News ArticlesExcerpts of Key News Articles in Major Media
By almost any measure, 2008 was a complete disaster for Wall Street — except, that is, when the bonuses arrived. Despite crippling losses, multibillion-dollar bailouts and the passing of some of the most prominent names in the business, employees at financial companies in New York, the now-diminished world capital of capital, collected an estimated $18.4 billion in bonuses for the year. That was the sixth-largest haul on record, according to a report released Wednesday by the New York State comptroller. Some bankers took home millions last year even as their employers lost billions. The comptroller’s estimate, a closely watched guidepost of the annual December-January bonus season, is based largely on personal income tax collections. It excludes stock option awards that could push the figures even higher. The state comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli, said it was unclear if banks had used taxpayer money for the bonuses, a possibility that strikes corporate governance experts, and indeed many ordinary Americans, as outrageous. He urged the Obama administration to examine the issue closely. “The issue of transparency is a significant one, and there needs to be an accounting about whether there was any taxpayer money used to pay bonuses or to pay for corporate jets or dividends or anything else,” Mr. DiNapoli said in an interview.
Note: For many reports from reliable sources on the realities of the Wall Street bailout, click here.
Every patriot should be concerned about the intensifying efforts to supplant democracy with something far more authoritarian. Call it American czarism. Czars - i.e., policymakers granted extralegal, cross-agency powers - have become increasingly prevalent in our government over the past century. Until now, this slow lurch toward czarism has primarily reflected the ancient, almost innate human desire for power and paternalistic leadership. In recent years, this culture of "presidentialism," as Vanderbilt Professor Dana Nelson calls it, has justified the Patriot Act, warrantless wiretaps and a radical theory of the "unitary executive" that aims to provide a jurisprudential rationale for total White House supremacy over all government. But only in the past three months has American czarism metastasized from a troubling slow-growth tumor to a potentially deadly cancer. In October, Congress relinquished its most basic oversight powers and gave Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson sole authority to dole out billions of bailout dollars to Wall Street. At the same time, it did nothing when Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke used fiats to commit $5 trillion worth of new money, loan guarantees and loosened lending requirements ... all while he refused to tell the public who is receiving the largesse. Indeed, the Economist magazine's prediction that the "economic crisis may increase the attractiveness of the Chinese model of authoritarian capitalism" is coming true right here at home, as we seem ever more intent on replicating - rather than resisting - that model.
Note: For many revealing reports on the realities underlying the Wall Street bailout, click here.
Bernie Madoff's investment fund may never have executed a single trade, industry officials say, suggesting detailed statements mailed to investors each month may have been an elaborate mirage in a $50 billion fraud. An industry-run regulator for brokerage firms said ... there was no record of Madoff's investment fund placing trades through his brokerage operation. That means Madoff either placed trades through other brokerage firms, a move industry officials consider unlikely, or he was not executing trades at all. 'Our exams showed no evidence of trading on behalf of the investment advisor, no evidence of any customer statements being generated by the broker-dealer,' said Herb Perone, spokesman for the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. Each month, Madoff sent out elaborate statements of trades conducted by his broker-dealer. There also appear to be discrepancies between monthly statements sent to investors and the actual prices at which the stocks traded on Wall Street. To some, the numbers did not add up. About 10 years ago, Harry Markopolos, then chief investment officer at Rampart Investment Management Co in Boston, asked risk management consultant Daniel diBartolomeo to run Madoff's numbers after Markopolos tried to emulate Madoff's strategy. DiBartolomeo ran regression analyses and various calculations, but failed to reconcile them. For a decade, Markopolos raised the issue with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which has come under fire in Congress in recent weeks for failing to act on Markopolos's warnings.
Note: For lots more on corporate corruption from reliable, verifiable sources, click here.
