1. US Congress Sells Out to Wall Street (For full story, click here)
Americans get the best democracy money can buy, money coming more than ever today from Wall Street. Since 2001, eight of the most troubled financial firms have donated $64.2 million to congressional candidates, presidential candidates and the Republican and Democratic parties. Is it surprising how much they control them? Influential House and Senate finance and banking committee members got $5.2 million from bailout recipients like Goldman Sachs, Citibank, AIG, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and others. In the last election cycle, Obama received at least $4.3 million from the same institutions. From 1998 - 2007, financial and banking companies spent $1.7 billion on federal campaign contributions and another $3.4 billion on lobbyists. In 1999, the Glass-Steagall Act was gutted – the landmark 1933 law that prevented banks from getting into the insurance business. In January 2000, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act legitimized swap agreements and other hybrid instruments, at the core of today's problems, by preventing regulatory oversight of derivatives and leveraging, thus letting Wall Street legally pillage and speculate. The result was a financial coup d'etat cementing the gradual takeover of the government by a small class of connected insiders who choose candidates, control elections, weaken financial regulations, and basically run the country for their own self-interest. As a result, Washington today has become largely a subsidiary of the Wall Street financial giants.
Sources: Truthout/McClatchy, Oct. 2, 2008, “Lax Oversight? Maybe $64 Million to DC Pols Explains It,” by Greg Gordon. Rolling Stone, Mar. 19, 2009, “The Big Takeover,” by Matt Taibbi. OpenSecrets.org, Feb. 10, 2009, “Congressmen Hear from TARP Recipients Who Funded Their Campaigns,” by Lindsay Renick Mayer.
2. US Schools Are More Segregated Today than in the 1950s (For full story, click here)
According to a UCLA Civil Rights report, "schools in the US are 44 percent non-white, and ... Latinos and blacks, the two largest minority groups, attend schools more segregated today than during the civil rights movement forty years ago." The result is: unequal education which denies disadvantaged youths access to college and better jobs; growing numbers of these youths becoming "virtually unemployable" for anything more than menial labor or the military; greater vulnerability to future poverty, poor health, gangs, crime, and prolonged incarceration in America's vast prison/industrial complex. The report stresses the need for "leaders who recognize that we have a common destiny in an America where our children grow up together, knowing and respecting each other, and are all given the educational tools that prepare them for success in our society." The UCLA Civil Rights Study shows that most severe segregation in public schools is in the Western states, including California – not in the South, as many people believe. Eighty-five percent of the nation’s teachers are white, and little progress is being made toward diversifying the nation’s teaching force.
Source : The Civil Rights Project, UCLA, January 2009, “Reviving the Goal of an Integrated Society: A 21st Century Challenge,” by Gary Orfield.
3. Toxic Waste Behind Somali Pirates (For full story, click here)
The international community has come out in force to condemn and declare war on the Somali fishermen pirates, while discreetly protecting the illegal, unreported and unregulated fleets from around the world that have been poaching and dumping toxic waste in Somali waters since the fall of the Somali government eighteen years ago. Foreign interests have been using hundreds of vessels to loot the country's food supply, according to the High Seas Task Force (HSTF), stealing "an estimated $450 million in seafood from Somali waters annually" and ruining the livelihoods of Somali fishermen. Somalia has also been used as a dumping ground for hazardous waste starting in the early 1990s, and continuing through the civil war there. Instead of rectifying the problem, the UN passed "aggressive resolutions that entitle and encourage transgressors to wage war on Somali pirates." NATO, the EU, and other countries issued similar orders. Some say that the acts of piracy may actually be born of desperation. What is one man’s pirate may be another man’s Coast Guard.
Sources: UK's Independent, January 5, 2009, “You are being lied to about pirates,” by Johann Hari. Al Jazeera English, October 11, 2008, “Toxic waste behind Somali piracy,” by Najad Abdullahi. WardheerNews, January 8, 2009, “The Two Piracies in Somalia: Why the World Ignores the Other,” by Mohamed Abshir Waldo.
