The American Bear

Sunshine/Lollipops

From Detroit to Cyprus, Banksters in Search of Prey | Glen Ford

From Nicosia, Cyprus, to Detroit, Michigan, the global financial octopus is squeezing the life out of society, stripping away public and individual assets in a vain attempt to fend off its own, inevitable collapse. The bankers “troika” that effectively rules Europe prepares to reach into the individual accounts of ordinary depositors on the island nation of Cyprus to fund the bailout of their local banking brethren. Across the Atlantic, a corporate henchman makes arrangements to seize the assets and abolish the political rights of a Black metropolis. The local colorations may vary, but the crisis is the same: massed capital is devouring its social and natural environment. Either we liquidate the banksters, or Wall Street will liquidate us.

The proposed seizure of a big chunk of every ordinary Cypriot depositors’ accounts, in the guise of a one-time “tax,” was shocking even by the standards of the Euro Zone’s overlords: the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Commission. The original diktat to finance new lines of credit for Cyprus’s over-extended banks called for snatching 6.75 percent of the cash of customers with balances below 100,000 euros ($129,500), and 9.9 percent above that threshold. When the public went berserk, it was proposed that depositors with 20,000 euros or less be spared – but Cypriot lawmakers balked. The banks are now closed, to prevent people from withdrawing their money. But Europe’s ruling triumvirate at the bankers’ lair in Brussels continues to demand that the public-at-large pay to keep the global criminal financial enterprise humming, or be starved out. “In the absence of this measure, Cyprus would have faced scenarios that would have left deposit-holders significantly worse off,” they said – disaster banksterism.

A rapscallion Black lawyer for the notorious corporate law firm Jones Day delivered the bankers’ ultimatum to Detroit. Emergency financial manager Kevyn Orr, anointed by Michigan’s Republican governor, is a bankruptcy specialist whose mission is to liquidate the assets of the 82 percent Black city, especially the revenue-producing Water and Sewerage Department. Orr’s firm’s clients – which, according to their website, include “more than half of the Fortune 500 companies” – have plenty of experience at liquidating in Detroit. Butch Hollowell, general counsel for the local NAACP, says Wells Fargo has “done more foreclosures in Detroit and the state of Michigan than any other firm,” and is Detroit’s number one property tax scofflaw. Jones Day also represents Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and CitiGroup.

“These are firms that not only got billions in TARP bailouts, but they’re also the same ones that defrauded people into signing these predatory leases which cause the crash of the housing market,” said Hollowell. “Detroit has been hit harder than anyplace in the country on that score” – hugely aggravating the city’s money problems. Financial manager Kevyn Orr’s job is to extract more booty from Detroit for the bankers’ vaults.

To facilitate the theft of the city’s property, its citizens must first be stripped of their political and civil rights, through the neutering of their elected officials. Orr looks forward to the project. “While I understand there’s a lot of concern and emotion behind the concept that I’m depriving people of certain rights,” he said, “actually it’s very consistent with both the history of this country and specifically in this state.” What he’s about to do “is democracy in action.”

This corporate concept of democracy has already devalued the franchise of the 49 percent of Michigan’s Black population that live in municipalities and school districts under the thumb of outside financial managers, a violation of both the Voting Rights Act and the one man-one vote rule embodied in the 14th Amendment, says the NAACP’s Hollowell.

Black Baptist pastors and the AFSCME and UAW unions will join the NAACP’s planned legal action against the “hostile takeover” of Detroit – which is fine, as a civil rights response. But this is a much bigger battle.

Detroit and the people of Cyprus share the same enemy, a class that is beyond the reach of simple civil rights suits. The Lords of Capital on Wall Street and the City of London and the Federal Reserve in Washington and in the “troika” at Brussels confront their own existential crisis, which compels them to liquidate the public sector so that it can eventually be transferred to their own balance sheets. There are many ways to accomplish this, through privatization of existing public institutions, or by simply blowing a hole in public services and allowing privateers to fill the void, subsidized by public funds. However, nothing can save the banksters from inevitable, and increasingly imminent, collapse. Ever-increasing profit margins must be achieved, somehow, or the system implodes. Hundreds of trillions of notional dollars in derivatives must be serviced and fed by a class that makes nothing and can only survive by chicanery and coercion by governments under their control.

