Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Blogger's Note: This was received today, January 25th 2012, via e-mail.

Dear Friends and Colleagues,
I thought you would be interested in George Soros's essay in the forthcoming edition of the New York Review of Books: The essay is adapted from a speech he delivered at the opening of the World Economic Forum in Davos today.
All best,
Michael Vachon
How to Save the Euro

George Soros
New York Review of Books

My new book, Financial Turmoil in Europe and the United States, tries to explain and, to the extent possible, predict the outcome of the euro crisis. It follows the same pattern as my other books: it contains an updated version of my conceptual approach and the application of that approach to a particular situation, and it presents a real-time experiment to test the validity of my interpretation. Its account is not complete because the crisis is still ongoing.

We remain in the acute phase of the crisis; the prospect of a meltdown of the global financial system has not been removed. In my book, I proposed a plan that would bring immediate relief to global financial markets but it has not been adopted.

My proposal is to use the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), and its successor the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), to insure the European Central Bank (ECB) against the solvency risk on any newly issued Italian or Spanish treasury bills they may buy from commercial banks. Banks could then hold those bills as the equivalent of cash, enabling Italy and Spain to refinance their debt at close to 1 percent. Italy, for instance, would see its average cost of borrowing decline rather than increase from the current 4.3 percent. This would put their debt on a sustainable course and protect them against the threat of an impending Greek default. I call this the Padoa-Schioppa plan, in memory of my friend who helped stabilize Italy’s finances in the 1990s and who inspired the proposal. The plan is rather complicated, but it is both legally and technically sound. I describe it in detail in my book.

The European financial authorities rejected this plan in favor of the Long-Term Refinancing Operation (LTRO) of the European Central Bank, which provides unlimited amounts of liquidity to European banks—not to states themselves—for up to three years. That allows Italian and Spanish banks to buy the bonds of their own country and engage in a very profitable “carry trade”—in which one borrows at low interest to buy something that will pay higher interest—in those bonds at practically no risk because if the country defaulted the banks would be insolvent anyhow.

The difference between the two schemes is that mine would provide an instant reduction in interest costs to governments while the one actually adopted has kept the countries and their banks hovering on the edge of a potential insolvency. I am not sure whether the authorities have deliberately prolonged the crisis atmosphere in order to maintain pressure on heavily indebted countries or whether they were driven to their course of action by divergent views that they could not reconcile in any other way. As a disciple of Karl Popper, I ought to opt for the second alternative. Which interpretation is correct is not inconsequential, because the Padoa-Schioppa plan is still available and could be implemented at any time as long as the remaining funds of the EFSF are not otherwise committed.

Either way, it is Germany that dictates European policy because at times of crisis the creditors are in the driver’s seat. The trouble is that the cuts in government expenditures that Germany wants to impose on other countries will push Europe into a deflationary debt trap. Reducing budget deficits will put both wages and profits under downward pressure, the economies will contract, and tax revenues will fall. So the debt burden, which is a ratio of the accumulated debt to the GDP, will actually rise, requiring further budget cuts, setting in motion a vicious circle.

To be sure, I am not accusing Germany of acting in bad faith. It genuinely believes in the policies it is advocating. Germany is the most successful economy in Europe. Why should not the rest of Europe be like it? But it is pursuing an impossibility. In a closed system like the euro clearing system, everybody cannot be a creditor at the same time. The fact that a counterproductive policy is being imposed by Germany creates a very dangerous political dynamic. Instead of bringing the member countries closer together it will drive them to mutual recriminations. There is a real danger that the euro will undermine the political cohesion of the European Union.

The evolution of the European Union is following a course that greatly resembles a sequence of boom and bust or a financial bubble. That is no accident. Both processes are “reflexive,” that is, as I have argued elsewhere, they are largely driven by mistakes and misconceptions.

In the boom phase the European Union was what the British psychologist David Tuckett calls a “fantastic  object”—an unreal but attractive object of desire. To my mind, it represented the embodiment of an open society—another fantastic object. It was an association of nations founded on the principles of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law that is not dominated by any nation or nationality. Its creation was a feat of piecemeal social engineering led by a group of farsighted statesmen who understood that the fantastic object itself was not within their reach. They set limited objectives and firm timelines and then mobilized the political will for a small step forward, knowing full well that when they accomplished it, its inadequacy would become apparent and require a further step.

That is how the European Coal and Steel Community was gradually transformed into the European Union, step by step. During the boom period Germany was the main driving force. When the Soviet empire started to fall apart, Germany’s leaders realized that reunification of their country was possible only in a more united Europe. They needed the political support of other European powers, and they were willing to make considerable sacrifices to obtain it. When it came to bargaining they were willing to contribute a little more and take a little less than the others, thereby facilitating agreement. At that time, German statesmen used to assert that Germany had no independent foreign policy, only a European policy. The process—the boom, if you will—culminated with the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 and the introduction of the euro in 2002. It was followed by a period of stagnation that turned into a process of disintegration after the crash of 2008.

The euro was an incomplete currency and its architects knew it. The Maastricht Treaty established a monetary union without a political union. The euro boasted a common central bank to provide liquidity, but it lacked a common treasury that would be able to deal with solvency risk in times of crisis. The architects had good reason to believe, however, that when the time came further steps would be taken toward a political union. But the euro also had some other defects of which the architects were unaware and that are not fully understood even today. These defects contributed to setting in motion a process of disintegration.

The fathers of the euro relied on an interpretation of financial markets that proved its inadequacy in the crash of 2008. They believed, in particular, that only the public sector is capable of producing unacceptable economic imbalances; the invisible hand of the market would correct the imbalances produced by markets. In addition, they believed that the safeguards they introduced against public sector imbalances were adequate. Consequently, they treated government bonds as riskless assets that banks could buy and hold without allocating any capital reserves against them.

When the euro was introduced, the ECB treated the government bonds of all member states as equal. This gave banks an incentive to gorge themselves on the bonds of the weaker countries in order to earn a few extra basis points, since the yields on those bonds were slightly higher. It also caused interest rates to converge. That, in turn, caused economic performance to diverge. Germany, struggling with the burdens of reunification, undertook structural reforms, principally in its labor markets, and became more competitive. Other countries, benefiting from lower interest rates, enjoyed a housing boom that made them less competitive. That is how the introduction of the euro caused the divergence in competitiveness that is now so difficult to correct. The banks were weighed down with the government bonds of less competitive countries that turned from riskless assets into the riskiest ones.