4. Nuclear Waste Pools in North Carolina (For full story, click here)
North Carolina's Shearon Harris nuclear plant contains the largest radioactive waste storage pools in the country. If the cooling system malfunctions, the resulting fire would be virtually unquenchable and could trigger a nuclear meltdown. Between 1999 and 2003, there were twelve major problems requiring the shutdown of the plant. In 2002, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) put the plant on notice for nine unresolved safety issues detected. When the NRC returned to the plant a few months later, it determined that the corrective actions were “not acceptable.” Between January and July of 2002, Harris plant managers were forced to manually shut down the reactors four times. Problems at Shearon Harris continue with chilling regularity. Yet the NRC ignores the potential risks. A recent study by Brookhaven Labs estimates that a pool fire could cause 140,000 cancers, contaminate thousands of square miles of land, and cause over $500 billion in off-site property damage. The plant is a nuclear time bomb, and millions in the region are at risk.
Source: CounterPunch, August 9, 2008, “Pools of Fire,” by Jeffrey St. Clair.
5. Europe Blocks US Toxic Products (For full story, click here)
Unlike in America, European countries are moving toward a model of insisting on environmental and consumer safety that requires assessing thousands of chemicals for their potential toxic effects. New regulations will mandate that companies seeking market access eliminate toxic substances and produce safer electronics, automobiles, toys and cosmetics. Without compliance henceforth, the products of hundreds of US companies may be excluded from European markets, and according to Mark Schapiro, author of Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products, "only five percent of all chemicals in the US have undergone even minimal testing." Further, new EPA requirements consider the "costs to industry" in assessing threats to public health as a reason to side with industry and keep regulations minimal. The divergence between US and European regulation has made America the dumping ground for toxic toys, electronics and cosmetics. The US produces and consumes the toxic materials from which other countries around the world are protected.
Sources: Scientific American, Sep. 30, 2008, “European Chemical Clampdown Reaches Across Atlantic,” by David Biello. Environmental Defense Fund, Sep. 30, 2008, “How Europe’s New Chemical Rules Affect US.”
6. Lobbyists Buy Congress (For full story, click here)
In 2008, The Center for Responsive Politics reported that "special interests paid Washington lobbyists $3.2 billion in 2008," higher than any year on record and 13.7% more than 2007. That amounts to $17.4 million for each day Congress was in session, or $32,523 per legislator per day. Health interests spent the most for the third consecutive year, $478.5 million, followed by the FIRE sector (finance, insurance and real estate) at $453.5 million. It's a small investment yielding big returns for these and other industries, competing at the public trough for as much as they can get. The payoff is in the billions for some corporations, and for Wall Street trillions have been pledged, as well as interest free money from the banker-owned Federal Reserve.
Source:OpenSecrets.org, “Washington Lobbying Grew to $3.2 Billion Last Year, Despite Economy,” by Center for Responsive Politics.
7. Obama's Military Appointments Have Corrupted Pasts (For full story, click here)
After promising not to politicize intelligence and to keep lobbyists out of top government posts, Obama appointed many former lobbyists and board members of companies doing business directly with the Pentagon. He retained Robert Gates as Defense Secretary despite his history at CIA of having cooked the books for political reasons. According to Agency insiders who knew him, he "corrupted the intelligence product" to suit the White House and further his own self-interest. When Bush nominated him for CIA Director in 1991, a virtual insurrection among CIA analysts erupted over his penchant for having politicized intelligence. Independent counsel Lawrence Walsh states that, despite Gates' touted memory, he "denied recollection of facts thirty-three times." Obama's Deputy Defense Secretary, William Lynn, is just as tainted. The former Raytheon vice president and company lobbyist caused Republican Senator Charles Grassley to object to his "very questionable accounting practices" as Pentagon comptroller during the Clinton years. He and Obama's Undersecretary of Defense, Robert Hale, who served as Assistant Air Force Secretary Financial Comptroller under Clinton, are claimed to have lost enough taxpayer money to pay for Obama's stimulus plan four times over. They now again oversee DOD spending. The list goes on. Most of Obama's national security team is composed of recycled appointees committed to continued imperial wars and outlandish amounts of military spending for them.
Sources: The Hill, November 24, 2008, “Ties to Chevron, Boeing Raise Concern on Possible NSA Pick,” by Roxana Tiron. Truthout.org/Consortium News, November 13, 2008, “The Danger of Keeping Robert Gates,” by Robert Parry. Global Research, February 13, 2009, “Obama’s Defense Department Appointees - The 3.4 Trillion Dollar Question,” by Andrew Hughes.
