22 November 2011

Paul Ryan Tells Student He Should Work Three Jobs To Pay For College, Not Use Pell Grants | ThinkProgress

The House Republican majority, since it came into power, has repeatedly set its sights on Pell Grants, the federal grants that help low- and middle-income students pay a portion of their higher education tuition. Republicans have not only proposed lowering the maximum Pell amount from $5,500 (which is the level to which the Obama administration raised it) but also limiting eligibility, knocking one million students from the Pell program entirely.

During a town hall today, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) was asked by Matthew Lowe, a student, why the GOP wants to cut Pell Grants. Ryan responded by saying that the program is “unsustainable,” before telling Lowe that he should be working three jobs and taking out student loans to pay for college, instead of using Pell Grants:

LOWE: I come from a very middle-class family and under President Obama, I get $5,500 per year to pay for school, which doesn’t come close to covering all of the funding, but it helps ease the burden. Under your plan, you cut it by 15 percent. I was just curious why you would cut a grant that goes directly to the middle- and lower-class people that need it the most.

RYAN: ‘Cause Pell Grants have become unsustainable. It’s all borrowed money…Look, I worked three jobs to pay off my student loans after college. I didn’t get grants, I got loans, and we need to have a system of viable student loans to be able to do this.

Actually Ryan only worked one job, the one his family provided for him. Naturally he has to lie about that because the truth is so contrary to his and his fellow Republican's agenda which is fucking the lower classes while giving the rich every form of tax break they can imagine.

Walk zombie, walk


Christian theocracy: How Newt Gingrich and the GOP would abolish courts and legislate morality. - Slate Magazine

Is the United States sliding toward theocracy? That’s what Republican presidential candidates have told us for more than a year. Radical Islam, they’ve argued, is on the verge of taking over our country through Sharia law. But this weekend, at an Iowa forum sparsely covered by the press, the candidates made clear that they don’t mind theocracy—in fact, they’d like to impose it—as long as it’s Christian. This is a disturbing article (unless you are a frothing at the mouth fundamentalist Christian lunatic). Read about their warped views on liberty, Christianity and freedom and realize that they want you to make them president.

World News: Fox News leaves viewers ignorant - thestar.com

...The survey, conducted last month, found that people who watch Fox News, the most popular of the 24-hour cable news networks, were 18 percentage points less likely to know that Egyptians overthrew their government than those who watch no news at all, and 6 points less likely to know that Syrians have not yet overthrown their government than those who watch no news.

“Because of the controls for partisanship, we know these results are not just driven by Republicans or other groups being more likely to watch Fox News … rather the results show us that there is something about watching Fox News that leads people to do worse on these questions than those who don’t watch any news at all,” Cassino stated in the conclusions.

He also told the Star that Fox News viewers are less likely to get news from elsewhere, given that Fox News “tends to be actually very good” at sowing distrust in other media...

The struggles of the upper class?


A political party or two...


Next in the war on veggies...


Preach it sister!


NYPD Snoop Declares Zuccotti Park A “Soft Target” for Terrorists: Really? | Occupy Wall Street | AlterNet

The Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park was many things to many people. For some, it was the dawning of a new age, to others a throwback to an earlier one. Before the mini-society was destroyed by city authorities last week, some looked at it and saw petty crime, pathogens and pathos, while for others it offered a rare glimmer of hope for a future based on economic justice, mutual aid and greater equality.

What activists inside the park saw as the nucleus of a new society, the New York City Police Department saw as a prime target for terrorists, according to a plainclothes policeman. The white surveillance truck at the corner of Liberty Street and Broadway, the many security cameras aimed at the plaza and the massive police response --including dozens of NYPD vehicles -- he and his partner claimed, were not there to police protesters, but to thwart an attack on the park by armed militants.

Just hours before NYPD officers raided Zuccotti Park, rousted the occupiers and destroyed their encampment, I had a run-in with these plainclothesmen and listened as they spun their tale.

In the days since, reports of a terror plot to attack police and military targets in New York City surfaced. If these allegations, as well as those by the plainclothes officers, are actually true, they suggest the NYPD may have put protesters at increased risk of a terrorist attack.

Spy v. Spy

While reporting from the environs around Zuccotti Park, on the encampment’s final day, I spotted two middle-aged gentlemen leaning on metal barricades in front of One Liberty Plaza, the massive office tower that looms over Zuccotti Park and is owned, like the park, by Brookfield Properties.

One sported close-cropped dark hair, wore a nondescript black and gray jacket, dark blue jeans and brown sneakers. The other was clad in a similar uniform: black jacket, lighter blue jeans, but his hair was a steel gray and very distinctive.

These men weren’t there simply to take in the scene. They weren’t day trippers or tourists. They didn’t work in the office buildings around Liberty Plaza or close by on Wall Street. They were, experience told me, on the job.

I’m not sure who noticed who first, but we danced around each other, from the sidewalk on the perimeter of the park to the streets around the plaza for the better part of an hour -- monitoring each other’s movements, stealing glances around corners, alternately pretending not to notice each other and looking away when caught, as if we were playing a juvenile game of spy v. spy.

Finally, they broke the rules. Holding up a personal digital assistant and taking a photo of me without pretense was, in my opinion, unsporting and I called them on it, waving to the gray-haired man as he snapped another shot.

The game was up so the duo, now loitering on Liberty Street, jaywalked over to the park side, moved aside the barricade and confronted me on the sidewalk.

At first, the gray haired photographer did all the talking. He was serious bordering on surly and wanted to know just what I was doing, so I explained I was reporting for AlterNet about the security response to the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Having been repeatedly hassled by officers while covering the policing of the park, I wasn’t shocked by what came next. The talkative one wanted to see my NYPD press credentials and then asked if I was a protester from “inside the park.”

“No, I’m a reporter,” I told him and tried to set him straight that police press credentials don’t have any bearing on whether or not someone is a reporter.

Now it was my turn to serve up some questions. Since they had never bothered to identify themselves as policemen, I asked: “What’s your story…detective?” leaving him a conversational gap to fill in his name and correct me because the odds are, he wasn’t. He declined on both counts. So I asked, “You’re a detective, right?”

“I work for the NYPD,” he replied.

Neither would offer up his name, but I took the opportunity to continue my questioning just the same.

Terror at OWS?

I turned and pointed toward an unmarked police vehicle parked across the street from where we were standing. The truck is white with no markings, save for an NYPD license plate. A 40-foot pole, with a single helix of heavy-gauge electrical cable coiled around it, topped by a video camera, rises from the back of the truck and all day long, that camera is pointed at Zuccotti Park.

Having previously seen officers with jackets bearing the initials TARU – meaning they belong to the Technical Assistance Response Unit, the officers who monitor and videotape protests – enter and exit the vehicle, I asked if it belonged to that unit. “TARU?” the talkative one asked, like he had never heard the term. I repeated it and he shook his head no.

It is NYPD surveillance, right?

It’s not surveillance.

(Now, this was a direct contradiction to what police officer Anthony Torres had told me, on this very same block, just two weeks before, but I kept that information to myself.)

No? Then what kind of vehicle is it?

It’s a white truck.

Yeah, but with a camera on top. If it’s not for surveillance than what is it for?

It’s for the safety of the people in the park.

How does a camera provide safety?

At that, the talkative one meandered through the barricades and into the street, ignoring my question and, I think, trying to get a better look at my notepad. At that, I turned to his partner, who turned out to be the “good cop” of the pair, and I repeated my question to him. He quickly turned talkative and shared his theories.

