No Change on Rendition, NSC Powers to Expand, Treasury Overpays for Toxic Assets
Revealing News Articles
February 14, 2009
Below are key excerpts of important news articles you may have missed. These articles include revealing information on the Obama administration's decision not to change the US government's position in lawsuits brought by victims of rendition, it's expansion of the powers and structure of the National Security Council (NSC), the Treasury Department's $78 billion overpayment to banks for near-worthless assets, and more. Each excerpt is taken verbatim from the major media website listed at the link provided. If any link fails to function, click here. Key sentences are highlighted for those with limited time. By choosing to educate ourselves and to spread the word, we can and will build a brighter future.
US Treasury overpaid $78 bln under TARP-watchdog
February 6, 2009, CNN News/Reuters
The U.S. Treasury looks to have overpaid financial institutions to the tune of $78 billion in carrying out capital injections last year, the head of a congressional oversight panel for the government's $700 billion bailout program told lawmakers. Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor, said her group estimated the Treasury paid $254 billion in 2008 in return for stocks and warrants worth about $176 billion under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. Warren said the Treasury, under then-Secretary Henry Paulson, misled the public about how it would price them. "Treasury simply did not do what it said it was doing ... They described the program one way, and they priced it another," Warren said at a hearing before the Senate Banking Committee. She added that Paulson "was not entirely candid" in describing TARP's bank capital injection program. Neil Barofsky, another watchdog for the TARP program, told the Senate committee his office is turning to criminal investigations. "That's going to be a large focus of my office," he said. Warren told the banking committee that after three months on the job, her panel is still not getting enough answers from Treasury. She described the bailout as "an opaque process at best." Barofsky raised concerns about potential fraud in one of several programs funded by bailout money -- the Federal Reserve's Term Asset-Backed Loan Facility (TALF).
Note: Was the overpayment by Treasury to Wall Street banks for nearly-worthless assets they created a mistake? Or was it the real, hidden purpose of TARP to pay the banks more for the assets than they are worth? For many revealing reports from reliable sources on the realities behind the Wall Street bailout, click here.
Pentagon sets sights on public opinion
February 5, 2009, MSNBC/Associated Press
The Pentagon is steadily and dramatically increasing the money it spends to win what it calls "the human terrain" of world public opinion. In the process, it is raising concerns of spreading propaganda at home in violation of federal law. An Associated Press investigation found that over the past five years, the money the military spends on winning hearts and minds at home and abroad has grown by 63 percent, to at least $4.7 billion this year, according to Department of Defense budgets and other documents. That's almost as much as it spent on body armor for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2004 and 2006. This year, the Pentagon will employ 27,000 people just for recruitment, advertising and public relations – almost as many as the total 30,000-person work force in the State Department. The biggest chunk of funds – about $1.6 billion – goes into recruitment and advertising. Another $547 million goes into public affairs, which reaches American audiences. And about $489 million more goes into what is known as psychological operations. Staffing across all these areas costs about $2.1 billion, as calculated by the number of full-time employees and the military's average cost per service member. That's double the staffing costs for 2003. Recruitment and advertising are the only two areas where Congress has authorized the military to influence the American public. Far more controversial is public affairs, because of the prohibition on propaganda to the American public.
Note: For more revealing reports from reliable sources on the realities of the wars in Afghanstan and Iraq, click here.
Under Obama, same stance on rendition suit
February 10, 2009, San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco's leading newspaper)
President Obama's Justice Department signaled in a San Francisco courtroom Monday that the change in administrations has not changed the government's position on secrecy and the rights of foreign prisoners - and that lawsuits by alleged victims of CIA kidnappings and torture must be dismissed on national security grounds. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ... is considering a suit accusing a San Jose company, Jeppesen Dataplan, of arranging so-called extraordinary rendition flights for the CIA. Although Obama has issued orders banning torture and closing secret CIA prisons, his administration has sent mixed signals on extraordinary rendition and the legitimacy of court challenges. Obama's nominee for CIA director, Leon Panetta, said last week that he approved of rendition for foreign prosecution or brief CIA detention. The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents five men suing Jeppesen for allegedly flying them to foreign torture chambers, said this case is the new administration's chance to live up to its promises. ACLU attorney Ben Wizner told the court that the supposedly ultra-secret rendition program is widely known. He noted that Sweden recently awarded $450,000 in damages to one of the plaintiffs, Ahmed Agiza, for helping the CIA transport him to Egypt, where he is still being held and allegedly has been tortured. "The notion that you have to close your eyes and ears to what the whole world knows is absurd," Wizner said.
