Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Please Read Krugman -- austerity is NOT the answer

Pope gives top job to abortion hardliner

It's Pope Adolf time again: Does anyone else think "The Church" is totally predictable?

These GUYS are so out of touch -- AND proud of it. (pride goeth before a fall)

Pope gives top job to abortion hardliner

Cardinal Marc Ouellet has said terminations are wrong even in rape cases

The pope handed one of the most powerful jobs in the Vatican to a cardinal who said recently that abortion was wrong, even in cases of rape.

The reshuffle also saw a senior prelate moved from the institution that helps frame the Catholic church's "pro-life" doctrines after he appeared to question the announcement by another archbishop that the mother of a child rape victim had removed herself from the church by arranging for her daughter to terminate her pregnancy.

Archbishop Rino Fisichella was transferred to head a new department charged with stemming the advance of secularisation, particularly in Europe.

It is the appointment of Cardinal Marc Ouellet, however, that is likely to arouse most controversy. As prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Ouellet, until now the archbishop of Quebec and primate of Canada, will be responsible for drawing up shortlists from which the pope decides who is to get a bishop's mitre.

The prefecture is often regarded as the third most important job in the Vatican administration since its incumbent can prevent even the most gifted priest from rising to a position of leadership in the church. Ouellet has in the past been touted as a successor to Benedict.

This year, Ouellet provoked what the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation termed a "firestorm of criticism" when he told an anti-abortion conference in Quebec City that terminating a pregnancy was a "moral crime" even in rape cases. He said he understood that a sexually assaulted woman should be helped and her attacker held accountable. "But there is already a victim," he said. "Must there be another one?"

Pauline Marois, leader of the Parti Québécois, said she was outraged by Ouellet's views and accused him of trying to get abortion recriminalised – a claim a spokesperson for the archdiocese denied.

Four days after he made his remarks, the Quebec national assembly passed a unanimous resolution affirming women's right to free and accessible abortion.

Last year, there was worldwide controversy when Archbishop José Cardoso Sobrinho of Olinda and Recife in Brazil said the mother of a nine-year-old girl who had been repeatedly raped by her stepfather had excommunicated herself from the Catholic church.

In response, in an article published on the front page of L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's official newspaper, Fisichella wrote: "Before giving thought to excommunication, it was necessary and urgent to safeguard the innocent life of this girl."

He was replaced as president of the Pontifical Academy for Life by a Spanish prelate close to the conservative Opus Dei. Fisichella's appointment to head the nascent Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation is not a demotion, but it marked the second time in a week that the pope sent a clear signal that he would not tolerate public dissent.

On Monday, the Vatican announced that the archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, had come to Rome to explain himself to the pontiff after apparently questioning priestly celibacy and accusing a fellow cardinal of mishandling a prominent sex abuse scanda

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Banks Financing Mexico Gangs Admitted in Wells Fargo Deal

This from Bloomberg. "War on Drugs"? "Banksters"! Proof, once again, that money knows no right or wrong.

Which of the cartel leaders will end up founding a new, respected family fortune?

Anyway, here it is from Bloomberg.

Just before sunset on April 10, 2006, a DC-9 jet landed at the international airport in the port city of Ciudad del Carmen, 500 miles east of Mexico City. As soldiers on the ground approached the plane, the crew tried to shoo them away, saying there was a dangerous oil leak. So the troops grew suspicious and searched the jet.

They found 128 black suitcases, packed with 5.7 tons of cocaine, valued at $100 million. The stash was supposed to have been delivered from Caracas to drug traffickers in Toluca, near Mexico City, Mexican prosecutors later found. Law enforcement officials also discovered something else.

The smugglers had bought the DC-9 with laundered funds they transferred through two of the biggest banks in the U.S.: Wachovia Corp. and Bank of America Corp., Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its August 2010 issue.

This was no isolated incident. Wachovia, it turns out, had made a habit of helping move money for Mexican drug smugglers. Wells Fargo & Co., which bought Wachovia in 2008, has admitted in court that its unit failed to monitor and report suspected money laundering by narcotics traffickers -- including the cash used to buy four planes that shipped a total of 22 tons of cocaine.

The admission came in an agreement that Charlotte, North Carolina-based Wachovia struck with federal prosecutors in March, and it sheds light on the largely undocumented role of U.S. banks in contributing to the violent drug trade that has convulsed Mexico for the past four years.

‘Blatant Disregard’

Wachovia admitted it didn’t do enough to spot illicit funds in handling $378.4 billion for Mexican-currency-exchange houses from 2004 to 2007. That’s the largest violation of the Bank Secrecy Act, an anti-money-laundering law, in U.S. history -- a sum equal to one-third of Mexico’s current gross domestic product.

“Wachovia’s blatant disregard for our banking laws gave international cocaine cartels a virtual carte blanche to finance their operations,” says Jeffrey Sloman, the federal prosecutor who handled the case.

Since 2006, more than 22,000 people have been killed in drug-related battles that have raged mostly along the 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) border that Mexico shares with the U.S. In the Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez, just across the border from El Paso, Texas, 700 people had been murdered this year as of mid- June. Six Juarez police officers were slaughtered by automatic weapons fire in a midday ambush in April.

Rondolfo Torre, the leading candidate for governor in the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas, was gunned down yesterday, less than a week before elections in which violence related to drug trafficking was a central issue.

45,000 Troops

Mexican President Felipe Calderon vowed to crush the drug cartels when he took office in December 2006, and he’s since deployed 45,000 troops to fight the cartels. They’ve had little success.

Among the dead are police, soldiers, journalists and ordinary citizens. The U.S. has pledged Mexico $1.1 billion in the past two years to aid in the fight against narcotics cartels.

In May, President Barack Obama said he’d send 1,200 National Guard troops, adding to the 17,400 agents on the U.S. side of the border to help stem drug traffic and illegal immigration.

Behind the carnage in Mexico is an industry that supplies hundreds of tons of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamines to Americans. The cartels have built a network of dealers in 231 U.S. cities from coast to coast, taking in about $39 billion in sales annually, according to the Justice Department.

‘You’re Missing the Point’

Twenty million people in the U.S. regularly use illegal drugs, spurring street crime and wrecking families. Narcotics cost the U.S. economy $215 billion a year -- enough to cover health care for 30.9 million Americans -- in overburdened courts, prisons and hospitals and lost productivity, the department says.

“It’s the banks laundering money for the cartels that finances the tragedy,” says Martin Woods, director of Wachovia’s anti-money-laundering unit in London from 2006 to 2009. Woods says he quit the bank in disgust after executives ignored his documentation that drug dealers were funneling money through Wachovia’s branch network.

“If you don’t see the correlation between the money laundering by banks and the 22,000 people killed in Mexico, you’re missing the point,” Woods says.

Cleansing Dirty Cash

Wachovia is just one of the U.S. and European banks that have been used for drug money laundering. For the past two decades, Latin American drug traffickers have gone to U.S. banks to cleanse their dirty cash, says Paul Campo, head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s financial crimes unit.

Miami-based American Express Bank International paid fines in both 1994 and 2007 after admitting it had failed to spot and report drug dealers laundering money through its accounts. Drug traffickers used accounts at Bank of America in Oklahoma City to buy three planes that carried 10 tons of cocaine, according to Mexican court filings.

Federal agents caught people who work for Mexican cartels depositing illicit funds in Bank of America accounts in Atlanta, Chicago and Brownsville, Texas, from 2002 to 2009. Mexican drug dealers used shell companies to open accounts at London-based HSBC Holdings Plc, Europe’s biggest bank by assets, an investigation by the Mexican Finance Ministry found.

Following Rules

Those two banks weren’t accused of wrongdoing. Bank of America spokeswoman Shirley Norton and HSBC spokesman Roy Caple say laws bar them from discussing specific clients. They say their banks strictly follow the government rules.

“Bank of America takes its anti-money-laundering responsibilities very seriously,” Norton says.

A Mexican judge on Jan. 22 accused the owners of six centros cambiarios, or money changers, in Culiacan and Tijuana of laundering drug funds through their accounts at the Mexican units of Banco Santander SA, Citigroup Inc. and HSBC, according to court documents filed in the case.

The money changers are in jail while being tried. Citigroup, HSBC and Santander, which is the largest Spanish bank by assets, weren’t accused of any wrongdoing. The three banks say Mexican law bars them from commenting on the case, adding that they each carefully enforce anti-money-laundering programs.

HSBC has stopped accepting dollar deposits in Mexico, and Citigroup no longer allows noncustomers to change dollars there. Citigroup detected suspicious activity in the Tijuana accounts, reported it to regulators and closed the accounts, Citigroup spokesman Paulo Carreno says.

Criminal Empires

On June 15, the Mexican Finance Ministry announced it would set limits for banks on cash deposits in dollars.

Mexico’s drug cartels have become multinational criminal enterprises.

Some of the gangs have delved into other illegal activities such as gunrunning, kidnapping and smuggling people across the border, as well as into seemingly legitimate areas such as trucking, travel services and air cargo transport, according to the Justice Department’s National Drug Intelligence Center.

These criminal empires have no choice but to use the global banking system to finance their businesses, Mexican Senator Felipe Gonzalez says.

“With so much cash, the only way to move this money is through the banks,” says Gonzalez, who represents a central Mexican state and chairs the senate public safety committee.

Gonzalez, a member of Calderon’s National Action Party, carries a .38 revolver for personal protection.

“I know this won’t stop the narcos when they come through that door with machine guns,” he says, pointing to the entrance to his office. “But at least I’ll take one with me.”

Subprime Losses

No bank has been more closely connected with Mexican money laundering than Wachovia. Founded in 1879, Wachovia became the largest bank by assets in the southeastern U.S. by 1900. After the Great Depression, some people in North Carolina called the bank “Walk-Over-Ya” because it had foreclosed on farms in the region.

