Fascism is the union of government with private business against the People.
"To The States, or any one of them, or to any city of The States: Resist much, Obey little; Once unquestioning obedience, at once fully enslaved; Once fully enslaved, no nation, state, city, ever afterward resumes its liberty." from "Caution" by Walt Whitman

Friday, December 24, 2010

2010-12-24 "Use a camera, go to prison? It's not the law - yet" by Peter Laufer, Terry Phillips from "San Francisco Chronicle" newspaper:

Former CBS News correspondent Terry Phillips is the author of "Murder at the Altar."
Bay Area journalist Peter Laufer is the James Wallace Chair in Journalism at the University of Oregon; his latest book is "Forbidden Creatures: Inside the World of Animal Smuggling and Exotic Pets."
An inexcusable affront to the holiday spirit has been injected into the heart of San Francisco. After parking the other day, we spotted the following notice.
"Due to the level of alert throughout our nation regarding terrorist activity, picture-taking is prohibited in all areas of this parking facility. If at any time you should see a person or persons taking pictures, please report this immediately to the security or management personnel."
It sounds like a remnant of Stalin's Soviet Union or perhaps a warning in Communist China or some other dictatorship. It was shocking to see that notice posted inside the public garage beneath Union Square. In San Francisco. California.
While holiday shoppers happily snap up presents in shops at the street level, folks leaving their vehicles are cautioned not to snap anything underground lest, to quote language popular with grandstanding politicians, the terrorists win. We are instructed to finger our fellow shoppers who think their kids look cute piling Christmas presents into the family SUV.
The crudely printed notices secured haphazardly with packing tape imply that garage employees have the right and the power to determine who threatens our freedoms in this publicly co-owned and co-operated space. Garage management! Hardly the paragon of expertise for this task.
San Francisco's Department of Parking and Traffic has jurisdiction over the underground garage. The city contracts with a nonprofit corporation to oversee operation and maintenance of the facility. That arrangement does not abrogate the government's responsibilities. Nor does it transfer police powers to control the behavior of honest, law-abiding citizens to garage managers and their private guards.
Here in these United States of America, barring extraordinary exceptions, anyone may take photographs of whatever they want when they are in a public place. And the Union Square garage is a public place.
Whether working journalists or vacationers, we all have the right to take pictures in public places. The only limited exceptions are some military installations and a few other vulnerable facilities that suggest obvious targets, such as nuclear power plants.
The lovely First Amendment guarantees us the right to capture images of grandma with her Christmas presents heading back to the station wagon. Or the patterns on the garage wall that we might perceive to be art. Or even a picture of a sign that falsely prohibits photographing that very sign.
Paranoid encroachment by local authorities placarding public spaces with police state-like threats concerns us (we both worked as journalists for several years in former Soviet bloc countries). From Moscow to Beijing and all points between, government agents routinely confiscated film shot by oblivious shutterbugs. Railroad depots, subway stations, even iconic national monuments were deemed unphotographable during the Cold War. While traveling behind the Berlin Wall, tourists and journalists alike were admonished not to point camera lenses toward anything that might be considered a subject of state secrecy.
But that was a different time and place. The Wall came down.
Alas, in place of the old USSR, we now seem beset by a new siege state mentality here at home. Fear is interfering with common sense and constitutionally guaranteed rights. We, of course, endorse appropriate security measures. But a blanket ban on innocent cameras in our local public parking garage exemplifies overreaching authority. It is an unacceptable intrusion, especially when no overt threat to our festive Union Square exists.

2010-12-24 "Profit Over Policy?: US Govt Let Companies Do Business With Blacklisted Countries" by Kristina Chew
Over the past decade, the United State government has allowed American companies to do business---billions of dollars of business---with countries blacklisted as state sponsors of terrorism.
An investigation by the New York Times [http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/24/world/24sanctions.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&hp] has discovered that a little known office of the US Treasury Department, the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, has approved over 10,000 licenses for business deals with countries including Iran that have been 'cast into economic purgatory, beyond the reach of American business.' Companies that have benefited include Kraft Foods and Pepsi, not to mention some very large banks.
A law makes it possible for such licenses to be approved despite the sanctions on the basis of agricultural and medical humanitarian aid. But the law is written so broad that under the category of 'humanitarian aid' are: cigarettes, Wrigley’s gum, Jolly Time popcorn, Louisiana hot sauce, weight-loss remedies, body-building supplements and sports rehabilitation equipment which were sold to the institute that trains Iran’s Olympic athletes.
The law was passed in 2000 under heavy economic and political pressure, at a time when American farmers, 'facing sharp declines in commodity prices and exports, hoped to offset their losses with sales to blacklisted countries.' Other abuses of the law include:
* an American company being allowed to bid on a pipeline job that would have helped Iran sell natural gas to Europe---the United States opposes such projects
* McCormick & Co applying to sell salt substitutes, marinades, food colorings and cake sprinkles to a number of chain stores in Iran---but it turns out that the stores all have direct connections with banks on an American blacklist and terrorist organizations; one store is owned by the government of Tehran. And since when does food coloring count as 'medical humanitarian aid'?
In other cases, licensing has not kept pace with changes in US foreign policy and diplomacy. American companies have imported cheap blouses and raw material for steel from North Korea after restrictions were loosened when that government promised it would renounce its nuclear weapons program. That agreement has fallen apart, but the license remains.
To gain access to the information, the New York Times filed a federal Freedom of Information lawsuit. The government agreed to provide a list of 'companies granted exceptions and, in a little more than 100 cases, underlying files explaining the nature and details of the deals.' Obtaining all of this took three years, and 'the government heavily redacted many documents, saying they contained trade secrets and personal information.'
It seems that the US government is letting commerce and business undercut, if not underwrite, what are supposed to be our stated foreign policy goals?

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

2010-12-23 "2010: The year Washington became business friendly; America has made the climate as comfortable as possible for CEOs, who have repaid the favor by creating more and more jobs – in other countries" by Robert Reich
History will record 2010 as the year Washington became “business friendly.”
Not that it was all that unfriendly before. Some would say the bailouts of Wall Street, AIG, GM, and Chysler were about as friendly as it can get. In addition, Washington gave windfalls to drug companies and health insurers in the new health bill, subsidies to energy companies in the stimulus package, and billions to domestic and military contractors. But for corporate America it still wasn’t friendly enough. Before the midterm elections, Verizon CEO and Business Roundtable chair Ivan Seidenberg accused the President of creating a hostile environment for investment and job-creation. In the midterms, business leaders overwhelmingly threw their support to Republicans.
So the White House caved in on the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and is telling CEOs it will be on their side from now on. As the President recently told a group of CEOs, the choice “is not between Democrats and Republicans. It’s between America and our competitors around the world. We can win the competition.” There’s only one problem. America’s big businesses are less and less American. They’re going abroad for sales and employees. That’s one reason they’ve showed record-breaking profits in 2010 while creating almost no American jobs.
Consider one of most popular Christmas products of all time – Apple’s iPhone. Researchers from the Asian Development Bank Institute have dissected an iPhone whose wholesale price is around $179.00 to determine where the money actually goes. Some shows up in Apple’s profits, which are soaring. About $61 of the $179 price goes to Japanese workers who make key iPhone components, $30 to German workers who supply other pieces, and $23 to South Korean workers who provide still others. Around $6 goes to the Chinese workers who assemble it. Most of the rest goes to workers elsewhere around the globe who make other bits. Only about $11 of that iPhone goes to American workers, mostly researchers and designers.
Even old-tech American companies made big money abroad in 2010 – and created scads of jobs there. General Motors, for example, is now turning a nice profit and American investors bullish about its future. That doesn’t mean GM will be creating lots more blue-collar jobs in America, though. 2010 was a banner year for GM’s foreign sales — already two-thirds of its total sales, and rising. In October, GM became first automaker to sell more than 2 million cars a year in China. The company is now making more cars in China than in the United States.And GM has just signed a deal with its Chinese partner to try to crack India’s potentially huge auto market. Meanwhile, back home in the U.S., GM has slashed its labor costs. New hires are brought in at roughly half the wages and benefits of former GM employees, under a two-tier wage structure accepted by the United Auto Workers. Almost all GM’s U.S. suppliers have also cut their payrolls.
It’s much the same even for America’s biggest retailers. 2010 wasn’t an especially good year for Wal-Mart in the United States. Its third-quarter sales fell, as U.S. shoppers continued to hold back. But Wal-Mart International is contributing mightily to its bottom line. Its UK business, Asda, will be adding 7,500 new jobs next year. Wal-Mart is also doing well in Japan and Brazil, and hiring like mad in both countries.
So when President Obama tells American CEOs our biggest challenge comes from abroad, you’ve got to wonder. The leaders of American business are already abroad, and doing quite nicely. Just after the midterm elections, the President’s chief economic advisor, Larry Summers, told a group of top U.S. CEOs that the election was partly a “rejection of elites…that were seen as more citizens of Davos than of their countries.”
American CEOs, Summers warned, should “think very hard about their obligations as citizens of this country.”
Yes, they’re citizens. But first and foremost they’re CEOs. And CEOs have to show profits – wherever those profits come from. Under American-style capitalism, profits matter. Jobs don’t.
2010 was the year Washington became even more “business friendly.”
The result has been more and better jobs – but not in America.

