The private prison population in the US has rocketed 17-fold over the last two decades mostly on the shoulders of the deep-pocketed prison lobby, and the business continues to thrive.
Try confining yourself to a small room in your home, like a bathroom or a closet, and spend a few hours there. One only cringes to imagine the detrimental psychological effects that kind of solitude creates for individuals who are subjected to solitary confinement for years at a time, knowing only the walls of their cell and the shades of light that creep across them. The abhorrent state of affairs at the Guantanamo facility often makes international headlines and arguably overshadows the calamity that is the US domestic prison system – where over six million people are subject to some form of correctional supervision, an amount exceeding those who toiled in the Soviet gulags during Stalin’s reign. In the United States, some fifty thousand inmates pass their days in solitary confinement. While there is undoubtedly no shortage of violent criminals in America’s jails, millions are dolled out annually by privately owned prison lobbies directly to politicians in an effort to influence harsher ‘zero tolerance’ legislation and mandatory sentencing for many non-violent offenses.
While the US faces economic stagnation and unprecedented spending cuts to programs of social uplift, business is booming for the private prison industry. Like any other business, these institutions are run for the purpose of turning a profit. State and federal prisons are contracted out to private companies who are paid a fixed amount to house each inmate per day. Their profit depends on spending the minimum amount necessary on each inmate day-to-day, allowing private-hands to pocket the remaining money. For the corrections conglomerates of America, success depends on housing the maximum numbers of inmates for the longest potential time as inexpensively as possible. Consider that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, far surpassing any other nation – for every 100,000 Americans, 743 citizens sit behind bars. The harsher sentences meted out to non-violent offenders in contrast to other industrialized nations speaks volumes of America’s enthusiastic embrace of a prison industrial complex.
The number of people imprisoned under state and federal custody increased 772% percent between 1970 and 2009, largely due to the incredible influence that private corrections corporations wield against the American legal system. The argument is that by subjecting correctional services to market pressures, efficiencies will be increased and prison facilities can be run at a lower cost due to market competition. What these privatizations produce in turn is a system that destroys families by incentivizing the mass long-term detention of non-violent criminals, a system that is increasingly difficult to deconstruct and reform due to millions paid out to state and federal policymakers. According to reports issued by advocacy group Public Campaign, the three major corrections firms –Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the GEO Group, and Cornell, have spent over $22 million lobbying Congress since 2001.
As a means of influencing policy-making at the federal level, at least $3.3 million have been given to political parties, candidates, and their political action committees, while more than $7.3 million has been given to state candidates and political parties since 2001, including $1.9 million in 2010, the highest amount in the past decade. Senators like Lindsay Graham and John McCain have received significant sums from the private prison corporations while Chuck Schumer, Chair of the Rules Committee on Immigration and Border Enforcement, received at least $64,000 from lobbyists. The prison lobby thrives off of laws that criminalize migrants and submit them to mandatory detention prior to being deported, sometimes up to 10 months or more; private firms have consistently pushed for the classification of immigration violations as felonies to justify throwing more and more immigrants behind bars. The number of illegal immigrants being incarcerated inside the United States has risen exponentially under Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency responsible for annually overseeing the imprisonment of 400,000 foreign nationals at the cost of over $1.9 billion on custody-related operations.
The private prison industry has become increasingly dependent on immigration-detention contracts, and the huge contributions of the prison lobby towards drafting Arizona’s controversial immigration law SB 1070 are all but unexpected. Arizona’s SB 1070 requires police to determine the immigration status of someone arrested or detained when there is “reasonable suspicion” that they’ve illegally entered the US, which many view as an invitation for rampant racial profiling against non-whites. While the administration of Arizona’s Governor Jan Brewer is lined with former private prison lobbyists, its Department of Corrections budget has been raised by $10 million in 2012, while all other Arizona state agencies were subject to budget cuts during that fiscal year. The concept of privatizing prisons to reduce expenses comes at great cost to the inmates detained, who are subjected to living in increasingly squalid conditions in jail cells across America. In 2007, the Texas Youth Commission (TYC), a state agency that overseas juvenile corrections facilities, was sent to a West Texas juvenile prison run by GEO Group for the purpose of monitoring its quality standards.
The monitors sent by the TYC were subsequently fired for failing to report the sordid conditions they witnessed in the facility while they awarded the GEO Group with an overall compliance score of nearly 100% – it was later discovered that the TYC monitors were employed by the GEO Group. Independent auditors later visited the facility and discovered that inmates were forced to urinate or defecate in small containers due to a lack of toilets in some of the cells. The independent commission also noted in their list of reported findings that the facility racially segregated prisoners and denied inmates access to lawyers and medical treatment. The ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center have also highlighted several cases where GEO Group facility administrators turned a blind eye to brutal cases of rape and torture within their facilities, in addition to cases of its staff engaging in violence against inmates. According to the Justice Department data, nearly 210,000 prisoners are abused annually (prison personnel are found responsible half the time), while 4.5 percent of all inmates reported sexual assaults and rape.
It’s not possible to conceive how such institutionalized repression can be rolled back when the Obama administration shows only complicity with the status quo – a staggering $18 billion was spent by his administration on immigration enforcement, including detention, more than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined. Under Obama’s watch, today’s private prison population is over 17 times larger than the figure two decades earlier. Accordingly, Obama’s drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, has condemned the recently passed state laws in Colorado and Washington that legalize the possession of marijuana in small amounts. The Obama administration is bent on keeping in place the current federal legislation, where a first-time offender caught with marijuana can be thrown in prison for a year. It’s easy to see why common-sense decriminalization is stifled – an annual report released by the CCA in 2010 reiterates the importance of keeping in place harsh sentencing standards, “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.”
Such is the nature of a perverted brand of capitalism, and today’s model bares little difference to the first private prisons introduced following the abolition of slavery in the late 1800s, where expansive prison farms replaced slave plantations where predominately African-American inmates were made to pick cotton and construct railroads in states such as Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. Today, African-Americans make up 40% of the prison population and are incarcerated seven times more often than whites, despite the fact that African-Americans make up only 12% of the population. Inmates are barred from voting in elections after their release and are denied educational and job opportunities. The disproportionate levels of black people in prisons is undeniably linked to law enforcement’s targeting of intercity black communities through anti-drug stipulations that command maximum sentencing for possession of minute amounts of rock cocaine, a substance that floods poor black neighborhoods.
