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

Saturday, December 31, 2011

2012-12-31 "Leasing Through the Back Door: The Private Financing of “Public” Prisons" by Christopher Petrella from "NationofChange" [http://www.nationofchange.org/leasing-through-back-door-private-financing-public-prisons-1325349464]
Nearly 130,000 bodies are currently caged in for-profit or privately managed “correctional” facilities in the United States, a figure that accounts for 16.4% of federal and 6.8% of state populations [http://www.justicepolicy.org/research/2614].
Since 2000, moreover, the number of extant for-profit and privately contracted penal institutions has skyrocketed by approximately 120% [http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2011/06/23/251363/cca-geogroup-prison-industry/] during a time in which the population of “public” federal and state facilities has grown four times as slowly. And although federal and state expenditures on prisons have mushroomed by72% over the last decade and now cost taxpayers $74 billion per annum, the two largest private prison companies, Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut Corrections Corporation), have together “earned” over $2.9 billion in profits since 2000.
While in recent years much public attention has rightly been devoted to illuminating the “industrial” operations associated with the proliferation of private prison facilities—from the tumesced pocketbooks of private prison operators to the profits generated by telecommunications companies by way of no-bid phone contracts—surprisingly scant attention has been paid to the private financiers of “public” prison projects who earn a profit each time a prison is built. And unlike those who collect revenue on prison operations, firms that purchase bonds for prison construction needn’t have a personal stake in the eventual utility or solvency of any given facility. Their coffers will grow whether or not prison beds are occupied.
But a two-decade long declension in public support for prison expansion has thwarted traditional options for financing new prison construction and has resulted (as it usually does) in new opportunities for cadres of investment bankers, building contractors, and consultants to realize indulgent returns-on-investment with abidingly anti-democratic financing schemes. I call it “leasing through the back-door.”
Even a cursory review of prison, jail, and detention expansion initiatives demonstrates that federal, state, and municipal governments are using “back door” financing instruments that allow them to borrow billions of dollars to build facilities that the public does not want nor can afford. The State of California provides a superlative case study for the examination of “back door” prison financing.
Simply stated, California voters have overwhelmingly rejected the issuance of prison construction bonds the last two times the issue went to referendum. And according to a 2011 poll [http://dornsife.usc.edu/usc-lat-poll-prisons-july-2011/] jointly commissioned by the University of Southern California and Los Angeles Times, nearly three-out-of-four California voters currently oppose tax increases for the purpose of building new prisons. Perhaps the recent voter disinclination for prison construction is a result of the passage of California’s AB900 in 2007. AB900 allows the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to authorize $7.8 billion in lease-revenue bonds to fund the addition of 53,000 new prison and jail beds while bypassing the electorate. To date, the CDCR has packaged and sold $2.1 billion in lease-revenue bonds [http://www.bondaccountability.cdcr.ca.gov/].  Approximately $900 million of that debt was sold in 2011 alone.
Many anti-prison activists have cogently argued that AB900 was drafted to circumvent the “will of the people” who previously defeated two propositions placed on the ballot by the state legislature to appropriate money from general obligation bonds to pay for more prisons. When voters began rejecting general obligation bonds for prison construction, state treasurers, corporate lawyers, and investment bankers began underwriting lease-revenue bonds for the purpose of avoiding constitutional and statutory restrictions on such debt guarded by voter approved bonds.
Of course, prison finance policy is far from immutable and often reflects political-economic trends, exigencies, and anxieties [http://www.publicbonds.org/prison_fin/prison_fin.htm]. In fact, prior to the mid-1980s, prisons were generally financed in one of two ways. State officials either adopted a “pay-as-you-go” approach by funding new construction out of general revenues or they borrowed  money through the sale of general obligation bonds. A general obligation bond is simply a repayment pledge that is guaranteed by the “full faith and credit” – including the taxing power – of the issuer, in this case, the state. Failure to pay debt service on a general obligation is exceedingly rare among large government entities and typically only occurs under conditions of bankruptcy. Most crucially, the issuance of general obligation bonds requires approval by taxpayers in the form of a bond referendum.