2010-12-23 "ACLU placed on Tennessee terror map for letter to schools" by Daniel Tencer from "Raw Story" online news journal

The ACLU of Tennessee says it ended up on a map of potential terrorist threats after it sent a letter to school superintendents asking them to be "inclusive" in their holiday celebrations. The civil rights group says it found itself on the Tennessee Fusion Center's map identified under the category “terrorism events and other suspicious activity," with the explanation "ACLU cautions Tennessee schools about observing 'one religious holiday.'"
"It is deeply disturbing that Tennessee’s fusion center is tracking First Amendment-protected activity," Hedy Weinberg, executive director of ACLU-Tennessee, said in a statement [http://www.aclu-tn.org/release122110.htm]. "Equating a group’s attempts to protect religious freedom in Tennessee with suspicious activity related to terrorism is outrageous. Religious freedom is a founding principle in our Constitution—not fodder for overzealous law enforcement."
State fusion centers were set up after 9/11 to help states collect and share information on potential security threats. The ACLU has previously warned of "the potential dangers of fusion centers, including their ambiguous lines of authority, excessive secrecy, troubling private-sector and military roles and a bent toward collection of information about innocent activities and data mining."
A fusion center spokesman told the Nashville City Paper [http://nashvillecitypaper.com/content/city-news/aclu-calls-anti-terrorism-agency-map-placement-disturbing] that it was a mistake to have labeled the ACLU's letter as a "terrorist" event and said the tag on the map should have been labeled "general information." But the City Paper found that the ACLU icon had instead been reclassified as "general terrorism news." "You can argue that you don’t like the word terrorism in there, but it’s just general news that’s provided," fusion center spokesman Mike Browning responded to City Paper. "That’s the general news category. It doesn’t have anything to do with terrorism. It was just provided to schools as general information." "After the City Paper pointed out to Browning that the entire map was labeled 'terrorism events and other suspicious activity' on the website, that was changed to 'open source news reports,'" the paper reported.
As of Thursday evening, the icon identifying the ACLU appeared to have been removed from the map altogether [http://tnfusion.globalincidentmap.com/home.php]. According to the ACLU, the controversy started after the group received "numerous" complaints from families around Tennessee complaining of overtly religious Christmas events in public schools. The group responded with a letter to school superintendents arguing that "while public schools can teach about religion and religious holidays, public schools may not engage in indoctrination." The letter went on to say that the ACLU "welcomes holiday celebrations that teach children about a variety of holidays. We believe, however, that holiday celebrations that focus primarily on one religious holiday can result in indoctrination as well as a sense within students who do not share that religion of being outsiders to the school."
The ACLU's Wenberg told the Chattanooga Times Free Press [http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2010/dec/22/aclu-bristles-over-terror-list/] that she's taking the fusion center "at their word" that the terrorism designation was a mistake. "I have not heard a good explanation for why school resource officers, who have a very important job in schools, would at all be interested or need to know about the letter we sent to local school superintendents about the need to keep holiday celebrations all inclusive," she added.

2010-12-21 "A.L.F. Snitch Resurfaces In Video: The FBI-Mozilla Connection; Justin Samuel turns up as programmer for new Firefox internet browser" by Peter Young from "Voice of the Voiceless" animal liberation journal
Where is former Animal Liberation Front prisoner and FBI informant Justin Samuel now? Designing the internet browser you may be using to read this.
This week I was shown a video advertising the new Firefox 4 browser, and asked if the “Justin Samuel” in the new Mozilla Firefox promotional video is the Justin Samuel who entered a grand jury in 2000 and implicated me in six fur farm raids.
It was.
Watch the video at this link (click “watch video”) [http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/4.0b7/firstrun/]. Justin Samuel is the second person speaking. The man who verifiably worked (or works) with the FBI is now ensuring the new Firefox browser “is the most secure browser out there”. Raising the question: how secure can a browser be when the man assigned to make it secure has a working relationship with the FBI?
Justin Samuel’s grand jury testimony -
In 1997, myself and Justin Samuel orchestrated a series of mink releases across South Dakota, Iowa, and Wisconsin. After our indictment, Justin Samuel was the first to be arrested and offered his testimony against me in exchange for a reduced sentence.
You can read 86-page Justin Samuel’s grand jury transcript at this link [http://www.scribd.com/full/5496528?access_key=key-29pa1lxov8tmwdvu0vjh]. His testimony and promise to testify at trial was a major factor in my eventual prison sentence.
A.L.F. snitches: where they are now -
While “where are they now” rumors of Animal Liberation Front / Earth Liberation Front informants abound, ranging from former straight edge mink feed cooperative bombers gone 7-11 employee drug addicts to SUV-firebombers gone SUV-drivers, the resurfacing of Justin Samuel is among the more timely and confirmed updates on just where A.L.F. informants end up when they betray their friends, their movement, and the animals.
In August I wrote about the curious micro-trend of Animal Liberation Front informants going into the computer security field.
* Darren Thurston, who implicated several people in Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front arsons, is now a computer security consultant [http://www.voiceofthevoiceless.org/warning-green-scare-informant-offering-computer-security-advice/].
* Justin Samuel, on his UC-Berkeley graduate student profile, posts several articles he authored on computer security before surfacing on the Mozilla Firefox 4 team [https://www.eecs.berkeley.edu/~jsamuel/].
It is not unreasonable to speculate this may be more than a coincidence. The FBI would have an interest in placing its prized “ecoterrorist” assets in privileged positions of root-level access into our digital lives – after they’ve burned all bridges in our real ones.
Animal Liberation Front informants in the computer security field: Coincidence, or strategically placed “men on the inside”?
Open letter to Mozilla Firefox -
A few questions that might be posed to Justin Samuel’s current employers at Mozilla (these are really three ways of asking the same thing):
*Do you feel employing Justin Samuel, someone who has has worked with the FBI as an informant, to be a credibility-compromising to your product, and trust-eroding among its users?
*Can you brand Firefox a “safe and secure” browser with someone who signed a plea agreement obligating him to provide information directly to the FBI?
*Can anyone feel comfortable using Mozilla Firefox 4 knowing a person responsible for making it “secure” has a working relationship with a federal law enforcement agency?
While I don’t believe in “internet security”, I’m still going with another browser… starting now.
Justin Samuel links:
Comment by "Hal":
Wow – How crazy is that to stumble upon him in the video…what are the chances?!? You know seeing this along with last weeks news/rumors of the FBI working with programmers to create backdoors in OpenBSD crypto, it should really come as no surprise to us of what these agencies are capable of. Great find…I’ll be using Opera (for now) and will be sure to let Mozilla know my thoughts.

2010-12-23 "Mace Used On Birmingham Students - SPLC Files Suit posted" by Judy Molland
Can this really be happening in our schools in the 21st century?
Earlier this month, the Southern Poverty Law (SPLC) filed a federal class action lawsuit regarding the use of mace as a means of basic school discipline against school children in Birmingham, Alabama [
Mace As A Tool For School Discipline -
Chemical weapons to enforce school discipline? I had to read this twice just to make sure I hadn't misunderstood. The suit was filed on behalf of district students who have been targeted with chemical weapons and other excessive force. It also seeks to protect other students from these abusive and unconstitutional practices.
Lawsuit Against School Board, Superintendent, Police -
From the SPLC newsletter [http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/news/southern-poverty-law-center-files-federal-lawsuit-targeting-use-of-mace-on-birming?newsletter=TT122110]: "The lawsuit, which was filed after the Birmingham School Board refused to address the issue after it was raised last month by the SPLC, outlines how the Birmingham Board of Education, Superintendent Craig Witherspoon, and the Birmingham Police Department violated the constitutional rights of Birmingham students through an abusive and unconstitutional policy that allows School Resource Officers to use chemical weapons against them to enforce basic school discipline.“We must ask ourselves: What kind of school system allows the entry of armed police officers who mace its students? One with a serious illness. One that needs to re-examine its ultimate purpose for existence – educating and protecting its students,” said Ebony Glenn Howard, lead attorney on the case for the Southern Poverty Law Center."
Corporal Punishment -
I have written a few times here [http://www.care2.com/causes/education/blog/beating-children-is-still-legal-in-twenty-u-s-states/] on the horrific practice of corporal punishment, which is still legal in 20 states of the country, including Alabama, but this is the first time I've seen a reference to mace as a tool to enforce discipline. According to the SPLC, hundreds of students were arrested in the Birmingham City Schools last year. However, most of the arrests were for petty offenses that most schools would handle in-house - no need to call the police.
The Health Risks Of Pepper Spray -
The Center also points out that individuals exposed to pepper spray are at risk for serious health effects ranging from temporary loss of vision or blurred vision to blistering of the eyes and skin. They can also experience life-threatening effects such as inflammation and swelling of the throat that restrict the size of the airway and limit the amount of oxygen entering the lungs.
This is especially concerning in a school district that is 96 percent African American and is located in a community where children have a five times higher death rate due to asthma-related complications. Our children have the right to the best education possible. Obviously that's not happening in Birmingham. Even criminals in prison are protected by law from being physically abused by those in authority over them. But not our children?
Victory For The SPLC -
Last month, I reported how the SPLC won a victory for a six-year-old who was handcuffed at his New Orleans elementary school in May of this year [http://www.care2.com/causes/education/blog/justice-for-six-year-old-who-was-handcuffed-and-shackled/].
Thanks to their efforts, such practices will no longer be used against young people in New Orleans. Let's hope they achieve justice for the students of Birmingham too.