Perhaps these social ills are byproducts of a system that places predatory profits before human dignity. Compounding the illogic is that state spending on prisons has risen at six times the rate of spending on higher education over the past two decades. Mumia Abu-Jamal, America’s most famous political prisoner, has spent over three decades on death row; he was convicted in 1981 for the murder of a white police officer, while forensic experts say critical evidence vindicating Jamal was withheld from the trial. In an interview with RT, Jamal relates his youth activism with the Black Panthers party against political imprisonment in contrast to the present day situation, “We could not perceive back then of what it would become… you can literally talk about millions of people incarcerated by the prisoner-industrial complex today: men, women and children. And that level of mass incarceration, really mass repression, has to have an immense impact in effect on the other communities, not just among families, but in a social and communal consciousness way, and in inculcation of fear among generations.” The fear and immortality the system perpetuates shows no sign of abating. Being one of the few growth industries the United States has left, one can only imagine how many people will be living in cages in the decades to come.
Proving that those who are not punished for their misdeeds are allowed to repeat them, the Wall Street banks that created and sold risky combinations of mortgages and loans during the pre-2008 boom—and crashed the world economy with them—are doing exactly the same thing again. Once again, financial products with obscure, complex-sounding names like “collateralized debt obligations” and “securitized mortgage instruments,” are being sold by Wall Street to people on Main Street.
The ominous return from the dead of these investments, also called structured financial products, has largely evaded new regulations meant to avert another crisis, prompting concern from financial industry observers. Manus Clancy, managing director at commercial real estate research firm Trepp, worries that “All of this seems like a fairly quick round trip. You are seeing a fair number of sins being forgiven.”
And the sinners who committed those sins are acting like they’ve been forgiven as well. “The players in the business are generally the same as they were before,” noted Tad Philipp, a commercial real estate analyst at Moody’s. “Because it’s the old players, they know how to push the boundaries.”
Wall Street is certainly pushing boundaries on securitized commercial mortgage-backed securities, in which a pool of commercial mortgages are mixed together into bonds, ranked by varying levels of risk. So far in 2013, banks have issued $33.5 billion in such bonds, slightly more than they did in early 2005. Before the 2008 crash, 57% of the outstanding money in such securities was in high-risk interest-only loans, a number that fell hard and fast, to just 11% two years ago. Today, that number has more than tripled to 34%.
Even faster to revive have been collateralized loan obligations, which are pools of loans given to companies with junk ratings. In the first quarter of 2013, banks issued about $26 billion of them—more than in the same period of the last boom year of 2007. Demand has been so strong that banks have started to loosen underwriting standards on the underlying loans and bonds, prompting the Federal Reserve to warn last month that “prudent underwriting practices have deteriorated.”
Those willing to learn from history will recall that securitization—the bundling of many loans into one investment—proved dangerous during the real estate bubble because when the bubble burst, investors learned that the complexity of the instruments had obscured their real risks, leading to unexpected losses by those investors, chaos in the financial system and the Great Recession. They will also recall that those who created these “shoddy deals” and then defrauded their investors escaped wealthy but largely unpunished, and are still working on Wall Street today.
To Learn More:
Wall St. Redux: Arcane Names Hiding Big Risk (by Nathaniel Popper, New York Times)
SEC Tricks Judge to Help Citigroup (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)
Why No Prison for Banksters Who Caused Financial Crisis…Yet? (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
Even as Pentagon officials complain that budget cuts threaten to hollow out its ranks and degrade its military capabilities, they have been able to find money for new sun rooms, a museum, golf course netting and other “questionable projects,” according to a Senate Armed Services Committee report released last week.
The report focuses on the military’s $10 billion-a-year overseas construction efforts, about 70% of which is spent in just three countries with a large U.S. troop presence: Japan, South Korea, and Germany. According to the report, much of this spending occurs with little oversight, sometimes in violation of military regulations and Pentagon promises to Congress.
The specific boondoggles include addition of sun rooms to housing for senior officers in Stuttgart, Germany; a $10 million museum in South Korea praising the U.S. Army; and $2.9 million worth of netting around an Army golf course at Camp Zama, Japan.
Perhaps more disturbing than the amounts involved is the surreptitious manner in which the Pentagon spent the money and kept Congress and the public in the dark. The U.S. is withdrawing or relocating troops in all three countries, and as the military relinquishes various facilities to the host countries, they are expected to pay the U.S. for the returned properties. However, a little-known rule lets local American commanders waive these payments in return for work of an equivalent value performed by the host country—without approval from Congress or even the Pentagon itself. Each of the most questionable expenses—the sun rooms in Germany, the pro-Army museum in South Korea and the golf netting in Japan—was financed this way.
“When the Pentagon and the entire federal government face enormous fiscal challenges, the questionable projects and lack of oversight identified in this review are simply unacceptable,” said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan), the committee chairman.
“We are aware of the report, and we take it very seriously,” said Air Force Maj. Robert Firman, a Department of Defense spokesman. “The DOD strives to be a good steward of taxpayer resources and we look forward to discussing it with Congress in the near future.”
American hospitals are financially discouraged from properly caring for their patients because, as a new study reveals, surgical complications and extra medical care result in higher profits generated from insurance companies.
The study’s results were published Tuesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association. In an editorial accompanying the findings, the authors recommended changing the American payment structure to put an end to a system that rewards hospitals that provide poor care.
Without such reforms, hospitals need to look no further than their bottom line to see that there’s no incentive to improve.
“It’s been known that hospitals are not rewarded for quality,” said study author and Harvard School of Public Health director Atul Gawande. “But it hadn’t been recognized exactly how much more money they make when harm is done.
