Friday, April 30, 2010

Collateral Murder?

An in-depth analysis of a leaked military video showing a US army helicopter firing on Iraqis.

From the Huffington Post:

Calling it a case of "collateral murder," the WikiLeaks Web site today released harrowing video of a U.S. Army Apache helicopter in Baghdad in 2007 repeatedly opening fire on a group of men that included a Reuters photographer and his driver -- and then on a van that stopped to rescue one of the wounded men.

None of the members of the group were taking hostile action, contrary to the Pentagon's initial cover story; they were milling about on a street corner. One man was evidently carrying a gun, though that was and is hardly an uncommon occurrence in Baghdad.

Reporters working for WikiLeaks determined that the driver of the van was a good Samaritan on his way to take his small children to a tutoring session. He was killed and his two children were badly injured.

In the video, which Reuters has been asking to see since 2007, crew members can be heard celebrating their kills.

"Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards," says one crewman after multiple rounds of 30mm cannon fire left nearly a dozen bodies littering the street.

A crewman begs for permission to open fire on the van and its occupants, even though it has done nothing but stop to help the wounded: "Come on, let us shoot!"

Two crewmen share a laugh when a Bradley fighting vehicle runs over one of the corpses.

And after soldiers on the ground find two small children shot and bleeding in the van, one crewman can be heard saying: "Well, it's their fault bringing their kids to a battle."

The helicopter crew, which was patrolling an area that had been the scene of fierce fighting that morning, said they spotted weapons on members of the first group -- although the video shows one gun, at most. The crew also mistook a telephoto lens for a rocket-propelled grenade.

The shooting, which killed Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and driver Saeed Chmagh, 40, took place on July 12, 2007, in a southeastern neighborhood of Baghdad. The next day, the New York Times reported the military's official cover story:

The American military said in a statement late Thursday that 11 people had been killed: nine insurgents and two civilians. According to the statement, American troops were conducting a raid when they were hit by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. The American troops called in reinforcements and attack helicopters. In the ensuing fight, the statement said, the two Reuters employees and nine insurgents were killed.

"There is no question that coalition forces were clearly engaged in combat operations against a hostile force," said Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, a spokesman for the multinational forces in Baghdad.

The video shows otherwise.

Washington Post reporter David Finkel described the incident -- and the video -- in great detail in his September 2009 book, "The Good Soldiers". A summary can be found here.

Finkel also described a review session after Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich, commander of the Army's 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment and his soldiers returned to base, which "concluded that everyone had acted appropriately." (Kauzlarich was also involved in the Army's Pat Tillman cover-up, and later told ESPN that the reluctance of Tillman's parents to accept the military's story that he was killed by enemy action, rather than friendly fire, was the unfortunate result of their lack of Christian faith.)

WikiLeaks, a small, independent Web site that invites people to post information and documents that powerful interests would prefer to keep secret, says it received the video and supporting documents from military whistleblowers.

Julian Assange, the editor of the site, said the killings either violated the the army's rules of engagement, or those rules of engagement "are very, deeply wrong."

Historic Cochabamba Accord gives new vision for climate justice

The Council of Canadians:

We must re-establish needed balance between humans and the environment. That was the message at an historic conference last week in Cochabamba, Bolivia that brought together social movements, organizations, indigenous peoples and governments for a dialogue on alternative proposals to the climate crisis.

More than 34,000 people gathered in Cochabamba to push the climate justice movement forward. On the last day, people filled a massive stadium, listening intently and then cheering loudly as the Cochabamba Accord (or people’s agreement) – agreed to by conference working groups representing people around the world – was read out loud. Concrete proposals such as establishing a Climate Justice Tribunal and a Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth, and agreeing on new commitments to be negotiated within the United Nations process are emerging from the conference.

The conference was organized after UN climate talks held in Copenhagen last December failed to reach an effective agreement to address the climate crisis. Canada was singled out during these talks for continued growth of the environmentally-destructive tar sands and a lack of commitment to needed emission reductions. While the Canadian government only had an observer present, the Council of Canadians was well represented in Cochabamba. We participated in the working group process, hosted discussions on the Canadian tar sands and the connections between water and climate justice, and National Chairperson Maude Barlow was featured – after being formally invited by the Bolivian government – as a main plenary panelist.

To read our recent op-ed “From Copenhagen to Cochabamba” featured in the Ottawa Citizen, see videos and photos from the Cochabamba conference, and to find out more about the Council’s campaign for climate justice go here.

Thirst for Justice challenges G8 agenda in Halifax

From the Council of Canadians (a non-profit organization that doesn't accept money from corporations or governments):

The Council of Canadians held a public forum and was part of an organizing committee for a march, rally, and information picket challenging the G8 agenda as Development Ministers from G8 countries gathered in Halifax for talks.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has put women's and children's health in the global south, including access to clean water, on the agenda at upcoming G8/G20 meetings Canada will host in Toronto in June. At a public forum last week called “Thirst for Justice,” Barbara Clow from the Atlantic Centre of Excellence for Women's Health, Carleen Pickard , Director of Organizing for the Council of Canadians, and Jada Voyager from the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation made the links between how the Canadian government is failing women, children and First Nation communities through policies that lead to the contamination of water resources, deny access to clean drinking water, and by failing to recognize water as a human right in Canada and internationally. To read our opinion editorial, published in the Halifax Chronicle Herald during the recent G8 ministerial meeting go here.

The Council of Canadians joined a coalition of groups and concerned individuals known as the “Halifax G8 Welcoming Committee” for a family-friendly rally last Sunday to speak out against the exclusive agenda of both the G8 and G20. Both have been criticized as clubs for rich nations, whose political leaders make decisions that affect less wealthy nations. The Council of Canadians believes the true forum for global decision-making should be the United Nations, also referred to as the G192. We will continue to confront the pressures of global capitalism and a failed model of world trade that has led to inaction on climate change, the loss of clean, accessible water and rising corporate power as Canada hosts the G8 and the G20 meetings June 25-27. To read more about the Halifax rally, which included chapter activists from across the Atlantic region, go here.

Another old Maher clip

Here's Bill on Anderson Cooper 360 in February, blasting Evan Bayh as a corporatist, Obama for being too soft and not being bold, lamenting the lack of a true progressive party in the United States, and Tea Party hypocricy for siding with corporatist Republicans and not supporting social reform, when they say they're for the people.