Think about it, how many people are in this park right now?

Several hundred, maybe more.

You don’t think this could be a soft target for a terrorist attack?

Hold on, terrorists are going to target the park?

He explained that terrorists didn’t care who they killed, so they might well try to wipe out Occupy Wall Street.

If that were true, I asked, why weren’t there similar non-surveillance trucks at events of even higher population density all over the city? As he fumbled, I peppered him with follow-ups, prompting him to change the subject.

He soon went for a favorite bully tactic of New York’s finest, admonishing me that I should really have departmental press credentials.

“No, no, no,” I admonished right back, informing him, again, that those NYPD IDs simply allow some journalists to cross police lines to do crime reporting, but that I was on a public sidewalk, so I needed nothing of the sort.

Then, he took another tack. Hadn’t I heard all the horror stories of crime in Zuccotti Park? I told him I had, but that such an argument hardly helped his case because any crimes there had taken place under the watchful eyes of the NYPD cameras, meaning their surveillance efforts were woefully ineffective in the role he was touting. He countered by saying the protesters in the park didn’t want the help of the police because they had their own security.

But if you see a crime in progress you have to take action, right?

Well, they don’t want us in there…That’s the whole thing.

But, if you see a crime taking place can you just let it go? Don’t you have to intervene?

Of course we do.

“Then what good is that camera?” I said, gesturing to the white non-surveillance truck. He went back to arguing that the camera was simply for the safety of those in the park due to the persistent terrorist threat, to which I responded with an incredulous look and a laugh. He said it was no joke and kept on pressing his point. The white truck, he continued contending, was absolutely vital to police efforts in keeping the park safe from terrorists.

“Really?” I asked, pointing out that a short distance from the truck was a NYPD command post with a camera on its roof, a permanent, stationary camera on a light post, and then there was the Sky Watch surveillance platform, with its five cameras, down the street. “Isn’t it overkill?” I asked.

By this time, the gray-haired “bad cop” had rejoined us on the sidewalk and the two began moving away from me.

Apparently, they had had enough.

As a parting retort, the good cop offered up a variation on the Nuremburg defense. Listen, we don’t give the orders, we just follow them, he said as they moved the barricades and began jaywalking back across Liberty Street.

“Who do these orders come down from?” I called out as they walked off.

“Commissioner Kelly,” he responded.

“Kelly?” I asked again to make sure they had, indeed, blamed New York City’s police commissioner.

“Yeah,” said the “bad cop” and then they were gone.

(The NYPD failed to respond to AlterNet’s request for further clarification on Kelly’s role as the architect of the security response to the Occupy Wall Street protests.)

The next day when I arrived on the scene, the protest in Zuccotti Park had indeed been wiped out, not by terrorists, but by the NYPD. Empty, except for uniformed park security personnel and later police, the park was still under the watchful eye of the white surveillance van and surrounded by dozens of police vehicles as it had been for weeks.

By the afternoon, a man wearing an NYPD TARU jacket was standing on the roof of the white truck, wielding a handheld video camera while, all day long, men wearing similarly monogrammed jackets and shirts entered and exited the vehicle. Inside, sometimes as many as six members of the unit, surrounded by multiple monitors streaming footage, digital video recorders storing it away and even a somewhat archaic fax machine, monitored the scene.

Later in the day, I noticed the “good cop” standing in the middle of Liberty Street, talking with other “special” policemen – not the rank-and-file officers in riot helmets who stood guard over the locked-down park throughout the day. He was later joined by his gray-haired partner.

From behind the police cordon, I tried to get their attention so that I could follow up, but I could never quite get them to acknowledge me. Now, it seemed, they were far less concerned about my reporting and were in a much lighter mood than before the encampment was destroyed. In fact, I noted, they were joking around and laughing hard.

Cause for Alarm

Less than a week after the NYPD raid on Zuccotti Park, Commissioner Kelly would announce that, after tracking him for two years, the NYPD had arrested a Manhattan man who had reportedly sought to build homemade bombs in order to carry out terrorist attacks. At a Sunday night press conference, Kelly alleged that 27-year-old Jose Pimentel sought to attack police cars in New York City, as well as post offices and U.S. troops returning from the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. The NYPD failed to respond to AlterNet’s questions about why it surrounded Zuccotti Park with a profligate number of police vehicles when these were, according to Kelly, known to be precisely the targets of a man who wished to become “a martyr in the name of jihad."

Whether Jose Pimentel’s case turns out to be substantive or one of a number of generally inept terrorist plots – including those of the Liberty City Seven, the Fort Dix Six, the Detroit Ummah Conspiracy and the Newburgh Four – that are often fueled, in part, by law enforcement agencies remains to be seen.

Regardless, the latest alleged plot and recent NYPD statements concerning security camera surveillance raise serious questions about the actions of the department and its frequent resort to using the cover story of anti-terrorism to cloak unrelated spy tactics and others matter they would rather not discuss.

If the NYPD were more forthcoming and honest, perhaps their words and actions wouldn’t suggest that the department, specifically Commissioner Ray Kelly, took steps to make protesters in Zuccotti Park more likely victims of terrorist violence.

Now that the encampment at Zuccotti Park is gone, it remains to be seen whether the surveillance effort to protect it from terrorists will endure.

19 November 2011

Science panel: Get ready for extreme weather - seattlepi.com

WASHINGTON (AP) — Think of the Texas drought, floods in Thailand and Russia's devastating heat waves as coming attractions in a warming world. That is the warning from top international climate scientists and disaster experts after meeting in Africa.

The panel said the world needs to get ready for more dangerous and "unprecedented extreme weather" caused by global warming. These experts fear that without preparedness, crazy weather extremes may overwhelm some locations, making some places unlivable.

The Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a special report on global warming and extreme weather Friday after meeting in Kampala, Uganda. This is the first time the group of scientists has focused on the dangers of extreme weather events such as heat waves, floods, droughts and storms. Those are more dangerous than gradual increases in the world's average temperature.

For example, the report predicts that heat waves that are now once-in-a-generation events will become hotter and happen once every five years by mid-century and every other year by the end of the century. And in some places, such as most of Latin America, Africa and a good chunk of Asia, they will likely become yearly bakings.

And the very heavy rainstorms that usually happen once every 20 years will happen far more frequently, the report said. In most areas of the U.S. and Canada, they are likely to occur three times as often by the turn of the century, if fossil fuel use continues at current levels. In Southeast Asia, where flooding has been dramatic, it is likely to happen about four times as often as now, the report predicts.

American hypocrisy


Release the hounds-- er, pigs!


No fair!


Police pepper spraying and arresting students at UC Davis

I had mistakenly stated that these students were already detained in the phot I published of this event earlier today. The detentions occur after. Just call me Rick Perry cuz I oopsed!

Even in Churches, Wall Street Protesters Can’t Escape Watch of Police | Truthout

Several dozen Occupy Wall Street demonstrators were sleeping on the cushioned pews of a United Methodist church on the Upper West Side on Thursday morning when one of them spotted a man in plainclothes wandering through the sanctuary, apparently counting heads.

Flustered, the demonstrator confronted the man, who after several moments identified himself as a plainclothes detective.

The demonstrator called the pastor, who was sleeping next door. But by then, the detective had left, along with his partner, who had been asking questions at a homeless shelter in the church’s basement.

Several area churches have been sheltering protesters in the days since the city banned sleeping in Zuccotti Park, and church officials said they were alarmed by the idea that the police might be monitoring their conduct.