2010-12-21 "Billionaires Target Teachers—and Take the Gloves Off in Illinois" by Howard Ryan
A billionaire gang headed by Bill Gates and Eli Broad wants to convert America’s public schools, with its $600 billion in annual public expenditures according to the Department of Education, into a corporate-owned test-score factory.
Their plan faces teacher resistance, and nowhere more so than in Chicago, where a feisty new leadership is making the Chicago Teachers Union among the most effective in the country.
The billionaires have decided to go toe to toe with CTU and with Illinois’s 200,000 unionized teachers. The battleground is the state legislature and a draft bill called the Performance Counts Act. The bill would gut teachers unions, maximize the firing of teachers at will, and ensure that no organized voice remains to advocate for quality public schools.
The repercussions for all public employees—and all of organized labor—are clear. Mysterious Group Arrives - Last October, journalists noticed that candidates for Illinois legislative seats were receiving unusually large checks. “
It’s not every day that a group almost nobody has ever heard of gives $175,000 to a single state legislative candidate,” remarked an Illinois Times contributor. Another reporter observed that “a national education reform group has quietly dumped more than $600,000 into key Illinois legislative races.” He added that “the source of much of that money is a mystery,” because of the unusual path it took to arrive in Illinois.
The mysterious political action group is called Stand for Children. Based in Portland, Oregon, and with affiliates in seven states, SFC is an enormously well-funded and sophisticated “grassroots” organization whose largest single funder is Bill Gates: he gave the group nearly $3.5 million in 2010.
Originally, SFC did have a strong grassroots orientation, and its focus was demanding better funding for public schools. The organization grew out of a “Stand for Children Day,” a big 1996 rally in Washington, D.C., headed up by Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund.
Civil rights icon Rosa Parks addressed that rally: “If I can sit down for justice, you can stand up for children.” Edelman’s son Jonah Edelman afterwards established SFC in Portland and mobilized with teachers, the Service Employees union, and community groups to demand adequate funding for Oregon schools.
But after a few years, SFC broadened its horizons from simple funding to “reforming education policies and practices.” The vision it chose, though, is in sync with that of the billionaires and politicians who today are driving school “reform” in America: blaming teachers for educational problems that inevitably result from slashed budgets, unemployment, and poverty; subjecting children to dreary regimens of standardized tests; stripping teachers of job security and tying their pay and future employment to their students’ test scores; and diverting public funds into charter schools and contracting out of services.
Union Smashing -
While SFC materials generally avoid the subject of unions, or imply a friendly collaboration with them, SFC is fiercely anti-union, especially when the unions do not endorse its notion of school reform.
The group promotes Geoffrey Canada—Harlem education entrepreneur and hero of the documentary movie “Waiting for Superman,” in which teachers unions are the scourge of education. Canada was SFC’s first board chair. SFC’s legislative achievements include Arizona’s SB 1040, which ties teacher pay partly to student test scores.
With its current initiative in Illinois, however, SFC is trying out its most virulent strain of anti-teacher union tactics yet. House Speaker Mike Madigan has created a Special Committee on Education Reform, two of whose members received contributions from SFC this fall ($50,000 for Keith Farnham of Elgin; $100,000 for Jehan Gordon of Peoria).
The committee is considering draft legislation which SFC describes as a “historic opportunity to help Illinois students.”
The Performance Counts Act, which is also pushed by another corporate-backed education policy group, Advance Illinois, would “help” students by attacking teachers and their unions:
* Teachers’ performance evaluations would be closely linked to standardized test scores, an historically poor measure of learning.
* With a single unsatisfactory evaluation, a tenured teacher could be returned to probationary status or dismissed. A teacher with three unsatisfactory evaluations within a 10-year period would be dismissed and could never teach again in Illinois schools.
* Unions would be prohibited from bargaining over a broad scope of issues affecting student and teacher welfare—contracting out; layoffs, reductions in force, school closures; class size and class staffing; length of the school day or work day; pilot and experimental school programs; use of technology. Unions could not even bargain over the effects of these policies on members or their students.
* Teachers’ right to strike would be virtually nonexistent, and an unlawful strike could mean the union’s decertification.
An Irony -
Stand for Children claims to offer hope, particularly to poor students and children of color who are widely denied access to quality and equitable education. Ironically, it is the children of poverty who stand most to lose because of SFC and its wealthy backers.
Their agenda defunds public schools, and, as education historian Diane Ravitch points out, the charter school alternatives have a lower commitment than public schools do to serving the neediest students—academic poor performers, students with learning disabilities, or English language learners.
Finally, the billionaires seek to weaken, if not destroy, the organizations that are best equipped to fight for quality public schools. Case in point: CTU is Chicago’s lead organizer against school closures, mass firings of teachers, and slashed school budgets.
Teachers and supporters of public education, beware: the fight in Illinois against the billionaire gang’s initiatives may well be yours in the year to come.

2010-12-21 "In Christie We Trust House Republicans are ready for war against public sector unions" by David Weigel

In two weeks, Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina will become the first chairman of the new House oversight subcommittee on TARP, Financial Services, and Bailouts of Public and Private Programs [http://thehill.com/homenews/house/134311-issa-gop-creates-oversight-panels-for-tarp-stimulus]. In the meantime, he is thinking about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was on 60 Minutes this Sunday talking about the need to cut state spending and trim state employees and their pensions [http://videocafe.crooksandliars.com/heather/afl-cio-nj-s-christie-used-60-minutes-plat].
"You look at his stuff—and, granted, he puts his good stuff on YouTube—but he is so blunt about what the state's facing," says McHenry. "There's one video [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aw0aBkt8CPA] I've seen where he's talking to a teacher. And the teacher's like, 'We work so hard.' " McHenry does his best imitation of the pathos in the teacher's voice. "Christie says, 'You know what? You don't have to do it.' "
McHenry sits back, holding out his hands in a "can you believe this?" gesture. "You watch that, and you think—that's a governor. And that's a teacher. The teacher always wins, man!"
There's a debate to have about Christie, how effective he is, and how truly popular he is. There's no debate anymore that Republicans want to follow his model. In January 2011, some number of Republican congressmen are planning to issue an ultimatum to states: There will be no additional aid, and you have to balance your budgets.It's a popular Republican belief—in New Jersey, in D.C., everywhere else—that the success of the governor of New Jersey is proving that spending cuts and austerity are no longer the stuff of Heritage Foundation daydreams. Christie is balancing some fee increases with painful cuts, and selling this by dressing down Democrats and union leaders.
"I'm going to introduce a resolution when the new Congress begins, stating that the House will not bail out state budgets," says Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. "The message is: States, don't think the federal government is going to bail you out. Pay attention to this now."
McHenry is one of several congressmen who'll be empowered to demand transparency from states, especially on the shortfalls in their pension funds. This is something that public-employee unions see as a coordinated attack on their members, but Republicans say the unions are going to lose. "The potential here," says McHenry, "is that we're facing a generational shift based on economic realities, based on our expectations for government, on what government does, and how government delivers services."
For evidence of this, Republicans can look at polling in Christie's state. According to the Nov. 11 Quinnipiac Poll, a survey that's conducted in the state every few months, voters who were asked about how to bring the budget in line favored service cuts over tax hikes by a 36-point margin. On every budget question, voters agree with Christie. Seventy-eight percent of voters want public workers to have their wages frozen, 63 percent want them furloughed, and 54 percent of voters are in favor of just laying them off.
Personally, Christie is fairly popular. He was elected with slightly less than 50 percent support; he hovers around 50 percent support. The important thing is that he's stayed at that level by making cuts and warning that he needs to make more on the backs of public workers. Support for a public worker wage freeze is up seven points since Christie was inaugurated. The belief that the teachers' unions are "playing a negative role in improving New Jersey's educational system" is up from a nine-point margin when Christie was inaugurated to an 18-point margin now.
That convinces Republicans that they can take on unions and win. It warns union leaders that they can lose. After 60 Minutes ran its segment on the "day of reckoning" (a Christie term) facing states that didn't cut back public employee pensions, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees blasted the "one-sided report" and union president Gerald W. McEntee argued pensions weren't such a big part of the problem [http://www.afscme.org/press/33924.cfm]. "The challenge can be met if state and local governments began contributing just 1.5 percent more of their budgets toward their pension funds in the years ahead."
Republicans intend to prove this wrong. In December, when it had no chance of passage but plenty of time to draw attention, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., introduced the Public Employee Pension Transparency Act. (It was co-sponsored by Paul Ryan and Darrell Issa, the incoming chairman of Budget and Oversight.) That legislation would require public employee pension plans to change the way they report their finances. The reason? Republicans believe that these pension data are based on rosy assumptions that aren't relevant anymore.
They also believe they called the pension funds' bluff. On Friday, Dec. 17, the president of the National Association of State Retirement Administrators e-mailed members [http://www.redstate.com/laborunionreport/2010/12/19/public-pension-cost-coverup-the-effort-to-kill-transparency-on-public-sector-pensions/] to warn that the introduction of Nunes' bill marked "the beginning of a series of coordinated articles, reports and continuous media coverage falsely asserting state and local governments are a financial wreck and are not accurately accounting for the fiscal condition of their pension plans."
What could the pension fund people and the public sector unions be so worried about? Right-leaning Reuters columnist James Pethokoukis laid it out for them [http://blogs.reuters.com/james-pethokoukis/2010/12/07/secret-gop-plan-push-states-to-declare-bankruptcy-and-smash-unions/]. If the states aren't bailed out, they're going to have to start cutting budgets. If there's total transparency about pension funds—and voters are already in the mood to shave the benefits and numbers of public workers—then that's where you can cut. Republicans might even be able to pass legislation that would allow states to declare bankruptcy [http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/give-states-way-go-bankrupt_518378.html?page=3], which would move the pension debate from politics to court, zapping all of the unions' leverage. "From the Republican perspective," wrote Pethokoukis, "the fiscal crisis on the state level provides a golden opportunity to defund a key Democratic interest group."
How would that work, exactly? House Republicans aren't talking about it yet. But Newt Gingrich, who those Republicans take seriously, laid it out clearly in a Nov. 11 speech to the Institute for Policy Innovation [http://www.newt.org/newt-direct/newts-remarks-institute-policy-innovation].
"I also hope the House Republicans are going to move a bill in the first month or so of their tenure to create a venue for state bankruptcy," said Gingrich, "so that states like California and New York and Illinois that think they're going to come to Washington for money can be told, you know, you need to sit down with all your government employee unions and look at their health plans and their pension plans and frankly if they don't want to change, our recommendation is you go into bankruptcy court and let the bankruptcy judge change it, and I would make the federal bankruptcy law prohibit tax increases as part of the solution, so no bankruptcy judge could impose a tax increase on the people of the states."
So: Patrick McHenry will run a key subcommittee with oversight over all bailouts, present and potential. He thinks Republicans have an opening to fix a "potentially explosive" situation with pension funds. Is he onboard with the state bankruptcy idea? He holds his cards close.
"It ain't easy," he says, "but we have to face reality."