As correctional populations and costs mounted in the 1980s and 1990s, however, California and other states found it increasingly difficult 1) to fund prison expansion vis-à-vis annual operating budgets and 2) to secure public approval for new debt. Through the collusion of the public and private sectors (scarcely distinguishable these days…) state officials responded by issuing another type of debt to finance prison construction: lease revenue bonds. Elected officials can circumvent citizen lead socio-political obstacles by issuing lease-revenue bonds, a type of debt that allows agencies created by the government to finance a prison facility by issuing tax-exempt bonds and then leasing the right to use the facility back to the state. The state, which generally gains ownership of the project at the end of the lease period, uses funds appropriated by the legislature (and the governor, typically) to make lease payments. Lease-revenue bonds do not require voter approval.
Lease-revenue bonds are often extraordinarily costly because they carry high interest rates resulting from the lease agreement that guarantees the loan. Even by the CDCR’s own admission [http://www.dof.ca.gov/osae/special_reviews/documents/cdcrpt.pdf], “from a standpoint of costs alone, general obligation bonds are preferable to lease-revenue bonds.”
Wait, what?
They continue, “General obligation bonds typically carry an interest rate 0.2 to 0.5 percentage points below the interest rate on lease-revenue bonds. [General obligation bonds issued by the state of California carry an average interest rate of 5.5% and a service life of 25 years.] In addition, lease-revenue bonds have slightly higher issuance costs (due to the need to purchase commercial insurance) than do general obligation bonds and require a higher value of bonds to be issued to produce the same net proceeds generated by general obligation bonds.”
The higher risk and cost associated with lease-revenue bonds doesn’t seem to concern Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley – three of the largest six U.S. financial institutions—that have underwritten and purchased over $2 billion in lease-revenue bonds for prison construction in California from 1991-2007 [http://www.treasurer.ca.gov/bonds/os.asp]. The public must be made to know that although financial institutions like Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley do not profit directly by exploiting prison labor or by operating private penal facilities, they nonetheless realize exorbitant annual revenues by propping up a “prison industrial complex” by way of “leasing through the back door.” And to paraphrase 16th century Dutch polymath Balthazar Gerbier, too many back doors make thieves.
California residents interested in eradicating the “prison industrial complex” and restoring socially responsible, sustainable, and humane budget priorities are encouraged to join CURB (Californians United for a Responsible Budget). More information is available at [http://curbprisonspending.org/]

Friday, December 30, 2011

2011-12-30 "Young People More Likely To Favor Socialism Than Capitalism: Pew" by Alexander Eichler from "The Huffington Post"
Young people -- the collegiate and post-college crowd, who have served as the most visible face of the Occupy Wall Street movement -- might be getting more comfortable with socialism [http://www.people-press.org/2011/12/28/little-change-in-publics-response-to-capitalism-socialism/?src=prc-headline]. That's the surprising result from a Pew Research Center poll that aims to measure American sentiments toward different political labels.
The poll, published Wednesday, found that while Americans overall tend to oppose socialism by a strong margin -- 60 percent say they have a negative view of it, versus just 31 percent who say they have a positive view -- socialism has more fans than opponents among the 18-29 crowd. Forty-nine percent of people in that age bracket say they have a positive view of socialism; only 43 percent say they have a negative view.
And while those numbers aren't very far apart, it's noteworthy that they were reversed just 20 months ago, when Pew conducted a similar poll. In that survey, published May 2010, 43 percent of people age 18-29 said they had a positive view of socialism, and 49 percent said their opinion was negative.
It's not clear why young people have evidently begun to change their thinking on socialism. In the past several years, the poor economy has had any number of effects on young adults -- keeping them at home with their parents [http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/05/adults-living-with-parents_n_1077067.html], making it difficult for them to get jobs [http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2011/09/22/325717/unemployment-young-adults-highest/], and likely depressing their earning potential for years to come [http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/Investing/Extra/young-bear-brunt-of-the-recession.aspx] -- that might have dampened enthusiasm for the free market among this crowd.
Indeed, the Pew poll also found that just 46 percent of people age 18-29 have positive views of capitalism, and 47 percent have negative views -- making this the only age group where support for socialism outweighs support for capitalism.
Young people have also been among the most involved in the nationwide Occupy movement, whose members have leveled pointed criticism at the capitalist ethos and often called for a more equal distribution of American wealth.