Note: For lots more from major media sources on the disturbing trend toward ever-greater restrictions on civil liberties and due process, click here.
Obama's NSC Will Get New Power
February 8, 2009, Washington Post
President Obama plans to order a sweeping overhaul of the National Security Council, expanding its membership and increasing its authority to set strategy across a wide spectrum of international and domestic issues. The result will be a "dramatically different" NSC from that of the Bush administration or any of its predecessors since the forum was established after World War II ... according to national security adviser James L. Jones, who described the changes in an interview. Jones, a retired Marine general, made it clear that he will run the process and be the primary conduit of national security advice to Obama. The new structure ... will expand the NSC's reach far beyond the range of traditional foreign policy issues. New NSC directorates will deal with such department-spanning 21st-century issues as cybersecurity, energy, climate change, nation-building and infrastructure. Many of the functions of the Homeland Security Council, established as a separate White House entity by President Bush after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, may be subsumed into the expanded NSC, although it is still undetermined whether elements of the HSC will remain as a separate body within the White House. Over the next 50 days, John O. Brennan, a CIA veteran who serves as presidential adviser for counterterrorism and homeland security and is Jones's deputy, will review options for the homeland council, including its responsibility for preparing for and responding to natural and terrorism-related domestic disasters.
Goldman, JPMorgan Won't Feel Effects of Executive-Salary Caps
February 5, 2009, Bloomberg News
Executives at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and hundreds of financial institutions receiving federal aid aren't likely to be affected by pay restrictions announced yesterday by President Barack Obama. The rules, created in response to growing public anger about the record bonuses the financial industry doled out last year, will apply only to top executives at companies that need "exceptional" assistance in the future. The limits aren't retroactive, meaning firms that have already taken government money won't be subject to the restrictions unless they have to come back for more. Pay caps may provide the political cover the administration needs to deliver additional infusions of capital into the financial sector. Obama ... "is not proposing to go back and get that $18.4 billion in bonuses back," Laura Thatcher, head of law firm Alston & Bird's executive compensation practice in Atlanta, said of the cash bonuses New York banks paid last year, the sixth-biggest haul in history. "Right now, we have not clamped down" on pay at banks. In addition, some executives may be compensated for the potential reduced salaries with restricted stock grants, which may result in huge paydays after the bank repays the government assistance with interest. "They're just allowing companies to defer compensation," said Graef Crystal, a former compensation consultant. The restrictions are "a joke," he said, because "if the government is paid pack, you can be sure that the stock will have risen hugely."
Note: For many revealing reports from reliable sources on the realities behind the Wall Street bailout, click here.
Curtailing executives' pay? Good luck with that
February 5, 2009, San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco's leading newspaper)
Will President Obama's new plan to rein in executive compensation at companies receiving taxpayer money be more successful than previous attempts? Not if history is any guide. Since at least 1984, Congress and accounting authorities have enacted measures designed in whole or part to stem runaway pay. Yet compensation for top executives has continued to climb in both dollar terms and as a multiple of average worker pay. In 1992, the average chief executive earned $5 million, or 126 times the average hourly worker. By 2007, the average CEO was earning $12.3 million, or 275 times the average worker. No matter what Congress cooks up, it seems like executives, companies and their consultants find a way over, under or through the rules. "It's like putting up a dam for a river. The water tries very hard to find a way around it," says John Olson, a partner with Gibson Dunn & Crutcher who advises corporate boards on compensation and other matters. Obama's plan will apply only to companies taking bailout money in the future and has escape hatches of its own. "You can try all these different reforms," [says Corey Rosen, executive director of the National Center for Employee Ownership,] but none will be truly effective "unless the board of directors, the media and public stop thinking of executives as superstars and that if we just get the right CEO, everything will be OK."
