Tag Archive: TMC Politics. Politics

Apr 02 2014

The War on the First Amendment Has Gone Global

The war on media was inspired by America and encouraged by Barack Obama. Obama rocks. Not

Egypt’s al-Jazeera trial was inspired by America’s global war on journalism

   From a War on Terror to a war on leaks, now comes America’s shadow influence on a media crackdown

   Ten years ago, the United States also justified its detention of al-Jazeera journalists by claiming a “national security threat”. These arrests could not be cloaked as mere collateral damage in a messy war. The US, then as Egypt does now, made leaping connections between the news network and militants, and specifically targeted those whose coverage did not serve the military’s objectives: Dick Cheney warned that al-Jazeera risked being “labeled as ‘Osama’s outlet to the world‘”; Donald Rumsfeld called the network’s coverage of the Iraq war “vicious, inaccurate, inexcusable”.

   Over the next several years, US forces arrested and detained al-Jazeera journalists like Sami al Hajj and Salah Hasan Nusaif Jasim al Ejaili. US military forces captured both in separate instances while they were doing their jobs, and tortured them while attempting to establish ties between al-Jazeera and al-Qaida. Neither al Hajj nor al Ejaili received justice for their wrongful detention. After seven years of imprisonment in Guantanamo Bay, the US government released al Hajj to Sudanese authorities, without any reparations. Meanwhile al Ejaili, who was detained at Abu Ghraib, brought a case with other victims against the private military contractor at the prison, alleging it conspired to commit torture and war crimes. But the case was dismissed by the district court. The court perversely ordered al Ejaili and other plaintiffs to pay their alleged torturers for the cost of the suit. The case is pending on appeal.

   The reverberations of this misguided War on Terror continue, even if the war has shifted: the Obama administration has famously invoked the Espionage Act more than any other American president, attempting to control press leaks with tactics a report found to be “the most aggressive … since the Nixon administration“.

Mar 11 2014

CIA Creates New Scandal to Cover Up The Old Scandal

It was revealed last week that the Central Intelligence Agency may have been spying on Senate Select Committee on Intelligence members as they investigated the agency’s involvement and cover up of torture, rendition, and black op prisons. A second inquiry has now been referred to the FBI regarding the possibility that the SSCI members may have accessed a document that the CIA didn’t want them to see. It was apparently a review of the same documents that was ordered by then director of the CIA, Leon Panetta.

It was early December when the Central Intelligence Agency began to suspect it had suffered what it regarded as an embarrassing computer breach.

Investigators for the Senate Intelligence Committee, working in the basement of a C.I.A. facility in Northern Virginia, had obtained an internal agency review summarizing thousands of documents related to the agency’s detention and interrogation program. Parts of the C.I.A. report cast a particularly harsh light on the program, the same program the agency was in the midst of defending in a prolonged dispute with the intelligence committee.

What the C.I.A. did next opened a new and even more rancorous chapter in the struggle over how the history of the interrogation program will be written. Agency officials began scouring the digital logs of the computer network used by the Senate staff members to try to learn how and where they got the report. Their search not only raised constitutional questions about the propriety of an intelligence agency investigating its congressional overseers, but has also resulted in two parallel inquiries by the Justice Department – one into the C.I.A. and one into the committee. [..]

t is unclear how or when committee investigators obtained parts of the Panetta review. One official said that they had penetrated a firewall inside the C.I.A. computer system that had been set up to separate the committee’s work area from other agency digital files, but exactly what happened will not be known until the Justice Department completes its inquiry.

Several officials said that the C.I.A. never intended to give the internal memos to the Senate, partly under the justification that they were draft documents intended for the C.I.A. director and therefore protected under executive privilege authorities.

Another justification was that the Panetta Review began in 2009, three years after the agreed upon 2006 end date for the document transfer.

But by late last year, Democrats on the committee increased pressure on the C.I.A. to formally hand over the internal review. Senator Feinstein wrote a letter to Mr. Brennan, and Senator Mark Udall of Colorado disclosed the existence of the review during an open hearing on Dec. 17.

In retaliation for the Inspector General’s request that that the Justice Department look into criminal violations by the CIA for spying on the Senate committee members, the legal council for the CIA has opened a second investigation accusing the committee members of having accessed and remove the document they didn’t want them to see, “The Panetta Report.”