By 2008, Wachovia was the sixth-largest U.S. lender, and it faced $26 billion in losses from subprime mortgage loans. That cost Wachovia Chief Executive Officer Kennedy Thompson his job in June 2008.

Six months later, San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, which dates from 1852, bought Wachovia for $12.7 billion, creating the largest network of bank branches in the U.S. Thompson, who now works for private-equity firm Aquiline Capital Partners LLC in New York, declined to comment.

As Wachovia’s balance sheet was bleeding, its legal woes were mounting. In the three years leading up to Wachovia’s agreement with the Justice Department, grand juries served the bank with 6,700 subpoenas requesting information.

Not Quick Enough

The bank didn’t react quickly enough to the prosecutors’ requests and failed to hire enough investigators, the U.S. Treasury Department said in March. After a 22-month investigation, the Justice Department on March 12 charged Wachovia with violating the Bank Secrecy Act by failing to run an effective anti-money-laundering program.

Five days later, Wells Fargo promised in a Miami federal courtroom to revamp its detection systems. Wachovia’s new owner paid $160 million in fines and penalties, less than 2 percent of its $12.3 billion profit in 2009.

If Wells Fargo keeps its pledge, the U.S. government will, according to the agreement, drop all charges against the bank in March 2011.

Wells Fargo regrets that some of Wachovia’s former anti- money-laundering efforts fell short, spokeswoman Mary Eshet says. Wells Fargo has invested $42 million in the past three years to improve its anti-money-laundering program and has been working with regulators, she says.

‘Significantly Upgraded’

“We have substantially increased the caliber and number of staff in our international investigations group, and we also significantly upgraded the monitoring software,” Eshet says. The agreement bars the bank from contesting or contradicting the facts in its admission.

The bank declined to answer specific questions, including how much it made by handling $378.4 billion -- including $4 billion of cash-from Mexican exchange companies.

The 1970 Bank Secrecy Act requires banks to report all cash transactions above $10,000 to regulators and to tell the government about other suspected money-laundering activity. Big banks employ hundreds of investigators and spend millions of dollars on software programs to scour accounts.

No big U.S. bank -- Wells Fargo included -- has ever been indicted for violating the Bank Secrecy Act or any other federal law. Instead, the Justice Department settles criminal charges by using deferred-prosecution agreements, in which a bank pays a fine and promises not to break the law again.

‘No Capacity to Regulate’

Large banks are protected from indictments by a variant of the too-big-to-fail theory.

Indicting a big bank could trigger a mad dash by investors to dump shares and cause panic in financial markets, says Jack Blum, a U.S. Senate investigator for 14 years and a consultant to international banks and brokerage firms on money laundering.

The theory is like a get-out-of-jail-free card for big banks, Blum says.

“There’s no capacity to regulate or punish them because they’re too big to be threatened with failure,” Blum says. “They seem to be willing to do anything that improves their bottom line, until they’re caught.”

Wachovia’s run-in with federal prosecutors hasn’t troubled investors. Wells Fargo’s stock traded at $30.86 on March 24, up 1 percent in the week after the March 17 agreement was announced.

Moving money is central to the drug trade -- from the cash that people tape to their bodies as they cross the U.S.-Mexican border to the $100,000 wire transfers they send from Mexican exchange houses to big U.S. banks.

‘Doesn’t Stop Anyone’

In Tijuana, 15 miles south of San Diego, Gustavo Rojas has lived for a quarter of a century in a shack in the shadow of the 10-foot-high (3-meter-high) steel border fence that separates the U.S. and Mexico there. He points to holes burrowed under the barrier.

“They go across with drugs and come back with cash,” Rojas, 75, says. “This fence doesn’t stop anyone.”

Drug money moves back and forth across the border in an endless cycle. In the U.S., couriers take the cash from drug sales to Mexico -- as much as $29 billion a year, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. That would be about 319 tons of $100 bills.

They hide it in cars and trucks to smuggle into Mexico. There, cartels pay people to deposit some of the cash into Mexican banks and branches of international banks. The narcos launder much of what’s left through money changers.

The Money Changers

Anyone who has been to Mexico is familiar with these street-corner money changers; Mexican regulators say there are at least 3,000 of them from Tijuana to Cancun, usually displaying large signs advertising the day’s dollar-peso exchange rate.

Mexican banks are regulated by the National Banking and Securities Commission, which has an anti-money-laundering unit; the money changers are policed by Mexico’s Tax Service Administration, which has no such unit.

By law, the money changers have to demand identification from anyone exchanging more than $500. They also have to report transactions higher than $5,000 to regulators.

The cartels get around these requirements by employing legions of individuals -- including relatives, maids and gardeners -- to convert small amounts of dollars into pesos or to make deposits in local banks. After that, cartels wire the money to a multinational bank.

The Smurfs

The people making the small money exchanges are known as Smurfs, after the cartoon characters.

“They can use an army of people like Smurfs and go through $1 million before lunchtime,” says Jerry Robinette, who oversees U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement operations along the border in east Texas.

The U.S. Treasury has been warning banks about big Mexican- currency-exchange firms laundering drug money since 1996. By 2004, many U.S. banks had closed their accounts with these companies, which are known as casas de cambio.

Wachovia ignored warnings by regulators and police, according to the deferred-prosecution agreement.

“As early as 2004, Wachovia understood the risk,” the bank admitted in court. “Despite these warnings, Wachovia remained in the business.”

One customer that Wachovia took on in 2004 was Casa de Cambio Puebla SA, a Puebla, Mexico-based currency-exchange company. Pedro Alatorre, who ran a Puebla branch in Mexico City, had created front companies for cartels, according to a pending Mexican criminal case against him.

Federal Indictment

A federal grand jury in Miami indicted Puebla, Alatorre and three other executives in February 2008 for drug trafficking and money laundering. In May 2008, the Justice Department sought extradition of the suspects, saying they used shell firms to launder $720 million through U.S. banks.

Alatorre has been in a Mexican jail for 2 1/2 years. He denies any wrongdoing, his lawyer Mauricio Moreno says. Alatorre has made no court-filed responses in the U.S.

During the period in which Wachovia admitted to moving money out of Mexico for Puebla, couriers carrying clear plastic bags stuffed with cash went to the branch Alatorre ran at the Mexico City airport, according to surveillance reports by Mexican police.

Alatorre opened accounts at HSBC on behalf of front companies, Mexican investigators found.

Puebla executives used the stolen identities of 74 people to launder money through Wachovia accounts, Mexican prosecutors say in court-filed reports.

‘Never Reported’

“Wachovia handled all the transfers, and they never reported any as suspicious,” says Jose Luis Marmolejo, a former head of the Mexican attorney general’s financial crimes unit who is now in private practice.

In November 2005 and January 2006, Wachovia transferred a total of $300,000 from Puebla to a Bank of America account in Oklahoma City, according to information in the Alatorre cases in the U.S. and Mexico.

Drug smugglers used the funds to buy the DC-9 through Oklahoma City aircraft broker U.S. Aircraft Titles Inc., according to financial records cited in the Mexican criminal case. U.S. Aircraft Titles President Sue White declined to comment.

On April 5, 2006, a pilot flew the plane from St. Petersburg, Florida, to Caracas to pick up the cocaine, according to the DEA. Five days later, troops seized the plane in Ciudad del Carmen and burned the drugs at a nearby army base.

‘Wachovia Knew’

“I am sure Wachovia knew what was going on,” says Marmolejo, who oversaw the criminal investigation into Wachovia’s customers. “It went on too long and they made too much money not to have known.”

At Wachovia’s anti-money-laundering unit in London, Woods and his colleague Jim DeFazio, in Charlotte, say they suspected that drug dealers were using the bank to move funds.

Woods, a former Scotland Yard investigator, spotted illegible signatures and other suspicious markings on traveler’s checks from Mexican exchange companies, he said in a September 2008 letter to the U.K. Financial Services Authority. He sent copies of the letter to the DEA and Treasury Department in the U.S.

Woods, 45, says his bosses instructed him to keep quiet and tried to have him fired, according to his letter to the FSA. In one meeting, a bank official insisted Woods shouldn’t have filed suspicious activity reports to the government, as both U.S. and U.K. laws require.

‘I Was Shocked’

“I was shocked by the content and outcome of the meeting and genuinely traumatized,” Woods wrote.

In the U.S., DeFazio, who had been a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent for 21 years, says he told bank executives in 2005 that the DEA was probing the transfers through Wachovia to buy the planes.

Bank executives spurned recommendations to close suspicious accounts, DeFazio, 63, says.

“I think they looked at the money and said, ‘The hell with it. We’re going to bring it in, and look at all the money we’ll make,’” DeFazio says.

DeFazio retired in 2008.

“I didn’t want anything from them,” he says. “I just wanted to get out.”

Woods, who resigned from Wachovia in May 2009, now advises banks on how to combat money laundering. He declined to discuss details of Wachovia’s actions.

U.S. Comptroller of the Currency John Dugan told Woods in a March 19 letter his efforts had helped the U.S. build its case against Wachovia.

‘Great Courage’

“You demonstrated great courage and integrity by speaking up when you saw problems,” Dugan wrote.

It was the Puebla investigation that led U.S. authorities to the broader probe of Wachovia. On May 16, 2007, DEA agents conducted a raid of Wachovia’s international banking offices in Miami. They had a court order to seize Puebla’s accounts.

U.S. prosecutors and investigators then scrutinized the bank’s dealings with Mexican-currency-exchange firms. That led to the March deferred-prosecution agreement.

With Puebla’s Wachovia accounts seized, Alatorre and his partners shifted their laundering scheme to HSBC, according to financial documents cited in the Mexican criminal case against Alatorre.

