Billy Bragg on Democracy Now

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US debt crisis continues as turmoil infects Italy and Spain

From The Guardian UK:

Markets spooked as bond yields in both founder members of single currency hit monetary union records

and, Tuesday 2 August 2011

Financial markets in Europe and North America were gripped by a new sense of crisis as the turmoil caused by the narrowly averted US debt default moved back across the Atlantic and infected Italy and Spain – two key members of the eurozone.

Bond yields in both the founder members of the single currency hit monetary union records, forcing Spain’s prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, to abandon his holiday plans. Italy responded to a fresh wave of losses in its banking sector by announcing a crisis meeting of economic policymakers.

Interest rates on Spanish and Italian bonds rose to well above 6%, the level that signalled the beginning of the bailout process for Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

Meanwhile, interest rates on assets seen as safer fell sharply, with the yield on UK 10-year gilts dropping to an all-time low of 2.77%. Gold rose to a new record level for a ninth day in a row on Tuesday.

Wall Street’s Dow Jones index had lost 266 points by the close in New York – its eighth successive fall and longest losing streak since the global banking system was on the brink of collapse in October 2008.

US shares have given up virtually all their 2011 gains, while stocks in Europe and Asia are already trading below the levels at which they ended 2010.

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15 Years in Prison For Taping the Cops? How Eavesdropping Laws Are Taking Away Our Best Defense Against Police Brutality

From Alternet:

More and more people use their smartphones to record police misconduct. But laws against wiretapping are being used to intimidate and stop them.

By Rania Khalek
July 27, 2011

Over Memorial Day weekend this past May, residents of Miami Beach witnessed a horrific display of police brutality as 12 cops sprayed Raymond Herisse’s car with 100 bullets, killing him. The shooting provoked outrage in the surrounding community, not only because of the murder, but because of what the police did afterward.

Officers on the scene confiscated and smashed witnesses’ cell phones; later, when they were confronted by the media, the police denied trying to destroy videos of the incident.

But 35-year-old Narces Benoit removed his HTC EVO’s SIM card and hid it in his mouth. He later sold the video to CNN, placing the police in the awkward position of explaining why they lied about allegations of cell phone destruction. More importantly, the video showed at least two officers pointing guns at Benoit, demanding that he stop filming.

Police brutality takes many forms around the country on a regular basis, particularly in poor and minority neighborhoods. Sometimes, the only method of accountability is a victim’s word (if they are still alive) against that of an officer. Unsurprisingly, the police officer’s version of the story is often adequate for a judge to dismiss allegations of wrongdoing, unless there is hard evidence of misconduct, such as a video or audio recording, which can be useful to unravel conflicting versions of police-citizen encounters.

Due to advancements in technology, the average citizen carries a digital camera in his or her pocket or purse, creating a potential army of amateur videographers on every street corner. A quick YouTube search of “police brutality” lists endless videos, often cell phone footage, of what appear to be police acting with unnecessary and violent force. Some of those videos have served a crucial role in bringing charges against brutality that may have gone unaddressed had it not been for bystanders recording.

One would think the fear of videographers on every block would be a powerful deterrent to police misconduct. However, legislatures are not taking this newfound power against police abuse lightly. In at least three states, it is illegal to record any on-duty police officer, even if the encounter involves you and may be necessary to your defense, and even if the recording is on a public street where no expectation of privacy exists. The legal justification is usually based on the warped interpretation of existing wiretapping or eavesdropping laws with statutes against obstructing law enforcement sometimes cited.

Illinois, Massachusetts and Maryland are among the 12 states where all parties must consent for a recording to be legal. Since the police do not consent, the camera-wielder can be arrested and charged with a felony. Most all-party consent states (except Illinois and Massachusetts) include a “privacy provision” that says a violation occurs only when the offended party has a reasonable expectation that the conversation is private. This is meant to protect TV news crews and people who record public meetings — where it is obvious to all that recording is underway — from accidentally committing a felony.