“It is disconcerting that they would actually enter the sanctuary,” said the Rev. James Karpen, known as Reverend K, senior pastor of the United Methodist Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, on West 86th Street. “Here we had offered hospitality and safety, which is our business as a church; it just felt invasive.”

About 46 protesters had spent Wednesday night in the church. Just before 6 a.m. on Thursday, as the demonstrators began to stir before a major downtown protest, the two men in plainclothes came to the church door and asked the doorkeepers if they could use the bathroom, according to Mr. Karpen.

Instead, both men entered the sanctuary, one remaining near the door while the other advanced down the aisle, apparently counting the demonstrators in the pews, according to a witness who reported the episode and who asked his name not be published because he feared harassment by the police.

One of the men then went downstairs to a homeless women’s shelter, run in cooperation with B’nai Jeshurun, a local synagogue, and asked for information about who was sleeping there, said Elissa Weiss, the volunteer on duty.

“A man who said he was an undercover policeman, but who neither introduced himself by name nor showed me a badge, started to approach the room where the guests sleep,” Ms. Weiss said in an e-mail. “He asked how many slept down there. I didn’t think that was any of his business, so I gave him the public information, which was that we have as many as 10 guests each night.”

A demonstrator then confronted the men and asked them to write down their names and badge numbers. One identified himself as Detective Kevin G. Clancy, who according to 2006 police records is assigned to the intelligence division of the New York Police Department. The men then left.

“They are welcome to come in if they just say who they are,” Mr. Karpen said. “We have never had that kind of issue with the police before. Usually, they are very respectful of church-state issues.”

Mr. Karpen wound up escorting the protesters out a back door because, he said, there was an unknown woman photographing people leaving the church’s main entry.

Church officials said two other police intelligence officers had visited them earlier that day, after the congregation hosted about a dozen protesters on Tuesday night. Those officers said they were following up on an anonymous report of vandalism, according to Siobhan Sargent, an associate pastor, who said that no vandalism had taken place.

“They proceeded to ask me if anyone was sleeping there,” Ms. Sargent said. “I said yes, we had occupiers from Occupy Wall Street, who asked for a place to stay.”

Ms. Sargent said she was told by the officers that they did not want anything to happen to the church and that there was risk to letting people sleep there. Ms. Sargent said she told the officers “that’s what the church is for.”

Police officers may enter a place of worship if they have suspicion of unlawful activity, said Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. However, if they are conducting surveillance without cause, and “got in by fraud and deception” if their bathroom visit was only a pretense, “that is trespassing,” she said.

“It raises concerns about whether this is in keeping with the limitations on police infiltration of political activity under the Handschu agreement,” which proscribes procedures on police surveillance, she said.

American Bankers Association memo on how to fight Occupy Wall Street

So I'm not sure how to post PDF files on here (d'oh!) but this one is well worth the read and circulating as it shows how far the rich will stoop to undermine speech they don't like.

What it all boils down to


Already detained? Here's a little pepper spray!

http://i.imgur.com/J3AE5.jpg From Occupy Davis

Police Militarization Sweeps Across the States at #OWS Protests – FreakOutNation

Demonstrators from Occupy Wall Street have been subjected to the New York Police Department’s careless and abundant use of pepper spray, rubber bullets and now even Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRADs) are being reported. But, Occupy Tampa is reporting something equally disturbing; a tank.

The police department’s Tactical Response Team (TRP) paraded a tank at the Occupy Tampa protest downtown. But, now they’re reporting that this tank, this obvious tank, did I mention that it’s a tank?, is simply a rescue vehicle and you can in fact, clearly see the words written on the side, however, the drama promoted speculation and certainly intimidation — and deservedly so.

The city of Tampa’s website, states “Rescue 2″ is a “12-ton Armored Personnel Carrier (APC)… can be used for search and rescue during a natural disaster or terrorist attack.” Can you say, overkill? We can only conclude that protesters exercising their right to Free Speech are deemed as a terrorist threat.

The right leaning Yahoo news states the absurd:

I have to admit I’m really surprised that so many of the protestors are making such silly conjectures, implying that the tank might be used violently against the protestors, or that the TPD are so afraid of them they need to hide behind a tank.

Yahoo news, in its infinite wisdom has failed miserably at reporting the news, which is an ongoing effort for them. I suggest if their writers can’t report the news, perhaps looking at pictures won’t be too daunting a task:

This young man is only the recent bloodied victim of the NYPD. In Oakland, a Vet, Scott Olsen was shot in the face by their ‘to protect and serve’ police department and he’s only recently been discharged from the hospital. There is an extremely long list of police abuse which has taken place, but far be it for a news reporting site to actually report the fucking news without bias.

In Seattle this week, an 84-year-old community activist, a priest and a pregnant teenager were pepper-sprayed. Today the mayor of Seattle apologized for the use of pepper spray.

Portland’s mayor has yet to apologize:

CBS reports, “Norm Stamper, who was the police chief in Seattle during the chaotic anti-World Trade Organization protests in 1999, recently had to say about police violence in the latest uprising:

More than a decade later, the police response to the Occupy movement, most disturbingly visible in Oakland — where scenes resembled a war zone and where a marine remains in serious condition from a police projectile — brings into sharp relief the acute and chronic problems of American law enforcement. Seattle might have served as a cautionary tale, but instead, U.S. police forces have become increasingly militarized, and it’s showing in cities everywhere: The NYPD “white shirt” coating innocent people with pepper spray, the arrests of two student journalists at Occupy Atlanta, the declaration of public property as off-limits and the arrests of protesters for “trespassing.”

(My bold)

The presence of our new militarized police force is an attempt to silence the people – by any means necessary. Homeland Security has been spotted at several protests and one source reports that the FBI is involved (but whatever you do pretend the obvious looking tank isn’t a tank). The tank at Occupy Tampa is speculated because a Tea Party protester has never had to encounter such issues. This isn’t commonplace but increasingly we’re growing accustomed to this military-type feel of our police departments nation wide.

Ideologues justify these extreme measures; with the increase in usage of powerful weapons utilized by the police on peaceful protesters, it’s only a matter of time before their Freedom of Speech is face-to-face with a military-style tank as well. When these nefarious actions take place they may not be, ‘armed this time’.

Tea Party supporters claim that their Conservative style hoard are not violent. The assassination attempt on President Obama this week was allegedly perpetrated by a right winger. Of course, propagandists are attempting to lay blame on the Occupy movement.

Facts are ignored often:

Mr. Ortega-Hernandez’s family had reported him missing in Idaho Falls last month, after he drove away in the Honda Accord, the complaint said. The Secret Service has said it did not have Mr. Ortega-Hernandez on record as having made any threats against the president. But after the shooting, several acquaintances said he had been fixated on Mr. Obama.

Besides the one friend who told investigators that Mr. Ortega-Hernandez had said he believed the president was the “Antichrist” and that he needed to kill him, another friend said he stated “President Obama was the problem with the government,” was “the devil,” and that he “needed to be taken care of.” The second friend also said he appeared to be “preparing for something.”

Mr. Ortega-Hernandez has had legal problems in Idaho, Texas, and Utah, including charges related to drug offenses, resisting arrest and assault on a police officer, officials have said. He is said to be heavily tattooed, with the word “Israel” on his neck and pictures of rosary beads and hands clasped in prayer on his chest.