[On January 8] Lasantha Wickramatunga, who was fifty-two years old and the editor of a Sri Lankan newspaper called The Sunday Leader, was assassinated on his way to work by two gunmen riding motorcycles. The Leader's investigative reporting had been fiercely critical of the government and of the conduct of its war against Tamil separatists; Wickramatunga had been attacked before. He knew that he was likely to be murdered and so he wrote an essay with instructions that it be published only after his own death. Read it in full below: "No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism. In the course of the past few years, the independent media have increasingly come under attack. Electronic and print-media institutions have been burnt, bombed, sealed and coerced. Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed. It has been my honor to belong to all those categories and now especially the last. We find ourselves in the midst of a civil war ruthlessly prosecuted by protagonists whose bloodlust knows no bounds. Terror, whether perpetrated by terrorists or the state, has become the order of the day. Indeed, murder has become the primary tool whereby the state seeks to control the organs of liberty. Today it is the journalists, tomorrow it will be the judges. For neither group have the risks ever been higher or the stakes lower.
Note: Click on the link above to read this deeply moving letter from a martyr for truth in its entirety.
Three days after the world learned that $50 billion may have disappeared in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, The Times led its front page of Dec. 14 with the revelation of another $50 billion rip-off. This time the vanished loot belonged to American taxpayers. That was our collective contribution to the $117 billion spent (as of mid-2008) on Iraq reconstruction — a sinkhole of corruption, cronyism, incompetence and outright theft that epitomized Bush management at home and abroad. The source for this news was a near-final draft of an as-yet-unpublished 513-page federal history of this nation-building fiasco. The document was assembled by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction — led by a Bush appointee, no less. It pinpoints, among other transgressions, a governmental Ponzi scheme concocted to bamboozle Americans into believing they were accruing steady dividends on their investment in a “new” Iraq. The $50 billion ... pales next to other sums that remain unaccounted for in the Bush era, from the $345 billion in lost tax revenue due to unpoliced offshore corporate tax havens to the far-from-transparent disposition of some $350 billion in Wall Street bailout money. In the old Pat Moynihan phrase, the Bush years have “defined deviancy down” in terms of how low a standard of ethical behavior we now tolerate as the norm from public officials.
Middle East observers felt a sense of deja vu Tuesday as Israeli tank shells slammed into a U.N. school near Gaza City, killing at least 30 Palestinians who had taken refuge there from the war raging around their homes. In 1982, a massacre carried out by a Christian militia group at the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps killed hundreds of Palestinians; the camps had been under Israeli control. In 1996, there were 118 people killed at a U.N. compound by Israeli artillery in the town of Qana, and in 2006, an Israeli air strike killed 56 in an apartment complex in the same town. All three events spelled the beginning of the end of Israeli campaigns into Lebanon. Until now, the international community - including Egypt - has given Israel a long leash to strike a heavy blow against Hamas. But with the shelling of the U.N. school in the northern Gaza town of Jebaliya on Tuesday, the clock might start ticking for Israel to withdraw its troops. Dr. Bassam Abu Warda, director of Kamal Adwan Hospital, told reporters that 36 people were killed in the strike on the school. The United Nations confirmed that 30 were killed and 55 injured by tank shells. Gerald Steinberg, professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, said the strike against the U.N. school and ensuing diplomatic pressure it could create were not only foreseen but discussed in advance by Israeli policymakers. "There were many meetings on how to deal with this before the fighting started. It happens every time," said Steinberg.
Note: For many revealing reports on the realities of war from reliable sources, click here.
The deep river of private money that helped knit together the global economy has abruptly dried up, new government figures show. As the global financial crisis grew more severe this summer, foreigners sold almost $90 billion of U.S. securities — the greatest quarterly fire sale by overseas investors since the government began keeping track in 1960. U.S. investors also are retrenching; they unloaded about $85 billion worth of foreign holdings in the quarter, says the Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis. "We've had a global panic. Everyone is pulling their money home," says economist Adam Posen of the Peterson Institute in Washington, D.C. That's bad for economic growth in the U.S. because it threatens to starve capital-hungry companies and entrepreneurs. But it's especially serious for emerging-market countries that rely heavily on outside financing. Capital flows into countries such as South Korea, Turkey and Brazil were evaporating even before the mid-September Lehman Bros. bankruptcy made things worse. The reversal of private capital flows signals an abrupt end to a nearly two-decades-long era of financial globalization, says economist Brad Setser of the Council on Foreign Relations. Private flows into and out of the U.S. for purchases of stocks, corporate bonds and federal agency bonds have dropped from around 18% of economic output to near zero "in a remarkably short period of time," Setser says.