The New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti joined MSNBC’s Now host Alex Wagner on the [standoff between the CIA and congress ] over a potentially explosive intelligence report the Senate Intelligence Committee prepared on the CIA’s former program of rendition, detention and interrogation.

How interesting that Obama and the Senate made Brennan the head of the CIA. Now the man who was complicit for the authorization for torture and detention policies of the Bush regime is able to cover up his own war crimes.

Mar 06 2014

CIA May Have Spied on Its Overseers

In an article from McCaltchy, it was revealed that the Central Intelligence Agency may have been spying on Senate Select Committee on Intelligence members as they investigated the agency’s involvement and cover up of torture, rendition, and black op prisons. The allegation that the CIA hacked the computers used by committee staffers preparing the 6300 page report has led to the CIA’s Inspector General to request the Justice Department to open an investigation of the SIA’s actions which may have been a violation of an agreement between the committee and the agency.

In question now is whether any part of the committee’s report, which took some four years to compose and cost $40 million, will ever see the light of day.

The report details how the CIA misled the Bush administration and Congress about the use of interrogation techniques that many experts consider torture, according to public statements by committee members. It also shows, members have said, how the techniques didn’t provide the intelligence that led the CIA to the hideout in Pakistan where Osama bin Laden was killed in a 2011 raid by Navy SEALs.

The committee determined earlier this year that the CIA monitored computers – in possible violation of an agreement against doing so – that the agency had provided to intelligence committee staff in a secure room at CIA headquarters that the agency insisted they use to review millions of pages of top-secret reports, cables and other documents, according to people with knowledge.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, a panel member, apparently was referring to the monitoring when he asked CIA Director John Brennan at a Jan. 29 hearing if provisions of the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act “apply to the CIA? Seems to me that’s a yes or no answer.”

Brennan replied that he’d have to get back to Wyden after looking into “what the act actually calls for and it’s applicability to CIA’s authorities.”

At the New York Times, Mark Mazzetti reports:

The origins of the current dispute date back more than a year, when the committee completed its work on a 6,000-page report about the Bush administration’s detention and interrogation program. People who have read the study said it is a withering indictment of the program and details many instances when C.I.A. officials misled Congress, the White House and the public about the value of the agency’s brutal interrogation methods, including waterboarding.

The report has yet to be declassified, but last June, John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director, responded to the Senate report with a 122-page rebuttal challenging specific facts in the report as well as the investigation’s overarching conclusion – that the agency’s interrogation methods yielded little valuable intelligence.

Then, in December, Mr. Udall revealed that the Intelligence Committee had become aware of an internal C.I.A. study that he said was “consistent with the Intelligence Committee’s report” and “conflicts with the official C.I.A. response to the committee’s report.”

It appears that Mr. Udall’s revelation is what set off the current fight, with C.I.A. officials accusing the Intelligence Committee of learning about the internal review by gaining unauthorized access to agency databases.

Marcy Wheeler explained the lead up to these new revelations:

In January, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall suggested that CIA was hacking into US computers.

   Wyden asked (43;04) John Brennan whether the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act applied to the CIA.

       

Wyden: Does the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act apply to the CIA?

       Brennan: I would have to look into what that act actually calls for and its applicability to CIA’s authorities. I’ll be happy to get back to you, Senator, on that.

       Wyden: How long would that take?

       Brennan: I’ll be happy to get back to you as soon as possible but certainly no longer than-

       Wyden: A week?

       Brennan: I think that I could get that back to you, yes.

   Minutes later, Mark Udall raised EO 12333′s limits on CIA’s spying domestically (48:30).

     

Udall: I want to be able to reassure the American people that the CIA and the Director understand the limits of its authorities. We are all aware of Executive Order 12333. That order prohibits the CIA from engaging in domestic spying and searches of US citizens within our borders. Can you assure the Committee that the CIA does not conduct such domestic spying and searches?

       Brennan: I can assure the Committee that the CIA follows the letter and spirit of the law in terms of what CIA’s authorities are, in terms of its responsibilities to collect intelligence that will keep this country safe. Yes Senator, I do.

The NYT’s notes that it appears the spying began after the committee members accessed documents that the CIA didn’t want them to see. The next question should be, how did the CIA know what documents were accessed if they weren’t already monitoring the members? What were in those documents that the CIA didn’t want to be seen?