In the three weeks after the DEA raided Wachovia, two of Alatorre’s front companies, Grupo ETPB SA and Grupo Rahero SC, made 12 cash deposits totaling $1 million at an HSBC Mexican branch, Mexican investigators found.

Another Drug Plane

The funds financed a Beechcraft King Air 200 plane that police seized on Dec. 29, 2007, in Cuernavaca, 50 miles south of Mexico City, according to information in the case against Alatorre.

For years, federal authorities watched as the wife and daughter of Oscar Oropeza, a drug smuggler working for the Matamoros-based Gulf Cartel, deposited stacks of cash at a Bank of America branch on Boca Chica Boulevard in Brownsville, Texas, less than 3 miles from the border.

Investigator Robinette sits in his pickup truck across the street from that branch. It’s a one-story, tan stucco building next to a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet. Robinette discusses the Oropeza case with Tom Salazar, an agent who investigated the family.

“Everybody in there knew who they were -- the tellers, everyone,” Salazar says. “The bank never came to us, though.”

New Meaning

The Oropeza case gives a new, literal meaning to the term money laundering. Oropeza’s wife, Tina Marie, and daughter Paulina Marie deposited stashes of $20 bills several times a day into Bank of America accounts, Salazar says. Bank employees got to know the Oropezas by the smell of their money.

“I asked the tellers what they were talking about, and they said the money had this sweet smell like Bounce, those sheets you throw into the dryer,” Salazar says. “They told me that when they opened the vault, the smell of Bounce just poured out.”

Oropeza, 48, was arrested 820 miles from Brownsville. On May 31, 2007, police in Saraland, Alabama, stopped him on a traffic violation. Checking his record, they learned of the investigation in Texas.

They searched the van and discovered 84 kilograms (185 pounds) of cocaine hidden under a false floor. That allowed federal agents to freeze Oropeza’s bank accounts and search his marble-floored home in Brownsville, Robinette says. Inside, investigators found a supply of Bounce alongside the clothes dryer.

Guilty Pleas

All three Oropezas pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Brownsville to drug and money-laundering charges in March and April 2008. Oscar Oropeza was sentenced to 15 years in prison; his wife was ordered to serve 10 months and his daughter got 6 months.

Bank of America’s Norton says, “We not only fulfilled our regulatory obligation, but we proactively worked with law enforcement on these matters.”

Prosecutors have tried to halt money laundering at American Express Bank International twice. In 1994, the bank, then a subsidiary of New York-based American Express Co., pledged not to allow money laundering again after two employees were convicted in a criminal case involving drug trafficker Juan Garcia Abrego.

In 1994, the bank paid $14 million to settle. Five years later, drug money again flowed through American Express Bank. Between 1999 and 2004, the bank failed to stop clients from laundering $55 million of narcotics funds, the bank admitted in a deferred-prosecution agreement in August 2007.

Western Union

It paid $65 million to the U.S. and promised not to break the law again. The government dismissed the criminal charge a year later. American Express sold the bank to London-based Standard Chartered PLC in February 2008 for $823 million.

Banks aren’t the only financial institutions that have turned a blind eye to drug cartels in moving illicit funds. Western Union Co., the world’s largest money transfer firm, agreed to pay $94 million in February 2010 to settle civil and criminal investigations by the Arizona attorney general’s office.

Undercover state police posing as drug dealers bribed Western Union employees to illegally transfer money, says Cameron Holmes, an assistant attorney general.

“Their allegiance was to the smugglers,” Holmes says. “What they thought about during work was ‘How may I please my highest- spending customers the most?’”

Smudged Fingerprints

Workers in more than 20 Western Union offices allowed the customers to use multiple names, pass fictitious identifications and smudge their fingerprints on documents, investigators say in court records.

“In all the time we did undercover operations, we never once had a bribe turned down,” says Holmes, citing court affidavits.

Western Union has made significant improvements, it complies with anti-money-laundering laws and works closely with regulators and police, spokesman Tom Fitzgerald says.

For four years, Mexican authorities have been fighting a losing battle against the cartels. The police are often two steps behind the criminals. Near the southeastern corner of Texas, in Matamoros, more than 50 combat troops surround a police station.

Officers take two suspected drug traffickers inside for questioning. Nearby, two young men wearing white T-shirts and baggy pants watch and whisper into radios. These are los halcones (the falcons), whose job is to let the cartel bosses know what the police are doing.

‘Only Way’

While the police are outmaneuvered and outgunned, ordinary Mexicans live in fear. Rojas, the man who lives in the Tijuana slum near the border fence, recalls cowering in his home as smugglers shot it out with the police.

“The only way to survive is to stay out of the way and hope the violence, the bullets, don’t come for you,” Rojas says.

To make their criminal enterprises work, the drug cartels of Mexico need to move billions of dollars across borders. That’s how they finance the purchase of drugs, planes, weapons and safe houses, Senator Gonzalez says.

“They are multinational businesses, after all,” says Gonzalez, as he slowly loads his revolver at his desk in his Mexico City office. “And they cannot work without a bank.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Smith in Santiago, Chile, at

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Extreme Measures: Arming the Zealotocracy, Serving the Elite

This from "Empire Burlesque" -- please follow link to the original

Extreme Measures: Arming the Zealotocracy, Serving the Elite
Written by Chris Floyd
Saturday, 26 June 2010 23:19

One of the most significant developments in the modern world -- history may find it to be a decisive one -- has been the deliberate cultivation of religious extremism by ruling elites trying to sustain and expand their power.

The rise of virulent extremism in almost every major religion -- Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism -- has many other causes, of course. Chief among these is the turbulent encounter between modernity and tradition, a confrontation that has played out -- and is playing out -- in so many different ways both within and across various cultures.

Modernity encompasses not only the technologies and techniques of capitalism that in its many guises (including state capitalism) has plowed up so much ancient ground and overturned so many ancient certainties, but also the historic development of ideas and ideals based, ultimately, on the notion of the inherent (even inalienable) autonomy and worth of the individual. These ideas too have found expression in myriad -- and often conflicting -- forms. And of course, there has never been and can never be any kind of clear dividing line between all of these swirling currents, the multifaceted dimensions of modernity and tradition; like a jar of colored sands, they mix and meld in innumerable, unstable combinations as they are sifted and shaken through the course of time.

So it would be wrong to say that the rise of sectarian zeal can be ascribed solely to its manipulation by elites. But it would be equally wrong -- and dangerously blind -- to deny the fact of these manipulations, or to minimize in any way the pernicious, atrocious effect they have had -- and are having -- on human existence. They have placed a deep -- and entirely unnecessary -- shadow over humanity for generations: a shadow that only gets darker, and more poisonous, as time goes on.

For the last 50 years, in country after country, ruling elites -- those factions which hold a disproportionate and thus illegitimate sway over society -- have fostered the growth of religious extremism for two main reasons: to distract the populace from the way their lives are unjustly diminished by the elitist agenda -- and to throttle and demonize any popular movement that might threaten the elite's hegemony.

This happened throughout the Middle East, for example, as tyrants of every stripe (often clients of the West) turned to hitherto marginal fundamentalist religious groups to dilute and drive back secular challenges to their rule. These challenges were often, although not always, led by movements that could be characterized as "leftist" to one degree or another. (Although it is also true that any challenge whatsoever to elite rule is almost always categorized as some kind of dangerous, revolutionary "leftism," even if it has little or no socialist content at all -- and even if it is entirely non-violent, or gradualist, or merely mildly reformist.) Usually with Western help, the tyrants cultivated religious extremists both as shock troops and cultural warriors to attack and divide any opposition. As the London Review of Books noted recently (in a piece highlighted this weekend by As'ad AbuKhalil):

The Islamisation of Egyptian society deepened after the 1967 war; it became explicit government policy under Sadat, the self-styled ‘believer president’ who supported radical Islamists in his battles with the left, and who made the sharia ‘the principal source’ of law in 1980 – a year before his assassination by an Islamist. Under Mubarak, praying has become as popular as shopping or football and now serves a roughly similar function as a distraction from the innumerable frustrations of Egyptian life. Indeed, Islam as observed by Egyptians is increasingly an Islam that caters to consumerist needs. The popular televangelist Amr Khaled mixes Quranic citations with boosterish advice of a more general kind. This variety of Islam is no threat to the regime, but it has made life far less easy-going. ‘My neighbour used to water his plants in his pyjamas on the balcony, where he’d be joined by his wife in her nightie,’ a friend tells me. ‘They’d drink beer in the open, and then he’d go downstairs for the sunset prayers in the local mosque. Today he’d be killed for this, but at the time he would have seen no contradiction.’

Over the past half century, this same dynamic has played out in various ways, and to various degrees, in countries all over the world. It has happened in Iran, India, Pakistan, Iraq, Yugoslavia (Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo), and many others. It is happening at an astonishingly accelerated rate today in Israel, which has become by far the most religiously and ethnically intolerant of any nation considered part of "the West." And it is most palpably happening on many levels in the United States, as Chris Hedges and many others have documented.

In most cases, this dynamic involves a strong fusion of religious extremism with a strident, exclusionary nationalism. Indeed, religious nationalism is one of the hallmarks of our age. At various times, and in various quarters, one element -- the religious or the nationalist -- might predominate over the other. We can see this in, say, the Tea Party movement, where exclusionary nationalism -- the self-defined "Real Americans" vs. the strange, traitorous Others -- is now in ascendance, occluding somewhat the sex-obsessed, church-based "Focus on the Family"-style religious nationalism that was somewhat more prevalent earlier in the decade. The whole career of Sarah Palin exemplifies this oscillation, as she has tracked back and forth between the most virulent, primitive, casting-out-devils Christian fundamentalism and the bellicose, militarist nationalism she shares with the Beltway neo-cons, a number of whom are, of course, Jews and/or atheists whom Palin, like George W. Bush, believes will burn in eternal hellfire.

