A bill to deny admission to the United States to any representative to the United Nations who has been found to have been engaged in espionage activities or a terrorist activity against the United States and poses a threat to United States national security interests.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has announced the appointment of six new members to the NASA Advisory Council (NAC). The group advises NASA's senior leadership on challenges and solutions facing the agency as it unfolds a new era of exploration.
NASA will provide a status update on Launch Complex 39A at 2:30 p.m. EDT, Monday, April 14 at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The update, which will be held at pad 39A, will not be carried live on NASA Television.
The New York City Police Department has disbanded a unit that spied on Muslims in their mosques and community gathering places. Set up in 2003, under then-mayor Michael Bloomberg, the officers' job was ostensibly to gather intelligence on potential terrorist plans and conspiracies. The city’s diverse Muslim community has long complained about the unit, claiming their constitutional rights were being violated by indiscriminate religious and ethnic profiling.
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The northeastern U.S. city of Boston is getting ready for its first marathon since the 2013 race, in which terrorist bombs killed three people and wounded 265 others. This year, the annual Boston Marathon takes place April 21, with about 36,000 participants registered -- thousands more than last year. Organizers, survivors and participants are determined not to allow painful memories of last year's bloodshed to undermine a tradition that started in 1897.
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The Alex Jones Show(VIDEO Commercial Free) Tuesday April 15 2014: Cliven Bundy, Joe Banister
Waco-Style Siege of Ranch?
-- Date: 04/15/2014 --
On this riveting Tuesday, April 15 transmission of the Alex Jones Show, Alex takes on the lies spewed by unconstitutional government bureaucracies such as the IRS and the BLM. Former congressman Ron Paul warned that the Feds could soon launch a Waco-style assault against Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and his family. Cliven Bundy joins us today to discuss these recent developments in his stand against unconstitutional bureaucracy and crony capitalism spearheaded by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Joe Banister, the IRS Special Agent who exposed the agency's deceit and illegal enforcement of the federal income tax, also joins the show to discuss current and previous IRS scandals. Additionally, Alex takes your calls to hear your take on these important topics and more. You don't want to miss today's transmission!
Philadelphia law enforcement officials will stop taking immigrants into custody on behalf of the federal government unless provided with a warrant. The news comes after city Mayor Michael Nutter signed an executive order on Wednesday. Read Full Article at RT.com
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The United States government is preparing to send non-lethal aid to Ukraine, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday, just one day after the interim government there launched an operation against armed pro-Russian protesters. Read Full Article at RT.com
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg may be out of office, but he’s just starting to make some noise if his latest investment is any indication: a new organization intended to take on the National Rifle Association. Read Full Article at RT.com
Few will likely find themselves reading the fine print added to the new terms of service issued by Google this week, but the updated version clarifies to customers once and for all that the contents of messages going in and out of Gmail are being scanned. Read Full Article at RT.com
The United States Federal Reserve is usually the government office finding itself most often in the crosshairs of former Texas congressman Ron Paul, but now the longtime lawmaker is setting his sights on another agency: the Internal Revenue Service. Read Full Article at RT.com
Rather than simply toss aside aging surveillance drones, the Pentagon has announced plans to use them as high-speed Wi-Fi hot spots for troops in remote regions of the world. Read Full Article at RT.com
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Reserve your ticket to the Christmas Party you will remember for a LIFETIME. Join Ron and Carol Paul for a special, one night only, Christmas Celebration! Hosted by the Republican Party of Iowa, join with your fellow advocates of liberty to Celebrate the Holiday. This event will be jam packed with Christmas food, desserts, cocktails, […]
by Ron Paul After a year of talks over the post-2014 US military presence in Afghanistan, the US administration announced last week that a new agreement had finally been reached. Under the deal worked out with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the US would keep thousands of troops on nine military bases for at least the […]
by Ron Paul Last Thursday the Senate Banking Committee held hearings on Janet Yellen’s nomination as Federal Reserve Board Chairman. As expected, Ms. Yellen indicated that she would continue the Fed’s “quantitative easing” (QE) polices, despite QE’s failure to improve the economy. Coincidentally, two days before the Yellen hearings, Andrew Huszar, an ex-Fed official, publicly […]
by Ron Paul One of the least discussed, but potentially most significant, provisions in President Obama’s budget is the use of the “chained consumer price index” (chained CPI), to measure the effect of inflation on people’s standard of living. Chained CPI is an effort to alter the perceived impact of inflation via the gimmick of […]
by Ron Paul October was Iraq’s deadliest month since April, 2008. In those five and a half years, not only has there been no improvement in Iraq’s security situation, but things have gotten much worse. More than 1,000 people were killed in Iraq last month, the vast majority of them civilians. Another 1,600 were wounded, […]
by Ron Paul Washington, DC, Wall Street, and central bankers around the world rejoiced this week as Congress came to an agreement to end the government shutdown and lift the debt ceiling. The latest spending-and-debt deal was negotiated by Congressional leaders behind closed doors, and was rushed through Congress before most members had time to […]
by Ron Paul The news that Janet Yellen was nominated to become the next Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System was greeted with joy by financial markets and the financial press. Wall Street saw Yellen’s nomination as a harbinger of continued easy money. Contrast this with the hand-wringing that took […]
Last week, for the first time since the 1979 Iranian revolution, the US president spoke with his Iranian counterpart. Their 15 minute telephone call was reported to open the door to further high-level discussions. This is a very important event. I have been saying for years that we should just talk to the Iranians. After […]
Taibbi discusses his new book, "The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap."
AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this month, attorney James Kidney, who was retiring from the Securities and Exchange Commission, gave a widely reported speech at his retirement party. He said that his bosses were too, quote, "tentative and fearful" to hold Wall Street accountable for the 2008 economic meltdown. Kidney, who joined the SEC in 1986, had tried and failed to bring charges against more executives in the agency’s 2010 case against Goldman Sachs. He said the SEC has become, quote, "an agency that polices the broken windows on the street level and rarely goes to the penthouse floors. ... Tough enforcement, risky enforcement, is subject to extensive negotiation and weakening," he said.
Matt, we welcome you back to Democracy Now! It’s a remarkable, important, certainly needed book in this day and age. Talk about the thesis. What is the divide?
MATT TAIBBI: Well, this book grew out of my experience covering Wall Street. I’ve obviously been doing it since the crash in 2008. And over and over again, I would cover these very complex and often very socially destructive capers committed by white-collar criminals. And the punchline to all of the stories were basically the same: Nobody would get indicted; nobody went to jail. And after a while, I started to become interested specifically in that phenomenon. Why was there no enforcement of any of this? And around the time of the Occupy protest, I decided to write this book, and then I shifted my focus to try to learn a lot more for myself about who does go to jail in this country, because I thought you really can’t make this comparison accurately until you learn about both sides of the equation, because it’s actually much more grotesque to consider the non-enforcement of white-collar criminals when you do consider how incredibly aggressive law enforcement is with regard to everybody else.
AARON MATÉ: Now, you spent time with the—with the poor and vulnerable and people of color, who have been targeted by this system. There was one case of a man in New York, who lives in Bed-Stuy, standing outside of his home who was arrested. Can you take it from there?
MATT TAIBBI: Yeah, sure. I was in a law office in Brooklyn, and I was actually waiting to speak to a lawyer about another case, when I met this 35-year-old African-American man, a bus driver. And I asked him what he was there for, and he told me that he had been arrested for, quote-unquote, "obstructing pedestrian traffic." And I thought he was kidding. You know, I didn’t know what that meant. And I asked him to show me his summons, and he pulled out a little—little piece of pink paper, and there it was. It was written, you know, "obstructing pedestrian traffic," which it turns out it meant that he was standing in front of his own house at 1:00 in the morning, and the police just didn’t like the way he looked and arrested him.
And this is part of the disorderly conduct statute here in New York, but this is one of these offenses that people get roped in for. It’s part of what a city councilman in another city called an "epidemic of false arrests," basically these new stats-based police strategies. The whole idea is to rope in as many people as you can, see how many of them have guns or warrants, and then basically throw back the innocent ones. But the problem is they don’t throw back everybody. They end up sweeping up a lot of innocent people and charging them with really pointless crimes.
AARON MATÉ: There’s a very comic scene where then he goes to court, and he has a hard time convincing his public defender why he doesn’t want to pay a fine for standing in front of his home.
MATT TAIBBI: Yeah, and this is something that I encountered over and over and over again, is that people who were charged with these minor sort of harassing offenses, they—when the state discovers that the case against them is not very good, they start offering deals to the accused. And when people protest that "I’m not going to plead, because I didn’t do anything wrong," they keep offering better and better and better deals. And no one can understand why they won’t plead guilty, because, in reality, most people do. They will end up taking—
AMY GOODMAN: Like all the bankers plead guilty.
MATT TAIBBI: Right, yeah, exactly. Of course, it’s completely the opposite situation on the other side of the coin. But in the case of Andrew, the guy who was arrested for obstructing pedestrian traffic, he literally could not convince his own lawyer that he was innocent. And it took a long, long time before they got the judge to ask the policeman on duty if there was actually anybody else on the street to obstruct. And it wasn’t until that moment that they dismissed the case, and it just took that long.
AMY GOODMAN: So let’s talk about the other side. And I want to go to Attorney General Eric Holder, his remarks before the Senate Judiciary Committee last May in which he suggests that some banks are just too big to jail.
ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to—to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy. And I think that is a function of the fact that some of these institutions have become too large. Again, I’m not talking about HSBC; this is just a more general comment. I think it has an inhibiting influence, impact, on our ability to bring resolutions that I think would be more appropriate.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Attorney General Eric Holder testifying before Congress. His remarks were widely criticized. This is Federal Judge Jed Rakoff speaking last November at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
JUDGE JED RAKOFF: To a federal judge, who takes an oath to apply the law equally to rich and poor, this excuse, sometimes labeled the too-big-to-jail excuse, is, frankly, disturbing for what it says about the department’s apparent disregard for equality under the law.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Federal Judge Jed Rakoff. Matt Taibbi, if you could respond? And then talk about the history of Eric Holder, where he came from.
MATT TAIBBI: Well, first of all, this idea that some companies are too big to jail, it makes some sense in the abstract. In a vacuum, of course it makes sense. If you have a company, a storied company that may have existed for a hundred, 150 years, that employs tens or maybe even 100,000 people, you may not want to criminally charge that company willy-nilly and wreck the company and cause lots of people to lose their jobs.
But there are two problems with that line of thinking if you use it over and over and over again. One is that there’s no reason you can’t proceed against individuals in those companies. It’s understandable to maybe not charge the company, but in the case of a company like HSBC, which admitted to laundering $850 million for a pair of Central and South American drug cartels, somebody has to go to jail in that case. If you’re going to put people in jail for having a joint in their pocket or for slinging dime bags on the corner in a city street, you cannot let people who laundered $800 million for the worst drug offenders in the world walk.