More Maher on Behar

This is from a few months back, so a few of the topics may seem a little dated (ie Seth McFarlane, Evan Bayh), but it's great to see Bill getting plenty of air time.

Richard Dawkins on Australia's SBS Dateline

Christopher Hitchens: The New Commandments

The Ten Commandments were set in stone, but it may be time for a re-chisel. With all due humility, the author takes on the job, pruning the ethically dubious, challenging the impossible, and rectifying some serious omissions.

Where Canada's true majority rests: centre-left

An EKOS poll released to the CBC yesterday showed once again where Canada's true majority sits: on the centre-left and not with the Reform, er Conservative Party. 55.1% of Canadians polled by EKOS chose the Liberals (26.6%), the New Democrats (17.6%), and the Green Party (10.9%). Of course, if Canada had proportional representation and not an electoral system that didn't predate the invention of the telephone, ie first-past-the-post, the Liberals, New Democrats and Greens could easily form coalition governments and get a great deal accomplished, such as strong climate change legislation, the legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana, stronger enforcement of the Canada Health Act, wind down the disastrous and toxic tar sands etc.

PM sets double standard in excluding abortions

Sarah Dowswell, The Ottawa Citizen:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cold-blooded refusal to fund safe abortion in developing countries as part of Canada's "signature" maternal and child health-care initiative championed at the G8 meeting this week in Halifax begs a crucial question.

His stance sharply contradicts Canada's commitment to UN Millennium Development Goal 5, which includes access to safe abortion as part of the range of reproductive health services required to reduce the unacceptably and unnecessarily high rate of maternal deaths in developing countries.

Current evidence indicates the extent of the problem. The data are clear and is well known. There are 76 million unintended pregnancies each year in developing countries, 19 million of which result in unsafe abortions. Thirteen out of each 100 of these 19 million desperate women will die.

As an added atrocity, rape has become a standard weapon of war, resulting in countless unwanted pregnancies, HIV/AIDS, trauma, stigma and death.

These women need our help. As a Canadian speaking out, I am trying to give them a voice.

By refusing to support their access to safe abortion as an integral part of Canada's maternal health initiatives, Harper has created an insidious double standard: they are denied a service legally available to Canadian women.

Are their lives less valuable than our own?

More discrimination in Arizona

Just when you thought that Arizona couldn't get any worse, the Wall Street Journal reported today that the state's Department of Education "recently began telling school districts that teachers whose spoken English it deems to be heavily accented or ungrammatical must be removed from classes for students still learning English":

State education officials say the move is intended to ensure that students with limited English have teachers who speak the language flawlessly. But some school principals and administrators say the department is imposing arbitrary fluency standards that could undermine students by thinning the ranks of experienced educators.

This is just one more indication of the incredible anti-immigrant sentiment in the state, said Bruce Merrill, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University who conducts public-opinion research

Arizona still has many public schools with plenty of teachers whose native language is Spanish. State auditors actually complained about one school which has some teachers who pronounce "words such as violet as 'biolet,' think as 'tink' and swallow the ending sounds of words, as they sometimes do in Spanish." The principal of the schoold admitted they "should speak grammatically correct English", however he added that they shouldn’t be ostracized for their accents. Arizona's Department of Education also wants teachers to "take classes or other steps to improve their English". But if some teachers still aren't living up to these new standards, they will be fired or reassigned. Unbelievable.

Even worse, Arizona's state legislature passed a law on Thursday banning ethnic studies programs:

HB 2281 would make it illegal for a school district to have any courses or classes that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, are designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity “instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”

It also would ban classes that “promote resentment toward a race or class of people.”

Tuscon Unified School District's popular Mexican-American studies department is being directly targeted by this new law, that according to school administrators simply offers "historical information" and not "ethnic chauvanism", as Arizona's school superintendent has claimed. A state representative attempted to demonstrate how absurd the new law is by suggesting that 9/11 shouldn't be taught in schools as it could create resentment against Arab-Americans.

Take that, Tea Party

Now this is where the so-called Tea Party movement should be, Wall Street, and what they should be protesting is Wall Street fraud and greed.

Showdown on Wall Street


Over 10,000 people brought Main Street to Wall Street today in a march, led by the AFL-CIO and National People’s Action (NPA). Working families and community members mobilized one of the largest gatherings ever organized against big banks, calling for accountability, job creation and an end to predatory lending practices from Wall Street institutions like Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs.

Goerge Goehl of National People's Action lays out why were taking on Wall Street and Big Banks:

Earlier that day, over 400 people from National People's Action entered the lobby to deliver a letter to CEO Jamie Dimon that asked him to sit down and negotiate with NPA. Security brought down a Chase executive who took the letter from NPA's leadership team and promised that Jamie Dimon would get it and that he would follow up with us to schedule a meeting.

A student of the Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics, and Youth Leader of Sistas and Brothas United, addresses the crowd at the Showdown on Wall Street.

Local news report:

Bernie Sanders: The week in review

The Week in Review

April 30, 2010

Senate Republicans voted three times in three days this past week to block the Senate from even considering legislation to rein in Wall Street and big banks, but on Thursday the formal debate began on what press reports ballyhooed as the most sweeping finance industry overhaul since the Great Depression. Maybe the bill will live up to that hype, but maybe not. As amendments are considered in the coming weeks, Senator Sanders wants the legislation strengthened to break up the country's biggest banks, put a ceiling on interest rates that can be charged to credit card customers, and make the Federal Reserve reveal the names of the institutions borrowing its funds. To join the thousands on YouTube who have watched Bernie outline the issues in a Senate floor speech, click here. To read a quick Sanders summary of the critical issues in a column published by the Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill, click here.

Fed Secrecy Chairman Ben Bernanke's Federal Reserve acts more like the secret Skull and Bones society than a taxpayer-funded public body in the world's greatest democracy. A growing bipartisan coalition supports a Sanders amendment to make the Federal Reserve divulge the names of financial institutions that took trillions of dollars in secret loans. The measure has brought together a growing list of Democratic and Republican senators. And it is nearly identical to legislation by Representative Ron Paul that the House of Representatives already passed overwhelmingly. Sanders' Senate amendment has now been endorsed by a wide spectrum of public interest organizations. Backers include Americans for Financial Reform, which is a coalition of more than 250 consumer, employee, investor, community and civil rights groups including the AFL-CIO and AARP. Other supporters include Americans for Tax Reform; the Campaign for Liberty; the Citizens Against Government Waste; the Rutherford Institute; the Eagle Forum and others. Read more about it here.