The tipping point was reached when a newly elected Greek government revealed that the previous government had cheated and the national deficit was much bigger than had been announced. The Greek crisis revealed the gravest defect in the Maastricht Treaty: it has no provisions for correcting errors in the euro’s design. There is neither a mechanism for enforcing payment by member states of the European debt nor an exit mechanism from the euro; and member countries cannot resort to printing money. The statutes of the ECB strictly prohibit it from lending to member states, although it lends to banks. So it was left to the other member states to come to Greece’s rescue.

Unfortunately the European authorities had little understanding of how financial markets really work. Far from combining all the available knowledge in the market’s movements, as economic theory claims, financial markets are ruled by impressions and emotions and they abhor uncertainty. To bring a financial crisis under control requires firm leadership and ample financial resources. But Germany did not want to become the deep pocket for bad debtors. Consequently Europe always did too little too late and the Greek crisis snowballed. The bonds of other heavily indebted countries such as Italy and Spain were hit by contagion—i.e., in view of the failure in Greece they had to pay higher yields. The European banks suffered losses that were not recognized on their balance sheets.

Germany aggravated the situation by imposing draconian conditions and insisting that Greece should pay penalty rates on the loans in the rescue package that Germany and other states provided. The Greek economy collapsed, capital fled, and Greece repeatedly failed to meet the conditions of the rescue package. Eventually Greece became patently insolvent. Germany then further destabilized the situation by insisting on private sector participation in the rescue. This pushed the risk premiums on Italian and Spanish bonds through the roof and endangered the solvency of the banking system. The authorities then ordered the European banking system to be recapitalized. This was the coup de grâce. It created a powerful incentive for the banks to shrink their balance sheets by calling in loans and getting rid of risky government bonds, rather than selling shares at a discount.

That is where we are today. The credit crunch started to make its effect felt on the real economy in the last quarter of 2011. The ECB then started to reduce interest rates and aggressively expand its balance sheet by buying government bonds in the open market. The ECB’s LTRO facility provided relief to the banking system but left Italian and Spanish bonds precariously balanced between the sustainable and the unsustainable.

What lies ahead? Economic deterioration and political and social disintegration will mutually reinforce each other. During the boom phase the political leadership was in the forefront of further integration; now the European leaders are trying to protect a status quo that is clearly untenable. Treaties and laws that were meant to be stepping stones have turned into immovable rocks. I have in mind Article 123 of the Lisbon Treaty, which prohibits the ECB from lending money directly to member states. The German authorities, notably the Constitutional Court and the Bundesbank, are dead set on enforcing rules that have proved to be unworkable. For instance, the Bundesbank’s narrow interpretation of Article 123 prevented Germany from contributing its Special Drawing Rights to a rescue effort by the G20. This is the path to disintegration. Those who find the status quo intolerable and are actively looking for change are driven to anti-European and xenophobic extremism. What is happening today in Hungary—where a far-right party is demanding that Hungary leave the EU—is a precursor of what is in store.

The outlook is truly dismal but there must be a way to avoid it. After all, history is not predetermined. I can see an alternative. It is to rediscover the European Union as the “fantastic object” that used to be so alluring when it was only an idea. That fantastic object was almost within reach until we lost our way. The authorities forgot that they are fallible and started to cling to the status quo as if it were sacrosanct. The European Union as a reality bears little resemblance to the fantastic object that used to be so alluring. It is undemocratic to the point where the electorate is disaffected and it is ungovernable to the point where it cannot deal with the crisis that it has created.

These are the defects that need to be fixed. That should not be impossible. All we need to do is to reassert the principles of open society and recognize that the prevailing order is not cast in stone and rules are in need of improvement. We need to find a European solution for the euro crisis because national solutions would lead to the dissolution of the European Union, and that would be catastrophic; but we must also change the status quo. That is the kind of program that could inspire the silent majority that is disaffected and disoriented but at heart still pro-European.

When I look around the world I see people aspiring to open society. I see it in the Arab Spring, in various African countries; I see stirrings in Russia, and as far away as Burma and Malayasia. Why not in Europe?

To be a little more specific, let me suggest the outlines of a European solution to the euro crisis. It involves a delicate two-phase maneuver, similar to the one that got us out of the crash of 2008. When a car is skidding, you first have to turn the steering wheel in the direction of the skid, and only after you have regained control can you correct your direction. In this case, you must first impose strict fiscal discipline on the deficit countries and encourage structural reforms; but then you must find some stimulus to get you out of the deflationary vicious circle— because structural reforms alone will not do it. The stimulus will have to come from the European Union and it will have to be guaranteed jointly and severally. It is likely to involve eurobonds in one guise or another. It is important, however, to spell out the solution in advance. Without a clear game plan Europe will remain mired in a larger vicious circle in which economic decline and political disintegration mutually reinforce each other.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Drowning In Hypocrisy

January 24, 2012 | Original here

The US government is so full of self-righteousness that it has become a caricature of hypocrisy. Leon Panetta, a former congressman who Obama appointed CIA director and now head of the Pentagon, just told the sailors on the USS Enterprise, an aircraft carrier, that the US is maintaining a fleet of 11 aircraft carriers in order to project sea power against Iran and to convince Iran that “it’s better for them to try to deal with us through diplomacy.”

If it requires 11 aircraft carriers to deal with Iran, how many will Panetta need to project power against Russia and China? But to get on with the main point, Iran has been trying “to deal with us through diplomacy.” The response from Washington has been belligerent threats of military attack, unfounded and irresponsible accusations that Iran is making a nuclear weapon, sanctions and an oil embargo. Washington’s accusations echo Israel’s and are contradicted by Washington’s own intelligence agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Why doesn’t Washington respond to Iran in a civilized manner with diplomacy? Really, which of the two countries is the greatest threat to peace?