“We found clear evidence that reducing harm and improving quality is perversely penalized in our current health care system,” said study author Sunil Eappen, who serves as the chief medical officer of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. Other authors hailed from the Boston Consulting Group, Harvard University School of Medicine, and the nonprofit Texas Health Resources.
It’s estimated that Americans and their insurance providers or government benefit programs spend $400 billion on surgery annually. Privately insured patients with surgery complications net hospitals 330 per cent more profit than privately insured patients who have a successful surgery. Elderly and disabled patients under a government Medicare plan provide hospitals with 190 per cent higher profit when their surgeries go wrong.
“If you personalize this and a relative is having a heart surgery, which gets complicated by pneumonia, I don’t think we would want a hospital’s profit to go up as a result of that pneumonia,” study co-author Barry Rosenberg, a partner in Boston Consulting Group’s health care practice, told the Washington Post.
The results highlight the longstanding problem with the American health care system’s for-profit foundation, which pays doctors for every service they provide – even if it’s done wrong.
“We have never seen hospitals that are actively trying to cause complications to make a profit,” said Gawande. “But we’ve seen a lot of hospitals where you say, ‘Why aren’t you investing in reducing risk, the way other industries do?’”
The results are based on the analysis of the records of 34,256 patients who had surgery in 2010 at one of 12 hospitals. Of that total, 1,820 people left surgery with one or more preventable complication including pneumonia, blood clots or infected incisions. The median stay of those patients would then quadruple to 14 days – whereupon insurers would average an additional $30,500.
“This is a clear indication that health care payment reform is necessary,” Gawande said. “Hospitals should gain, not lose, financially from reducing harm.”
- We are being damned: Americans losing faith in failed health care system (bangordailynews.com)
Eyebrows have been raised around the world to see Brits in their thousands dancing through the night in spontaneous street parties following the death of 1980s Prime Minister ‘Iron Lady’ Margaret Thatcher.
As the nickname suggests, she had a fearsome reputation round the world for hitting hard for Britain, but at home it was a different story. In the industrial North most knew several families who lost their livelihood on her watch. Londoners saw ominous shifting sands, homeless youngsters begging on the streets whom her regime had turned it’s back on.
The taboo not a single commentator has broached though is the shadowy ‘advisory’ role played throughout her premiership by European banking fraternity’s Labour peer Lord Victor Rothschild. He was revealed in the book the Thatcher government tried to suppress, Peter Wright’s Spycatcher, to be behind London’s top secret service appointments. In 1986 Rothschild penned ‘Paying for Local Government’ the policy paper that led to the notorious Poll Tax that fell hardest on the poorest, and which brought Britons onto the streets of London in their hundreds of thousands in 1990, riots echoing London’s Poll Tax revolt of 1381.
And according to the then BBC Chairman Marmaduke Hussey, Lord Victor also initiated the sacking in 1987 of the last independent-minded Director General of the BBC, a castration from which the corporation never quite recovered.
One word captures the essence of the Thatcher legacy; ‘privatisation’. As an exasperated former Tory Prime Minster Harold Macmillan put it “she’s selling off the family silver!”. And so tens of mind-boggling billions of pounds of silver were auctioned off to the highest bidders, mostly to Rothschild’s kith and kin. From shipyards and public housing to telephones, steel, oil, gas and water, anyone in the world was free to own the infrastructure and manufacturing heart of Britain that was once collectively ‘ours’.
Was this to pay the USA Lend-Lease second world war debts? To repay Britain’s humiliating 1976 IMF loan? Or simply to fill the hole left in the national accounts after Thatcher dropped income tax on Britain’s richest by more than half from 83% to 40%? Or was it just daylight robbery? When she refused to join the EMU, the forerunner to the vice-like Euro, she was promptly knifed in the back by those who sing her praises today.
Since Thatcher, City institutions have bought up much of our politics and mass media, leaving a post-industrial wasteland ‘museum’ of a nation where the Joseph Rowntree Foundation recently estimated six-and-a-half million British adults are being cruelly blamed, punished and made destitute for ‘not wanting’ full-time jobs, that don’t exist.
Today the cracks that Margaret and Victor’s turbo-charged crowbar opened up have become a chasm which is reawakening this nation’s anger at injustice. The £10 million of taxpayers money being spent on Lady Thatcher’s state funeral, by the millionaires for the millionaires, is rubbing salt in the wounds. Hundreds of thousands of Britons who know right from wrong will turn away and raise a solemn glass to the damnation of Margaret Thatcher and her ‘rehabilitation of greed’ this week, demanding better. The sleeping giant of the British public is rousing from its slumber.
As millionaire Prime Minister David Cameron reads the Christian eulogy at Lady Thatcher’s lavish funeral, those of Britain’s ruling class who still have something resembling a conscience will do well to heed them.
Britain’s first woman Prime Minister – the Margaret Thatcher timeline
1925 October 13 – Margaret Thatcher is born in the market town of Grantham, Lincolnshire
1947 – Thatcher graduates from Oxford with a Chemistry degree
1954 June 1 – Qualifies as a lawyer
1970 – Enters the Cabinet as Education Secretary
1975 February 11 - Elected Conservative Party leader, beating Edward Heath.
1975-9 – Leader of the Opposition
1979 May 4 – The Conservative Party wins the general election, Thatcher succeeds James Callaghan as PM
1979 December 13 – Abolition of Exchange Controls
1980 – Buses deregulated and bus routes privatised
1980 – British Aerospace partly privatised
1980 – April – Local Government stopped from building council homes and tenants given the right to buy
1981 – March Prisoners at Northern Ireland’s Maze Prison go on hunger strike to regain status as political prisoners
1981 – April-July Urban rioting in Brixton in London, Toxteth in Liverpool and St. Pauls in Bristol.
1982 – January Unemployment tops 3 million
1982 – April-June Falklands War
1983 – Associated British Ports (ABP) privatised
1983 – British Shipbuilding privatised
1983 June 9 – Second term as PM begins; the Conservatives secure a landslide election victory
1984-5 – Miners strike, amid the closure and privatisation of coal mines
1984 – British Leyland car manufacturers privatised
1984 October 12 – Narrowly escapes death after the IRA bombs the Conservative party conference in Brighton, killing 5
1984 November – British Telecom (BT) the old Post Office Telecommunications is privatised
1985 – Attempted suppression of former MI5 officer Peter Wright’s autobiography ‘Spycatcher’ which is then published in Australia & Scotland.