Although these kinds of contradictions demonstrate the utter incoherence and moral vacuity of religious nationalism, they rarely lessen the power of these movements, which -- once unleashed, encouraged (and heavily funded) -- feed on the nuclear fuel of raw, unexamined emotions, fears and needs: a fuel that is constantly replenished by the relentless propagation of artfully filtered (and often fabricated) outrages and threats.

Here's an example from personal experience. I came of age in the mid-70s, in the Bible Belt, in a family rooted in that old-time Southern Baptist religion. This was the era when the TV preachers -- Jim Bakker, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, and others -- first began flooding the late-night airwaves. These televangelists, just beginning the fusion of religion and nationalism noted above, were widely, almost universally, regarded by the good, God-fearing, church-going grownups of my acquaintance as extremely marginal, even comical figures, of little note and little worth.

Yet in just a few years' time, many of these figures, and others like them, would be trooping to the White House to be courted and honored; they were commanding vast media networks, college campuses and commercial empires. One of them, Robertson, even ran for president. They had become an integral and important part of the nation's power structure, pushing "hot button" issues, almost always related to sex -- homosexuality, abortion -- and "traditional values" (e.g., submission to authority: biblical authority, corporate authority, military authority, male authority, etc.). They constructed a false history of a paradisiacal past that had been "stolen" from "real" Americans by liberals, feminists, unions, queers, darkies, commies, college professors, Mexicans, etc. etc. And all the while, the elite interests who helped bankroll and magnify these marginal movements into national juggernauts were in fact beggaring the believers themselves, destroying their communities -- indeed, their "traditional values," their family and social networks, and their quality of life -- by gutting their towns and cities, driving family farmers from their land, sending tens of millions of jobs to near-slave labor overseas, befouling the environment, degrading public amenities and vital infrastructure, relentlessly restricting legal recourse against corporate predation and depredation, and corrupting the democratic process to send a steady stream of spineless hacks and whores to Washington to perpetuate the bipartisan corporate-militarist agenda.

The result has been poisonous rancor, social division, economic ruin, vast anxiety, endless war and the relentless, systematic degradation of the quality of life for working people, the poor, the sick, the vulnerable -- indeed, for everyone outside the small circle of the elite, and their sycophants and servants in the media-political class.

And at every step of the way, this ever-growing dynamic of religious nationalism -- which has found its highest, most complete expression in the war-profiteering militarist empire of the Terror War and its attendant atrocities, foreign and domestic -- has been aided and abetted and strengthened and expanded by the so-called "liberals" and "progressives" of the Democratic Party (and their own innumerable outriders, servitors and sycophants) who have been and remain among the fiercest proponents of ... the war-profiteering militarist empire. ("Progressives," of course want to "reform" the empire -- that is, make its deadly operations more efficient and codify its most heinous atrocities into law -- but none of them, not one, call for it to be dismantled.)

Just as in Mubarak's Egypt or the Shah's Iran, any secular opposition to the thuggish (indeed criminal) American elites has been effectively neutralized. The resultant anger and confusion of a people who are indeed being robbed and screwed over is thus diverted from its true perpetrators, and instead is channeled into one of few avenues of "protest" against the "system" allowed to operate freely and fully on a mass scale: religious nationalism in its various forms. Of course, this kind of "protest" only strengthens the genuine systems of rapacious power, and thus, ultimately, serves both sides of the partisan divide. (Or rather the factional divide between two groups of squabbling courtiers jockeying for the top perks of the imperial state they both avidly serve.) And, as we have seen in Iran and will likely see in Egypt, these movements, once unleashed and empowered, cannot be completely controlled by their elite patrons (as some Republican incumbents and insiders have already learned to their sorrow).

On every side, in country after country, and at varying levels, life is being made "far less easy-going" by the unholy alliance of rapacious corporate-militarist elites and the Zealotocracy of religious nationalists they have helped propel to heights of power and influence. And as long as the imperial system keeps churning its way around the globe, this murderous, retrograde, life-strangling dynamic will continue to accelerate.

Time to read Krugman again -- follow link.

Oscar Peterson Quartet, featuring Joe Pass -- Soft Winds

Joe Pass -- Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me

Joe Pass -- Satin Doll

John and Bucky Pizzarelli -- Satin Doll

78rpm: "Slam Slam" Blues - Red Norvo and his Selected Sextet (Bird, Diz), 1945 - 12" Comet T-6

One of the rarest recording sessions in Jazz -- listen to Bird and Diz play the blues, along with Red Norvo, Flip Phillips, Slam Stewart, J. C. Heard, Teddy Wilson. Most of these guys were once household names. they should be again.

Some Music

"The Quintet" -- Night In Tunisia

Salt Peanuts

"Bird and Diz" -- My Melancholy Baby

Bird and Diz -- live in Chicago 1950 -- Groovin' High

Friday, June 25, 2010


Press Releases
First American Bank, Artesia, New Mexico, Assumes All of the Deposits of High Desert State Bank, Albuquerque, New Mexico

June 25, 2010
Media Contact:
David Barr
Office Phone: (202) 898-6992
Cell Phone: (703) 622-4790

High Desert State Bank, Albuquerque, New Mexico, was closed today by the New Mexico Financial Institutions Division, which appointed the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) as receiver. To protect the depositors, the FDIC entered into a purchase and assumption agreement with First American Bank, Artesia, New Mexico, to assume all of the deposits of High Desert State Bank.

The two branches of High Desert State Bank will reopen on Monday as branches of First American Bank. Depositors of High Desert State Bank will automatically become depositors of First American Bank. Deposits will continue to be insured by the FDIC, so there is no need for customers to change their banking relationship in order to retain their deposit insurance coverage. Customers of High Desert State Bank should continue to use their existing branch until they receive notice from First American Bank that it has completed systems changes to allow other First American Bank branches to process their accounts as well.

This evening and over the weekend, depositors of High Desert State Bank can access their money by writing checks or using ATM or debit cards. Checks drawn on the bank will continue to be processed. Loan customers should continue to make their payments as usual.

As of March 31, 2010, High Desert State Bank had approximately $80.3 million in total assets and $81.0 million in total deposits. First American Bank did not pay the FDIC a premium for the deposits of High Desert State Bank. In addition to assuming all of the deposits of the failed bank, First American Bank agreed to purchase essentially all of the assets.

The FDIC and First American Bank entered into a loss-share transaction on $67.6 million of High Desert State Bank's assets. First American Bank will share in the losses on the asset pools covered under the loss-share agreement. The loss-share transaction is projected to maximize returns on the assets covered by keeping them in the private sector. The transaction also is expected to minimize disruptions for loan customers. For more information on loss share, please visit:

Customers who have questions about today's transaction can call the FDIC toll-free at 1-800-405-8124. The phone number will be operational this evening until 9:00 p.m., Mountain Daylight Time (MDT); on Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., MDT; on Sunday from noon to 6:00 p.m., MDT; and thereafter from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., MDT. Interested parties also can visit the FDIC's Web site at

The FDIC estimates that the cost to the Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF) will be $20.9 million. Compared to other alternatives, First American Bank's acquisition was the "least costly" resolution for the FDIC's DIF. High Desert State Bank is the 86th FDIC-insured institution to fail in the nation this year, and the second in New Mexico. The last FDIC-insured institution closed in the state was Charter Bank, Santa Fe, on January 22, 2010.

85 -- and 9th in Georgia this year

Press Releases
The Savannah Bank, National Association, Savannah, Georgia, Assumes All of the Deposits of First National Bank Savannah, Georgia

June 25, 2010
Media Contact:
David Barr
Office Phone: (202) 898-6992
Cell Phone: (703) 622-4790

First National Bank, Savannah, Georgia, was closed today by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which appointed the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) as receiver. To protect the depositors, the FDIC entered into a purchase and assumption agreement with The Savannah Bank, National Association, Savannah, Georgia, to assume all of the deposits of First National Bank.

The four branches of First National Bank will reopen on Monday as branches of The Savannah Bank, N.A. Depositors of First National Bank will automatically become depositors of The Savannah Bank, N.A. Deposits will continue to be insured by the FDIC, so there is no need for customers to change their banking relationship in order to retain their deposit insurance coverage. Customers of First National Bank should continue to use their existing branch until they receive notice from The Savannah Bank, N.A. that it has completed systems changes to allow other The Savannah Bank, N.A. branches to process their accounts as well.

This evening and over the weekend, depositors of First National Bank can access their money by writing checks or using ATM or debit cards. Checks drawn on the bank will continue to be processed. Loan customers should continue to make their payments as usual.

As of March 31, 2010, First National Bank had approximately $252.5 million in total assets and $231.9 million in total deposits. The Savannah Bank, N.A. will pay the FDIC a premium of 0.11 percent to assume all of the deposits of First National Bank. In addition to assuming all of the deposits of the failed bank, The Savannah Bank, N.A. agreed to purchase some of the assets. The FDIC as receiver will retain most of the assets from First National Bank for later disposition.

Customers who have questions about today's transaction can call the FDIC toll-free at 1-800-405-1604. The phone number will be operational this evening until 9:00 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time (EDT); on Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., EDT; on Sunday from noon to 6:00 p.m., EDT; and thereafter from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., EDT. Interested parties also can visit the FDIC's Web site at

The FDIC estimates that the cost to the Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF) will be $68.9 million. Compared to other alternatives, The Savannah Bank, N.A.'s acquisition was the "least costly" resolution for the FDIC's DIF. First National Bank is the 85th FDIC-insured institution to fail in the nation this year, and the ninth in Georgia. The last FDIC-insured institution closed in the state was Satilla Community Bank, Saint Marys, on May 14, 2010.