(my bold)

Right wing partisans are claiming that Occupy is a leftist pro-Obama movement attempting to aid in his reelection — they can’t have it both ways. If the movement is supposedly pro-Obama, then why did the failed assassin have a fixation on our president? Spin, rinse, repeat. “There is no violence on the right”, keep saying it mantra style — except for the Norway shooter. And with the exception of Dr. Tiller’s murderer. We could do this all day but the fact is, all groups should be concerned over the overwhelming militarization of our police.

Fox News reports this movement is fading away. So, if that’s true, why the military-style presentation? The fact is, Occupy is growing exponentially with each intimidation tactic utilized. Well, gifts come in all sizes/packages.

Tom Servo, the author of the Yahoo ‘article’ in question concluded his highly biased post with, “Unfortunately, I was unable to get any comments from any TPD officers on the “Rescue 2″ and why they felt the need to bring out to the protest.”

Yes, Tom, you left out volumes. How absurd of us to speculate.

18 November 2011

Variation on a theme


The joke that is American "justice"


Last week, a federal judge in Mississippi sentenced a mother of two named Anita McLemore to three years in federal prison for lying on a government application in order to obtain food stamps.


The total “cost” of her fraud was $4,367. She has paid the money back. But paying the money back was not enough for federal Judge Henry Wingate.

Wingate had the option of sentencing McLemore according to federal guidelines, which would have left her with a term of two months to eight months, followed by probation. Not good enough! Wingate was so outraged by McLemore’s fraud that he decided to serve her up the deluxe vacation, using another federal statute that permitted him to give her up to five years.

He ultimately gave her three years, saying, “The defendant’s criminal record is simply abominable …. She has been the beneficiary of government generosity in state court.”


…Like McLemore, fraud defendants like Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and Deutsche Bank have “been the beneficiary of government generosity.” Goldman got $12.9 billion just through the AIG bailout. Citigroup got $45 billion, plus hundreds of billions in government guarantees. All of these companies have been repeatedly dragged into court for fraud, and not one individual defendant has ever been forced to give back anything like a significant portion of his ill-gotten gains. The closest we’ve come is in a fraud case involving Citi, in which a pair of executives, Gary Crittenden and Arthur Tildesley, were fined the token amounts of $100,000 and $80,000, respectively, for lying to shareholders about the extent of Citi’s debt. Neither man was forced to admit to intentional fraud. Both got to keep their jobs.

21st century America, were fraud is only a serious crime if you think small.

Getting what they deserve?


...who owns the police!


What price the new democracy? Goldman Sachs conquers Europe - Business Analysis & Features - Business - The Independent

The ascension of Mario Monti to the Italian prime ministership is remarkable for more reasons than it is possible to count. By replacing the scandal-surfing Silvio Berlusconi, Italy has dislodged the undislodgeable. By imposing rule by unelected technocrats, it has suspended the normal rules of democracy, and maybe democracy itself. And by putting a senior adviser at Goldman Sachs in charge of a Western nation, it has taken to new heights the political power of an investment bank that you might have thought was prohibitively politically toxic.

This is the most remarkable thing of all: a giant leap forward for, or perhaps even the successful culmination of, the Goldman Sachs Project.

It is not just Mr Monti. The European Central Bank, another crucial player in the sovereign debt drama, is under ex-Goldman management, and the investment bank's alumni hold sway in the corridors of power in almost every European nation, as they have done in the US throughout the financial crisis. Until Wednesday, the International Monetary Fund's European division was also run by a Goldman man, Antonio Borges, who just resigned for personal reasons.

Even before the upheaval in Italy, there was no sign of Goldman Sachs living down its nickname as "the Vampire Squid", and now that its tentacles reach to the top of the eurozone, sceptical voices are raising questions over its influence. The political decisions taken in the coming weeks will determine if the eurozone can and will pay its debts – and Goldman's interests are intricately tied up with the answer to that question.

Simon Johnson, the former International Monetary Fund economist, in his book 13 Bankers, argued that Goldman Sachs and the other large banks had become so close to government in the run-up to the financial crisis that the US was effectively an oligarchy. At least European politicians aren't "bought and paid for" by corporations, as in the US, he says. "Instead what you have in Europe is a shared world-view among the policy elite and the bankers, a shared set of goals and mutual reinforcement of illusions."

This is The Goldman Sachs Project. Put simply, it is to hug governments close. Every business wants to advance its interests with the regulators that can stymie them and the politicians who can give them a tax break, but this is no mere lobbying effort. Goldman is there to provide advice for governments and to provide financing, to send its people into public service and to dangle lucrative jobs in front of people coming out of government. The Project is to create such a deep exchange of people and ideas and money that it is impossible to tell the difference between the public interest and the Goldman Sachs interest.

Mr Monti is one of Italy's most eminent economists, and he spent most of his career in academia and thinktankery, but it was when Mr Berlusconi appointed him to the European Commission in 1995 that Goldman Sachs started to get interested in him. First as commissioner for the internal market, and then especially as commissioner for competition, he has made decisions that could make or break the takeover and merger deals that Goldman's bankers were working on or providing the funding for. Mr Monti also later chaired the Italian Treasury's committee on the banking and financial system, which set the country's financial policies.

With these connections, it was natural for Goldman to invite him to join its board of international advisers. The bank's two dozen-strong international advisers act as informal lobbyists for its interests with the politicians that regulate its work. Other advisers include Otmar Issing who, as a board member of the German Bundesbank and then the European Central Bank, was one of the architects of the euro.

Perhaps the most prominent ex-politician inside the bank is Peter Sutherland, Attorney General of Ireland in the 1980s and another former EU Competition Commissioner. He is now non-executive chairman of Goldman's UK-based broker-dealer arm, Goldman Sachs International, and until its collapse and nationalisation he was also a non-executive director of Royal Bank of Scotland. He has been a prominent voice within Ireland on its bailout by the EU, arguing that the terms of emergency loans should be eased, so as not to exacerbate the country's financial woes. The EU agreed to cut Ireland's interest rate this summer.

Picking up well-connected policymakers on their way out of government is only one half of the Project, sending Goldman alumni into government is the other half. Like Mr Monti, Mario Draghi, who took over as President of the ECB on 1 November, has been in and out of government and in and out of Goldman. He was a member of the World Bank and managing director of the Italian Treasury before spending three years as managing director of Goldman Sachs International between 2002 and 2005 – only to return to government as president of the Italian central bank.

Mr Draghi has been dogged by controversy over the accounting tricks conducted by Italy and other nations on the eurozone periphery as they tried to squeeze into the single currency a decade ago. By using complex derivatives, Italy and Greece were able to slim down the apparent size of their government debt, which euro rules mandated shouldn't be above 60 per cent of the size of the economy. And the brains behind several of those derivatives were the men and women of Goldman Sachs.

The bank's traders created a number of financial deals that allowed Greece to raise money to cut its budget deficit immediately, in return for repayments over time. In one deal, Goldman channelled $1bn of funding to the Greek government in 2002 in a transaction called a cross-currency swap. On the other side of the deal, working in the National Bank of Greece, was Petros Christodoulou, who had begun his career at Goldman, and who has been promoted now to head the office managing government Greek debt. Lucas Papademos, now installed as Prime Minister in Greece's unity government, was a technocrat running the Central Bank of Greece at the time.

Goldman says that the debt reduction achieved by the swaps was negligible in relation to euro rules, but it expressed some regrets over the deals. Gerald Corrigan, a Goldman partner who came to the bank after running the New York branch of the US Federal Reserve, told a UK parliamentary hearing last year: "It is clear with hindsight that the standards of transparency could have been and probably should have been higher."