Washington sends the FBI to raid the homes of peace activists and puts a grand jury to work to create a case against them for aiding a nebulous enemy by protesting Washington’s wars. The Department of Homeland Security unleashes goon cop thugs to brutalize peaceful Occupy Wall Street demonstrators. Washington fabricates cases against Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, and Tarek Mehanna that negate the First Amendment by equating free speech with terrorism and spying. Chicago mayor and former Obama White House chief-of-staff, Rahm Israel Emanuel, pushes an ordinance that outlaws public protests in the City of Chicago. The list goes on. And in the midst of it all Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other Washington hypocrites accuse Russia and China of stifling dissent.

Washington’s grotesque hypocrisy goes unremarked by the American “media” and in the debates for the Republican presidential nomination. The corrupt Obama “Justice” Department turns a blind eye while goon cop thugs commit gratuitous violence against the citizens who pay the goon cop thugs’ undeserved salaries.

But it is in the War Crimes Arena where Washington shows the greatest hypocrisy. The self-righteous bigots in Washington are forever rounding up heads of weak states whose countries were afflicted by civil wars and sending them off to be tried as war criminals. All the while Washington indiscriminately kills large numbers of civilians in six or more countries, dismissing its own war crimes as “collateral damage.” Washington violates its own law and international law by torturing people.

On January 13, 2012, Carol Rosenberg of McClatchy Newspapers reported that Spanish judge Pablo Rafael Ruz Gutierrez re-launched an investigation into Washington’s torture of prisoners in Guantanamo Prison. The previous day British authorities opened an investigation into CIA renditions of kidnapped persons to Libya for torture.

Rosenberg reports that although the Obama regime has refused to investigate the obvious crimes of the Bush regime, and one might add its own obvious crimes, “other countries are still interested in determining whether Bush-era anti-terror practices violated international law.”

There is no question that Bush/Cheney/Obama have trashed the US Constitution, US statutory law, and international law. But Washington, having overthrown justice, has established that might is right. No foreign government is going to send its forces into the US to drag the war criminals out and place them on trial.

The War Criminal Court at the Hague is reserved for Washington’s show trials. No foreign government is going to pay Washington several hundred millions of dollars to turn Bush, Cheney, Obama and their minions over to them in the way the US bought Milosevic from Serbia in order to create the necessary spectacle at the War Crimes Tribunal to justify Washington’s naked aggression against Serbia.

No government can be perfect, because all governments are composed of humans, especially those humans most attracted by power and profit. Nevertheless, in my lifetime I have witnessed an extraordinary deterioration in the integrity of government in the United States. We have reached the point where nothing that our government says is believable. Not even the unemployment rate, the inflation rate, the GDP growth rate, much less Washington’s reasons for its wars, its police state, and its foreign and domestic policies.

Washington has kept America at war for ten years while millions of Americans lost their jobs and their homes. War and a faltering economy have exploded the national debt, and a looming bankruptcy is being blamed on Social Security and Medicare.

The pursuit of war continues. On January 23 Washington’s servile puppets–the EU member states–did Washington’s bidding and imposed an oil embargo on Iran, despite the pleas of Greece, a member of the EU. Greece’s final ruin will come from the higher oil prices from the embargo, as the Greek government realizes.

The embargo is a reckless act. If the US navy tries to intercept oil tankers carrying Iranian oil, large scale war could break out. This, many believe, is Washington’s aim.

It is easy for an embargo to become a blockade, which is an act of war. Remember how easily the UN Security Council’s “no-fly zone” over Libya was turned by the US and its NATO puppets into a military attack on Libya’s armed forces and population centers supportive of Gaddafi.

As the western “democracies” become increasingly lawless, the mask of law that imperialism wears is stripped away and with it the sheen of morality that has been used to cloak hegemonic ambitions. With Iran surrounded and with two of Washington’s fleets in the Persian Gulf, another war of aggression seems inevitable.

Experts say that an attack on Iran by the US and NATO will disrupt the flow of oil that the world needs. The crazed drive for hegemony is so compelling that Washington and its EU puppets show no hesitation in putting their own struggling economies at risk of sharply rising energy costs.

War abroad and austerity at home is the policy that is being imposed on the western “democracies.”


WAR FOR THE WHITE HOUSE!!! Diebold accidently leaks 2012 election results

Thursday, January 19, 2012


January 19, 2912

SOPA: Anti-Piracy or Censorship? Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales vs. Copyright Alliance’s Sandra Aistars

Congressional support for a pair of anti-piracy bills is weakening after Wednesday’s historic online protest in which thousands of websites went dark for 24 hours. Hollywood film studios, music publishers and major broadcasters support the anti-piracy legislation, saying it aims to stop the piracy of copyrighted material over the internet on websites based outside the United States. "We’re talking about sites that are operated and dedicated to piracy and that are really preventing individual creators across the country from having an economic livelihood from their creative pursuits," says Sandra Aistars, executive director of the Copyright Alliance, whose members include the Motion Picture Association of America, NBCUniversal, Time Warner, Viacom, ASCAP and BMI. But critics say the bills could profoundly change the internet by stifling innovation and investment, hallmarks of the free, open internet. "Wikipedia could be defined as a search engine under these [bills]," says Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales. "That would mean that it would be illegal for Wikipedia to link to a site, even if we’re writing an encyclopedia article explaining to the public what is The Pirate Bay, what is going on here, and we want to send you there so you can go and take a look for yourself. That would become illegal. This is outrageous, and it’s just not acceptable under the First Amendment." [Original includes rush transcript]

YouTube version available here.

The first state to rebel against indefinite detention

Uploaded by libertylover520 on Jan 18, 2012

Indefinite Detention The NDAA and the Enemy Expatriation Act

Uploaded by libertylover520 on Jan 18, 2012

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

January 17, 2012

Journalist Chris Hedges Sues Obama Admin over Indefinite Detention of U.S. Citizens Approved in NDAA

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges has filed suit against President Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to challenge the legality of the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes controversial provisions authorizing the military to jail anyone it considers a terrorism suspect anywhere in the world, without charge or trial. Sections of the bill are written so broadly that critics say they could encompass journalists who report on terror-related issues, such as Hedges, for supporting enemy forces. "It’s clearly unconstitutional," Hedges says of the bill. "It is a huge and egregious assault against our democracy. It overturns over 200 years of law, which has kept the military out of domestic policing." We speak with Hedges, now a senior fellow at the Nation Institute and former New York Times foreign correspondent who was part of a team of reporters that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for the paper’s coverage of global terrorism. We are also joined by Hedges’ attorney Carl Mayer, who filed the litigation on his behalf in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Original Democracy Now source
Original TruthDig article.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

10 reasons the U.S. is no longer the land of the free

By Jonathan Turley, Published: January 13

Every year, the State Department issues reports on individual rights in other countries, monitoring the passage of restrictive laws and regulations around the world. Iran, for example, has been criticized for denying fair public trials and limiting privacy, while Russia has been taken to task for undermining due process. Other countries have been condemned for the use of secret evidence and torture.