#84 (and 14th in Florida)

Don't all those "teaparty" folks in Florida HATE the fact "government intervention" protects their savings through the FDIC? Isn't that "wrong" -- the same way extending unemployment insurance is "wrong"? Don't those retired folks, or those saving for retirement, want the government to keep its hands off their money? As "rugged individuals" won't they just work an extra 20 years to earn back what they lost? -- that is, if they have, or can find , a job

Press Releases
Premier American Bank, Miami, Florida, Assumes All of the Deposits of Peninsula Bank, Englewood, Florida

June 25, 2010
Media Contact:
David Barr
Office Phone: (202) 898-6992
Cell Phone: (703) 622-4790

Peninsula Bank, Englewood, Florida, was closed today by the Florida Division of Financial Institutions, which appointed the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) as receiver. To protect the depositors, the FDIC entered into a purchase and assumption agreement with Premier American Bank, Miami, Florida, to assume all of the deposits of Peninsula Bank.

The 13 branches of Peninsula Bank will reopen during normal business hours on Saturday as branches of Premier American Bank. Depositors of Peninsula Bank will automatically become depositors of Premier American Bank. Deposits will continue to be insured by the FDIC, so there is no need for customers to change their banking relationship in order to retain their deposit insurance coverage. Customers of Peninsula Bank should continue to use their existing branch until they receive notice from Premier American Bank that it has completed systems changes to allow other Premier American Bank branches to process their accounts as well.

This evening and over the weekend, depositors of Peninsula Bank can access their money by writing checks or using ATM or debit cards. Checks drawn on the bank will continue to be processed. Loan customers should continue to make their payments as usual.

As of March 31, 2010, Peninsula Bank had approximately $644.3 million in total assets and $580.1 million in total deposits. Premier American Bank did not pay the FDIC a premium for the deposits of Peninsula Bank. In addition to assuming all of the deposits of the failed bank, Premier American Bank agreed to purchase essentially all of the assets.

The FDIC and Premier American Bank entered into a loss-share transaction on $437.6 million of Peninsula Bank's assets. Premier American Bank will share in the losses on the asset pools covered under the loss-share agreement. The loss-share transaction is projected to maximize returns on the assets covered by keeping them in the private sector. The transaction also is expected to minimize disruptions for loan customers. For more information on loss share, please visit:

Customers who have questions about today's transaction can call the FDIC toll-free at 1-800-405-1498. The phone number will be operational this evening until 9:00 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time (EDT); on Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., EDT; on Sunday from noon to 6:00 p.m., EDT; and thereafter from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., EDT. Interested parties also can visit the FDIC's Web site at

The FDIC estimates that the cost to the Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF) will be $194.8 million. Compared to other alternatives, Premier American Bank's acquisition was the "least costly" resolution for the FDIC's DIF. Peninsula Bank is the 84th FDIC-insured institution to fail in the nation this year, and the fourteenth in Florida. The last FDIC-insured institution closed in the state was Bank of Florida – Southwest, Naples, on May 28, 2010

Bob is a "Corker" -- R Tenn.

Now, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee said today that our new financial regulations will "hurt job creation".

as has been pointed out by many others this insane recession, the worst downturn since The Great Depression, is what REALLY "hurt job creation".

The lack of financial regulation, which caused the massive meltdown, the expenditure of TRILLIONS to bail out failing banks (this under our "pro-business" President Bush), and THE LOSS OF 15 MILLION JOBS -- that's what "hurt job creation".

Republicans, ALL OF THEM, HATE working people! They have so many folks fighting some "culture war", tilting at strange windmills, that these folks have lost sight of the fact their country is being STOLEN, the middle class is being destroyed.

These same Republicans support BP, all the big banks, hate unions, hate fair, equal access to health care, decry regulation of those RAPING the public -- and try to blame it all on the Democrats.

Actually, too many Democrats are strange "neo-libs" who have NO CONNECTION to average Americans. Still, the Republicans have no connection, and think a safety net is "welfare", and will promote "hobos" -- like during The Great Depression.

We have become so brainwashed we do not even understand where our self interest lies. We have, almost all of us, lost our way.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Belgian Catholic offices raided in sex abuse probe

Well --- AT LAST, folks in Europe are taking strong steps to investigate child-rape by the Catholic Church:

Belgian Catholic offices raided in sex abuse probe

Belgian officials outside the offices of the Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels Officials said they were searching for evidence of possible abuse

Belgian authorities have raided the headquarters of the Belgian Catholic Church during an investigation into child sex abuse claims.

A spokesman for the Brussels prosecutors' office confirmed that the palace of the archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels had been sealed off.

Police also raided the home of retired Archbishop Godfried Danneels.

Belgium is one of several countries in which a stream of abuse claims have shaken the Church.

Brussels prosecutors were looking for material relating to allegations of sex abuse, a spokesman for the prosecutors' office said.

"This is a case that the Brussels prosecutors' office received recently, containing a statement of facts in relation to alleged sexual abuse of minors by a number of people within the Church," said Jean-Marc Meilleur.

"The object of the searches is to verify the declaration and eventually gather evidence about these declarations."
Tapping on boards

At the home of Archbishop Danneels in Mechelen, just north of Brussels, police did not question the cleric but took away his computer, according to his spokesman, Hans Geybels

Mr Geybels said police had also asked the archbishop to accompany them to the cathedral in Mechelen because they had heard that there might be files there.

He said the officers were tapping on boards and looking for hidden spaces but, as far as he was aware, they had not found anything.

He said Cardinal Danneels was co-operating fully: "The cardinal believes justice must run its normal course. He has nothing against that."

Separately, the offices of an independent commission set up to look into cases of sexual abuse were also raided.

An inquiry into child sex abuse in the Catholic Church in Belgium has been running for several years.

In April, the then-bishop of the city of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, resigned after admitting that he had sexually abused a boy earlier in his career.

At the time, Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard said the move showed that the Church wanted to "resolutely turn a page on a very painful" topic.
Papal pledge

In recent months, allegations of abuse levelled against Catholic priests have surfaced in many countries.

There have also been accusations that Church authorities in Europe and North and South America failed to deal with cases openly or properly.

Pope Benedict XVI himself has been accused of being part of a culture of secrecy, and of not taking strong enough steps against abusers when he had that responsibility as a cardinal in Rome.

However, his supporters say he has been the most pro-active pope yet in confronting abuse.

The Pope pledged in April to "bring to justice" Church officials responsible for abuse.

The Vatican also made it explicit that sex abuse cases should be reported to police if required by law

Why Buy A Pig When You Can Get Cheap Sausage?

ECHIDNE OF THE SNAKES has a post titled "Why Buy A Pig When You Can Get Cheap Sausage" (follow link to original). This as a reversal of "why buy a cow when you can get the milk for free".

This is only one lie about sex, men, and women. As any woman well knows -- she can screw any man to the point where he begs for rest. Most women are more eager for some decent sex than the average guy is. He usually want to watch the game, often with his buddies, beer, and pizza. If he wants anything later -- it's a quickie, IF he can stay awake long enough.

I think most men desire sex only as long as it's NOT available on a regular basis.

Folks often laugh about "lesbian bed death" -- well all you folks out in interwebs land -- why not talk about "heterosexual bed death", where HE can only get truly involved if it's with a "strange piece"? For @%$#&*$ sake, how many guys get caught because they end up cheating on their cheating?

Recently there have been studies where it seems guys get more involved with "the cow" than men want you to believe.

Isn't it time to return to a kinder, gentler, form of "manhood"? Wouldn't a few more "sensitive" types (who are not just trying to "get over") do the world a heap of good?

There are too many guys who damn near kill themselves trying to be "tough".


Remember guys -- sausage is really cheap.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The United States Is A Fascist Police State

This from Naked Capitalism:

Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Gonzalo Lira: Is the U.S. a Fascist Police-State?

By Gonzalo Lira, a novelist and filmmaker (and economist) currently living in Chile and writing at Gonzalo Lira

I lived in Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship—I can spot a fascist police-state when I see one.

The United States is a fascist police-state.

Harsh words—incendiary, even. And none too clever of me, to use such language: Time was, the crazies and reactionaries wearing tin-foil hats who flung around such a characterization of the United States were disqualified by sensible people as being hysterical nutters—rightfully so.

But with yesterday’s Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project decision (No. 08-1498, also 09-89) of the Supreme Court, coupled with last week’s Arar v. Ashcroft denial of certiorari (No. 09-923), the case for claiming that the U.S. is a fascist police-state just got a whole lot stronger.

First of all, what is a “fascist police-state”?

A police-state uses the law as a mechanism to control any challenges to its power by the citizenry, rather than as a mechanism to insure a civil society among the individuals. The state decides the laws, is the sole arbiter of the law, and can selectively (and capriciously) decide to enforce the law to the benefit or detriment of one individual or group or another.

In a police-state, the citizens are “free” only so long as their actions remain within the confines of the law as dictated by the state. If the individual’s claims of rights or freedoms conflict with the state, or if the individual acts in ways deemed detrimental to the state, then the state will repress the citizenry, by force if necessary. (And in the end, it’s always necessary.)

What’s key to the definition of a police-state is the lack of redress: If there is no justice system which can compel the state to cede to the citizenry, then there is a police-state. If there exists a pro forma justice system, but which in practice is unavailable to the ordinary citizen because of systemic obstacles (for instance, cost or bureaucratic hindrance), or which against all logic or reason consistently finds in favor of the state—even in the most egregious and obviously contradictory cases—then that pro forma judiciary system is nothing but a sham: A tool of the state’s repression against its citizens. Consider the Soviet court system the classic example.

A police-state is not necessarily a dictatorship. On the contrary, it can even take the form of a representative democracy. A police-state is not defined by its leadership structure, but rather, by its self-protection against the individual.