1985 June 1 – Battle Of The Beanfield, Britain’s traveller peace convoy destroyed near Stonehenge, Wiltshire by violent police action as recorded in the ‘Operation Solstice’ documentary
1986 – January Wapping dispute as Rupert Murdoch embraces electronic publishing and breaks the power of print unions, depicted in the documentary ‘Despite The Sun’
1986 – British Airports Authority (BAA) privatised
1986 – March Abolition of Ken Livingstone’s opposition Labour controlled Greater London Council or GLC
1986 October 27 – Big Bang deregulation of the City of London financial sector which many believe contributed to the 2008 financial crisis
1986 December – British Gas privatised
1987 January – After several TV and radio programmes critical of the Thatcher government Victor Rothschild & Marmaduke Hussey sack BBC Director General Alasdair Milne
1987 February – British Airways privatised
1987 – Majority share in British Petroleum (BP) privatised
1987 – Rolls Royce aero engines privatised
1987 June 11 – Wins third term as Prime Minister
1988 – British Steel privatised
1989 – British Aerospace fully privatised
1989 – Water Boards privatised
1990 – The Electricity Act began the complex privatisation of electricity (except nuclear)
1990 March 31 – Poll tax riots culminate in a 200,000 strong march on central London, as portrayed in The Battle Of Trafalgar documentary
1990 October 30 – Thatcher No!, No!, No! speech in Commons makes it clear she is set against European Monetary and Political Union
1990 November 13 – Geoffrey Howe resigns in protest at Thatcher’s refusal to agree a timetable for European Monetary Union
1990 November 14 – Former cabinet minister Michael Heseltine challenges Margaret Thatcher for the party leadership
1990 November 28 – Thatcher resigns, despite having won the first ballot. She is succeeded by John Major
1992 – Thatcher leaves the House of Commons, joins the Lords as Baroness Thatcher
1994 – Praises Tony Blair and New Labour as her proudest achievement
2013 April 8 – Lady Thatcher dies in The Ritz hotel owned by Daily Telegraph proprietors the Barclay twins.
Beginning his working life in the aviation industry and trained by the BBC, Tony Gosling is a British land rights activist, historian & investigative radio journalist.
- Opinion poll – more bad news for fans of Thatcher (tompride.wordpress.com)
- Tory MP: Thatcher funeral could ‘work out as a profit’ (itv.com)
Quietly and after many members had left for the weekend, the Senate voted Thursday night to approve a new bill, S. 716, introduced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), that no one had read, and that was not publicly available on the Library of Congress website until after the vote.
The purpose of the bill was to gut key provisions in the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act requiring broad disclosure of already public reports about the personal finances of public officials and employees. Responding to concerns that some provisions of the STOCK Act were overly broad and might put some government employees at risk, the Senate decided to exclude legislative and executive staffers from the online disclosure requirements entirely and to delay implementation of other mandates for themselves.
The STOCK Act, which is only a year old, requires online posting of the personal financial disclosure statements filed each year by lawmakers and congressional candidates, the president and vice president, cabinet members and high-ranking staff. The data is supposed to be made available in machine readable format that is searchable and downloadable by this October.
With no public notice or hearings on the issue, the Senate voted to eliminate both the online disclosure requirement for congressional and executive branch staff members and the creation of a searchable public database containing the information in the reports. At present, the financial disclosure reports are filed on paper and made available as non-searchable pdf files, which makes them cumbersome and onerous to use for research. The requirement of searchability was a key reform intended to allow citizens to easily research patterns of financial influence.
None of the concerns regarding the publication of federal employees’ financial information raised any issues regarding the requirement that the disclosures of legislators, candidates, the President, Vice President and cabinet members be in searchable format by October, but the Senate took the opportunity to kill that mandate as well. Although the provision barring insider trading by members of Congress was left intact, without searchable disclosure forms the heavy volume of data renders its analysis slow and politically toothless.
- Epic Failure by the Senate on Transparency Provisions in STOCK Act (sunlightfoundation.com)
Two years ago this May, Madrid’s Puerta del Sol and Barcelona’s Plaza Catalunya, Spain’s two most important city squares, were occupied by thousands of indignant protestors. For many of the nation’s highly educated but disillusioned youth, enough was enough, and for a short while it seemed that a new era of political mobilization beckoned.
A few weeks later, however, such hopes were brutally dashed when the riot division of Catalonia’s police force, the Mossos D’esquadra, unleashed the untamed fury of the state upon the protestors’ makeshift camp, under the rather dubious pretext of ridding the city of a health and safety risk (this is Europe, after all!). The message was clear: all attempts to resist the new European economic reality, no matter how peaceful, would be brutally suppressed.
In little more than an hour, a whirlwind of police violence cleared the square of all the occupants and pretty much all of their belongings, many of which were never returned. All the while, a thick, dense ring of shell-shocked protestors and curious bystanders gathered around the square, looking on in a mixture of bewilderment, fear and anger.
And I was one of them. As I strolled around the square, with one wary eye on the aggrieved protestors and the other on the fearsomely armed and highly unpredictable mossos d’esquadra, a placard caught my attention. Its message was beautifully simple: “No soy anti sistema, el sistema es anti yo” (I’m not anti-system; the system is anti-me).
The placard was held aloft by a small child riding on his father’s shoulders. The cynical realist within me knew full well that the boy, who must have been no more than five or six years old, was merely channeling his father’s thoughts. But that didn’t stop my more romantic side from imagining that the child was, in actual fact, eloquently speaking out for his soon-to-be lost generation.
For if there is one thing of which you can be sure about present-day Europe, it is that its political and economic systems are not meant to serve or protect the interests of the youth; on the contrary, they have been designed to gradually erode their last-remaining freedoms and rights and, by leaving them the tab for the transgressions and greed of the global banking sector, deprive them of all hope of ever attaining the standards of living once taken for granted by their parents or grandparents.
