Friday, April 30, 2010

Confessions Of A Wall St. Nihilist: Forget About Goldman Sachs, Our Entire Economy Is Built On Fraud

By Mark Ames

There was a strange moment last week during President Obama's speech at Cooper Union. There he was, groveling before a cast of Wall Street villains including Goldman Sachs chief Lloyd Blankfein, begging them to "Look into your heart!" like John Turturro's character in Miller's Crossing...when out of the blue, the POTUS dropped this bombshell: "The only people who ought to fear the kind of oversight and transparency that we're proposing are those whose conduct will fail this scrutiny."

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The Big Secret, of course, is that every living creature within a 100-mile radius of Cooper Union would fail "this scrutiny"--or that scrutiny, or any scrutiny, period. Not just in a 100-mile radius, but wherever there are still signs of economic life beating in these 50 United States, the mere whiff of scrutiny would work like nerve gas on what's left of the economy. Because in the 21st century, fraud is as American as baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet Volts--fraud's all we got left, Doc. Scare off the fraud with Obama's "scrutiny," and the entire pyramid scheme collapses in a heap of smoldering savings accounts.

That's how an acquaintance of mine, a partner in a private equity firm, put it: "Whoever pops this fraud bubble is going to have to escape on the next flight out, faster than the Bin Laden Bunch fled Kentucky in their chartered jets after 9/11."

And that's why this SEC suit accusing Goldman Sachs of fraud is really just a negotiating bluff to give Obama's people some leverage--or it's supposed to be, anyway--according to the PE guy. He dismissed all the speculation that the fraud investigations would turn on other obvious villains like Deutsche, Merrill, Paulson & Co., the Rahm Emmanuel-linked Magnetar and so on.

"You don't get it, Ames. Even Khuzami, the SEC guy in charge of the Goldman case, is a fraud; the fucker was Deutsche's general counsel when they pulled the same CDO scam as Goldman. You have no idea how deep this goes."

And it's clear that a lot more people here are aware of how fundamentally rotten things are but they're not willing to face the big fraudonomics bummer yet, preferring instead to stick with specific accusations.
My position on this was, "Good, throw the book at those crooks too, I don't see what the problem is here."
This was exactly what I argued a week ago, during a verbal slapfight with that acquaintance of mine. We were making a scene in a Midtown yuppie restaurant, arguing over just how much damage Wall Street had caused, and what to do about it.

His position was indefensible, and he knew it, so he switched tactics:

"OK Ames, which bankers would you throw the book at? Because you're arguing that they're all guilty. So which ones do you go after? Two of them? Three? Half of them?"

"Every last one of them. Lock 'em up in one of their private prisons."

"Not gonna happen, Che."

"Che? Me? Listen, Scarface, I'm about law and order. Don't any of you PE degenerates believe in that anymore?"

"OK, here's the deal, Che. I'm going to walk you through this nice and slow so that even an agave-sweetened hippie like you can understand this. Stick with me, this is gonna be a little complicated. Ready?" And so he began.

"Let's say the government decides one day, 'You know, we oughta listen to Che here, let's throw the book at every firm and every executive that our people can make a case against. Because you know, gosh, it's all about rule of law and blind justice, just like Che says.' OK, so now this means indicting just about every serious player in finance, so they take down Goldman Sachs, they take down Citigroup, JP Morgan, BofA... and they also serve all the big funds who are at least as guilty, if not more. So they shut down Pimco, Blackrock, Citadel... maybe they indict Geithner and Summers, haul in some of Bush's crooks... right?"
"Too bad they don’t serve popcorn here, this is getting good."

"OK, now guess what you've just done? You've just caused the markets to completely tank. Remember what happened after the Lehman collapse? Remember how popular that made every politician in Washington? Still wondering why they coughed up a trillion bucks? They were scared for their lives; that's why they voted for that bailout. You'd have done the same goddamn thing. But if we go after everyone guilty of fraud and theft, the market crash this country would see would make 2008 look like Sesame Street. Open that can of worms labeled 'Fraud' and the whole fucking economy collapses. You may as well prosecute people for masturbating. No one will know where the fraud investigation stops and who will be charged next--everyone will try to cash out, and the markets will tank to zero. And guess what happens when the markets tank to zero? Every fucking American with a retirement plan, or an investment portfolio, or a 401k--every state pension plan in the country, every teacher's pension fund, every fireman's pension--every last one of them will be wiped out. That's what the Lehman collapse taught us."

"Us? It didn't teach anything but that this country is run by maniacs.”

banker asshole exiledonline.com

"Jesus H. Christ, Ames– you're even more clueless than the idiots who managed the Lehman collapse. I mean, didn't everyone get it how badly those idiots screwed up with Lehman? It was the biggest screw-up this hemisphere has ever seen. You had Secretary Paulson and Fed Chief Bernanke scratching their asses not knowing what to do, so then they go, 'OK, we're supposed to be a free market economy, and we're supposed to be the Republicans--let's try something different for a change since nothing else is working. Let's go out on a limb and actually give this "free market" thing a whirl. Who knows? Maybe the "free market" really works the way we always say it does. Nothing else seems to work, let's let the free market decide Lehman's fate. Maybe corporate-socialism isn't the answer.' So they hung Lehman out in the free-market, and BAM! The. Shit. Hit. The. Fan. No shit, dudes--the free market is for suckers, didn't your daddy teach you idiots that? Not only did Lehman collapse--everything collapsed; confidence in the entire system collapsed. And here's what I'm trying to explain to simpletons like you: Our economy is just a confidence game. Don't ask me how it got this way, don't care."

I tried saying something insulting to him, but he just talked right over me, lurching forward baring his laser-whitened teeth.

"I'm sure you have the answer, you and Ron Paul and all the other pot-smoking libertarian do-gooders have it all figured out. But what I'm saying is, no confidence means end of the confidence game. That's what Lehman showed. Every single player in finance suddenly had to face the fundamental problem--this whole fucking economy is built on fraud and lies and garbage. So when Lehman collapsed, every single player panicked, going, 'If Lehman was nothing but a Ponzi scheme--and I know what I'm running is a Ponzi scheme--holy shit, that means everyone else is running a Ponzi scheme too! Run for the exits!' No one trusted anyone else, everyone pulled out, and the entire global economy collapsed just like that. And that meant your parents, my parents, every teacher, every fireman, every person in the country going into retirement, every price on every asset--wiped out.

"And here's what I'm trying to get you to understand: In the grown-up world, when an entire country's savings accounts are wiped out because of some do-gooder and his law books and his Thomas Jefferson 'What about free and fair markets?' crap, that is a big problem--people don't give a fuck about Jefferson and 'free and fair markets,' they just want their savings to be worth something. And people are right: Jefferson was an imbecile. He should have been a folk singer, not a Founding fucking Father. But that's another issue that's over your head--the point is, the guy who destroys this economy because it's 'the right thing to do' will have to flee for his life, and whatever president or political party was in power when that decision was made will be out of power for the next 200 years. That's why Washington panicked and passed 'the bailout,' they didn't want to be the fools whom all the Ponzi victims blame for tanking the Ponzi scheme, so they broke the glass and pumped up a newer, bigger Ponzi scheme. It was an expensive 14 trillion dollar lesson in, 'Stay the fuck away from free-market experiments, assholes!' How naive are you people to actually believe that 'free market' crap? The problem is when people in power are stupid enough to listen to guys like you: all the do-gooder libertarians and the do-gooder free-market Republicans who forgot that they're supposed to lie. Hello!"

"Libertarian, me? Since when was I ever a libertarian?"

"That's my point: Fools like you don't even know who you are anymore. They forgot that they're supposed to lie about all that libertarian free-market shit, keep it far the fuck out of policy. But instead of just lying about free-markets while secretly propping up Lehman, the idiots actually tried pulling off a 'free-market' miracle, and we had to pay $14 trillion just to find out what I could have told them for no fee at all, which is: 'Hey, assholes, you're supposed to be hypocrites, OK? You're supposed to be two-faced free-market liars, not libertarian Quakers! You're not supposed to believe in anything--your job is to get up in front of the public and lie about free markets and the rest. Period.'

"That's it, how fucking hard is it? Look, watch my face: Say one thing out of one side… and do the other out of the other side. Got that? Let everyone else whine and cry about, 'Ooh, that's not fair, ooh, that's a bailout, that's socialism, that's corruption.' That's what losers do--they whine. You, for example, Che--you whine all the time, and look at you… Can you pay the bill for this meal? Is there a libertarian on earth who can afford to buy a decent meal in Manhattan? And now, look at me: I'm a hypocrite. Hell yes I am! I lie every day of my life, I lie to myself in my sleep. Hell, I'm lying to you right now, in fact I don't even know what the fuck I'm saying anymore because I'm so used to lying. And yet--who's the guy with the black card? Who's the one who's going to pick up the check tonight? Guys with power, guys like me, we lie. You got that? 'Lie' as in 'My Lai' the massacre--as in, 'My Lai you long time, me so free-markety.' You distract the dumbshits with free-market B.S. because hey, for whatever reason, that's what the public likes to hear, it doesn't really matter what lie you feed them so long as it's the lie that puts them in a trance. And then behind the scenes, you do the very opposite: You fix the game, you cover up this problem here with those funds there, you move shit around, you skim budgets and you subsidize the system, you cover up the bad shit and once in a while throw a has-been to the wolves to keep the public entertained--that's the way the system works, and anyone who's an adult understands that. And everyone who doesn't understand that can go form an online libertarian chat group and complain with all their little libertarian friends about free markets and Jekyll Island and 'Wahhh! It's not not fair, waahhhh!'"