One of the questions that Sen. Udall asked Brennan was if the Computers Crimes and Abuse Act (18 USC § 1030) applied to the CIA. This was part of Brennan’s response

The answer is the statute does apply. The Act, however, does not expressly prohibit any lawfully authorized investigative, protective, or intelligence activity , , , of an intelligence agency of the United States,

It appears not only did the CIA violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the National Securities Act and EO 12333 but Brennan lied about it to the Senate Intelligence Committee. Why does he still have his job?

Dec 13 2013

US Wants to Block Access to Clean Water

Access to clean water photo AR-131129105_zpsbd2d3f07.jpg Not that I’m surprised about this considering that here in the US many Americans seem adverse to drinking water from the tap, preferring to drink it from non-biodegradable disposable plastic bottles and line the pockets of international conglomerates like Nestle. It is just another sign that our government is serves these multinationals.

United Nations: General Assembly makes progress on the human rights to water and sanitation, but only so far as the USA permits

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL

PUBLIC STATEMENT

26 November 2013

The UN General Assembly’s Third Committee on 21 November adopted a resolution on “The human right to safe drinking water and sanitation”. Amnesty International welcomes this resolution; the first in which all UN member States affirm that the rights to water and sanitation are legally binding in international law. However, we are deeply disappointed that as a result of pressure from the USA, the main sponsors of the resolution, Germany and Spain, removed from the resolution a paragraph containing a critical affirmation of the contents of these rights. It is outrageous that one country’s view – for which it has not provided any plausible explanation – has been given priority over the expressed view of the many other countries supporting this language. The US position stands in stark contrast to the views of the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and against the interests of the billions of people who lack adequate access to water and sanitation.

A Glaring Omission

Until moments before its adoption, the draft General Assembly resolution had recognised that “the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation entitles everyone, without discrimination, to have access to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use and to have physical and affordable access to sanitation, in all spheres of life, that is safe, hygienic, secure, and acceptable and that provides privacy and ensures dignity“.

The definition under discussion was based on that contained in a resolution of the UN Human Rights Council adopted in September 2013, which was co-sponsored by 111 States and was adopted by consensus. At the time, the USA was the only country that disassociated itself from the definition of these rights and stated that it did not agree ‘with the expansive way this right has been articulated’. However, it has not explained what aspects of this definition it does not accept.

The draft of this resolution that included this important affirmation of the content of the rights to water and sanitation in the General Assembly enjoyed the support of 81 cosponsors from all parts of the world. Only the USA consistently opposed inclusion of text endorsing the contents of these rights. It is regrettable that the main sponsors removed this language at the last minute at the behest of the USA.

The USA’s view that the definition of the rights set out by the Human Rights Council is ‘expansive’ cannot be sustained. That definition of these rights is in fact limited and relates to essential elements without which they would only be hollow promises. People are entitled to water and to sanitation that is within reasonable reach and at a price they can afford. People have a right to enough water to wash their clothes, prepare their food and keep themselves and their homes clean. People have a right to sanitation which they can use without risk of disease, injury or assault, in all locations where they spend significant time, which they can access in dignity and without spectators and without being forced to abandon those of their social and cultural sanitation practices that they wish to maintain. Such rights are only ‘expansive’ if one adopts a 19th century understanding of hygiene and of government duties to ensure the provision of public services.

It is therefore incumbent upon the US government to explain which of these aspects of the rights it cannot accept and why. It owes this explanation to the world at large, and to Americans, who deserve to know what aspects of their rights to water and sanitation their Federal government refuses to guarantee. In fact, during the official mission to the USA in 2011, the UN Special Rapporteur on these rights identified several instances where the government was not taking adequate steps to ensure quality, affordability and access to water and sanitation.

Why Is the US Getting in the Way of International Efforts to Make Clean Water a Basic Human Right?

By Shiney Varghese, Alternet

The United States is the only country marring the good works of a UN resolution on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation.

The debate isn’t over yet. Even though the references to the content of the rights to water were removed from the November resolution, UNGA’s Third Committee endorsed the UNHRC resolution of September 2013, which elaborates the underlying essential elements of these rights. Thus, reintroducing the content of these rights in future texts on rights to water and sanitation should be quite straightforward.

The issue will likely come up again at the UN General Assembly next year. For the supporters of the draft resolution this offers an opportunity to reintroduce the removed language. For the United States too, that will provide a chance to stand on the right side of history, rather than holding back progress.