Spain is a perfect case in point: In the two intervening years since the country’s 15-M moment, the economy has spiraled into a bottomless depression. Official youth unemployment in the country has reached a mind-boggling 60 percent. Thousands of Spanish savers and pensioners have been robbed of their life savings, victims of the national banks’ cunning (and, it goes without saying, unpunished) preferentes sleight of hand.
All the while, taxes continue to skyrocket and essential welfare spending has been mercilessly sacrificed on the altar of bank recapitalization. Countless of the nation’s homes have – and continue to be – repossessed, to later be given away at a fraction of their value to wealthy international property speculators.
Perhaps worst of all, the country’s current government, which took the reins of power six months after the inception of the 15th May movement, has proven itself to be the most corrupt and incompetent in living memory.
But Spain is by no means unique; it is, if anything, a mere symptom of what is happening throughout the eurozone. From Cyprus to Portugal and from France to Slovenia, an all-out war has been declared against the continent’s industrious middle classes.
And now, with Winter turning to Spring, and Spring soon to Summer, the people of Europe face the starkest of choices: resignation to the EU’s neoliberal, neofeudal agenda, and with it, the gradual elimination of the few remaining freedoms and opportunities we still enjoy; or a spirited last-stand against the encroaching totalitarianism of the European superstate.
Before you make your choice (if, of course, you are European), let me first make a few of my own personal observations vis-a-vis our current situation and future outlook.
1. In case you hadn’t noticed, we are already owned, lock, stock and smoking barrel, by the international cartel of too-big-to-fail banks.
2. Pretty much all our political representatives and institutions, whether at the national or EU level, have also been bought off by the same banks, whose agents – the national central banks, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the ECB, the European Commission, the IMF, OECD and World Bank - now stand head and shoulders above all other players in the global political order.
3. Said banks are, to all intents and purposes, bankrupt, both financially and morally. They are also quite literally a law unto themselves. By allowing them to continue to operate in a mark-to-model fantasy world as well as gorge themselves on virtually interest-free central bank credit and regular transfusions of tax-payer funds, our politicians have shown all too clearly on which side their bread is buttered. As such, as long as the current financial system remains in place, the banks and their senior executives will be free to continue bleeding dry our national economies and personal bank accounts.
As Golem XIV recently wrote in his blog, there now exists an official list, drawn up by the Financial Stability Board, of 28 banks that are now free to operate beyond any legal jurisdiction. Like HSBC, they can consort with and engage in business with some of the world’s most wanted criminals, at absolutely no risk of legal action. And as Golem notes, this month (April 2013), we can look forward to the announcement of “another list, this time of Globally Systemically Important Insurers (G-SIIs). They too will be above the Law.”
4. Democracy has absolutely no role, beyond a figurative one, in the European Union. The continued survival and expansion of the European superstate supersedes all other concerns, whether moral, political, social or economic. As such, no genuine form of democracy or civic political engagement will be allowed to take root. As in Stalinist Russia, complete power and authority will reside in the hands of faceless, unaccountable apparatchiks, all doing the bidding of the large global banks and conglomerates.
5. As the real economy (i.e. everything that is not the stock exchange) continues its descent into the abyss, businesses will continue to close down, jobs will continue to vanish at an alarming rate and taxes will continue to rise. What’s more, at a politically expedient moment, the final nail will be driven deep into the coffin of Europe’s welfare state system, once the envy of the world. Needless to say, the newly privatized healthcare, education and pension systems that will take its place will be the sole preserve of the upwardly mobile (i.e. not us).
Instead of paying for essential public services and utilities such as health care, education, pensions and infrastructure, the public’s ballooning tax burden will be directed toward two purposes: keeping the big banks afloat and sustaining the ever-expanding police-state apparatus that will be needed to keep the collapsing civic society in line. Put simply, we will be forced to finance our own enslavement.
6. Most importantly of all, the global financial system’s days are already numbered. Put simply, the system is buckling under the combined weight of unsustainable debt, unpayable pension schemes and a derivatives market whose total value dwarfs global GDP by magnitudes that exceed all human logic.
The question is, once it does collapse, who’s going to pick up the pieces and rebuild a new, more sustainable system in its ashes? Will it be us, the people, or will it be the same bankers, central bankers and heavily compromised political half-wits that got us here in the first place? Will we bravely stake our claim to a new future, or resign ourselves, in fear and despair, to the global bankers’ totalitarian nirvana?
Whatever choice Europeans make in the coming months and years, one thing is clear: the human, social and economic costs will be tremendous either way. For the unpleasant truth is that we have allowed ourselves to be led so far down the rabbit hole of exponential debt that reemerging into the light of day will take years of collective struggle and sacrifice.
Don Quijones is a freelance writer and translator based in Barcelona, Spain. His blog, Raging Bull-Shit, is a modest attempt to challenge some of the wishful thinking and scrub away the lathers of soft soap peddled by our political and business leaders and their loyal mainstream media.
Also by Don Quijones: Spain’s Descent Into Banana Republicanism
- EU growth strategy a ‘failure so far’, study finds (irishtimes.com)
- How The Criminal Banking Cartel Is Destroying America (blacklistednews.com)
Catastrophic nuclear accidents, like Chernobyl in 1986 or Fukushima No. 1 in 2011, are very rare, we’re incessantly told, and their probability of occurring infinitesimal. But when they do occur, they get costly. So costly that the French government, when it came up with cost estimates, kept them secret.
But now the report was leaked to the French magazine, Le Journal de Dimanche. Turns out, the upper end of the cost spectrum of an accident at a single reactor at the plant chosen for the study, the plant at Dampierre in the Department of Loiret in north-central France, would amount to over three times the country’s GDP. Financially, France would cease to exist as we know it.
Hence, the need to keep it secret. The study was done in 2007 by the Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN), a government agency under joint authority of the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Environment, Industry, Research, and Health. With over 1,700 employees, it’s France’s “public service expert in nuclear and radiation risks.” This isn’t some overambitious, publicity-hungry think tank.