"What's with the libertarian accusation?"

"It's just that you all sound the same to me. Libertarians, hippies--is there really a difference? You all whine alike: 'It's not fair, man! Ooh! You can't do that, it's fraud, it's corruption, ooh no!' Or: 'It's the income inequality, man; Goldman Sachs controls us all man; it's socialism for the rich; it's all too scary for my retarded 5-year-old libertarian brain!' Seriously, anytime I meet libertarians like you--"

"Listen--I'm not a fucking libertarian, OK? I want free handouts. How clear do I have to make this? Me--handouts. Me--Big Government. I want to collectivize your productive cash, because I am a resentful parasite. Are you capable of processing a single word of what I'm saying to you, Spaz?"

"Uh-huh, sure, whatever. Here's the thing: I think it's great that you and your friends memorized Road to Serfdom in between Star Trek episodes--no really, I'm happy for you. Yeah, we're all so proud. But here's the thing: We grown-ups are really, really busy now trying to sort out the free-market mess you made with that Lehman move of yours. Yeah, so why don't you run along to your libertarian chat rooms and have your little debates about Jekyll Island and the gold standard, because it really means a lot to us. And report back to me as soon as you have it all figured out, m'kay? Just get the fuck out of my face and leave the adults alone."

It got a lot more vicious and personal than this, but when our verbal slap-fight ended--and he paid the bill--I thought about what he said, and it made a lot more sense. Fraud has become so endemic in this country that it's woven its way into America's DNA, forming a symbiotic relationship that can't be undone without killing off the host. If they push it just a little too hard, the entire American economy could crash, asset values could tank, and that means tens of millions of extremely pissed off retirees and Baby Boomers. As the Wall Streeter put it: "Whoever is responsible for bursting this latest bubble by exposing all the fraud--and tanking all the markets--will not only be out of power for at least a generation, but they'll all have to get radical reconstructive surgery on their faces and seek political asylum somewhere remote. No one wants to be that guy, and that's why it's not going to happen."

That may be true, but all bubbles to eventually burst, all Ponzi schemes do collapse. The only question is when. For those of us not on the verge of retiring, the sooner we have this day of reckoning and get it over with, the better.

Fraudonomics: 10 Fun Fraud Facts

Love your bank exiledonline.com

Ever since I got kicked out of Russia and forced back home, I've been collecting all kinds of news articles about fraud, in a document file titled "America Is Russia." Here's a little taste of the wonderful world of American Fraud:

1). Accounting Fraud: Last year, America's leading banks were insolvent. They had tens or hundreds of billions in losses on their books, and the only way to wipe those losses out would be to either a) own up to the mess, raise enormous amounts of money on top of all the bailout money; or b) get out a big fat eraser, and wipe those losses off the books as if they never existed. The first option was nice and all, but a real hassle. So Geithner and Larry Summers chose Door Number Two: Accounting Fraud. They forced the FASB to accept a rule-change in the accounting methodology called "mark-to-model" which let banks decide how much their assets were worth, rather than letting the markets decide. So if for example a BofA owned a complex security called "Orion Butt Fungus" that was worth 5 pesos on the open market, but BofA was too broke to go out and raise 5 pesos to cover that loss, under the new accounting rules, the government told BofA that rather than pricing "Orion Butt Fungus" at what the market will actually pay for it, why not first ask, "How much would BofA like 'Orion Butt Fungus' to be worth, in a perfect world?'" If BofA answers, "Doyee, gee I dunno, how about $500 million?" then under the "mark-to-model" accounting rules, BofA could now value "Orion Butt Fungus" at $500 million, and voila! Their problems are over. That wasn't so hard, was it? Suddenly, BofA looks like it knows how to pick winners! And no one's going to second-guess them, because everyone else is mark-to-modeling their "Orion Butt Fungi" too! The end result: under the old rules, BofA would have had to raise money just to cover its debts, sort of like you and me have to do, and that's just a lot of money going to waste. But now that its portfolio is so profitable, BofA has a much easier time raising money, which it uses to pay ginormous bonuses to its executives.

2). Big Pharma Fraud. Remember that scene early in Fight Club, when Edward Norton explained his job, when it was more profitable to let a car defect go and pay whatever lawsuit settlements come from the deaths, and when it's better to recall the cars because the number of deaths will result in too many lawsuits? This is humanitarian do-gooder stuff compared to the savage real-world fraud-for-profit model that drives America's drug companies. It's really simple and it goes like this: the more fraud a drug company commits, so long as it's off-the-scale fraud with the most horrible consequences for the victims, the drug company's profits always outdo the criminal fines and lawsuits by factors of 20, 30, 100... It's as simple as that. Because the billion in penalties here or the two billion in class action lawsuit settlements there are always far less than the tens of billions you earn from pushing harmful drugs on unsuspecting idiots. To wit: Between May 2004 and March 2010, a handful of top drug companies like Pfizer, Eli Lilly and Bristol-Myers paid over $7 billion in criminal penalties for bribing doctors to prescribe drugs for unapproved uses, with sometimes deadly consequences. However, as a Bloomberg report noted, the fines are always a fraction of the profits--Pfizer alone paid almost $3 billion in criminal fines since 2004, yet that was just one percent of their total revenues; Eli Lilly got busted bribing doctors to prescribe a schizophrenia drug, Zyprexa, to elderly patients suffering from dementia, even though company-run clinical trials showed an alarming death rate of 31 people out of 1,184 participants (double the placebo rate). Whatever--the market for elderly dementia patients meant billions in extra revenues. So Eli Lilly continued pushing Zyprexa on the elderly for another four years until it the Feds busted them. Eli Lilly got hit with $1.42 billion fine, but that was peanuts compared to the $36 billion it earned on Zyprexa sales from 2000-2008. To make it happen, the drug companies buy off all the checks and balances: lawsuits revealed the enormous bribes they pay to doctors, and even America's medical journals are so corrupted by drug company influence that they're no longer reliable as much more than hidden advertisements, according to a recent UCSF study. Medical journals are 5 times more likely to publish "positive" drug reviews than negative reviews, and one-quarter of all clinical trials are never published at all, leading doctors to prescribe drugs assuming they have all the information. The result: prescription drugs kill one American every five minutes ...while Americans pay more for drugs than anyone in the world, spending a total of $12 billion on drugs in 1980 to spending $291 billion in 2008--a 1,700% increase. America is ranked only 17th in the world in life expectancy.

3). Alan Greenspan: Fraudonomics Maestro. America's central banker from 1987-2006 once told a do-gooder regulator not to fuck with the bankers' fraud schemes, because in Greenspan's mind, fraud was not a crime and didn't need to be regulated. Then Greenspan forced the regulator, Brooksley Born, to resign. Just in time for his next and final act as Central Bank chief: from 2001-2004, Greenspan pumped up the biggest housing bubble in human history by holding rates down to nothing, while touring the country promoting the glories of subprime and Alt-A mortgages. Then in late 2005, when the bubble was ready to burst, Greenspan tendered his resignation and switched over to the other side, signing lucrative contracts with three investment firms all of which bet big against gullible American homeowners, and reaped billions. First, Greenspan signed up to work for Deutsche Bank, which is being sued for securities fraud for selling an Abacus-like CDO to a Warren Buffett-owned bank, M&T; Greenspan also worked for Pimco, which earned $2 billion in a single day in September 2008, when Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were nationalized with Greenspan's lobbying help; and lastly, Greenspan went to work for Paulson & Co., the hedge fund that raked in $1 billion off the same Abacus CDO deal that brought the SEC fraud suit against Goldman Sachs. It's an unusually perfect record for Greenspan, given his atrocious forecasting record at the Fed. It recalls the old Greenspan circa 1984-5, when he worked as a lobbyist for Charles Keating trying to push regulators off his back and vouching on the record for Keating's character...Keating was eventually jailed for fraud in the worst savings and loan collapse of all.

4). Municipal Debt Fraud. America's $2.8 trillion municipal bond market is rife with fraud of the sort you'd expect in an emerging tinpot economy: opacity rather than transparency, plenty of corruption and kickbacks, resulting in decimated budgets and services cutbacks in communities across the country. The problem all stems from way the bonds are issued these days: instead of holding open tenders, nearly all are the result of backroom deals. Back in 1970, only 15 percent of municipal bond contracts were awarded through no-bid contracts; last year, 85% of muni bond deals were assigned in no-bid, non-transparent agreements. Studies show that no-bid bonds invariably cost municipalities more than bonds resulting from open tenders. So far, fraud and corruption charges have been leveled against state employees and city councilors in Florida, New York, New Mexico, Alabama and California, to name a few. Muni bond defaults soared from just $348 million in 2007 to $7.4 billion in 2008--that's an increase of 20 times– with growing numbers of cities, counties and states on the verge of bankruptcy.