In general, income inequality -- which a Congressional Budget Office report recently pointed out is at historic levels -- has received more and more attention in politics and the media since the Occupy movement launched in mid-September. Usage of the term rose dramatically in news coverage following the start of the protests, and politicians from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to President Barack Obama have used the movement's language to describe divisions in the American public.
Still, the nationwide Occupy demonstrations notwithstanding, socialism doesn't score very well in other age groups in the Pew poll, or across other demographic categories.
Pew broke down its results by age, race, income and political affiliation, as well as support for the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements. There were only two other groups among whom socialism's positives outweighed its negatives -- blacks, who say they favor socialism 55 to 36 percent, and liberal Democrats, who say they favor socialism 59 to 39 percent. These were also the only two groups to show net favor for socialism in the 2010 poll.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011-12-29 "The Corporatization of California's Universities: Arise, Students of California" by RALPH NADER
Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press.
Students of California, arise, you have nothing to lose but a crushing debt!
The corporate state of California, ever ready to seize its ideological and commercial hour during a recession, has a chokehold on California’s public universities. With its tax-coddled plutocracy and a nod to further corporatization, the state government has taken the lid off tuition increases big time.
Students of the University of California at Berkeley may pay a proposed $23,000 in tuition by the 2015-2016 school year, up from $11,160 this year (2011) that in turn is up from $2,716 in the academic year 2001-2002. In short, tuition for resident undergraduates has more than quadrupled in ten years.
Before and right after World War II the idea of a public university included a then-called “educational fee” close to zero, from city college of New York to UC
 Berkeley. Old timers now look back at those days as economic life-savers toward a degree and a productive life for them and the American economy.
No more. Those gates of opportunity are crumbling at an accelerating pace. More street protests by students are focusing on relentless tuition hikes and years of repaying student debt loans while the rich get richer and the tax cuts for the rich are extended. As Mike Konzcal writes, “One of the Occupy movements’ major objectives is combating the privatization of public higher education and its replacement with a debt-fueled economy of indenture.”
So far the students have gotten nowhere in the Golden State. The Board of Regents rules with an iron hand. Their chancellors are enforcing the state government’s unprecedented cutbacks of facilities, faculty, courses and maintenance-repairs.
Berkeley Professor Nancy Scheper-Hughes called the “current crisis” as being “fundamentally about privatization and the dismantling of a national public treasure.”
But the students have a very powerful unused tool of direct democracy – thanks to Governor Hiram Johnson’s enactment of the voters’ initiative process nearly a hundred years ago. They can qualify an initiative on the ballot that would set tuition at affordable levels or even become like some leading European countries where free schooling extends through the university years.
Planning and implementing this people’s legislation would be a rigorous course in law, political science and communications.
The effort invites the best minds from the faculty. The language of the initiative must be clear, persuasive and as devoid of ambiguity and openings for circumvention as possible.
Depending on whether the initiative amends the California Constitution or has statutory status, the students will have to collect as many as 810,000 or as few as 505,000 valid signatures on petitions to get on the November 2012 ballot. Ordinarily, without lots of money for paid petitioners, this can be a formidable challenge. But with millions of community college and university students reachable on campus, combined with their families, this should be a fast process and a piece of cake.
According to the eminent University of San Diego Law Professor Robert Fellmeth, there is no legal obstacle to a statutory initiative tied to the funding power of the legislature. It would stipulate, as a condition precedent to state general fund monies, specified tuition limits (perhaps at least a freeze), to provide equitable access to higher education opportunity.
Of course an initiative that is a constitutional amendment can be more supremely declarative.
There are other states where students can establish a legal protection for publically accessible universities by enacting statewide initiatives. All these tools of democracy should be obvious to any high school student were functional civics and democratic practices taught with the same fervor devoted to computer training.
So let’s see if California’s deteriorating public university systems can be rescued by their undergraduate and graduate students who place the priority of accessible, adequate public higher education where it belongs for the longer run.
2011-12-29 "For-profit college VP named to student aid panel" by Josh Richman
Gov. Jerry Brown this week named an East Bay woman to the California Student Aid Commission, but an article I read recently makes me wonder whether he’s appointed a fox to guard the henhouse.
