Abdulelah Haider Shaye

A prominent Yemeni journalist who was imprisoned for three years at the apparent request of the Obama administration has been released in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a. Abdulelah Haider Shaye was sentenced in January 2011 to five years in jail on terrorism-related charges, following a trial that was condemned by many human rights and press freedom groups. Shaye’s release Tuesday reportedly comes in the form of a presidential pardon that requires him to remain in Sana’a for two years. This could prevent him from traveling to the sites of U.S. drone strikes in Yemen, a topic he has previously reported on. Shaye was first imprisoned in 2010 after he helped expose the United States’ role in a 2009 cruise missile attack on the Yemeni village of al-Majalah that killed 41 people, including 14 women and 21 children. The Yemeni government initially took credit for the strike, saying it had targeted an al-Qaeda training camp. But it was later revealed through WikiLeaks cables that it was in fact a U.S. attack.

Rooj Alwazir talking:

We were expecting something to happen. President Hadi had come out in May, and he had a meeting with U.N. representatives and told them that he promises that Shaye will be coming out sometime before Ramadan, which is sometime before July. But speaking to many of the lawyers that had been working on the case, they’ve kind of—we’ve heard the rhetoric many, many times before, and President Hadi hasn’t really followed up on the timeline that he usually says. So, when we heard the news two days ago, it was a great surprise to many of us, and it was a great, exciting surprise.

Jeremy Scahill talking:

The White House is saying that they are disappointed and concerned that a Yemeni journalist has been released from a Yemeni prison. The White House is citing his conviction, that he supposedly was a supporter of al-Qaeda, in a kangaroo court, a court that was condemned by every major international media freedom organization, every major international human rights organization, that it was a total sham trial, where he was kept in a cage during the course of his prosecution and was convicted on trumped-up charges. So, Mr. Constitutional Law Professor President is saying that this Yemeni court, that has been condemned by every international human rights organization in the world, is somehow legitimate.

Secondly, when I’ve asked the White House and the State Department for a shred of evidence that Abdulelah Haider Shaye was guilty of anything other than journalism, critical journalism, they won’t provide it. They just say what they often do: “State secrets. Trust us.”

The fact is, Abdulelah Haider Shaye is a journalist who did very critical interviews with people like Anwar al-Awlaki. If you go back and you read his interviews with Awlaki, he’s challenging him on his praise of the underwear bomb attempt, saying, “But that was a plane full of civilians. How was that a legitimate target?” In fact, I would put forward that Abdulelah Haider Shaye asked more critical questions of figures within the al-Qaeda organization in Yemen than a single member of the “Caviar Correspondents Association” in the United States, those jokers who sit in the front row and pretend to play journalists on television.

This was a man who was put in prison because he had the audacity to expose a U.S. cruise missile attack that killed three dozen women and children. And the United States had tried to cover it up. They had the Yemeni government take responsibility for the strikes. The U.S. role was not initially owned. They said that they had blown up an al-Qaeda training camp. The reality was, women and children were killed. And why do we know that? We know it for two reasons. One is because Abdulelah Haider Shaye went to the scene, he took photographs of what were clearly U.S. cruise missile parts with “General Dynamics” on them, “Made in the United States” on them, and because of the WikiLeaks cables showing that General David Petraeus, who at the time was the CENTCOM commander, conspired with the Yemeni dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh, for the United States to begin bombing Yemen in the form of drones and cruise—drone strikes and cruise missile strikes and to have the Yemeni government publicly take responsibility for it. So when Abdulelah Haider Shaye exposed this and it became clear to the world that the Obama administration was starting to bomb Yemen, he was abducted by Yemen’s U.S.-backed political security forces. He was taken to a jail and beaten and told that if he continued to report on the U.S. bombing campaign in Yemen, that he would be put back in jail. He went straight from his beating onto the airwaves of Al Jazeera and said, “I was just abducted by Yemen security forces, and they threatened me.” And then, some months later, his house was raided in a night raid, and he was snatched and disappeared for 30 days. He was then brought into a court that was set up specifically to prosecute journalists who had committed crimes against the U.S.-backed dictatorship and was sentenced to five years in that court.

So, my question for the White House would be: You want to co-sign a dictator’s arrest of a journalist, beating of a journalist, and conviction in a court that every human rights organization in the world has said was a sham court? That’s the side that the White House is on right now, not on the side of press freedom around the world. They’re on the side of locking up journalists who have the audacity to actually be journalists.

in fact, what I say right after that is that the one local journalist who had investigated the reporting—the bombing had disappeared.

You know, I mean, what I felt there when I was talking to those survivors is that the only Americans they will ever meet are cruise missiles, that took their—the lives of their family members. And, you know, being there with them and listening to this woman who had lost so many members of her family, and this tribal leader, Muqbal, who was there—he was spared from that attack only because he was running an errand that day, and he returned back to find his village completely blown up. And I talked to tribal leaders who went there within 24 hours of the strike, and they described a scene where livestock and humans—the flesh of livestock and humans was melted together, and they couldn’t determine if it was goats or sheep or human flesh, and they were trying to figure out how to even bury the dead. And, you know, we have video that’s extremely graphic of infants being pulled from rubble, you know, children. I mean, 21 children were killed in that attack, and 14 women. And they claimed it was an al-Qaeda strike, but then when the Yemeni Parliament went to investigate it, they determined that that was a total lie.

And why is it that the Obama administration has never had to publicly state why they killed 14 women and 21 children in the first strike that President Obama authorized? And, you know, cruise missiles are a devastating weapon, and cluster bombs, which are banned internationally—the United States is one of the only nations on earth that continues to use cluster bombs. These are like flying land mines that shred people into ground meat. That’s why the tribal leaders were saying, “We couldn’t tell if it was the flesh of goats or sheep or humans.” I mean, I’ve seen in Yugoslavia and elsewhere the aftermath of cluster bombs, but to use these on a Bedouin village—I mean, this White House should have to explain why that strike was in the interest of U.S. national security.

Shaye is convicted in this kangaroo court, and then, in February of 2011, the Saba News Agency, the official Yemen news agency, did a report saying that Ali Abdullah Saleh, the dictator of Yemen, was going to pardon Abdulelah Haider Shaye. You have to understand, at the time, there were posters put up all throughout the Yemeni capital demanding his freedom. There was huge tribal pressure. The human rights organization HOOD, which was representing him—huge pressure. Rooj and other activists, other people in Yemen, there was massive pressure on that dictatorship to release him. Everyone knew it was a sham, and everyone in Yemen knows about the bombing of al-Majalah. It is—you see postcards with it at demonstrations, demanding accountability from the United States. And he’s the guy who exposed it, so people knew who he was.

So, Ali Abdullah Saleh is in a postion where it was becoming politically untenable to hold him in prison. He says he’s going to pardon him. The Yemeni news agency releases this. That day, he gets a phone call from the White House.

This was in February of 2011. He gets a phone call from the White House, not from, you know, some undersecretary of who knows what, but from President Obama personally. And President Obama, according to the White House’s own read-out of that call, expresses concern about reports that they were going to release Abdulelah Haider Shaye. And just to give you a sense of what a client state Yemen was, the pardon then is ripped up, and he remained in prison then over the course of the next two years. And, in fact, the White House—President Hadi just left yesterday from Sana’a. He’s visiting the United States right now. Supposedly it was for medical reasons, but he’s now going to meet with President Obama. And I think it’s going to be very interesting to see what comes out of that. The White House is clearly very, very irked that Hadi released Abdulelah Haider Shaye.

look at this White House’s position on whistleblowers and on journalists. You had the seizure of the Associated Press phone records. You have record numbers of prosecutions and indictments under the Espionage Act. You have what I think amounts to a criminalization of independent reporting. This White House seems intent on having the only information that journalists have access to official leaks, when it is meant to make the White House look noble and saving the world for peace, freedom and democracy. And any independent reporting or talking to sources that are not official is frowned upon, and at times prosecuted.

There was a recent court decision that I think is very disturbing. James Risen of The New York Times has been ordered to testify against a source of his who was a whistleblower. You have Bradley Manning’s trial coming to conclusion. The charge against him of aiding the enemy boils down to an assertion that anyone who provides information on the Internet, that then can be read by a terrorist, is somehow aiding the enemy. They’re actually contending that Bradley Manning, in leaking the diplomatic cables, aided Osama bin Laden directly, because Osama bin Laden was reported to have read some of the WikiLeaks cables. If that charge sticks, it should be chilling not just for journalists, but for the public at large, in the day of social media, when everyone is a journalist of sorts.