When the issue was raised at confirmation hearings in the European Parliament for his job at the ECB, Mr Draghi says he wasn't involved in the swaps deals either at the Treasury or at Goldman.

It has proved impossible to hold the line on Greece, which under the latest EU proposals is effectively going to default on its debt by asking creditors to take a "voluntary" haircut of 50 per cent on its bonds, but the current consensus in the eurozone is that the creditors of bigger nations like Italy and Spain must be paid in full. These creditors, of course, are the continent's big banks, and it is their health that is the primary concern of policymakers. The combination of austerity measures imposed by the new technocratic governments in Athens and Rome and the leaders of other eurozone countries, such as Ireland, and rescue funds from the IMF and the largely German-backed European Financial Stability Facility, can all be traced to this consensus.

"My former colleagues at the IMF are running around trying to justify bailouts of €1.5trn-€4trn, but what does that mean?" says Simon Johnson. "It means bailing out the creditors 100 per cent. It is another bank bailout, like in 2008: The mechanism is different, in that this is happening at the sovereign level not the bank level, but the rationale is the same."

So certain is the financial elite that the banks will be bailed out, that some are placing bet-the-company wagers on just such an outcome. Jon Corzine, a former chief executive of Goldman Sachs, returned to Wall Street last year after almost a decade in politics and took control of a historic firm called MF Global. He placed a $6bn bet with the firm's money that Italian government bonds will not default.

When the bet was revealed last month, clients and trading partners decided it was too risky to do business with MF Global and the firm collapsed within days. It was one of the ten biggest bankruptcies in US history.

The grave danger is that, if Italy stops paying its debts, creditor banks could be made insolvent. Goldman Sachs, which has written over $2trn of insurance, including an undisclosed amount on eurozone countries' debt, would not escape unharmed, especially if some of the $2trn of insurance it has purchased on that insurance turns out to be with a bank that has gone under. No bank – and especially not the Vampire Squid – can easily untangle its tentacles from the tentacles of its peers. This is the rationale for the bailouts and the austerity, the reason we are getting more Goldman, not less. The alternative is a second financial crisis, a second economic collapse.

Shared illusions, perhaps? Who would dare test it?

Iraq vet beaten by cops at Ocuppy Oakland


Video footage has emerged of a police officer beating an Iraq war veteran so hard that he suffered a ruptured spleen in an apparently unprovoked incident at a recent Occupy protest in California.

The footage, which has been shared with the Guardian, shows Kayvan Sabehgi standing in front of a police line on the night of Occupy Oakland’s general strike on 2 November, when he is set upon by an officer.

He does not appear to be posing any threat, nor does he attempt to resist, yet he is hit numerous times by an officer clad in riot gear who appears determined to beat him to the ground.

Sabehgi, 32, an Oakland resident and former marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, has since undergone surgery on his spleen. He says it took hours for him to be taken to hospital, despite complaining of severe pain. Police have told the Guardian they are investigating the incident.

The footage was recorded by artist and photographer Neil Rivas, who said Sabehgi was “completely peaceful” before he was beaten. “It was uncalled for,” said Rivas. “There were no curse words. He was telling them he was a war vet, a resident of Oakland, a business owner.”

Sabehgi has previously said he was talking to officers in a non-violent manner prior to his arrest, which the footage appears to confirm.

The 32-year-old can be seen standing in front of a line of police officers, all of whom are in riot gear. The officers walk forward, chanting and thrusting their batons, and Sabehgi starts to walk backwards.

Although the video is dark, an officer can clearly be seen beginning to hit Sabehgi around the legs with a baton, then starting to strike him higher up.

Sabehgi then appears to be bundled to the ground. He was later arrested.

Rivas said the footage was shot around midnight on 3 November, as police approached Occupy Oakland following the 2 November general strike.

Police deployed teargas and non-lethal projectiles that night, after some protesters entered a disused building north of Frank H Ogawa Plaza, but Rivas said there did not appear to be an immediate threat to police at the time of the video.

“It was pretty much just Kayvan and myself right there at that moment when he got beat,” Rivas said.

“I couldn’t help but start yelling out for them to stop. He was not fighting back; he was moving away from the officer. It did not feel good.

“I saw him being taken down to the ground and I tried to keep my camera focused on that as well, but they were pretty quick at setting up a barricade between myself and Kayvan at that point. I was shoved out of the way, and I had several guns pointed my way.

“I remember specifically one officer right in front of me having his gun pointed point blank at me.”

FDA: Some chicken may have small amount of arsenic - phillyBurbs.com : Burlington County Times: fda, chicken meat, arsenic,

The Food and Drug Administration says some chicken meat may contain small amounts of arsenic, though the agency is stressing that the amount is too tiny to be dangerous to people who eat it.

The FDA said Wednesday that a new study developed by the agency shows that an ingredient in chicken feed that contains arsenic, called Roxarsone, may make its way into parts of the bird that are eaten. Previous studies have indicated that the arsenic was eliminated with chicken waste.

Pfizer Inc., which makes the feed ingredient, said Wednesday that it will pull it off the market in the United States. FDA said it would be banned because it is a carcinogen.

Many poultry producers have already stopped feeding their birds the ingredient, which was used to kill parasites and promote growth.

The FDA said that people should not stop eating chicken that may have been treated with the drug. Michael Taylor, FDA's deputy commissioner for foods, said the study raised "concerns of a very low but completely avoidable exposure to a carcinogen."

Pfizer said in a statement that its subsidiary, Alpharma LLC, is suspending sales next month in response to the FDA findings. The company said it is not withdrawing the ingredient immediately so producers have time to transition their birds off the drug.

In a study of 100 chickens, the FDA found that chickens that had eaten the Roxarsone had higher levels of inorganic arsenic - as opposed to organic arsenic, which is naturally occurring - in their livers than chickens which had not eaten the Roxarsone. Inorganic arsenic is more toxic than the naturally occurring form.

Roxarsone has long been a concern for environmental groups worried about its presence in chicken waste and the resulting effects on human health in areas with high chicken production. Maryland state lawmakers have attempted to force a ban in that state, saying the arsenic ends up in the Chesapeake Bay.

What American freedom looks like


Not even the legal observers are safe from the NY paramilitary police

I was there to take down the names of people who were arrested… As I’m standing there, some African-American woman goes up to a police officer and says, ‘I need to get in. My daughter’s there. I want to know if she’s OK.’ And he said, ‘Move on, lady.’ And they kept pushing with their sticks, pushing back. And she was crying. And all of a sudden, out of nowhere, he throws her to the ground and starts hitting her in the head,” says Smith. “I walk over, and I say, ‘Look, cuff her if she’s done something, but you don’t need to do that.’ And he said, ‘Lady, do you want to get arrested?’ And I said, ‘Do you see my hat? I’m here as a legal observer.’ He said, ‘You want to get arrested?’ And he pushed me up against the wall.
Retired New York Supreme Court Judge Karen Smith, working as a legal observer after the raids on Zucotti Park this Tuesday, via Paramilitary Policing of Occupy Wall Street: Excessive Use of Force amidst the New Military Urbanism  

17 November 2011

Like I've been saying all along...

http://30.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lutnknnZ101qzs5cqo1_500.jpg ...the cops are nothing but state sanctioned gangs who fly their colours as proudly as any Blood or Crip. These thugs do the bidding of the few who hold the keys of power and they do so unquestioningly and with awful violence. NEVER TURN YOUR BACK ON THEM!

At least someone will be happy


Too inconvenient


Watch out for that backswing kid!