AMY GOODMAN: Wait, this can’t be a parenthetical. Explain what you’re talking about with HSBC.
MATT TAIBBI: So, HSBC, again, this is one of the world’s largest banks. It’s Europe’s largest bank. And a few years ago, they got caught, swept up for a variety of offenses, money-laundering offenses. But one of them involved admitting that they had laundered $850 million for a pair—for two drug cartels, one in Mexico and one in South America, and including the notorious Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico that is suspected in thousands of murders.
And in that case, they paid a fine; they paid a $1.9 billion fine. And some of the executives had to defer their bonuses for a period of five years—not give them up, defer them. But there were no individual consequences for any of the executives. Nobody had to pull money out of their own pockets for permanently. And nobody did a single day in jail in that case.
And that, to me, was an incredibly striking case. I ran that very day to the courthouse here in New York, and I asked around to the public defenders, you know, "What’s the dumbest drug case you had today?" And I found somebody who had been thrown in Rikers for 47 days for having a joint in his pocket. So—
AMY GOODMAN: And that’s—is that even illegal?
MATT TAIBBI: No, in New York City, actually, it’s not illegal to carry a joint around in your pocket. It was decriminalized way back in the late '70s. But with part of the now past stop-and-frisk, what they do is they would stop you, and then they would search you and force you to empty your pockets. When you empty your pockets, now it's no longer concealed, and now it’s illegal again. So they had—in that year, they had 50,000 marijuana arrests, even though marijuana—having marijuana was technically decriminalized at the time.
So, my point was: Here’s somebody at the bottom, he’s a consumer of the illegal narcotics business, and he’s going to jail, and then you have these people who are at the very top of the illegal narcotics business, and they’re getting a complete walk. And that’s just totally unacceptable.
AARON MATÉ: But back to this doctrine that you can’t punish an entire company for the misdeeds of a few because you might hurt the economy, you might hurt shareholders, you know, some of which are pension holders and—pension funds and so forth, how do you get from hurting a—how do you equate hurting an entire company to just not jailing a couple of executives?
MATT TAIBBI: Well, that’s the whole point. They’ve conflated the two things. Originally—so, this—to answer the second part of your original question, "Where does this come from? Where does this doctrine come from?" way back in 1999, when Eric Holder was a deputy attorney general in the—in Clinton’s administration, he wrote a memo that has now come to be known as "the Holder Memo." And in it, he outlined a number of things. Actually, it was originally considered a get-tough-on-corporate-crime memo, because it gave prosecutors a number of new tools with which they could go after corporate criminals. But at the bottom of it, there was this thing that he laid out called the "collateral consequences doctrine." And what "collateral consequences" meant was that if you’re a prosecutor and you’re targeting one of these big corporate offenders and you’re worried that you may affect innocent victims, that shareholders or innocent executives may lose their jobs, you may consider other alternatives, other remedies besides criminal prosecutions—in other words, fines, nonprosecution agreements, deferred prosecution agreements. And again, at the time, it was a completely sensible thing to lay out. Of course it makes sense to not always destroy a company if you can avoid it. But what they’ve done is they’ve conflated that sometimes-sensible policy with a policy of not going after any individuals for any crimes. And that’s just totally unacceptable.
AARON MATÉ: Is it not the case that some of these cases are just too complex to explain to a jury?
MATT TAIBBI: Yes. And that—well, they are complex, and juries do have a difficult time with them, but they’re not impossible to explain to a jury. I mean, I attended a trial involving bid rigging in the municipal bond markets where they obtained convictions. Now, that case couldn’t have been more complicated. That was as hard as a case gets. And I actually watched some of the jurors fighting off sleep in the early days of the trial. That’s how difficult it was. And in that case, amusingly, one of the attorneys for the banks got up initially, and he tried to defend his client’s behavior by saying, you know, "When you call up a—if your washing machine breaks and you call the repairman and he tells you how much it costs, you just have to trust him what the price is because you don’t understand how to fix your washing machine, and we do." In other words, this stuff is so complex, you just have to take our word for it that we didn’t commit a crime. And—but that excuse, I think that’s a weak excuse that prosecutors give out. It’s a cop-out for not taking on, you know, difficult cases. Rich or poor, black or white, if somebody has broken the law, you should want to go after wrongdoers no matter who they are, and the fact that it’s a difficult crime to prove should just be more of a challenge for you.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to remarks by Lanny Breuer in 2012 about prosecuting large companies. At the time, he was the assistant attorney general. He spoke before the New York City Bar Association.
LANNY BREUER: I personally feel that it’s my duty to consider whether individual employees, with no responsibility for or knowledge of misconduct committed by others in the same company, are going to lose their livelihood if we indict the corporation. In large multinational companies, the jobs of tens of thousands of employees can literally be at stake. And in some cases, the health of an industry or the markets are a very real factor. Those are the kinds of considerations in white-collar cases that literally keep me up at night, and which must, must play a role in responsible enforcement.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Lanny Breuer in 2012, who was like number two in the Justice Department.
MATT TAIBBI: He was the head of the Criminal Division, so he’s basically the top cop in America at the time.
AMY GOODMAN: He was at the Justice Department; of course, Eric Holder is the attorney general—both from the same company. Respond to what he said, and then talk about Covington & Burling.
MATT TAIBBI: Well, first of all, his—that whole thing about the innocent white-collar employees perhaps losing their livelihoods keeping him up at night, I want to know what his response is to, you know, the idea that maybe a single mother on welfare is going to lose her kids because she’s going to lose custody in an $800 welfare fraud case. You know, I saw so many of these cases that it was—that is was just overwhelming to me. Those are the kinds of things that would keep me up at night if I were the attorney general, thinking about the consequences that ordinary people feel—suffer when they are caught up in the criminal justice system.
People—for instance, again, going back to welfare fraud, your relatives can lose their Section 8 housing. So, you know, if you’re—again, if you’re on welfare and you get caught in a fraud case, that may just involve checking the wrong box or having somebody, one of your neighbors, say that you have a boyfriend living in your house, when you really don’t, your mother or your grandmother can lose their housing because of something like that. That would be the stuff that would keep me up at night. I mean, I wouldn’t be worried about millionaire and billionaire executives, you know, who are working at these banks, if I were Lanny Breuer. So that tells you a lot about the priorities of somebody like him.
AMY GOODMAN: And talk about Lanny Breuer, Eric Holder, where they come from, where they go back to.
MATT TAIBBI: So they both came from a law firm called Covington & Burling, which in the 2000s represented basically every single one of the too-big-to-fail banks. They were also involved in the setting up of the electronic mortgage registry, so they played an enormous role in the subprime mortgage crisis.
But here’s the key thing about the presence of these two people at the head of the attorney—of the Justice Department. Prosecutors, by and large—and I interviewed a lot of prosecutors for this book—they basically all have the same personality, the old-school prosecutors. They’re just—if you think of somebody like Eliot Spitzer, they’re all like bulldogs. They just want to get their—you know, get their target; by hook or crook, it doesn’t really matter. They have this ferocious aspect to their personalities. And it’s an admirable quality in a prosecutor. They’re all kind of the same, in a certain way. Cops are the same way. But in the 2000s, that kind of person started to be replaced in the regulatory system by a new kind of figure who tended to come from the corporate defense community. And their attitude was not, you know, get their target at all costs; it was more: "Let’s bring a bunch of people in a room and hammer out a solution where all the sides are going to end up walking out happy." And that’s why we end up with settlements, like the $13 billion Chase settlement last year or the $1.9 billion HSBC settlement, instead of prosecutions.
MATT TAIBBI: They did, yeah, and a host of other banks that also were involved in nonprosecutions during this time. So, I mean, it’s—you have a whole bunch of people sort of at the top of the regulatory agencies, whether it’s Justice, the SEC, the CFTC, maybe the Enforcement Division of the SEC, who all came from these big banks or from law firms that represented these big banks. And it’s a very incestuous community. And just like you talked about with James Kidney, theSEC official who left, as a result of this kind of merry-go-round of people who all work for the same companies—and they’re going to go to government for a while, then they’re going to go back to the corporate defense community after they leave and make millions of dollars—they’re very, very reluctant to be aggressive against these companies, because it’s their—culturally, they’re the same people as their targets, whereas there isn’t that same simpatico with the very poor. And I think that’s a very—it’s an important distinction to make, and people don’t understand it.
AARON MATÉ: You also suggest that Holder and Breuer are perhaps overly concerned with their conviction rate—
MATT TAIBBI: Oh, yeah.
AARON MATÉ: —and that’s why they don’t go after these banks.
MATT TAIBBI: Again, that’s something I heard over and over again from people within the Justice Department, that once those two came in, the edict came down from above that we were only going to go after cases where we were absolutely sure we were going to win. Now, you can never guarantee a victory in any criminal case, and oftentimes the cases are difficult to prove or the evidence may not be 100 percent there, but the state has a moral obligation to proceed with investigations and, in many cases, criminal cases against people who are guilty. You know, the fact that it’s difficult shouldn’t be a limiting factor. And that’s why you saw—instead of cases against these big banks, you saw ridiculously large amounts of resources devoted to things like prosecuting Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens, you know, cases where there are like only a couple of pieces of evidence and it was hard to screw up. And yet, you know, they didn’t always succeed even in those cases. So, it was a terrible, terrible thing for the Justice Department during that period.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, then come back to this conversation. The award-winning journalist Matt Taibbi is with us, formerly with Rolling Stone magazine. His new book is called The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap. When the government does go after banks, what banks do they go after? We’ll talk about that in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Aaron Maté.
AARON MATÉ: Well, we are speaking with Matt Taibbi, the award-winning journalist formerly withRolling Stone magazine, now with First Look Media. His book is The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap. Now, turning to the banks—or the bank that was prosecuted, Abacus Bank, last May it became the first bank to be indicted in Manhattan in over two decades. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. announced the indictment.
CYRUS VANCE JR.: Today we are announcing the indictment or guilty pleas of 19 individuals on charges including mortgage fraud, securities fraud and conspiracy, as well as the indictment of Abacus Federal Savings Bank, a federally chartered bank that has been catering to the Chinese immigrant community since 1984. Now, these defendants—the bank and former employees and managers from its loan department—are charged with engaging in a systematic scheme to falsify and fabricate loan applications to the Federal National Mortgage Association, commonly known as Fannie Mae, so that borrowers who would otherwise not legally qualify for Fannie Mae’s mortgages could obtain them unlawfully. This is a large-scale mortgage fraud case that we estimate to include hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of falsified loan applications. If we have learned anything from the recent mortgage crisis, it’s that at some point these schemes unravel, and taxpayers can be left holding the bag. Financial institutions, in short, have to obey the law and follow the rules. Our financial system is predicated on this basic concept.