Breakup the Banks "One of the major components of any serious Wall Street reform has got to be breaking up the largest financial institutions in the country. The time has come to do exactly what Teddy Roosevelt did back in the trust-busting days and break up these huge financial institutions," Sanders said on Monday. The giant financial institutions must be dismantled not only to protect taxpayers from future bailouts, but because the concentration of ownership in the financial sector is leading to fewer choices, higher bank fees, and higher credit card interest rates. Three out of the four biggest American banks - Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America - are larger today than they were before taxpayers bailed them out as the economy collapsed in 2008. Combined with Citigroup, the four largest U.S. banks now write half of the mortgages, issue two-thirds of the credit cards, and hold $7.4 trillion in assets, more than half the nation's economic output. To read more, click here.

Wall Street Clout After it was reported that "1,500 lobbyists, executives, bankers and others" are doing everything they can to weaken the Senate financial reform bill, Sanders had a two-word reply: "No kidding!" On Thursday, The Center for Responsive Politics released a new study that found the finance, insurance and real estate industries spent $123.1 million so far this year as Congress debated new financial regulations. "Every American should understand that the challenge we're dealing with in the Senate is not whether Congress can regulate Wall Street, but to what degree Wall Street regulates Congress," Sanders said. A controversial Supreme Court ruling earlier this year could make matters worse by opening the floodgates for corporations to spend shareholder money on political advertising.

Corporate Campaign Cash Sanders cosponsored legislation introduced Thursday to rein in the influence of special interest corporate cash in federal elections. The measure is a response to a Jan. 21 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, which lifted strict limits in place for decades on corporate spending on political campaigns. "Congress must move forward aggressively in response to the ruling that would open the flood gates for the largest corporations to spend unlimited resources electing candidates who represent their interests," Sanders said. "Unless the law is changed, the ruling will give control of the political process to the wealthiest and most powerful institutions in the world and the candidates who support their agenda. Instead of democracy being about one-person one-vote, it will be about the size of a company's bank account." To read more about the bill, click here.

Stand Up and Yell and Scream For a quick take on the battle to come in Congress over financial reform and how you can help influence the debate, watch the new Senator Sanders Unfiltered Web video

Michael Moore on Larry King

Filmmaker Michael Moore appeared on Larry King Live earlier this week and discussed everything from Goldman Sachs and their fraudulent schemes, Arizona's controversial immigration law, and the Tea Party protesters:

I'm happy the Obama administration brought these civil charges against them but I think there should be a criminal investigation. A lot of people's money vaporized and I think when that happens -- I'll tell ya, we spend a lot of energy in our criminal justice system going after people that stick you up for a hundred bucks. I think the American people got stuck up for a hell of a lot more than that.

I don't understand Arizona, I mean, I didn't think it would be possible for them to embarrass themselves more than they did twenty or so years ago when they were the only state that wouldn't have Martin Luther King Day. This law of theirs, it's -- I don't know what to say -- it's kind of like -- I don't know if you've read the language -- my position usually is any time something sounds like dialogue from Hogan's Heroes, it shouldn't become law. They can just go up to anyone who looks Hispanic in a state that's one third Hispanic and demand papers from them. This is not the American way and I can't believe it will hold up constitutionally. ... What is the problem really? Most of these immigrants who come here work very hard -- illegal immigrants, they work very hard, they do the jobs Americans don't want to do. Frankly, I think, I mean, personally, any illegal immigrant they catch in Arizona, they should let him keep doing his job because he's adding to the economy. For every one they catch, they should send one Goldman Sachs guy to Mexico.

The irony of their populist movement against the bailout and the banks and all that -- here's my question and if anybody in the control room, if you have some tape, you can roll it -- show me one Tea Party demonstration that's taken place on Wall Street or in front of a local bank or any financial institution. If they're really so upset about that, why aren't they demonstrating there? Instead what they're doing, they're running around with placards of Obama with a Hitler mustache on him. It's a nutty, nutty movement. Here's what I'd like to see. I'm gonna check this out, too. On Thursday of this week, a bunch of unions across the country have called for a massive rally and march on Wall Street. On this Thursday afternoon, they're going to meet at City Hall Park and then they're going to march down to Wall Street. I'd like to see if that gets as much attention as the six hundred, twelve hundred people Tea Party gatherings have received around the country.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The 2010 Time 100: Elizabeth Warren

The 2010 TIME 100

In our annual TIME 100 issue we name the people who most affect our world

Thinkers: Elizabeth Warren

By Sheila Bair
Thursday, Apr. 29, 2010

You'd think a soft-spoken, straight-shooting woman who grew up in a small town on the Great Plains would not want anything to do with a thankless high-profile government position overseeing the $700 billion taxpayer bailout of the U.S. financial industry. If you were like me and grew up in Independence, Kans., 200 miles from Elizabeth's Norman, Okla., you'd understand why she did.

It helps to know that someone with Elizabeth's Midwestern roots is watching the store. When it comes to holding people to account, Elizabeth, 60, takes the prize. She's unusually polite. But her words can be sharp as a tiger's tooth, as many a witness has learned coming before her congressional committee.

Elizabeth is at her best when she deploys that razor-sharp eloquence in defense of the American consumer. Some of her ideas are controversial, but we always listen because her powerful intellect and plainspoken articulation prove to be an irresistible combination. Of all the victims of the damage done in the past two years by the financial meltdown and the ensuing economic downturn, consumers have suffered the most. But that may soon come to an end if Elizabeth has her way and Congress establishes a new and independent consumer watchdog for financial products. I say high time.

Bair is chair of the FDIC

A religion of greed that wrecked the economy

Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi, from The Guardian:

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

The SEC's lawsuit against Goldman Sachs is a chance to prevent greed without limits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This debate is going to be crystallised in the Goldman case. Much of America is going to reflexively insist that Goldman's only crime was being smarter and better at making money than IKB and ABN-Amro, and that the intrusive, meddling government (in the American narrative, always the bad guy!) should get off Goldman's Armani-clad back. Another side is going to argue that Goldman winning this case would be a rebuke to the whole idea of civilisation – which, after all, is really just a collective decision by all of us not to screw each other over even when we can. It's an important moment in the history of modern global capitalism: whether or not to move forward into a world of greed without limits.