Somebody's got to pay


Say "They don't know why they are protesting!"




It's a super committee!


SuperPAC not included


Report: DHS Forces Spotted at ‘Occupy’ Crackdowns -- News from Antiwar.com

Questions about the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’s) potential involvement in the violent crackdowns on Occupy Wall Street protests nationwide continue to grow today, with new reports that not only were they sighted at several of the crackdowns but in one case photographic evidence of DHS forces arresting a photographer at a Portland rally.

The photograph apparently is authentic, as the Federal Protective Service (FPS), a wing of the DHS, issued a statement in the wake of the Portland crackdown confirming that they were “working with the Portland Police Bureau to enforce the prohibition of overnight encampments.”

That crackdown was comparatively minor compared to the increasing level of violence used in recent days, an apparent result of what Oakland Mayor Jean Quan called a “conference call” with other mayors.

There has been speculation and even one unconfirmed report that the “conference call” was organized by the DHS, as were the crackdowns in their wake. So far, however, there has been no formal confirmation that this was the case.

The FPS is supposed to be responsible for the physical security of certain federal buildings, and does so mostly with a massive team of 15,000 security contractors. They have recently hyped a program of “proactive” moves against potential future threats against facilities, which may suggest why they are being used against domestic unrest, even if on a small scale basis.

Everywhere but here I guess


16 November 2011

GOP prescription plan


Our national dependence on oil


Lady, you're under arrest!


Newt of the living dead


Occupy movement removed


58 members of Congress among wealthy 1% – USATODAY.com

58 members of Congress among wealthy 1% – USATODAY.com

tumblr_luqm30V3W11qzzr6wo1_500.jpg (JPEG Image, 500x333 pixels)


84-year-old Occupy Seattle participant Dorli Rainey, pictured above after being pepper sprayed by Seattle Police on November 15th.

She later wrote about the incident:

“Something funny happened on my way to a transportation meeting in Northgate. As I got off the bus at 3rd and Pine I heard helicopters above. Knowing that the problems of New York would certainly precipitate action by Occupy Seattle, I thought I better check it out. Especially since only yesterday the City Government made a grandiose gesture to protect free speech. Well free speech does have its limits as I found out as the cops shoved their bicycles into the crowd and simultaneously pepper sprayed the so captured protesters. If it had not been for my Hero (Iraq Vet Caleb) I would have been down on the ground and trampled. This is what democracy looks like. It certainly left an impression on the people who rode the No. 1 bus home with me. In the women’s movement there were signs which said: “Screw us and we multiply.’”

GOP and TP on Obama’s foreign policy “successes” - Salon.com

Prior to last night’s GOP foreign policy debate, the Center for American Progress Action Fund’s Think Progress blog — which has several good and independent commentators who do excellent work — announced that it had compiled a list of “what you won’t hear at tonight’s GOP foreign policy debate: Obama’s successes.” It is very worth reviewing what this self-proclaimed progressive site now — under a Democratic President – considers to be a “foreign policy success,” beginning with this:

As I pointed out just yesterday, many Democrats not only passively acquiesce to Obama’s continuation of core Bush/Cheney Terrorism policies, but enthusiastically cheer it as proof that they, too, can be Tough and Strong (manly virtues demonstrated by how many human beings their leader kills from afar). So here you have Think Progress heaping praise on Obama for seizing what is literally the most radical power a President can seize: the power to target — in total secrecy and with no checks or due process — their fellow citizens for execution: specifically, assassination-by-CIA. Worse, to justify what Obama has done, TP spouts a blatant falsehood (that Awlaki was “a senior Al Qaeda leader”), even though actual Yemen experts have mocked that claim mercilessly and the administration itself refuses to reveal any evidence whatsoever about what it did or why. Revealingly, TP trumpets the claim that “Al Awlaki’s death brought a damaging blow to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)”; its link to justify that claim goes to the blog operated by the right-wing Heritage Foundation: that, quite understandably, is who TP must now cite as authoritative to justify Obama’s foreign policy conduct.

But what’s most notable here is how inaccurate TP’s prediction was: it turned out to be completely wrong that the Awlaki assassination was something “you won’t hear at tonight’s GOP foreign policy debate.” In fact, we heard a lot about it — from the GOP candidates who heaped as much praise on Obama as TP did for murdering this American citizen. Indeed, among the most vocal cheers of the night from the GOP South Carolina crowd — second only to its vocal swooning for the virtues of waterboarding — was when their right-wing candidates hailed Obama’s decision to kill Awlaki.

Michele Bachmann gushed about Obama’s decision this way: “Awlaki, who we also killed, he has been the chief recruiter of terrorists, including Major Hassan at Fort Hood, including the underwear bomber over Detroit, and including the Times Square bomber. These were very good decisions that were made to take them out.” Here was the exchange with Mitt Romney on this issue:

CBS’ SCOTT PELLEY: Governor Romney, recently President Obama ordered the death of an American citizen who was suspected of terrorist activity overseas. Is it appropriate for the American president on the president’s say-so alone to order the death of an American citizen suspected of terrorism?

MITT ROMNEY: Absolutely. In this case, this is an individual who had aligned himself with a– with a group that had declared (CHEERING) war on the United States of America. And– and if there’s someone that’s gonna– join with a group like Al-Qaeda that declares war on America and we’re in a– in a– a war with that entity, then of course anyone who was bearing arms for that entity is fair game for the United States of America.

And here was one of most revealing exchanges of the year, which Pelley (whose questions were quite good on this topic) had with Newt Gingrich:

SCOTT PELLEY: Speaker Gingrich, if I could just ask you the same question, as President of the United States, would you sign that death warrant for an American citizen overseas who you believe is a terrorist suspect?

NEWT GINGRICH: Well, he’s not a terrorist suspect. He’s a person who was found guilty under review of actively seeking the death of Americans.

SCOTT PELLEY: Not– not found guilty by a court, sir.

NEWT GINGRICH: He was found guilty by a panel that looked at it and reported to the president.

SCOTT PELLEY: Well, that’s ex-judicial. That’s– it’s not–

NEWT GINGRICH: Let me– let me– let me tell you a story– let me just tell you this.

SCOTT PELLEY: –the rule of law.

NEWT GINGRICH: It is the rule of law. (APPLAUSE) That is explicitly false. It is the rule of law.


NEWT GINGRICH: If you engage in war against the United States, you are an enemy combatant. You have none of the civil liberties of the United States. (APPLAUSE) You cannot go to court.

Of course, whether someone is an “enemy combatant” and has “engaged in war against the United States” is exactly what is in question in these controversies. But, critically, this mindset — that the President has the power to secretly and unilaterally decree you guilty of being an Enemy Combatant and then take whatever steps he wants against you (warrantless eavesdropping, indefinite detention, consignment to Guantanamo, execution) — was until very recently the hallmark, the defining crux, of right-wing Bush/Cheney radicalism. That’s why Newt Gingrich — Newt Gingrich — defends Obama’s actions by claiming with a straight face that Awlaki was “found guilty” — meaning “found guilty” by a secret White House committee and thus “has none of the civil liberties of the United States.” Thanks to Barack Obama, this twisted mentality about what the “rule of law” means and how treason is decreed (not by a court, as the Constitution requires, but by the President acting alone) has now been enshrined as bipartisan consensus. That’s why Think Progress, Bachmann, Romney and Gingrich all find full common ground in embracing it as a “success” to be celebrated.