So, this administration has been utterly shameful in its approach toward a free press, toward whistleblowers, and it fundamentally undermines the notion that we have a free press in a democratic society. The fact that they had a Yemeni journalist jailed in a Yemeni court and kept him in prison there and are now deeply concerned and upset that he’s been released speaks volumes about this administration’s attitude toward journalists.

Frank Gaffney is a notorious, discredited neocon. The fact that he was even testifying, you know, talks about the seriousness of that hearing. But let’s be clear here: The Republicans, during their administration, their sort of reign of terror, were Murder Incorporated, where torture was the official policy. They didn’t even—they didn’t pretend to act like it was some abomination that happened once in a while. They were killing people in massive numbers in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, all around the world. So the fact that these guys are now trying to say, “Well, the Obama administration, because he dismantled the interrogation program, is somehow less humane than we were,” is just a sick joke. I mean, the fact is that Obama continued many of the worst policies, on a counterterrorism level, that were built up under the Bush and Cheney administration. And these Republicans, they would love to be doing exactly what Obama is doing. They’re just attacking him because he’s Obama. But they love his so-called national security policy. At the end of the day, they’re being motivated more by their own partisan agenda. And it’s an attempt to argue—and it’s an insidious argument—that torture is actually a policy that the United States should fully embrace once again. That’s what they’re trying to do here. But they quietly love the Obama administration’s drone policy and counterterrorism policy.

— source democracynow.org

Jeremy Scahill, producer and writer of the documentary film Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield. He is also the author of the new book by the same name. Jeremy Scahill is the national security correspondent for The Nation, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.

Rooj Alwazir, Yemeni-American activist who co-founded the Support Yemen media collective based in Sana’a, Yemen. She helped campaign for Abdulelah Haider Shaye’s release and is currently working on a documentary on drone wars.

Posted in Terrorism, ToMl, USA | Tagged , | Leave a comment

How this different from Nazi Germany

A shocking new study by the American Civil Liberties Union has found that more than 3,200 people nationwide are serving life terms without parole for nonviolent offenses. Of those prisoners, 80 percent are behind bars for drug-related crimes. Sixty-five percent are African-American, 18 percent are white, and 16 percent are Latino—evidence of what the ACLU calls “extreme racial disparities.” The crimes that led to life sentences include stealing gas from a truck, shoplifting, possessing a crack pipe, facilitating a $10 sale of marijuana, and attempting to cash a stolen check.

Jennifer Turner talking:

These sentences are grotesquely out of proportion of the crimes that they’re seeking to punish. And we found that 3,278 people are serving life without the possibility of parole for nonviolent crimes, but these numbers actually underrepresent the true state of extreme sentencing in this country. Those numbers don’t account for those who will die in prison because of sentences such as 350 years for a drug sale. It also doesn’t account for the many millions of lives ruined by excessive sentencing in this country, as well.

what we found was that over 80 percent of these sentences were mandatory, both in the federal system and in the states. They’re the direct consequence of laws passed over the 40-year war on drugs and tough-on-crime policies that included mandatory minimum sentencing laws, habitual offender laws in the states.

And they tie judges’ hands. And in case after case after case that I reviewed, the judge said from the bench—outraged, would say, “I oppose this sentence as a citizen, as a taxpayer, as a judge. I disagree with the sentence in this case, but my hands are tied.” And one judge said, when sentencing one man to life without parole for selling tiny quantities of crack over a period of just a couple of weeks, he said, “This is a travesty. It’s just silly. But I have no choice.”

The judges can’t say no. In fact, I looked at cases where the judges tried to say no, where the judge tried to find a legal loophole, where prosecutors appealed, repeatedly. One man was sentenced to zero time in prison by a Louisiana judge for threatening a cop while handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser. He was drunk, threatened him, was sentenced initially to no time. The prosecutor appealed; the sentence increased to 10 years. Prosecutor appealed again. On the third appeal, it was increased to life without parole as a mandatory sentence because of his priors dating back as much as 20 years earlier.

Sharanda Jones was sentenced to life for conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine when she was a 32-year-old mother, with a nine-year-old daughter—no prior arrests. No drugs were found on her, but her supposed co-conspirators testified against her in exchange for reduced sentences.

Sharanda was caught up in a massive drug sweep in a majority white town in Texas. Over a hundred people were arrested, all of whom were black. Chuck Norris participated in some of the arrests. Sharanda had no information to trade for a lenient—a more lenient sentence. And the judge was required to sentence her to life without parole, objected to the sentence, but he had not choice.

They had nothing but one wiretap. What happened was, a couple had been arrested on drug charges and began cooperating with the feds as confidential informants and, from there, started implicating others in the community. They called Sharanda and said, “Hey, do you know where we can get some drugs?” The wiretap caught Sharanda saying, “Let me see what I can do.” That was the extent of the evidence against her, with the exception of testimony from these confidential informants and other co-conspirators. They never found any drugs on her. There were no even video surveillance of her with drugs. But she was sentenced to life without parole.

A single mother. Her daughter Clenesha has been separated her for many, many, many years. And Sharanda maintains a very close relationship with her daughter. She carefully apportions the 300 minutes she’s allowed to use per month for non-legal calls to call her daughter 10 minutes each day. When I talk to Sharanda on the phone, she’s like, “I’ve got to go! I can’t use up my minutes; I need to speak with my daughter.”

And Sharanda, unfortunately, has no relief available. Her sentence is final, like those of everyone else we were profiling. They have really no chance of relief unless President Obama, in Sharanda’s case, because it’s a federal case, or, in the states, where the governors use their executive clemency powers to reduce their sentence.

The racial disparities are staggering. Obviously, as you said, that blacks are treated disparately throughout the criminal justice system, but what we found was that in life-without-parole sentencing for nonviolent crimes, those disparities are even more marked. Nationwide, 65 percent of people serving these sentences for nonviolent crimes are black; 18 percent are white. In the federal system, blacks are 20 times more likely to be sentenced to life without parole for nonviolent crime. In some states it’s even higher. In Louisiana, where 91 percent of the people serving these sentences are black, they’re 23 times more likely. In the federal system, Latinos are five times more likely to be sentenced to life for nonviolent crime than whites.

There are very clear avenues for change. These sentences are really symptomatic of the larger problem of excessive sentencing in this country. Many, many, many more thousands of people are serving excessive sentences that are disproportionate to their crimes. And they’re all the result of the 40-year war on drugs and tough-on-crime policies, such as mandatory minimums and three-strikes laws. We simply need to repeal the laws that led to these sentences. And with growing national consensus across both sides of the political aisle that mandatory minimum sentences, for instance, are a travesty of justice, this is quite possible. There have been two bipartisan bills introduced in Congress that would somewhat reduce the reach of mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

But also, as I mentioned before, the—President Obama, who has the worst pardon record of any modern president—he has pardoned five turkeys and commuted the sentence of only one prisoner—he does have the power and authority to review the sentences of the over 2,000 people like Sharanda serving life without parole for a nonviolent crime, and he can reduce their sentence. Same with state governors.

Some sentencing reforms have been retroactive, and certainly future sentencing reforms could be retroactive, and that’s what we’re calling for. But for many of these people, their only chance at release is some form of clemency. And we have a petition online on our website where you can all take action to call on President Obama to review these sentences and impose a fairer and smarter sentence for these prisoners.

In Puerto Rico, I looked at Puerto Rico Police Department because it’s the second largest in the country, second only to NYPD, and because its policing practices are really off the map. We found that the police force uses lethal force at a rate much higher than other police departments—three times the per capita rate of police shootings by the NYPD, for instance; uses excessive force against protesters; brutal beatings of low-income and black Puerto Ricans and Dominican immigrants.

And we sued the police department, called on the Department of Justice to investigate the police department. And just in August, the department was entered into a consent decree with the Justice Department. And two weeks ago, a monitor was appointed to oversee the reform effort and to ensure that the police department actually institutes the reforms that they’ve promised to institute. One week ago, a top New York Police Department officer was appointed superintendent of the police force to start this reform process.

So it’s really the very beginning stages, and we will be watching closely to make sure the police department does follow through on its promise for reforms, which are truly an overhaul of the police force, which is required. The police force is so dysfunctional that it needs to be overhauled at all levels, from basic policies put in place to holding cops accountable when they kill or hurt people, as well as changing the reporting mechanisms. Really, everything has to be reformed in that police department.

- source democracynow.org

Jennifer Turner, human rights researcher with the American Civil Liberties Union. She wrote the ACLU’s new report, “A Living Death: Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses,” and also authored “Island of Impunity: Puerto Rico’s Outlaw Police Force.”

Posted in Law, Social, ToMl, USA | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

$13 billion fine

The banking giant JPMorgan is set to pay a record $13 billion fine to settle investigations into its mortgage-backed securities. Five years ago, the bank’s risky behavior helped trigger the financial meltdown, including manipulating mortgages and sending millions of Americans into bankruptcy or foreclosure.