Note: For many revealing reports from reliable sources on the realities behind the Wall Street bailout, click here.
US using British atomic weapons factory for its nuclear programme
February 9, 2009, The Guardian (One of the U.K.'s leading newspapers)
The US military has been using Britain's atomic weapons factory to carry out research into its own nuclear warhead programme. US defence officials said that "very valuable" warhead research has taken place at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston in Berkshire as part of an ongoing and secretive deal between the British and American governments. Campaign groups warned any such deal was in breach of international law. Kate Hudson, of Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said: "Any work preparing the way for new warheads cuts right across the UK's commitment to disarm, which it signed up to in the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. That this work may be contributing to both future US and British warheads is nothing short of scandalous." The extent of US involvement at Aldermaston came to light in an interview with John Harvey, policy and planning director at the US National Nuclear Security Administration. Harvey said: "There are some capabilities that the UK has that we don't have and that we borrow... that I believe we have been able to exploit [and] that's been very valuable to us." In the same interview, Harvey admitted that the US and UK had struck a new deal over the level of cooperation, including work on ... a new generation of nuclear warhead known as the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW).
Warning over 'surveillance state'
February 6, 2009, BBC News
Electronic surveillance and collection of personal data are "pervasive" in British society and threaten to undermine democracy, peers [in the House of Lords] have warned. CCTV cameras and the DNA database were two examples of threats to privacy, the Lords constitution committee said. It called for compensation for people subject to illegal surveillance. Civil liberties campaigners have warned about the risks of a "surveillance society" in which the state acquires ever-greater powers to track people's movements and retain personal data. In its report, the Lords constitution committee said growth in surveillance by both the state and the private sector risked threatening people's right to privacy, which it said was "an essential pre-requisite to the exercise of individual freedom". People were often unaware of the scale of personal information held and exchanged by public bodies, it said. "There can be no justification for this gradual but incessant creep towards every detail about us being recorded and pored over by the state," committee chairman and Tory peer Lord Goodlad said. "The huge rise in surveillance and data collection by the state and other organisations risks undermining the long-standing tradition of privacy and individual freedom which are vital for democracy," Lord Goodlad added. Human rights campaigners Liberty welcomed the report.
Note: For key reports from major media sources on growing threats to privacy from governments and corporations, click here.
General Says Shoot Dealers in Afghanistan
January 31, 2009, New York Times
NATO's senior military commander has proposed that the alliance's soldiers in Afghanistan shoot drug traffickers without waiting for proof of their involvement with the Taliban insurgency, according to a report in the online edition of Der Spiegel magazine. The commander, Gen. John Craddock of the United States, floated the idea in a confidential letter on Jan. 5 to Gen. Egon Ramms, a German officer who heads the NATO command center responsible for Afghanistan. General Craddock wrote that "it was no longer necessary to produce intelligence or other evidence that each particular drug trafficker or narcotics facility in Afghanistan meets the criteria of being a military objective." A NATO official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the wording of the letter. The proposal was widely criticized, with politicians [in Berlin] saying that it would flout international law and alter NATO's mission in Afghanistan. Such an order, they said, would signal a major shift in how the alliance intended to deal with the Afghan insurgency, along with the opium trade that finances the Taliban and other militant groups. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO's secretary general, has ordered an investigation into how the general's letter was obtained by Spiegel Online.
Note: The Times failed to mention the rift this has created in NATO and more. Click here for a revealing article about this in one of Germany's top publications.