If and when a UN GA resolution is adopted with these amendments, it will indeed be a big step forward in advancing rights-based approaches to development. Yet, we need to be mindful that this will only be a baby step towards ensuring adequate access to water and sanitation for world’s poor. It will require sustained work at multiple levels and spaces, including rethinking our water intensive development trajectory, to make it a reality for all.

The human rights and wrongs of Nestlé and water for all

By Pul Muir, The National

Having safe water to drink should be regarded as an inalienable human right, say campaigners, and last week the United Nations General Assembly put its weight behind them, approving a draft resolution calling on member states to make universal access a ­reality.Having safe water to drink should be regarded as an inalienable human right, say campaigners, and last week the United Nations General Assembly put its weight behind them, approving a draft resolution calling on member states to make universal access a ­reality. [..]

The achievement of this life-saving objective, however, will likely be undermined by the privatisation of water rights and commoditisation – subjecting the most precious substance on the planet to the vagaries of the market.

At the World Water Forum in the Netherlands in 2000, Nestlé and other corporations with a financial interest in controlling the world’s drinking water succeeded in having access to it officially downgraded from a “right” to a mere “need”.

The Nestlé chairman and former CEO Peter Brabeck-Letmathe said that “access to water should not be a public right”. His company and others have since been taking control of aquifers that local communities rely on for drinking water – and bottling it for a profit.

Illustration by Sarah Lazarovich for The National

Dec 07 2013

Why Health Care Costs Are So High

In a recent series of article by New York Times‘ reporter Elisabeth Rosenthal on the cost of health care in the US, they examined the cost of an ER visit and getting there by ambulance. The cost of three stitches for one young lady was $$2,229.11 and a 15 minute ambulance ride for another with head and facial injuries was  $1,772.42. Why does it cost so much? Part of the reason is privatization and lack of regulation.

Paying Till It Hurts: E.R. Visit

As Hospital Prices Soar, a Stitch Tops $500

In a medical system notorious for opaque finances and inflated bills, nothing is more convoluted than hospital pricing, economists say. Hospital charges represent about a third of the $2.7 trillion annual United States health care bill, the biggest single segment, according to government statistics, and are the largest driver of medical inflation, a new study in The Journal of the American Medical Association found. [..]

The main reason for high hospital costs in the United States, economists say, is fiscal, not medical: Hospitals are the most powerful players in a health care system that has little or no price regulation in the private market.

Rising costs of drugs, medical equipment and other services, and fees from layers of middlemen, play a significant role in escalating hospital bills, of course. But just as important is that mergers and consolidation have resulted in a couple of hospital chains – like Partners in Boston, or Banner in Phoenix – dominating many parts of the country, allowing them to command high prices from insurers and employers.

Think the E.R. Is Expensive? Look at How Much It Costs to Get There

Thirty years ago ambulance rides were generally provided free of charge, underwritten by taxpayers as a municipal service or provided by volunteers. Today, like the rest of the health care system in the United States, most ambulance services operate as businesses and contribute to America’s escalating medical bills. Often, they are a high-cost prequel to expensive emergency room visits.

Although ambulances are often requested by a bystander or summoned by 911 dispatchers, they are almost always billed to the patient involved. And the charges, as well as insurance coverage, range widely, from zero to tens of thousands of dollars. [..]

Part of the inconsistency in pricing stems from the fact that ambulance services are variously run by fire departments, hospitals, private companies and volunteer groups. Some services are included in insurance networks, others not. [..]

In a recent study, the federal Health and Human Services Department’s Office of the Inspector General noted that the Medicare ambulance services were “vulnerable to abuse and fraud,” in part because there were lax standards on when an ambulance was needed and how the trip should be billed. The number of transports paid for by Medicare increased 69 percent between 2002 and 2011, while the number of Medicare patients increased only 7 percent during that period. In the last year, two ambulance companies have pleaded guilty or settled claims for overbilling Medicare. [..]

If an emergency call comes to 911, dispatchers decide which ambulance to send, depending on proximity. Most ambulance companies bill according to the level of skill of the team on board, rather than the medical needs of the patients they collect. A team capable of administering Advanced Cardiac Life Support costs more than one with only basic first aid training.

Distance rarely counts for much, although a small mileage charge is added to the fee. Some companies even charge hundreds of dollars extra if a friend or relative rides along with an injured patients.