Brown appointed Terri Bishop, 58, of Lafayette, to the California Student Aid Commission, the stated mission of which is “making education beyond high school financially accessible to all Californians. The appointment requires Senate confirmation and the compensation is $100 per diem. Bishop is a Democrat.
According to its website, the commission is “the principal state agency responsible for administering financial aid programs for students attending public and private universities, colleges, and vocational schools in California” and “provides financial aid policy analysis and leadership, in partnership with California’s colleges, universities, financial institutions, and financial aid associations.” It administers the Cal Grant program, which provides public money to students for use at colleges and universities within the state; the program has suffered grievous cuts in recent budgets, even as public university and community college tuitions have increased.
Bishop has worked at the Apollo Group – parent company of the University of Phoenix, a for-profit system of more than 200 campuses plus online learning – since 1997, including serving most recently as executive vice president of academic strategy and senior advisor to the chief executive officer. From 1989 to 1997, she was senior vice president of the Online Campus at the University of Phoenix.
Now, I don’t know Bishop, and I have no reason to doubt her or her motivations on an individual, personal or professional basis. But the hair on the back of my neck rose a bit when I read about this appointment, as I recalled an article in the October issue of Harper’s which cast the University of Phoenix and schools like it in a not-so-favorable light [http://www.scribd.com/doc/67918396/Leveling-the-Playing-Field-Harpers-10-2011].
From that article:
[begin excerpt]
Currently, proprietary institutions educate about one in ten American college students while taking in nearly a quarter of all Title IV funding – $4 billion in Pell Grants and $20 billion in guaranteed loans in 2009.
All this government funding is notable because enrolling at for-profit colleges turns out to be a terrible deal for most students. Almost three fifths drop out without a degree within a year, and virtually all take on debt to help pay for their education. They default on their loans at about twice the rate of students at public colleges and universities and three times the rate of students at private ones. Those who graduate often wind up in low-paying jobs, doing tasks with minimal connection to their degrees.
[end excerpt]
The article also notes that University of Phoenix gets about 88 percent of its revenue from federal funding.
[begin excerpt]
Those one or two who get degrees and otherwise would have been shut out of the system may justify the cost of letting schools like Phoenix occupy such a prominent place in our educational landscape. What isn’t clear is how many Americans understand that this is the bargain we’ve signed up for: throwing enormous resources at places like Phoenix so that they can graduate one or two out of every twenty entering freshmen.
[end excerpt]
2011-12-29 "Young People More Likely To Favor Socialism Than Capitalism: Pew" by Alexander Eichler from "The Huffington Post"
Young people -- the collegiate and post-college crowd, who have served as the most visible face of the Occupy Wall Street movement -- might be getting more comfortable with socialism [http://www.people-press.org/2011/12/28/little-change-in-publics-response-to-capitalism-socialism/?src=prc-headline]. That's the surprising result from a Pew Research Center poll that aims to measure American sentiments toward different political labels.
The poll, published Wednesday, found that while Americans overall tend to oppose socialism by a strong margin -- 60 percent say they have a negative view of it, versus just 31 percent who say they have a positive view -- socialism has more fans than opponents among the 18-29 crowd. Forty-nine percent of people in that age bracket say they have a positive view of socialism; only 43 percent say they have a negative view.
And while those numbers aren't very far apart, it's noteworthy that they were reversed just 20 months ago, when Pew conducted a similar poll [http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1583/political-rhetoric-capitalism-socialism-militia-family-values-states-rights]. In that survey, published May 2010, 43 percent of people age 18-29 said they had a positive view of socialism, and 49 percent said their opinion was negative.
It's not clear why young people have evidently begun to change their thinking on socialism. In the past several years, the poor economy has had any number of effects on young adults -- keeping them at home with their parents, making it difficult for them to get jobs [http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2011/09/22/325717/unemployment-young-adults-highest/], and likely depressing their earning potential for years to come [http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/Investing/Extra/young-bear-brunt-of-the-recession.aspx] -- that might have dampened enthusiasm for the free market among this crowd.