5). Journalism fraud. The Washington Post got caught whoring out their venerable editorial staff to corporate lobbyists for anywhere from $25,000 to $250,000 a date, depending on the access. The Atlantic Monthly admitted to TalkingPointsMemo that it routinely sold access to its editorial staff for cash. As for business journalism, all sorts of articles and studies have asked the obvious question: "How did every mainstream business outlet miss the financial collapse of 2008?" Among all the self-flagellating mea-kinda-culpas, you won't find the word "fraud" in their answer. Speaking of business journalism and fraud, The Business Insider, one of the top business news blogs, published a pair of articles defending Goldman Sachs against the SEC fraud charges. The author of the articles defending Goldman Sachs is Business Insider's co-founder and editor, Henry Blodget. In 2003, Blodget himself was charged with securities fraud by the SEC for repeatedly misleading clients into buying stocks of companies that in private emails Blodget referred to as "piece of shit." Under the terms of Blodget's settlement with the SEC, he agreed to a lifetime ban from the securities industry, and he paid $4 million in fines and disgorgements. Since he is not barred from the world of business journalism, Blodget was able to post an article last Friday headlined: "HOLD EVERYTHING: The SEC’s Fraud Case Against Goldman Seems VERY Weak."

6). Fraudonomics K-12. If you want your kid to grow up to succeed in a fraud-based economy, you need to teach him the ABC's of cheating starting at a young age. This is one area where America's schools aren't failing their students. Cheating is so rampant in schools that nowadays if the student doesn't cheat on his exam, chances are his teacher or administrator will cheat on his test for him. One in five elementary schools in Georgia are currently being investigated for tampering with the students' standardized test scores--although suspicious patterns of erasing and remarking answers showed up in half of the state's elementary schools. In California, as many as two-thirds of its public schools admitted to fudging its students' standardized test scores. A survey of graduate school students found that 53 percent of business school grad students admitted to cheating, more than any other grad school discipline. Overall, up to 98 percent of college students today admit to cheating, compared to just 20 percent who cheated in 1940.

7). Boardroom Fraud. Corporate America's boardrooms are stacked up these days in tight, intertwined relationships that turn public companies into crime scenes, plundering money from unsuspecting shareholders and divvying up the loot among the directors and top executives. In 2008, Chesapeake Energy's stock price collapsed from $74 per share to $9.84, wiping out $33 billion in shareholder value. The CEO, Aubrey McClendon, gambled and lost 94% of his stock in the company on a margin call, personally losing about $2 billion. So what did the board of directors do? They voted to award McClendon $112 million for 2008, the highest of any CEO in America. Shareholders were outraged, calling it a "bailout," and several pension funds tried suing Chesapeake, but the courts in Oklahoma blocked the lawsuits. That's because Aubrey McClendon is sort of the George Bush of Oklahoma--a spoiled fuck-up with a rich and powerful granddaddy--Robert Kerr, former governor and senator, and founder of Kerr-McGee--meaning plenty of VIP connections for the loser grandkid. So on Chesapeake's board, you had Aubrey's cousin, Breene Kerr; Frank Keating, Republican ex-governor of Oklahoma whose son Chip (and Chip's wife) works for Chesapeake; Don Nickles, Republican ex-Senator of Oklahoma who co-funded with Aubrey the Republican anti-gay marriage campaign in 2004; Richard Davidson, the former head of Union Pacific, whose corrupt board of directors lavished Davidson with tens of millions in bonuses and a $2.7 million per year pension when he retired... Now multiply a board of directors like this by the sum total of "Corporate America" and you get…a corrupt, tin-pot corporate culture masquerading as a civilized First World corporate culture. That's us. (You can read about this problem in an excellent new book Money For Nothing: How The Failure of Corporate Boards is Ruining American Business and Costing Us Trillions.)

8). Corrupt credit rating agencies. The only way big institutional investors like pension funds could justify buying a piece of the Orion Butt Fungus CDO pie was if ratings agencies like S&P or Moody's gave it a top-notch seal of approval: AAA rated, with a little star on the forehead for good behavior. And in the world of fraudonomics, good behavior looks like this email from a Standard & Poor ratings analyst in December 2006:
“Rating agencies continue to create an even bigger monster _ the CDO market. Let’s hope we are all wealthy and retired by the time this house of cards falters.”
The happy ending to this story is that a huge percentage of thieving scum like this emailer saw their hopes become reality: they got wealthy and retired before the CDO market crashed in a trillion-plus dollar heap of shit. And if they didn't retire, even better--because bonuses in 2009 were soaring, thanks to the always-gullible American taxpayer.

9). Regulatory Fraud: In the OTS, OCC, Fed, pension benefit guaranty agency and of course the SEC, where whistleblowers were routinely ignored because the regulators were too busy painting their monitors while surfing sites like http://www.fuck-my-wife.com/.

10). Judicial Fraud: Juvenile court judges in Pennsylvania took millions of dollars in kickbacks from privately run prisons in exchange for sentencing thousands of innocent kids to juvenile prison terms. Chronic on-the-bench masturbation is running rampant: an Oklahoma judge was accused of using a penis pump on the bench, while nearby in Texas, a Harris County judge masturbated and ejaculated on a defendant's hand. Speaking of Texas, the entire juvenile prison system there was turned into a sex abuse racket involving Texas state officials–over 750 official complaints about prison administrators molesting or raping underaged inmates in all 13 juvenile facilities had been officially logged between 2000 and 2007.
The list goes on and on. Hell, even our literature was corrupted with fraud: James Frey's addiction "memoir" A Million Little Pieces turned out to be A Million Pieces of Bullshit, the biggest literary fraud of our time. Fooled readers sued, Oprah chewed him out and Frey is now a bestelling "fiction" author.
This is just scratching the surface, but you get the point. We’re way past the point of redemption. No wonder everyone’s dreaming of a violent apocalypse to wipe the slate clean, and take us away to another plane where everything would be better. Anything but this.
_______
Mark Ames was founder and editor of The eXile, the notorious Moscow-based, English-language newspaper shuttered last year after a raid by Russian authorities. He is the author of two books: The eXile: Sex, Drugs and Libel in the New Russia (together with Matt Taibbi), and Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion: From Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine and Beyond.

Will Palin, and Obama, rethink offshore drilling now?

The Deepwater Horizon disaster proves promises of safe offshore drilling are false, a fact politicians must face

The roaring explosion of Deepwater Horizon, BP's ruined Gulf Coast oil rig, has been followed by silence from politicians of both parties who were loudly assuring everyone not so long ago that offshore drilling is perfectly safe. There are no crowds screaming "Drill, baby, drill" in Florida, Mississippi or Louisiana, where people who work in the fishing and tourism industries, as well as citizens who love their beaches and wildlife, await with dread what may become a man-made catastrophe for nature.

In the days that have followed the conflagration, America has listened in vain for a comforting message about the disaster from Sarah Palin or John McCain. Nor have we heard much reassurance from President Obama, who so recently turned around to endorse offshore drilling in hopes of passing energy legislation. Meanwhile the slick grows larger, with no prospect of capping the well as thousands of barrels of oil pour from the busted pipes every day and drift toward the vulnerable coastline.

Of all the politicians and pundits who urged the nation to "Drill, baby, drill" and "Drill here, drill now," only Rush Limbaugh seems willing to venture an argument. Or rather a conspiracy theory, insinuating that terrorists decided to blow the rig to celebrate Earth Day. He doesn't seem to realize that an oil spill caused by terror would be just as devastating as a spill caused by error, and is an equally powerful reason not to drill.

But Limbaugh's self-refuting idiocies will satisfy nobody except the dimmest dittohead. (McCain once said that calling him a clown would unfairly insult both Krusty and Bozo.)

So in the absence of any new message from drilling advocates, it seems appropriate to review a few of their earlier remarks on the subject.

Nobody will ever support drilling more avidly than Palin, who instantly rejected Obama's proposal to permit ocean drilling where it has previously been prohibited. "Behind the rhetoric lie new drilling bans and leasing delays; soon to follow are burdensome new environmental regulations. Instead of 'drill, baby, drill,' the more you look into this the more you realize it's 'stall, baby, stall,'" she complained. Soon, perhaps, we will  be able to imagine how much more oil could be pumped onto the beaches and wetlands if we got rid of all those burdensome rules.

In a July 2008 campaign speech, McCain confidently blustered that even the enormous power of a hurricane would not be enough to cause a serious problem. "As for offshore drilling," he said, "it's safe enough these days that not even Hurricanes Katrina and Rita could cause significant spillage from the battered rigs off the coasts of New Orleans and Houston." He was wrong about that, too -- as was Obama when he repeated the same claim recently.

The president himself is naturally more circumspect than his old adversaries, but just as glib in portraying both environmentalists and their enemies as ideologues whose excesses he would reconcile. He promised to "balance the need to harness domestic energy resources and the need to protect America's natural resources." And he said that "we'll employ new technologies that reduce the impact of oil exploration. We'll protect areas vital to tourism, the environment and our national security. And we'll be guided not by political ideology, but by scientific evidence. That's why my administration will consider potential new areas for development in the mid and south Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, while studying and protecting sensitive areas in the Arctic."

If Obama honestly intends to rely on science rather than ideology or political convenience, he will soon have plenty of evidence proving that new technologies are far from fail-safe, and that the ruin of a single rig can inflict horrific consequences. Indeed, according to the industry experts, such as BP CEO Tony Hayward, the Deepwater Horizon blowout could have been far worse, if a heavier grade of oil were spilling out or if the shut-off valves failed completely.

As Palin and McCain quietly contemplate the Deepwater Horizon debacle, a few politicians in Florida already seem to have awakened to the possibility that all of their previous promises about the safety of offshore drilling may have been wrong.