Even as we pass judgment on countries we consider unfree, Americans remain confident that any definition of a free nation must include their own — the land of free. Yet, the laws and practices of the land should shake that confidence. In the decade since Sept. 11, 2001, this country has comprehensively reduced civil liberties in the name of an expanded security state. The most recent example of this was the National Defense Authorization Act, signed Dec. 31, which allows for the indefinite detention of citizens. At what point does the reduction of individual rights in our country change how we define ourselves?

While each new national security power Washington has embraced was controversial when enacted, they are often discussed in isolation. But they don’t operate in isolation. They form a mosaic of powers under which our country could be considered, at least in part, authoritarian. Americans often proclaim our nation as a symbol of freedom to the world while dismissing nations such as Cuba and China as categorically unfree. Yet, objectively, we may be only half right. Those countries do lack basic individual rights such as due process, placing them outside any reasonable definition of “free,” but the United States now has much more in common with such regimes than anyone may like to admit.

These countries also have constitutions that purport to guarantee freedoms and rights. But their governments have broad discretion in denying those rights and few real avenues for challenges by citizens — precisely the problem with the new laws in this country.

The list of powers acquired by the U.S. government since 9/11 puts us in rather troubling company.

Assassination of U.S. citizens

President Obama has claimed, as President George W. Bush did before him, the right to order the killing of any citizen considered a terrorist or an abettor of terrorism. Last year, he approved the killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaqi and another citizen under this claimed inherent authority. Last month, administration officials affirmed that power, stating that the president can order the assassination of any citizen whom he considers allied with terrorists. (Nations such as Nigeria, Iran and Syria have been routinely criticized for extrajudicial killings of enemies of the state.)

Indefinite detention

Under the law signed last month, terrorism suspects are to be held by the military; the president also has the authority to indefinitely detain citizens accused of terrorism. While the administration claims that this provision only codified existing law, experts widely contest this view, and the administration has opposed efforts to challenge such authority in federal courts. The government continues to claim the right to strip citizens of legal protections based on its sole discretion. (China recently codified a more limited detention law for its citizens, while countries such as Cambodia have been singled out by the United States for “prolonged detention.”)

Arbitrary justice

The president now decides whether a person will receive a trial in the federal courts or in a military tribunal, a system that has been ridiculed around the world for lacking basic due process protections. Bush claimed this authority in 2001, and Obama has continued the practice. (Egypt and China have been denounced for maintaining separate military justice systems for selected defendants, including civilians.)

Warrantless searches

The president may now order warrantless surveillance, including a new capability to force companies and organizations to turn over information on citizens’ finances, communications and associations. Bush acquired this sweeping power under the Patriot Act in 2001, and in 2011, Obama extended the power, including searches of everything from business documents to library records. The government can use “national security letters” to demand, without probable cause, that organizations turn over information on citizens — and order them not to reveal the disclosure to the affected party. (Saudi Arabia and Pakistan operate under laws that allow the government to engage in widespread discretionary surveillance.)

Secret evidence

The government now routinely uses secret evidence to detain individuals and employs secret evidence in federal and military courts. It also forces the dismissal of cases against the United States by simply filing declarations that the cases would make the government reveal classified information that would harm national security — a claim made in a variety of privacy lawsuits and largely accepted by federal judges without question. Even legal opinions, cited as the basis for the government’s actions under the Bush and Obama administrations, have been classified. This allows the government to claim secret legal arguments to support secret proceedings using secret evidence. In addition, some cases never make it to court at all. The federal courts routinely deny constitutional challenges to policies and programs under a narrow definition of standing to bring a case.

War crimes

The world clamored for prosecutions of those responsible for waterboarding terrorism suspects during the Bush administration, but the Obama administration said in 2009 that it would not allow CIA employees to be investigated or prosecuted for such actions. This gutted not just treaty obligations but the Nuremberg principles of international law. When courts in countries such as Spain moved to investigate Bush officials for war crimes, the Obama administration reportedly urged foreign officials not to allow such cases to proceed, despite the fact that the United States has long claimed the same authority with regard to alleged war criminals in other countries. (Various nations have resisted investigations of officials accused of war crimes and torture. Some, such as Serbia and Chile, eventually relented to comply with international law; countries that have denied independent investigations include Iran, Syria and China.)

Secret court

The government has increased its use of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has expanded its secret warrants to include individuals deemed to be aiding or abetting hostile foreign governments or organizations. In 2011, Obama renewed these powers, including allowing secret searches of individuals who are not part of an identifiable terrorist group. The administration has asserted the right to ignore congressional limits on such surveillance. (Pakistan places national security surveillance under the unchecked powers of the military or intelligence services.)

Immunity from judicial review

Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration has successfully pushed for immunity for companies that assist in warrantless surveillance of citizens, blocking the ability of citizens to challenge the violation of privacy. (Similarly, China has maintained sweeping immunity claims both inside and outside the country and routinely blocks lawsuits against private companies.)

Continual monitoring of citizens

The Obama administration has successfully defended its claim that it can use GPS devices to monitor every move of targeted citizens without securing any court order or review. (Saudi Arabia has installed massive public surveillance systems, while Cuba is notorious for active monitoring of selected citizens.)

Extraordinary renditions

The government now has the ability to transfer both citizens and noncitizens to another country under a system known as extraordinary rendition, which has been denounced as using other countries, such as Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan, to torture suspects. The Obama administration says it is not continuing the abuses of this practice under Bush, but it insists on the unfettered right to order such transfers — including the possible transfer of U.S. citizens.