8. Bailed Out Banks Cheat IRS Out of Billions (For full story, click here)
It's an old story. "Only the little people pay taxes," according to former tax cheat Leona Hemsley (1920 - 2007), and rarely does anyone like her get caught. In 2008, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that 83 of the top publicly held US companies have operations in tax havens like the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, and the Virgin Islands. 14 of these companies, including AIG, Bank of America, and Citigroup, received money from the government bailout. In addition, Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS) helped wealthy clients cheat the IRS out of over $20 billion in recent years, according to the Department of Justice. Other notorious tax havens include Austria, Luxembourg, Singapore, Hong Kong, Monaco, Gibraltar, and the Bahamas. In 2008, havens like these saved Goldman Sachs billions of dollars through "changes in (its) geographic earnings mix." For many other companies, it's much the same through legal provisions in the tax code. According to some estimates, trillions of dollars in both corporate profits and personal wealth have migrated offshore, and the offshore banking world now harbors $11.5 trillion in individual wealth alone.
Sources: Bloomberg, December 16, 2008, “Goldman Sachs’s Tax Rate Drops to 1% or $14 Million,” by Christine Harper. The Huffington Post, February 23, 2009, “Gimme Shelter: Tax Evasion and the Obama Administration,” by Thomas B. Edsall.
9. US Arms Used for War Crimes in Gaza (For full story, click here)
For decades, America has supplied Israel, population 7.5 million, with tens of billions in aid, interest-free loans, and the latest in new weapons and technology, including illegal white phosphorous shells used against Gazan civilians during Operation Cast Lead. In addition, Washington has supplied F-16 fighters, attack helicopters, tactical missiles, bunker-buster bombs, a wide variety of other munitions, and undisclosed new weapons for testing in real time combat situations against Palestinian or other Arab civilians. In Gaza, shell fragments revealed names of US defense contractors, including Raytheon. Another was marked the Pine Bluff Arsenal in Arkansas. In shocking support for Israel's questionable attacks, and in violation of international and US law, both Houses of Congress overwhelmingly endorsed the continued aggression. Obama stayed silent on the subject in the run-up to his January 20 inauguration.
Sources: Human Rights Watch, Mar. 25, 2009, “White Phosphorus Use Evidence of War Crimes Report,” Fred Abrahams. Guardian, Feb. 23, 2009, “Suspend Military Aid to Israel, Amnesty Urges Obama,” Rory McCarthy. Inter Press Service, Jan. 8, 2009, “US Weaponry Facilitates Killings in Gaza,” Thalif Deen. Consortium News, Jan. 18, 2009, “Is Israel’s Gaza War a New War Crime?” by Dennis Bernstein. Foreign Policy Journal, Jan. 09, 2009, “US Senate Endorses Israel’s War on Gaza,” by Jeremy R. Hammond.
10. Ecuador Declares Foreign Debt Illegitimate (Full story here)
In November 2008, Ecuador became the first country to undertake an examination of the legitimacy and structure of its foreign debt. In violation of Ecuadorian law, predatory international lenders were involved in hundreds of illegitimate irregularities. Billions in foreign debt at exorbitant interest rates resulted in debt service far exceeding the principal borrowed, and at a staggering human cost. In December, President Rafael Correa announced his country would default. In April 2009, he was re-elected overwhelmingly. Ecuador exposed the corrupted international finance system in a way that could set a precedent for the poorest of indebted countries. Correa asked other Latin American nations "to forge a united response, (and for) the United Nations to help develop international norms to regulate the foreign debt market." The April 2008 House passed Jubilee Act was a positive step forward. However, the Senate failed to pass its S. 2166 version, then cleared the legislation from its books. In June 2009, Ecuador agreed with 91% of its creditors to pay 35 cents on the dollar for its debt. Other countries may now follow suit, especially those most impacted by the global economic crisis.
Sources: Alternet, Nov. 26, 2008, “Ecuador Declares Foreign Debt Illegitimate and Illegal,” by Daniel Denvir. Utube, Fall 2008, “Invalid Loans to Ecuador: Who Owes Who,” by Committee for the Integral Audit of Public Credit. Institute for Policy Studies, Dec. 15, 2008, “Ecuador’s Debt Default,” by Neil Watkins, Sarah Anders.