2010-12-23 "POPULAR PRO-PALESTINE ST LOUIS FLASH MOB VIDEO REMOVED BY YOUTUBE; Prompts Questions about Selective and possibly Unlawful Shut-Down"
Who: Members and friends of the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee
Contact Person: Colleen Kelly, 314-761-7428
Where to view Flash Mob: [http://www.stl-psc.org/?p=149]
Removed video: [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGAdfvGQ-xg]
Dancing and singing to a parody of Lady Gaga and Beyoncé’s “Telephone,” more than forty members and friends of the St Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee (STL-PSC) serenaded holiday shoppers at Best Buy and AT&T stores in Brentwood, MO. They urged patrons to join the boycott of Motorola due to the company’s involvement in Israel’s unlawful military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. A video of the flash mob was posted on YouTube December 13th, quickly going viral, with coverage in media around the world including Israel’s Ynet News. It acquired more than 35,000 hits in less than a week.
Shortly after the count hit 35,000, YouTube removed the video in apparent response to a notice of claimed copyright infringement from "WMG." The STL-PSC is firmly convinced, as advised by legal representation, that the flash mob video does not infringe Warner Music Group's copyright, as it constitutes a "fair use" of the song and parodies of songs are protected under a U.S. Supreme Court decision in Campbell v. Acuff-Rose [http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode17/usc_sec_17_00000107----000-.html].
While it is unclear how WMG has any interest in the copyright, WMG’s relationship with Motorola is well-known [http://www.wmg.com/newsdetails/id/8a0af8120f88d9f4011002e2942615ed_new].
STL-PSC believes that this is an infringement on freedom of expression and plans to challenge the take-down.
STL-PSC member, author, and national organizer for the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Anna Baltzer, on the removal of the video: “There are more than 1,000 Lady Gaga flash mob videos on YouTube. None of them has been shut down by WMG. What does WMG not want the world to know about Motorola’s connection to Israeli apartheid and war crimes?”
Washington University graduate, Banan Ead, explained why she participated in the flash mob: "I’ve lived in the West Bank for a few years and visited several times, and every time I go back, with every airport interrogation or checkpoint I get stopped at, I feel only a sliver of the degradation of what the Palestinians permanently living there have to go through. It was also important for us to show that there are ways to non-violently resist that occupation. Plus, I like to sing and dance!"
69-year-old Holocaust survivor, Hedy Epstein, also participated, saying: "During my five visits since 2003, to the Israeli Occupied Territories, I was repeatedly asked by Palestinians I met as follows: 'When you return home to the U.S., please tell people there what you have seen and experienced on the ground, because the media does not convey that.' I have tried to honor that commitment.”
To interview Flash Mob participants, call the contact above. To find out more about the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee, visit: [http://www.stl-psc.org/]
Motorola provides equipment to the Israeli military used to maintain the occupation and illegal settlements. More on Moto here… [http://www.endtheoccupation.org/section.php?id=209]

"Hang Up on Motorola"
Join thousands of other human rights advocates demanding accountability from Motorola for its support of Israeli human rights violations. There are several ways that Motorola and their wholy owned subsidiary, Motorola-Israel, profit directly from violations of international law:
* Motorola has the exclusive contract to provide the Israeli military with encrypted mobile phone technology. This means that every Israeli boarder guard manning a checkpoint inside of Palestinian territory and every Israeli soldier committing war crimes in the assault on the Gaza Strip takes their orders through a Motorola device.
* Motorola "virtual fences" and surveillance systems are used at dozens of illegal Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land. These Jewish-only settlements are a potent symbol Israeli apartheid and are illegal under several international laws, including the 4th Geneva Convention. Settlements use high-tech Motorola equipment to ghettoize Palestinian communities as confiscate their land.
* Motorola also has close ties with Aeronautics Defense Systems (ADS), which makes drone aircraft that the Israeli military used during Operation Cast Lead (the most recent assault on the Gaza Strip). Last April Motorola sold their bomb fuze division to ADS, just after Human Rights Watch reported finding debris from Motorola bomb components in the rubble of civilian buildings in the Gaza Strip.

Attention: Fair Use rights reserved: Title 17 U.S.C. § 107. Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use -
For more information visit [http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml]
The act of providing articles and hyperlinks, as an expression of journalism, is to research and collect verifiable information, and does not constitute an endorsement of the "veracity of truths" or political-positions produced by the sources.

Friday, December 10, 2010

2010-12-10 "Wik-Bee Leaks: EPA Document Shows It Knowingly Allowed Pesticide That Kills Honey Bees" by Ariel Schwartz
The world honey bee population has plunged in recent years, worrying beekeepers and farmers who know how critical bee pollination is for many crops. A number of theories have popped up as to why the North American honey bee population has declined--electromagnetic radiation, malnutrition, and climate change have all been pinpointed. Now a leaked EPA document reveals that the agency allowed the widespread use of a bee-toxic pesticide, despite warnings from EPA scientists.
The document, which was leaked to a Colorado beekeeper, shows that the EPA has ignored warnings about the use of clothianidin, a pesticide produced by Bayer that mainly is used to pre-treat corn seeds. The pesticide scooped up $262 million in sales in 2009 by farmers, who also use the substance on canola, soy, sugar beets, sunflowers, and wheat, according to Grist [http://www.grist.org/article/food-2010-12-10-leaked-documents-show-epa-allowed-bee-toxic-pesticide-].
The leaked document (PDF) [http://www.panna.org/sites/default/files/Memo_Nov2010_Clothianidin.pdf] was put out in response to Bayer's request to approve use of the pesticide on cotton and mustard. The document invalidates a prior Bayer study that justified the registration of clothianidin on the basis of its safety to honeybees:
[begin excerpt]
Clothianidin’s major risk concern is to nontarget insects (that is, honey bees). Clothianidin is a neonicotinoid insecticide that is both persistent and systemic. Acute toxicity studies to honey bees show that clothianidin is highly toxic on both a contact and an oral basis. Although EFED does not conduct RQ based risk assessments on non-target insects, information from standard tests and field studies, as well as incident reports involving other neonicotinoids insecticides (e.g., imidacloprid) suggest the potential for long-term toxic risk to honey bees and other beneficial insects.
[end excerpt]
The entire 101-page memo is damning (and worth a read). But the opinion of EPA scientists apparently isn't enough for the agency, which is allowing clothianidin to keep its registration.
Suspicions about clothianidin aren't new; the EPA's Environmental Fate and Effects Division (EFAD) first expressed concern when the pesticide was introduced, in 2003, about the "possibility of toxic exposure to nontarget pollinators [e.g., honeybees] through the translocation of clothianidin residues that result from seed treatment." Clothianidin was still allowed on the market while Bayer worked on a botched toxicity study [PDF], in which test and control fields were planted as close as 968 feet apart.
Clothianidin has already been banned by Germany, France, Italy, and Slovenia for its toxic effects. So why won't the EPA follow? The answer probably has something to do with the American affinity for corn products. But without honey bees, our entire food supply is in trouble.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Domestic Fascism

A tiny minority of people have basically bankrupted the entire USA in exchange that they may receive a few extra luxury items.
2010-12-08 cartoon by David Horsey [http://blog.seattlepi.com/davidhorsey/archives/231118.asp]