It evaluated a range of disaster scenarios that might occur at the Dampierre plant. In the best-case scenario, costs came to €760 billion—more than a third of France’s GDP. At the other end of the spectrum: €5.8 trillion! Over three times France’s GDP. A devastating amount. So large that France could not possibly deal with it.
Yet, France gets 75% of its electricity from nuclear power. The entire nuclear sector is controlled by the state, which also owns 85% of EDF, the mega-utility that operates France’s 58 active nuclear reactors spread over 20 plants. So, three weeks ago, the Institute released a more politically correct report for public consumption. It pegged the cost of an accident at €430 billion.
“There was no political smoothening, no pressure,” claimed IRSN Director General Jacques Repussard, but he admitted, “it’s difficult to publish these kinds of numbers.” He said the original report with a price tag of €5.8 trillion was designed to counter the reports that EDF had fabricated, which “very seriously underestimated the costs of the incidents.”
Both reports were authored by IRSN economist Patrick Momal, who struggled to explain away the differences. The new number, €430 billion, was based on a “median case” of radioactive releases, as was the case in Fukushima, he told the JDD, while the calculations of 2007 were based more on what happened at Chernobyl. But then he added that even the low end of the original report, the €760 billion, when updated with the impact on tourism and exports, would jump to €1 trillion.
“One trillion, that’s what Fukushima will ultimately cost,” Repussard said.
Part of the €5.8 trillion would be the “astronomical social costs due to the high number of victims,” the report stated. The region contaminated by cesium 137 would cover much of France and Switzerland, all of Belgium and the Netherlands, and a big part of Germany—an area with 90 million people (map). The costs incurred by farmers, employees, and companies, the environmental damage and healthcare expenses would amount to €4.4 trillion.
“Those are social costs, but the victims may not necessarily be compensated,” the report stated ominously—because there would be no entity in France that could disburse those kinds of amounts.
Closer to the plant, 5 million people would have to be evacuated from an area of 87,000 square kilometers (about 12% of France) and resettled. The soil would have to be decontaminated, and radioactive waste would have to be treated and disposed of. Total cost: €475 billion.
The weather is the big unknown. Yet it’s crucial in any cost calculations. Winds blowing toward populated areas would create the worst-case scenario of €5.8 trillion. Amidst the horrible disaster of Fukushima, Japan was nevertheless lucky in one huge aspect: winds pushed 80% of the radioactive cloud out to sea. If it had swept over Tokyo, the disaster would have been unimaginable. In Chernobyl, winds made the situation worse; they spread the cloud over the Soviet Union.
Yet the study might underestimate the cost for other nuclear power plants. The region around Dampierre has a lower population density than regions around other nuclear power plants. And it rarely has winds that would blow the radioactive cloud in a northerly direction toward Paris. Other nuclear power plants aren’t so fortuitously located.
These incidents have almost no probability of occurring, we’re told. So there are currently 437 active nuclear power reactors and 144 “permanent shutdown reactors” in 31 countries, according to the IAEA, for a total of 581 active and inactive reactors. Of these, four melted down so far—one at Chernobyl and three at Fukushima. Hence, the probability for a meltdown is not infinitesimal. Based on six decades of history, it’s 4 out of 581, or 0.7%. One out of every 145 reactors. Another 67 are under construction, and more are to come….
Decommissioning and dismantling the powerplant at Fukushima and disposing of the radioactive debris has now been estimated to take 40 years. At this point, two years after the accident, very little has been solved. But it has already cost an enormous amount of money. People who weren’t even born at the time of the accident will be handed the tab for it. And the ultimate cost might never be known.
The mayor of Futaba, a ghost town of once upon a time 7,000 souls near Fukushima No. 1, told his staff that evacuees might not be able to return for 30 years. Or never, for the older generation. It was the first estimate of a timeframe. But it all depends on successful decontamination. And that has turned into a vicious corruption scandal. Read…. Corruption At “Decontaminating” Radioactive Towns In Japan.
Most homeowners wronged during the foreclosure fiasco will receive only a few hundred dollars in compensation from a settlement reached between the federal government and banks.
About 2.4 million borrowers of the almost 4 million eligible homeowners will receive $300 after lenders gave out misinformation, lost documents and committed other misdeeds.
Two years ago, the Independent Foreclosure Review proclaimed homeowners who suffered “financial injury” could get as much as $125,000.
It now turns out only 1,135 borrowers will see this amount. This small group mostly includes members of the U.S. military who had their homes taken away from them, as well as 53 non-military homeowners who endured foreclosure even though they didn’t default on their loans.
- Obama Administration Asks Banks to Regulate Their Own Foreclosure Abuses (alethonews.wordpress.com)
The Ironic Lady: Margaret Thatcher, Supposed Champion of ‘Freedom and Democracy’, and Her Dictator Friends
Margaret Thatcher died Monday, April 8, 2013, at the age of 87. While there is no dearth of hagiographic profiles of the former British Prime Minister in the mainstream press and scathing vitriol elsewhere, it should be remembered that, throughout her career, Thatcher was a staunch supporter of many of the world’s most brutal regimes, propping up and arming war criminals and dictators in service to Western imperialism, anti-Communism and neoliberal hegemony.
Throughout the 1980s, Thatcher’s government backed Iraq during its war against Iran, funneling weapons and equipment to Saddam Hussein in contravention of both international law and British policy, all the way up until Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. She even sent Christmas cards to both Saddam and Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi in 1981.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here’s a review of some of her other pals…
In April 1978, prior to her ascension to Prime Minister, Thatcher visited the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, in Tehran where she praised him as “one of the world’s most far-sighted statesmen, whose experience is unrivaled.”
Despite the popular protests against the Shah occurring across Iran with increasing frequency, Thatcher said of her host, “No other world leader has given his country more dynamic leadership. He is leading Iran through a twentieth century renaissance.” Exactly one month before her visit, street protests in over 55 Iranian cities resulted in the killing of more than 100 civilians, when police opened fire on the crowds.