A definition of “fascism” is tougher to come by—it’s almost as tough to come up with as a definition of “pornography”.

The sloppy definition is simply totalitarianism of the Right, “communism” being the sloppy definition of totalitarianism of the Left. But that doesn’t help much.

For our purposes, I think we should use the syndicalist-corporatist definition as practiced by Mussolini: Society as a collection of corporate and union interests, where the state is one more competing interest among many, albeit the most powerful of them all, and thus as a virtue of its size and power, taking precedence over all other factions. In other words, society is a “street-gang” model that I discussed before. The individual has power only as derived from his belonging to a particular faction or group—individuals do not have inherent worth, value or standing.

Now then! Having gotten that out of the way, where were we?

Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project: The Humanitarian Law Project was advising groups deemed “terrorists” on how to negotiate non-violently with various political agencies, including the UN. In this 6-3 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Court ruled that that speech constituted “aiding and abetting” a terrorist organization, as the Court determined that speech was “material support”. Therefore, the Executive and/or Congress had the right to prohibit anyone from speaking to any terrorist organization if that speech embodied “material support” to the terrorist organization.

The decision is being noted by the New York Times as a Freedom of Speech issue; other commentators seem to be viewing it in those terms as well.

My own take is, Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project is not about limiting free speech—it’s about the state expanding it power to repress. The decision limits free speech in passing, because what it is really doing is expanding the state’s power to repress whomever it unilaterally determines is a terrorist.

In the decision, the Court explicitly ruled that “Congress and the Executive are uniquely positioned to make principled distinctions between activities that will further terrorist conduct and undermine United States foreign policy, and those that will not.” In other words, the Court makes it clear that Congress and/or the Executive can solely and unilaterally determine who is a “terrorist threat”, and who is not—without recourse to judicial review of this decision. And if the Executive and/or Congress determines that this group here or that group there is a “terrorist organization”, then their free speech is curtailed—as is the free speech of anyone associating with them, no matter how demonstrably peaceful that speech or interaction is.

For example, if the Executive—in the form of the Secretary of State—decides that, say, WikiLeaks or Amnesty International is a terrorist organization, well then by golly, it is a terrorist organization. It no longer has any right to free speech—nor can anyone else speak to them or associate with them, for risk of being charged with providing “material support” to this heinous terrorist organization known as Amnesty International.

But furthermore, as per Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, anyone associating with WikiLeaks—including, presumably, those who read it, and most certainly those who give it information about government abuses—would be guilty of aiding and abetting terrorism. In other words, giving WikiLeaks “material support” by providing primary evidence of government abuse would render one a terrorist.

This form of repression does seem to fit the above definition of a police-state. The state determines—unilaterally—who is detrimental to its interests. The state then represses that person or group.

By a 6-3 majority, the Supreme Court has explicitly stated that Congress and/or the Executive is “uniquely positioned” to determine who is a terrorist and who is not—and therefore has the right to silence not just the terrorist organization, but anyone trying to speak to them, or hear them.

And let’s just say that, after jumping through years of judicial hoops, one finally manages to prove that one wasn’t then and isn’t now a terrorist, the Arar denial of certiorari makes it irrelevant. Even if it turns out that a person is definitely and unequivocally not a terrorist, he cannot get legal redress for this mistake by the state.

So! To sum up: The U.S. government can decide unilaterally who is a terrorist organization and who is not. Anyone speaking to such a designated terrorist group is “providing material support” to the terrorists—and is therefore subject to prosecution at the discretion of the U.S. government. And if, in the end, it turns out that one definitely was not involved in terrorist activities, there is no way to receive redress by the state.

Sounds like a fascist police-state to me.

Another General

All this crap about General McChrystal is annoying. It's time for him to go. He should resign, fall on his sword, etc., etc., etc.

What else would you have him do? Mount a coup? It's time for the CIVILIAN leaders to re-examine our position in both The Roq and The Stan, declare VICTORY, and bring our men, women, and money HOME.

That's all.

Monday, June 21, 2010

State budget crisis getting critical

This is direct from "The Economic Populist" -- I hesitate to pick up anything from that site simply because it is a collection of posts from different sources. In this case, I thought it really dishonest to follow their sources, paraphrase, and pretend it's "my" post. As always, please follow link to the original -- also, bookmark this site.

State budget crisis getting critical
Submitted by midtowng on Sun, 06/20/2010 - 21:28

The 2011 fiscal year for 46 states begins in 10 days. In many cases it is a countdown to financial doom.
Despite what you may have heard from conservative sources, state and local government have been cutting and cutting. 231,000 state and local government jobs have vanished since August 2008 - 22,000 in just the past month. Most of those jobs were at the local level, such as police, firefighters, and school teachers.

The fat has already been trimmed. The muscle has been cut into. There is nothing left to cut but bone.
At least 19 states are getting the saws ready, because knives won't cut bone.

According to Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s, states are facing a budget gap of $180 billion next year. The shortfall could lead to the destruction of 900,000 jobs at the state level, an employment source that is often thought of as an economic safety net.

Up to 300,000 of those laid off will be school teachers, and some estimate the total number of government workers to be let go in the 1-to-2 million range.

California has already cut 62,000 government jobs.
This is only the start. Cities and counties up and down the state are openly debating bankruptcy.

Street expects more talk of municipal bankruptcy across California because local government finances are in such dire shape -- a situation underscored on Wednesday when a top finance officer for Sacramento County projected a worse-than-expected shortfall for the county of $181 million, which could force more than 1,000 layoffs from the county's payroll.
"You don't have the easy out of increasing revenue and you have a lot more call on services because of the economy," Street said. "There's no such thing as entertaining bankruptcy; there's ending denial."

The City of Antioch wants to "alert people to the possibility". Los Angeles has described bankruptcy as "inevitable". A county grand jury has recommended San Diego to declare bankruptcy.

Despite all these horrendous headlines, amazingly California isn't the state considered most likely to default; Illinois is.

Illinois’s credit-swap costs surpassed California’s, the largest U.S. municipal borrower, which saw its default-insurance contracts rise 1 basis point to 299.6 basis points from 298.7 basis points yesterday.

Illinois budget deficit is equal to half of its proposed budget.

The budget disasters spread far and wide.
The fiscal year in New York started months ago, but a real budget is still a work of fiction. The state has been getting by on one-week budgets, and it can't continue. A showdown that might produce the state's first shutdown in history could happen by the end of the month. New York has an $8 Billion budget hole to close this year, and another projected $5 Billion deficit next year.
To give you an idea of how bitter and outrageous the budget talks have been, New York conservatives have accused Governor Patterson's proposed tax increase on tobacco sales of aiding terrorists.

Budget problems aren't just for big cities and states. Arizona's deficit is expected to be 30% of its budget. It is spending $10.1 Billion, but only taking in $6.4 Billion.
Oregon is facing a 10% budget shortfall.

State spokesperson Anna Richter Taylor said. “It very likely will result in layoffs, although that is the option of last resort.”
“The reality is the state does not have $560 million to fill this hole,” she said.

The Rust Belt cities are also on the ropes. Harrisburg, PA, and Detroit, Michigan, are considering Chapter 9.
Even the city of Miami is facing bankruptcy.

Investors so far have ignored the warning signs in the municipal bond market, but some experts are raising the alarm.

"The day of reckoning is here," says Jeffrey Schoenfeld, chief investment officer of Brown Brothers Harriman. "But municipal investors continue to act as if there's no default risk in municipal bonds."
"I don't know how I would rate them myself," Mr. Buffett testified. "It's a bet on how the federal government will act over time."

Today's municipal bond market is a crooked mess. On one side you have corrupt Wall Street investment bankers rigging the system to exploit ignorant government workers and the taxpayers they represent.

"The whole investment process was rigged across the board," said Charlie Anderson, who retired in 2007 as head of field operations for the Internal Revenue Service's tax-exempt bond division. "It was so commonplace that people talked about it on the phones of their employers and ignored the fact that they were being recorded."

On the other end of the system are local politicians, who refinanced bonds over and over again to use the proceeds on unrelated projects.

Systemic Failure

You can't just keep cutting and cutting services and manpower before the system stops working.

Case files piling up by the thousands, phones ringing off the hook, forced midweek courthouse closings and occasional brawls as frustrated citizens queue for hours to pay parking fines.
“People think we’re becoming a Third World country,” said Ms. Sims, 55.
“We are on the verge of system failure,” warned Jean Ross, executive director of the California Budget Project, an independent think tank based in Sacramento.

At a certain point the potholes don't get filled, the police don't respond (at least not in poor neighborhoods), sewer systems break and don't get fixed, kids can't get into college, people get "lost" in the judicial system, and eventually citizens simply give up on the government.
We are facing the threat of losing something very basic - our idea of what America should be like. Once that is gone, it doesn't come back.

It's a matter of priorities.
When California Gov. Schwarzenegger proposed the latest budget, he completely eliminated the welfare programs in the state, as well as most child care funding. It would save the state about $2.2 Billion, but cost tens of thousands of public and private sector jobs.
What Schwarzenegger left in the budget was $2 billion in planned corporate tax breaks.

Schwarzenegger made a choice - corporations over poor children. This choice is getting very popular with politicians in recent years.
When conservatives in Washington shot down the unemployment extension, leaving millions of poor, working class people and their dependents without any support, it was partially because of their opposition to business taxes.
The poor need better lobbyists.

California is facing a $19 Billion deficit this year, and a $37 Billion deficit next year. Between 2010 and 2011, U.S. States are looking at a $300 Billion shortfall.