AARON MATÉ: That’s Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr. Matt Taibbi, you were at this trial. You heard Prosecutor Vance there suggesting some link here to the financial crisis, but that wasn’t the case.
MATT TAIBBI: So, this is—I mean, it’s almost humorous. It’s not humorous for the bank involved, obviously. But here he is holding this grand press conference. They actually had a chain gang, where they chained 19 of the defendants together and hauled them into court for this—for this exercise.
AMY GOODMAN: All working for Abacus?
MATT TAIBBI: All working for Abacus. And these are working-class Chinese immigrants, basically. The highest-ranking official in this entire case made $90,000 a year. Many of them didn’t speak English. This is a small bank wedged between two noodle shops in Chinatown. And this was the target they chose to go against as a symbol of the financial crisis? In the chain gang incident, actually, three of the—three of the defendants had actually already been arraigned, but they asked them to volunteer to come down to the courthouse for the photo op that day, brought them in, chained them up to the rest of the defendants so they could be re-arraigned for the benefit of the cameras.
But the point of this whole thing is that Abacus Federal Savings Bank, which is a small, community, minority bank in Manhattan, this was the sole target of any reprisal by the federal—by the government in the wake of the financial crisis. And they’re a stone’s throw from all these gigantic skyscrapers, you know, housing all of these other major banks that committed crimes that were hundreds of times worse than Abacus was even accused of. And it was such a visually striking contrast for me that that’s where I wanted to start the book, because here you have this bank being arraigned in downtown Manhattan, and they looked northward towards Chinatown for their target as opposed to, you know, a few blocks south, where they could have found—you know, walked in any direction and found an appropriate target.
AMY GOODMAN: Contrast that with Jamie Dimon testifying before—what was it—the Senate Judiciary Committee, the head of JPMorgan Chase. And talk about what his bank was fined for and what he ultimately—what happened to him.
MATT TAIBBI: So, Jamie Dimon is the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, and they—last year that bank paid $20 billion in fines, which is an extraordinary number. Think about it. I think it beats by a factor of five the record for the largest amount of regulatory fines in a single year, which was previously held by BP for their Deepwater Horizon incident. They were accused of an extraordinary array of things, everything from being Bernie Madoff’s banker and not raising red flags early enough, to manipulating energy prices in Michigan and California, to failing to disclose to investors the extent of losses in the London Whale episode, to abuses during the subprime mortgage period by some of their subsidiaries. The list of things goes on and on and on and on. And—
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, if this were translated into common criminal law—
MATT TAIBBI: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —this is—this is sort of replacing hundreds of years in prison for many different people.
MATT TAIBBI: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean, I made the point in another case—there was another case involving a company called General Reinsurance where a bunch of executives were charged with a $750 million stock fraud, that that amount of fraud that year was more than the total value of all the cars stolen in the American Northeast that same year. So you think about everybody who’s doing time for a stolen car that year, and, you know, these guys ultimately got off on a technicality.
So, again, going back to Chase, they paid $20 billion in fines. And what the government always says in response to the question of why aren’t these guys in jail, they always say, "Well, we don’t have enough evidence. These cases are hard to make." But my question is, over and over again, they somehow seem to have enough leverage to get billions of dollars of fines out of these companies, but not enough leverage to get even a day in jail for any of their executives? It doesn’t add up. Logically, it’s a total non sequitur. There’s no way you can have a company paying that much money and not have somebody guilty of a crime. It’s just—it’s not possible.
AARON MATÉ: And Jamie Dimon, of course, gets a 74 percent raise.
MATT TAIBBI: Yeah, exactly. I mean, that’s the punchline to this whole thing, right? I mean, if you were, you know, the head of any other business—Alex Pareene of Salon.com made this point, that if he were running a restaurant and he got the biggest fine in the history of restaurants, there is no way that he would be kept in, kept on the job as the head of the company. But he was not only not fired, not only not prosecuted, but he was kept in the job, and he got a 74 percent raise. And they essentially paid for $20 billion fines by laying off 7,500 lower-level workers that year, and so that’s where the pain came from.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to Richard Fuld, the final chair and chief executive officer of Lehman Brothers. In 2008, he spoke before the House of Representatives Oversight Committee and was grilled about his own exorbitant earnings as the bank went under. This is Committee Chair Henry Waxman questioning Fuld.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: You’ve been able to pocket close to half-a-million dollars. And my question to you is, a lot of people ask: Is that fair for the CEO of a company that’s now bankrupt to have made that kind of money? It’s just unimaginable to so many people.
RICHARD FULD: I would say to you the 500 number is not accurate. I would say to you that although it’s still a large number, I think, for the years that you’re talking about here, I believe my cash compensation was close to $60 million, which you have indicated here. And I believe the amount that I took out of the company over and above that was, I believe, a little bit less than $250 million.
AMY GOODMAN: Your response to the last head of Lehman Brothers talking about his salary?
MATT TAIBBI: Well, first of all, there was a whistleblower within Lehman Brothers who wrote to theSEC before Lehman Brothers collapsed, talking about how Fuld had actually earned a significantly larger amount of money than he represented there in Congress. It’s quite possible that if the SEChad followed up on some of those complaints by that whistleblower, that they might have uncovered some of the corruption at Lehman Brothers ahead of time and maybe, possibly even headed off that disaster.
But what’s interesting—what’s symbolic about Richard Fuld is that here’s a guy who nearly blew up the planet by, you know, loading up his company with deadly leverage and making a string of irresponsible decisions to over-invest in subprime mortgages, and the collapse of the company resulted in all of us having to pay these enormous bailouts. But Fuld walked away with, by his count, $300 million, maybe $350 [million], but by the count of some others, more closer to half-a-billion dollars, and he kept the money. And that is a consistent theme of the financial crisis. Not only were these guys not prosecuted, they got to keep all of their money, all of the ill-gotten gains that they made during these periods.
AMY GOODMAN: You call that chapter "The Greatest Bank Robbery You Never Heard Of."
MATT TAIBBI: Right, yeah. No, there was something that happened at Lehman Brothers at the end of the—you know, when the company went out of business. It was—there was essentially a merger with the British bank, Barclays, and there was an incredibly interesting episode where a series of Lehman insiders agreed to take upwards of $300 million in compensation—in future compensation from Barclays, before they did the process of valuating the company for sale to Barclays. I know that sounds complicated, but basically they took jobs at Barclays, and then they basically marked down the price of Barclays so that the Lehman creditors got less money in the end. So, if you were—if you lost money in the Lehman debacle, you can probably lay some of the blame at the feet of those executives.
AARON MATÉ: And it was so shady that didn’t most of this happen in the middle of the night?
MATT TAIBBI: Yeah, actually, they made—they struck many of the deals with these Lehman insiders before dawn on the day of the last board meeting. Literally before dawn, you had emails going back and forth between some of these Lehman Brothers executives saying, "Well, how much did you get? You know, I got $15 million," and, you know, etc., etc.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, the way the media covers, and the prosecutors go after or don’t, these institutions, it’s all from the perspective of those who would be or should be charged. When it comes to people on the street, it’s always from the perspective of the victim.
MATT TAIBBI: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: Which, by the way, it should be.
MATT TAIBBI: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, if someone is raped or murdered, you should hear their story, their name—
MATT TAIBBI: Absolutely.
AMY GOODMAN: —and a person should be held responsible. But in this case, you never hear about the victims.
MATT TAIBBI: That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: Instead, you are identifying with those who are charged. They say they have families; they’re really a wonderful person.
MATT TAIBBI: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the victims of these crimes that JPMorgan Chase was fined for.
MATT TAIBBI: Well, I mean, we’re all victims of these crimes. I mean, that’s the difficult thing about this new era of financial corruption is that, you know, these crimes are executed on such a massive scale that we can all be victimized and basically not know it. If you think about something like the Libor scandal, right, where the world’s biggest banks got together and colluded to monkey around with world interest rates, well, that crime affected anybody who held a variable rate investment of any kind. So if you have a floating rate credit card or a floating mortgage, or if you’re a town that has swaps, you may be paying more, you may be paying less. It doesn’t know—you don’t know, but they’ve been affecting the amounts of your holdings. There have recently been charges that some of the banks have been monkeying around with the prices of things like metals, like aluminum and tin and zinc and copper. So if you go to buy a can of soda, you may be paying more than you would have otherwise.
In the subprime mortgage crisis, typically the victims were people who held pensions, because what would happen often was the banks would create these gigantic masses of essentially phony subprime loans. They would disguise them as AAA-rated investments. Then they would sell them to an institutional investor like a pension fund. So you’re some, you know, working stiff, a toll booth operator in Minnesota. You’ve got a state pension. And you wake up one morning, and 30 percent of your pension fund is gone. Well, you’re a victim of this stuff.
But it’s very hard to trace that back to these people. And it’s hard—and journalists don’t want to do the work of identifying who the victims are in these scandals, because it’s too complicated. And that’s why you often see these crimes described from the point of view of the perpetrator and not from the victim, because we’re all the victims. These crimes are ethereal. They’re existential. They’re on such a gigantic scope that it’s difficult for us to get a—wrap our heads around. And that’s a—so that’s a very good question to ask.
AARON MATÉ: You mentioned earlier people who are targeted for welfare fraud. In one case, you went to San Diego and profiled a woman who was targeted by this program P100—
MATT TAIBBI: Right.
AARON MATÉ: —a very invasive action in her home. Can you talk to us about that case?
MATT TAIBBI: Yeah, they have this program in San Diego where if you apply for welfare, the state gets to pre-emptively search your house to make sure that you’re not lying about, for instance, having a boyfriend. You know, so you’re a single mom. You go to the welfare office. You need financial assistance. You represent on the form that you’re not cohabiting with anybody. And just to check, they tell you to go sit tight in your house. And I’ve heard stories of people who waited, literally sitting in their house for a week, not knowing when the inspector is going to come, because if you’re not there when they come, you don’t get your welfare.
So, the person comes finally. It’s not a social worker. It’s very often a law enforcement official. They go in, and they search your house. I talked to a number of women who have recounted the experience of having their underwear drawers rifled through. You know, one woman talked about an inspector sticking his pencil end into the underwear drawer and picking out a pair of sexy panties and saying, you know, "Who do you need these for? If you don’t have a boyfriend, what’s this for?" And this is the kind of thing that people have to go through.
And I understand that, to many middle Americans, you know, welfare recipients are not—are perhaps not the most sympathetic people. But it’s very striking that, for instance, the recipients of bailouts, we don’t have the right to go in and check their books, but somebody who applies for federal assistance to feed their kids, we have the right to go through their underwear drawer. And I thought that was a striking comparison.