A corporation is not a person

News Release: Vermont's Independent Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders says Congress must fight disastrous 'Citizens United' ruling

April 29, 2010

A Corporation is Not a Person

WASHINGTON, April 29 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) cosponsored legislation introduced today in the Senate to rein in the influence of special interest corporate cash in federal elections.

The measure is a response to a Jan. 21 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, which lifted strict limits in place for decades on corporate spending on political campaigns.

“Congress must move forward aggressively in response to the ruling that would open the flood gates for the largest corporations to spend unlimited resources electing candidates who represent their interests,” Sanders said. “Unless the law is changed, the ruling will give control of the political process to the wealthiest and most powerful institutions in the world and the candidates who support their agenda. Instead of democracy being about one-person one-vote, it will be about the size of a company’s bank account.”

The proposal would make corporate executives and other organization leaders take responsibility for political campaign ads. Like candidates for public office, CEO’s would have to openly declare in any commercial that they approved a message.

To encourage public disclosure of campaign donors, any corporation or other covered organization would have to disclose within 24 hours to the Federal Election Commission any campaign-related activity, including transfers of money to other groups for campaign-related activity. And to prevent foreign influence in American elections, foreign corporations would be banned from spending on U.S. elections.

The law would protect the interests of shareholders and union members by making corporations, labor organizations and other groups file reports with the FEC and within 24 hours post the information about political spending on their websites.

The measure also would safeguard taxpayers by forbidding government contractors from spending taxpayer money on political ads. It would be illegal for any entity with a government contract worth more than $50,000 to spend money on elections.

As a way to limit the ability of special interests to drown out other voices, candidates and political party committees would be able to take advantage of the lowest price for broadcast ads.

The bill also would outlaw coordination between a candidate and businesses or other outside groups buying ads for a candidate 90 days before a primary election running through the general election.

The evangelical war on science

Watch this if you can stomach it. It's pretty sad seeing young chidren being manipulated and warped or brainwashed into believing such ludicrious nonsense and fairy tales.

Conservatives told to stop using partisan cheques

Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson has told federal Conservative MPs and cabinet ministers to cease using government cheques designed with Conservative party colours and slogans at government spending announcements. Dawson said that although using partisan props or ploys doesn’t violate the conflict-of-interest code or the conflict law, it should be discontinued and wants the government to do so. Doing so is going too far and corrodes the Canadian public's confidence in public institutions. Dawson has received many complaints from the public regarding the identification of government activities with partisan associations. Dawson also received 63 complaints in the fall from Liberal and New Democrat MPs complaining about Conservative colours, logos, or slogans on ceremonial cheques unveiled at news conferences and spending announcements.

The Conservatives were previously criticized for using these same kinds of news conferences and spending announcements to raise the profiles of unelected Conservatives candidates. The government was also called out for the logo of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, which directly resembled the Conservative Party's logo. You can see more photos of government cheques here.

A CBC news investigation also found that Conservative held ridings received approximately 60% of the economic stimulus funding, while opposition held ridings only received 40% of the economic stimulus funds. Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale's Saskatchewan riding received approximately $4.8 million in stimulus funds, while the adjacent riding, held by the Conservatives, received $6.5 million.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Next vehicle system

At Broadview Station tomorrow morning at 10:30 am, Mayor Miller and TTC Chair Adam Giabrone will be turning on new LCD screens for the "Next Vehicle" system, which uses GPS to inform riders when the next vehicle is coming. The TTC will be equipping 52 streetcar shelters and some subway stations in 2010. By July, all 800 streetcar stops will offer "Next Vehicle" information via SMS messages: the display of automatic forecasted arrival times of the next bus or streetcar, similar to systems in other cities. Information for buses will be coming in 2011 as TTC completes the roll out of GPS on all buses.

10 Reasons to build Transit City now, not sometime later

Yeah I know, the source is Wikipedia. However the entire entry appears to be sourced and referenced very well. Besides, arguing against expansion of public transit for a city with a population of 2.5 million is perplexing to say the least.

Transit City will create 200,000 jobs, adds 2.1% GDP, and generates $1.7 billion per year in Ontario tax revenue

Transit City is a major project to extend rapid transit within the City of Toronto and into the Greater Toronto Area. [...]

Economic Impact

Transit City is expected to create approximately 200,000 new jobs in Ontario from $8.3 billion invested.[18] This includes operation, construction, and economic stimulus effect of spending. Unemployment reached 9% in 2010, the GTA's highest level since 1995.[19]

The Ontario government's promised funding for Transit City creates short-term economic growth of $12.4 billion per year,[20] adding in the near-term 2.1% to Ontario's GDP, according to the American Public Transportation Association.[21]

According to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities' research, Transit City produces a first-year GDP gain of $17.3 billion, were all the money to be spent in the first year. After 5 years the project levels off to add $8.0 billion per year to GDP, with each $1 billion spent on transit adding 0.06% to Canada's GDP annually. This compares closely to US Congressional testimony, which shows infrastructure investment to stimulate annual GDP at a multiplier of 1.69, or $14 billion per year for Transit City.[22] Both studies count direct impact of spending only.[23]

In addition to direct impacts above, long-term indirect effects on business costs, productivity, and consumer spending from reduced congestion and travel costs create an additional $14.1 billion of value annually to Ontario's economy.[18] Other indirect effects not measured are improved air quality and public health and reduced carbon emissions from extending rapid transit to 1.1 million more people.

Ontario taxes capture 12% of Ontario's GDP, meaning that Transit City's stimulus effect directly adds to Provincial tax revenue.[24][25] Transit City's direct economic impact of $12.4 billion per year nets the Ontario treasury $1.4 billion in annual tax revenue. Indirect effects on congestion and transportation costs produce an additional $1.7 billion per year in tax revenue. Government of Canada Bonds currently offer 4% interest for a 10 year term.[25] Transit City's $8.3 billion expansion funding, if amortized over 10 years at prevailing bond rates, cost the Province $1.2 billion per year.[26] With Provincial tax revenues expanded by $3.1 billion per year, Transit City easily makes up its financing cost. As typical with public transit spending, the Ontario treasury recovers the investment easily with no change to tax rates.