In a statement Friday night, JPMorgan called its latest settlement an “important step.” However, many in the media have portrayed the deal as unfair to the bank. The Wall Street Journal describes it as the government “confiscating” half of JPMorgan’s annual earnings to, “appease … left-wing populist allies” of the Obama administration. Meanwhile, the New York Post portrayed it as a kind of bank robbery, running a headline that read, “UNCLE [SCAM]: U.S. Robs Bank of $13 Billion.” JPMorgan said in a statement that its latest settlement is an “important step.” However, many in the media have portrayed the deal as unfair to the bank.

Yves Smith talking:

I’ve seldom seen a financial story where there’s been so much misreporting. For instance, the amount that’s going to be paid is still a bit in flux, but only $3 billion of that is actually going to be a fine. The overwhelming majority is for contract violations where the various banks, both JPMorgan itself and the two banks it acquired, Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual, did what amounted to promise investors that they were going to get steak, and instead it sold them hamburger—and, in fact, many times hamburger that was beginning to turn green. So, these claims are actually contract claims that are the liability something in the range of $100 billion to $200 billion they’ll be getting rid of. That portion of the settlement is only going to be around $10 or 11 billion. So they’re getting out of that part at under 10 cents on the dollar. This is actually a screaming bargain.

Jamie Dimon called Eric Holder. that’s because there was a—there is still in play that there may still be a criminal prosecution of the bank, not of individuals. There was a—the Department of Justice in California had been developing a case since 2007, and they—it was released in Reuters on—it was Monday, that they might be filing the criminal case as soon as Tuesday. And apparently Dimon called almost immediately, and they had a meeting on that Thursday. So it looks like it was the criminal suit that suddenly led to the desire to have some—

Should Jamie Dimon be indicted? We don’t know enough to know anything. I personally think he should be indicted on the London Whale. I’ve said that a long time ago. So we just don’t know enough in this case what the facts are. And if—we may not know, if he manages to settle that one.

now the numbers crept up, because the Federal Housing Finance Agency, they’ve actually been negotiating separately. Their deal went from $4 billion to $5.1 billion. But in any event, of that total, $4 billion of that isn’t even going to be in cash; $4 billion of the total settlement is in the form, homeowner relief. That can include things like short sales on securities that they sold, things the bank doesn’t even own. So—and we saw in the national mortgage settlement, the big one we had at the beginning of last year, that most of that has been things that really haven’t involved any real damage to the banks. The portion that’s paying for the hamburger instead of steak part is going to be tax-deductible. And it looks like there’s another fight that’s going on between the Department of Justice and JPMorgan, that they may be able to put $1.1 billion of that total amount to the FDIC. So the actual number that JPMorgan is going to wind up paying is vastly smaller than this number that’s being bandied about.

JPMorgan Chase violated the law part, we’re not—we’re not completely clear on JPMorgan proper. It’s important to understand there are three legal entities involved. One is Bear Stearns, which they acquired during the crisis. One is Washington Mutual, which they acquired during the crisis. Jamie [Dimon] was delighted to buy those both at the time. And we may get into that detail. These are still financially extremely attractive deals to him. So the idea that Dimon was in any way, shape or form a victim in doing these acquisitions is really overstated.

But the key part of this deal is that this is about liability to investors. So, the government—the government is representing, in this case, a whole bunch of states that have claims against JPMorgan and the different entities, as well as the FHFA, which Federal Housing Finance Agency, the regulator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which entered into its own deal. But basically, the bank sold—these different banking entities sold bonds to investors that they said would be of a certain quality, and they were way short of that. And then, it was because they were, you know, lousy borrowers. They basically would say that it had a higher loan-to-value ratio; that the fellow had income, and he didn’t; that it was a primary resident, and it wasn’t—those sort of misrepresentations.

the thing that brought Jamie Dimon to the table was actually a criminal investigation which was initiated in 2007 under the Bush administration. It takes a long time to develop these prosecutions of these complex criminal frauds. So that’s why it’s been such a long lead time. And this settlement has been under negotiation for some time. There have been various investors, private investors, as well as the government, that has been pursuing these investor claims. So this has been sort of cycling through on all kinds of fronts. These suits—you know, for example, different other banks, Bank of America and, I believe, HSBC has settled their investor claims with the government. So those claims—they’re just cycling through those kind of settlements right now.

The settlement last year was the part—there was a huge federal-state settlement last year that was supposed to be about the homeowners. But in this case, this—these settlements are all about the investors. And so, what JPMorgan is going to pay in this settlement is larger than what it paid in the settlement last year to homeowners. I mean, that just intuitively seems extremely unjust, you know, the fact that investors are basically going to get a bigger dollar compensation out of all these banking entities than homeowners got last year. I mean, that’s crazy by anybody’s standards.

how this money will be paid, is s very complicated, because this is being presented as one settlement. That’s part of how the numbers got so big. And, in fact, it’s a whole bunch of settlements that have been piled together. That’s why the numbers are so large. So, the biggest piece of this is from the Federal Housing Finance Agency. That’s the regulator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. They bought a lot of subprime bonds and some subprime loans. And that’s the issue I mentioned earlier, where they were promised steak, and they got hamburger that was significantly green. So, that’s a—what they call in the law a contract claim. They were promised X, they got Y. It’s no different than if you bought a car and discovered it was a clunker and went back to the manufacturer and said, “Hey, you know, either fix this car or give me a new one.” The concept is exactly the same as that of these suits. So it’s all—these are all contract claims, except—except for one piece, which is a fine that comes at—which is a—there’s apparently a civil fine that’s about $3 billion. That’s the one piece that’s different. The rest of the deal is all about that kind of liability, the getting-hamburger-when-you-were-promised-steak issue.

One thing investors say is “When the government is selling, you want to be on the other side of that deal.” And Jamie Dimon is one of the most sophisticated and experienced acquirers of financial institutions in the world. He’s literally done over a thousand deals. In fact, let’s go to—let’s go to the numbers on Washington Mutual. When they bought that company, it had—I hate to go through numbers, but we have to go through numbers to understand why this is so ludicrous—they had $40 billion in equity. JPMorgan wrote that reserve for $36 billion in losses. He expected $36 billion in losses. This is just chickens coming home to roost, that were anticipated at the time they did the deal. And even with writing down the bank equity at $36 billion, he booked a $2 billion profit at the time he bought that bank. Last quarter, they reversed another $750 million out of those reserves, meaning the deal has done even better than they expected. And on top of that, Washington Mutual was predicted at the time he bought it to earn $2.5 billion a year. He has made out wonderfully on Washington Mutual. Crying that this was a bad deal is ludicrous.

the idea that this settlement is that large or that punitive is really overstated. Both these institutions have made—were strategically very valuable to Chase. They have made the bank a lot of money. They reserved for these losses. And they’re going to get—they may get money back from the FDIC for a portion of this. This is something that they’re wrangling with the government right now. And they’re going to get a significant tax deduction. So this—the victim meme is astonishing to me.

Jamie Dimon doesn’t have a successor lined up, and he’s got a cooperative board. He’s managed to create the myth that he’s indispensable. So, if his board isn’t willing to do anything, then he basically stays in place. That’s the way it works in corporate America. I mean, it’s unfortunate.

The issue with the London Whale was that there was a unit in the bank where basically, in general—called the chief investment office, where JPMorgan was taking advantage of accounting rules. You’re basically supposed to use that kind of a kitty to help the bank’s treasury. The bank has—all these banks have huge amounts of money flowing in and out that they have to invest on a short-term basis. And so, they’re given very permissive accounting treatment for the money they keep in those units.

He was basically running a prop trading desk in that bank. Proprietary trading means when they’re taking significant speculative risks. that’s a—so, and when you compare the risks they were taking in that unit compared to the risks that other banks were taking, it was way out of line.

Now, on top of that, it turns out that they had—they, in particular, took a derivatives bet, which initially one of the traders—was going bad, and when the traders wanted to close out the position, they decided the losses were going to be so big that maybe they could somehow—you know, traders tend to do that: When they get in a panic, they try schemes to earn, to make more money, and they usually make things worse. In this case, they made things worse. The losses ballooned even bigger.

But the really bad part about this wasn’t just the losses; it was JPMorgan’s—more serious was JPMorgan’s conduct while this was going on. They first got up in the press and basically said nothing was happening. They greatly understated the amount of possible losses. They—for a two-week period, the main regulator of this particular entity, the Office of Comptroller of the Currency, asked for reports, and they basically made up “dog ate my homework” excuses, that somehow, “Oh, we were having computer problems, and we couldn’t get the information to them.” I mean, the way they treated the regulator was really outside the pale. And frankly, Dimon made very serious misrepresentations to investors during this period.