Iran “holds a key strategic position in the defence of the Western World,” Thatcher continued, “Her strength and resolve are vital to our future.” She added, “Iran has been the West’s most resolute and stalwart ally in this crucial region.”
Upon his overthrow the following February, the Shah expressed his desire to seek asylum in England at his lavish country estate in Surrey. While the British government at the time wound up secretly helping the Shah make his way from Morocco to the Bahamas, it rejected his request to enter the UK.
Thatcher, who became Prime Minister soon thereafter, respected the decision of her predecessor for political reasons, but was “deeply unhappy” that Britain could not offer sanctuary to Pahlavi, whom she called a “firm and helpful friend.”
A longtime supporter of the Egyptian dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, Thatcher once received a memo from the UK Foreign Office referring to Mubarak as “no intellectual but… always friendly and cheerful,” noting that while “apt to express simplistic views, he has become an experienced and accomplished political operator.” The brief continued, “His affable exterior evidently conceals a degree of ruthlessness since it seems likely that he has conducted some successful political infighting to maintain his position” having “succeeded in ousting or at least surviving all other prominent figures in the government or armed forces.”
“Nevertheless his reputation is free of any taint of corruption or malpractice and he is not thought to have made many enemies,” the memo said of Mubarak, adding that he was “eager to improve relations with the Royal Air Force and to buy British [military] equipment.”
Thatcher was only too happy to oblige.
Over the years of her leadership, Thatcher routinely commended Mubarak for his “courage” and “strength.” In 1985, at a banquet in Cairo, she said she “admire[d] particularly, Mr. President, the leadership which you personally… have shown.” Five years later, while hosting Mubarak and his wife at No. 10 Downing Street, Thatcher declared, “You are among our very favourite visitors because we all know you as particularly good and close friends of this country, as we are of Egypt,” and once again expressed her admiration for the Egyptian president, this time for his “incredible energy.”
“You are as full of beans as ever,” she said. Unfortunately for the Egyptian people over the next 11 years, thanks largely to American and British largesse, she was right.
Thatcher was a steadfast defender of Augusto Pinochet, whose unspeakably brutal dictatorship of torture and repression terrorized Chile from 1973 to 1990. She visited Pinochet in 1999 during his house arrest in England, saying that her country “owed” him ”a great debt” of gratitude for his help during the 1982 Falklands War.
Without any sense of irony, Thatcher added, “I’m also very much aware that it is you who brought democracy to Chile.”
Never one to mention his appalling human rights record, Thatcher expressed her “outrage at the callous and unjust treatment” of Pinochet during a speech that October at the Conservative Party Conference, called him “this country’s only political prisoner,” and hailed him as Britain’s “staunch, true friend in our time of need” and “who stopped the communists taking Chile.”
The next year, upon his release and return to Chile, for which she fought tirelessly, Thatcher sent Pinochet a silver Armada dish as a gift, condemned his detention in England as “a great injustice” and wished the deposed dictator and his family “all good wishes for a peaceful and secure future.”
When Pinochet died six years later, Thatcher said she was “deeply saddened” by his passing.
Subsequently, Robin Harris, a former official in Thatcher’s administration, wrote in The Telegraph that Thatcher “took a positive view of Pinochet’s 17 years in power” and “would not have spoken up for him if she had believed him a monster. She could not judge the merits of every allegation. But, clearly, the legal case against him was weak and the motivation of those involved suspect.”
Harris similarly praised Pinochet for “[leaving] behind a stable democracy,” concluding that “Margaret Thatcher has nothing to be ashamed of in defending Augusto Pinochet, when others refused to do so” and that Pinochet “was lucky to find such a champion.”
In March 1987, King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, visited Thatcher. Beforehand, Thatcher said in an interview, “Relations between Saudi Arabia and Britain are excellent. We have common interests in peace and stability in the Middle East. The Al Yamamah Project for the sale of Tornado and other aircraft to Saudi Arabia has done much to focus Saudi attention on Britain and British attention on Saudi Arabia.”
The Al Yamamah arms deal, signed a year and a half earlier, was “the biggest export transaction in British history, estimated by a British Aerospace executive in 2005 to be worth £83 billion in past and future sales to Saudi Arabia of military hardware including aircraft ranging from Tornado fighters and Hawk trainer jets to Eurofighter Typhoons,” in addition to a wide range of arms, naval vessels, radar, spare parts, and a pilot-training program.
The deal was largely the result of Thatcher’s own lobbying initiative on behalf of the British defense industry and weapons manufacturers and, ever since its signing, allegations of corruption, fraud and bribery have abounded.
In 1993, in a speech to a Chatham House Conference on Saudi Arabia after leaving office, Thatcher maintained that “[o]ne of Al Yamamah’s achievements has been the training and equipping of the Royal Saudi Air Force by Britain. Both training and aircraft were put to the test of wartime combat far sooner than anyone expected. As we now know, both the aircraft and their RSAF pilots performed superbly in Operation Desert Storm.” She continued, “The Al Yamamah programme has continued steadily since the conflict. When this year’s new order of a further 48 Tornado aircraft for the RSAF has been executed it will be safe to say that Saudi Arabia will have one of the strongest and most effective Air Forces in the world.”
Beyond this, Thatcher described the kingdom as “a peace loving nation” and a “modern miracle,” touting its “domestic achievements” and the “stable framework” and “solid rock of a well established and respected monarchy.”
“We are strong partners in trade and defence. We share great strategic interests,” she said.
Regarding Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, Thatcher was silent. “I have no intention of meddling in that country’s internal affairs,” she insisted. “It is one of my firmest beliefs that although there are certain basic standards and goals we should expect from every member of the international community, the precise pace and approach must reflect different societies’ cultural, social, economic and historical backgrounds. And Saudi Arabia, in particular, is a complex society which Westerners do not often fully comprehend.”
Again, without even the slightest hint of irony, Thatcher – in the very same speech – noted, “It is the surest signal to other dictators that the West lacks the resolve to defend justice. We have yet to see its full consequences — our lack of effective action will return to haunt us.” She was talking about Bosnia.