■18. ^ a b Economic Impact of Public Transportation Investment, American Public Transportation Association, October 2009, (pg. iii, Table within Summary)

■19. ^ Unemployment hits 15-year high in Ontario, Toronto Star,

■20. ^ Economic Impact of Public Transportation Investment, American Public Transportation Association, October 2009, (pg. ii, Table within Summary, Summary of the Short-term Economic Impact per Billion Dollars of National Investment in Public Transportation)

■21. ^ Ontario Budget 2010

■22. ^ Mark Zandi, Chief Economist, Moody's (January 21, 2009), Congressional Testimony for the 2009 US Stimulus Bill, pg. 9, Table 2. Fiscal Stimulus Bang for the Buck

■23. ^ Macroeconomic Impacts of Spending and Level-of-Government Financing, Federation of Canadian Municipalities, May 31, 2008, (pg. 6, Table 1. GDP Impacts of Additional Infrastructure Spending)

■24. ^ Ontario Budget 2010 shows 09-10 tax revenue of $65.9 billion

■25. ^ a b Ontario 2010 Budget shows Ontario Gross Domestic Product

■26. ^

Economics as if anything mattered

Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada:

This is an article I wrote for the series "10 Ways to Fix the Economy" originally published in the online publication,

Looking toward Canada’s 150 year mark, we know what kind of society we want -- healthy, fair, and diverse. We know what kind of citizens we want -- engaged, empowered, fulfilled. We know what kind of world we want -- sustainable, secure, and peaceful.

Underlying all those things we want is a whole lot of assumptions about the kind of economy that delivers the “goods.” But what if our economic assumptions deliver the opposite? What if our unquestioned addiction to consumerism and unlimited economic growth delivers a lot of “bads”?

Herman Daly, former Senior Economist to the World Bank, once observed that the “economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment.” Building on that thought, he concluded that we shouldn’t treat the Earth as though it was a “business in liquidation."

How do we square that circle of economic health without damaging levels of exploitation of our planet’s natural and human capital? How do we avoid the casino capitalism that shook the foundations of the global economy?

The answer depends on whether we make the mistake of treating market principles as having God-like wisdom, or whether we recognize the limits of the free market and correct for unhealthy distortions.

Replacing our existing economic theory, committed to endless growth, accompanied with a voracious appetite for energy and raw materials, to one striving toward a steady-state economy, relying relatively more on labour and less on capital to deliver the goods, is do-able. The best recent book on the challenge is Peter Victor’s Managing Without Growth: Slower by design, not disaster (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2008). Professor Victor puts forward a series of cogent policy changes, all tested in economic models as having economic, social and environmental benefits over our current system. For example, it makes sense, as Green policy argues, to move toward full employment by reducing work weeks and providing for more flex-hours. It is prudent to set tax policy to reduce waste of energy and encourage employment.

The Green approach starts with recognizing the inadequacy of GDP as the measure of anything useful. We need to measure and value a great deal more than the amount of money that changes hands to build a healthy society. We need to measure our real progress – in terms of social cohesion, environmental health, employment, and wealth. The GDP provides no useful information about these indicators. Only a Genuine Progress Index can measure the real condition of our society. Perhaps one of the first prescient critics of GDP was the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who in 1968, scant weeks before his death, said:

“Too much and too long, we have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things....The (GDP) counts air pollution and cigarette advertising and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”

Last September, Nobel Prize winning economists Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen delivered the same message in a report to French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Canada in its 150th year must have already moved to a new paradigm. It is time to insist that human existence, natural systems and communities are not viewed as mere raw material to an economic engine. The economy exists to support the things we value.

Elizabeth E. May, O.C. is the leader of the Green Party of Canada.
Originally published in the online publication, The Mark News

Sheriff: Arizona law "stupid", won't enforce it

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik has been serving in law enforcement for over five decades, begs to differ, and called his state's new immigration law "racist", "disgusting" and "stupid", and that "nuanced judgment" could not be enforced without compulsory racial profiling. Dupnik also ponders that he is just as likely to be sued for racial profiling as he is for not racial profiling, so he won't be enforcing the new law.

Harper re-opening the abortion debate

Well it looks like Prime Minister Stephen and the Conservative Party wants to re-open an issue that was closed long ago in Canada: the debate over abortion. It appears they didn't get the memo that Canadians don't want this issue re-opened. With his government consistently hovering around the low 30s in opinion polls, Harper has probably decided that this would be a good move to make for his and his party's base. The prime minister has also concluded that he knows how Canadians want their tax dollars spent on overseas humanitarian missions or foreign aid, and that we apparently don't want foreign aid spent on abortions and birth control but rather less polarizing forms of advocating maternal health. Yesterday Harper said in Parliament:

Canadians want to see their foreign aid money used for things that will help save the lives of women and children in ways that unite the Canadian people rather than divide them.We understand that other governments, that other taxpayers, may do something different. We want to make sure our funds are used to save the lives of women and children and are used on the many, many things that are available to us that frankly do not divide the Canadian population.

Sorry Steve, but abortion does not "divide the Canadian population". Perhaps it is a sticking point for the likes of yourself and your base, who feel that women should not have the right to decide what to do with their bodies. However the majority of the Canadian population feels much differently. According to an Angus Reid poll conducted back in June 2008, 65% of Canadians favoured of abortion rights for women, with 49% believing that the procedure should be allowed in all cases, and with 19% favouring more restrictions, but still supporting the procedure.

Regardless, Harper's statement was the most confrontational yet from the Conservative government on its refusal to fund access to safe abortions as part of its G8 project on child and maternal health. Harper made the statement as G8 development ministers and their representatives sat at a Halifax table, who were considerate enough to avoid the issue. London North Centre Liberal MP Glen Pearson, the opposition critic for international cooperation, who was invited to the working sessions said:

The word abortion never came up once, although there was a bit of talk . . . that each country has to recognize the political difficulties each would have in its own country.