These new laws have come with an infusion of money into an expanded security system on the state and federal levels, including more public surveillance cameras, tens of thousands of security personnel and a massive expansion of a terrorist-chasing bureaucracy.

Some politicians shrug and say these increased powers are merely a response to the times we live in. Thus, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) could declare in an interview last spring without objection that “free speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war.” Of course, terrorism will never “surrender” and end this particular “war.”

Other politicians rationalize that, while such powers may exist, it really comes down to how they are used. This is a common response by liberals who cannot bring themselves to denounce Obama as they did Bush. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), for instance, has insisted that Congress is not making any decision on indefinite detention: “That is a decision which we leave where it belongs — in the executive branch.”

And in a signing statement with the defense authorization bill, Obama said he does not intend to use the latest power to indefinitely imprison citizens. Yet, he still accepted the power as a sort of regretful autocrat.

An authoritarian nation is defined not just by the use of authoritarian powers, but by the ability to use them. If a president can take away your freedom or your life on his own authority, all rights become little more than a discretionary grant subject to executive will.

The framers lived under autocratic rule and understood this danger better than we do. James Madison famously warned that we needed a system that did not depend on the good intentions or motivations of our rulers: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”

Benjamin Franklin was more direct. In 1787, a Mrs. Powel confronted Franklin after the signing of the Constitution and asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got — a republic or a monarchy?” His response was a bit chilling: “A republic, Madam, if you can keep it.”

Since 9/11, we have created the very government the framers feared: a government with sweeping and largely unchecked powers resting on the hope that they will be used wisely.

The indefinite-detention provision in the defense authorization bill seemed to many civil libertarians like a betrayal by Obama. While the president had promised to veto the law over that provision, Levin, a sponsor of the bill, disclosed on the Senate floor that it was in fact the White House that approved the removal of any exception for citizens from indefinite detention.

Dishonesty from politicians is nothing new for Americans. The real question is whether we are lying to ourselves when we call this country the land of the free.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro professor of public interest law at George Washington University.
Read more from Outlook, including:

“Imagining a world without Gitmo,” by Karen J. Greenberg.

“A world without 9/11: No President Obama, more China trouble, same debt crisis,” by Michael Lind.

“Five myths about Dick Cheney,” by Stephen F. Hayes.

Friend Outlook on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Monday, January 16, 2012


Bernanke's Double-Whammy
The Foreclosure-to-Rental Screwjob

Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke wants US taxpayers to purchase more of the garbage loans and mortgage-backed securities (MBS) that the big banks still have on their books. (Cash for trash) That’s the impetus behind the Fed’s 26-page white paper that was delivered to Congress last Wednesday. The document outlines the Fed’s plan for ‘stabilizing the housing market’, which is a phrase that Bernanke employs when he wants to provide more buy-backs, giveaways, subsidies and other corporate welfare to big finance.
“Restoring the health of the housing market is a necessary part of a broader strategy for economic recovery,” Bernanke opined in a letter to the Senate Banking and House Financial Services committees.
Indeed. The housing depression continues into its 5th year with no end in sight, mainly because the people who created the crisis are still in positions of power. And, they’re still offering the same remedies, too, like handing the banks another blank check to save them from losses on their bad bets. That’s what this new “housing stabilization” boondoggle is really all about, bailing out the bankers. Here’s a summary from Bloomberg:
“Bernanke’s Fed study said “more might be done,” including eliminating entirely the reduced fees for risky loans, “more comprehensively” cutting lenders’ put-back risks; and further streamlining refinancing for other Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac borrowers. The U.S. also should consider having Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac refinance loans not already backed by the government, which would add credit risk for the companies, according to the report….” (Bloomberg)
First of all, Fannie and Freddie only return loans (“put-backs”) that don’t meet their standards and which the banks foisted on them so they wouldn’t have to face the losses. The idea that the publicly-funded GSE’s should just “eat the losses” is ridiculous.

And, why–in heaven’s name–would congress want to take on more risk when they can keep millions of people in their homes by simply reducing the principle on their mortgages to the present value of the house? (aka–”Cramdowns”) Naturally, the losses would have to be absorbed by the banks who – by everyone’s admission – were responsible for the present crisis due to their lax lending standards and, oftentimes, fraudulent behavior. This would lead to a restructuring of the country’s biggest banks through a Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC) so their toxic assets and backlog of foreclosed properties can be auctioned off as soon as possible.

This is a straightforward way to fix the housing market and it should have been done long ago. Bernanke’s solution is not only unreasonable, it’s also deceitful. Here’s more from the Fed’s paper: “Continued weakness in the housing market poses a significant barrier to a more vigorous economic recovery”..(without action)…“the adjustment process will take longer and incur more deadweight losses, pushing house prices lower and thereby prolonging the downward pressure on the wealth of current homeowners and the resultant drag on the economy at large.”

Did it really take Bernanke 5 years to figure out that housing is a “drag on the economy”?

No, of course not. So, what’s going on now that has suddenly spurred him to act?

Well, for one thing, the banks are losing a great deal of money on the mortgage-backed securities (MBS) that they bought in the last few years. Here’s the story in the Wall Street Journal:
“After flickering to life early in 2011, the market for subprime- and other risky residential-mortgage bonds has returned to its comatose state. And many investors believe a revival could be years away.
Prices on some bonds, which are backed by mortgages that don’t meet the standards needed to get backing from government-controlled companies like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, plummeted as much as 30% last year. The ABX, an index that tracks the value of subprime bonds, ended the year at 43.44 cents on the dollar, down from 59.90 cents at year-end 2010 and a peak of 62.68 cents in February 2011

While that decline pushed yields up to as much as 17% — bond yields rise as prices fall — many fund managers have pulled out of the market due to worries about further price declines. Moreover, repeated downgrades have left too few investment-grade securities for them to own. Wall Street banks, which traditionally have played a key role in the market matching buyers and sellers, are backing away ahead of new regulations that will make it more expensive to hold riskier assets.” (Investors Sour on Subprime Bonds, WSJ)

So, Wall Street’s financial geniuses got back into the MBS-biz (for a second time) and got whacked again? That’s right; and now they want John Q. Public to pay for it with another bailout.