Note: For many revealing reports on the realities of the Wall Street bailout, click here.
The Maryland State Police surveillance of advocacy groups was far more extensive than previously acknowledged, with records showing that troopers monitored -- and labeled as terrorists -- activists devoted to such wide-ranging causes as promoting human rights and establishing bike lanes. Intelligence officers created a voluminous file on Norfolk-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, calling the group a "security threat" because of concerns that members would disrupt the circus. Angry consumers fighting a 72 percent electricity rate increase in 2006 were targeted. The DC Anti-War Network, which opposes the Iraq war, was designated a white supremacist group, without explanation. One of the possible "crimes" in the file police opened on Amnesty International, a world-renowned human rights group: "civil rights." The [surveillance] ... confirmed the fears of civil liberties groups that have warned about domestic spying since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. "No one was thinking this was al-Qaeda," said Stephen H. Sachs, a former U.S. attorney and state attorney general appointed by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) to review the case. "But 9/11 created an atmosphere where cutting corners was easier." Maryland has not been alone. The FBI and police departments in several cities, including Denver in 2002 and New York before the 2004 Republican National Convention, also responded to [dissent] by spying on activists.
Note: For wide coverage from reliable sources of disturbing threats to civil liberties, click here.
The University of Utah student who foiled a federal oil and gas lease auction the Friday before Christmas hopes he can buy time for Utah's scenic redrock desert - and himself - until the Bush administration is out the door. Tim DeChristopher announced Wednesday afternoon that he would pay the U.S. Bureau of Land Management $45,000 to hold the 13 lease parcels he won in a Dec. 19 sale. The 27-year-old economics major faces possible federal felony charges after winning bids totaling about $1.8 million on 13 lease parcels that he admitted he had neither the intention nor the money to pay for. But since committing what he called an act of civil disobedience, DeChristopher has heard from hundreds of individuals around the country willing to chip in to keep drill rigs off the land and DeChristopher out of prison. So far, would-be benefactors have pledged $14,000, he said. The amount is based on a percentage of the $1.8 million; the agency requires such payments of all bidders to hold their parcels. Three Web sites have been set up to take pledges: www.wateradvocacy.org, www.oneutah.org, [and] www.bidder70.org. The 13 bids [DeChristopher] won by raising his auction paddle were on 22,000 acres of land near Arches and Canyonlands national parks. [He] admitted he ran up other bids by about $500,000 and said he would be willing to go to jail to defend his generation's prospects in light of global climate disruption and other environmental threats.
Mystery surrounds the death of a Republican pollster, recently compelled to give evidence about alleged election fraud in the 2004 election in Ohio, after he was killed in a plane crash. Top internet strategist Michael Connell, 45, was the only person in his single-engine private plane that crashed three miles short of the Akron-Canton airport on Friday night as he prepared to land. He had worked on Mr Bush's two presidential campaigns, advised John McCain this year and was also linked to allegedly missing White House emails in the 2006 controversy over a string of firings of US attorneys. The death of the married father of four immediately triggered conspiracy theories amid speculation that he had been about to reveal embarrassing details of the complicity of senior members of the Bush administration in fixing an election and destroying incriminating emails. In a blog posting entitled "One of my sources died in a plane crash last night...", Larisa Alexandrovna of The Raw Story revealed that Mr Connell had been talking to her about the Ohio case alleging that vote-tampering during the 2004 presidential election resulted in civil rights violations. "Mike was getting ready to talk. He was frightened... I am not saying that this was a hit nor am I resigned to this being simply an accident either. I am no expert on aviation and cannot provide an opinion on the matter. What I am saying, however, is that given the context, this event needs to be examined carefully."
Important Note: This death becomes even stranger considering that attorneys had sought protection for Connell against threats from Karl Rove in late July (click here). He also was apparently warned not to fly.