AMY GOODMAN: Matt, the cover of The Divide, of your book, American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, is very striking. And you have this artwork throughout your book. Explain who did this.
MATT TAIBBI: So this is Molly Crabapple. She’s a great artist. I met her during the Occupy protests. We had—we have a mutual friend, and Molly had done these amazing posters for the Occupy protests that were—that were based—some of them were based on my work, because there was a vampire squid theme to some of them.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain vampire squid.
MATT TAIBBI: Well, I had referred to Goldman Sachs as a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity. So she had done these series of posters that were like, you know, "starve the vampire squid," "stop the vampire squid." So we got together, and she was—she ended up becoming sort of famous as like the semi-official artist of Occupy. And we decided to work together on this project. And what’s so perfect about her is that she really specializes in doing these kind of grotesque, horrifying, Boschian portraits of dysfunction, you know, like the cover. It actually looks quite beautiful from a distance, but if you look at it closely, it’s this horrifying image of people being ground up in this mindless justice machine. So it’s beautiful stuff, and Molly should get—she gets all the credit in the world, I think. They’re incredible images.
AARON MATÉ: At sentencing hearings, you have sometimes family members and friends coming to plead to the judge for leniency. And you sort of contrast this in your book. You have one scene where you have executives bringing in hundreds of people.
MATT TAIBBI: Mm-hmm.
AARON MATÉ: Can you compare what happens there to what happens to people on the bottom?
MATT TAIBBI: So this is interesting. Again, this is that same Gen Re case I talked about, the $750 million stock fraud where these guys all got off. And what was so interesting about that is—so, if you go to court, the judges almost never are from the same neighborhoods as the accused. But when you do have a case where it’s, you know, somebody from the suburbs who lives in Connecticut and the judge is also somebody who’s from the suburbs and lives in Connecticut, and he has members of the local PTA come out and say that, you know, "This guy is somebody who wouldn’t even jaywalk. You know, he’s a God-fearing person. Yes, maybe he might have committed a $750 million stock fraud, but he’s a very decent person," they will very frequently—like, bail is never an issue for this kind of defendant, which is very, very important. You know, these—and beyond that, in that particular case, after they were convicted, all of these defendants were allowed to remain free pending appeal, which removed all of the leverage the state might have had to roll up these defendants up into higher targets, whereas that’s exactly the opposite of what happens to poor defendants, who are frequently thrown in jail. Their, you know, bail is set at a level that’s higher than they can afford. And then, while you’re in jail waiting for trial, you start to do the math, and you realize that you could stay in jail longer in bail than you would do if you were sentenced. And that’s one of the reasons why people plead out, even when they’re innocent, because the math just works in the state’s favor. They have all these tricks they can use to keep you in jail longer than you’re supposed to be.
AMY GOODMAN: Who was tougher on corporate America, President Obama or President Bush?
MATT TAIBBI: Oh, Bush, hands down. And this is an important point to make, because if you go back to the early 2000s, think about all these high-profile cases: Adelphia, Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen. All of these companies were swept up by the Bush Justice Department. And what’s interesting about this is that you can see a progression. If you go back to the savings and loan crisis in the late '80s, which was an enormous fraud problem, but it paled in comparison to the subprime mortgage crisis, we put about 800 people in jail during—in the aftermath of that crisis. You fast-forward 10 or 15 years to the accounting scandals, like Enron and Alelphia and Tyco, we went after the heads of some of those companies. It wasn't as vigorous as the S&L prosecutions, but we at least did it. At least George Bush recognized the symbolic importance of showing ordinary Americans that justice is blind, right?
Fast-forward again to the next big crisis, and how many people have we got—have we actually put in jail? Zero. And this was a crisis that was much huger in scope than the S&L crisis or the accounting crisis. I mean, it wiped out 40 percent of the world’s wealth, and nobody went to jail, so that we’re now in a place where we don’t even recognize the importance of keeping up appearances when it comes to making things look equal.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you end with the story of Patrick? And we just have a minute.
MATT TAIBBI: Sure, yeah. There was a saxophonist named Patrick Ocean Jewell who was assaulted by police here in New York City. They mistook a hand-rolled cigarette for a joint.
AMY GOODMAN: He had brought his girlfriend to the subway, liked to walk with her every morning.
MATT TAIBBI: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: He actually did not know who attacked him.
MATT TAIBBI: Right, yeah. No, the police can be anyone these days. That’s another thing that most people don’t know about. They don’t always come in uniform, and they don’t always come in those unmarked Plymouths that they used to drive. They can drive fancy cars. They can drive beaters. They can be dressed in plainclothes. They can be black, white. You don’t even know who the cops are anymore. And this guy was just sitting there at a train station smoking a hand-rolled cigarette, and all of a sudden he’s being beaten up by all these people, you know, and he only later figured out that they were cops.
AMY GOODMAN: When he called to a police officer, started crying for help.
MATT TAIBBI: Yeah, he’s crying for help, and a uniformed police officer comes and tells him to shut up. And that’s when he realizes that they were cops. But this is—this is sort of stop-and-frisk expanding its universe of targets. So, you know, now, even if you’re white and middle-class, you know, now you, too, can be part of this whole process. And that’s—
AMY GOODMAN: And your point in bringing—putting this in The Divide?
MATT TAIBBI: Is that—you know, is that this is now beginning to affect everybody. I think one of the problems that the increasing wealth gap is bringing to us is that there’s a smaller and smaller group of untouchables, and then there’s a sort of widening group of everybody else, and we all have the same lack of respect from the law enforcement.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Matt Taibbi, I want to thank you for being with us, award-winning journalist. His book is called The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap.
In apparent effort to counter non-existent "liberal media bias," here's what ABC News will get from Laura Ingraham.
It was once an article of faith among many Americans, including many members of the press, that the news media was a hotbed of left wing propaganda, so filled with liberal bias that one had to use a decoder ring to get the truth. There may have been a grain of truth in it during the early days of Camelot and perhaps in the immediate aftermath of Watergate, but for the most part the media has always shown a bias toward the establishment, regardless of which party or ideology is dominant at a particular time.
However, the modern conservative movement, believing as it does in the All American capitalist maxim “there’s a sucker born every minute” used this perceived bias as a political tactic, what wags called “working the refs,” wherein they would accuse the press of being liberal so often that reporters would second-guess themselves and bend over backwards to accommodate a more conservative viewpoint. Despite the rise of FOX News and hundreds of right wing talk show hosts dominating much of the airwaves, they are still able to convince mainstream news organizations that they are biased and lacking in authentic conservative voices. Recall a few years back when even the New York Times ostentatiously declared that it planned to devote significant resources to covering “the conservative beat” (which might have been just a bit more understandable if it hadn’t come immediately in the wake of its credulous reporting on the Bush administration’s push for war with Iraq.)
Nobody has been more of a vociferous critic of the news media’s alleged liberal bias than talk radio host and conservative commentator Laura Ingraham. Going all the way back to her years as a notorious campus activist making her name as a vicious homophobe (since partially recanted,) she has been hitting the mainstream media for its so-called liberal bias. This “Reliable Sources” exchange with E.J. Dionne from early 2003 is an amusing example of how the best of them get the job done:
KURTZ: Let’s turn now to media bias. E.J. Dionne, you wrote a column recently saying there is no longer any such thing as the big, liberal media. Is this a fantasy we’ve been talking about for some years now? … You’re saying that the “New York Times” and the “L.A. Times” and “The Washington Post” and the networks and magazines have been intimidated and they’re cowering and they can’t do their jobs anymore?
INGRAHAM: I must have missed that.
DIONNE: That’s not what I said…
INGRAHAM: When they cover a Bush press conference, how is it covered? Is it covered in a fair and balanced way…
DIONNE: Bush has gotten an extraordinarily good press. I challenge you to compare…
INGRAHAM: He’s been an extraordinarily good president, much to the media’s chagrin.
You see, when a Republican president gets bad coverage it’s because the press has a liberal bias. When he gets good coverage it’s because he’s so good.
Ingraham must be feeling some sort of vindication today. ABC News has announced that she is their newest contributor. And she’ll be allowed to keep her job at Fox News subbing for Bill O’Reilly and also her daily radio show. Perhaps conservatives can finally relax a little bit about being so marginalized. It would appear we won’t be able to escape them.
Ingraham sounds like a U-Boat commander just before everything goes pitch-black and desperate cries compete with the ominous clanging of pipes. The point is, it’s not her fault the ship’s about to spend eternity as a steel turd on the ocean floor.
ABC undoubtedly hopes such a fate does not await any shows on which she will appear in the future. And anyway, it was a few years ago. Surely she’s mellowed by now, right? Well, I suppose it depends on what the meaning of “vile anti-immigrant zealot” is. She may have softened her stance on gays, but she has transferred all of that hatred on to undocumented workers.
Here are a few of her most disgraceful immigration comments from just the last year:
Ingraham Repeatedly Mocked An Immigration Protestor For Speaking English With An Accent. In November 2013, Ingraham repeatedly mocked a woman who was protesting the Obama administration’s record number of deportations, saying, “Wait, what did she say at the end? I can’t — I need a translator. I speak Spanish too. I’d rather have her just speak Spanish, at least I’d understand that.” She then went on to affect the woman’s accent, stating, “No want more amnesty. No want more lies. No want more phony promises. No want more people coming into the country, filling up our schools and our emergency rooms, having anchor babies and then blaming us for it. No want more that.“
The Associated Press reported that if Snyder’s plan is approved, “Detroit would be allocated 5,000 visas in the first year, 10,000 each of the next three years and 15,000 in the fifth year.” Immigrants would be allowed to live and work in the city for five years, but could apply for a green card after that time.
On her Tuesday radio show, Ingraham said the idea was “the craziest thing I’ve ever heard of. The people of this country, they’re smart enough to know that they don’t want to go anywhere near Detroit. Right?” she explained. “But we need to get these people from other countries to live and work in Detroit to save us because we can then wall off Detroit, apparently, so they can’t then move to other parts of the country.”
“Is that what Rick Snyder is gonna do?” Ingraham asked. “Is there gonna be, you know, is there gonna be finally a border enforced in our country? Except it’s going to be around Detroit.”
Ingraham used a May 2013 hearing on immigration reform to claim that immigration from Mexico would create a “hellhole” and a “mini-Mexico,” saying, “I think a lot of you look around at this culture of ours, and some of it is our own fault, but we see America disappearing. I’m not even talking about demographics, I’m talking about our culture.”