Now, if that isn’t bad enough, under the Sarbanes-Oxley, which was a series of laws passed after Enron, that was supposed to eliminate the “I’m the CEO, and I know nothing” excuse. Sarbanes-Oxley specifically provides that at least the chief executive officer, which is Jamie Dimon, and the chief financial officer certify the financial reports for their accuracy, and they’re also required to certify the adequacy of internal controls, which would include risk management. One of the things, as there were investigations and more and more was unearthed about this, is that the risk controls they had for this unit were grossly deficient. I mean, Wall Street professionals, when they heard about some of the things that were going on, were appalled. And Sarbanes-Oxley provides not just for civil liability. It provides for criminal. The language is almost identical. You could literally take a—you could start out with a civil case, and once you did discovery, if you thought the violations were serious enough, you could flip the same case to criminal. And I don’t understand why there hasn’t been—they haven’t gone this route with Dimon. I mean, it’s clearly that he’s in a protected class.

the other thing that was striking about that hearing, aside from a few exchanges like that, was that Dimon clearly dialed in his testimony. I have never seen a CEO show up for a hearing who was so clearly not prepared. Normally they’re very scripted. He was just—his attitude could not have been more dismissive.

In terms of they didn’t need a bailout, that’s baloney. They had actually gotten a massive bailout before the AIG bailout, which they never acknowledge. Remember when Lehman went under, one of the things that happened in the week—it was basically about a week after Lehman failed was that there started to be runs on money market funds, and they had to guarantee up to $250,000 all the funds and money in money market funds. Had that not happened, JPMorgan would have been in terribly serious trouble, because the money from money market—this is, again, very technical, but the money in money market funds finances a sort of short-term loan that banks make among themselves called “repo.” It’s agreement to sell secure—sales of securities with agreement to repurchase—that’s a technical term. But JPMorgan is one of two banks that are the hubs in this repo system. So instead of banks doing repo with each other, they go through JPMorgan. And so, the bailout of the repo system, through this money market guarantee, was directly a bailout of JPMorgan. They got one of the biggest bailouts before any of the other ones happened. And similarly, a lot of people have said, to the point that Jeff Merkley tried raising about AIG, that if AIG had gone under, Goldman would have gone under, Morgan Stanley would have gone under. There’s no question JPMorgan wouldn’t have been engulfed. I mean, the fact—the worst is Dimon seems to believe his own PR. That’s the really scary part of watching him.

a jury last week found Bank of America’s Countrywide—the unit of Countrywide liable for defrauding Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with loans it should have known were substandard, the penalty yet to be determined. The government has requested a maximum of something like $850 million.

it’s good to see a fraud prosecution, finally. But this is sort of illustrative of the whole sort of “too little, too late.” Only one executive was prosecuted. It was a fairly mid-level woman. The jury apparently sent a note to Judge Rakoff saying, “How come there are no other executives here? Why is she the only one we’re being asked to find guilty?” Apparently they thought that it wasn’t possible that only one executive could be responsible for the conduct.

I guess he basically said, “Sorry, you know, you’re not here to ask those questions. You’re only here to rule on what the prosecutors put before you.”

And the larger question is it’s almost impossible that this wasn’t approved and vetted at higher levels. I mean, that’s been the tendency, to the extent that anybody—if there have been any prosecutions, it’s either been small institutions or executives that could be thrown under the bus.

Jamie Dimon can pick up the phone last week when his bank is being criminally investigated and, you know, call the attorney general, Eric Holder. A lot of lawyers and law professors are outraged. I mean, that’s really unheard of. And it, again, speaks to sort of the impropriety and the significant financial influence that JPMorgan has in the capital. They’ve been one of the biggest donors, basically to both parties. And Dimon even said at one point during the crisis that he had a sixth line of business, and that was dealing with Washington, D.C.

- source democracynow.org

Yves Smith, financial analyst who founded the popular finance blog Naked Capitalism. She is the author of the book, ECONned: How Unenlightened Self Interest Undermined Democracy and Corrupted Capitalism.

Posted in Economics, Financial crisis, ToMl | Tagged , | Leave a comment

How could they be so selfish?

Mary Robinson talking:

Climate justice starts with the injustice of the fact that climate shocks are affecting the very poorest already—poor communities and poor countries, and poor parts of the United States, like Louisiana. Parts of Louisiana are still recovering from Katrina. They’ve been least responsible for what we now know is causing climate change. There was this very important IPCC report last week in New York showing that 95 percent of the scientists are now satisfied and firmly believe that this is human-caused. I know there are deniers, and there’s money supporting these deniers to try to confuse us, but we can’t be confused anymore, because actually the impacts of climate are undermining human rights all over the world.

I think a lot it is coming from those who benefit at the moment from selling fossil fuel, so the coal and oil communities. It reminds me a little bit of the tobacco problem, and it’s somewhat similar because it’s causing denial of an issue that we should be taking so seriously and working together on. All countries in the world, large and small, should be unequivocal in working to have a transformative leadership to a low-carbon economy.

I’m glad that young people and colleges and others are seeing the need to bring home: We can no longer invest in companies that are part of the problem of the climate shocks that we’re suffering from. And so, I speak openly and encourage students and colleges to be part of that. It’s, to me, a little bit like the energy that was behind the anti-apartheid movement when I was a student. We were all involved because we saw the injustice of it. There’s an injustice in continuing to invest in fossil fuel companies that are part of the problem.

My foundation has joined with the World Resources Institute in a declaration on climate justice. We say unequivocally what the International Energy Agency says and the Carbon Tracker calculation of the carbon budget, that two-thirds of the fossil fuel reserves known now must stay in the ground. And there’s no point in going into the Arctic and looking for new fossil reserves and disturbing that wonderful environment.

I know Jonathan Lash, and I’m aware that he’s organizing a conference next year on the divestment issue. I think it’s great that somebody who’s so knowledgeable, as he is, is prepared to take a certain amount of political flak. It’s not easy as a president of a college to stand up. And I think he’s aware that he has to give that leadership, and he’s giving it.

There was a recognition that it was going to be difficult to get change in South Africa, although the majority of the people, the black and colored South Africans were discriminated against, were imprisoned, including Nelson Mandela himself and his colleagues, and that there should be a real move to stop companies from investing in South Africa and perpetrating that apartheid system. And so, in Ireland, we had a very active, very strong movement. Even we had a kind of mini situation where women workers in one of the stores would not allow—would not handle South African goods. And they were sacked. And there was a big movement. They were fired.

They were fired because they had taken that stand. And they were actually reinstated because there was such an outcry about it. And when Nelson Mandela came to Ireland as president many years later, he referred to these women. And, you know, they knew about the sacrifice of ordinary women, because they believe in justice.

We need young people and women and others to stand up now against the way in which the corporate sector that is engaged in fossil fuel is buying bad science, is spreading wrong information and trying to prevent us from addressing what we really need to address, which is transformational leadership to low-carbon growth.

I think it really would lead to a recognition that we’re talking about stranded assets. And “stranded assets” is a term that many people aren’t yet fully aware of. But I think of asbestos as, you know, a clear stranded asset. We know it’s dangerous, so people won’t use it. And we have to get to the same situation. Now, we’re not going to do it overnight, and we actually need to recognize that developing countries need more time to adapt. So, I would like to see Europe and the United States and Korea and other parts and Japan moving more quickly, as Germany is doing, to renewables, because we have the responsibility. It’s our fossil-fuel-led growth that has caused the problem.

The huge potential of solar, of wind, of wave power, the—of various forms of renewable energy, where we can actually have good lives. And we need these new technologies, the organic solar technology that’s coming on stream, to be free to developing countries, because that will help them to adapt, and they need that support. And we can have very good lifestyles. It can also mean that those who haven’t had access to electricity—and there are many of them, 1.3 billion, who have no light in the home, of electricity; they just have dangerous kerosene or candles—we can have that technology to help those communities who are very affected already by climate shocks.

One of the positive factors now is that I mingle a lot with forward-looking business leaders. There are two types of business leaders in this context: those who are profiting from fossil-fuel-developed profits and want to keep it that way and a very significant number of thoughtful business leaders who know very well that we have to move to a low-carbon economy, that we have to address this issue, because otherwise we will have social unrest and displacement—very bad for business. And a lot of good business leaders are interested in getting away from the short-term quarterly returns to real sustainability. We’ve been talking about sustainability since the Rio conference. And that means economic sustainability, environmental sustainability and social sustainability. And I think that corporations now know they need a triple bottom line, and I’m very much encouraging that.