And, there’s more to this story, too. European banks own roughly $100 billion of these mortgage-backed turkeys which they’re presently shedding like crazy in order to meet new capital requirements. That means US bank balance sheets are dripping red as the value of their financial asset-stockpile continues to plunge. That’s why Sugar Daddy Bernanke has stepped in, because it’s time for another multi-billion dollar bank rescue.

Look, the Fed has already purchased over $1.25 trillion of these toxic MBS which represents humongous long-term losses for the taxpayer. Do we really need more of this sludge?

Bernanke promised that the first round of quantitative easing (QE1) would boost employment (It hasn’t) and improve housing sales (it never happened) The only uptick in sales occurred because the colluding banks deliberately reduced the supply of foreclosed homes they put on the market. The reduction has led to a massive 1.7 million backlog of housing units (shadow inventory) that will eventually be dumped onto the market triggering another sharp decline in housing prices. Bernanke wants to do something about the bulging inventory as well as prop up the value of sagging MBS. So, the Fed’s plan actually has two main objectives; in other words, it’s the double whammy. Here’s more from Bloomberg:
“Since the Fed started buying $1.25 trillion of mortgage bonds in January 2009, the value of U.S. housing has fallen 4.1 percent, and is down 32 percent from its 2006 peak, according to an S&P/Case-Shiller index. The central bank is poised to buy about $200 billion this year, or more than 20 percent of new loans, as it reinvests debt that’s being paid off. Some Fed officials have said they may support additional purchases that Barclays Capital estimates could total as much as $750 billion.”
Did you catch that? Taxpayers are going to get slammed for another $750 billion. That’s nearly as much as Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the fiscal stimulus that added 2 percent to GDP and kept unemployment from rocketing to 13 percent. Bernanke wants to throw that same amount down a Wall Street sinkhole.

So maybe you think this won’t happen, after all, could Congress really be so gullible as to fall for Bernanke’s fearmongering flim-flam again?

Maybe and maybe not. But there are some pretty wealthy and well-connected people who are betting that the Fed will do as it’s told and pave the way for another hefty bailout. In fact, the world’s largest bond fund (Pimco) has stumped up a mountain of cash betting that good buddy Bernanke will get the printing presses whirring sometime in mid-January. Here’s the story from Zero Hedge:
”….in December the fund (Total Return Fund or TRF) doubled down on its QE3 all in bet, by “borrowing” even more cash, or a record $78 billion, using the proceeds to buy even more MBS, as well as Treasurys, which hit a combined 31% of the TRF’s holdings. In other words, between MBS and USTs, Pimco holds a whopping 79% of total, mostly in very long duration exposure. In fact, this combination of long duration and pre-QE exposure has not been seen at PIMCO since late 2008, early 2009, meaning that as many banks have been suggesting, (Bill) Gross is convinced that the Fed will announce if not outright QE3 this January, then at least intimate it is coming.”(“Pimco Doubles Down On All In Bet Fed Will Monetize MBS”, Zero Hedge)
So what does Pimco know that we don’t know? More importantly, from whom are they getting their information?

And, there’s another thing, too. This whole deal about converting foreclosed homes into rental properties is another scam. Here’s the scoop from another article in the Wall Street Journal:
“The paper also signaled that the Fed…. will try to involve banks more directly in housing-revival approaches… One area involves efforts to turn foreclosed homes into rental properties….
Banking regulations typically direct banks to sell foreclosed homes quickly, although the rules do recognize this isn’t always practical and so these properties can be held up to five years. The Fed said it is now “contemplating issuing guidance” to banks and regulators that would possibly allow banks to turn some of these foreclosed homes into rental properties…..The hope is this may help stanch the flow of foreclosed properties into markets…” (“Fed Up With the Depressed State of Housing”, Wall Street Journal)

Bingo. The banks are not only sitting on 1.7 million shadow inventory of homes they’ve stockpiled to keep prices artificially high. They also have millions more in the pipeline when a settlement is finally reached on the robo-signing scandal. So, what are they going to do with all that backlog?

That’s easy. They’ll schluff it off on the taxpayer by creating a foreclosure-to-rental swindle where the government provides lavish incentives for banks and private equity scavengers to buy the homes (in bulk) for pennies on the dollar with loans provided by–you guessed it–Uncle Sam. Here’s a summary of what’s going on behind the scenes:
“As the Obama administration and federal regulators work on a program to sell government-owned foreclosures in bulk to investors, those investors aren’t wasting any time stockpiling cash and buying foreclosed properties at auction and from the major banks.
Oakland, California-based Waypoint Real Estate Group, a major acquirer of so-called “REO to Rental” (Real Estate Owned) just announced a partnership with a private equity firm, Menlo Park, California-based GI Partners, to buy foreclosed properties….
“Our approach to buying distressed single-family houses, renovating them, and leasing to residents who are committed to a path to future home ownership is a viable solution to our nation’s housing crisis,” said Colin Wiel, managing director and co-founder of Waypoint in a press release. “Our partnership with GI Partners ensures we can take the next step in our company’s evolution.”
GI is taking an increasingly popular bet on distressed real estate, closing on a $400 million fund with Waypoint, which has plans to purchase $1 billion in distressed real estate assets over the next two years, according to its release. (“Private Equity Readying a Run on Foreclosures”, Diana Olick, CNBC)

So, what do these guys know that we don’t know? And why are they plunking down big money when the details have not even been released yet?

None of this really passes the smell test, does it? The only thing we know for sure is that the “fix is in” and that Bernanke will do what he always does when the banks are in a pinch. Throw them a lifeline.

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press. He can be reached at

Saturday, January 14, 2012


Original Here

America’s Last Chance

January 14, 2012 

America has one last chance, and it is a very slim one. Americans can elect Ron Paul President, or they can descend into tyranny.

Why is Ron Paul America’s last chance?

Because he is the only candidate who is not owned lock, stock, and barrel by the military-security complex, Wall Street, and the Israel Lobby.

All of the others, including President Obama, are owned by exactly the same interest groups. There are no differences between them. Every candidate except Ron Paul stands for war and a police state, and all have demonstrated their complete and total subservience to Israel. The fact that there is no difference between them is made perfectly clear by the absence of substantive issues in the campaigns of the Republican candidates.

