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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