Pearson further commented that real challenge facing G8 nations, as opposed to the abortion issue, was the flux in public opinion in those countries for supporting foreign aid, who also have different approaches to health care and determining results:

That could be veiled and (abortion) could be in there, but it was never overt, it was never said. But the idea that we do have to be flexible to other countries with their various needs was obviously there, because they all have different protocols. So part of what was said was ‘Look, we all have our different ways of approaching things, but how do we then end up with what we say we are looking for at the G8?

At a news conference yesterday, International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda included the chief administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development, Rajiv Shah, tried to side step the issue and avoid abortion discussion by insisting that Canada and America agree on a definition of family planning which promotes control over childbearing timing, that includes the use of contraceptives, but which doesn't include abortion. But in March, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke firmly regarding that it's necessary for governments to not be partisan and ideological on the issue of assisting women in developing countries receive safe abortions. However as we know, people like Harper and his base don't care about women having control over their bodies. Shah, repesenting the Obama Administration, did state that:

We know that when we have effective family planning programs we reduce the numbers of both unwanted pregnancies and abortions that are in play, that when people use unsafe abortions, that is technically a cause of maternal mortality.

Shah added that the Obama administration revoked a Bush Administraiton policy to cut support for abortion aid, but copped out when asked if America's position was in stark contrast to that of the Canadian Conservative government.

Oda actually had the nerve to suggest that Canadian governments had never funded any procedure which included abortion: "Canada has never funded a procedure that included abortion". Wrong. Since the mid-80s, the federal government has given funds to the pro-choice International Planned Parenthood Federation, who are still waiting if they will receive a renewed grant from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), which concludded last December. Asked specifically about this matter, groups that included abortion and were funded by the CIDA, Oda said: "Canada will honour its current commitments with all organizations to undertake all the activities it has."

A spokesman for CIDA, Scott Cantin, contradicted Oda:

CIDA does not fund any project specifically aimed at increasing the availability of abortion. In keeping with existing international agreements, the Government of Canada does not promote abortion as a means of family planning, either domestically or internationally.

Opposition international cooperation critic Pearson also said yesterday that despite the vague wording of discussions at the Halifax working sesssions table, his previous discussion with the participants and delegates, which included CIDA experts, involved a lot of questions about the motivations and details, and concluded that: "This is a political announcement". No kidding, Glen.

Torture ruling a victory for Parliament

A great column by Chantal Hébert which says it all:

Torture paper ruling a victory for Parliament

PM who has accused courts of usurping the rights of elected officials could now turn to judges

Peter Milliken’s landmark ruling is not the kind of decision that a governing party hovering at 30 per cent in voting intentions should want to take into a snap election, especially on the heels of losing a significant chunk of support for closing down Parliament for most of the winter.

For the decision issued Tuesday by the veteran speaker of the House of Commons largely reads like a condemnation of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s take-no-prisoners approach to the minority Parliament.

On the crucial aspects of the case that has been pitting the other parties against the government over the release of the documents pertaining to the Afghan detainee file, Milliken ruled in favour of Parliament and its current opposition majority.

He found little merit to the argument that ministers and their officials should the sole arbiters of what national security allows the government to share with Parliament.

He found no merit at all to the notion that the Bloc Québécois, by the virtue of its sovereignist creed, should not be trusted in the Afghan detainee loop.

And he pointed out that for 140 years, such battles of wills had routinely been resolved without triggering a constitutional crisis.

Milliken’s decision can’t be appealed – at least on the conventional parliamentary front.

The government could always try to buy time by asking the Supreme Court to rule on the proper balance between the powers of the executive and those of Parliament.

But in the past, Canada’s top court has been wary of meddling in the internal affairs of Parliament and the current prime minister has spent his career taking shots at judges for usurping the rights of elected officials.

It would be ironic to have Harper now turn to the courts to protect his government from the will of an elected majority.

He could also try to stare the opposition down, by declaring the issue a matter of confidence and daring the opposition parties to defeat his government over it.

The Liberals in particular have blinked in the past. But if they did in this case, the House could be forced to look for a new referee. Milliken could hardly continue in his current role if a majority of MPs failed to endorse a ruling of yesterday’s magnitude

And even a Conservative election victory would not necessarily make this ruling go away - not unless Harper secured a majority. But while there are those among Conservative strategists who believe he might prevail by wrapping himself in the flag for the duration of the campaign, polls indicate that would be a big gamble.

In a short statement yesterday, justice minister Rob Nicholson left all options open, including that of coming to terms with the opposition.

A start could be to have former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci – who has been hired by the department of justice to vet the documents – report to Parliament rather than to the government, and/or to have legal representatives of the relevant parliamentary committee assist him in his task.

Another would be to allow some or all of the members of the committee that has been investigating the Afghan detainee issue to examine the documents behind closed doors.

But, if this government is true to form, the first order of Conservative business is going to be giving the Liberals a call. They are the weakest link in the opposition chain, by virtue of the party’s greater fear of a spring election.

Dividing the opposition to conquer served Harper well in the last parliamentary crisis and it could do so again in his latest predicament.

Goldman Sachs execs grilled

At a U.S. Senate hearing yesterday, Goldman Sachs executives attempted to defend their sleazy practices and "ethics" during the lead up to 2008's financial meltdown and aftermath. The powerhouse firm's practices are further confimation of just how much financial reform and reform is needed.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Afghan records denial is privilege breach

Peter Milliken, the Speaker of the House of Commons, has ruled that the federal Conservative government violated parliamentary privilege by refusing to provide uncensored documented regarding the treatment of Afghan detainees, and that the government must provide the documents to the opposition (and the public) within two weeks. While making his ruling this afternoon, the speaker pressed MPs and party leaders to bring forth a "workable accommodation" for all "without compromising the security and confidentiality contained." Milliken found that Parliament had the right to press the government in December to provide the uncensored documents to the members of the special Parliamentary committee investigating claims that prisoners were tortured after being handed over to the Afghan secret police. Milliken said Parliament's order to present the documents was "clear" and by the book, but had no stipulation to guard undisclosed information in the documents. The speaker in his address to Parliament said:

It is the view of the chair that accepting an unconditional authority of the executive to censor the information provided to Parliament would, in fact, jeopardize the very separation of powers that is purported to lie at the heart of our parliamentary system and the independence of its constituent parts. Furthermore, it risks diminishing the inherent privileges of the House and its members, which have been earned and must be safeguarded..