While Thatcher maintained throughout her political that she “loathe[d] apartheid and everything connected with it,” she referred to Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress, as “a typical terrorist organization” and refused, alongside Ronald Reagan, to back sanctions against the Apartheid regime in South Africa. ”In my view, isolation will lead only to an increasingly negative and intransigent attitude in the part of white South African,” she said in December 1977.
In 1984, Thatcher invited South African Prime Minister P.W. Botha to visit London, the first such visit in 23 years, sparking understandable outrage in the anti-Apartheid movement. The next year, the Associated Press reported that she “rejected demands by the opposition Labor Party that she meet with Oliver Tambo, leader of the African National Congress guerrilla movement, who is visiting Britain…on grounds he espouses violence.”
“I do not accept that apartheid is the root of violence… nor do most other people,” Thatcher insisted and, during a speech before Parliament, stated that Botha’s “South African government has taken more steps to start dismantling apartheid than any of their predecessors.”
“I can see little point in sanctions creating more unemployment in this country only to create more unemployment in South Africa… It seems to me a ridiculous policy that would not work,” she added.
In response to her death today, Oliver Tambo’s son Dali told the press, “My gut reaction now is what it was at the time when she said my father was the leader of a terrorist organisation. I don’t think she ever got it that every day she opposed sanctions, more people were dying, and that the best thing for the assets she wanted to protect was democracy,” adding, “It’s a shame that we could never call her one of the champions of the liberation struggle. Normally we say that when one of us goes, the ANC ancestors will meet them at the pearly gates and give them a standing ovation. I think it’s quite likely that when Margaret Thatcher reaches the pearly gates, the ANC will boycott the occasion.”
In the midst of the bloody Indonesian occupation of East Timor, Thatcher visited genocidal Indonesian dictator General Suharto, praised Indonesia’s “agricultural and industrial development” and, although East Timorese had been killed, starved, disappeared and herded into “resettlement camps” as part of Suharto’s “encirclement and annihilation” campaign, dismissed allegations of human rights abuses, explaining that East Timor was none of Britain’s business and that Suharto himself has “assured me that the International Red Cross not only had access to East Timor, but was very welcome there.”
She told the press, “Trade brings us together and identifies our interests, and I am sure that trade between Indonesia and Britain will increase as a result of the very friendly and warm atmosphere created by my visit here. We are clearly the best of friends and there is no sounder basis on which to construct future collaboration.”
In 2008, veteran journalist John Pilger recalled that Thatcher referred to Suharto as, “One of our very best and most valuable friends,” and how, “[f]or three decades the south-east Asian department of the Foreign Office worked tirelessly to minimise the crimes of Suharto’s gestapo, known as Kopassus, who gunned down people with British-supplied Heckler & Koch machine guns from British-supplied Tactica ‘riot control’ vehicles.”
“A Foreign Office speciality was smearing witnesses to the bombing of East Timorese villages by British-supplied Hawk aircraft – until Robin Cook was forced to admit it was true. Almost a billion pounds in export credit guarantees financed the sale of the Hawks, paid for by the British taxpayer while the arms industry reaped the profit,” Pilger adds.
With this kind of record, it is clear that Thatcher’s constantly pledged support for “freedom and democracy” was really a violent, imperial campaign waged for free markets and domination.
The revolving door between Wall Street and its government regulators has been spinning at warp speed lately. Two recent cases involve high-level officials whose jobs were to regulate Wall Street’s practices and prosecute Wall Street’s crimes. Despite the massive and systemic fraud that led to the financial collapse of 2008, both failed to win a single major enforcement against Wall Street, and now they are being rewarded with lucrative jobs there.
Mary Schapiro, who took over a demoralized Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that repeatedly failed to head off financial disasters involving Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and Bernard Madoff, did not win a major civil action against any Wall Street executive who was part of the subprime mortgage scam that led to the crash during her four years as SEC chair. One low point came the day federal judge Jed Rakoff refused to approve SEC’s $285 million settlement with Citigroup because, just as with Goldman Sachs, SEC failed to get an admission of wrongdoing. Schapiro did open a new tips database and a whistleblower office.
Lanny Breuer worked the criminal side of the street as head of the Justice Department’s criminal division for the past four years, yet he failed to win a single major criminal conviction against a Wall Street executive. He resigned shortly after a recent “Frontline” documentary implied that he had been ineffectual in bringing justice to the financial industry. His public defense of his own lack of criminal prosecutions was also widely panned.
Now both are returning to the other side: Schapiro has taken a job as a managing director and chair of the governance and markets practice at Promontory Financial Group, which advises financial firms on regulation, while Breuer is going back to Covington & Burling, a major law firm that defends financial clients, as vice chair of the firm. Although salary data are unavailable, both can be expected to earn at least $500,000 annually from their new gigs.
“It used to be called ‘selling out,’ ‘cashing in,’ or ‘influence peddling.’ Now it’s referred to politely as the ‘revolving door,’” Dennis Kelleher, president of Better Markets, a nonprofit that wants stronger regulation of the financial industry, told the National Journal. “But whatever it’s called, nothing is more corrosive to the American people’s trust in government than when former senior public officials turn their so-called public service into multimillion-dollar riches unimaginable to almost all Americans.”
Even more insidious than outright corruption, argue such critics, is the fact that the continually revolving door between Wall Street and its regulators creates a financial industry culture shared by both bankers and their regulators, who come to see themselves as part of the financial system—and hope eventually to be rewarded by the profit-making companies they are supposed to regulate and prosecute.
To Learn More:
Mary Schapiro and Lanny Breuer Give Us the Ultimate Dog-Bites-Man Story (by Michael Hirsh, National Journal)
Justice Dept. Defends Not Prosecuting Corporate Leaders for White-Collar Crime (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)
SEC Chair Schapiro Retains a Lawyer (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)
Revolving Door at SEC is in a Whirl as Hundreds Hired by Industry they Regulated (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)
- Where Bank Regulators Go to Get Rich – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- Schapiro’s move to consultant prompts ‘revolving door’ critique (blogs.marketwatch.com)
- Washington’s Revolving Door Keeps Spinning (billmoyers.com)