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

2010-12-07 "Visa & MasterCard: KKK Is A-OK, But Wikileaks Is Wicked"
Well, it looks like we can add Visa to the list of companies pressured into no longer working with Wikileaks [http://blogs.forbes.com/andygreenberg/2010/12/07/visa-mastercard-move-to-choke-wikileaks/], following a similar move by MasterCard [http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20101207/00300612152/freedom-expression-is-priceless-everything-else-theres-mastercard.shtml].
At least, unlike MasterCard, Visa isn't already claiming that Wikileaks was convicted of a crime. Instead, it's just said that it's suspended any work with Wikileaks "pending further investigation into the nature of its business and whether it contravenes Visa operating rules."
As Charles Arthur points out [http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/blog/2010/dec/07/wikileaks-us-embassy-cables-live-updates], the Ku Klux Klan's website points you to a site that takes both MasterCard and Visa -- suggesting the pure arbitrariness of both credit card companies' decision here. It's a bad idea when firms start making decisions for political reasons. There are all sorts of companies out there that take credit cards to support objectionable (to many) activities. Is it really the credit card companies' job to pick and choose who they find objectionable to work with -- and if so, what basis does it use for saying "KKK is okay, but Wikileaks is not"?
This reinforces the point we recently made [http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20101201/17390512086/wikileaks-ice-domain-seizures-show-how-private-intermediaries-get-involved-government-censorship.shtml] about the role of corporate intermediaries in being able to aid governments in censorship, even in the absence of a trial or conviction. Either way, this is a really sad statement about both Visa and MasterCard and their willingness to cave to government pressure.

Monday, December 6, 2010

2010-12-06 "Free Charles Dyer" by Jason Arment [jason.arment@iowastatedaily.com]
What would you think if you found out a good man was being persecuted for speaking out against the federal government? If it was in your power, would you help him?
This very thing is happening to Charles Dyer.
I was afforded the opportunity and privilege to speak with him recently. I asked him to tell his story in his own words.
"My story is too long to tell, to be honest. Too much, man," Charles began. "It all started, I guess, after I made my first videos. I hadn't had any problems at all until after that."
Charles Dyer is widely known as the July4Patriot, who published videos on YouTube wearing a skeleton mask that obscured half his face. In his videos he speaks out about his fears that the federal government is growing too strong, and that if people don't wake up and start taking responsibility for the government they put in power, then soon it will be too late.
How Charles ended up in his current predicament is a story that is long, but pay attention. This is important.
"Found out in 2009, while I was in the Marine Corps, that my wife was doing group sex and drugs and all kinds of craziness, so we split up," Charles told me. "Whenever I threatened to take my daughter, she called the Marine Corps and told them I was making videos to take over the government and all kinds of crap, that I threatened to kill her and kill my daughter, and they arrested me. Then they found out it was all BS and they let me go. I got out of the Marine Corps."
Allegations from his wife weren't done negatively impacting his life — not by a long shot.
"I came back to Oklahoma in December of '09, and I told her boyfriend all the stuff she had done, and I guess she had lied to him about that stuff and he left her. The day I gave my daughter back to her for her visitation at Christmas she went and started saying I raped my daughter. That's what started all this mess." Charles went on. "After that, the unprofessional, the lack of even giving a shit what the real true story is. The unprofessional [actions] of the law enforcement, FBI, sheriff's department, police department. They hear the word militia and it's over, your life's over."
His last statement, about the mention of "militia" being a game-ender, is something I find disturbing, since the Second Amendment specifically addresses this issue. I asked Charles about ARM, the American Resistance Movement, which is pro-Constitution and endorses the freedom of the individual militantly.
"It's not actually a militia, it's just a movement." Charles said. "It's not a group of guys that sit around a table and call themselves the American Resistance Movement, it's just an idea. I've never been a part of a militia. I've never been a part of any actual group. I travel around and train militias, citizen militias, train groups. I don't have one — I would, but there is nobody around here."
After he was arrested, LEOs obtained a DNA warrant and entered his home. They didn't find any DNA from his daughter anywhere, according to Charles, but they did find a 40 mm grenade launcher that he had purchased under the false pretense of it being a legal 38 mm flare gun. The charge of failing to register a destructive device was added.
Charles went on to win the court case regarding whether or not he bought a 40 mm grenade launcher. A jury of his peers decided he had been deceived by the person who had sold him the piece of equipment.
Charles was pulled out of his cell and interrogated about the 40 mm grenade launcher. At the end of the interrogation, Charles said, some very telling comments were made to him by an FBI agent.
"'I guess July 4th Patriot won't be making any videos any time soon,' and he laughed at me," Charles said. "Later I found out that they confiscated my mask and they had confiscated a speech I was working on. Now what the hell does my mask and speech I was working on have anything to do with incest or having a grenade launcher in my home? They made it very clear to me why they were there."
I find it hard to to disagree with Charles' thought process regarding the motivation behind his arrest.
Charles' complaints about law enforcement don't end there.
"They violated my rights by coming into my home without a warrant several times. One of them while I was there and I told them they weren't allowed to come in and the deputy forced the way inside, forced [Department of Homeland Security] to let them come inside."
He continued, "They've given me excessive bail. When I was at the federal courthouse, they denied my bail. Denied me bail at all. Made me sit there for 90 days and rot because I was a threat to society and a flight risk.
"Well, for one, I've never missed a court date in my life because I've never been in trouble — not even a speeding ticket in my life except once, when I was 16 or 18, I got a speeding ticket. I've served my country for eight years, got dual honorable discharges, never so much as a negative counseling, had a secret security clearance, served in Iraq, served in a sheriff's department for a year here. Never did anything in my life to warrant this, and they have just crapped on me because somebody said the word 'militia.'"
"I've not even been asked my side of the story, I've not been questioned once on this rape allegation case. My family has been threatened by the FBI. The FBI told my mother straight to her face that if she didn't cooperate with them, that they were going to make enough charges to put me away for 40 years. The police department here has dumped trash in my yard."
I asked Charles about people's response to his videos, whether or not his militant nature put people off.
"I would say 99 percent positive. I don't get too many negative reactions from them," Charles said. "When I do get negative reactions, the comments or mail or whatever that I get from people is just steeped in ignorance, completely steeped in ignorance. People that don't know what the Founding Fathers' intentions were, haven't read their Constitution, they have no idea that we are even a republic; they think that we are a democracy. The people that are informed are 100 percent supportive. Although a lot of people don't like the fact that I wore masks for awhile, but once they found out that I was active duty in the Marine Corps, they were supportive."
Charles said the reason he started making the videos is that one day he realized that while he had sworn several oaths to protect the Constitution, he had never read it. After reading the Constitution, he was moved to speak out against the federal government.
"I'm pretty much a traitor if I sit back and I don't do something to try to wake people up," Charles said. "If I just sit here and watch 'American Idol' and pretend that nothing's happening, I'm doing a disservice to my countrymen and, hell, there's no reason I should even be a Marine. That's when I started."
Charles wouldn't go back and change it, though. He wouldn't change a single thing he did.
"If I could go back and change it, I wouldn't. I don't regret anything that I've done, and if I could go back, I wouldn't change it. I will be quitting this fight when they kill me — when they imprison me, or they kill me."
Charles' words directly to you, the reader, are as follows:
"Wake the hell up to what's going on around you, because very soon there's a great possibility that your children and grandchildren are going to be enslaved by shackles that the government that you put in place is going to put on them."
Charles Dyer is going to trial in January for the charges leveled against him concerning his daughter. If he loses the court battle, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.
Where are my opinions in all of this? My opinions are in my actions. A few days ago I donated to the Charles Dyer defense fund. If you want to do the same, visit freejuly4patriot.chipin.com, where you also can see his videos and other information.
I'm not going to urge you to donate — I'll let your convictions guide you in that decision. Instead, I'm urging you to learn more about Charles Dyer's story. I urge you to watch his videos and look further into the circumstances surrounding his wife's allegations. Then weigh in your mind carefully what is happening.

Charles Dyer, American Resistance Movement
Political Prisoner

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Federal Reserve loans $9 Trillion to keep monopolist corporations solvent.