In Cyprus, they are prepared to brazenly snatch euros directly from working and retired people’s accounts to fund a bank bailout, without even bothering to construct a convoluted pathway from the victims’ accounts to their own. They have reached the point of outright confiscation, and will not stop until they have stripped society of the potential to save itself from the ruins.

We have no choice but to confiscate them – to destroy them utterly as a class.

As is required when doing the Corporate Tango, Obama lied through his teeth, swearing during his third presidential debate that he never proposed sequestration. But Gene Sperling, the White House National Economic Council director, was so proud of the sequestration gambit, he confessed that it was all part of the grand plan to put entitlements on the block. Obama claimed he’d been looking out for the government’s tax revenues. But the liberal economist Jeffrey Sachs put together a chart that showed Obama was playing the old Republican game of ‘starve the beast’; that he had undermined the government’s ability to pay for itself by supporting the vast bulk of President Bush’s tax cuts; and that the results matched Obama’s 2009 projections for government spending over the next four years, almost exactly. Obama’s train was running right on time. … Polls show that the Republicans are getting the blame for sequestration, but the stock market is hitting new heights now that austerity has triumphed, and that’s all that really matters to the moneyed classes, whether they are wearing Republican red or Democratic blue. They have won – at least until the next economic collapse, or until a new opposition to the rule of capital can be constructed. That will not happen anywhere near the event horizon of the Democratic Party, which has followed Barack Obama into the black hole of Wall Street. Once you go Goldman Sachs, you never go back. Glen Ford, The Sequestration Tango: Obama and GOP Dance Through the Graveyard of the New Deal

In education today, Johnny isn’t able to think critically - and that’s precisely the point of a corporate-business model that is sucking the life out of education as a horizon-expanding experience. And many legislators (and more than a few educators) have embraced the new model, often in the name of money, expediency, profitability and ‘relevance.’ Small wonder our nation continues to sanction unending war and the assassination of American citizens without due process. We no longer see war and murder as moral issues. We no longer see it because we’re not educated to see it. We’re only given the numbers. It’s high time we infused education with ethical purpose and moral virtue. Today more than ever, we need students who can see past the cant, the obfuscation, and the outright lies that pass for ‘common sense’ in this nation. We need students who are willing to look behind the curtain, rather than being content just to dance in Oz and believe in the Wizard.

William Astore, Why Johnny Can’t Read or Win Wars

Must read.

One Nation, Under Monsanto | Paul Craig Roberts

In the United States everything is polluted.

Democracy is polluted with special interests and corrupt politicians.

Accountability is polluted with executive branch exemptions from law and the Constitution and with special legal privileges for corporations, such as the Supreme Court given right to corporations to purchase American elections.

The Constitution is polluted with corrupt legal interpretations from the Bush and Obama regimes that have turned constitutional prohibitions into executive branch rights, transforming law from a shield of the people into a weapon in the hands of government.

Waters are polluted with toxic waste spills, oil spills, chemical fertilizer run-off with resulting red tides and dead zones, acid discharges from mining with resulting destructive algae such as prymnesium parvum, from toxic chemicals used in fracking and with methane that fracking releases into wells and aquifers, resulting in warnings to homeowners near to fracking operations to open their windows when showering.

The soil’s fertility is damaged, and crops require large quantities of chemical fertilizers. The soil is polluted with an endless array of toxic substances and now with glyphosate, the main element in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide with which GMO crops are sprayed.

Glyphosate now shows up in wells, streams and in rain.

Air is polluted with a variety of substances, and there are many large cities in which there are days when the young, the elderly, and those suffering with asthma are warned to remain indoors.