Ingraham’s attacks against pro-immigration reform Republican politicians were accompanied by numerous smears against immigrants and Latinos, including referring to the American children of undocumented immigrants as “anchor fetuses” during a discussion about Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) “embrace of the path to citizenship” in May 2013.
As you can imagine, Ingraham isn’t one of those squishy conservatives who thinks that calling illegal immigration “an act of love” will bring some Latinos over to their side. She doesn’t want them:
“If the reaction to the election is let’s dig into our core principles and try to remake them, I think the GOP will lose even more seats in 2014,” Ingraham told Fox News host Chris Wallace. “If it becomes a bidding war with Republicans in either this group or that group — whether it’s Latinos or women — we’re going to give you more stuff or we’re going to do amnesty plus… it’s not going to work.”
“The Republicans have to take a lesson from — and I hate to bring up Reagan again — when Goldwater got shellacked in ’64, Bill Buckley and Brent Bozell Sr. and all these conservatives got together and they said, we’re going to figure out how to sell this idea of economic conservatism and the conservative framework to new voters. And they went into the South and they transformed Mississippi and Alabama, all these places where people had never voted Republican before.”
Apparently, ABC News doesn’t care to have Latinos as part of their audience. If they did, they wouldn’t hire someone with the kind of noxious anti-immigrant views that one would never expect to see outside the hardcore right wing media. And I certainly hope they don’t expect this hire to allay the complaints that they have a liberal bias. Way too many people make a very good profit from such absurd claims, including Laura Ingraham. It’s quite a coup that she’s conned them into paying her for the privilege.
Could it be more obvious that Washington is owned by the wealthy?
Rejecting dozens of heroic characters, from Captain America to Underdog, Republicans last week chose instead a villain for their figurehead.
They selected Prince John, the guy who coddled the rich and tried to crush Robin Hood. House Republicans voted to elevate Prince John as their champion when they passed a budget slashing taxes for the rich and decimating programs for workers and low-income Americans.
Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan, who authored the anti-Robin Hood spending plan, said the budget “comes down to a matter of trust.” Trust, Ryan believes, should be placed in the rich and Washington politicians like him, a Prince John man who devised a spending scam enriching the rich and depriving the rest. Ryan asked, “Who knows better: the people or Washington?” The GOP answer: Washington, of course. A place purchased by the very, very rich.
Ryan’s anti-Robin Hood spending plan takes health care from the poor and elderly and gives tax breaks to the rich and super rich. Really. Republicans voted to cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires from 39.6 percent to 25 percent. Nice, right? Except for Americans who depend on Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare.
Republicans voted to voucherize Medicare, which would force senior citizens to pay thousands of dollars more each year. Ryan and his fellow House Republicans voted to kill Obamacare, which means the 7.1 million who got insurance on the exchanges would lose it; the 3.1 million young people covered under Obamacare’s extension of their parents’ plans would lose insurance, and the 3 million who got insurance under Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion would lose it.
That’s 13 million without health insurance, in addition to low-income seniors struggling to pay premiums as Ryan’s vouchers lose value. But, hey, billionaires get a tax break!
Ryan’s anti-Robin Hood spending scheme provides more money for guns and less for bread. Republicans would increase military spending by $483 billion above caps in the 2011 Budget Control Act while slashing non-arms spending by $791 billion.
That works out well for Republican hawks like John McCain who want to “bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.” Not so much for low income parents who want their children to eat. Republicans voted to cut food stamps, school lunches and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The GOP serenade to those Americans: “Starve, starve, starve, starve, starve poor kids.”
Ryan’s anti-Robin Hood spending plan robs low-income Americans of funding for Pell Grants, Head Start and special education while granting tax breaks to corporations so profitable that they are sitting on $1.5 trillion in cash. Republicans would hand corporations a tax rate cut from 35 to 25 percent, while ensuring that an uneven educational playing field prevents impoverished Americans from ever achieving those new, lower tax rates for the rich.
Ryan’s anti-Robin Hood plan would pierce Big Bird’s heart with an arrow while freeing corporations from paying taxes on overseas corporate earnings. Just to be clear, that would mean the death of Junior’s Sesame Street program and his daddy’s manufacturing job, since this tax system would encourage corporations to ship factories overseas where profits wouldn’t be taxed.
Ryan said federal subsidies for Big Bird’s nest – the non-profit Corporation for Public Broadcasting – “can no longer be justified.” But, Republicans believe, for-profit corporations that don’t provide public education should pay no taxes at all on offshore earnings – even while Americans supply the big military stick that protects these corporations’ foreign facilities.
Washington politician Paul Ryan’s priorities are not America’s. Seventy-nine percent of Americans believe corporations should pay the same tax rate on foreign profits as they do on domestic profits.
The Republicans’ priorities are all wrong. As were those of Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham. Ryan and his right-wing crew focus on the demands of the wealthy and ignore the values of the vast majority of Americans.
Over decades, Americans created and strengthened social programs for themselves that they now cherish. These include Medicare, Medicaid, Pell Grants, Head Start, and public radio and television.
In polls, Americans have even said they are willing to pay more taxes to support beloved social welfare programs. Most believe, however, that if corporations and billionaires paid their fair share, these programs would not be threatened. For example, if millionaires paid the same percentage of their income into Social Security that minimum wage earners do, the trust fund would not run dry in 20 years potentially limiting benefits in 2033.
In a principled budget process, elected representatives would fairly tax the rich, not steal from the poor. There’s even a partial antidote for Ryan’s anti-Robin Hood budget. It’s called theRobin Hood tax. It’s a tiny fee on financial transactions. Many experts believe it would discourage risky trading on Wall Street while raising billions for programs like Pell Grants and Big Bird. Eleven European Union nations, including the four largest, are moving toward levying it.
That tax is not in the Republicans’ anti-Robin Hood spending scheme. That’s because Ryan’s a Washington politician who believes he knows better than the American people.
What's already public is a clear and systematic abuse of power and human rights.
The controversy over a Senate investigation documenting the Central Intelligence Agency’s post-9/11 regime of global torture continues to generate headlines—even though the report has yet to be released. The Senate report has sparked a bitter war between the CIA and senators like Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who accused the CIA of spying on those looking at CIA documents on torture.
But while the official inquiry has not been published, dogged journalists have published key—and disturbing—details of what is contained in it.
Based on CIA documents, senators on the powerful committee conducted a four-year long, $40 million inquiry into the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, which included torture tactics like the waterboarding of terrorism suspects, beatings and the smashing of suspects’ heads into walls. While the public may be aware of some of these practices due to past revelations, the information carries heavy weight because it is the Senate confirming many of those claims, which has oversight power over the agency.
The CIA’s torture program started soon after 9/11. The Bush administration signed off on what they called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” but which clearly constituted torture, a crime under U.S. and international law.
The American people may never see the full report. Earlier this month, the Senate committee voted to declassify the executive summary and conclusions of the report—480 pages out of 6,400. But the White House and CIA are now vetting the reportto determine what exactly gets declassified. That fact has prompted people like Trevor Timm, writing in theGuardian, to call on somebody to leak the full report.
Meanwhile, journalists like Al Jazeera America’s Jason Leopold, McClatchy’s Ali Watkins, Jonathan Landay and Marisa Taylor and others are busy digging up details they can confirm and publish for the public. Here are five important revelations from recent news reports on the Senate’s landmark report on CIA torture.
1. Black site at Guantanamo. It is well known that the Guantanamo Bay detention center is where hundreds of prisoners have been held without charge. But what wasn’t officially confirmed until recently is that Guantanamo was also the site of a CIA black site—a detention center the CIA did not acknowledge where they tortured suspects. The CIA operated such sites in a number of countries, and the Senate investigation reportedly says a black site was operated at the Guantanamo detention center.
On April 9, Jason Leopold wrote in Al Jazeera America that the Senate inquiry confirms the CIA used the Cuba prison as a black site. Leopold wrote that “top-secret agency documents reveal that at least 10 high-value targets were secretly held and interrogated at Guantánamo’s Camp Echo at various times from late 2003 to 2004.” The detainees were then taken to Morocco, and then officially sent back to Guantánamo in September 2006.
2. CIA used British-controlled island. Leopold also revealed that the Senate report confirms long-standing claims of high-level British collusion with the CIA.
Journalists and human rights advocates have claimed that a United Kingdom-controlled island called Diego Garcia, located in the Indian Ocean, was used to secretly detain suspects. The Senate report says the CIA used the island with the “full cooperation” of Britain.
These reports have sparked a debate in Britain. Human rights investigators are urging the government to come clean. The report seems to confirm the story of Abdel-Hakim Belhaj, who was rendered to Libya and was told by a Libyan security force member that he stopped at Diego Garcia.
Belhaj says he was tortured during his CIA-led rendition and during his incarceration in Libya.
The confirmation of the use of a British-controlled island is the latest reminder of high-level collusion between the UK and the U.S. in prosecuting the war on terror.
3. CIA handed over prisoners who are now dead.Yet another explosive detail in Leopold’s report is that 10 terror suspects eventually handed off to foreign governments are unaccounted for. U.S. officials told Leopold they are presumed dead.
Those 10 suspects were part of a larger group of 85 detainees that were deemed to be low-level enough to be taken to Guantanamo or given to foreign countries. Leopold writes that 24 of the men labeled “low-value” were “been wrongfully detained and rendered to other countries on the basis of intelligence obtained from CIA captives under torture and from information shared with CIA officials by other governments, both of which turned out to be false.”
4. CIA went beyond legal memo.In 2002, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel drafted a report authorizing CIA torture, saying that the use of waterboarding, sleep deprivation and stress positions were perfectly legal. It was written by Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo; Jay Bybee, then head of the office, signed off on it.
But even that memo attempting to legalize torture wasn’t enough for the CIA. On April 11, McClatchy reported that the CIA went beyond what it was authorized to do by the Bush administration.
In a phone interview with AlterNet, Leopold said this revelation casts a harsh light on the Obama administration’s arguments that those who relied on Department of Justice legal advice shouldn’t be prosecuted. “It literally demolishes any rationale that Obama and Holder had for not investigating, for not bringing criminal charges, or even launching a criminal inquiry, against people who were responsible for implementing this,” said Leopold.
Despite the fact that CIA operatives went beyond legal advice, the Senate report does not recommend that a criminal investigation be launched for the purposes of prosecuting people.
Another revelation in the report is that the Justice Department legal memo was based on CIA information the Senate report says was wrong. For instance, the CIA claimed that repeatedly waterboarding a suspect was not effective. But in fact, the CIA waterboarded terrorism suspects Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and Abu Zubaydah 183 and 83 times, respectively.
“If the CIA fundamentally misrepresented what it was doing and that was what led [Justice Department] lawyers to conclude that the conduct was legal, then the legal conclusions themselves were inaccurate,” Andrea Prasow, senior national security counsel for Human Rights Watch, told McClatchy.