It’s all ready happening that many people are having to leave their places where they were living. We heard from the panel this morning here in Louisiana, in New Orleans, about people who can no longer be in certain places. It’s happening worldwide, but we’re not seeing the full scale of it yet. The prediction is we may have up to 200 million climate-displaced people by 2050, which is only 36 years ahead.

“Climate-displaced” means that it was climate that forced them to leave. We don’t have a good title for it. We can’t call them “climate refugees,” like we have other refugees, because there’s no convention. We do need to think about that, and there are people, including in the United Nations, thinking seriously about some way now of ensuring that there will be a safe movement elsewhere. But at the moment, that’s not the case. People move in a very unsafe and insecure way.

I came to the climate issue from a human rights perspective. I’m not a climate scientist, though Climate Justice, my foundation, very much relies on and keeps true to the science. But, for me, the shocks of climate change are going to be, and are already becoming, the worst and most serious human rights issue, because it’s actually about the future of the world. We have to understand that if we go to 4 degrees Celsius. That will be catastrophic. That will be, you know, Sandys in every country in such a way—and affecting, again, those with least resources to cope. So, I found in our work—after my work as high commissioner for human rights had finished, I went to—actually to New York and had colleagues in Washington and Geneva, focusing on African countries’ right to health and decent work and women, peace and security. But all I heard was: “Things are so much worse because of climate change. We no longer have predictable rainy seasons. Our village, we used to grow—we used to have enough food, but now we have drought and flash flooding.” And that brought home to me, this is essentially a human rights issue.

connection between poverty, nutrition and climate change. My foundation hosted with the Irish government last April a very good conference during the Irish EU presidency. So we had EU commissioners and ministers from different European countries, with the Irish deputy prime minister and others, listening to those who had come from different communities around the world—from Mongolia, from the Arctic, from parts of Africa—all of them very clear about what the problem was and that they were coping, but they needed more support. And they needed understanding that they actually had the knowledge. They were in charge, if you like. And that was very empowering for them and very important to be listening, because we make mistakes if we try to do from the outside what communities themselves know best, as we heard this morning.

as we move to low carbon, it will actually be job creating. I gave the figures that it has been job creating in the United States. There are more green jobs being created than in other sectors. So, we have to recognize it’s very important that it’s a just tradition. We work closely with the trade union movement. Sharan Burrow is on our climate leadership group. And they’re looking to pension funds to invest in futures that are good for everybody, the renewable energies and others. So we need a kind of real sense that this is not them or us, this is all of us together.

When you think of the intergenerational justice—I mean, I often, as I did this morning, talk about being a grandmother with grandchildren who will be in their forties in 2050. What will they say to us? I’ve said this often enough that I can almost hear the echoes of their voices. And at the moment, I hear them accusing us: “How could they be so selfish? How could they be so uncaring?” But we can redress that by what we do by the end of 2015.

- source democracynow.org

Mary Robinson, former Irish president and U.N. high commissioner for human rights. She now heads the Mary Robinson Foundation–Climate Justice.

Posted in Climate Change, ToMl | Tagged | Leave a comment

Obama A global George Zimmerman

Cornel West talking:

I think we have to acknowledge that President Obama has very little moral authority at this point, because we know anybody who tries to rationalize the killing of innocent peoples, a criminal—George Zimmerman is a criminal—but President Obama is a global George Zimmerman, because he tries to rationalize the killing of innocent children in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, 221 so far, in the name of self-defense, so that there’s actually parallels here.

So when he comes to talk about the killing of an innocent person, you say, “Well, wait a minute. What kind of moral authority are you bringing? You’ve got $2 million bounty on Sister Assata Shakur. She’s innocent, but you are pressing that intentionally. Will you press for the justice of Trayvon Martin in the same way you press for the prosecution of Brother Bradley Manning and Brother Edward Snowden?” So you begin to see the hypocrisy.

Then he tells stories about racial profiling. They’re moving, sentimental stories, what Brother Kendall Thomas called racial moralism, very sentimental. But then, Ray Kelly, major candidate for Department of Homeland Security, he’s the poster child of racial profiling. You know, Brother Carl Dix and many of us went to jail under Ray Kelly, the former police chief of New York City. Why? Because he racially profiled millions of young black and brown brothers.

in fact, he even says Ray Kelly expresses his values, Ray Kelly is a magnificent police commissioner. How are you going to say that when the brother is reinforcing stop and frisk? So the contradictions become so overwhelming here.

Obama says, “Trayvon Martin could have been my child,” to “Trayvon Martin could have been me”.

that’s beautiful. That’s an identification. The question is: Will that identification hide and conceal the fact there’s a criminal justice system in place that has nearly destroyed two generations of very precious, poor black and brown brothers? He hasn’t said a mumbling word until now. Five years in office and can’t say a word about the new Jim Crow.

And at the same time, I think we have to recognize that he has been able to hide and conceal that criminalizing of the black poor as what I call the re-niggerizing of the black professional class. You’ve got these black leaders on the Obama plantation, won’t say a criminal word about the master in the big house, will only try to tame the field folk so that they’re not critical of the master in the big house. That’s why I think even Brother Sharpton is going to be in trouble. Why? Because he has unleashed—and I agree with him—the rage. And the rage is always on the road to self-determination. But the rage is going to hit up against a stone wall. Why? Because Obama and Holder, will they come through at the federal level for Trayvon Martin? We hope so. Don’t hold your breath. And when they don’t, they’re going to have to somehow contain that rage. And in containing that rage, there’s going to be many people who say, “No, we see, this president is not serious about the criminalizing of poor people.” We’ve got a black leadership that is deferential to Obama, that is subservient to Obama, and that’s what niggerizing is. You keep folks so scared. You keep folks so intimidated. You can give them money, access, but they’re still scared. And as long as you’re scared, you’re on the plantation.

He saying, “Keep your expectations low. Sharpton, don’t get them too fired up. Keep the rage contained.” We know, when it comes to the history of the vicious legacy of white supremacy in America, if the federal government did not move, we would still be locked into state’s rights. And state’s rights is always a code word for controlling, subjugating black folk. That’s the history of the black struggle, you see. So what he was saying was: Don’t expect federal action. Well, Sharpton is going to be in trouble. Marc Morial, two brothers, they’re going to be in trouble. Urban League.

Ben Jealous—God bless the brother—he’s going to be in trouble. He’s getting folk riled up to hit up against this stone wall. The next thing, they’ll be talking about, “Well, maybe we ought to shift to gun control.” No, we’re talking about legacy of the white supremacy. We’re talking about a criminal justice system that is criminal when it comes to mistreating poor people across the board, black and brown especially. And let us tell the truth and get off this Obama plantation and say, “You know what? We’re dealing with criminality in high places, criminality in these low places, and let’s expose the hypocrisy, expose the mendacity, and be true to the legacy of Martin.” You know there’s going to be a march in August, right? The 50th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech.

Brother Martin would not be invited to the very march in his name, because he would talk about drones. He’d talk about Wall Street criminality. He would talk about working class being pushed to the margins as profits went up for corporate executives in their compensation. He would talk about the legacies of white supremacy. Do you think anybody at that march will talk about drones and the drone president? Will you think anybody at that march will talk about the connection to Wall Street? They are all on the plantation.

I’m for liberal reform. But liberal reform is too narrow, is too truncated. And, of course, the two-party system is dying, and therefore it doesn’t have the capacity to speak to these kinds of issues. So, no, not at all invited.

the name of those 221 others, precious children, who are—who were as precious as the white brothers and sisters in Newtown that he cried tears for. Those in Indian reservations, those in Chinatown, Koreatown, those in brown barrios, each child is precious. That is a moral absolute, it seems to me we ought to embrace. And if that’s true, then we’ve got monstrous mendacity, hyper hypocrisy and pervasive criminality in high places. That’s why Brother Snowden and Brother Manning are the John Browns of our day, and the Glenn Greenwalds and the Chris Hedges and Glen Fords and Bruce Dixons and Margaret Kimberleys and Nellie Baileys are the William Lloyd Garrisons of our day, when we talk about the national security state.

There’s no doubt that the vicious legacy of white supremacy affects the black upper classes, it affects the black middle classes. But those kinds of stories hide and conceal just how ugly and intensely vicious it is for black poor, brown poor. And so you end up with, if that’s the case, why hasn’t the new Jim Crow been a priority in the Obama administration? Why has not the new Jim Crow been a priority for Eric Holder? If what they’re saying is something they feel deeply, if what they’re saying is that they’re—themselves and their children have the same status as Brother Jamal and Sister Latisha and Brother Ray Ray and Sister Jarell, then why has that not been a center part of what they do to ensure there’s fairness and justice?