All of these costs are costs imposed on society and ordinary people by corporations that banked profits by not having to take the costs into account. This is the way in which unregulated capitalism works. [continue]

[Nominee for Treasury Secretary, Jack] Lew is a member of a protected class. The rules that apply to little people, including giving accurate, as opposed to strained-at-best, answers to Congressmen, just don’t apply to him. The idea that his pay package was basically a huge option payment by Citi on the pretty good odds that he’d land another big deal official post, doesn’t seem to occur to him. And why is that worth so much to Citi? Well, as we know, corruption in the US does not (often) take the form of briefcases full of cash being left in an office. It’s an ugly combination of intellectual capture, of mutual backscratching, and ‘don’t rock the boat,’ of accepting norms of discourse, behavior, and action, that circumscribe the range of possible actions. Lew no doubt believes he was paid according to merit, despite the blindingly obviously evidence to the contrary. And that sense of entitlement is what will enable him to kill old people without a second thought. Because that is what winning cuts to Social Security and Medicare will do, given that Obama punted on his chance to tackle the health care cost problem. I had predicted Lew would have us wanting Geithner back. At least Geithner would get twitchy when grilled. That means, somewhere inside, he actually knows right from wrong. Lew is such a bland technocrat that I wonder whether he has any compunctions. … Lew is indeed perfect for his new role, just not in the way ordinary Americans expect him to be. Yves Smith, Jack Lew’s Grotesque Citi Employment Deal and the Institutionalization of Corruption | naked capitalism

Because there was no agriculture or horticulture or cultivation before the patent system | Corrente

John Roberts* during oral arguments in Bowman v. Monsanto:

Chief Justice Roberts: Why in the world would anybody spend any money to try to improve the seed if as soon as they sold the first one anybody could grow more and have as many of those seeds as they want?

And there you have it.

What we’re up against. It’s all about the rents, baby!

[H]uman beings matter little in the corporate state. We myopically serve the rapacious appetites of those dedicated to exploitation and maximizing profit. And our corporate masters view prisons—as they do education, health care and war—as a business. The 320-bed Elizabeth Detention Center, which houses only men, is run by one of the largest operators and owners of for-profit prisons in the country, Corrections Corporation of America. CCA, traded on the New York Stock Exchange, has annual revenues in excess of $1.7 billion. An average of 81,384 inmates are in its facilities on any one day. This is a greater number, the American Civil Liberties Union points out in a 2011 report, ‘Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration,’ than that held by the states of New York and New Jersey combined. The for-profit prisons and their lobbyists in Washington and state capitals have successfully blocked immigration reform, have prevented a challenge to our draconian drug laws and are pushing through tougher detention policies. Locking up more and more human beings is the bedrock of the industry’s profits. These corporations are the engines behind the explosion of our prison system. They are the reason we have spent $300 billion on new prisons since 1980. They are also the reason serious reform is impossible. Chris Hedges, Profiting From Human Misery

If a Corporation (BP) Pleads Guilty to Manslaughter, Who Goes to Prison? | AllGov | Noel Brinkerhoff

america-wakiewakie:

Pleading guilty to killing someone usually means going to prison…unless the perpetrator is a corporation.

This week, BP agreed to 11 counts of manslaughter for the workers killed during the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, when the Deepwater Horizon oilrig blew up.

But no one from the oil giant will serve time for the convictions. Instead, BP will pay a $4 billion fine, which is equivalent to what the company made in revenue every four days last year. Also, BP will have five years to pay the fine. This news left some family members of those killed on the rig feeling bitter.

“I think BP is the real winner today,” Chris Jones, whose brother, Gordon Jones, was killed in the Deepwater Horizon explosion, told the Houston Chronicle. “They got what they wanted—to resolve the criminal charges,” he added, “and they get a nice five-year payment plan to pay it off.”

In addition to the 11 felony manslaughter counts, BP’s plea deal included one misdemeanor count under the Clean Water Act; one misdemeanor count under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act; and one felony count of obstructing Congress by deliberately understating the amount of oil that flowed after the blowout.