5. CIA lied about number of prisoners. McClatchy’s reporters also revealed that the CIA lied about the number of prisoners it had in its custody in black sites around the world. The CIA’s claim that the torture program was “targeted” was “BS,” according to one former U.S. official.
In addition, the CIA held 26 people that did not meet the legal standard for detaining someone.
And the government is cutting services to the very vets who need help.
Iraq veteran Army Spc. Ivan Lopez was dealing with depression and anxiety. On April 2, Lopez went to the 40th Transportation Battalion administrative office at Fort Hood, Texas, where he requested a leave form, so that he could attend to “family matters.” He was told he would have to return later to retrieve it, which then sparked a verbal altercation between him and Sgt. Jonathan Westbrook and Sgt. First Class Daniel Ferguson. Within minutes of the dispute, Lopez returned with a .45-caliber pistol. In a killing spree that would last 8 minutes, filled with more than 35 rounds, Westbrook, Ferguson and Sgt. Timothy Owens would lay slain, alongside 16 wounded, before Lopez ended his own life with a bullet to his head.
The shooting grabbed national headlines. The memorial for the dead was nationally televised with President Obama in attendance. The nationalistic pomp and ceremony of military memorials is not only orchestrated to purge the reality of war, but also to fool us into believing these tragic events are unique. They’re not. They’re all too familiar and now serve as reminder that the American empire is in rapid decline.
In small towns across America’s heartland, local newspapers contain headlines with similar stories. Colorado Springs: “Iraq War Vets Suspected in Two Slayings.” Lakewood, Washington: “Family Blames Iraq After Son Kills Wife.” Pierre, SD: “Soldier Charged With Murder Testifies About Postwar Stress.” Las Vegas: “Iraq Veteran Arrested in Killing.”
In 2008, the New York Times published a detailed report showing an explosion in the rate of military veterans who commit murder. The paper found Iraq and Afghanistan veterans had committed 121 instances of homicide on U.S. soil. Two years later, Current TV explored the link between post-traumatic stress disorder among veterans of the two recent wars and violence after returning home. The documentary found that the trend had continued with another 43 veterans charged with murder in the period 2008 to 2010.
Another report showed that the murder rate among the 3,500 members of the 4th Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team based at the U.S. Army’s Fort Carson, Colorado, was 114 times the average for Colorado Springs.
The NYT report found that murders committed by active-duty military personnel rose 89 percent from the pre-war period to present day. Of the 121 veterans who were charged with murder through 2008, 13 had committed suicide, which leads to the next alarming statistic: 22 veterans in this country, who are no longer able to fight the silent enemies of depression, PTSD, and anxiety, commit suicide each day, according to the Veterans Affairs Department. More than 2,000 veterans have committed suicide in 2014 alone. More sobering still is the fact that more Vietnam War veterans committed suicide after the war than the 55,000 killed during it.
The purpose of this piece is not to stigmatize veterans. It’s a reminder of what the corporate-led war machine does to young men and women, and how our crumbling infrastructure and decaying state is unable to care for them when they return.
It’s easy to stigmatize veterans who suffer mental health disorders when you have no idea what war is really like. The media and Hollywood present war as heroic and entertaining, turning war into nationalistic porn. I have not witnessed war, but I have witnessed a terrorist suicide attack. The smell of burning human flesh, the grisly sight of severed limbs, and the violent end to life is something I do not wish to see magnified by a scale of 10 on any battlefield. I trust returned soldiers and veteran war correspondents when they recount stories of 19-year old soldiers holding their intestines while screaming for their mothers.
Jess Goddell, who served in the Marines mortuary division during the war in Iraq, published a memoir titled Shade It Black: Death and After in Iraq. "Our cammies would be stained with blood or with brains," she writes. "Sometimes things come in with nametages. Or sometimes one is Hispanic and you could tell who was Hispanic and who was the white guy. We tried separating flesh. It was ridiculous. We would open a body bag and there was nothing but vaporized flesh. There were not four hands or a whole leg in a bag. We tried to distribute the mush evenly throughout the bags. We had the last body bag come in. We opened up the body bag and it was filled with the heads. I looked at four before looking away. The eyes were looking back at us. We saw on the heads the expressions of fright and horror."
"War is disgusting and horrific and it never leaves the people who were involved in it…the war is never over for us. The fighting stops. The troops get called back. But the war goes on for those damaged by war,” Goddell writes.
The wars fought in Iraq and Afghanistan were wars of occupation fought against insurgent forces. Psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton says soldiers placed in this kind of environment are vulnerable to “atrocity-producing situations.” When soldiers perceive the enemy is all around them, unidentifiable from the civilian population, the soldier feels his life may be taken at any moment by any passerby. This stress only needs a spark to result in that soldier mistakenly or intentionally killing an innocent civilian.
“The rage that soldiers feel after a roadside bomb explodes, killing or maiming their comrades, is one that is easily directed eventually to innocent civilians seen as supporting the insurgents. It is a short psychological leap, but a massive moral one. It is a leap from killing —the shooting of someone who has the capacity to do you harm—to murder—the deadly assault against someone who cannot harm you. The war in Iraq primarily involves murder. There is very little killing,” writes former NYT war correspondent Chris Hedges, who was embedded with U.S. combat divisions in Iraq.
The military trains our professional killers to be emotionless operators, so they may execute missions and cope with the chaos and confusion of war in an emotionally detached manner. When these soldiers return home, the military doesn’t give them an off button. The best care and assistance they can hope for is that offered by Veterans Affairs. Veterans are being denied the care they need because the Republican Party continues to starve the federal government of the revenue it needs to provide social assistance programs, like veterans benefits, so as to protect the rich and corporations against paying more in taxes.
In February, Senate Republicans blocked what would have been the largest piece of veteran’s legislation in decades, aimed at expanding healthcare, education and other benefits to those returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Remembering it was a Republican-controlled congress that voted for both wars, 54 Democrats and only two Republicans supported the bill. “If you can’t afford to take care of your veterans, don’t send them to war,” Senator Bernie Sanders fired at the Republican chicken hawks.
More and more of our military being outsourced to the corporate state, which means future wars will drive even greater profits for private corporations. And with increased political influence afforded to corporations and the rich, which means a deprivation of adequate funds for the federal government, expect war and atrocities like that of Fort Hood to be the new normal. The decay of empire is well underway.
The officer has a history of racial profiling and a short temper.
SAN ANTONIO (CN) - An off-duty San Antonio police officer shot to death an unarmed black man as he walked away from a restaurant drive-through, the man's parents claim in court.
Cheryl Jones and Black Lamkin sued the city, police Officer Robert Encina, Quinonez Foodservice, Chacho's 8614 Perrin Beitel Ltd. and John Burke, president of Quinonez and Chacho's, in Federal Court.
Their son, Marquis Jones, 23, was a passenger a car driven by Fabian Garcia on Feb. 28. Jones' sister, Whitney Jones, and her roommate, Dominue Carter, also were passengers. None are parties to the lawsuit.
Garcia's car struck the car in front of it in the drive-through lane at Chacho's and Chalucci's, a Tex-Mex restaurant in northeast San Antonio. The collision was minor, no damage was done and the unidentified driver of the other car returned to her vehicle to wait on her order "without incident" after Garcia apologized, the parents say in the complaint.
Encina was in uniform working security at the restaurant.
"Out of nowhere, defendant Encina approached Garcia's car and demanded that he turn off his vehicle and get out of his car for no lawful reason," the 26-page complaint states. "Defendant Encina searched and handcuffed Garcia and used inappropriate force on him. Jones, witnessing how defendant Encina was treating Garcia, became afraid and decided he would leave so that he would not be attacked by defendant Encina."
Jones was afraid because he Officer Encina harassed him a few days before, his parents say.
"Defendant Encina, noticing Jones leaving, pushed Garcia aside and began to pursue Jones," the complaint states. "Not once did defendant Encina identify himself or command Jones to stop. Defendant Encina, for no lawful reason or fear of imminent danger, pulled out his service revolver and shot Jones in the back as he attempted to leave Chacho's. There exist no reasons for Defendant Encina to shoot and kill Jones in cold blood."
Police told the San Antonio Express-News that Jones displayed a handgun as he left the front passenger seat. They said Jones ran and collapsed after a short distance, dying at the scene. Jones' handgun was found nearby, police claimed.
Jones' parents disagree. They say Garcia and his passengers were leaving to go home and that they "did not want any problems, nor were they causing any problems."
"Upon information made available to the plaintiffs by a number of witnesses, Jones did not have a gun in his hand nor was he attempting to cause bodily harm to defendant Encina," the complaint states." Defendant Encina fatally shot Jones in the back for no lawful reason as he attempted to leave Chacho's."
The parents claim Encina has a "short fuse" and a bad history of dealing with minorities, particularly blacks. They claim Encina was suspended from the police department for 45 days after an incident in 2010 at Mama Margie's Restaurant in San Antonio involving black males.
"Defendant Encina was found to be highly intoxicated, used profanity, insulted customers and employees of Mama Margie's, assaulted an employee and identified himself as 'a baller' and 'from the East side' as he initiated a confrontation with several African American males and employees of Mama Margie's," the complaint states.
Encina has been known to harass customers at Chacho's as well, the parents claim.
They blame the city for having "a longstanding record" of not providing officers with adequate training and of not stopping excessive force and extrajudicial killings. They claim police officials know its internal affairs section is a "real problem."
"As a result of the lack of training and the official custom or policies of the SPD, San Antonio remains at the top of the list in the state of Texas for police misconduct," the complaint states. "The internal affairs section of the SPD has received hundreds of complaints involving the use of excessive force by police officers without ever having taken disciplinary action. This has resulted in a failure to supervise, discipline, counsel, or otherwise control police officers who are known or should be known to engage in the use of excessive force."
The parents also claim that Chacho's is an unsafe establishment - that police have been called there 220 times since 2012.
"During the same period of time, SPD officers responded to a restaurant across the street from Chacho's 13 times and a liquor store two blocks north of Chacho's 17 times since the start of 2012," the complaint states.
City officials did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon.
The parents seek actual and punitive damages for wrongful death, excessive force, racial profiling, negligence, assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. They are represented by Daryl Washington of Dallas.
Pro-lifers can't reverse Roe v Wade. So they're shutting down clinics with red tape and a smile. Don't believe the lie.
Last November, a new law went into effect in Texas: abortion clinics would now be required to have an agreement with a local hospital so that patients needing treatment could be transferred.
Now that sounds reasonable, doesn't it?
Perhaps, until you consider the fact that it caused one-third of health centers to stop providing abortions. Women in the Rio Grande Valley now have to travel hundreds of miles (if they're lucky enough to have the transportation and resources) to get access to a safe, legal abortion.