Well, the reason is political. Well, we don’t want to identify with black folk, because a black president can’t get too close to black folk, because Fox News, with their reactionary self in oft—in so many instances, will attack them, and that becomes the point of reference? No. If they’re going to be part of the legacy of Martin King, Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Baker and the others, then the truth and justice stuff that you pursue, you don’t care who is coming at you. But, no, this black liberal class has proven itself to be too morally bankrupt, too hypocritical, and indifferent to criminality—Wall Street criminality, no serious talk about enforcement of torturers and wiretappers under the Bush administration. Why? Because they don’t want the subsequent administration to take them to jail. Any reference to the hunger strike of our brothers out in California and other places, dealing with torture? Sustained solitary confinement is a form of torture. And we won’t even talk about Guantánamo. Force-feeding, torture in its core—didn’t our dear brother Yasiin Bey point that out, the former Mos Def? God bless that brother. Jay-Z got something to learn from Mos Def. Both of them lyrical geniuses, but Jay-Z got a whole lot to learn from Mos Def.

And it happens twice a day for those precious brothers in Guantánamo Bay. And, of course, that’s under Bush. People say, “That’s under Bush.” OK, Bush was the capture-and-torture president. Now we’ve got the targeted killing president, the drone president. That’s not progress. That’s not part of the legacy of Martin King. That’s not part of the legacy of especially somebody like a Dorothy Day and others who I think ought to be at the center of what we’re all about, you see.

I said to myself, “Lord, he came to the York City and said Michael Bloomberg was a terrific mayor.” Well, this is the same mayor who, again, nearly four-and-a-half million folk have been stopped and frisked. What’s terrific about that, if you’re concerned about black boys being part of society? No, no, I would say we’re going to have to talk seriously about massive employment programs; high-quality public education, not the privatizing of education; dealing with gentrification and the land grab that’s been taking place, ensuring that young black boys—and I want to include all poor boys, but I’ll begin on the chocolate side of town, there’s no doubt about that—that ought to have access a sense of self-respect and self-determination, not just through education and jobs, but through the unleashing of their imagination, more arts programs in the educational system. They’ve been eliminated, you see. Those are the kind of things, hardly ever talked about. But, oh, we can only talk about transpartnerships in terms of global training for capital and multinational corporations and big banks. That’s been the priority, the Wall Street-friendly and the corporate-friendly policies that I think are deeply upsetting for somebody like myself vis-à-vis the Obama administration.

if you’re concerned about poor black brothers, then you make it a priority. It’s the first time he spoke publicly about this in five years, so it’s clear it’s not a priority. When he went down to Morehouse, it was more scolding: “No excuses.” Went to NAACP before, “Quit whining.” No, we’re wailing, we’re not whining. So, to say to the country, “Well, we need to talk about caring,” well, you’ve got to be able to enact that, you see. And for those of us who spend a lot of time in prisons, those of us at Boys Clubs, all the magnificent work that various churches and civic institutions do in the black community—and it cuts across race, of course; you’ve got a lot of white brothers and sisters and brown and others who are there, as well—the question is: Since when has it been a priority in this administration at all? So that that language begins to ring very, very hollow. Because he’s right: We’ve got to love, we’ve got to care for our poor brothers and sisters, and especially our black and brown brothers and sisters, because they’re lost, they’re confused, they’re desperate, they’re unemployed, they’re too uneducated, and they turn on each other, because when you criminalize poor people and criminalize poor black people, we turn on each other. There’s no doubt about that. Can you imagine if the creativity and intelligence that goes into turning on each other is turned on the system—not any individual, but the system itself, the unfair system—and tries to undercut the criminality of our criminal justice system to make it fair and to make it just?

stop and frisk under Ray Kelly, who is being considered for head of Department of Homeland Security, and under Mayor Bloomberg. 700,000 stops and frisks in New York City. It’s now on trial, in court, vastly, overwhelming, of young African-American mainly young men, some young women—the vast majority do not get arrested, but they have these endless encounters with the authorities.

When we were protesting and got arrested. I just never forget Brother Carl Dix and others, right when we were on—we had a week-long trial and had a guilty verdict.

After we protested and went to jail and then went to court and was—had a guilty verdict, right? That week, the president came to New York and said, “Edward Koch was one of the great mayors in the last 50 years,” and then said, “Michael Bloomberg was a terrific mayor.” Now, this is the same person saying we’ve got to care for black boys, and black boys are being intimidated, harassed, humiliated, 1,800 a day. It’s just not a matter of pretty words, Mr. President. You’ve got to follow through in action. You see, you can’t use the words to hide and conceal your mendacity, hypocrisy and the support of criminality—or enactment of criminality when it comes to drones, you see.

And the sad thing is, is that we just don’t have enough free people, let alone free black people. Black people, we settled for so little, so we get a little symbolic gesture, we get a little identification, and like on MSNBC, which is part of the Obama plantation, they start breakdancing again: “Oh, isn’t it so wonderful? He’s really one of us. We can now wave the flag again. We can now support our mindless Americanism,” in the language of my dear brother Maulana Karenga, intellectual that he is. No. We ought to be over against injustice, no matter what, across the board, and be vigilant about it. I don’t care what color the president or the governor or the mayor is.

We’ve got to keep in mind Stand Your Ground laws are part of the legacy of the slave patrol, which is to say it’s primarily white brothers and sisters armed to keep black people under control. And I come from Sacramento, California. I remember when the Black Panther Party walked into the Capitol with their guns. Now, you noticed at that moment, all of a sudden people were very much for gun control, even the right wing. Why? Because the Panthers were saying, “Well, let’s just arm all the black folk to make sure they stand their ground.” Oh, Lord. That’s such a challenge. Now, see, you know, as a Christian and trying to be part of the legacy of Martin, you see, I don’t want people armed across the board. I do believe in self-defense, just like I believe in self-respect and self-determination, but I don’t want people armed. So it’s very clear there’s a class and a racial bias in these laws, and therefore we ought to fight these laws. There’s no doubt about it. But we have to be very honest and candid about the hypocrisy operating when we talk about these things.

We must never tame Martin Luther King Jr. or Fannie Lou Hamer or Ella Baker or Stokely Carmichael. They were unbossed. They were unbought. That Martin was talking about a beloved community, which meant that it subverts any plantation—Bush’s plantation, Clinton’s plantation, Obama’s plantation—and the social forces behind those plantations, which have to do with Wall Street, have to do with multinational corporations. And we’re going to focus on poor people. We’re going to focus on working people across the board. We’re going to talk about the connection between drones, which is a form of—a form of crimes against humanity outside the national borders. We’re going to talk about Wall Street criminality. We’re going to talk about how we ensure that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters have their dignity affirmed. We’re going to talk about the children.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a free black man. He was a Jesus-loving free black man. Will the connection between drones, new Jim Crow, prison-industrial complex, attacks on the working class, escalating profits at the top, be talked about and brought together during that march? I don’t hold my breath. But Brother Martin’s spirit would want somebody to push it. And that’s part of his connection to Malcolm X. That’s part of his connection to so many of the great freedom fighters that go all the way back to the first slave who stepped on these decrepit shores.

— source democracynow.org

Cornel West, professor at Union Theological Seminary. He is author of numerous books and co-host of the radio show Smiley & West with Tavis Smiley. Together, they wrote the book The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto.

Posted in Politics, ToMl, USA | Tagged , | Leave a comment

10-20-Life

Marissa Alexander, 31 years old, African-American mother of three, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing what she maintains was a warning shot at her abusive husband. Alexander had turned down a plea bargain that would have seen her jailed for three years. She insisted she had been defending herself when she fired a shot into a wall near her husband, and she attempted to use Florida’s Stand Your Ground law in her defense. But in March 2012, the jury convicted her, after only 12 minutes of deliberation. She was sentenced to 20 years behind bars under a Florida law known as “10-20-Life” that carries a mandatory minimum for certain gun crimes regardless of the circumstance. The case against her was argued by Angela Corey, the same prosecutor in charge of the case against George Zimmerman.

Well, to protest her imprisonment, as well as the acquittal of George Zimmerman, a coalition of Southern community organizations has been marching in a, quote, “Walk for Dignity.” They began Monday in Jacksonville, Florida, where Alexander was convicted, and have been walking since then to Sanford, Florida, where Trayvon Martin was killed.

Aleta Alston-Toure talking:

Zimmerman got away with murder. And we’re trying to say, through the Walk for Dignity, that the shift now is from a legal crisis to a human crisis. And that’s because the decades of the prison crisis is now out of hand. It’s totally out of hand. We looked in the past at those that said, “I am a man,” and now we’re saying, “I am human.” We are trying to right now just make a statement that we’re taking action. We’re taking action by walking together as organizations, as youth, to do something together to change those things. And the two demands that we have is the resignation of Angela Corey, clearly, because she is profiting. Her career is to lock people up. She is a politician. And we clearly are saying also that we want to have the release of Marissa Alexander. And enough is enough.