(via zeram-deactivated20130410)

As Bloomberg News reported Wednesday, Goldman finished the year with a flurry of regulatory filings revealing that 10 top executives, including CEO and Chairman Lloyd Blankfein and President and COO Gary Cohn would be paid a total of $65 million in restricted stock award 2012—ahead of schedule—enabling them to avoid higher tax rates in 2013. Goldman spokesman Michael DuVally declined to comment. And remember the eleventh hour deal struck by Congress to avoid the fiscal cliff? Goldman will indirectly get a piece of that as well. Section 328 of the bill extends tax-exempt financing for the ‘New York Liberty Zone,’ which includes the area around Goldman’ shiny new headquarters at 200 West St. Goldman already got $1.5 billion in ‘Liberty Bonds’ to help pay for the construction of its headquarters, according to this Bloomberg News investigation, and now it can be sure developers will have every incentive to build more fancy high rises to house Goldman’s workaholics as close to the office as possible. Not that they needed such incentives. Meanwhile, Congress couldn’t find the time to approve a $60.4 billion package to help genuinely distressed coastal neighborhoods in New York and New Jersey that have been wiped out by Hurricane Sandy.

Goldman Weasels Its Way Into 2013

Still doing “God’s work" at Goldman Sachs.

General Electric, Citigroup Tax Break Intact After Fiscal Cliff Deal | The Street

Oh, thank god. I was hoping that in all the fiscal cliff hysteria someone would be looking out for the little guy:

General Electric, Citigroup, and other giant U.S. multinational financial companies are breathing a sigh of relief after Congress extended a key tax break though 2013 following the resolution of the Congressional budget battle that was resolved late Tuesday.

Known as the “active financing exception,” the provision allows U.S. financial multinationals to avoid paying taxes on interest income earned by foreign subsidiaries unless the income is repatriated into the U.S.

General Electric and Citigroup are among the top beneficiaries of the tax deal, since they are among the more active overseas lenders among U.S. companies. The provision saved GE about $3 billion in taxes in 2011, and it saved Citigroup about $1 billion each in 2010 and 2011.

The provision by itself should allow GE, Citigroup and other companies to keep their tax rate well below the statutory rate of 35 percent, according to corporate tax consultant Robert Willens, head of Robert Willens LLC.

A Citigroup spokeswoman declined to comment on the extension of the loophole. A General Electric spokesman declined to comment.

“This is a load off the shoulders of multinational financial organizations, particularly GE, since it gives rise to a substantial reduction in these companies effective tax rates,” Willens says.

Eight Corporate Subsidies in the Fiscal Cliff Bill, From Goldman Sachs to Disney to NASCAR | Matt Stoller

… [W]ithout further ado, here are eight corporate subsidies in the fiscal cliff bill that you haven’t heard of.

1) Help out NASCAR - Sec 312 extends the “seven year recovery period for motorsports entertainment complex property”, which is to say it allows anyone who builds a racetrack and associated facilities to get tax breaks on it. This one was projected to cost $43 million over two years.

2) A hundred million or so for Railroads - Sec. 306 provides tax credits to certain railroads for maintaining their tracks. It’s unclear why private businesses should be compensated for their costs of doing business. This is worth roughly $165 million a year.

3) Disney’s Gotta Eat - Sec. 317 is “Extension of special expensing rules for certain film and television productions”. It’s a relatively straightforward subsidy to Hollywood studios, and according to the Joint Tax Committee, was projected to cost $150m for 2010 and 2011.

4) Help a brother mining company out – Sec. 307 and Sec. 316 offer tax incentives for miners to buy safety equipment and train their employees on mine safety. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to bribe mining companies to not kill their workers.

5) Subsidies for Goldman Sachs Headquarters – Sec. 328 extends “tax exempt financing for  York Liberty Zone,” which was a program to provide post-9/11 recovery funds. Rather than going to small businesses affected, however, this was, according to Bloomberg, “little more than a subsidy for fancy Manhattan apartments and office towers for Goldman Sachs and Bank of America Corp.” Michael Bloomberg himself actually thought the program was excessive, so that’s saying something. According to David Cay Johnston’s The Fine Print, Goldman got $1.6 billion in tax free financing for its new massive headquarters through Liberty Bonds.