George S. Patton, America's greatest combat general of the Second World War, was assassinated after the conflict with the connivance of US leaders, according to a new book. The newly unearthed diaries of a colourful assassin for the wartime Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of the CIA, reveal that American spy chiefs wanted Patton dead because he was threatening to expose allied collusion with the Russians that cost American lives. The death of General Patton in December 1945, is one of the enduring mysteries of the war era. Although he had suffered serious injuries in a car crash in Manheim, he was thought to be recovering and was on the verge of flying home. But after a decade-long investigation, military historian Robert Wilcox claims that OSS head General "Wild Bill" Donovan ordered a highly decorated marksman [named] Douglas Bazata to silence Patton. His book, Target: Patton: The Plot to Assassinate General George S. Patton, contains interviews with Mr Bazata, who died in 1999, and extracts from his diaries, detailing how he staged the car crash by getting a troop truck to plough into Patton's Cadillac and then shot the general with a low-velocity projectile, which broke his neck while his fellow passengers escaped without a scratch. Mr Wilcox told The Sunday Telegraph that when he spoke to Mr Bazata: "He was struggling with himself, all these killings he had done. He confessed to me that he had caused the accident, that he was ordered to do so by Wild Bill Donovan."
Note: For key insights from reliable, verifiable sources into assassination as a political tool, click here.
The Food and Drug Administration, criticized by its own scientific advisers for ignoring available data about health risks posed by a chemical found in everyday plastic, said yesterday it has no plans to amend its position on the substance but will continue to study it. The agency has been reviewing its risk assessments for bisphenol A, a chemical used to harden plastic that is found in a wide variety of products, from baby bottles to compact discs to the lining of canned goods. The chemical, commonly called BPA, mimics estrogen and may disrupt the body's carefully calibrated endocrine system. Over the past decade, more than 130 studies have linked BPA to breast cancer, obesity, diabetes, neurological problems and other disorders. Much of the new research suggests that BPA has an effect at very low doses -- lower than the current safety standard set by the FDA. The most prominent finding was by the National Toxicology Program, part of the National Institutes of Health, which reported that there is "some concern" that BPA may affect the brain and behavioral development of fetuses, infants and young children. In October, the FDA was faulted by its own panel of independent science advisers, who said the agency's position on BPA was scientifically flawed. Yesterday, Laura Tarantino, director of the FDA's Office of Food Additive Safety, said the FDA will respond to that recommendation by performing additional analysis. She said she did not know if it would last months or years. "I can't tell you when we will finalize this," she said.
Note: For important new results in health research from reliable sources, click here.
A bipartisan panel of senators has concluded that former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other top Bush administration officials bear direct responsibility for the harsh treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and that their decisions led to more serious abuses in Iraq and elsewhere. In the most comprehensive critique by Congress of the military's interrogation practices, the Senate Armed Services Committee issued a report yesterday that accuses Rumsfeld and his deputies of being the authors and chief promoters of harsh interrogation policies that disgraced the nation and undermined U.S. security. "The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of 'a few bad apples' acting on their own," the report states. "The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees." Human rights and constitutional law organizations have urged further action, ranging from an independent commission to prosecutions of those involved in authorizing the interrogations. Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has helped defend detainees at Guantanamo, said the committee report is valuable because "it's official, it's bipartisan. It's open and explicit, going right to Rumsfeld and having Rice involved," Ratner said. "It breaks new ground in saying that the [torture] techniques basically don't work . . . that they're actually designed to elicit false confessions."