Seema Iyer talking:

the concept of the prosecutor being a politician, or what under the law says the prosecutor’s duty is, and that is to be a minister of justice. And there are many prosecutors across this country who do ride that line. And that is, some cases need to be prosecuted, some people do need to be locked up, and some cases need to be dismissed.

Aleta Alston-Toure talking:

We want to close the gaps of those that cause victims to be, you know, lost in the system. And to do that, we’ve really got to look at the criminalization of women. Beth Richie wrote a book called Arrested Justice. And right now we know that we’ve got to get the anti-domestic violence and the sexual violence groups to know what it is the impact of Stand Your Ground legislation means when we say, “I am human.” And we do know that this will have to have justice, and we will be able to see Marissa, because this is out of control, again, because of the decades of the prison crisis and because of this thing called slavery by another name. It’s intentional disregard of the law. It’s deliberate indifference.

- source democracynow.org

Aleta Alston-Toure, founder of the New Jim Crow Movement in Jacksonville, Florida, where she has been organizing on behalf of Marissa Alexander. She is one of the coordinators of the Walk for Dignity march.

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Flotilla Massacre Protest

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Most silent city of the world

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NAFTA on steroids

As the federal government shutdown continues, Secretary of State John Kerry heads to Asia for secret talks on a sweeping new trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP is often referred to by critics as “NAFTA on steroids,” and would establish a free trade zone that would stretch from Vietnam to Chile, encompassing 800 million people — about a third of world trade and nearly 40 percent of the global economy. While the text of the treaty has been largely negotiated behind closed doors and, until June, kept secret from Congress, more than 600 corporate advisers reportedly have access to the measure, including employees of Halliburton and Monsanto. “This is not mainly about trade,” says Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “It is a corporate Trojan horse. The agreement has 29 chapters, and only five of them have to do with trade. The other 24 chapters either handcuff our domestic governments, limiting food safety, environmental standards, financial regulation, energy and climate policy, or establishing new powers for corporations.”

Lori Wallach talking:

one of the most important things to understand is it’s not really mainly about trade. I guess the way to think about it is as a corporate Trojan horse. The agreement has 29 chapters, and only five of them have to do with trade. The other 24 chapters either handcuff our domestic governments, limiting food safety, environmental standards, financial regulation, energy and climate policy, or establishing new powers for corporations.

For instance, there are the same investor privileges that promote job offshoring to lower-wage countries. There is a ban on Buy Local procurement, so that corporations have a right to do sourcing, basically taking our tax dollars, and instead of investing them in our local economy, sending them offshore. There are new rights to, for instance, have freedom to enter other countries and take natural resources, a right for mining, a right for oil, gas, without approval.

And then there’s a whole set of very worrisome issues relating to Internet freedom. Through sort of the backdoor of the copyright chapter of TPP is a whole chunk of SOPA, the Stop Online Privacy Act, that activism around the country successfully derailed a year ago. Think about all the things that would be really hard to get into effect as a corporation in public, a lot of them rejected here and in the other 11 countries, and that is what’s bundled in to the TPP. And every country would be required to change its laws domestically to meet these rules. The binding provision is, each country shall ensure the conformity of domestic laws, regulations and procedures.

Now, the only reason I know that level of detail is because a few texts have leaked, and I have been following the negotiations and grilling negotiators from other countries to try and find between the lines what the hell is going on; otherwise, totally secret.

what’s really important for people to know—and this gets to what you started out with about Fast Track. Congress has exclusive constitutional authority over trade. It’s kind of like the Boston Tea Party hangover. After having a king just impose tariffs, in that case on tea, the founders said, “We need to put all things about trade, international commerce, in the hands of Congress, the most diffuse part of the elected representation, not the executive, the king.” So Congress has all this authority. They’re supposed to be exclusively in control. But until this June, they were not even allowed to see the draft text.

And it was only after a big, great fuss was kicked up by a lot of members—150 of them wrote last year—that finally members of Congress, upon request for the particular chapter, can have a government administration official bring them a chapter. Their staff is thrown out of the room. They can’t take detailed notes. They’re not supposed to talk about what they saw. And they can, without staff to help them figure out what the technical language is, look at a chapter. This is in contrast to, say, even what the Bush administration did. The last time we had one of these mega-NAFTA expansion attempts was the Free Trade Area of the Americas. And in that instance, in 2001, that whole draft text was released to the public by the U.S. government on the official government websites. So, this is extraordinary secrecy, and members of Congress aren’t supposed to tell anyone what they’ve read. So, for instance, you know, Alan Grayson, who was one of the guys who helped to get the text released, Alan Grayson said, “I can tell you it’s very bad for the future of America. I just can’t tell you why.” That’s obscene.

This would rewrite wide swaths of our laws. And again, it’s mainly not about trade. So, if we have this agreement in effect, for instance, it would be a big push for fracking. Now you would say, “Why fracking?” Because it doesn’t allow us to have bans on liquid natural gas exports. Or, if this were in effect, we couldn’t ensure the safety of the food we feed our families. We have to import, for instance, fish and shrimp that we know, from the limited inspection that’s done, is extremely dangerous from certain kinds of growing ponds that are contaminated, etc., in some of the TPP countries. Or, for instance, some of the financial reforms where the banksters were finally regulated would be rolled back. All of this, and it would be privately enforceable by certain foreign corporations.

the Stop Online Piracy Act was a vehicle basically to take away some of our rights on the Internet. It would have criminalized what they call inadvertent, small-scale, non-commercial copying. And the example would be, for instance, Juan, I had you over to dinner. You liked the recipe I had. I happened to have taken it for $2 I paid for it off of a paid website. And you said, “Lori, can you send me that recipe?” And, of course, I said, “Yeah,” and I sent it to you. That is officially a copyright violation. I should say, “You have to go pay $2 and get it yourself, Juan.” But, in fact, it’s small-scale. I didn’t sell it. It’s not commercial. I didn’t send it to a lot of people.

That kind of activity, under SOPA, as well as any number of things we do all the time—making a copy, or like a buffer copy that our computer would make to look at a video, or breaking a digital lock—for instance, if we bought software, but we wanted to run it on Linux—all of those things would be considered criminal activities. We’d face huge fines, and our carriers—Google, etc.—would have to take us off of service, to black us out. So, a huge limit on Internet freedom.

That whole mess was defeated in Congress in a wonderful citizen uprising. A chunk of that is now stuck in the copyright chapter of TPP. So, they call TPP “son of SOPA.” In a lot of countries around the TPP region, citizens have fought to have good laws that actually provide them access and don’t allow that kind of control. So, that is a chunk. To give you an idea of how varied the problems are, that’s a chunk of what is in there.

Now, the thing about that Fast Track you mentioned, Fast Track is not in effect. Fast Track is an extraordinary delegation of Congress’s authority. So if we don’t want unsafe food, offshore jobs, SOPA, SOPA, SOPA, limits on Internet freedom, the banksters gettings rolled back into deregulation, we have to make sure that Congress actually maintains its constitutional authority to make sure that before this agreement can be signed, it actually works for us. Fast Track is a delegation of authority. President Obama has asked for it, but it only happens if Congress gives it to him.

the whole approach of the Obama administration has really been, I don’t know, some combination of heartbreaking and infuriating, because when he was a candidate, President Obama promised he would replace the NAFTA model, and instead they’ve doubled down.

So the tobacco issue is one of those that’s the most gruesome. So, the TPP includes the very controversial investor-state system, which empowers individual corporations to directly sue governments—not in our courts, but in extrajudicial tribunals where three corporate attorneys act as “judges,” and these guys rotate between being the judge and being the guys suing the government for the corporation. They’re empowered to give unlimited cash damages from us, the taxpayers, to these corporations for any government action—a regulatory issue, environment, health, safety—that undermines the investor’s expected future profits. Under that system, big tobacco companies have been attacking health regulations. And famously—infamously—these kinds of investor-state cases have extracted billions of dollars and undermined important laws. So, Philip Morris has used this to attack Australia, one of the TPP country’s plain-packaging-of-cigarette laws. So, a lot of the TPP countries are very worried that they would be basically handcuffed from being able to regulate for health around tobacco. So, the U.S. originally was going to offer an exception. Big tobacco came in and basically won the day. The U.S. pulled away what was a medium exception, put in something that’s really worse than nothing, and then Malaysia came in and actually offered a real exception, which the U.S. is opposing—just like the U.S. is opposing an exception to maintain financial regulations for prudential reasons, just like the U.S. is opposing a real exception to those investor tribunals with respect to health and the environment. It’s incredibly depressing.