Florida Senate president Dean Cannon and Florida House Speaker Mike Haridopolos, both hard-right Republicans, have long touted offshore drilling as safe enough to permit construction of rigs within three miles of their state's fragile coast. Stupid as they obviously are, Cannon and Haridopolos are  now having second thoughts, along with many other conservatives in the Sunshine State. Obama is not stupid. He's very smart. But is he smart enough to listen to Cannon and Haridopolos?

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Lunatics Who Made a Religion Out of Greed and Wrecked the Economy

Will Goldman Sachs prove greed is God?

The investment bank's cult of self-interest is on trial against the whole idea of civilisation – the collective decision by all of us not to screw each other over even if we can.

Matt Taibbi
The Guardian, Saturday 24 April 2010

So Goldman Sachs, the world's greatest and smuggest investment bank, has been sued for fraud by the American Securities and Exchange Commission. Legally, the case hangs on a technicality.

Morally, however, the Goldman Sachs case may turn into a final referendum on the greed-is-good ethos that conquered America sometime in the 80s – and in the years since has aped other horrifying American trends such as boybands and reality shows in spreading across the western world like a venereal disease.

When Britain and other countries were engulfed in the flood of defaults and derivative losses that emerged from the collapse of the American housing bubble two years ago, few people understood that the crash had its roots in the lunatic greed-centered objectivist religion, fostered back in the 50s and 60s by ponderous emigre novelist Ayn Rand.

While, outside of America, Russian-born Rand is probably best known for being the unfunniest person western civilisation has seen since maybe Goebbels or Jack the Ripper (63 out of 100 colobus monkeys recently forced to read Atlas Shrugged in a laboratory setting died of boredom-induced aneurysms), in America Rand is upheld as an intellectual giant of limitless wisdom. Here in the States, her ideas are roundly worshipped even by people who've never read her books oreven heard of her. The rightwing "Tea Party" movement is just one example of an entire demographic that has been inspired to mass protest by Rand without even knowing it.

Last summer I wrote a brutally negative article about Goldman Sachs for Rolling Stone magazine (I called the bank a "great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity") that unexpectedly sparked a heated national debate. On one side of the debate were people like me, who believed that Goldman is little better than a criminal enterprise that earns its billions by bilking the market, the government, and even its own clients in a bewildering variety of complex financial scams.

On the other side of the debate were the people who argued Goldman wasn't guilty of anything except being "too smart" and really, really good at making money. This side of the argument was based almost entirely on the Randian belief system, under which the leaders of Goldman Sachs appear not as the cheap swindlers they look like to me, but idealised heroes, the saviours of society.

In the Randian ethos, called objectivism, the only real morality is self-interest, and society is divided into groups who are efficiently self-interested (ie, the rich) and the "parasites" and "moochers" who wish to take their earnings through taxes, which are an unjust use of force in Randian politics. Rand believed government had virtually no natural role in society. She conceded that police were necessary, but was such a fervent believer in laissez-faire capitalism she refused to accept any need for economic regulation – which is a fancy way of saying we only need law enforcement for unsophisticated criminals.

Rand's fingerprints are all over the recent Goldman story. The case in question involves a hedge fund financier, John Paulson, who went to Goldman with the idea of a synthetic derivative package pegged to risky American mortgages, for use in betting against the mortgage market. Paulson would short the package, called Abacus, and Goldman would then sell the deal to suckers who would be told it was a good bet for a long investment. The SEC's contention is that Goldman committed a crime – a "failure to disclose" – when they failed to tell the suckers about the role played by the vulture betting against them on the other side of the deal.

Now, the instruments in question in this deal – collateralised debt obligations and credit default swaps – fall into the category of derivatives, which are virtually unregulated in the US thanks in large part to the effort of gremlinish former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, who as a young man was close to Rand and remained a staunch Randian his whole life. In the late 90s, Greenspan lobbied hard for the passage of a law that came to be called the Commodity Futures Modernisation Act of 2000, a monster of a bill that among other things deregulated the sort of interest-rate swaps Goldman used in its now-infamous dealings with Greece.

Both the Paulson deal and the Greece deal were examples of Goldman making millions by bending over their own business partners. In the Paulson deal the suckers were European banks such as ABN-Amro and IKB, which were never told that the stuff Goldman was cheerfully selling to them was, in effect, designed to implode; in the Greece deal, Goldman hilariously used exotic swaps to help the country mask its financial problems, then turned right around and bet against the country by shorting Greece's debt.

Now here's the really weird thing. Confronted with the evidence of public outrage over these deals, the leaders of Goldman will often appear to be genuinely confused, scratching their heads and staring quizzically into the camera like they don't know what you're upset about. It's not an act. There have been a lot of greedy financiers and banks in history, but what makes Goldman stand out is its truly bizarre cultist/religious belief in the rightness of what it does.

The point was driven home in England last year, when Goldman's international adviser, sounding exactly like a character in Atlas Shrugged, told an audience at St Paul's Cathedral that "The injunction of Jesus to love others as ourselves is an endorsement of self-interest". A few weeks later, Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein told the Times that he was doing "God's work".

Even if he stands to make a buck at it, even your average used-car salesman won't sell some working father a car with wobbly brakes, then buy life insurance policies on that customer and his kids. But this is done almost as a matter of routine in the financial services industry, where the attitude after the inevitable pileup would be that that family was dumb for getting into the car in the first place. Caveat emptor, dude!

People have to understand this Randian mindset is now ingrained in the American character. You have to live here to see it. There's a hatred toward "moochers" and "parasites" – the Tea Party movement, which is mainly a bunch of pissed off suburban white people whining about minorities consuming social services, describes the battle as being between "water-carriers" and "water-drinkers". And regulation of any kind is deeply resisted, even after a disaster as sweeping as the 2008 crash.

This debate is going to be crystallised in the Goldman case. Much of America is going to reflexively insist that Goldman's only crime was being smarter and better at making money than IKB and ABN-Amro, and that the intrusive, meddling government (in the American narrative, always the bad guy!) should get off Goldman's Armani-clad back. Another side is going to argue that Goldman winning this case would be a rebuke to the whole idea of civilisation – which, after all, is really just a collective decision by all of us not to screw each other over even when we can. It's an important moment in the history of modern global capitalism: whether or not to move forward into a world of greed without limits.
_____________________________________________
Matt Taibbi is a political reporter for Rolling Stone magazine, a sports columnist for Men's Journal, and also writes books for a Random House imprint called Spiegel and Grau. His main ambition in life is to someday strangle that chick in the Progressive Insurance commercials who is always waving her hands back and forth and screaming, "Discount!!!" Anyone who has suggestions for how to dump her body without being caught is welcome to write to him. He already has plenty of plastic and a staple-gun.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

"Eaarth": Earth is over

A climate pioneer declares the planet -- with its rising humidity and hot oceans -- dead
By Jed Lipinski

According to Bill McKibben, the respected environmentalist and author of the pioneering "End of Nature," the planet Earth, as we know it, is already dead. Over a million square miles of the Arctic ice cap have melted, the oceans have risen and warmed, and the tropics have expanded 2 degrees north and south. Global warming has caused such pervasive and irreversible changes, he argues, that we now live on a new planet with a new set of environmental and climatic realities — and, as such, it deserves a new name: Goodbye, Earth. Hello, "Eaarth."

McKibben’s hair-raising new book, "Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet," is a scrupulous and impassioned account of the severely compromised globe on which we now live. He lays out the myriad ways in which climate change has remade our world, but he also goes much further, chronicling its current and future human toll. He explains how droughts in Australia helped precipitate the 2008 food crisis and put 40 million people at risk of hunger, and how the rapidly melting glaciers of the Andes and Himalayas may soon threaten the water supply of billions. Our only hope of survival, McKibben suggests, is a reversion to small-scale, local ways of life. "We simply can’t live on the new earth as if it were the old earth," he writes. "We’ve foreclosed that option."

Salon spoke with McKibben over the phone about the meaning of "Eaarth," our grim future, and what Tom Friedman got wrong about global warming.

What is "Eaarth"?

The meaning behind the title is that we really have created a new planet. Not entirely new. It looks more or less like the one we were born into; the same physical laws operate it. But it’s substantially different. There’s 5 percent more moisture in the atmosphere than there was 50 years ago, much less ice at the top of the Earth, et cetera. Calling it "Eaarth," an admittedly weird word, is a way of calling people’s attention to the fact that the changes that have already happened are large enough that if you were visiting our planet in a spaceship, this place would look really different from the outside than it did just decades ago.

What’s the biggest observable difference?

The most visible change is what’s happening to ice around the world. But probably the most important is what’s happening to liquid water. Warm air holds a lot more water vapor than cold, so you get a lot more evaporation in dry areas, and hence more drought. Even easier to measure, and more troubling, is the fact that what goes up must come down, and what’s coming down are these intense precipitation events.

In the book, I describe the rainfalls in my small town in Vermont — record floods that cut us off from the rest of the world. But that’s happening around the world almost every day now. The 100-year storm comes three times a decade in a lot of places. Stuff like that is sobering, not only because it demonstrates how out of balance things are, but also because the consequences of a world run amuck are not to be taken lightly.

What consequences are we talking about?