2010-12-01 "Fed made $9 trillion in emergency overnight loans; Top recipients of overnight loans made by the Federal Reserve under special program that ran from March 2008 through May 2009" by Chris Isidore from "CNN" [http://money.cnn.com/2010/12/01/news/economy/fed_reserve_data_release/index.htm]:
Top recipients of overnight loans made by the Federal Reserve under special program that ran from March 2008 through May 2009.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The Federal Reserve made $9 trillion in overnight loans to major banks and Wall Street firms during the financial crisis, according to newly revealed data released Wednesday.
The loans were made through a special loan program set up by the Fed in the wake of the Bear Stearns collapse in March 2008 to keep the nation's bond markets trading normally.
The amount of cash being pumped out to the financial giants was not previously disclosed. All the loans were backed by collateral and all were paid back with a very low interest rate to the Fed -- an annual rate of between 0.5% to 3.5%.
Still, the total amount was a surprise, even to some who had followed the Fed's rescue efforts closely.
"That's a real number, even for the Fed," said FusionIQ's Barry Ritholtz, author of the book "Bailout Nation." While the fact that the markets were in trouble was already well known, he said the amount of help they needed is still surprising.
"It makes it very clear this was a very serious, very unusual situation," he said.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who had authored the provision of the financial reform law that required Wednesday's disclosure, called the data that was released incredible and jaw-dropping.
"The $700 billion Wall Street bailout turned out to be pocket change compared to trillions and trillions of dollars in near zero interest loans and other financial arrangements that the Federal Reserve doled out to every major financial institution," Sanders said.
He said that even if the Fed was right to make the loans to keep the economy from toppling into a depression, it should have made stronger demands that the banks help American consumers and small businesses.
"They may have repaid their loans, but that's not good enough," he said. "It's clear the demands the Fed made were not enough."
The Wall Street firm that received the most assistance was Merrill Lynch, which received $2.1 trillion, spread across 226 loans. The firm did not survive the crisis as an independent company, and was purchased by Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) just as Lehman Brothers was failing.
Citigroup (C, Fortune 500), which ended up with a majority of its shares owned by the Treasury Department due to a separate federal bailout, was No. 2 on the list with 279 loans totaling $2 trillion. Morgan Stanley (MS, Fortune 500) was third with $1.9 trillion coming from 212 loans.
"As we have previously disclosed, Morgan Stanley utilized some of the Federal Reserve's emergency lending facilities during a time of immense financial turmoil throughout the banking sector and the broader market," Morgan Stanley said in a statement Wednesday. "The Fed's actions were timely and critical, and we commend them for providing liquidity and stabilizing the financial system during that period.''
The largest single loan was by Barclays Capital, which borrowed $47.9 billion on Sept. 18, 2008, in the days after the Lehman bankruptcy. The loan financed Barclays' purchase of Lehman's remaining assets.
Some Wall Street firms disputed the way the Fed reported the numbers. An executive from one of the firms said that many of the overnight loans were rolled over for days at a time, and that each day it was counted as a new loan. "It's being double, triple, quadruple counted in some cases," said the executive.
Can our opinion of banks get any worse?
Not all the major banks needed much help from the Fed. JPMorgan Chase (JPM, Fortune 500) received only three loans from this program for a total of $3 billion.
The last loan was made under the program in May 2009, and the program, known as the primary dealer credit facility, was officially discontinued in February of this year.
The Federal Reserve revealed details of that program as part of a large scale release of data on all the steps it took to stabilize the nation's financial sector during the markets crisis of the last few years.
The central bank posted details of more than 21,000 transactions with major banks and Wall Street firms between December of 2007 and July of 2010.
In addition to the loan program for bond dealers, the data covered the Fed's purchases of more $1 trillion in mortgages, and spending to back consumer and small business loans, as well as commercial paper used to keep large corporations running.
The rescues of the investment bank Bear Stearns in March of 2008, and insurance behemoth AIG in September of that year, were also revealed in far greater detail, as were programs to make dollars available to foreign central banks in return for their currency, in order to keep international trade flowing.
The Fed's full data
Most of the special programs set up by the Fed in response to the crisis of 2008 have since expired, although it still holds close to $2 trillion in assets it purchased during that time.
 The Fed said it did not lose money on any of the transactions that have been closed, and that it does not expect to lose money on the assets it still holds.
The details of which banks participated in the Fed's emergency programs, and how the banks benefited from the transactions, had never before been revealed.
The Fed argued that revealing the information could cause a run on the banks that needed to draw cash at the discount window. But under the financial regulatory reform act that was passed in July, the Fed will reveal future discount window transactions following a two-year lag.

"Federal Reserve Bank Admits They Lost 9 Trillion Dollars"
transcription from "Lybio.com" [http://lybio.net/elizabeth-a-coleman-shocking-federal-reserve-bank-admits-they-lost-9-trillion-dollars/news-politics/]:
[Alan Grayson]
 Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Inspector Coleman, you’re the Inspector General for the Federal Reserve, right?

[Elizabeth A. Coleman]
 That’s correct.

[Alan Grayson]
 Okay. Have you done any investigation concerning the Federal Reserve’s role in deciding not to save Lehman Brothers, which led to shockwaves that went through the entire financial system?

[Elizabeth A. Coleman]
 In that particular area, you know, I don’t feel like to comment on specific investigations, but we do not currently have an investigation in that particular area.

[Alan Grayson]
 All right, what about the $1 trillion-plus expansion of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet since last September? Have you conducted any investigations regarding that?

[Elizabeth A. Coleman]
 Well, right now, we have a… it’s called.. we call it a review and with the term investigation, we have different connotations. We’re actually conducting a fairly high-level review of the various lending facilities collectively, which would include, you know, the TOWS, the variety of the different programs that are in process, so we’re looking at them at a fairly high level to identify risk.

[Alan Grayson]
 Well, I understand that, but we’re talking about events that started unfolding eight months ago. Have you reached any conclusions about the Fed expanding its balance sheet by over a trillion dollars since last September?

[Elizabeth A. Coleman]
 We have not yet reached any conclusions.

[Alan Grayson]
 Do you know who received that money?

[Elizabeth A. Coleman]
 For the… we are in the process right now of doing our review and…

[Alan Grayson]
 Right, but you’re the Inspector General. My question specifically is do you know who received that $1 trillion-plus that the Fed extended and put on its balance sheet since last September. Do you know the identity of the recipients?

[Elizabeth A. Coleman]
 I do not know. We have not looked at that specific area at this particular point on those reviews.

[Alan Grayson]
 What about Bloomberg’s report that there are trillions of dollars in off-balance sheet transactions that the Federal Reserve has entered into since last September? Are you familiar with those off-balance sheet transactions?

[Elizabeth A. Coleman]
 You know, I think it may be important at this point to, just to bring up a certain aspect related to our jurisdiction and just to clarify perhaps some of my earlier comments. We are the Inspector General for the Board of Governors and we have direct oversight over Board programs and operations and we’re also able to look at Board-delegated functions to the Reserve Banks, as well as the Board’s oversight and supervision of the Reserve Bank.
We do not have jurisdiction to directly go out and audit Reserve Bank activities specifically. Nevertheless, in our lending facility projects, for example, we are looking at the Board’s oversight over the programs and to the extent that it extends out to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

[Alan Grayson]
 Well, I have a copy of the Inspector General Act here in front of me and it says among other things that if you’re responsible, you can conduct and supervise audits and investigations relating to the programs and operations of your agency.

[Elizabeth A. Coleman]
 That’s correct.

[Alan Grayson]
 So I’m asking you if your agency has in fact, according to Bloomberg, extended $9 trillion in credit, which by the way works out to $30,000 for every single men, women, and child in this country. I’d like to know if you’re not responsible for investigating that, who is?

[Elizabeth A. Coleman]
 We, actually… we have responsibility for the Federal Reserve’s programs and operations, to conduct audits and investigations in that area. In terms of who is responsible for investigating… would you mind repeating the question one more time?

[Alan Grayson]
 What have you done to investigate the off-balance sheet transactions conducted by the Federal Reserve, which according to Bloomberg now total $9 trillion in the last eight months.

[Elizabeth A. Coleman]
 I’ll have to look specifically at that Bloomberg article. I’m not… I don’t know if I have actually seen that particular one.

[Alan Grayson]
 That’s not the point. The question is have you done any investigation or auditing of off-balance sheet transactions conducted by the Federal Reserve?

[Elizabeth A. Coleman]
 At this point, we’re conducting our lending facility project at a fairly high level and have not gotten to a specific level of detail to really be in a position to respond to your question.

[Alan Grayson]
 Have you conducted any investigation or auditing of the losses that the Federal Reserve has experienced on its lending since last September?

[Elizabeth A. Coleman]
 We are still in the process of conducting that review. Until we actually, you know, go out and gather the information, I’m not in a position to really respond to this specific question.

[Alan Grayson]
 So are you telling me that nobody at the Federal Reserve is keeping track on a regular basis of the losses that it incurs on what is now a $2 trillion portfolio?

[Elizabeth A. Coleman]
 I don’t know if… you’re telling me that there’s… you’re… missing… that there are losses. I’m just saying that we’re not… until we actually look at the program and have the information, we are not in a position to say whether there are losses or to respond in any other way to that question.

[Alan Grayson]
 Mr. Chairman, my time is up, but I have to tell you honestly, I am shocked to find out that nobody at the Federal Reserve including the Inspector General is keeping track of this.