Sep 07 2013

Why 6 Liters of Salt Water is $546

The cost of health care in the US is four times what it is in other countries that have universal health care polices. In the US hospitals the cost are often buried in red tape and layers of bureaucracy. As an example of items that jack up the hospital bill for a stay in an American hospital take something as simple and life saving as a liter bag of normal saline, salt water.

How to Charge $546 for Six Liters of Saltwater

by Nina Bernstein, New York Times

It is one of the most common components of emergency medicine: an intravenous bag of sterile saltwater.

Luckily for anyone who has ever needed an IV bag to replenish lost fluids or to receive medication, it is also one of the least expensive. The average manufacturer’s price, according to government data, has fluctuated in recent years from 44 cents to $1.

Yet there is nothing either cheap or simple about its ultimate cost, as I learned when I tried to trace the commercial path of IV bags from the factory to the veins of more than 100 patients struck by a May 2012 outbreak of food poisoning in upstate New York.

Some of the patients’ bills would later include markups of 100 to 200 times the manufacturer’s price, not counting separate charges for “IV administration.” And on other bills, a bundled charge for “IV therapy” was almost 1,000 times the official cost of the solution.

Salt in the wound, the cost of healthcare

Chris Hayes, host of MSNBC’s All In

Just keep all of this in mind when people talk about Obamacare implementation and scream about Socialism and a government takeover. We are trying to move-slowly, incrementally-toward a system that’s sane. But as long as the price in the American health care system is $546.00 for six of these, the system is still broken.

And you know the reason they can’t just charge those kinds of exorbitant rates in places like Belgium? The government simply prohibits it.

As Obamacare implementation rolls out, it won’t take long for it become clear that the problem isn’t that it’s a government takeover of healthcare.

It’s that it’s not enough of one.

May 07 2013

Obama Losing Democratic Support on Social Security Cuts

Eight of the 14 Democrats who are up for reelection in 2014, three from red states, have taken a stand against Pres. Obama’s proposed Social Security cuts:

The majority of Senate Democrats running for reelection in 2014, including three running in red states, have broken with President Barack Obama and are opposing his effort to cut Social Security benefits, imperiling the austerity project known as the “grand bargain.” [..]

Democratic Sens. Kay Hagan (N.C.), Mark Begich (Alaska) and Mark Pryor (Ark.), all running in states won by Republican Mitt Romney in 2012, have publicly opposed the president’s effort, going so far as to co-sponsor a Senate resolution against chained CPI last week. Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), running in bluer states, also co-sponsored the resolution. [..]

Other Senate Democrats up for reelection who didn’t sign the resolution were still unfavorably disposed toward chained CPI. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) opposes the cost-of-living cut, her office confirmed to HuffPost, and has said Social Security should be off the table in debt talks.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) has been open to the chained CPI cut, but insisted a “circle of protection” must be established for the most vulnerable Americans.

Alaskan Senator Mark Begich will introduced two bill that would protect Social Security benefits:

Begich plans to introduce the Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act and the Social Security Fairness Act of 2013 when he returns to Washington, DC next week. He says his plan has three points. The Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act would remove a cap on high income contributions. The cap is now at 113,700 dollars. Removing the cap would make high income earners pay into Social Security just like everyone else, he says. [..]

The second part of that bill would revise how SS payments are adjusted to better reflect how America’s senior spend their income. Currently, payments are based on a Consumer Price Index model that does not accurately reflect higher costs seniors pay, for medications, for example. The bill would create a CPI – E for elders.

The Social Security Fairness Act would remove penalties that are now placed on retirees who worked more than one job, paid into Social Security, but then retired under a different retirement system. Under current law, they are denied their Social Security benefits Many government workers and some teachers in Alaska fall into this category.

It’s about time the Democrats stood up to the Republican in the White House.

Dec 25 2012

“Breaking the Silence”

When you see a wrong there is only one way to right it, shout it to the skies.

Break the silence. Silence Kills.

I hear some distant drumbeat

A heartbeat pulsing low

Is it coming from within

A heartbeat I don’t know

A troubled heart knows no peace

A dark and poisoned poolOf liberty now lost

A pawn an oppressor’s tool.

Oh my heart be strong

And guide when eyes grow dim

When ears grow deaf with empty words

When I know there’s life within.