The Texas legislature has become an extreme example of new restrictions on abortion continuing to sweep statehouses in 2014, and the particulars buried by all those Wendy Davis profiles showcase a slick new tactic of the pro-life movement: a requirement for admitting privileges. At first glance, that kind of rule appears designed to protect women's health – to have an abortion provider make an arrangement with a local hospital in case of an emergency seems harmless, even helpful.
But this law, like so many others in the works, also imposes all kinds of obstacles to providers and clinics actually gaining these privileges. The end result: abortion clinics are shutting down all across the country. And because the (often Evangelical) bill-crafting language is so deceptively reasonable and so effective at defusing public outrage, we might not even have noticed that our constitutional right to safe and legal abortions is being steadily eroded.
Under the notorious House Bill 2, qualified Texas physicians may be denied privileges for reasons that have nothing to do with their credentials. Some hospitals, for instance, require providers to admit a certain number of patients each year. But because abortion is extremely safe and rarely warrants a referral to a hospital, meeting these quotas may be difficult – if not downright impossible. Sometimes hospitals may be religiously affiliated and will therefore deny abortion providers admitting privileges applications, or doctors may be required to live within a certain distance from a hospital.
Dr Sherwood Lynn, an abortion provider in San Antonio, told me that hospitals won't even send him the paperwork required to apply for privileges, and give no explanation for doing so. Hospitals have the power to dictate the kind of healthcare available to women in their communities, and they are using that power arbitrarily.
The admitting-privileges workaround is growing across the country, and at an especially alarming rate in neighboring states around Texas. Oklahoma's SB 1848, for example, could shut down two of three abortion providers in the state; in Louisiana, HB 388 could close three of the five. ThisMay, a case challenging an Alabama admitting privileges law will go to trial.
The trend began with a 2012 Mississippi law that would have closed all abortion clinics in the state. Physicians performing abortions in Mississippi were required to be board-certified obstetrician-gynecologists and have admitting privileges at an area hospital. Though a court eventually blocked the law, it sparked a new pro-life maneuver: bills with similar language appeared, state-after-state, like clockwork in the laboratory of democracy.
This is not a coincidence. Lawmakers are not suddenly concerned about women's health. According to a report by the Guttmacher Institute, in 2013 alone, 22 states adopted 70 different restrictions, including late-abortion bans, doctor and clinic regulations, limits on medication abortions and bans on insurance coverage.
And medical experts have disputed these restrictions again and again. In an amicus brief filed in response to the passing of the Texas law last year, the American Medical Association and American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists wrote:
There is no medical basis to require abortion providers to have local hospital admitting privileges … Unless there is a substantial public health justification, legislators should not interfere with patient care, medical decisions, and the patient-physician relationship.
To repeat: there is no medical basis for the restrictions. But legislators seem to care little for reason, or even actual medical advice. Because the pro-life movement hasn't succeeded at overturning Roe v Wade, they're focussing on generating enough red tape to shut down as many abortion facilities as possible.
The less-than-candid 'Today' show host lets her real right-wing flag fly on her podcast.
“Today” personality Kathie Lee Gifford was recently admonished by NBC higher-ups for promoting her line of wines, the punnily named Gifft, on-air. The idea, in part, is that “Today” is to some degree a news program, one that ought to be held to a higher standard than a regular chatfest.
Fortunately Gifford has a podcast, where she has for months been endorsing personal causes, from her wine to right-wing politics. It turns out that Gifford is something of a Trojan horse for conservatism, presenting for an hour a day the banal niceties that get viewers through the morning–then putting out a weekly podcast that’s one long dog whistle with occasional wine plugs.
There’s nothing wrong with this, of course — Gifford’s entitled to her opinions. But the success of her TV persona has rested upon the perception of Gifford as a freewheeling truth-teller who will say anything on camera. As it so happens, this whole time she’s been holding back more than a few opinions.
On a recent podcast episode, for instance, Gifford interviewed Cal Thomas, a Fox News commentator who has said that no new mosques should be allowed to be built in the U.S. and has been outspoken against acceptance of homosexuality. Oddly, Gifford consistently represented Thomas as a nonpartisan figure striving only to find solutions to unnamed crises. “There’s no hidden agenda with you, is there? You just love this country and want it to be great.” The pair went on to discuss the necessity of Congressional term limits (because, in Gifford’s telling, the human heart is twisted and dark) and the so-called “Age of Entitlement.” Gifford told a stem-winder about how she once confronted Hillary Clinton and asked her when rich people “became the enemy.” (The social safety net, in Gifford’s telling, “destroys lives” because dreams of growing rich are what make life worth living.)
Gifford and Thomas agree on just about everything — for much of the interview, neither will mention President Obama at all, but they shame the listeners for not voting, or for not paying attention to the consequences of how they voted. (The idea that those who vote for Democrats were somehow tricked into it and not thinking is an old conservative canard that Obama’s popularity at election time has brought roaring back.) When Obama finally came up explicitly, it was in Gifford’s allegation that his administration is not telling the truth over Affordable Care Act enrollment numbers: “I don’t know that there’s a person on the planet who believes those numbers are true.” Thomas said those who did were “drinking the Kool-Aid.”
And so it is with Gifford — without a TV production team holding her back, she’s considerably more loose-lipped than she is on “Today.” Her interviews (all available here) had, for a long time, been focused on either generic show business gab or Gifford’s brand of evangelical Christianity (viz. interviews with the cast of the film “Son of God” or with, say, Glenn Beck). The political turn has been a more recent development, with Candace Cameron Bure using the show as a platform to defend her claims that wives should be “submissive” to their husbands, or with Donald Trump stopping by after CPAC. Gifford joked that Trump “didn’t need a TelePrompTer” — a random reference to year-2008 critiques of Obama — and said that those who believe the Tea Party has any position on social issues are confused. “It’s not the social issues — they keep combining the social issues. The Tea Party, as I understand it, was low taxation, small government, and fiscal responsibility. By that definition, that’s me!”
And why not? Gifford has, through her career, been outspoken not about politics but about religious belief, from her advocacy work for children to her Broadway musical about Charismatic Christian Aimee Semple McPherson. But it’s not shocking that she, a wealthy woman of faith, would hold conservative beliefs. It is a little shocking, though, that she expresses them so freely as someone in the employ of a network news program — would she be as easily able to allege, on “Today,” that the president were lying about Obamacare enrollment? Or to put out nebulous language about the war on the wealthy? We have no idea what Gifford’s “Today” cohort believes politically — if Matt Lauer voted at all, no one’s heard about it. But “Today” is ostensibly, at least in part, a news show, if a softball one. And Gifford’s insistence that people need to wake up and see it her way is the nastiest side of conservatism: the belief that the baseline human should see this worldview as the common-sense solution, and that other outcomes are the result of weird subterfuge. That’s how Cal Thomas becomes a figure who, very simply, just wants America to be great.
Gifford’s podcast is compulsively listenable for the new insight it offers into the brain of a person whose life has been up for public consumption since the early nineties. That said individual is really, really interested in conservative talking points is not troubling in and of itself. At least, if one presumes that a deep-seated belief that a massive swath of the country has been tricked into hating the rich has as little bearing over one’s ability to cover the news objectively as does a new line of novelty wines–and that both can be easily put aside.
Depriving homeless people of their last shelter in life is Silicon Valley at its worst.
Across the United States, many local governments are responding to skyrocketing levels of inequality and the now decades-long crisis of homelessness among the very poor ... by passing laws making it a crime to sleep in a parked car.
This happened most recently in Palo Alto, in California's Silicon Valley, where new billionaires are seemingly minted every month – and where 92% of homeless people lack shelter of any kind. Dozens of cities have passed similar anti-homeless laws. The largest of them is Los Angeles, the longtime unofficial "homeless capital of America", where lawyers are currently defending a similar vehicle-sleeping law before a skeptical federal appellate court. Laws against sleeping on sidewalks or in cars are called "quality of life" laws. But they certainly don't protect the quality of life of the poor.
To be sure, people living in cars cannot be the best neighbors. Some people are able to acquire old and ugly – but still functioning – recreational vehicles with bathrooms; others do the best they can. These same cities have resisted efforts to provide more public toilet facilities, often on the grounds that this will make their city a "magnet" for homeless people from other cities. As a result, anti-homeless ordinances often spread to adjacent cities, leaving entire regions without public facilities of any kind.
Their hope, of course, is that homeless people will go elsewhere, despite the fact that the great majority of homeless people are trying to survive in the same communities in which they were last housed – and where they still maintain connections. Americans sleeping in their own cars literally have nowhere to go.
Indeed, nearly all homelessness in the US begins with a loss of income and an eviction for nonpayment of rent – a rent set entirely by market forces. The waiting lists are years long for the tiny fraction of housing with government subsidies. And rents have risen dramatically in the past two years, in part because long-time tenants must now compete with the millions of former homeowners who lost their homes in the Great Recession.
The paths from eviction to homelessness follow familiar patterns. For the completely destitute without family or friends able to help, that path leads more or less directly to the streets. For those slightly better off, unemployment and the exhaustion of meager savings – along with the good graces of family and friends – eventually leaves people with only two alternatives: a shelter cot or their old automobile.
However, in places like Los Angeles, the shelters are pretty much always full. Between 2011 and 2013, the number of unsheltered homeless people increased by 67%. In Palo Alto last year, there were 12 shelter beds for 157 homeless individuals. Homeless people in these cities do have choices: they can choose to sleep in a doorway, on a sidewalk, in a park, under a bridge or overpass, or – if they are relatively lucky – in a car. But these cities have ordinances that make all of those choices a criminal offense. The car is the best of bad options, now common enough that local bureaucrats have devised a new, if oxymoronic, term – the "vehicularly housed".
People sleeping in cars try to find legal, nighttime parking places, where they will be less apparent and arouse the least hostility. But cities like Palo Alto and Los Angeles often forbid parking between 2am and 5am in commercial areas, where police write expensive tickets and arrest and impound the vehicles of repeat offenders. That leaves residential areas, where overnight street parking cannot, as a practical matter, be prohibited.
One finds the "vehicularly housed" in virtually every neighborhood, including my own. But the animus that drives anti-homeless laws seems to be greatest in the wealthiest cities, like Palo Alto, which has probably spawned more per-capita fortunes than any city on Earth, and in the more recently gentrified areas like Los Angeles' Venice. These places are ruled by majorities of "liberals" who decry, with increasing fervor, the rapid rise in economic inequality. Nationally, 90% of Democrats (and 45% of Republicans) believe the government should act to reduce the rich-poor gap.