It took Ron Paul — whom every Good Progressive will tell you is Completely Crazy and Insane — to point out to the GOP the rather glaring inconsistency between, on the one hand, distrusting government authorities to run health care, but on the other, wanting to empower the President to kill whomever he wants with no transparency or due process. As Conor Friedersdorf wrote last year in Newsweek about who and what is “crazy”:

Forced to name the “craziest” policy favored by American politicians, I’d say the multibillion-dollar war on drugs, which no one thinks is winnable. . . . If returning to the gold standard is unthinkable, is it not just as extreme that President Obama claims an unchecked power to assassinate, without due process, any American living abroad whom he designates as an enemy combatant?

Crazy/Insane Ron Paul also objected to the killing under Obama not only of Awlaki, but, two weeks later, of Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, also a U.S. citizen, and his 17-year-old cousin. Think Progress forgot to include those dead teenagers on its list of Obama’s “foreign policy successes” — just as they forgot to include such smashing successes as this, this, this, this and this. But Ron Paul yet again showed how insane he is by pointing out that it’s a bad thing — both morally and prudentially — for the U.S. Government to run around continuously killing Muslim children from the sky. All Sane and Serious People know that the President has the right and the duty to keep killing Muslim teeangers such as Awlaki’s 16-year-old son; only crazies like Ron Paul object to such necessities.

But even the craziest and most radical policies are immediately removed from the realm of craziness as soon as the leadership of both political parties agree on them. As evidenced by Think Progress’ listing of the Awlaki assassination as an Obama “success” — joined in that assessment by Bachmann, Gingrich and Romney — that is what Barack Obama has achieved for due-process-free presidential killings of our fellow citizens. Is there anyone, anywhere, who denies that had George Bush (rather than Obama) claimed the power to assassinate American citizens with the CIA with no due process or transparency, Think Progress would be vociferously objecting rather than celebrating?

There are a couple of other “foreign policy successes” hailed by Think Progress worth highlighting, such as this one:

Here we have Think Progress celebrating Obama’s subservience to Netanyahu and the Israeli Government as a grand “success.” Obama, you see, has “strengthened America’s military and intelligence relationship with Israel,” has given unprecedented “support and cooperation” to Israeli actions (“even better than under President Bush”), and has “markedly increased” U.S. military aid to Israel — and these are all deemed Good Things by this progressive site. Here, again, there is extreme common ground with the Evil GOP, most of whom demanded last night that the U.S. get even closer to Israel (Think Progress is right that, minor rhetorical deviations on the settlement issue aside, Obama has been exactly as subservient to Israel — and exactly as hostile to Palestinians — as the GOP demands). That they consider this approach to Israel a “success” is telling indeed. Then there’s this:

Amazingly, Think Progress admits that Obama withdrew troops from Iraq only because he failed to convince the Iraqis to allow them to stay under a shield of legal immunity. In other words, American troops are leaving because Iraq forced them to leave, even though Obama tried desperately to have them stay. Still, Think Progress somehow classifies it as an Obama “success” that he “ordered the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of the year” — the very result he tried desperately for many months to prevent. Think Progress also forgot to mention the Obama “success” of keeping a “small army” of private contractors in Iraq beyond the 2011 deadline — but, to be fair, so numerous are such “successes” for Obama that no single site can be expected to list all of them. Then we have this:

So it’s now Democratic orthodoxy — rather than just Weekly Standard dogma — that Iran is a threat, that it is developing nuclear weapons, and that its government needs to be “isolated” and “weakened.” Even more notably, Think Progress insists that Obama, contrary to GOP complaints, still aggressively preserves the “military option” as a means of dealing with Iran, and apparently considers this to be a good thing (does anyone doubt that a large majority of Democrats will vigorously support military action against Iran if the U.S. either does it directly or supports Israel in doing it?). Ironically, all of the steps which Newt Gingrich demanded be taken against Iran are already being pursued by some combination of the U.S. and Israel; here’s what Gingirch demanded last night:

First of all, as maximum covert operations– to block and disrupt the Iranian program– in– including– taking out their scientists, including breaking up their systems. All of it covertly, all of it deniable. Second, (LAUGH) maximum– maximum coordination with the Israelis– in a way which allows them to maximize their impact in Iran. Third, absolute strategic program comparable to what President Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and Margaret Thatcher did in the Soviet Union, of every possible aspect short of war of breaking the regime and bringing it down.

Gingrich’s proposals perfectly capture the Obama administration’s policies of aggression toward Iran. And the GOP and Think Progress are of like mind that these are noble and Strong. Perhaps the most dishonest of the claimed “successes” is this:

At the debate I had last week at Brown with former Bush drug czar John Walters, I could barely maintain my civility when he told the audience that they should be proud of the role their government played in helping to bring democracy to Egypt; the very idea that a member of a government that long funded and armed the Mubarak regime would claim credit for bringing democracy to that country is offensive in the extreme. And it’s every bit as offensive for Think Progress to try to claim Egyptian democracy as an Obama “success.”

The Obama administration supported Mubarak up to the very last minute. Tear gas cannisters shot by Egyptian police at protesters bore the “MADE IN THE USA” mark. In 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proclaimed: “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family.” And when Mubarak’s fall became inevitable, Obama tried to engineer the empowerment of Omar Suleiman, Mubarak’s long-time trusted lieutenant most responsible for its policies of torture and brutality. The U.S., under both the Bush and Obama administrations, did more to entrench Mubarak than any other single force; to attribute the fall of Mubarak to Obama is propaganda so deceitful that it defies words.

Some of the successes noted by Think Progress are genuinely that: Obama’s repeal of DADT was masterfully executed, and the negotiation with Russia of a reduction in nuclear weapons was a very modest though positive development. And tactically, Obama’s pursuit of the same foreign policy goals as his predecessor has been, in many cases, more tactically shrewd and subtle, and more multilateral. Obama is a more competent technocrat than Bush, and it’s perfectly reasonable, I guess, for progressives to claim those limited tactical differences as a “success.”

But the list of foreign policy “successes” compiled by Think Progress — echoed in many progressive precincts — is grounded in little more than the premise that “success” is defined as: that which Barack Obama does, even when what he does prompted years of progressive anger when done by George Bush. As Ali Abunimah perfectly put it last night: “all the questions in the GOP debate [were] about which countries these sinister clowns would bomb, invade, subvert, occupy, etc etc etc.” That’s true, but that is basically what American “foreign policy” generally entails (on Meet the Press this morning, Michele Bachmann said of Obama’s drone policies: “Those are good things that I think all Americans would agree with”). That D.C.’s leading Democratic Party think tank celebrates so many of those acts, and particularly thinks exactly like Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann on one of the most controversial civil liberties issues of our generation — the power of the President to secretly target even American citizens for assassination — speaks volumes about the true legacy of the Obama presidency in these areas.

UPDATE: More success:

See also here, where former Guantanamo chief prosecutor and vocal Bush critic Morris Davis complains about the Obama presidency: “it seems like a third Bush term when it comes to national security.” Let the celebratory party at Think Progress resume.

Middle-Class Areas Shrink as Income Gap Grows, New Report Finds - NYTimes.com

WASHINGTON — The portion of American families living in middle-income neighborhoods has declined significantly since 1970, according to a new study, as rising income inequality left a growing share of families in neighborhoods that are mostly low-income or mostly affluent.

The study, conducted by Stanford University and scheduled for release on Wednesday by the Russell Sage Foundation and Brown University, uses census data to examine family income at the neighborhood level in the country’s 117 biggest metropolitan areas.