Massachusetts and Illinois are the only states that do not recognize an expectation-to-privacy provision to their all-party consent laws. While courts in Massachusetts have generally held that secretly recording police is illegal, recording them openly is not. Illinois, on the other hand, is the only state where the legislature specifically amended the state’s wiretapping law to make it illegal to record on-duty police officers without their consent, even in public.

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Thom Hartmann: How Corporations Created the Tea Party Zombies

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Health Insurers Sacrifice Americans for Profit

From The Center for Media and Democracy:

Submitted by Wendell Potter
August 1, 2011

Three of the biggest health insurers have announced quarterly earnings in the past few days. If Americans were able to eavesdrop on what executives from those firms tell their Wall Street masters every three months, they would have a better understanding of why premiums keep going up while the number of people with medical coverage keeps going down.

It only takes three words, when you get right down to it, to describe the real of those folks: profits over people.

CIGNA and Humana are scheduled to report earnings this week. The three companies that have already spoken — UnitedHealth, WellPoint and Aetna — earned a combined $2.51 billion from April through the end of June, more than analysts expected. On a per share basis, their earnings were up more than 17 percent on average compared with the second quarter of 2010.

Those results were no anomaly. The big for-profit health insurers have been blowing analysts’ expectations out of the water for several quarters in a row, even as the country struggles to recover from the recession and the number of Americans without coverage — one out of every six of us — continues to rise.

Based on their strong performance during the first half of this year, UnitedHealth, WellPoint and Aetna have all have raised their profit forecast for 2011. In other words, they expect to earn far more this year than last year and far more than even the most hopeful investors and analysts had anticipated.

This has made Wall Street very happy indeed, as reflected in the breathtaking increase in the companies’ share prices over the past year. Since the end of July 2010, investors have bid up the stock by more than 50 percent at four of the big five. WellPoint, the laggard, saw its stock price increase by a still-impressive 35 percent.

One of the secrets to achieving these results is what the insurers euphemistically call “medical management.” That often translates into denied claims and denied coverage for doctor-ordered care. The fewer claims you pay and the more procedures you refuse to pay for, the more money is left over for investors to put in their pockets.

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Anarchists should be reported, advises Westminster anti-terror police

From The Guardian UK:

Islamist terrorists also mentioned in briefing, as anarchists complain of being criminalised for their beliefs, Sunday 31 July 2011

What should you do if you discover an anarchist living next door? Dust off your old Sex Pistols albums and hang out a black and red flag to make them feel at home? Invite them round to debate the merits of Peter Kropotkin’s anarchist communism versus the individualist anarchism of Emile Armand? No – the answer, according to an official counter-terrorism notice circulated in London last week, is that you must report them to police immediately.

This was the surprising injunction from the Metropolitan Police issued to businesses and members of the public in Westminster last week. There was no warning about other political groups, but next to an image of the anarchist emblem, the City of Westminster police’s “counter terrorist focus desk” called for anti-anarchist whistleblowers stating: “Anarchism is a political philosophy which considers the state undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful, and instead promotes a stateless society, or anarchy. Any information relating to anarchists should be reported to your local police.”

The move angered some anarchists who complained that being an anarchist should not imply criminal behaviour. They said they feel unfairly criminalised for holding a set of political beliefs.

The feeling of disproportion was compounded by the briefing note author making a similar request about Islamist terrorists a few lines further down. Under an image of flag with a gold dot beneath some Arabic script it added: “Often seen used by al-Qaida in Iraq. Any sightings of these images should be reported to your local police.”

“It unfairly implies that anyone involved in anarchism should be known to the police and is involved in an dangerous activity,” said Jason Sands, an anarchist from South London. “There is nothing inherently criminal about political philosophy whatever it is. The police work under the convention on human rights which disallows discrimination against people because of their political beliefs and even the request for information would seem to be in breach of that. It also seems to be a bit useless as a way of gathering intelligence. It isn’t focused on anything specific and they are just asking for general information. Imagine calling up and saying ‘there’s an anarchist in my building. What should I do?’ It doesn’t make sense.”