India, for example, is constructing this massive wall to protect it from Bangladesh. Not because it represents a military threat, but because there’s 150 or 160 million people there who are increasingly squeezed by a rising ocean. As best we can tell, the failure of the monsoon across Africa is climatically related, and that’s clearly played a big role in what’s been happening in the wars in Sudan and Somalia. It’s not that there’s an out-and-out war about climate change; it’s that all the stresses that already plague the planet get harder and harder to deal with. If you’re already short of water, say, now you’re shorter.

Forty-four percent of Americans still don’t believe global warming is manmade. What’s the best way to convince them?

Most accounts terrifically underplay what’s actually going on already. But in my life as an organizer, we’ve been very successful without trying to scare people. Last fall, my organization 350.org organized 5,200 simultaneous demonstrations in 181 countries, what CNN called "the most widespread day of political action in the planet's history."

And people were organizing around a pretty obscure scientific data point, a parts-per-million concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. The lesson we took is that people are capable of understanding the science. It’s not harder than understanding that if your cholesterol gets too high, you’re going to have a heart attack. If the doctor says your cholesterol is too high, your first instinct isn’t to demand a rundown of how the lipid system works. You say, "OK, what do we do?"

At Copenhagen, we managed to get 117 nations to sign on to the 350-parts-per-million target, which NASA believes to be the safe percentage. They were the wrong 117 nations, of course. But in 18 months, with little money, we’ve had some real effects.

Then why was Copenhagen such a failure?

Simple: The countries that are most powerful and most addicted to fossil fuel aren’t ready to come to terms with it. You can’t really have an AA meeting while everyone’s still in denial. In each of the last three years, Exxon Mobil made more than any company in the history of money. That may give them enough political power to keep the U.S. in denial for years to come.

Thomas Friedman and others recommend a technologically advanced “green growth” project — big windmills throughout the Midwest, solar arrays in the Arizona desert, hybrid cars — to kick our addiction to fossil fuel. Won’t that work?

We eventually run into limits to further growth on the planet. All the things Tom Friedman would like to do are good things. They just cost an immense amount of money and an immense amount of resources. We can do some of them. We’d be very smart to think less about grand, continent-spanning schemes, and wise to think more about localized and somewhat humble versions of these same things. Nuclear power plants, for example, are off-the-charts expensive, because they’re highly centralized and dangerous. They’re the engineering example of too big to fail. By contrast, if the solar panel on my roof fails, I have to fix it, but it doesn’t destroy the electric grid, or release dangerous solar particles into the atmosphere.

Larry Summers, Obama’s chief economic advisor, said that "putting limits on growth because of some natural limit is a profound error." Is he wrong?

He’s wrong, but for an interesting reason. Economists, and many of us to some extent, have come to believe that the economy is more real than the physical world. Think about the incredible regard we have for the economy. "It’s healing," we say. "It’s going through a rough patch." We talk about it like it’s our aging mother. Whereas with the Earth, we say, "Oh well, it’s going through its natural cycles, don’t worry." Which is slightly crazy, because clearly the economy is a subset of the natural world, not the other way around. We lavish intense worry and affection and brainpower on the economy, but not so much on the environment. Summers is the perfect exemplar of that attitude: an incredibly smart guy whose context is so narrow it ends up making him very dumb indeed.

So what’s the best way to proceed?

First we need to reach an agreement capping our carbon emissions, and then help finance the developing world to skip the fossil fuel step and develop in different ways. Places like South Africa and Bangladesh haven’t yet gone through the development cycle that makes them rich, and they’re being told, "That’s not on offer anymore." At the moment, solar panels are more expensive than coal and will be for a while. Still, we’re going to have to provide these countries with a better alternative, and the resources to follow it, if we want to act in a way that could be described as moral.

As for the nuts-and-bolts engineering, over the long run, I’d recommend a combination of conservation; harnessing wind and sun, from both distant and nearby sources; and lifestyle changes. There's no good reason the Jersey Turnpike should be crowded with cars, not in a dense area easily served by better transit. In the transition, we'll be using a lot of natural gas to make electricity, would be my guess.

In the book you use Vermont, where you live, as an example of an environmentally forward-thinking state.

Vermont hasn’t gotten everything right. Its energy system isn’t very good. But it’s been ahead of the rest of the nation in experimenting with local food, for example, which is the easiest commodity to get back under control. Vermont is also important because of its political history (it declared its independence from New York in 1777 and was its own republic before becoming a state), and its ongoing campaigns against federal subsidies for big agriculture. Its attitude of self- determination is a reminder that small-scale activities — things like town meetings, farmers’ markets, composting — can work quite well.

But lately, in the U.S. as a whole, local and regional action has reached more than a level of experimentation. The number of farms across the country is growing for the first time in a century and a quarter, with 300,000 new farms this decade. The one business that boomed in the last two years was seeds — Burpee Seeds was up 40 percent or something. There’s an awful lot of land in American suburbs currently devoted to growing grass, often with lavish infusions of fertilizer and chemicals. Turn some of that energy and resources toward growing vegetables, and you’re getting somewhere.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Circus: Fox, MSNBC and CNN all hire Sarah Palin


By Brent Budowsky
Apr 15 2010

Foreclosures are at record levels and the Grapes of Wrath continues under Obama as it did under Bush. The real jobless rate is 17 percent and a whole generation of workers is being left behind while the stock market soars to record highs. American astronauts will soon be paid passengers on Russian spacecraft. Yet the media, instead of covering the crisis for tens of millions of people throughout the nation, is obsessed with Her Royal Highness, Her Majesty, the hockey mom who gouges California students to be paid a king's ransom and live in royal splendor.

Historians will someday look back at our celebrity-obsessed society, and what is called cable news, and ask what went wrong with us.

I do find Palin offensive and worthy of some comment. California may be on the brink of bankruptcy, teachers are being laid off, the university system faces financial disaster, but Palin must have her $100,000, her first-class airfare or the most luxurious private jet, and of course, the proper bottled water with the proper bended straw. Heaven help Her Majesty if the straw isn't the right straw.

But what about the jobless workers living in jobless hell? What about the foreclosures destroying families throughout the nation in our modern Grapes of Wrath? Does the world's great superpower really want to be dependent on Russia or any other nation to rent us space on their spaceflights, which has leading astronauts upset, for good reason, as I am?

These are minor issues compared to what Sarah Palin does today, in the eyes of those who decide television news and treat the American people as though we are idiots who don’t really care about what matters in our nation and in our lives.

Sarah Palin has been hired by Fox. She dominates MSNBC. She is omnipresent on CNN.

Sarah Palin is now the perpetual freak show on American television, the star of every show, the leading lady of every network. Her every moment is chronicled ad nauseam. Every show must include its Palin segment. Every pundit must tell us what he or she thinks of her latest inconsequential act.

Meanwhile, the hungry, the poor, the jobless, the homeless, the victims of the most shameless greed and shameless neglect in generations are nowhere to be seen on what purports to be the news.

For the many this is an American tragedy.

For the few this is another day in the vast wasteland of what used to be the news.
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About author
Brent Budowsky served as Legislative Assistant to U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen, responsible for commerce and intelligence matters, including one of the core drafters of the CIA Identities Law. Served as Legislative Director to Congressman Bill Alexander, then Chief Deputy Whip, House of Representatives. Currently a member of the International Advisory Council of the Intelligence Summit. Left goverment in 1990 for marketing and public affairs business including major corporate entertainment and talent management. He can be reached at brentbbi@webtv.net

Oklahoma Tea Party Leaders Ask State to Create Armed Voluntary Militia to Combat Federal Government

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What Sarah Palin forgets (or never knew) about Ronald Reagan

She warbles a macho fantasy about our 40th president. But the real Reagan wanted a world free of nuclear arms

By Joe Conason
Listening to Sarah Palin, it is often difficult to determine whether her remarks demonstrate ignorance or dishonesty. She frequently waxes on about Ronald Reagan, for instance, revered ancestor of today's far right, whose real record bears little resemblance to the fantasies of extremists like her.

While attacking President Obama's nuclear weapons policies the other day -- and the strategic arms reduction treaty that he signed with Russia -- Palin said, "We miss Ronald Reagan, who used to say, when he would look at our enemies, he would say: 'No. You lose. We win.' That's what we miss. And that is what we have to get back to."

Now, Palin usually sounds bereft of even the most basic knowledge of history, let alone diplomacy, but in this case she had already graduated from college by the time Reagan decided to encourage peaceful change in the Soviet Union and rid the world of nuclear weapons entirely. In other words, she might be expected to remember those events, however vaguely, without reading a book.

Reagan's utopian aspirations were never achieved, of course, but the elimination of nuclear weapons was certainly what he proposed, more than once, in negotiations with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The actual history of the Reagan era is worth recalling for the edification not only of Palin but of the many right-wing politicians and commentators who blather on in the same clueless (or disingenuous) way.

Beginning in November 1985, at a meeting in Geneva, Reagan and Gorbachev sought to slash nuclear weapons stockpiles in the U.S. and the Soviet Union by 50 percent or more. A year later they met in Reykjavik to discuss proposals to completely eliminate nuclear weapons from the arsenals of both nations. The U.S. president's approach was so radical -- and radically sincere, according to everyone close to him -- that it alarmed many of his more conservative advisors. His hawkish defense secretary, Caspar Weinberger, was appalled. Relieved when the Reykjavik talks ended without agreement because of a fundamental disagreement over missile defenses, the hawks were disturbed, to put it mildly, when Reagan and Gorbachev signed the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1987.