The findings show a changed map of prosperity in the United States over the past four decades, with larger patches of affluence and poverty and a shrinking middle.

Jessica Kourkounis for The New York Times

The Germantown area of Philadelphia was formerly considered solidly middle class but is now mostly low income. "Everything started going down in the dumps," a longtime resident said.

In 2007, the last year captured by the data, 44 percent of families lived in neighborhoods the study defined as middle-income, down from 65 percent of families in 1970. At the same time, a third of American families lived in areas of either affluence or poverty, up from just 15 percent of families in 1970.

The study comes at a time of growing concern about inequality and an ever-louder partisan debate over whether it matters. It raises, but does not answer, the question of whether increased economic inequality, and the resulting income segregation, impedes social mobility.

Much of the shift is the result of changing income structure in the United States. Part of the country’s middle class has slipped to the lower rungs of the income ladder as manufacturing and other middle-class jobs have dwindled, while the wealthy receive a bigger portion of the income pie. Put simply, there are fewer people in the middle.

But the shift is more than just changes in income. The study also found that there is more residential sorting by income, with the rich flocking together in new exurbs and gentrifying pockets where lower- and middle-income families cannot afford to live.

The study — part of US2010, a research project financed by Russell Sage and Brown University — identified the pattern in about 90 percent of large and medium-size metropolitan areas for 2000 to 2007. Detroit; Oklahoma City; Toledo, Ohio; and Greensboro, N.C., experienced the biggest rises in income segregation in the decade, while 13 areas, including Atlanta, had declines. Philadelphia and its suburbs registered the sharpest rise since 1970.

Sean F. Reardon, an author of the study and a sociologist at Stanford, argued that the shifts had far-reaching implications for the next generation. Children in mostly poor neighborhoods tend to have less access to high-quality schools, child care and preschool, as well as to support networks or educated and economically stable neighbors who might serve as role models.

The isolation of the prosperous, he said, means less interaction with people from other income groups and a greater risk to their support for policies and investments that benefit the broader public — like schools, parks and public transportation systems. About 14 percent of families lived in affluent neighborhoods in 2007, up from 7 percent in 1970, the study found.

The study groups neighborhoods into six income categories. Poor neighborhoods have median family incomes that are 67 percent or less of those of a given metropolitan area. Rich neighborhoods have median incomes of 150 percent or more. Middle-income neighborhoods are those in which the median income is between 80 percent and 125 percent.

The map of that change for Philadelphia is a red stripe of wealthy suburbs curving around a poor, blue urban center, broken by a few red dots of gentrification. It is the picture of the economic change that slammed into Philadelphia decades ago as its industrial base declined and left a shrunken middle class and a poorer urban core.

The Germantown neighborhood, once solidly middle class, is now mostly low income. Chelten Avenue, one of its main thoroughfares, is a hard-luck strip of check-cashing stores and takeout restaurants. The stone homes on side streets speak to a more affluent past, one that William Wilson, 95, a longtime resident, remembers fondly.

“It was real nice,” he said, shuffling along Chelten Avenue on Monday. Theaters thrived on the avenue, he said, as did a fancy department store. Now a Walgreens stands in its place. “Everything started going down in the dumps,” he said.

Philadelphia’s more recent history is one of gentrifying neighborhoods, like the Northern Liberties area, where affluence has rushed in, in the form of espresso shops, glass-walled apartments and a fancy supermarket, and prosperous new suburbs that have mushroomed in the far north and south of the metro area.

Lawrence Katz, an economist at Harvard, said the evidence for the presumed adverse effects of economic segregation was inconclusive. In a recent study of low-income families randomly assigned the opportunity to move out of concentrated poverty into mixed-income neighborhoods, Professor Katz and his collaborators found large improvements in physical and mental health, but little change in the families’ economic and educational fortunes.

But there is evidence that income differences are having an effect, beyond the context of neighborhood. One example, Professor Reardon said, is a growing gap in standardized test scores between rich and poor children, now 40 percent bigger than it was in 1970. That is double the testing gap between black and white children, he said.

And the gap between rich and poor in college completion — one of the single most important predictors of economic success — has grown by more than 50 percent since the 1990s, said Martha J. Bailey, an economist at the University of Michigan. More than half of children from high-income families finish college, up from about a third 20 years ago. Fewer than 10 percent of low-income children finish, up from 5 percent.

William Julius Wilson, a sociologist at Harvard who has seen the study, argues that “rising inequality is beginning to produce a two-tiered society in America in which the more affluent citizens live lives fundamentally different from the middle- and lower-income groups. This divide decreases a sense of community.”

15 November 2011

Scalia and Thomas dine with healthcare law challengers as court takes case - latimes.com

The day the Supreme Court gathered behind closed doors to consider the politically divisive question of whether it would hear a challenge to President Obama’s healthcare law, two of its justices, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, were feted at a dinner sponsored by the law firm that will argue the case before the high court. The occasion was last Thursday, when all nine justices met for a conference to pore over the petitions for review. One of the cases at issue was a suit brought by 26 states challenging the sweeping healthcare overhaul passed by Congress last year, a law that has been a rallying cry for conservative activists nationwide. The justices agreed to hear the suit; indeed, a landmark 5 1/2-hour argument is expected in March, and the outcome is likely to further roil the 2012 presidential race, which will be in full swing by the time the court’s decision is released. The lawyer who will stand before the court and argue that the law should be thrown out is likely to be Paul Clement, who served as U.S. solicitor general during the George W. Bush administration. Clement’s law firm, Bancroft PLLC, was one of almost two dozen firms that helped sponsor the annual dinner of the Federalist Society, a longstanding group dedicated to advocating conservative legal principles. Another firm that sponsored the dinner, Jones Day, represents one of the trade associations that challenged the law, the National Federation of Independent Business. Another sponsor was pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc, which has an enormous financial stake in the outcome of the litigation. The dinner was held at a Washington hotel hours after the court's conference over the case. In attendance was, among others, Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s top Republican and an avowed opponent of the healthcare law. The featured guests at the dinner? Scalia and Thomas. It’s nothing new: The two justices have been attending Federalist Society events for years. And it’s nothing that runs afoul of ethics rules. In fact, justices are exempt from the Code of Conduct that governs the actions of lower federal judges. If they were, they arguably fell under code’s Canon 4C, which states,A judge may attend fund-raising events of law-related and other organizations although the judge may not be a speaker, a guest of honor, or featured on the program of such an event.“ Nevertheless, the sheer proximity of Scalia and Thomas to two of the law firms in the case, as well as to a company with a massive financial interest, was enough to alarm ethics-in-government activists. “This stunning breach of ethics and indifference to the code belies claims by several justices that the court abides by the same rules that apply to all other federal judges,” said Bob Edgar, the president of Common Cause. “The justices were wining and dining at a black-tie fundraiser with attorneys who have pending cases before the court. Their appearance and assistance in fundraising for this event undercuts any claims of impartiality, and is unacceptable.” Scalia and Thomas have shown little regard for critics who say they too readily mix the business of the court with agenda-driven groups such as the Federalist Society. And Thomas’ wife, Ginni, is a high-profile conservative activist. Moreover, conservatives argue that it’s Justice Elena Kagan who has an ethical issue, not Scalia and Thomas. Kagan served as solicitor general in the Obama administration when the first legal challenges to the law were brought at the trial court level. Her critics have pushed for Kagan to recuse herself from hearing the case, saying that she was too invested in defending the law then to be impartial now. Kagan has given no indication she will do so.