Only Ron Paul deals with real issues, so he is excluded from “debates” in which the other Republican candidates throw mud at one another: “Gingrich voted $60 million to a UN program supporting abortion in China.” “Romney loves to fire people.”

The mindlessness repels.

More importantly, only Ron Paul respects the US Constitution and its protection of civil liberty. Only Ron Paul understands that if the Constitution cannot be resurrected from its public murder by Congress and the executive branch, then Americans are lost to tyranny.

There isn’t much time in which to revive the Constitution. One more presidential term with no habeas corpus and no due process for US citizens and with torture and assassination of US citizens by their own government, and it will be too late. Tyranny will have been firmly institutionalized, and too many Americans from the lowly to the high and mighty will have been implicated in the crimes of the state. Extensive guilt and complicity will make it impossible to restore the accountability of government to law.

If Ron Paul is not elected president in this year’s election, by 2016 American liberty will be in a forgotten grave in a forgotten grave yard.

Having said this, there is no way Ron Paul can be elected, for these reasons:

Not enough Americans understand that the “war on terror” has been used to create a police state. The brainwashed citizenry believe that the police state is making them safe from terrorists.

Liberals, progressives, and the left-wing oppose Ron Paul, claiming that “he would abolish the social safety net, privatize Social Security and Medicare, throw the widows and orphans into the street, abolish the Federal Reserve,” etc.

Apparently, liberals, progressives, and the left-wing do not understand that privatizing Social Security and Medicare and destroying the social safety net are policies that many conservative Republicans favor and are policies that Wall Street is forcing on both political parties. In contrast, a President Ron Paul would be isolated in the White House and would never be able to muster the support of Congress and the powerful interest groups to achieve such radical changes. Moreover, Ron Paul has made it clear that a welfare-free state cannot be achieved by decree but only by creating an economy in which opportunity exists for people to stand on their own feet. Ron Paul has said that he does not support ending welfare before an economy is created that makes a welfare state unnecessary.

Candidate Paul cannot take any steps to reassure Americans that he would not throw them to the mercy of the free market, because his libertarian base would turn on him as another unprincipled politician willing to sacrifice his principles for political expediency.
If libertarians were not inflexible, candidate Paul could endorse Ron Unz’s proposal to solve the illegal immigration problem by raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour, so that Americans could afford to work the jobs that are taken by illegals.

Economist James K. Galbraith is probably correct that Unz’s proposal would boost the economy by injecting purchasing power and that the unemployment would be largely confined to illegals who would return to their home country. However, if Ron Paul were to treat Unz’s proposal as one worthy of study and consideration, libertarian ideologues would write him off. Whatever liberal/progressive support he gained would be offset by the loss of his libertarian base.

Why can’t libertarians be as intelligent as Ron Unz and see that if the Constitution is lost all that remains is tyranny?

In short, Americans cannot see beyond their ideologies to the real issue, which is the choice between the Constitution and tyranny.

So we hear absurd accusations that Ron Paul, a libertarian “is a racist.” “Ron Paul is an anti-semite.” “Ron Paul would favor the rich and hurt the poor.”

We don’t hear “Ron Paul would restore and protect the US Constitution.”

What do Americans think life will be like in the absence of the Constitution? I will tell you what it will be like, but first let’s consider the obstacles Ron Paul would face if he were to win the Republican nomination and if he were to be elected president.

In my opinion, if Ron Paul were to win the Republican nomination, the Republican Party would conspire to refuse it to him. The party would simply nominate a different candidate.

If despite everything, Ron Paul were to end up in the White House, he would not be able to form a government that would support his policies. Appointments to cabinet secretaries and assistant secretaries that would support his policies could not be confirmed by the US Senate. President Paul would have to appoint whomever the Senate would confirm in order to form a government. The Senate’s appointees would undermine his policies.

What a President Ron Paul could do, assuming Congress, controlled by powerful private interest groups, did not impeach him on trumped up charges, would be to use whatever forums that might be permitted him to explain to the public, judges, and law schools that the danger from terrorists is miniscule compared to the danger from a government unaccountable to law and the Constitution.

The reason we should vote for Ron Paul is to signal to the powers that be that we understand what they are doing to us. If Paul were to receive a large vote, it could have two good effects. One could be to introduce some caution into the establishment that would slow the march into more war and tyranny. The other is it would signal to Washington’s European and Japanese puppets that not all Americans are stupid sheep. Such an indication could make Washington’s puppet states more cautious and less cooperative with Washington’s drive for world hegemony.

What America Without the Constitution Will Be Like

In the January 4 Huff Post, attorney and author John Whitehead reported on the militarization of local police. Some police forces are now equipped with spy drones. Whitehead reports that a drone manufacturer, AeroVironment Inc., plans to sell 18,000 drones to police departments throughout the country. The company is also advertising a small drone, the “Switchblade,” which can track a person, land on the person and explode.

How long before Americans will be spied upon or murdered as extremists at the discretion of local police?

Recognizing the privacy danger, if not the murder danger, the American Civil Liberties Union has issued a report, “Protecting Privacy From Aerial Surveillance.”

The ACLU believes, correctly, that liberty is threatened by “a surveillance society in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded, and scrutinized by authorities.”

The ACLU calls on Congress to legislate privacy protections against the police use of drones. I support the ACLU because it is the most important defender of civil liberty despite other misguided activities, but I wonder what the ACLU is thinking. Congress and the federal courts have already acquiesced in the federal government’s warrantless spying on Americans by the National Security Agency. The Bush regime violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act many times, and all involved, including President Bush, should have been sent to prison for many lifetimes, as each violation carries a 5-year prison term. But the executive branch emerged scot free. No one was held accountable for clear violations of US statutory law.

The ACLU might think that although the federal executive branch has successfully elevated itself above the law, state and local police forces are still accountable. We must hope that they are, but I doubt it.