It is easy to be opposed to inequality in the abstract. So why are Los Angeles and Palo Alto spending virtually none of their budgets on efforts to provide housing for the very poor and homeless? When the most obvious evidence of inequality parks on their street, it appears, even liberals would rather just call the police. The word from the car: if you're not going to do anything to help, please don't make things worse.
Psychiatry has a real credibility problem on its hands.
What does it tell us about the state of psychiatry when some of the biggest names in the psychiatric establishment are distancing themselves from psychiatry’s diagnostic system and its treatments?
In 2013, National Institute Mental Health director Thomas Insel, citing the lack of scientific validity of psychiatry’s official diagnostic manual, the DSM, stated that, “NIMH will be re-orienting its research away from DSM categories.” In response, Robert Whitaker, investigative reporter and author of Anatomy of an Epidemic, observed, “This is like the King of Psychiatry saying that the discipline has no clothes.”
“When Insel states that the disorders haven’t been validated,” Whitaker points out, “he is stating that the entire edifice that modern psychiatry is built upon is flawed, and unsupported by science... If the public loses faith in the DSM, and comes to see it as unscientific, then psychiatry has a real credibility problem on its hands.”
Other establishment psychiatrists are also distancing themselves from psychiatry’s diagnostic manual. Psychiatrist Allen Frances, the former chair of the DSM-4 task force, now writes about how the DSM is a money machine for drug companies (“Last Plea To DSM-5: Save Grief From the Drug Companies”).
Frances, emeritus professor of psychiatry at Duke University, was until recently among the most inside of insider psychiatrists. However, in an April 11, 2014 New York Times article about “sluggish cognitive tempo,” which would add 2 million more children to the already 6 million diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Frances stated, “Just as ADHD has been the diagnosis du jour for 15 years or so, this is the beginning of another. This is a public health experiment on millions of kids.”
That’s the kind of language that once so marginalized mental health professionals critical of establishment psychiatry that we were not quoted in the New York Times or any other mainstream media.
NIMH director Insel has also increasingly been distancing himself from standard psychiatry drug treatments. In 2009, Insel wrote: “For too many people, antipsychotics and antidepressants are not effective, and even when they are helpful, they reduce symptoms without eliciting recovery.”
The sad fact is that treatment-resistant depression is increasing, and there is a great deal of evidence that the reason is long-term use of antidepressants. A review of the research in 2011 in the journal Medical Hypotheses concluded: “Depressed patients who ultimately become treatment resistant frequently have had a positive initial response to antidepressants and invariably have received these agents for prolonged time periods at high doses.”
In 2013, Insel announced that the latest research shows that psychiatry’s standard drug treatment for people diagnosed with schizophrenia and other psychoses needs to change. In February 2014, the New York Times published a feature story on Insel, noting that his questioning the long-term use of antipsychotics caused a major stir in psychiatry.
But while politically astute establishment psychiatrists such as Insel, Frances and others are calling for reform, the institution of psychiatry may well be so damaged by a generation of drug company corruption that it cannot be reformed in any meaningful way.
The DSM is published by the American Psychiatric Association, and according to the journal PLOS Medicine, “69% of the DSM-5 task force members report having ties to the pharmaceutical industry.” The corruption of the APA by Big Pharma is nothing new. In 2008, the New York Times reported the following about APA: “In 2006, the latest year for which numbers are available, the drug industry accounted for about 30 percent of the association's $62.5 million in financing.”
Congressional investigators in 2008 also discovered that then president-elect of APA (Alan Schatzberg of Stanford University) had $4.8 million stock holdings in a drug development company.
Perhaps Big Pharma’s biggest bang for its buck has come through “thought leader” psychiatrists who popularize new diagnoses and drug treatments. One of psychiatry’s most influential thought leaders is Harvard’s Joseph Biederman who put pediatric bipolar disorder on the map. Due in great part to Biederman's influence, the number of American children and adolescents treated for bipolar disorder increased 40-fold from 1994 to 2003.
Biederman's financial relationships with drug companies was discovered by the public in 2008, when congressional investigations revealed he was on the take for $1.6 million in consulting fees from drug makers from 2000 to 2007. As part of legal proceedings, Biederman was forced to provide documents about his interactions with Johnson & Johnson, the giant pharmaceutical company; Biederman pitched Johnson & Johnson that his proposed research studies on its antipsychotic drug Risperdal would turn out favorably for Johnson & Johnson — and then he delivered the goods.
Biederman is not alone among psychiatrists lining their pockets with drug company money. The New York Times reporting on the 2008 congressional investigation of psychiatry, stated this about Charles Nemeroff: “One of the nation's most influential psychiatrists earned more than $2.8 million in consulting arrangements with drug makers from 2000 to 2007.”
While psychiatrists have grabbed the big money from drug companies, a few thought leader psychologists are picking up Big Pharma loose change. A major popularizer of sluggish cognitive tempo (SCT) is psychologist Russell Barkley. The Times recently reported that Barkley said, “SCT is a newly recognized disorder”; that he received $118,000 from 2009 to 2012 from Eli Lilly for consulting and speaking engagements; and that Barkley stated Lilly’s drug Strattera’s performance on SCT symptoms was “an exciting finding.”
Psychiatrists routinely dominate ProPublica’s “Dollars for Docs” list of large payments from pharmaceutical companies. And being on the take from Big Pharma affects prescribing practices. The New York Times reported in 2007, “Psychiatrists who took the most money from makers of antipsychotic drugs tended to prescribe the drugs to children the most often.” A 2007 analysis of Minnesota psychiatrists revealed that psychiatrists who received at least $5,000 from makers of newer-generation antipsychotic drugs wrote, on average, three times as many prescriptions to children for these drugs as psychiatrists who received less money or none.
In her bookThe Truth about the Drug Companies (2004), Marcia Angell, physician and former editor in chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, documents the corruption of medicine by Big Pharma, with some of the most egregious examples being in psychiatry. Angell details how the head of the psychiatry department at Brown University Medical School made over $500,000 in one year consulting for drug companies that make antidepressants. Angell writes, “When the New England Journal of Medicine, under my editorship, published a study by him and his colleagues of an antidepressant agent, there wasn’t enough room to print all the authors’ conflict-of-interest disclosures. The full list had to be put on the website.”
In Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic, I document several areas in which Big Pharma has corrupted psychiatry, including funding university psychiatry departments (Harvard Medical School’s psychiatry department at Massachusetts General Hospital received $6.5 million from four drug companies).
Insane and Ridiculous
The Oxford dictionary defines insane as “a state of mind that prevents normal perception, behavior, or social interaction; seriously mentally ill.” Has the institution of psychiatry become insane, and is that why politically astute psychiatrists are trying to distance themselves from it?
Besides drug company payoffs, another way psychiatry as an institution has been prevented from having “normal perceptions” is that most psychiatrists no longer talk to their patients to discover the context of why they behave as they do. Robert Spitzer, perhaps the most inside of all insider psychiatrists in the 1980s and the chair of the DSM-3 task force, is now critical of the DSM’s inattention to context that results in the medicalizing of normal reactions.
In 2011, the New York Times reported, “A 2005 government survey found that just 11 percent of psychiatrists provided talk therapy to all patients.” The article points out that psychiatrists can make far more money primarily providing “medication management.” A typical medication management session consists of checking symptoms and updating prescriptions, and patients are usually in and out with a new prescription in five or 10 minutes.
When Big Pharma is paying thought leader psychiatrists who invent and popularize “illnesses” such as pediatric bipolar disorder, and when most psychiatrists are only conducting medication managements, tragically insane treatments becomes the “standard of care.” The high-profile case of Tufts-New England Medical Center (a bastion of the psychiatric establishment) and Rebecca Riley, covered by “60 Minutes,” reveals that standard of care in psychiatry has become insane.
When Rebecca Riley was 28 months old, based primarily on the complaints of her mother that she was “hyper” and had difficulty sleeping, psychiatrist Kayoko Kifuji diagnosed the toddler with ADHD. Kifuji prescribed clonidine, a drug with significant sedating properties, a drug Kifuji also prescribed to Rebecca’s older sister and brother. The goal of the Riley parents — obvious to many people in their community and later to juries — was to attain psychiatric diagnoses for their children that would qualify them for disability payments and to sedate their children making them easy to manage. But apparently this was not obvious to Kifuji who, when Rebecca was three years old, added a bipolar disorder diagnosis and prescribed two additional heavily sedating drugs, the antipsychotic Seroquel and the anticonvulsant Depakote. Rebecca died at the age of four years old, due to the toxicity of these drugs. After her death, Tufts-New England Medical Center, Kifuji’s employer, told “60 Minutes,” “The care we provided was appropriate and within responsible professional standards.”
Psychiatry has a long history of ridiculous and invalid disorders and insane and dehumanizing treatments. Until the early 1970s, homosexuality was an official DSM mental illness and was treated with aversive conditioning, which included electro-shocking same-sex attraction.
Since 1980, the DSM has pathologized stubborn, rebellious and noncompliant young people, diagnosing them with opposition defiant disorder (ODD); symptoms include “often actively defies or refuses to comply with adult requests or rules” and “often argues with adults.” And once again, a ridiculous and invalid “illness” has a dehumanizing and insane treatment. In December 2012, the Archives of General Psychiatry reported that, between 1993-2009, there was a seven-fold increase of children 13 years and younger being prescribed antipsychotic drugs, and that “disruptive behavior disorders” — which includes ODD — were the most common diagnoses in children medicated with antipsychotics, accounting for 63 percent of those medicated.
In the 1970s, before Big Pharma corrupted and virtually annexed psychiatry, and when most psychiatrists knew something about their patients’ lives, it was not all that radical for psychiatrists to make connections between emotional suffering and societal problems. With Big Pharma corruption of psychiatry, a denial of the importance of society, politics, and culture to our emotional well-being has ensued.
As I wrote last year, the Centers for Disease Control reported on May 3, 2013 that the suicide rate among Americans age 35-64 years increased 28.4 percent between 1999-2010. The Lancet estimates that the three-year recessionary period from 2008 thru 2010 was a source in the United States for “4,750 excess suicide deaths.” But how much has the American public heard from psychiatry that suicide and depression are related to a crappy economy and societal misery?
A generation ago, the institution of psychiatry, with the backing of Big Pharma, began to exclusively focus on patients’ symptoms, and stopped focusing on anything but superficial aspects of their patients’ lives, while at the same time self-promoting its progress in diagnostics, research and the prescribing of drugs. Today, as Robert Whitaker puts it, “We see that its diagnostics are being dismissed as invalid; its research has failed to identify the biology of mental disorders to validate its diagnostics; and its drug treatments are increasingly being seen as not very effective or even harmful. That is the story of a profession that has reason to feel insecure about its place in the marketplace.”