Parliament passed an opposition motion last year on December 10, which mandated that the Harper government provide uncensored documents regarding Aghan detainees. The Harper government ignored the order, justifying their defiance that it would violate national security. As a result, opposition MPs from all three parties gave questions of privilege to the Speaker Milliken in March, which called for numerous Conservative government ministers to be found in contempt of Parliament. The opposition argued that the will of Parliament supercedes that of the prime minister, which is a basic component of Canadian democracy.

Liberal Party and Leader of the Official Opposition Michael Ignatieff said Milliken's ruling was "a clear victory for Parliament, for the people of Canada, for democracy and a clear defeat for the Conservative government." Ignatieff will have Liberal House leader Ralph Goodale mee with the Conservative House leader to resolved the situation in the next two weeks "that vindicates the right of the Canadian people to have documents and also respects the considerations of national security." Ignatieff said:

I'm absolutely convinced what the Speaker is saying to us is that you can trust an MP to respect the national security of our country. What's changed is the Speaker, the highest authority in our Parliament, has said, 'Sort it out'.

New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton said Milliken's ruling was a "very strong and important ruling.":

The Speaker stood up for members of Parliament and for the people elected by the people of Canada against a Harper government that simply wanted to act in a contemptuous way towards Parliament.

The Conservative government will apparently have Justice Minister Rob Nicholson respond to Milliken's decision soon. There is speculation that the Conservative government may say the ruling is non-confidence in their government and hold a vote in Parliament on the matter, which could result in a sudden federal election. Also, the Harper government could as the Supreme Court to examine the matter.

Allegations that Canadian forces turned prisoners over to the Afghan secret police, who were then tortured, have been under investigation by a parliamentary committee and a civilian-managed army watchdog group. The Conservative government has denied all of the allegations, but they have been contradicted by General Walter Natynczyk. The Harper government then appointed retired Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci to review the documents to decide what can be released. However the opposition said it was a delay tactic to avoid disclosures regarding what the Conservative government knew about the treatment of detainees, and when the government became aware of the situation. The opposition also argued that Iacobucci's review could take months and that the government is under no obligation to make his findings public.

The last 122 years

Staple British bread brand Hovis have released a new advert showcasing over 100 years of the nations history. Part of Hovis huge relaunch campaign, the ad is a mammoth 122 seconds long celebrating the 122 years since Hovis was established.

Filmed in Liverpool, with a cast of over 750 extras many of whom are ordinary Brits cast off the streets, the ad depicts the highs and lows experienced by Britain during Hovis existence - including World War I, the suffragette movement, the first motor car, World War II, the 1953 coronation, the swinging sixties, England winning the World Cup, the 1980s miners strike and the Millennium celebrations. It ends with the poignant message As good today as its always been reinforcing Hovis strong brand heritage and marking the beginning of a new Hovis era

Outrage over Arizona immigration law builds

Daniel Tencer, Raw Story:

Outrage over Arizona Immigration Law Builds, Swastika Vandalism Hits State Capitol

Opposition to the racist, draconian law has heated up in the past few days

Vandals smeared a swastika made of refried beans into the glass doors of Arizona's State Capitol building, police in Phoenix told local media Monday.

"While it first looked like mud on the doors, it turned out be refried beans," reported the Web site, which also asserted that the vandalism was "sparked by the newly signed anti-illegal-immigration law." The site reports:

Capitol police arrived on the scene at about 6 a.m., after a swastika was found smeared on the glass doors of the House and Senate buildings. On the sidewalk, beans were used to write "AZ=Nazi," again with a swastika.

It's not clear when exactly the vandalism happened, but police believe it was some time overnight.

"That is what happens when there is so much fear and there is so much disappointment," Gustavo Ramirez, a protester from California, told "The laws that have been passed, they are Nazi laws. They are not considering humanity. They are a crime against humanity."

Meanwhile, Mexican President Felipe Calderon described Arizona's recently-passed law on immigrants as "racial discrimination."

Calderon said his government would seek to challenge the law, which allows police to question and detain anyone in the U.S. border state they believe may be an illegal entrant.

Calderon said Mexico would "use all means at its disposal" to defend its nationals against what he called a "violation of human rights" and "unacceptable racial discrimination."

He said he had instructed his foreign ministry and Mexico's consulates in the United States to work with legal experts "to defend the rights of Mexicans" in the face of the new law.

Thousands of people marched peacefully in Phoenix on Sunday to express their opposition to the controversial law.

Television images showed the protesters converging on the State Capitol, where they held a rally to denounce the legislation.

The law, signed by Arizona’s Republican Governor Jan Brewer on Friday, allows police to question and detain anyone in the southwestern border state they believe may be an illegal immigrant, even if they are not suspected of committing another crime.

It would also require anyone in the state suspected of being an illegal immigrant to show a document proving their legal status, like a "green card" permanent residency document or a passport.

Opponents of the law say that if police demand papers from someone they suspect of being an illegal immigrant, and they turn out to be a US citizen, their constitutional rights will have been infringed.

US Democratic Congressman Luis Gutierrez urged the demonstrators to keep up pressure on politicians, reminding them that the controversial law would not take effect for 90 days.

"In these 90 days, we will demonstrate our solidarity," he said, addressing the protesters in Spanish. "That’s why we are here."

Demonstrator Jose Acosta told CNN television he was concerned about the new law.

"What is reasonable suspicion? Are we going to get pulled over just because of a broken taillight, or because of the color of our skin?" he asked.

Civil rights leader Al Sharpton said it was people’s moral obligation to stand against this profiling in Arizona.

"Make no mistake about it. This is not a fight between minorities," he said. "This is a fight for justice and fairness for everyone."

Here's what real Wall Street reform should look like

Robert Reich,

Here's What Real Wall Street Reform Should Look Like

Dems are making a final push for Wall Street reform -- this is what citizens should be asking for

The real scandal isn’t the Street’s unlawful acts (i.e., Securities and Exchange Commission vs. Goldman Sachs) but legal acts that have reaped the Street a bonanza and nearly sunk the rest of us.

It’s good we finally have an SEC on which three out of five commissioners are willing to enforce laws already on the books. Hopefully other enforcement agencies (CFTC, FDIC, and the Fed) will follow suit. But we also need to make illegal the recklessness that’s now legal.