The militarization of local police has received some attention. What has not received attention is that state and local police are also being federalized. It is not only military armaments and spy technology that local police are receiving from Washington, but also an attitude toward the public along with federal oversight and the collaboration that goes with it. When Homeland Security, a federal police force, comes into states, as I know has occurred in Georgia and Tennessee, and doubtless other states, and together with the state police stop cars and trucks on Interstate highways and subject them to warrantless searches, what is happening is the de facto deputizing of the state police by Homeland Security. This is the way that Goering and Himmler federalized into the Gestapo the independent police forces of German provinces such as Prussia and Bavaria.

Homeland Security has expanded its warrantless searches far beyond “airline security.”
The budding gestapo agency now conducts warrantless searches on the nation’s highways, on bus and train passengers, and at Social Security offices. On Tuesday January 3, 2012, the Social Security office in Leesburg, Florida, apparently a terrorist hotspot, became a Homeland Security checkpoint. The DHS Gestapo armed with automatic weapons and sniffer dogs demanded IDs from local residents visiting their local Social Security office.

Thomas Milligan, district manager for the Social Security Administration office, said staff were not informed their offices were about to be stormed by armed federal police officers. DHS officials refused to answer questions asked by local media and left with no explanation at noon, reports

The DHS gestapo justified its takeover of a Leesburg Florida Social Security office as being an integral part of “Operational Shield,” conducted by the Federal Protective Service to detect “the presence of unauthorized persons and potentially disruptive or dangerous activities.”

One wonders if even brainwashed flag-waving “superpatriots” can miss the message. The Social Security office of Leesburg, Florida, population 19,086 in central Florida is not a place where terrorists devoid of proper ID might be visiting. To protect America from the scant possibility that terrorists might be congregating at the Leesburg Social Security office, the tyrants in Washington sent the Federal Protective Service at who knows what cost to demand ID from locals visiting their Social Security office.

What is this all about except to establish the precedent that federal police, a new entity in American life, the Federal Protective Service, has authority over state and local police offices and can appear out of the blue to interrogate local citizens.

Why the ACLU thinks it is going to get any action out of a Congress that has accommodated the executive branch’s destruction of habeas corpus, due process, and the constitutional and legal prohibitions against torture is beyond me. But at least the issue is raised. But don’t expect to hear about it from the “mainstream media.”

Americans in 2012, although only a few are aware, live in a concentration camp that is far better controlled than the one portrayed by George Orwell in 1984. Orwell, writing in the late 1940s could not imagine the technology that makes control of populations so thorough as it is today. Orwell’s protagonist could at least have hope. In 2012 with the erasure of privacy by the US government, protagonists can be eliminated by hummingbird-sized drones before they can initiate a protest, much less a rebellion.

Never in human history has a people been so easily and willingly controlled by a hostile government as Americans, who are the least free people on earth. And a large percentage of Americans still wave the flag and chant USA! USA! USA!

The Bush regime operated as if the Constitution did not exist. Any semblance of constitutional government that remained after the Bush years was terminated when Congress passed and President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act. One wonders how the National Rifle Association, the defender of the Second Amendment, will now fare. If there is no Constitution, how can there be a Second Amendment? If the President, at his discretion, can set aside habeas corpus and due process and murder citizens based on unproven suspicions, why can’t he set aside the Second Amendment?

Indeed, it is folly to expect a police state to tolerate an armed population.

The NRA is very supportive of the police and military. Now that these armed organizations are being turned against the public, how will the NRA adjust its posture?

Many NRA members, pointing to the “Oath Keepers,” former members of the military who pledge to defend the Constitution, and to police chiefs who support the Second Amendment, believe that the police and military will disobey orders to attack citizens.

But we already witness constantly the gratuitous brutality of “our” police against peaceful protesters. We witness military troops all over the world murder citizens who protest government abuses. Why can’t it happen here?

If you don’t want it to happen here, you had better figure out some way to get Ron Paul into the Presidency and to get him a cabinet and subcabinet that will support him.

Meanwhile, the police state grows. On January 4, 2012, the Obama regime announced by decree, not by legislation, the creation of the Bureau of Counterterrorism which will among other tasks “seek to strengthen homeland security, countering violent extremism.”

Take a moment to think. Do you know of any “violent extremism” happening in the US?
The regime is telling you that it needs a new police bureau with unaccountable powers to “strengthen homeland security” against a nonexistent bogyman.

So who will be the violent extremists who require countering by the Bureau of Counterterrorism? It will be peace activists, the Occupy Wall Street protesters, the unemployed and foreclosed homeless. It will be whoever the police state says. And there is no due process or recourse to law.

Given the facts before you, you are out of your mind if you think Ron Paul’s rhetoric against the welfare state is more important than his defense of liberty.


Original Here

Audit AZ takes transparent election fight to court
Posted on January 13, 2012 at 11:15 AM
Updated yesterday at 11:23 AM

TUCSON, Ariz. -- A non-partisan organization in Tucson is on a mission to make sure future

Pima County elections are done fairly.

Audit AZ says its long battle with the county, stemming from voting irregularities in a 2006 election for the Regional Transportation Authority, is finally going before a jury.

It's an essential part in our election process.

Technology is used to compile voters lists, draw electoral boundaries and count the ballots.

But some Tucsonans say it's getting in the way.

"We want the court to order certain things that would prevent Pima County from cheating again in the future," said Bill Risner.

Bill Risner is a lawyer representing Audit AZ, Americans United for Democracy, Integrity and Transparency in Elections.

It's working to prove the county used voting machines to rig a 2006 election that passed a 20 year RTA project and half cent sales tax to help fund it.

"It seems they pretended it passed, when it didn't," said Risner.

The case is now heading to a jury, but the county says it doesn't stand a chance.

"Their accusations are pretty silly and ludicrous," said Chuck Huckleberry.

County Administrator Chuck Huckleberry says taking their fight to court is a waste of time and money.

"There has been a complete recount of all the ballots by the Attorney General, there has been a full investigation, there is no voter fraud," said Huckleberry.

But Audit AZ and its supporters believe in their cause. Since 2012 is such an important election year, they want a judge to order a change in the system as soon as possible.

"Because our system is used in other counties in other states, we'd like to do it sufficiently in advance so it would be the most good for the people," said Risner.

To fix the election process, Audit AZ is proposing an independent graphic scanning of all ballots.

The images would be posted on a public website after the polls close, so anyone could count the ballots.