A gunfire shatters silence

Where birds once sweetly sang

A mother cradles a child now dead

Now death where life began

From the troubled heart of South Africa

Nicaragua’s festering sore

The turmoil on the streets of China

Death crying out for more

A change is slow in coming

My eyes can scarcely see

The rays of hope come streaming

Through the smoke of apathy

But oh my heart be strong

And guide when eyes grow dim

When ears grow deaf with empty words

When I know there’s life within.

May the spirit never die

Though a troubled heart feels pain

When the long winter is over

It will blossom once again

May there yet be Peace On Earth.

Sep 19 2012

Tax Cuts for the Wealthy Do Not Stimulate Economic Growth

Most of us already know that tax cuts, especially for the wealthy, do not create jobs nor do they stimulate economic growth. But there are those who are still pushing this unicorn myth. So here are some facts:

Growth Since 1987 - 2012 One of the first things you notice in the chart is that the American economy was not especially healthy even before the financial crisis began in late 2007. By 2007, remarkably, the economy was already on pace for its slowest decade of growth since World War II. The mediocre economic growth, in turn, brought mediocre job and income growth – and the crisis more than erased those gains.

The defining economic policy of the last decade, of course, was the Bush tax cuts. President George W. Bush and Congress, including Mr. Ryan, passed a large tax cut in 2001, sped up its implementation in 2003 and predicted that prosperity would follow.

The economic growth that actually followed – indeed, the whole history of the last 20 years – offers one of the most serious challenges to modern conservatism. Bill Clinton and the elder George Bush both raised taxes in the early 1990s, and conservatives predicted disaster. Instead, the economy boomed, and incomes grew at their fastest pace since the 1960s. Then came the younger Mr. Bush, the tax cuts, the disappointing expansion and the worst downturn since the Depression.

That was the conclusion from David Leonhardt’s new column today for The New York Times, and it was precisely the finding of a new study from the Congressional Research Service, “Taxes and the Economy: An Economic Analysis of the Top Tax Rates Since 1945” (pdf).

That study concluded that not only did tax cuts for the upper brackets did not stimulate growth, they are associated with increasing income disparity:

    The top income tax rates have changed considerably since the end of World War II. Throughout the late-1940s and 1950s, the top marginal tax rate was typically above 90%; today it is 35%. Additionally, the top capital gains tax rate was 25% in the 1950s and 1960s, 35% in the 1970s; today it is 15%. The average tax rate faced by the top 0.01% of taxpayers was above 40% until the mid-1980s; today it is below 25%. Tax rates affecting taxpayers at the top of the income distribution are currently at their lowest levels since the end of the second World War.

   The results of the analysis suggest that changes over the past 65 years in the top marginal tax rate and the top capital gains tax rate do not appear correlated with economic growth. The reduction in the top tax rates appears to be uncorrelated with saving, investment, and productivity growth. The top tax rates appear to have little or no relation to the size of the economic pie.

   However, the top tax rate reductions appear to be associated with the increasing concentration of income at the top of the income distribution. As measured by IRS data, the share of income accruing to the top 0.1% of U.S. families increased from 4.2% in 1945 to 12.3% by 2007 before falling to 9.2% due to the 2007-2009 recession. At the same time, the average tax rate paid by the top 0.1% fell from over 50% in 1945 to about 25% in 2009. Tax policy could have a relation to how the economic pie is sliced-lower top tax rates may be associated with greater income disparities.

In another study that was cited in an article by tax expert David Cay Johnston, Owen M. Zidar, a graduate economics student at the University of California at Berkeley, and a former staff economist on the White House Council of Economic Advisers for President Obama, looked at which tax cuts did stimulate economic growth:

He reasoned that “if tax cuts for high income earners generate substantial economic activity, then states with a large share of high income taxpayers should grow faster following a tax cut for high income earners.” The data show that tax cuts at the top, though, do not result in faster growth in states with more high-earners.

“Almost all of the stimulative effect of tax cuts,” Zidar found, “results from tax cuts for the bottom 90 percent. A one percent of GDP tax cut for the bottom 90 percent results in 2.7 percentage points of GDP growth over a two-year period. The corresponding estimate for the top 10 percent is 0.13 percentage points and is insignificant statistically.” [..]

That fits with the argument made over the last century by a variety of business leaders – carmaker Henry Ford and retailer Edward Filene among them – that the path to economic growth lies in workers making enough (and having enough after taxes) to buy goods and services.