The Dodd bill now being considered in the Senate is a step in the right direction. [Ed. Note: Republicans have currently blocked the bill.] Yet despite the hype, it’s a very modest step. It leaves out three of the most important things necessary to prevent a repeat of the Wall Street meltdown:

1. Require that trading of all derivatives be done on open exchanges where parties have to disclose what they’re buying and selling and have enough capital to pay up if their bets go wrong.

The exception in the current bill for so-called “customized” derivatives opens up a loophole big enough for bankers to drive their Ferrari’s through.

2. Resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act in its entirety so commercial banks are separated from investment banks. The current bill doesn’t go nearly far enough. Commercial banks should take deposits and lend money. Investment banks should be limited to the casino we call the stock market, helping companies issue new issues and making bets. Nothing good comes of mixing the two. We learned this after the Great Crash of 1929, and then forgot it in 1999 when Congress allowed financial supermarkets to do both.

3. Cap the size of big banks at $100 billion in assets. The current bill doesn’t limit the size of banks at all. It creates a process for winding down the operations of any bank that gets into trouble. But if several big banks are threatened, as they were when the housing bubble burst, their failure would pose a risk to the whole financial system, and Congress and the Fed would surely have to bail them out. The only way to ensure no bank is too big to fail is to make sure no bank is too big, period. Nobody has been able to show any scale efficiencies over $100 billion in assets, so that should be the limit.

Wall Street doesn’t want these three major reforms because they’d cut deeply into profits, and it’s using its formidable lobbying clout with both parties to prevent these reforms from even from surfacing. It’s time for Main Street — Tea Partiers, Coffee partiers, and beer drinkers — to be heard.

Can't concentrate? Maybe it's the fast food

Tom Jacobs,

Can't Concentrate? Maybe It's the Fast Food

How the tendency to grab a quick bite at Burger King could affect other areas of life.

Americans have been saving less and less of their income in recent decades, a trend that has only recently abated. At the same time, we have been eating more and more meals at fast-food restaurants.

Coincidence? Perhaps not. A new study suggests thinking about fast-food chains — or even being exposed momentarily to their logos — can increase impatience and intensify one’s desire for immediate gratification.

Two University of Toronto researchers, Chen-Bo Zhong and Sanford DeVoe, reach that conclusion in a paper titled “You Are How You Eat,” just published in the journal Psychological Science. It is, appropriately, a quick read.

Zhong and DeVoe conducted three experiments to determine how our increasing tendency to grab a quick bite at Burger King has affected other areas of our lives.

In the first, 57 university undergraduates were instructed to concentrate on the center of their computer screens while colorful objects flashed in the corners.

For half the students, those peripheral images — which flashed by too quickly to register in their conscious minds — included logos from McDonalds, Taco Bell and other fast-food chains.

All were then asked to read a 350-word text, and move to the next screen when they were finished. Those who had been exposed to the logos took less time to complete the task, suggesting to the researchers that they were impatient to move on.

In the second experiment, 91 undergraduates were asked to recall either a meal they had at a fast-food restaurant or their last visit to a grocery. They then completed “an ostensibly unrelated marketing survey” in which they rated the desirability of various time-saving products.

Those who had thought about the fast-food franchise rated the products more favorably than those who had been contemplating their sojourn to Safeway. “These findings suggest that thinking about fast food makes individuals impatient and strengthens their desires to complete tasks as quickly as possible,” the researchers conclude.

In the final experiment, 58 undergraduates were asked to rate the aesthetics of corporate logos. Half the students assessed images representing fast-food franchises (including the famous golden arches), while the others looked at logos for inexpensive diners. All then participated in a standard experiment in which they were asked to choose between receiving $3 immediately or a larger amount in a week.

“Participants who were merely exposed to the fast-food logos … were much more likely to accept a smaller payment now rather than wait for a larger payment in a week, compared to those in the control condition,” the researchers report. “Fast food seemed to have made people impatient in a manner that could put their economic interests at risk.”

Zhong and DeVoe concede it is an open question whether the rise of fast food is a cause or a consequence of our culture of impatience. “What we can infer from our studies,” they conclude, “is that exposure to fast food and related symbols reinforces an emphasis on impatience and instant gratification, and that fast food can have a far broader impact on individuals’ behaviors and choices than previously thought.”

And here we’ve been blaming Alan Greenspan for the low level of our 401Ks, when Ronald McDonald was hiding in plain sight all along.

Jeremy Scahill vs. Erik Prince

From Jeremey Scahill's Rebel Reports:

Blackwater’s founder and owner Erik Prince is headlining the Tulip Time Festival in his hometown of Holland, MI on May 5. The press release is precious.

I have just accepted an invitation to speak in Holland, MI that same day. Can’t wait for Erik to show me around! Here is the press release from the Interfaith Congregation of Holland, MI, the group that invited me:

“Blackwater” Author Jeremy Scahill To Speak During Tulip Time

Jeremy Scahill, author of “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army,” will speak during Holland’s Tulip Time Festival on May 5, the same day Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater, will address a Tulip Time luncheon. Scahill’s talk will be at 7:30 p.m. at the Holland 7 Theater, 500 Waverly Road.

“The Tulip Time festival says Mr. Prince will discuss the ‘value-based’ lessons of his childhood in Holland,” says Scahill. “I believe it is important for people in Holland to hear about the actual values Prince and his company have employed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan where Blackwater operatives have killed innocent civilians and stolen childhoods.” Scahill said he would welcome the opportunity to have a public dialogue with Mr. Prince that evening in Holland.

Scahill’s visit is being hosted by Interfaith Congregation of Holland. Chaplain Bill Freeman says, “Many people reacted negatively to the announcement of Erik Prince’s visit, because, even though Mr. Prince is a native of Holland, the company he founded, Blackwater, renamed Xe, is very controversial. So as a group that believes in being fair and balanced, Interfaith Congregation wanted to give people the chance to hear the other side.”

Scahill’s address is free and open to the public

Give 'em hell Bernie

Vermont's Independent Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders takes on New Hampshire Republican Senator Judd Gregg over financial reform and regulation, and the need to break up "too big to fail" financial institutions. Sanders is a strong supporter of financial reform, regulation and breaking up the greedy, monsterous banks. Senate Republicans, with the assistance of Nebraska "Democratic" Senator Ben Nelson, are blocking passage of financial reform legislation. Shocking, I know.