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The debt limit deal and the social counterrevolution in America

From World Socialist Web Site:

By Barry Grey
Aug. 2, 2011

The agreement reached by the Obama administration and Democratic and Republican congressional leaders to raise the federal debt limit marks a turning point in the class struggle in the United States. The deal imposes sweeping cuts in vital social programs upon which millions of working people depend without a penny in tax increases on the corporations or the wealthy.

It inaugurates a frontal attack on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security as part of a drive to reverse all of the social reforms of the 20th century. It sets a precedent for an escalation of the assault on social programs far beyond the already cruel cuts mandated in the agreement by linking increases in the federal debt limit to the equivalent amount in deficit reduction. The current issue of Bloomberg Businessweek features a cover story headlined “Why the Debt Crisis is Even Worse Than You Think” which argues that $15 trillion must be slashed over the next decade—more than five times the level of cuts in the agreement reached over the weekend.

This class-war measure is being implemented under conditions of a virtual collapse in economic growth. A barrage of recent economic data demonstrates that the so-called economic recovery has stalled. Layoffs are mounting and unemployment—already affecting at least 25 million Americans—is set to rise. Programs such as food stamps, home heating assistance, public health, housing aid—not to mention the basic health care and pension programs for the elderly and the poor—are to be slashed just as millions more unemployed and underemployed Americans require them for their survival.

The agreement was dictated by Wall Street. The bankers and corporate CEOs wanted to avoid a default while using the threat of one to slash social spending and open up a full-scale assault on social programs dating back to the 1930s. The spending cuts will further erode the enforcement of regulations on big business, including environmental standards and health and safety rules, giving the corporations even freer rein to plunder the country. And the deal excludes any increase in taxes on the rich.

The spectacle of cynicism, manipulation and lies that has accompanied the adoption of the plan testifies to the putrefaction of American democracy and the hostility of both major parties and the entire political system to the interests of the working class—the vast majority of the population. The debt limit crisis was manufactured to provide a pretext and the political atmospherics for ramming through a historic attack on the working class.

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Welcome to the Tea Party’s Austerity Recession

From Alternet:

Economic historians will look back on this era as a time when policy-makers damaged Americans’ welfare with ideologically driven, self-inflicted wounds.

By Joshua Holland
Aug 1, 2011

On Monday, the House finally passed a deal to raise the debt limit after weeks of wrangling with a cadre of reactionary, Tea Party-endorsed lawmakers. The measure, which will force some serious cuts to public spending, is expected to easily pass in the Senate. When it does, a painful second “dip” into recession becomes far more likely — all the conditions are there.

Last week, a depressing report on economic growth caught many observers by surprise. The take-away was that gross domestic product (GDP) – the measure of economic activity within our borders – has been growing at a snail’s pace in the first half of this year — far slower than analysts had predicted. Researchers at the Federal Reserve tell us that since 1947, about half of the times we’ve had six months of growth as weak as we’ve seen in 2011, the economy sank into recession in the following year. But many of those slow periods occurred in a different era; today, with Washington obsessed with cutting spending, the chances are certainly greater than 50/50.

We got into this recession when the American people lost not only jobs, but also $14 trillion in wealth during the crash, and pulled back on spending as a result. But we’re stuck treading water, two years after the “recovery” officially began, in large part because of the age of austerity – due to cuts forced on us by this misguided and shortsighted view that large deficits are a cause, rather than an effect, of the downturn.

Last year, with the private sector economy continuing to slump, an analysis by Moody’s Analytics found that almost one in five dollars in American consumers’ wallets came from one government program or another. The public sector has already seen deep cuts, and that trend will only worsen with Washington’s relentless focus on deficit reduction. Without those dollars, there will be fewer consumers demanding American companies’ goods and services, and the private sector will continue to have little incentive to hire. That’s our core economic problem at this time.

The American economy is heading into dark waters, but the coming “austerity recession” won’t only be a result of the tireless efforts of a small band of conservative ideologues bent on dismantling the social safety net that emerged during the last century. It will also be a consequence of a crippling intellectual crisis among our elites.

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Retreat, Surrender, Can He at Least Plead?