[Mr. Chairman]
 All right. Thank you, gentleman and Ladies...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

2010-10-21 "Rap Star or Gang Member?" by David Greenwald from "Davis People's Vanguard" and "Yolo Judicial Watch"
Two weeks ago we had an article on the problematic nature of expert testimony by the gang expert in the case of Michael Romero. For the last few weeks we have seen the testimony of the plaintiff's gang experts in the Gang Injunction Trial.
First, Joe Villanueva took the stand as an expert. Detective Villanueva currently works on the City of Fairfield gang unit, but up until the end of 2007 headed the Yolo County Gang Unit.
This week, the current head of the gang unit, Sgt. Jason Winger, has taken the stand in the gang injunction case.
One of the big questions is the nature of expert testimony. Expert witnesses are allowed to render opinions. In this case, both experts have rendered opinions about whether an individual is or is not a gang member. Their expertise is based both on formal training and street experience, but at the same time we have seen some of the limits of their knowledge and, as importantly, the inability to put the information gathered on the streets into proper context.
This latter problem is particularly true for Sgt. Winger, as we have seen this week under direct examination from Deputy DA Jay Linden.
We have already previously discussed Sgt. Winger's testimony on the Ornelas case which is not consistent with the facts that were presented at trial. But there are a few other key points that need to be raised about the nature of Sgt. Winger's expert testimony.
Much of this week, Sgt. Winger has gone through name by name, explaining why each individual listed is a gang member. His assessment is based on a standard of the totality of the circumstances, which is an interesting standard in that it would appear to give more objective consideration to the determination of gang status than a simple on-the-street determination that many jurisdictions use.
Indeed, West Sacramento might appear to have a more rigorous standard as the determination of validation goes up the chain of command within the department for approval, but it still falls well short of any proceeding that might take place in the court room. As we will see shortly, this standard is often based on misreading evidence, and can fall woefully short.
Two points that Sgt. Winger made stand out. First, at one point, he was asked to read from "documents" found on the scene at the home of one purported gang member, Manuel Guzman. He read from this "document" and it became very clear that Sgt. Winger was reading from rap lyrics.
Taken out of context this would be very damning, as it made reference to killing and the gang life, with specific references to West Sacramento, Broderick and the like.
The problem, as one of the defense attorneys objected, is that this appears to be gangster rap lyrics. As such, the lyrics are not shocking but rather quite typical of a genre of music that regularly makes reference to, and even glorifies, the gang life and culture.
Does that make Mr. Guzman a gang member? Only if you believe that all rap stars are gang members. And the "totality of the circumstances" argument could fall well short here, as certainly many established and aspiring rap stars have lyrics like these and items in their home that could be interpreted as gang "indicia." More on that shortly.
The problem is that you have middle-aged individuals, most of them white, trying to make sense out of a culture that they have never been a part of and likely do not understand. Lacking that understanding, one can misinterpret one's clues.
And yet this is an expert witness, but it seems possible that he has never listened to rap music in his life. Certainly , he has little understanding of a popular Hip-Hop culture and subculture that have come to glorify the "gangsta" lifestyle, and have incorporated and even co-opted gang symbols and slogans.
This point comes out again with Carlos Guzman, who purportedly has a tatto across his chest with the writing, "Can't Stop, Won't Stop."
According to the expert Sgt. Winger, that is a gang saying pertaining specifically to the Norteno gang, which stands for can’t stop the gang life and won’t stop the gang life.
Sounds convincing right? Now google the term and you find out something very interesting. First of all, no reference to gangs in the first several pages. Instead you find a number of songs by the name, including one by Lindsey Lohan.
We find a New York Daily News story from May 9, 2010 that reports that "New Lindsay Lohan song, 'Can't Stop, Won't Stop,' leaked online." We can even watch her video .
We also know that title is an influential book on the Hip Hop industry by Jeff Chang .
So is this a gang slogan, or just a pop culture reference? Does Sgt. Winger even know? This gets to the very point, he may know a bit about gang members, but he seems to lack a broader perspective that would enable him to perhaps properly identify what he is seeing and put it into context.
These may seem like small details, but they are very dangerous, potentially, as we saw on Frontline this week in their feature on Cameron Todd Willingham. He was convicted of setting an arson fire that killed his three children in Texas, was executed, and new forensic evidence demonstrates that the fire was not arson.
What we see, in part, is a combination of police and investigators misreading the clues and the totality of the evidence. Investigators argued that Mr. Willingham was a satan worshiper and suggested that the burn patterns in the children's room showed a pentagram. They also found posters that depicted satanic images.
However, later forensic investigators dispute much of that evidence. The pentagram that the investigators thought they saw was actually created by the windows and door in the room and the ventilation patterns. Meanwhile, the posters that were supposedly satanic images were actually posters from the band, Iron Maiden, a heavy metal band that Mr. Willingham was a fan of.
Iron Maiden does in fact use such images, but they were a popular band in the 1980s and early 1990s for heavy metal fans, most of whom were not Satan worshipers. In short, the conclusions that the police investigators reached were flawed, despite looking at the totality of the evidence.
Rap music may be popular among gang members, but it is also popular among non-gang members. Rap lyrics often depict fictionalized accounts that glorify the gang life. Popular rap musicians may rap about killing people, but that does not mean that they have killed people or even desire to kill people.
Unfortunately, we have a group of people who probably have little exposure to or understanding of such culture, and who are in charge of this case. They may know the law, but the key question that the Judge in this case has to look at is the facts of this case, and that is based not just on the law but also the evidence, and it is contingent upon her ability to weigh that evidence.
When you have a gang expert who may lack the perspective to place evidence into proper perspective, that creates a problem.
Unlike Sgt. Winger, Joe Villanueva, at least, is somewhat steeped in the culture. He testified that he had grown up in the Salinas Valley, in an area with many Norteno gang members. Detective Villanueva testified that he learned about Hispanic Gangs when growing up, about the general structure of the Norteno Gang, and he knew many during his formative years.
But as Detective Villanueva testified, we also discovered that there were limits to his knowledge. For instance, he does not appear to understand gang laws. He did not understand the difference between 186.22(a) and 186.22(b)(1), believing that both were gang enhancements.
In fact, 186.22(a) is not an enhancement, but the stand-alone crime. The statute reads, "Any person who actively participates in any criminal street gang with knowledge that its members engage in or have engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity, and who willfully promotes, furthers, or assists in any felonious criminal conduct by members of that gang, shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for a period not to exceed one year, or by imprisonment in the state prison for 16 months, or two or three years."
Whereas in 186.22(b)(1), "Any person who is convicted of a felony committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with any criminal street gang, with the specific intent to promote, further, or assist in any criminal conduct by gang members, shall, upon conviction of that felony, in addition and consecutive to the punishment prescribed for the felony or attempted felony of which he or she has been convicted..."
186.22(b)(1) thus requires that the individual commit a felony "for the benefit of" or "at the direction of" a criminal street gang, and imposes an additional sentence, over and above the sentence for the crime.
While Detective Villanueva is not a lawyer, as a gang expert, he should at least know the difference in the sections of the law.
This is not the only problem with Det. Villanueva's testimony. Throughout his testimony, Det. Villanueva has stated that he is an expert based on his contacts with gang members, rival gang members, contact with the community, courses he has taken for his Masters, and training he has received as a police officer and gang detective.
However, his understanding of the Norteno gang and Nuestra Familia has some critical holes in it. For instance, defense attorney David Dratman asked him what the letters in the word, "Norte" represent. Det. Villanueva apparently did not understand the question, responding vaguely that the word means north in context with the gang.
Mr. Dratman asked if Det. Villanueva had ever heard the meaning of the letters as, "Northern Organized Raza Towards Equality?"
Det. Villanueva, the gang expert responded, "I have never heard that before."
Small point? Perhaps. But the broader point here is the criteria for expertise is quite limited and subjective. During trials, a psychiatrist or other professional would have to furnish professional degrees, which certify a proficiency of knowledge. However, while gang experts' testimonies are given similar weight, there is no certification of knowledge, there is little quality control.
The expert witness, here, stipulates to having taken a couple hundred hours of training in a specialized field, and the rest of the expertise is simply knowledge accumulated on the ground. There is nothing wrong with experience, but experience also has its limits and it prevents people, perhaps, from gaining perspective that is needed to actually analyze what it is that they have witnessed. And yet, they are being called up to do exactly that - analyze and offer opinions that supposedly provide the court testimony with greater weight than that from the average witness.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Monopolized Capitalism is now evolving, and is being guided principally by robots.
Stalin could not match this type of efficiency, and worse, the power is in the hands of the worst humans on the Planet whose only concern is the accumulation of money above all concern such as "human rights" and "ecology"...