To friends in the protest movement, Lucy was an eager 20-something who attended their events and sent encouraging e-mails to support their causes. Only one thing seemed strange. "At one demonstration, I remember her showing up with a laptop computer and typing away," said Mike Stark, who helped lead the anti-death-penalty march in Baltimore that day. "We all thought that was odd." Not really. The woman was an undercover Maryland State Police trooper who between 2005 and 2007 infiltrated more than two dozen rallies and meetings of nonviolent groups. Maryland officials now concede that, based on information gathered by "Lucy" and others, state police wrongly listed at least 53 Americans as terrorists in a criminal intelligence database -- and shared some information about them with half a dozen state and federal agencies, including the National Security Agency. Among those labeled as terrorists: two Catholic nuns, a former Democratic congressional candidate, a lifelong pacifist and a registered lobbyist. One suspect's file warned that she was "involved in puppet making and allows anarchists to utilize her property for meetings." "There wasn't a scintilla of illegal activity" going on, said David Rocah, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a lawsuit and in July obtained the first surveillance files. State police have released other heavily redacted documents. Investigators, the files show, targeted groups that advocated against abortion, global warming, nuclear arms, military recruiting in high schools and biodefense research, among other issues.
Note: For lots more on increasing threats to civil liberties, click here.
Take a walk down the street or through the park and you'll see them – people of all ages toting bottles of water. Last year, Americans drank nine billion gallons out of those little plastic bottles. Sure, it's healthier than soda, but all that plastic is just as bad for the environment, creating an estimated 1.5 million tons of waste each year. So, more and more places are banning bottled water. Washington University in St. Louis will end almost all sales by the end of this semester. San Francisco declared it a no-no in city offices last year. Other local governments may do the same. Some brands, including Coca-Cola's Dasani and Pepsi's Aquafina, come from the tap – and supporters of these measures argue you're better off just filling a reusable container at the water fountain for free. A cheap, calorie-free alternative that doesn't hurt the environment. Now, I'll drink to that.
Neuroscientists have shown that they can [create] a “body swapping” illusion that could have a profound effect on a range of therapeutic techniques. At the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience last month, Swedish researchers presented evidence that the brain, when tricked by optical and sensory illusions, can quickly adopt any other human form, no matter how different, as its own. “You can see the possibilities, putting a male in a female body, young in old, white in black and vice versa,” said Dr. Henrik Ehrsson of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. The technique is simple. A subject stands or sits opposite the scientist, as if engaged in an interview. Both are wearing headsets, with special goggles, the scientist’s containing small film cameras. The goggles are rigged so the subject sees what the scientist sees: to the right and left are the scientist’s arms, and below is the scientist’s body. To add a physical element, the researchers have each person squeeze the other’s hand, as if in a handshake. Now the subject can see and “feel” the new body. In a matter of seconds, the illusion is complete. In a series of studies, using mannequins and stroking both bodies’ bellies simultaneously, the Karolinska researchers have found that men and women say they not only feel they have taken on the new body, but also unconsciously cringe when it is poked or threatened. In previous work, neuroscientists have induced various kinds of out-of-body experiences using similar techniques. The brain is so easily tricked, they say, precisely because it has spent a lifetime in its own body.
The U.S. credit-card industry may pull back well over $2 trillion of lines over the next 18 months due to risk aversion and regulatory changes, leading to sharp declines in consumer spending, prominent banking analyst Meredith Whitney said. The credit card is the second key source of consumer liquidity, the first being jobs, the Oppenheimer & Co analyst noted. "In other words, we expect available consumer liquidity in the form of credit-card lines to decline by 45 percent." Closing millions of accounts, cutting credit lines and raising interest rates are just some of the moves credit card issuers are using to try to inoculate themselves from a tsunami of expected consumer defaults. A consolidated U.S. lending market that is pulling back on credit is also posing a risk to the overall consumer liquidity, Whitney said. Mortgages and credit cards are now dominated by five players who are all pulling back liquidity, making reductions in consumer liquidity seem unavoidable, she said. "We are now beginning to see evidence of broad-based declines in overall consumer liquidity. Already, we have witnessed the entire mortgage market hit a wall, and we believe it will, for the first time ever, show actual shrinkage over the next few months," she wrote. "In a country that offers hundreds of cereal and soda pop choices, the banking industry has become one that offers very few choices", Whitney wrote in a note dated November 30. "Pulling credit when job losses are increasing by over 50 percent year-over-year in most key states is a dangerous and unprecedented combination, in our view," the analyst said.