Indeed, the Pew poll also found that just 46 percent of people age 18-29 have positive views of capitalism, and 47 percent have negative views -- making this the only age group where support for socialism outweighs support for capitalism.
Young people have also been among the most involved in the nationwide Occupy movement, whose members have leveled pointed criticism at the capitalist ethos and often called for a more equal distribution of American wealth.
In general, income inequality -- which a Congressional Budget Office report recently pointed out is at historic levels -- has received more and more attention in politics and the media since the Occupy movement launched in mid-September. Usage of the term rose dramatically in news coverage following the start of the protests, and politicians from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to President Barack Obama have used the movement's language to describe divisions in the American public.
Still, the nationwide Occupy demonstrations notwithstanding, socialism doesn't score very well in other age groups in the Pew poll, or across other demographic categories.
Pew broke down its results by age, race, income and political affiliation, as well as support for the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements. There were only two other groups among whom socialism's positives outweighed its negatives -- blacks, who say they favor socialism 55 to 36 percent, and liberal Democrats, who say they favor socialism 59 to 39 percent. These were also the only two groups to show net favor for socialism in the 2010 poll.
2011-12-29 "FBI Tracking Videotapers as Terrorists?" by Dean Kuipers from the "Los Angeles Times"
The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force has recommended for many years that animal activists who carry out undercover investigations on farms could be prosecuted as domestic terrorists.
New documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by activist Ryan Shapiro [http://www.greenisthenewred.com/blog/wp-content/Images/2003_UI-OR-AETA_Partial-redaction.pdf] show the FBI advising that activists – including Shapiro – who walked onto a farm, videotaped animals there and “rescued” an animal had violated terrorism statutes.
The documents, which were first published on Will Potter’s website, Green Is the New Red [http://www.greenisthenewred.com/blog/fbi-undercover-investigators-animal-enterprise-terrorism-act], were issued by the Joint Terrorism Task Force in 2003 in response to an article in an animal rights publication in which Shapiro and two other activists (whose names were redacted from the document), openly claimed responsibility for shooting video and taking animals from a farm.
The FBI notes discuss the videotaping, illegal entry and the removal of animals, then concludes with “there is a reasonable indication that [Subject 1] and other members of the [redacted] have violated the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, 18 USC Section 43 (a).”
Curiously, the name of the act seems to be an error; the act was called the Animal Enterprise Protection Act until 2006, when it was largely superseded by an act called the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. The crime named in the original 1992 act, however, was always called terrorism. The penalties for such a conviction can include terrorism enhancements which can add decades to a sentence.
Later, in 2004, Shapiro and a colleague, Sarahjane Blum, working as a group called Gourmet Cruelty, were prosecuted for a different but similar act in which they walked onto a fois gras farm, videotaped the operation and took a few ducks. They were prosecuted for felony burglary and pleaded to misdemeanor trespassing.
“Sarahjane and I and everyone with Gourmet Cruelty – the undercover investigation and especially the open rescue were acts of civil disobedience,” said Shapiro by phone. He is currently a doctoral candidate in the Department of Science, Technology and Society at MIT. “We openly took credit for the things that we were doing in order to expose the horrific cruelty on factory farms and to educate the public about it. So a trespassing charge seemed like a perfectly reasonable price to pay.”
“However, it’s simply outrageous to consider civil disobedience as terrorism,” Shapiro adds. “Civil disobedience is not terrorism. It has a long and proud place in our nation’s history, from Martin Luther King to Occupy Wall Street, and the AETA takes that kind of advocacy that we celebrate from the civil rights movement and turns it into a terrorist event.”
The FBI declined to comment on the documents, though a public information officer did point out that "the FBI cannot collect or retain information on pure 1st Amendment activities unless the collection is pertinent to a legitimate law enforcement activity." Which would indicate that it is the trespassing and theft of animals that would cause the bureau to open a file. But activists and their attorneys are unsure of this interpretation.
Undercover investigations have been a mainstay of activist work, whistleblower activity and even journalism since before the days of Upton Sinclair and his landmark 1906 work about the meatpacking industry, “The Jungle.”