The only good news is a bunch of the other countries have basically said, “Basta! We are not going to roll back these things.” So the reason there isn’t a deal is because a lot of the other countries are standing up to the worst of these U.S. corporate-inspired demands. You can see the whole lay of this at ExposeTheTPP, http://www.exposethetpp.org. There are fact sheets on each of the ways, each aspect of your life the TPP could affect. And if you want to get down into the weeds and have long papers explaining and/or information from other countries, you can go to tradewatch.org. That’s tradewatch.org. Between those two sets of information, you’ll see there’s almost no part of your life or the things you care about that this agreement couldn’t undermine. And again, trade is the least of it.

- source democracynow.org

Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

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The Queen Mother of Global Austerity and Financialization

We typically honor the convention to refrain from speaking ill of the recently departed. But Margaret Thatcher probably would not object to an epitaph focusing on how her political legacy was to achieve her professed aim of “irreversibly” dismantling Britain’s public sector. Attacking central planning by government, she shifted it into much more centralized financial hands – the City of London, unopposed by any economic back bench of financial regulation and “free” of meaningful anti-monopoly price regulation.

Mrs. Thatcher transformed the character of British politics by heading a democratically elected Parliamentary government that permitted financial planners to carve up the public domain with popular consent. Like her actor contemporary Ronald Reagan, she narrated an appealing cover story that promised to help the economy recover. The reality, of course, was to raise Britain’s cost of living and doing business. But this zero-sum game turned the economy’s loss into a vast windfall for the Conservative Party’s constituency in Britain’s banking sector.

By underpricing her privatization of British Telephone and subsequent vast monopolies, she made it appear that customers would be the big gainers, rather than large financial institutions. And by giving underwriters a windfall 3% commission (formerly based on floating the stock of much smaller start-up companies), Mrs. Thatcher oversaw the start of Britain’s Great Polarization between the creditor 1% and the increasingly indebted 99%.

Attacking rent-seeking in government, she opened the floodgates to economic rent-seeking in its classical sense: land rent in real estate (with debt-inflated “capital” gains) to make British property so high-priced that employees who work in London must now live outside it, taking highly expensive privatized railroads to work. Privatization also created vast new opportunities for monopoly rent for privatized public utilities, along with predatory financial takings by increasingly predatory banking.

Finance has been the mother of monopolies ever since Dutch and other foreign creditors helped England incorporate the East India Company in 1600, the Bank of England in 1694, and other commercial monopolies culminating in the South Sea Company in the 1710s.

By time Mrs. Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979, Britain had made over a century of enormous investment in public infrastructure. Financial managers eyed this commanding height as a set of potential monopolies to be turned into cash cows to enrich high finance. Mrs. Thatcher became the cheerleader for what became the greatest giveaway of the century as the City of London’s gain became the industrial economy’s loss. Britain’s lords of finance became the equivalent of America’s great railroad land barons of the 19th century, the ruling elite to preside over today’s descent into neoliberal austerity.

Her tenure as Prime Minister seemed to reprise Peter Seller’s role in Being There. She made good television precisely because her philosophy was stitched together in a sequence of sound bites that flattened complex social and economic relationships into a banal personal psychodrama. Mrs. Thatcher’s ability to sweep the broad financial and economic polarization and financial “free lunch” behind a curtain enabled her to distract attention from the consequences of what Harold Macmillan characterized as “selling off the family silver.” It was as if the economy was a middle-class grocer’s family trying to balance its checkbook along the lines of what its banker insisted were necessary in the face of wages being squeezed by rising prices for basic needs.

The ground for Mrs. Thatcher’s rule was prepared by the fact that England’s economy was as much a mess as the rest of the world by the time she took office. The 1979 Winter of Discontent saw a perfect storm unfold. Unable to restrain labor from timing strikes to cause maximum inconvenience to society at large, the British Labour Party felt little need to wait for Britain’s share of North Sea oil to come on stream. That windfall would subsidize a decade of dismantling what was left of British industry. Oil states do not need to be efficient. They do not need industry, or even employment.

Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan made a token attempt to address these issues by requesting an IMF loan in 1976 to finance tangible industrial re-investment as bridge financing until the UK’s North Sea oil could begin generating foreign exchange. But US Treasury Secretary Bill Simon read him the riot act. IMF and U.S. policy was to provide credit only to pay bondholders, not to build up the real economy. Britain would be advanced loans only if it reoriented its economy to let high finance do the planning.

The UK became the IMF’s best neoliberal poster child, establishing a comparative advantage in offshore finance in what ultimately would flower as Gordon Brown’s notorious Light Touch that brought about the banking collapses of 2008. In this sense her role was to serve as Britain’s version of Boris Yeltsin, sponsoring the carve-up of centuries of public investment.

Mrs. Thatcher stepped into the post of Prime Minister in 1979 just as the neoliberal ploy was getting underway. The “grocer’s daughter” depicted Britain’s problems as a result of uppity labor. Her view stuck a chord as labor leaders called a series of politically self-defeating strikes that disrupted daily life and made it even more of a struggle than usual for most voters. Britain’s economy had never been riper for a divide and conquer strategy.

The new twist was that the class war aimed at labor in its role of consumer and debtor, not as employee. England’s domestic industry took one beating after another as factories closed their doors throughout the country (with the most successful becoming gentrified real estate developments).

The Iron Lady was convinced she was rebuilding England’s economy, while in reality it was only getting richer from London’s outlaw banks. Throughout the world, the damage wrought by this financialized economy has been immense. By “liberating” national money from the constraints of taxing authorities, the Middle East stopped much of its projects for industrial development. After 1990 the Soviet bloc was deindustrialized to become an oil, gas and mining economy. And for Britain, trillions of dollars in global tax revenues that could have been used for industrial and social development were routed though London, where the UK has lived off the fees from this free-for-all. So despite Mrs. Thatcher’s admiration for Milton Friedman, famous for claiming that There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch, she made Britain’s economy all about obtaining a free lunch – eaten by the world’s financial managers who flocked to its shores.

How much did Lady Thatcher come to understand about a financial sector of which she never deliberately favored? She never expressed regret about how her policies paved the way for New Labour to take the next giant step in empowering the City of London’s financial complex that has un-policed the banks to catalyze one financial crash after the next, hollowing out Britain’s economy in the process.

When Mrs. Thatcher took power, 1 in 7 of the England’s children lived in poverty. By the end of her reforms that number had risen to 1 in 3. She polarized the country in a ‘divide & conquer’ strategy that foreshadowed that of Ronald Reagan and more recent American politicians such as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. The effect of her policy was to foreclose on the economic mobility into the middle class that ironically she believed her policies were promoting.

Pundits the world over are chirping about her role in “saving” Britain, not as indebting it – destroyed an economy in order to save it. Her rule was historic mainly by posing the conundrum that has shaped neoliberal politics since 1980: How can governments nurture and endow financial kleptocrats in the context of rule by popular consent?

This can be achieved only by violating the Prime Assumption of classical liberal political philosophy: voters must be sufficiently informed to understand the consequences of their actions. This means that governments must take a long-term perspective.

But finance always has lived in the short run, and nowhere in the world is banking more short-term than in Britain. Nobody better exemplified this narrow-minded perspective than Lady Thatcher. Her simplistic rhetoric helped inspire an inordinate share of simpletons conflating supposed common sense with wisdom.

Not altogether simple, perhaps, but simply opportunistic. As the uncredited patron saint of New Labour, Mrs. Thatcher became the intellectual force inspiring her successor and emulator Tony Blair to complete the transformation of British electoral politics to mobilize popular consent to permit the financial sector to privatize and carve up Britain’s public infrastructure into a set of monopolies. In so doing, the United Kingdom’s was transformed from a real economy of production to one that scavenged the world for rents through its offshore banks. In the end, not only was great damage inflicted on England, but on the entire world as capital fled developing countries for safe harbors in London’s banks. Meanwhile, governments throughout the world today are declaring “We’re broke,” as their oligarchs grow ever more rich.

Michael Hudson’s book summarizing his economic theories, “The Bubble and Beyond,” is available on Amazon. His latest book is Finance Capitalism and Its Discontents. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He can be reached via his website, mh@michael-hudson.com

JEFFREY SOMMERS is an associate professor of political economy at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and is visiting faculty at the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga. He is co-editor of the forthcoming book The Contradictions of Austerity. In addition to CounterPunch he also publishes in The Financial Times, The Guardian, TruthOut and routinely appears as an expert on global television programs. He can be reached at: Jeffrey.sommers@fulbrightmail.org

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