Republican candidate Meg Whitman says she intends to solver the California budget by getting rid of 40,000 workers. I wonder if Whitman is willing to start with the department who's employment has increased 123% in the last 20 years, accounting for one third of total growth - the Department of Corrections? Schwarzenegger didn't.
California already has the 2nd lowest number of state employees per capita, lower than such states as Arizona and Texas, and at the same level as it was in 1970. Only 17.8% of the California state budget goes to salaries and wages.
At what point do politicians have to admit that police, firefighters, and school teachers aren't the reason for the budget problems?

Oil coating seafloor and killing crabs, fish, etc.

This was taken directly from the blog "Naked Capitalism" -- follow link to original -- and bookmark for future use.

Monday, June 21, 2010
Guest Post: Oil Coating Seafloor and Killing Fish, Crabs … and the American Dream

A two-inch layer of submerged oil is coating portions of the Gulf seafloor off the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge: a week after a smothering layer of floating crude washed ashore there. This scenario is being played out all along the Gulf shoreline.

Collecting in pockets and troughs in waist-deep water, the underwater oil is looser and stickier than the tarballs that cover the beach. The consistency is more like a thick liquid, albeit one made up of thousands of small globs. Unlike tarballs, which can often be picked up out of the water without staining the fingers, the submerged oil stains everything that it touches. If you passed your hand through the material it would emerge covered in oily smears.

There are a number of patches of submerged oil 40 to 100 feet off the beach, apparently collecting along rip currents and sandbars. The carcasses of sand fleas, speckled crabs, ghost crabs, and leopard crabs are spread throughout the oil, a thick layer of the material caking the bodies of the larger crabs – their claws looking as if they been turned into clubs made of oil.

Huge schools of bait fish are hugging the shore, attracting large numbers of birds. King mackerel, Spanish mackerel, mullet, ladyfish, speckled trout, and other fish are congregating in massive numbers amid the sharks.

The Dauphin Island Sea Lab measured large areas of low oxygen water just off the beach at Fort Morgan last week, beginning in water around 20 feet deep. Monty Graham, a University of South Alabama scientist, theorized that the population of oil-consuming microbes had swelled. Sea life begins to die if oxygen levels drop below 2 parts per million. “We saw some very low oxygen levels, some below 1,” said Graham, of testing he conducted aboard a Dauphin Island Sea Lab research vessel. He said that the layer of low-oxygen water closest to shore off Fort Morgan began at the bottom and rose up 30 feet.

Graham said he believed that the low oxygen levels were responsible for reports of strange behavior among fish: “The low oxygen explains things we’ve been hearing, like reports of flounder swimming on the surface.”

The low-oxygen levels offshore may also explain the dense aggregations of fish seen in the surf zone. The turbulent area near shore is naturally high in oxygen due to the influence of the breaking waves.

There are numerous reports that suggest that oil is moving beneath the surface in Alabama waters. State officials conducting shrimp trawls in the Mississippi Sound two weeks ago found oil on their nets when they pulled them. More recently, BP contractors working around Dauphin Island reported oil coming up on their anchors.

Gulf Coast Residents Hit Hard

It’s not just the sealife.

Gulf coast residents are being hit hard as well.

David Kotok of Cumberland Advisors estimates that one million jobs will be lost permanently in the Gulf coast oil services and supporting industries.

The House Judiciary Committee has found:

* As of … Tuesday, June 15th, BP had paid less than 12 percent ($71 million dollars out of an estimated $600 million) of outstanding claims submitted by individuals and businesses.

* Two weeks after the disaster, BP had not paid a single dollar to the individuals or businesses harmed by the explosion and the oil spill. As of May 18th (four weeks post-disaster), BP had only paid $11,673,616.

* In apparent response to congressional oversight and the efforts of the federal government, BP began increasing their payments to affected individuals and businesses in the past few weeks.

* Although the oil spill disaster occurred on April 20th, BP has only begun to compensate individuals for their full loss of income in the past two weeks. We understand individuals continue to experience delays in the receipt of full income awards.

* BP has not paid a single bodily injury claim. As of Friday, June 18th, there were 717 claims submitted for bodily injury, including claims for respiratory issues, headaches, and skin irritation.

* BP has not paid a single claim for the diminishment in value of homes in the affected areas of the Gulf South, out of a total 175 claims submitted.

* Out of the 267 claims submitted, BP has paid only $169,371 in loss of income claims for affected restaurants. However, the lack of data from BP on the damage amounts requested by the affected restaurants or the number of claims paid makes it impossible for the Committee to determine if restaurants and other Gulf Coast businesses are being properly compensated.

“I remain concerned that BP is stiffing too many victims and short-changing others,” [Committee Chairman John] Conyers said.

Reuters notes that BP is paying only a fraction of what the fishermen think they’re entitled to.

CNBC points out that BP is only paying fishermen one month’s pay – pegged to pay from their slowest season.

USA Today notes:

State officials in Louisiana and Florida say the payouts, so far, have been small and often too slow and that BP hasn’t given them the data they need to adequately monitor the process.

WDSU reports:

Some people claim the payout process is unorganized, and other said there is no system in place to account for how many days the fishermen have worked and no clear time frame for when they’ll see the money they’ve earned.

CBS notes:

Some businesses have been asked to file 1,700 pages of documents before they can get a check.

The L.A. Times notes that:

BP’s request for tax records poses a problem for some residents of fishing communities in southeastern Louisiana — the nonconformists who haven’t kept records or reported their cash income.

Time Magazine makes a similar point:

Fishing can bring in a lot of money in a very short period of time during the right season, but fishermen might be hard-pressed to provide evidence — bank statements, pay stubs — that can back that up. The same goes for many other businesses: if receipts are dwindling at a restaurant, or guests are cancelling at a resort, how is it possible to prove that the spill alone is responsible? “We’re stuck in the middle,” says Chris Camardelle, whose seafood restaurant in Grand Isle has been badly hurt by the oil spill. “So it’s a tricky situation.”

Jane Hamsher notes that fishermen harmed by the Exxon Valdez oil spill have had to wait 20 years to see any money, and – for many fishermen – all of that money was been swallowed up by government fees and taxes.

But as bad as it is for fishermen, it’s worse for everyone else. For example, AP notes:

BP PLC says 90 percent of the compensation checks it has issued so far have gone to fishermen.

Those who provide goods and services to fishermen are receiving next to no compensation.

Given that the oil spill is killing not only fish and crabs – but the American dream for millions of Gulf Coast fishermen, shrimpers, tourist industry workers and others – the image in the photograph above is very powerful indeed.

Once again -- go read Paul Krugman's blog - Conscience Of A Liberal

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Twin suicide car bombings in central Baghdad kill 26

I rarely put up anything about Iraq. After all, what more can be said -- and what good will it do? It seems we will stay in both Iraq and Afghanistan until our military disintegrates, and our nation does the same.

Yesterday there were articles in various newspapers about nightlife in Baghdad. Nightclubs, entertainment, etc. Today "Twin Car Bombs Kill 26" -- gee-whiz, I guess stuff and things are NOT back to normal , are they?

At least 26 people have been killed in a twin suicide car bombing close to a state-owned bank in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, officials have said.

More than 50 others were also hurt when the vehicles exploded simultaneously outside the Trade Bank of Iraq's headquarters in the Yarmouk district.

The blasts severely damaged the building and the nearby offices of an interior ministry identity-card centre.

There has been increased unrest in Iraq since March's parliamentary election.

The poll produced no outright winner, and a deal between the various parties to form a coalition government has not yet been reached.
Co-ordinated attacks

Baghdad security spokesman Maj-General Qassim al-Moussawi told the Reuters news agency that the two cars were packed with around 80kg (176lb) of explosives each, and were driven directly at the main gates of the Trade Bank.

The bombs were detonated simultaneously by the drivers shortly after 1100 (0800 GMT) when their vehicles struck the blast-walls protecting the building, he added.

Several security guards stationed outside the building were killed by the explosions. A bank employee said the death toll would have been worse had it not been for the blastwalls and the building's shatterproof glass.

At least two of the dead were police officers guarding the nearby interior ministry building, outside which a number of people were queuing to apply for identity cards at the start of the working week.

"I feel so sorry for what is happening to my country," Mahmoud Asi, a local resident who was wounded along with his wife in the attack, told Reuters. "All the bank's guards were killed."

The Trade Bank of Iraq is one of the public sector's most active financial institutions and at the forefront of efforts to encourage foreign investment.

The attack came just a week after gunmen wearing explosive belts attacked the Iraqi Central Bank, engaging security forces in a lengthy gun battle before blowing themselves up.

The BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad says it is not clear whether banks have now become the latest category of target for insurgents, though officials have speculated that they may be turning in that direction because their funds are running out.

However, the attack on the central bank was highly unusual and has left many question marks, our correspondent says.

Responsibility for it has apparently been taken by al-Qaeda's umbrella group in Iraq, but the main objective seems to have been to destroy records inside the bank, and there has been speculation that it may have been an attempt to cover up a huge money-laundering operation, he adds.

Overnight on Saturday, three roadside bombs exploded in the predominantly Shia district of Hurriya, killing at least two people and wounding 14.

Officials told Iraqi media that the first bomb went off on a main street. When locals gathered, the second bomb exploded, and when police came to the site, the third bomb was detonated.

Despite the recent attacks, correspondents say the general level of violence in the country remains far lower than it was at the height of the insurgency and sectarian conflict in 2006 and 2007.

Last Monday, the 325 members of the Council of Representatives were sworn in, but the session was immediately suspended until further notice to allow consultations on the election of a new speaker.

Our correspondent says the job is part of the mix in a wider division of powers that cannot be done until there is agreement on the other major components, most importantly who will be the next prime minister.

A lot of manoeuvring and wrangling will be needed to hammer out a power-sharing deal and the prediction is that it will take weeks, possibly months, he adds.

The political uncertainty threatens the planned end of US combat operations in August, ahead of a full withdrawal by the end of 2011.