The INF treaty was truly historic, both because of its own deep cuts in the superpower arsenals and because of its symbolic portent of the imminent end of the Cold War. No treaty between the U.S. and the USSR had been signed and ratified by the Senate for 15 years by then -- and this agreement stipulated the drawdown and destruction of nuclear weapons by both sides for the first time ever.

Morever, at a moment when conservative opinion widely distrusted Gorbachev and urged Reagan to maintain bitter antagaonism toward "our enemies," he employed summitry and arms negotiations to reassure the Soviets that they could pursue liberalization without fear. It was a decisive moment in world history and one for which the intuitive president deserves great credit.

Reagan's bold decision to cultivate Gorbachev and promote d├ętente required him to dismiss the reflexive stupidity of his own base. Reaction from the right was almost unanimously negative: National Review and Human Events broke with him over the INF treaty, while Commentary accused him of pursuing "nuclear disarmament measures far more sweeping and radical than even many arms control proponents deem advisable." George Will denounced him for "the moral disarmament of the West by elevating wishful thinking to the level of political philosophy." Various Republican politicians, including Senate leader Robert Dole, R-Kan., declared that unlike the president, they did not trust Gorbachev.

And the Sarah Palin of that time -- a photogenic young Republican senator from Indiana named Dan Quayle, who later became vice-president -- warned that the INF treaty would lead to "the gradual neutralization of Europe through de-nuclearization." Sounds like a phrase that could have been written for him by William Kristol, who later served as "Quayle's brain" in the first Bush White House, and reportedly has served the same mental function for Palin (with equal lack of apparent benefit).

A boiling zeal to discredit Obama as dupe or traitor has led critics on the right to falsify the content and implications of both the START treaty and the Nuclear Posture Review. Their lying necessarily includes a distorted account of the Reagan presidency -- very much in the old Soviet style of making inconvenient history disappear. But facts are stubborn things, as the Gipper once quipped, and the undeniable fact about Palin's sainted idol is that in his approach to nuclear disarmament, he was closer to Barack Obama than to belligerent kooks like her.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Nine Myths About Socialism in the United States

by Bill Quigley
April 10, 2010
 
Glenn Beck and other far right multi-millionaires are claiming that the US is hot on the path towards socialism. Part of their claim is that the US is much more generous and supportive of our working and poor people than other countries. People may wish it was so, but it is not.

As Senator Patrick Moynihan used to say "Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. But everyone is not entitled to their own facts."

The fact is that the US is not really all that generous to our working and poor people compared to other countries.

Consider the US in comparison to the rest of the 30 countries that join the US in making up the OECD -- the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. These 30 countries include Canada and most comparable European countries but also include some struggling countries like Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Korea, Mexico, Poland, Slovak Republic, and Turkey.

When you look at how the US compares to these 30 countries, the hot air myths about the US government going all out towards socialism sort of disappear into thin air. Here are some examples of myths that do not hold up.

Myth #1. The US government is involved in class warfare attacking the rich to lift up the poor.

There is a class war going on all right. But it is the rich against the rest of us and the rich are winning. The gap between the rich and everyone else is wider in the US than any of the 30 other countries surveyed. In fact, the top 10% in the US have a higher annual income than any other country. And the poorest 10% in the US are below the average of the other OECD countries. The rich in the U.S. have been rapidly leaving the middle class and poor behind since the 1980s.

Myth #2. The US already has the greatest health care system in the world.

Infant mortality in the US is 4th worst among OECD countries -- better only than Mexico, Turkey and the Slovak Republic.

Myth #3. There is less poverty in the US than anywhere.

Child poverty in the US, at over 20% or one out of every five kids, is double the average of the 30 OECD countries.

Myth #4. The US is generous in its treatment of families with children.

The US ranks in the bottom half of countries in terms of financial benefits for families with children. Over half of the 30 OECD countries pay families with children cash benefits regardless of the income of the family. Some among those countries (e.g. Austria, France and Germany) pay additional benefits if the family is low-income, or one of the parents is unemployed.

Myth #5. The US is very supportive of its workers.

The US gives no paid leave for working mothers having children. Every single one of the other 30 OECD countries has some form of paid leave. The US ranks dead last in this. Over two thirds of the countries give some form of paid paternity leave. The US also gives no paid leave for fathers.

In fact, it is only workers in the US who have no guaranteed days of paid leave at all. Korea is the next lowest to the US and it has a minimum of 8 paid annual days of leave. Most of the other 30 countries require a minimum of 20 days of annual paid leave for their workers.

Myth #6. Poor people have more chance of becoming rich in the US than anywhere else.

Social mobility (how children move up or down the economic ladder in comparison with their parents) in earnings, wages and education tends to be easier in Australia, Canada and Nordic countries like Denmark, Norway, and Finland, than in the US. That means more of the rich stay rich and more of the poor stay poor here in the US.

Myth #7. The US spends generously on public education.

In terms of spending for public education, the US is just about average among the 30 countries of the OECD. Educational achievement of US children, however, is 7th worst in the OECD. On public spending for childcare and early education, the US is in the bottom third.

Myth #8. The US government is redistributing income from the rich to the poor.

There is little redistribution of income by government in the U.S. in part because spending on social benefits like unemployment and family benefits is so low. Of the 30 countries in the OECD, only in Korea is the impact of governmental spending lower.

Myth #9. The US generously gives foreign aid to countries across the world.

The US gives the smallest percentage of aid of any of the developed countries in the OECD. In 2007 the US was tied for last with Greece. In 2008, we were tied for last with Japan.

Despite the opinions of right wing folks, the facts say the US is not on the path towards socialism.

But if socialism means the US would go down the path of being more generous with our babies, our children, our working families, our pregnant mothers, and our sisters and brothers across the world, I think we could all appreciate it.
_____________________
About author
Bill is legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. You can reach him at Quigley77@gmail.com

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Collateral Murder

US Military kills 2 Reuters journalists, injures children. Tries to cover up.

5th April 2010 10:44 EST

WikiLeaks has released a classified US military video depicting the indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad -- including two Reuters news staff.
Reuters has been trying to obtain the video through the Freedom of Information Act, without success since the time of the attack. The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-site, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded.

Short Version



Full version


The military did not reveal how the Reuters staff were killed, and stated that they did not know how the children were injured.
After demands by Reuters, the incident was investigated and the U.S. military concluded that the actions of the soldiers were in accordance with the law of armed conflict and its own "Rules of Engagement".
Consequently, WikiLeaks has released the classified Rules of Engagement for 2006, 2007 and 2008, revealing these rules before, during, and after the killings.
WikiLeaks has released both the original 38 minutes video and a shorter version with an initial analysis. Subtitles have been added to both versions from the radio transmissions.

WikiLeaks obtained this video as well as supporting documents from a number of military whistleblowers. WikiLeaks goes to great lengths to verify the authenticity of the information it receives. We have analyzed the information about this incident from a variety of source material. We have spoken to witnesses and journalists directly involved in the incident.

WikiLeaks wants to ensure that all the leaked information it receives gets the attention it deserves. In this particular case, some of the people killed were journalists that were simply doing their jobs: putting their lives at risk in order to report on war. Iraq is a very dangerous place for journalists: from 2003- 2009, 139 journalists were killed while doing their work.

*******************

Commentary by Glenn Greenwald

I was just on Democracy Now along with WikiLeaks' Julian Assange discussing the Iraq video they released yesterday, and there's one vital point I want to emphasize.  Shining light on what our government and military do is so critical precisely because it forces people to see what is really being done and prevents myth and propaganda from distorting those realities.  That's why the administration fights so hard to keep torture photos suppressed, why the military fought so hard here to keep this video concealed (and why they did the same with regard to the Afghan massacre), and why whistle-blowers, real journalists, and sites like WikiLeaks are the declared enemy of the government.  The discussions many people are having today -- about the brutal reality of what the U.S. does when it engages in war, invasions and occupation -- is exactly the discussion which they most want to avoid.

But there's a serious danger when incidents like this Iraq slaughter are exposed in a piecemeal and unusual fashion:  namely, the tendency to talk about it as though it is an aberration.  It isn't.  It's the opposite:  it's par for the course, standard operating procedure, what we do in wars, invasions, and occupation.  The only thing that's rare about the Apache helicopter killings is that we know about it and are seeing what happened on video.  And we're seeing it on video not because it's rare, but because it just so happened (a) to result in the deaths of two Reuters employees, and thus received more attention than the thousands of other similar incidents where nameless Iraqi civilians are killed, and (b) to end up in the hands of WikiLeaks, which then published it.  But what is shown is completely common.  That includes not only the initial killing of a group of men, the vast majority of whom are clearly unarmed, but also the plainly unjustified killing of a group of unarmed men (with their children) carrying away an unarmed, seriously wounded man to safety -- as though there's something nefarious about human beings in an urban area trying to take an unarmed, wounded photographer to a hospital.