Note: This article, in pointing out that the banking industry offers few choices for consumers, fails to mention that the industry is rapidly becoming extremely concentrated, with major bank failures and takeovers accelerating due to the financial crisis on Wall Street. And the bailout from the Fed and Treasury has encouraged this concentration through huge tax breaks and risk protections. For many revealing reports on the Wall Street bailout from reliable sources, click here.
Over sandwiches and pizza, a group of high school students here debated the pros and cons of combating poverty in five desperate nations. They scrolled through Web sites, analyzed statistics and considered how much they knew about the economy, language and culture of each country. This was no mere academic exercise. The students, at the Meadows School, have real decisions to make and, they hope, real people to rescue. By the time they scattered after their lunch period, the group had deferred until next month the decision on where to spend the $25,000 they had raised, but seemed to be leaning toward Peru. That may seem like a lot of money for a student group, but it was the entry fee for the school to become investors in Pro Mujer, a nonprofit lending institution based in New York that issues small loans to poor women in foreign countries to use for buying tools to start or expand small businesses. In raising the money and investing it with Pro Mujer, the Meadows School is by all accounts the first high school to operate a microbank. The founder of the Meadows Microcredit Action Group, Justin Blau, 17, and its faculty adviser, Kirk Knutsen, have bigger plans for their endeavor. Pro Mujer will mete out the $25,000 to recipients in the country the students select and return to the school both regular status reports as well as a modest amount of earned interest. The group plans to use that interest and other money raised locally to invest in smaller, more specific projects through Kiva, another microfinance lender, with no minimum entry requirement.
Note: For lots more on the exciting, amazingly successful microlending movement, click here.
UFO enthusiasts are pressing Barack Obama to release classified documents about sightings of alien spacecraft, encouraged by support from within the President-Elect's own White House team. Desperate to see the US emulate the British Government and disclose reported "contact" with UFOs, the enthusiasts have written to Mr Obama to ask that his administration [come] clean about the contents of America's "X-Files". They believe they have good prospects of success after public statements of support from both John Podesta, who is running Mr Obama's White House transition team, and Bill Richardson, the Governor of New Mexico ... who is expected to secure a cabinet post. When he was the White House chief of staff under Bill Clinton, Mr Podesta led a project to declassify 800 million pages of intelligence documents. Gov Richardson, a former presidential candidate and fellow UFO aficionado, has written a forward to a book on the so-called Roswell Incident in New Mexico. He has called for full disclosure by the Pentagon of what really occurred. Only last week a US Air Force pilot, Milton Torres, whose testimony was released from the British archives, appeared on US television explaining how he was ordered to shoot down a large UFO over the UK in 1957 and then silenced by military officials, who told him never to speak of the incident.
Note: Podesta has also publicly called for a release of UFO records for years, alleging a cover-up. See the CNN article reporting this available here. For a concise summary of evidence on UFO sightings presented by highly-respected former military and government professionals, click here.
With its decision last week to pump an additional $1 trillion into the financial crisis, the government eliminated any doubt that [it has] no hesitation in pledging to spend previously almost unimaginable sums of money and running up federal budget deficits on a scale not seen since World War II. Indeed, analysts warn that the nation's next financial crisis could come from the staggering cost of battling the current one. Just last week, new initiatives added $600 billion to lower mortgage rates, $200 billion to stimulate consumer loans and nearly $300 billion to steady Citigroup, the banking conglomerate. That pushed the potential long-term cost of the government's varied economic rescue initiatives, including direct loans and loan guarantees, to an estimated total of $8.5 trillion -- half of the entire economic output of the U.S. this year. The spending already has had a dramatic effect on the federal budget deficit, which soared to a record $455 billion last year and began the 2009 fiscal year with an amazing $237-billion deficit for October alone. Analysts say next year's budget deficit could easily bust the $1-trillion barrier. "I didn't think we'd see that for a long time," said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. "There's a huge risk of another economic crisis, a debt crisis, once we get on the other side of this one." Once the financial crisis eases, higher interest rates and soaring inflation will be risks.
Note: For many revealing reports on the Wall Street bailout from reliable sources, click here.
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