2010-10-11 "How Speed Traders Are Changing Wall Street" by Tom Anderson from "CBSNews"
It may surprise you to learn that most of the stock trades in the U.S. are no longer being made by human beings, but by robot computers capable of buying and selling thousands of different securities in the time it takes you to blink an eye.
These supercomputers - which actually decide which stocks to buy and sell - are operating on highly secret instructions programmed into them by math wizards who may or may not know anything about the value of the companies that are being traded.
It's known as "high frequency trading," a phenomenon that's swept over much of Wall Street in the past few years and played a supporting role in the mini market crash last spring that saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunge 600 points in 15 minutes.
Most people outside of the industry know very little, if anything, about it. But the Securities and Exchange Commission and members of Congress have begun asking some tough questions about its usefulness, potential dangers, and suspicions that some people may be using computers to manipulate the market.
For 150 years, the floor of the New York Stock Exchange was the center of the financial world, the economic engine that helped American business raise capital and create jobs.
Today it is still the public façade of Wall Street, and a television backdrop for reporters relaying financial news. But less than 30 percent of the trading is conducted there now, and the specialists and the noise of the floor is being replaced by the speed and quiet efficiency of computers, and the action has moved elsewhere.
There are now more than 80 alternative trading systems around the country, plus two brand new electronic stock exchanges which most of you have probably never heard of: BATS and Direct Edge.
They're owned by the big banks and by high frequency trading firms, and neither of them would give "60 Minutes" an interview or let us inside to film their operations, but they trade more than a billion shares a day at blinding speed, and most of those bets are being made by machines.
The players range from firms like Goldman Sachs, Barclays, Credit-Suisse and Morgan Stanley to hedge funds and smaller operations like Tradeworx, which is the only high frequency trading firm that would talk to us or let us in.
It's run by Manoj Narang and a small group of mathematicians and scientists called "quants," which is short for quantitative analysts. Their high speed computers trade 40 million shares every day.
Asked if humans are ever involved in the trading, Narang told correspondent Steve Kroft, "Humans are not involved in the trading because humans are way too slow to trade on the kinds of opportunities that we're trying to capture. We're trying to capture opportunities that exist for only fractions of a second."
The Tradeworx computers don't care where a stock is going to be trading next year, next month, next week or even tomorrow, because they are going to be in and out of it on the same day, in a matter of minutes.
"What's the point of buying and selling a stock that you hold for three minutes?" Kroft asked.
"Same objective that all other participants have in the market, is to make money. You buy low, sell high, that's how you make money," Narang said.
"And the computer will know when to buy and when to sell?" Kroft asked.
"Sure, the computer is monitoring real-time data and it knows what to do with that data and how to make decisions based on that," Narang replied.
What Narang and other high frequency traders tell their computers to do is to make a profit of a penny or less, 40 million times day.
They scan the different exchanges, trying to anticipate which direction individual stocks are likely to move in the next fraction of a second based on current market conditions and statistical analysis of past performance. But the computers have no real understanding of who these companies are and what they do.
The computer doesn't know or care whether a company is well managed. "It doesn't know who the CEO is or what that CEO's background is. Doesn't know the management team," Narang said.
"Whether he's going through a divorce?" Kroft asked. "Whether he's just been sued for sexual harassment?"
"Right. It knows information that you can quantify about the company," Narang explained.
Asked if it's all math, Narang said, "It's all probability and statistics - a procedure that you can define precisely."
The trading instructions are programmed into the computers with complicated mathematical formulas called algorithms. Narang showed us how it works with a simple, hypothetical example he uses for demonstration purposes.
"I'm gonna test a strategy where if a stock went down five percent for the past week, I'm going to buy $5 of that stock. And if a different stock went up ten percent last week, I'm going to sell $10 of that stock. And I'm gonna do that for every stock that's in my tradable universe simultaneously," he told Kroft.
"Which is how many?" Kroft asked.
"There's over 4,000 stocks, about 4,500 stocks," he replied.
The strategy, which could only be successfully executed with a high speed computer, would result in almost as many losing trades as winners, but over the past eight years would have produced a tidy profit - something that Narang and other high frequency traders have gotten used to.
Asked how successful he and his firm have been, Narang told Kroft, "We've had two or three days in a row where we lose money. But we've never had a week, so far, where we lost. We've never had a month that was a loser for us."
Just four years ago, high frequency traders accounted for 30 percent of the stock trades in the U.S. Today, estimates range as high as 70 percent. And institutional traders, like Joe Saluzzi of Themis Trading LLC, have come to believe that the game is rigged.
"How can you make money day after day? There was even one firm that said they made money four years in a row every single day. Well you have to be getting information that other people don't have, otherwise statistically that's an impossibility," Saluzzi said.
Actually, high frequency traders are getting the same market information that Saluzzi gets. They are just getting it a little bit sooner - it's only a few fractions of a second sooner, but if you are running supercomputers, Saluzzi says, it can be an eternity.
"What you're saying is the people with the fastest computers have an advantage? They get the best deals?" Kroft asked.
"Every time. Absolutely. There's no doubt about it. I mean, if they're spending that kind of money, and they're using that type of infrastructure, they're doing it for a reason. And it is to get a speed advantage, in that respect," Saluzzi replied.
It's not just the speed of the super computers that's important - it's also their physical location. The closer they are to the stock exchange's server the quicker they will be able to get critical market information.
Larry Leibowitz, the chief operating officer of the New York Stock Exchange, believes its massive new data center in Mahwah, N.J. will help the exchange regain some of the market share it has lost to electronic trading platforms. And he is busy persuading traders to lease space in the center's stark black boxes for their super computers.
It's called "co-location," a service that high frequency traders will pay tens of thousands of dollars a month for, and includes access to raw data from the exchange that is almost instantaneous.
"We're getting down to, you know, 'How fast can the electrons travel at this point?'" Leibowitz explained.
"They can predict the price of a stock before you can, because of the speed that they're using," Joe Saluzzi told Kroft.
"So, they actually see the trades before you do?" Kroft asked.
"They can see order flow coming into the exchanges before a regular person off of say a Bloomberg or somebody who doesn't have the co-location, the data feeds, and all the other sophisticated technology that they employ. Which is not cheap, by the way, it's extremely expensive to set these things up," Saluzzi said.
Asked how much faster they see it, Saluzzi said, "It could be a few milliseconds."
"How much of an advantage is a couple of milliseconds?" Kroft asked.
"Millions, if not billions of dollars a year," he replied.
That edge, Saluzzi claims, has made high frequency traders the new insiders on Wall Street, and he says he spots signs of predatory behavior every day. Saluzzi, who trades large blocks of stock for institutional investors, says the supercomputers are programmed to place and then cancel thousands of orders a second, trying to sniff out which way a market is moving in order to jump in ahead of big rallies and sell off before big declines. He calls them parasites who exploit a technological advantage to suck money out of the market and add no value.
Asked if high frequency trading raises capital for companies, Saluzzi said, "Absolutely not. If anything, it's distracting from the capital raising process."
"Do these high-frequency trades have anything to do with market fundamentals?" Kroft asked.
"Valuation is irrelevant. It's all about just moving the price up and down the ladder all day long. Each day is new. Each day starts fresh. So, you have to question the true valuation of the markets now," Saluzzi said.
Larry Leibowitz of the New York Stock Exchange says there is absolutely no evidence that small investors are being hurt by high frequency trading. Most of them, he says, don't care about pennies when they are buying and selling stocks. And they're in it for the longer haul.
"Look, there's always been charges for as long as trading has existed that people are front running orders, manipulating stocks. This is nothing new. I think now you add to it the element of the mysterious element of 'the computer' and it makes people even more mistrustful," he told Kroft.
Leibowitz and other proponents of high frequency, high speed computer trading say it has performed a valuable function: tripling volume, reducing stock spreads and transaction costs, and providing liquidity to the markets.
"Liquidity means that if you want to buy or sell a stock you could do it right away, and you could do it at a fair price. That's what liquidity means. And without short-term traders, there is no liquidity," Manoj Narang explained.
Traders like Narang say their presence in the market is making it cheaper and easier for everyone to buy and sell stocks, but regulators and lawmakers like Senator Ted Kaufman of Delaware have other concerns.
"Clearly, liquidity's way up. But what I say is, liquidity's always trumped by transparency and fairness. You can't have fairness if you don't have transparency," Sen. Kaufman explained.
Kaufman, who has both business and engineering degrees, says he is a big fan of technology but he thinks it's gotten way ahead of financial regulators' ability to monitor it. Right now, it's not even possible to determine for sure who is making high frequency trades or what they are telling their computers to do.
"We don't know what's going inside those boxes. There's all types of allegations about what's going on inside there. And basically what can happen is you can have these meltdowns where you can have a computer just go crazy and cause all kinds of problems," the senator said.
Which takes us back to the mini crash on May 6, and one of the scariest rides in stock market history when the Dow Industrials at one point plunged 600 points for no apparent reason.
Turns out it was triggered when a mutual fund's computer dumped $4.1 billion of securities on the market in a 20-minute period, which were then gobbled up by the computers of high frequency traders and sold almost immediately, sending other computers and traders heading for the exits.
"The events of May 6th scared people. I don't think there's any question about that," SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro told Kroft.
Schapiro had already proposed rule changes before May 6 that would allow regulators to track and tag high frequency trades and she is now considering further measures.
"Are you comfortable with computers making 50 to 70 percent of the trades on Wall Street?" Kroft asked.
"One of the concerns is, if one goes wrong, if it operates in an unexpected way, given market conditions, what's the impact of that algorithm that has behaved in an unexpected way, on lots of other investors in the marketplace?" Schapiro replied.
And Schapiro says it has happened since the May 6 crash, after circuit breakers were put in place that automatically halt trading in a stock that moves more than 10 percent in a five minute period.
"A number of times that those circuit breakers have been triggered has been because an algorithm operated in a way nobody intended for it to, causing a stock price to go wildly out of range," Schapiro said.
The crash contributed to the crisis in confidence on Wall Street. Since last spring, people have pulled $70 billion out of mutual funds and the biggest concern of Schapiro and Senator Kaufman is that average investors have lost faith in the integrity of the system.
"Is that correct?" Kroft asked the senator.
"Yes, that's true. Correct. And I'll give you an example. When I was at Wharton, [a] professor came and he said, 'You know, there's a river of wealth that runs through this country.' He said, 'A very small number of people know that it exists. Some people can stand on a high hill and see it off in the distance. Some people can get up on the edge. And there's other people are swimming in it.' That's the perception American people have about what's going on Wall Street right now. They believe there's a small number of people who are swimming in this river of wealth," Kaufman replied.
"There are a lot of people out there who think that the stock market is rigged. Rigged in the sense…that there are people out there who have advantages, the insiders, the big companies?" Kroft asked Larry Leibowitz.
"Right. Yep. And I think that we have to do a better job of, first, obviously making sure it's not the case," he replied. "But we can't be evasive about it. We have to make changes that make sense, that give people more confidence in the market, add more transparency, and make people feel like, 'This is a place I can trust my retirement savings to.'"