A major reason there are hundreds of thousands of dead innocent civilians in Iraq, and thousands more in Afghanistan, is because this is what we do.  This is why so many of those civilians are dead.  What one sees on that video is how we conduct our wars.  That's why it's repulsive to watch people -- including some "liberals" -- attack WikiLeaks for slandering The Troops, or complain that objections to these actions unfairly disparage the military because "our guys are the good guys" and they act differently "99.99999999% of the time."  That is blatantly false.  Just as was true of the deceitful attempt to depict the Abu Ghraib abusers as rogue "bad apples" once their conduct was exposed with photographs (when the reality was they were acting in complete consistency with authorized government policy), the claim that what was shown on that video is some sort of outrageous departure from U.S. policy is demonstrably false.  In a perverse way, the typical morally depraved neocons who are justifying these killings are actually being more honest than those trying to pretend this is some sort of rare and unusual event:  those who support having the U.S. invade and wage war on other countries are endorsing precisely this behavior.

As the video demonstrates, the soldiers in the Apache did not take a single step -- including killing those unarmed men who tried to rescue the wounded -- without first receiving formal permission from their superiors.  Beyond that, the Pentagon yesterday -- once the video was released -- suddenly embraced the wisdom of transparency by posting online the reports of the so-called "investigations" it undertook into this incident (as a result of pressure from Reuters).   Those formal investigations not only found that every action taken by those soldiers was completely justified -- including the firing on the unarmed civilian rescuers -- but also found that there's no need for any remedial steps to be taken to prevent future re-occurence.  What we see on that video is what the U.S. does on a constant and regular basis in these countries, and it's what we've been doing for years.  It's obviously consistent with our policies and practices for how we fight in these countries, which is exactly what those investigative reports concluded.

The WikiLeaks video is not an indictment of the individual soldiers involved -- at least not primarily.  Of course those who aren't accustomed to such sentiments are shocked by the callous and sadistic satisfaction those soldiers seem to take in slaughtering those whom they perceive as The Enemy (even when unarmed and crawling on the ground with mortal wounds), but this is what they're taught and trained and told to do.  If you take even well-intentioned, young soldiers and stick them in the middle of a dangerous war zone for years and train them to think and act this way, this will inevitably be the result.  The video is an indictment of the U.S. government and the war policies it pursues.

All of this is usually kept from us.  Unlike those in the Muslim world, who are shown these realities quite frequently by their free press, we don't usually see what is done by us.  We stay blissfully insulated from it, so that in those rare instances when we're graphically exposed to it, we can tell ourselves that it's all very unusual and rare.  That's how we collectively dismissed the Abu Ghraib photos, and it's why the Obama administration took such extraordinary steps to suppress all the rest of the torture photos:  because further disclosure would have revealed that behavior to be standard and common, not at all unusual or extraordinary.

Precisely the same dynamic applies to the Pentagon's admission yesterday that its original claims about the brutal February killing of five civilians in Eastern Afghanistan were totally false.   What happened there -- the slaughter of unthreatening civilians, official lies told about the incident, the dissemination of those lies by an uncritical U.S. media -- is what happens constantly (the same deceitful cover-up behavior took place with the Iraq video).  The lies about the Afghan killings were exposed in this instance not because they're rare, but because one very intrepid, relentless reporter happened to be able to travel to the remote province and speak to witnesses and investigate the event, forcing the Pentagon to acknowledge the truth.

The value of the Wikileaks/Iraq video and the Afghanistan revelation is not that they exposed unusually horrific events.  The value is in realizing that these event are anything but unusual.

N.Y. Times, Weekly Standard join in a falsehood

This reveals how blatant falsehoods become lodged in our political discourse.  In reporting today on the Iraq video, The New York Times' Elisabeth Bumiller strongly implies that WikiLeaks failed to release the full video and instead selectively edited it:

Reuters had long pressed for the release of the video, which consists of 38 minutes of black-and-white aerial video and conversations between pilots in two Apache helicopters as they open fire on people on a street in Baghdad. . . . At a news conference at the National Press Club, WikiLeaks said it had acquired the video from whistle-blowers in the military and viewed it after breaking the encryption code. WikiLeaks edited the video to 17 minutes.
That led The Weekly Standard's Bill Roggio to scream: "Wikileaks Edits out 21 Minutes of Baghdad Strike Video."  He then accusatorily adds:

A New York Times article confirms that the tape has indeed been cut. There are 21 additional minutes of tape: . . .
So why hasn't Wikileaks shown the whole tape? Wikileaks prides itself on releasing full classified documents, so it is curious that it decided to show only a selective portion of this tape.
The U.S. military maintains that there was a unit nearby that was under fire. In fact, the AR 15-6 (the investigation into the incident) said that a U.S. unit was under fire "approximately one city block away" before the Apaches began observing the Iraqi fighters gathering. Wikileaks should release the tape in full, and not just selective portions, and put this controversy to rest.
The only problem with this?  From the very beginning, WikiLeaks released the full, 38-minute, unedited version of that incident -- and did so right on the site they created for release of the edited video.  In fact, the first video is marked "Short version," and the second video -- posted directly under it -- is marked "Full version," and just for those who still didn't pick up on the meaning, they explained:

WikiLeaks has released both the original 38 minutes video and a shorter version with an initial analysis. Subtitles have been added to both versions from the radio transmissions.
This is Bumiller's fault for misleadingly suggesting that WikiLeaks failed to release the full video.  I know she's been notified by at least one NYT reader of her misleading sentences but has thus far failed to respond.  Establishment media outlets can't stand that WikiLeaks is breaking major stories and are trying -- consciously or otherwise -- to imply that they're not as reliable as Real Media Outlets (hence, the "WikiLeaks edited the video to 17 minutes" without indicating that they released the full video).  But this is exactly how clear falsehoods are manufactured and then spread.

* * * * *
Just in case you thought that it is only Bill Kristol, the Cheney family and their right-wing comrades who spew the YOU HATE THE TROOPS! smear at anyone who criticizes U.S. military policy, you would be wrong.  My reply is here.

UPDATE:  The online version of Bumiller's article has now been edited to read:

At a news conference at the National Press Club, WikiLeaks said it had acquired the video from whistle-blowers in the military and viewed it after breaking the encryption code. WikiLeaks released the full 38-minute video as well as a 17-minute edited version.
There's no indication that it had been corrected, and the caption at the bottom of the article -- "A version of this article appeared in print on April 6, 2010, on page A13 of the New York edition" -- leaves open the possibility that the misleading version appeared in print.
______________________________________
Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of two New York Times Bestselling books: "How Would a Patriot Act?" (May, 2006), a critique of the Bush administration's use of executive power, and "A Tragic Legacy" (June, 2007), which examines the Bush legacy. His most recent book, "Great American Hypocrites", examines the manipulative electoral tactics used by the GOP and propagated by the establishment press, and was released in April, 2008, by Random House/Crown.
Twitter: @ggreenwald
E-mail: GGreenwald@salon.com

Monday, April 5, 2010

America: The Grim Truth

By Lance Freeman
April 5, 2010

Americans, I have some bad news for you:

You have the worst quality of life in the developed world – by a wide margin.

If you had any idea of how people really lived in Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and many parts of Asia, you’d be rioting in the streets calling for a better life. In fact, the average Australian or Singaporean taxi driver has a much better standard of living than the typical American white-collar worker.

I know this because I am an American, and I escaped from the prison you call home.

I have lived all around the world, in wealthy countries and poor ones, and there is only one country I would never consider living in again: The United States of America. The mere thought of it fills me with dread.

Consider this: you are the only people in the developed world without a single-payer health system. Everyone in Western Europe, Japan, Canada, Australia, Singapore and New Zealand has a single-payer system. If they get sick, they can devote all their energies to getting well. If you get sick, you have to battle two things at once: your illness and the fear of financial ruin. Millions of Americans go bankrupt every year due to medical bills, and tens of thousands die each year because they have no insurance or insufficient insurance. And don’t believe for a second that rot about America having the world’s best medical care or the shortest waiting lists: I’ve been to hospitals in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Singapore, and Thailand, and every one was better than the “good” hospital I used to go to back home. The waits were shorter, the facilities more comfortable, and the doctors just as good.

This is ironic, because you need a good health system more than anyone else in the world. Why? Because your lifestyle is almost designed to make you sick.

Let’s start with your diet: Much of the beef you eat has been exposed to fecal matter in processing. Your chicken is contaminated with salmonella. Your stock animals and poultry are pumped full of growth hormones and antibiotics. In most other countries, the government would act to protect consumers from this sort of thing; in the United States, the government is bought off by industry to prevent any effective regulations or inspections. In a few years, the majority of all the produce for sale in the United States will be from genetically modified crops, thanks to the cozy relationship between Monsanto Corporation and the United States government. Worse still, due to the vast quantities of high-fructose corn syrup Americans consume, fully one-third of children born in the United States today will be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at some point in their lives.

Of course, it’s not just the food that’s killing you, it’s the drugs. If you show any sign of life when you’re young, they’ll put you on Ritalin. Then, when you get old enough to take a good look around, you’ll get depressed, so they’ll give you Prozac. If you’re a man, this will render you chemically impotent, so you’ll need Viagra to get it up. Meanwhile, your steady diet of trans-fat-laden food is guaranteed to give you high cholesterol, so you’ll get a prescription for Lipitor. Finally, at the end of the day, you’ll lay awake at night worrying about losing your health plan, so you’ll need Lunesta to go to sleep.

With a diet guaranteed to make you sick and a health system designed to make sure you stay that way, what you really need is a long vacation somewhere. Unfortunately, you probably can’t take one. I’ll let you in on little secret: if you go to the beaches of Thailand, the mountains of Nepal, or the coral reefs of Australia, you’ll probably be the only American in sight. And you’ll be surrounded crowds of happy Germans, French, Italians, Israelis, Scandinavians and wealthy Asians. Why? Because they’re paid well enough to afford to visit these places AND they can take vacations long enough to do so. Even if you could scrape together enough money to go to one of these incredible places, by the time you recovered from your jetlag, it would time to get on a plane and rush back to your job.