6) $9B Off-shore financing loophole for banks – Sec. 322 is an “Extension of the Active Financing Exception to Subpart F.” Very few tax loopholes have a trade association, but this one does. This strangely worded provision basically allows American corporations such as banks and manufactures to engage in certain lending practices and not pay taxes on income earned from it. According to this Washington Post piece, supporters of the bill include GE, Caterpillar, and JP Morgan. Steve Elmendorf, super-lobbyist, has been paid $80,000 in 2012 alone to lobby on the “Active Financing Working Group.” 

7) Tax credits for foreign subsidiaries –  Sec. 323 is an extension of the “Look-through treatment of payments between related CFCs under foreign personal holding company income rules.” This gibberish sounding provision cost $1.5 billion from 2010 and 2011, and the US Chamber loves it. It’s a provision that allows US multinationals to not pay taxes on income earned by companies they own abroad.

8) Bonus Depreciation, R&D Tax Credit – These are well-known corporate boondoggles. The research tax credit was projected to cost $8B for 2010 and 2011, and the depreciation provisions were projected to cost about $110B for those two years, with some of that made up in later years.

Conveniently, the Joint Committee on Taxation in 2010 did an analysis of what many of these extenders cost. You can find that report here.

Obamacare architect leaves White House for pharmaceutical industry job | Glenn Greenwald

When the legislation that became known as “Obamacare” was first drafted, the key legislator was the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus, whose committee took the lead in drafting the legislation. As Baucus himself repeatedly boasted, the architect of that legislation was Elizabeth Folwer, his chief health policy counsel; indeed, as Marcy Wheeler discovered, it was Fowler who actually drafted it. As Politico put it at the time: “If you drew an organizational chart of major players in the Senate health care negotiations, Fowler would be the chief operating officer.”

What was most amazing about all of that was that, before joining Baucus’ office as the point person for the health care bill, Fowler was the Vice President for Public Policy and External Affairs (i.e. informal lobbying) at WellPoint, the nation’s largest health insurance provider (before going to WellPoint, as well as after, Folwer had worked as Baucus’ top health care aide). And when that health care bill was drafted, the person whom Fowler replaced as chief health counsel in Baucus’ office, Michelle Easton, was lobbying for WellPoint as a principal at Tarplin, Downs, and Young.

Whatever one’s views on Obamacare were and are: the bill’s mandate that everyone purchase the products of the private health insurance industry, unaccompanied by any public alternative, was a huge gift to that industry; as Wheeler wrote at the time: “to the extent that Liz Fowler is the author of this document, we might as well consider WellPoint its author as well.”

[…] More amazingly still, when the Obama White House needed someone to oversee implementation of Obamacare after the bill passed, it chose … Liz Fowler. That the White House would put a former health insurance industry executive in charge of implementation of its new massive health care law was roundly condemned by good government groups as at least a violation of the “spirit” of governing ethics rules and even “gross”, but those objections were, of course, brushed aside by the White House. She then became Special Assistant to the President for Healthcare and Economic Policy at the National Economic Council.

Now, as Politico’s “Influence” column briefly noted on Tuesday, Fowler is once again passing through the deeply corrupting revolving door as she leaves the Obama administration to return to the loving and lucrative arms of the private health care industry:

“Elizabeth Fowler is leaving the White House for a senior-level position leading ‘global health policy’ at Johnson & Johnson’s government affairs and policy group.”

The pharmaceutical giant that just hired Fowler actively supported the passage of Obamacare through its membership in the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) lobby. Indeed, PhRMA was one of the most aggressive supporters - and most lavish beneficiaries - of the health care bill drafted by Fowler. Mother Jones’ James Ridgeway proclaimed “Big Pharma” the “big winner” in the health care bill. And now, Fowler will receive ample rewards from that same industry as she peddles her influence in government and exploits her experience with its inner workings to work on that industry’s behalf, all of which has been made perfectly legal by the same insular, Versailles-like Washington culture that so lavishly benefits from all of this.

After paying largest criminal fine ever, BP will still receive federal contracts

govtoversight:

Despite paying $4.5 billion, including a record $1.26 billion criminal fine, BP will not be prohibited from receiving future government contracts because it is too big to debar. Federal contractors of a certain size get a pass on fraudulent or even criminal actions because the government relies so heavily on their services. Read more at Bloomberg Businessweek.