their use of fossil fuels and stay below the 2 degree Celsius limit on global warming that 200 nations agreed upon in 2010.

More importantly, the draft suggests that we only have 15 years to take the proper actions needed to safely reach that global warming limit. Not 100 years, not 50 years, but just 15 years.

This meeting in Berlin comes just a week after the IPCC released another report in Japan, which highlighted the sudden, catastrophic, and devastating effects that climate change is already having across the globe.

Meanwhile, as the world's top climate scientists are meeting in Berlin, the president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, is worrying about the effects that climate change is having on world-wide access to food and water.

In an interview ahead of next week's meeting of the World Bank, Kim argued that battles over food and water will erupt across the globe within the next five to 10 years because of climate change.

Kim said that, "The water issue is critically related to climate change. People say that carbon is the currency of climate change. Water is the teeth. Fights over water and food are going to be the most significant direct impacts of climate change in the next five to 10 years. There's just no question about it."

And arguably, as we saw with the events of the Arab Spring, they've already started.

Kim said that he has urged climate change activists, government officials, and scientists across the globe to learn lessons from the way protestors and scientists came together and joined forces in the battle against HIV and AIDS.

He also expressed concerns over the amount of research that's being done on renewable energy and solutions to climate change, saying that, "Is there enough basic science research going into renewable energy? Not even close. Are there ways of taking discoveries made in universities and quickly moving them into industry? No. Are there ways of testing those innovations? Are there people thinking about scaling [up] those innovations?"

Unfortunately, here in America, things are stalled. Despite the mountains of proof and scientific evidence, Republicans in Washington, and across the country, are continuing to push climate change denial policies and legislation at the behest of their Big Oil, Coal, and Gas "donors."

Just last week, Republicans in the House tried to pass a bill introduced by climate-change denying Congressman Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma, that would have forced NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to quit studying climate change and its effects so much, and instead just study and discuss "weather." This was, of course, to help "the economy" - Republican code for fossil fuel barons like ExxonMobil and the Koch Brothers.

Fortunately, much to the displeasure of climate-change deniers in Washington, Democrats amended the bill to clarify that it would only deal with NOAA's weather prediction work, and not cut or stop its research into climate change.

But, despite the NOAA victory, it looks like Republican climate-change denial efforts may still be working.

According to a new Gallup poll, a majority of Americans still have low levels of concern about the future impacts of climate change.

Just a little over a third of those polled said that they worry "a great deal" about climate change and global warming.

It's time to put an end to all of the pseudoscience and climate-change denial talk.

Whether Republicans want to admit it or not, not only is climate change very real, but it's also hitting us a lot harder, and a lot sooner, then we once thought.

Just a few years ago, the world's top climate scientists were saying that we had decades to address and solve the climate change crisis.

But now, we have just a matter of years to convert our energy systems from fossils to sunlight.

We've waited long enough to address the climate change crisis, and in the process, we're already creating havoc. From superstorms, droughts, and killer cold- and heat-waves to the crop failures in the Middle East that touched off the Arab Spring, climate change is here, now.

The Affordable Care Act was a big deal, but having a doctor does you no good when the entire human race is faced with extinction.

We need to mobilize our nation the way we did for World War II and jump headlong into the 21st century, thus solving the problem of the world's largest polluter and providing an example for the rest of the world. And we need to start today. Time is running out.

This article was first published on Truthout and any reprint or reproduction on any other website must acknowledge Truthout as the original site of publication.