Reporter's notebook: TED 2009
February 7, 2009, San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco's leading newspaper)
Some ... favorite gee-whiz moments from this year's TED conference: -- UC Berkeley biologist Robert Full blew everyone's mind by outlining his efforts to create the perfect robotic "distributed foot." He studies the feet and legs of geckos and cockroaches and transfers their design to robots, enabling them to scale walls. One such machine, the Spinybot, can climb glass walls. -- P.W. Singer, an academic who studies war, terrified the crowd with a detailed look at modern, robotic warfare. Something I didn't know: You can sit in a room in New Mexico and pilot armed drone airplanes in Iraq and kill people. Then you go home and have dinner with your kids. Somewhere, Aldous Huxley weeps. -- Stanford's Catherine Mohr displayed the robotic surgical arm she's working on that could change medicine. Among the amazing possibilities are surgeons in the United States performing advanced surgeries in remote parts of the world. These are just a handful of the amazing innovations and disclosures made at TED this year. In the coming weeks and months, videos of all of these talks will be made available to the public at www.ted.com. TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, is a 25-year-old annual conference attended by many of the world's leading scientists, academics and business leaders. The agenda consists of a series of talks, during which big thinkers discuss big ideas.
Note: For powerful information on bizarre "non-lethal" weapons developed by the military, click here. And for one of the most powerful TED presentations ever, see neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor's description of her experience having a stroke, available here.
Key Articles From Years Past
A restaurant with no checks
October 25, 2007, Christian Science Monitor
Patrons of Karma Kitchen don't need to fight for the check at the end of a meal. There isn't one. Instead, the "guests" of this restaurant are handed a gold envelope with a handwritten note on the outside that says, "Have a lovely evening." Inside a bookmark-sized card states: "In the spirit of generosity, someone who came before you made a gift of this meal. We hope you will continue the circle of giving in your own way!" The sound bite for this restaurant is that meals cost whatever you want to pay, starting at zero. But the real idea beneath it runs deeper than the cost of a dinner. "This is about creating a shift in perspective," says Mehta. "It's a very simple shift but the shift is fundamental. It is a shift from transaction to trust. From a contract to a compact. From being separate to creating community." While too puny to regard as any serious challenge to Western economics, this restaurant fits loosely into a smattering of activities across the country and abroad that operate under the principles of the "gift economy." The common principles are volunteerism, no pleas for funds, and a view that these activities are not about changing the world. The ethos behind "gift economy" activities is to offer goods in the spirit of service with the conviction that the act, if genuine and without strings, will be self-sustaining. Put simply, a service or product is offered with the assumption that the act of giving is its own reward, and that it is likely to generate more giving in an ever-enriching circle.
Sun-powered desert race: The World Solar Challenge
October 24, 2007, CNN
The [Panasonic World Solar] Challenge is the world's premier long-distance race for solar-powered vehicles, with competitors traveling 3000 kms [1,800 miles] along the Stuart Highway from Darwin in the far north of Australia to Adelaide in the south in cars powered solely by sunlight. In the process they ... send out a strong environmental message, pushing forward the boundaries of green technology and promoting the benefits of solar power as an alternative energy source. "It's a great adventure," the race director Chris Selwood told CNN, "One that allows the bright young people of the globe to come up with creative solutions to the problem of sustainable transport, while at the same time drawing attention to the importance of lightening the environmental footprint of our personal transport needs." First run in 1987, the race was the brainchild of Danish adventurer and environmental campaigner Hans Thostrup, who in 1982 designed and built "Quiet Achiever," the world's first ever solar-powered car. The inaugural competition featured 23 teams, with the winning vehicle -- the General Motors-sponsored Sunraycer -- completing the distance at an average speed of 67 kilometers per hour (42 miles per hour). The average speed has shot up to 103 kph (64 mph) ... while the competition has expanded to incorporate several different classes of vehicle: the Challenge and Adventure Classes for exclusively solar cars, and the Greenfleet Technology Class for other types of environmentally friendly, low-emission vehicles.
Note: Cars running on nothing but solar power averaging more than 60 mph over 1,800 miles? Why isn't this front page news? For lots more from reliable, verifiable sources on promising new energy and auto designs, click here.
Special note: For those who want to understand more about Barack Obama, an article on his mother from the Time magazine website available here is quite fascinating and revealing.
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