This Week In Holy Crimes -- From Joe.My.God.

Follow link to original.

This Week In Holy Crimes

Over the last seven days...

Italy: Father Pierino Gelmini charged with molesting twelve underage boys.
Wisconsin: Pastor Travis Gandy arrested twice in one week for two separate sexual assaults on a children.
Florida: Imam Yasser Mohamed Shahade pleads guilty to child molestation.
Michigan: Four Christian activists arrested for disorderly conduct after attempting to convert Muslims at the International Arab Festival.
Michigan: Pastor Christopher Settlemoir charged with child molestation.
Texas: Pastor Hezekiah Stallworth charged with molesting a seven year-old girl. Stallworth reportedly lured young girls into his office with offers of candy. He is 75.
California: Pastor Melissa Huckaby sentenced to life in prison for murdering and sexually assaulting an eight year-old girl.
New Jersey: Rabbi Eliahu Ben Haim confesses to $1.5M money laundering scam.
Massachusetts: Pastor Simeon Stefanidakis charged with multiple felony counts of possessing child pornography.
New York: Televangelist Samuel Solanky pleads guilty to scamming $3M out of his followers via a phony gemstone business.
Israel: An unnamed rabbi has been arrested for the rapes of multiple underage females.
North Carolina: Pastor Robert Lee McQueen convicted on multiple felony counts of heroin distribution.
Ontario: Pastor Fred Hanson convicted of sexual exploitation of a minor.
Texas: Pastor Pastor Tracy Burleson charged with hiring his son to murder his wife. Both the pastor and his son were having a sexual affair with the same woman.
New York: Rabbi Baruch Lebovits accused of molesting more underage boys. Lebovits was sentenced to 10-32 years in prison for child molestation in April.
California: Cardinal Roger Mahoney didn't search for the victims of a confessed pedophile priest because they were only the children of "illegal aliens." Big deal.

This Week's Winner
Finland: Pastor Francois Bazaramba has been sentenced to life in prison for taking part in Rwanda's 1994 genocide of Tutsis. Finland had refused to extradite Bazaramba to Rwanda because he faced the death penalty there. Eyewitnesses told the court that Bazaramba had provided weapons and led gangs of Hutus in their killing spree

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Go read Paul Krugman's Blog -- Conscience Of A Liberal

Joe Barton and the Big Big Debate

This is lifted directly from the blog of Robert Reich. Please follow link to original, and newer posts.

Joe Barton and the Big Big Debate

Friday, June 18, 2010

Representative Joe Barton’s apology to Tony Hayward for what he termed a “shakedown” of BP by the White House in order to get BP’s agreement to a $20 billion escrow fund, was the best thing to happen to BP since April 20, and the best boost for the White House in months. What possessed Barton, the ranking Republican on Energy and Commerce?

Adding to the mystery is the fact that just four years ago, Barton, as the committee’s chair, excoriated BP’s top brass (who were then appearing before the Committee to explain the firm’s negligence in allowing 270,000 gallons of oil to spill on Alaska’s North Slope, the worst spill ever recorded in that fragile territory) for a “corporate culture of seeming indifference to safety and environmental issues … And this comes from a company that prides itself in their ads on protecting the environment. Shame, shame, shame.”

How did Barton go from BP as shameful villain to BP as shakedown victim? And how did he fail to sense the dimensions of the public’s outrage at BP this time around?

Is it because Barton is virtually owned by Texas oil money? This can’t explain Barton’s turnaround because he was owned by oil four years ago, too.

Is it old-fashioned partisan politics? Four years ago Republicans were in charge of Congress and the White House, and now Democrats are. But this can’t be the reason either because Barton’s bizarre apology to BP yesterday so embarrassed congressional Republicans they pushed him into retracting it hours later.

Stupidity? Barton was smart enough four years ago to deliver one of the most scathing criticisms of BP by any member of Congress. His “shame, shame, shame” line was repeated on the evening news and in the following day’s headlines.

I think something else is going on. Barton’s view that the White House overreached in forcing BP to put aside $20 billion has been voiced elsewhere in the netherworld of the Republican right, on Fox News, and among Tea Partiers.

Unlike four years ago, this country is now having the sharpest and most emotional debate it’s had in more than a century over a deceptively simple question: Which do you trust less – Big Business (including Wall Street) or Big Government?

The crash of Wall Street and subsequent Great Recession has impassioned both sides. The Street can’t be trusted because its recklessness almost wrecked the economy; big business can’t be trusted because it’s laid off millions of Americans with scant regard for their welfare.

On the other hand, government is on the loose because of the giant stimulus package; the yawning budget deficit and hair-raising national debt; the “takeovers” of General Motors, Chrysler, and AIG, along with the firings of several executives; and the huge health-care bill.

Until six months ago, the latter narrative, emanating from the Republican right, seemed to be winning the hearts and minds of an ever more angry electorate. Democrats (including the incumbent of the Oval Office) were reluctant to criticize Wall Street and Big Business with nearly the force and consistency of the Republican offensive against Big Government.

But then came the tidal wave of revelations about the rapacity of business. Investigators linked the near-meltdown of the Street to questionable accounting practices at several of the big banks. Goldman Sachs was shown to have been double-dealing with investors for its own profits.

Heath insurers, most notably WellPoint, yanked up their rates — thereby showing themselves to be less interested in the health care of Americans than their own bottom lines. A terrible mine explosion revealed the recklessness and indifference of one of America’s biggest mining companies, Massey Energy.

And now the worst environmental disaster in American history, courtesy of BP.

In light of all this, the “I trust Big Business (and Wall Street) more than I trust Big Government” story line seems bizarre to most Americans – as did Joe Barton’s apology to BP yesterday.

The political question of the moment is whether the Barton moment finally convinces the President and Democratic leaders it’s safe to fully embrace the other story line. The problem for many of them, of course, is that a large percent of their campaign money is coming from big business and Wall Street.

But fundamentally, the debate is absurd.

It’s not the purpose of the private sector to protect the public. Companies like Goldman Sachs, Massey Energy, WellPoint, and BP will do everything they can to make money. They owe allegiance to their shareholders. Hopefully along the way they also make great products and provide terrific services. If the market is competitive, both consumers and investors gain.

The purpose of government is to protect and enhance the well-being of Americans. Its job is to protect the public from corporate excesses — enacting laws that bar certain actions that may hurt or endanger the public, and fully enforcing those laws.

We get into trouble when the two sets of responsibilities are confused – when big business and Wall Street spend vast amounts of money trying to influence government, and when government officials (including the officials of regulatory agencies) pull their punches because they’re aiming for lucrative jobs in the private sector.

The real challenge of our time has nothing to do with whether one trusts Big Business and Wall Street more or less than Big Government. The challenge is to keep the two apart, each focused on what they’re supposed to be doing. (That’s why, for example, I still think it unwise to have BP run the operation to plug the hole in the bottom of the Gulf.)

Friday, June 18, 2010


Sorry to be so late with this. At 7:00 PM CDT nothing had been posted as having failed. I had dinner, watched The Yankees lose in a wretched fashion to the N.Y. Mets (BOO! HISS!), finally came back to the computer and discovered we DID have a bank failure today. So, here goes

Press Releases
Umpqua Bank, Roseburg, Oregon, Assumes All of the Deposits of Nevada Security Bank, Reno, Nevada

June 18, 2010
Media Contact:
Greg Hernandez (202) 898-6984
Cell: (202) 340-4922

Nevada Security Bank, Reno, Nevada, was closed today by the Nevada Financial Institutions Division, which appointed the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) as receiver. To protect the depositors, the FDIC entered into a purchase and assumption agreement with Umpqua Bank, Roseburg, Oregon, to assume all of the deposits of Nevada Security Bank.

The five branches of Nevada Security Bank will reopen on Monday as branches of Umpqua Bank. Depositors of Nevada Security Bank will automatically become depositors of Umpqua Bank. Deposits will continue to be insured by the FDIC, so there is no need for customers to change their banking relationship in order to retain their deposit insurance coverage. Customers of Nevada Security Bank should continue to use their existing branch until they receive notice from Umpqua Bank that it has completed systems changes to allow other Umpqua Bank branches to process their accounts as well.

This evening and over the weekend, depositors of Nevada Security Bank can access their money by writing checks or using ATM or debit cards. Checks drawn on the bank will continue to be processed. Loan customers should continue to make their payments as usual.

As of March 31, 2010, Nevada Security Bank had approximately $480.3 million in total assets and $479.8 million in total deposits. Umpqua Bank did not pay the FDIC a premium for the deposits of Nevada Security Bank. In addition to assuming all of the deposits of the failed bank, Umpqua Bank agreed to purchase essentially all of the assets.

The FDIC and Umpqua Bank entered into a loss-share transaction on $368.2 million of Nevada Security Bank's assets. Umpqua Bank will share in the losses on the asset pools covered under the loss-share agreement. The loss-share transaction is projected to maximize returns on the assets covered by keeping them in the private sector. The transaction also is expected to minimize disruptions for loan customers. For more information on loss share, please visit:

Customers who have questions about today's transaction can call the FDIC toll-free at 1-800-356-1848. The phone number will be operational this evening until 9:00 p.m., Pacific Daylight Time (PDT); on Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., PDT; on Sunday from noon to 6:00 p.m., PDT; and thereafter from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., PDT. Interested parties also can visit the FDIC's Web site at

The FDIC estimates that the cost to the Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF) will be $80.9 million. Compared to other alternatives, Umpqua Bank's acquisition was the "least costly" resolution for the FDIC's DIF. Nevada Security Bank is the 83rd FDIC-insured institution to fail in the nation this year, and the third in Nevada. The last FDIC-insured institution closed in the state was Sun West Bank, Las Vegas, on May 28, 2010.

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