From Common Dreams:

by Ralph Nader
Published on Tuesday, August 2, 2011 by

The headlines came quickly after President Obama concluded the deficit-debt deal with the Republicans Sunday evening. There were few shades of gray. The New York Times editorial was titled “To Escape Chaos, a Terrible Deal: Democrats won almost nothing they wanted except avoiding default.”

It was truly, as the Times pointed out, “a political environment laced with lunacy.” But don’t blame it all on the Republican “mad dogs” on Capitol Hill playing chicken with the economic plight of the American people and its wobbling economy. It was President Obama who surrendered.

In one of the most inept episodes of Presidential-Congressional relations, Mr. Obama managed to give the Republicans more than they expected and leave the Democrats with less than the Republicans offered. The Republicans never expected Mr. Obama to give in entirely on tax increases on the wealthy, on the reviled oil industry giants and other corporate tax escapees. The Republicans even agreed to $800 billion in new revenue over ten years. Obama fumbled the ball day after day, and with the August 2 debt ceiling deadline looming, he fell to the extortionists. Unlike Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush II, who routinely expected and got debt ceilings raised without conditions.

President Obama’s disaster began months ago when he agreed to tie raising the debt ceiling to a grand bargain with the Republicans regarding deficits and revenues instead of demanding a debt ceiling raise while he was caving on extending Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. That immediately gave the “fanatic” Republicans a veto power over the “establishment” Republicans in Congress. And fanatics don’t blink. Especially those fanatics who, elected last year, say they don’t care about being re-elected.

So Obama accepted about $2.5 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade, got no revenue producing tax increases and therefore made it nearly impossible to create a public works jobs program to uplift a sliding economy.

With economic indicators registering more trouble in recent days for American workers, Mr. Obama has no cards left. Interest rates cannot be driven any lower by the Federal Reserve. He didn’t get even a renewal of the extension of unemployment benefits. Consumer spending – 2/3rds of the economy, is stagnant. Without consumer demand, new investment is sluggish. Unemployment is rising, and without jobs, workers can’t increase their consumer spending. State, local and federal government spending cannot increase under the yoke of the just agreed-upon cuts. The weaker dollar may increase exports a little, but the U.S. still has a continuing massive trade deficit, especially with China. Europe’s financial problems will curb orders of U.S. goods and services.

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Worry of Double-Dip Recession and Jobs Crisis Lost in Debt-Ceiling Coverage

From In These Times:

By Roger Bybee
Aug 2, 2011

A popular T-shirt in the Caribbean, referring to its history of piracy and ill-treated sailors, reads, “Keep up the flogging until morale improves!”

But it’s no joke to imagine the likelihood of America going through a double-dip recession, considering that the recovery from the recent Great Recession has been the weakest of any since 1945, as Working In These Times contributer Jack Rasmus writes in Z Magazine. In fact, the recovery has been largely invisible for the bottom 90% of Americans.

The jobs crisis has been more severe and the “recovery” even weaker than we thought, according to new data.


But these vital facts lave largely been overshadowed through the Republicans’ successful campaign to re-define reality in America—with the assistance of a compliant mainstream media—so that the nation focuses on deficit reduction as its sole priority and preoccupation.

New data released last week shows that the economic recovery is proceeding at an even slower pace than we imagined, as Catherine Rampbell reports in the NY Times:

The broadest measure of the economy, known as the gross domestic product, grew at an annual rate of less than 1 percent in the first half of 2011, the Commerce Department reported on Friday. The figures for the first quarter and the second quarter, 0.4 percent and 1.3 percent respectively, were well below what economists were expecting, and signified a sharp slowdown from the early months of the recovery.

However, those at the top have recovered very, very nicely:

Corporate profits are now $200 billion higher than they were at their peak in 2006 at $1.7 trillion. And that does not count another $1 trillion multinational corporations admit they are holding in their offshore subsidiaries. Some independent sources estimate this offshore profits hoarding are as high as $1.5 trillion….

Yet profits rose 243 percent in 2009 and another 61 percent in 2010.