These facts need to be pounded ad nauseum to Congress and the White House, no matter which party is in charge.

(All emphasis mine)

Sep 04 2012

Exposing the Lies in the 2012 Democratic National Platform

The Democratic National Convention formally convenes at 5 PM EDT in Charlotte, North Carolina. The 2012 Democratic National Platform was released to the press Monday afternoon. I haven’t read it in its entirety but  I was drawn to read the housing section because of these two tweets from FDL‘s David Dayen:

Stabilizing the Housing Market and Hard-Hit Communities.

For more than a decade, irresponsible lenders tricked buyers into signing subprime loans while too many homeowners got in over their heads by buying homes they couldn’t afford. But when the housing bubble burst, it hurt everyone, including responsible homeowners who played by the rules, but saw their home values decline and their neighbors’ houses sit vacant. The housing market’s dramatic collapse did more than punish millions of innocent Americans; it also triggered the economy’s downward spiral into recession. President Obama took swift action to stabilize a housing market in crisis, helping five million families restructure their loans to help them stay in their homes, making it easier for families to refinance their mortgages and save hundreds of dollars a month, and giving tax credits to first-time home buyers. He also cracked down on fraudulent mortgage lenders and other abuses that contributed to the housing crisis. Democrats have held the largest financial institutions accountable by requiring them to provide relief for homeowners still struggling to pay their mortgages and to change practices that took advantage of homeowners. Democrats also understand the importance of helping communities fightback against the foreclosures that threaten entire neighborhoods, which is why the President proposed to expand the successful neighborhood stabilization efforts in his American Jobs Act. Too many people still owe more on their homes than they are worth. That is why Democrats are fighting to give every responsible homeowner the chance to refinance their home, spurring investment in communities that have been hit hardest by foreclosure, and taking whatever steps we can to avoid more foreclosures. The President remains committed to creating an economy that’s built to last, where homeownership is an achievable dream for all Americans

Emphasis mine

David is right, this has to be the most outrageous lie since Paul Ryan took to the stage at the RNC Convention.

From the September 1 New York Times Editorial: Still No Justice for Mortgage Abuses:

The Office of Mortgage Settlement Oversight, the monitor of the settlement, released a preliminary report last week showing that 138,000 homeowners had received some form of relief from March 1 through June 30. That is roughly the number that would have been expected under various aid programs in effect before the settlement. Worse, with some three million borrowers now in or near foreclosure, according to Moody’s Analytics, it is nowhere near the level of relief needed to fix the housing market. [..]

Short sales are better than foreclosures, in part because they prevent vacancies that depress house values. But they are not punishment for wrongdoing in any meaningful sense; rather, they allow banks to get higher prices for underwater properties than they could have gotten in foreclosure sales.

Nor do they fulfill the settlement’s main purpose: to keep underwater borrowers in their homes by reducing the principal on their mortgage loans. According to the monitor’s report, $8.7 billion of debt has been written off in short sales versus only $750 million of principal reduction from loan modifications.

And the fraud continues, thanks to MERS. Don’t let the rosy housing price increases fool you:

(N)ew foreclosures continued to be filed – 256,000 people had a foreclosure added to their credit reports in the June quarter – but that figure was the lowest since mid-2007, the Fed said.

In stark contrast to this improving backdrop are the legal battles still being waged over wrongful foreclosure practices. The glacial progress in these cases is not surprising, given the crowded courts and combatants’ usual stalling tactics.

What is surprising is the fresh evidence these cases are turning up of cockeyed mortgage practices, during both the boom and the bust. As these matters are adjudicated, perhaps we will finally learn whether these practices were intended or accidental. [..]

A foreclosure from Ohio highlights this problem. The facts from this matter are central to a prospective class action filed by a borrower, who contends he was charged improper court costs and legal-related fees in his foreclosure.

The case involved legal moves taken against a bank in 2007 that did not even have an interest in either of the two mortgage liens associated with the foreclosed property. Even though the bank should never have been dragged into the matter, it was – generating $775 in court costs and legal fees paid by the borrower, documents show. Only two years later, during the discovery process, did it emerge that the bank had no ownership in the underlying property.

That $775 may not sound like much. But Paul Grobman, a lawyer in New York who represents the borrower, said he believed the collection of what he called improper legal charges is rampant in foreclosures.

Here is the entire platform:

Document the lies.

 

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