If you think I’m making this up, check the stats on average annual vacation days by country:

Finland: 44

Italy: 42

France: 39

Germany: 35

UK: 25

Japan: 18

USA: 12

The fact is, they work you like dogs in the United States. This should come as no surprise: the United States never got away from the plantation/sweat shop labor model and any real labor movement was brutally suppressed. Unless you happen to be a member of the ownership class, your options are pretty much limited to barely surviving on service-sector wages or playing musical chairs for a spot in a cubicle (a spot that will be outsourced to India next week anyway). The very best you can hope for is to get a professional degree and then milk the system for a slice of the middle-class pie. And even those who claw their way into the middle class are but one illness or job loss away from poverty. Your jobs aren’t secure. Your company has no loyalty to you. They’ll play you off against your coworkers for as long as it suits them, then they’ll get rid of you.

Of course, you don’t have any choice in the matter: the system is designed this way. In most countries in the developed world, higher education is either free or heavily subsidized; in the United States, a university degree can set you back over US$100,000. Thus, you enter the working world with a crushing debt. Forget about taking a year off to travel the world and find yourself – you’ve got to start working or watch your credit rating plummet.

If you’re “lucky,” you might even land a job good enough to qualify you for a home loan. And then you’ll spend half your working life just paying the interest on the loan – welcome to the world of American debt slavery. America has the illusion of great wealth because there’s a lot of “stuff” around, but who really owns it? In real terms, the average American is poorer than the poorest ghetto dweller in Manila, because at least they have no debts. If they want to pack up and leave, they can; if you want to leave, you can’t, because you’ve got debts to pay.

All this begs the question: Why would anyone put up with this? Ask any American and you’ll get the same answer: because America is the freest country on earth. If you believe this, I’ve got some more bad news for you: America is actually among the least free countries on earth. Your piss is tested, your emails and phone calls are monitored, your medical records are gathered, and you are never more than one stray comment away from writhing on the ground with two Taser prongs in your ass.

And that’s just physical freedom. Mentally, you are truly imprisoned. You don’t even know the degree to which you are tormented by fears of medical bankruptcy, job loss, homelessness and violent crime because you’ve never lived in a country where there is no need to worry about such things.

But it goes much deeper than mere surveillance and anxiety. The fact is, you are not free because your country has been taken over and occupied by another government. Fully 70% of your tax dollars go to the Pentagon, and the Pentagon is the real government of the United States. You are required under pain of death to pay taxes to this occupying government. If you’re from the less fortunate classes, you are also required to serve and die in their endless wars, or send your sons and daughters to do so. You have no choice in the matter: there is a socio-economic draft system in the United States that provides a steady stream of cannon fodder for the military.

If you call a life of surveillance, anxiety and ceaseless toil in the service of a government you didn’t elect “freedom,” then you and I have a very different idea of what that word means.

If there was some chance that the country could be changed, there might be reason for hope. But can you honestly look around and conclude that anything is going to change? Where would the change come from? The people? Take a good look at your compatriots: the working class in the United States has been brutally propagandized by jackals like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. Members of the working class have been taught to lick the boots of their masters and then bend over for another kick in the ass. They’ve got these people so well trained that they’ll take up arms against the other half of the working class as soon as their masters give the word.

If the people cannot make a change, how about the media? Not a chance. From Fox News to the New York Times, the mass media in the United States is nothing but the public relations wing of the corporatocracy, primarily the military industrial complex. At least the citizens of the former Soviet Union knew that their news was bullshit. In America, you grow up thinking you’ve got a free media, which makes the propaganda doubly effective. If you don’t think American media is mere corporate propaganda, ask yourself the following question: have you ever heard a major American news outlet suggest that the country could fund a single-payer health system by cutting military spending?

If change can’t come from the people or the media, the only other potential source of change would be the politicians. Unfortunately, the American political process is among the most corrupt in the world. In every country on earth, one expects politicians to take bribes from the rich. But this generally happens in secret, behind the closed doors of their elite clubs. In the United States, this sort of political corruption is done in broad daylight, as part of legal, accepted, standard operating procedure. In the United States, they merely call these bribes campaign donations, political action committees and lobbyists. One can no more expect the politicians to change this system than one can expect a man to take an axe and chop his own legs out from underneath him.

No, the United States of America is not going to change for the better. The only change will be for the worse. And when I say worse, I mean much worse. As we speak, the economic system that sustained the country during the post-war years is collapsing. The United States maxed out its “credit card” sometime in 2008 and now its lenders, starting with China, are in the process of laying the foundations for a new monetary system to replace the Anglo-American “petro-dollar” system. As soon as there is a viable alternative to the US dollar, the greenback will sink like a stone.

While the United States was running up crushing levels of debt, it was also busy shipping its manufacturing jobs and white-collar jobs overseas, and letting its infrastructure fall to pieces. Meanwhile, Asian and European countries were investing in education, infrastructure and raw materials. Even if the United States tried to rebuild a real economy (as opposed to a service/financial economy) do think American workers would ever be able to compete with the workers of China or Europe? Have you ever seen a Japanese or German factory? Have you ever met a Singaporean or Chinese worker?

There are only two possible futures facing the United States, and neither one is pretty. The best case is a slow but orderly decline – essentially a continuation of what’s been happening for the last two decades. Wages will drop, unemployment will rise, Medicare and Social Security benefits will be slashed, the currency will decline in value, and the disparity of wealth will spiral out of control until the United States starts to resemble Mexico or the Philippines – tiny islands of wealth surrounded by great poverty (the country is already halfway there).

Equally likely is a sudden collapse, perhaps brought about by a rapid flight from the US dollar by creditor nations like China, Japan, Korea and the OPEC nations. A related possibility would be a default by the United States government on its vast debt. One look at the financial balance sheet of the US government should convince you how likely this is: governmental spending is skyrocketing and tax receipts are plummeting – something has to give. If either of these scenarios plays out, the resulting depression will make the present recession look like a walk in the park.

Whether the collapse is gradual or gut-wrenchingly sudden, the results will be chaos, civil strife and fascism. Let’s face it: the United States is like the former Yugoslavia – a collection of mutually antagonistic cultures united in name only. You’ve got your own version of the Taliban: right-wing Christian fundamentalists who actively loathe the idea of secular Constitutional government. You’ve got a vast intellectual underclass that has spent the last few decades soaking up Fox News and talk radio propaganda, eager to blame the collapse on Democrats, gays and immigrants. You’ve got a ruthless ownership class that will use all the means at its disposal to protect its wealth from the starving masses.

On top of all that you’ve got vast factory farms, sprawling suburbs and a truck-based shipping system, all of it entirely dependent on oil that is about to become completely unaffordable. And you’ve got guns. Lots of guns. In short: the United States is about to become a very unwholesome place to be.

Right now, the government is building fences and walls along its northern and southern borders. Right now, the government is working on a national ID system (soon to be fitted with biometric features). Right now, the government is building a surveillance state so extensive that they will be able to follow your every move, online, in the street and across borders. If you think this is just to protect you from “terrorists,” then you’re sadly mistaken. Once the shit really hits the fan, do you really think you’ll just be able to jump into the old station wagon, drive across the Canadian border and spend the rest of your days fishing and drinking Molson? No, the government is going to lock the place down. They don’t want their tax base escaping. They don’t want their “recruits” escaping. They don’t want YOU escaping.

I am not writing this to scare you. I write this to you as a friend. If you are able to read and understand what I’ve written here, then you are a member of a small minority in the United States. You are a minority in a country that has no place for you.

So what should you do?
You should leave the United States of America.

If you’re young, you’ve got plenty of choices: you can teach English in the Middle East, Asia or Europe. Or you can go to university or graduate school abroad and start building skills that will qualify you for a work visa. If you’ve already got some real work skills, you can apply to emigrate to any number of countries as a skilled immigrant. If you are older and you’ve got some savings, you can retire to a place like Costa Rica or the Philippines. If you can’t qualify for a work, student or retirement visa, don’t let that stop you – travel on a tourist visa to a country that appeals to you and talk to the expats you meet there. Whatever you do, go speak to an immigration lawyer as soon as you can. Find out exactly how to get on a path that will lead to permanent residence and eventually citizenship in the country of your choice.

You will not be alone. There are millions of Americans just like me living outside the United States. Living lives much more fulfilling, peaceful, free and abundant than we ever could have attained back home. Some of us happened upon these lives by accident – we tried a year abroad and found that we liked it – others made a conscious decision to pack up and leave for good. You’ll find us in Canada, all over Europe, in many parts of Asia, in Australia and New Zealand, and in most other countries of the globe. Do we miss our friends and family? Yes. Do we occasionally miss aspects of our former country? Yes. Do we plan on ever living again in the United States? Never. And those of us with permanent residence or citizenship can sponsor family members from back home for long-term visas in our adopted countries.

In closing, I want to remind you of something: unless you are an American Indian or a descendant of slaves, at some point your ancestors chose to leave their homeland in search of a better life. They weren’t traitors and they weren’t bad people, they just wanted a better life for themselves and their families. Isn’t it time that you continue their journey?