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Enormous Cuts in Military Spending? Read the Fine Print

From Huffington Post:

Co-founder, CODEPINK: Women for Peace
Aug. 2, 2011

Co-authored by Charles Davis

In this age of austerity, all the politicians are talking about the need for spending cuts. But when it comes to shared burdens and slashed budgets, don’t expect the Pentagon to start holding bake sales, despite what you may have heard about reductions to its obscenely bloated funding.

Citing the U.S. government’s $14.3 trillion debt, lawmakers from both parties have seized the moment to try and attain long-hoped-for cuts to Social Security and Medicare. But the recent deal does seem to include some good news for lovers of peace: the push for reductions would encompass the war-making part of the state. Indeed, according to a “fact sheet” released by the White House on the bipartisan compromise, the recent deal to raise the national debt ceiling “puts us on track to cut $350 billion from the defense budget over 10 years.”

Popular liberal pundits, such as The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson and Ezra Klein reacted by calling the supposed defense cuts “gigantic” and “unprecedented.” The White House says they’re the first spending reductions since the 1990s.

But don’t start cheering yet. As with any other major bipartisan initiative in Washington — the Iraq war and the Wall Street bailouts come time mind — there’s ample reason to be skeptical.

First, the cuts for 2012 are virtually nil. Security spending — which includes the Pentagon, State Department, Homeland Security, part of Veterans Affairs and intelligence spending — will be capped at $684 billion in 2012, a decline of merely $5 billion (less than 1 percent) from this year.

Yes, there are potentially far more drastic cuts down the road. In addition to the first $1 trillion in cuts over the next decade, a bipartisan Congressional committee must come up with an additional $1.5 trillion cuts by November — or trigger an automatic across-the-board reduction of $1.2 trillion starting in 2013, half of which would be expected to come from military spending.

However, expect this threat of deep military cuts — if cutting defense by 3 percent a year can be called “deep” when it has grown at a rate of 9 percent over the last decade — to be used as a bargaining chip by Democrats to extract concessions on tax increases from Republicans; don’t hold your breath expecting them to actually materialize. And with House Republicans already pledging to “fight on behalf of our Armed Forces,” by which they mean the military-industrial complex, don’t expect Democrats to put up much of a fight. Even were Obama so inclined, the idea that he will expend political capital on cutting military spending even as he expands the war on terror in Libya, Yemen and Somalia is doubtful, especially with an election looming.

But let’s put aside cynicism and accept the Obama administration at its word. Let’s assume the White House and Congress agree to cut military spending by $350 billion a year over 10 years. While the numbers may sound impressive out of context, that’s like draining an Olympic-sized pool with a glass from your kitchen: you’re going to be at it for awhile. The military budget has ballooned so much over the last decade that even if it was cut in half tomorrow the U.S. would still spend more than it did in 2001.

Indeed, the Obama administration’s proposed military budget for 2012 — the baseline from which future cuts are projected — is at its “highest level since World War II,” according to the non-partisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, “surpassing the Cold War peak” set by Ronald Reagan and a Democratic House of Representatives in 1985. Even if, instead of over a decade, the whole, entirely-subject-to-change $350 billion was cut from the defense budget in one fiscal year alone, the U.S. would still lead the globe in military spending, devoting twice as much to guns and bombs as its closest and much more populous rival, China. And that’s without factoring in the cost of any new wars.

Of course, official budget numbers don’t tell the whole story. Factoring in interest payments for past military expenditures, spending on veterans’ care and other defense-related items not included in the Pentagon budget, economist Robert Higgs estimates the yearly grand total spent on the military is $1 trillion or more, with over half of the federal income tax going to the military. And that massive national debt that’s being used to justify cuts in social spending? Nothing has contributed to it more than the dramatic rise in military spending over the last decade, a factoid you might have missed if you get your news from a television.

The tragic irony is that debt caused in large part by foreign military adventures is being used to further a class war here at home, even as the bloodshed continues in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and beyond. Too bad that, rather than denounce this morally and fiscally damaging addiction to militarism, politicians prefer to orchestrate the decline of the American empire from within.
Medea Benjamin is cofounder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK.

Charles Davis is an independent journalist.

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