“Some of these investigations don’t even break state laws,” says Rachel Meerpol, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights who is representing Shapiro in a constitutional challenge of the AETA. “It’s possible to gain undercover footage lawfully. The way the FBI is interpreting this law would allow for prosecution of completely lawful, valuable advocacy efforts as an act of terrorism. It’s an issue of public safety as well as animal cruelty. It’s such a waste of time and resources for the FBI to be spending money investigating folks involved in this work.”
State legislatures, however, are also getting into the act. Florida, Iowa, Minnesota and New York all tried to pass bills specifically outlawing photographing and videotaping animal enterprises in 2011, but failed. Florida state Sen. Jim Norman has already reintroduced his bill, SB1184, for 2012, which is more of an omnibus bill but still contains the prohibitions against recording farm operations.
Potter, who has looked into these state laws in more detail, points out, “There’s no shortage of laws that could be used to prosecute someone who is trespassing or someone who is vandalizing property in the process of an investigation. But these new laws are specifically aimed at mainstream animal rights and environmental groups who investigate abuse, such as the Humane Society, Mercy for Animals and PETA.”

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011-12-28 "Occupy Everywhere – But Not at the Mall" by Jen Schradie from "CommonDreams.org"
Jen Schradie is a freelance writer and a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Berkeley in the Sociology Department. Jen is affiliated with the Berkeley Center for New Media.
“The state and city pretty much shut us down at the historic ‘public square’ at the Capitol,” said Roger Ehrlich, an Occupy Raleigh activist, “so it seemed reasonable to assemble at the modern, corporatized version – the mall.” Ehrlich and I were among six people arrested on Black Friday during an Occupy Raleigh protest at the Crabtree Valley Mall.
The Occupy tent occupations provided a public forum for democratic protest and created a space for envisioning new communities. Then, police began to crack-down on encampments, disinformation campaigns grew and public support waned. As a result, many Occupy movements have expanded tactics from long-term public occupations to short-term direct actions on private property, such as ports, banks, homes, and malls. What are the implications of this shift to the power hubs of the 1%?
First, this transition from the public to the private directly exposes the collusion between government and corporations.
As a resident of Oakland and a doctoral candidate at the University of California-Berkeley, I had survived the police brutality in the public spaces of Occupy Oakland and Occupy Cal. Yet I ended up being arrested on private property by a planned coordination between mall cops and the city police.
Actions on private property expose this complicity of the government with corporate interests, which is the crux of the Occupy movement. It is this trend of the government ceding more and more rights, control and funding to the corporate 1% at the expense of the 99% that has the movement up in arms.
One target is the U.S. Supreme court decision of Citizens United, which ruled that corporations have the same rights as individuals. Yet individuals do not have the same rights as corporations. In response to money buying power, the Occupy amendment seeks to reverse this ruling. Recently, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont introduced a constitutional amendment that would reverse this ruling, as well as prohibit campaign contributions by corporations.
But the Occupy movement, for its part, has also pushed and blurred the physical boundaries between the public and private, but in a different direction.
Another result, then, of the Occupy move from public to private spaces is that it challenges our notion of the public sphere, taking the fight directly to the 1%. Most occupations have been in public spaces, such as city or university property. Case law on the rights of assembly and free speech, therefore, can support these public protests. What of challenging our rights to free speech in private spaces?
I was videotaping the Occupy Raleigh protest at the Crabtree Valley Mall, so I asked a police officer why I was being arrested. He replied, “Ma’am, this is private property.”
The massive and sprawling food court where I was arrested is, in many ways, the contemporary town square in that it hosts many events that are open to the public. Most people no longer shop at local merchants in a quaint village but, instead, gather at big box stores or shopping malls. From cultural performances to mall walking, these meccas of corporate consumerism are used for public events. Of the six of us arrested at the mall, including Ehrlich, two were fathers of children who would be performing holiday music on the same stage where these protesters had chanted, “Human need, not corporate greed.”
But it is not just citizens who are using the mall for public uses. In 2008, the North Carolina legislature approved private spaces as voting sites. So that same year in Wake County, home of Crabtree Valley Mall, the Board of Elections used two shopping malls as voting sites because they recognized that increased voter turnout could derive from using these heavily used private spaces. Controversy ensued there, as well, as citizens were not given the same rights to leaflet and talk to citizens as they are in public voting sites spaces.
As a sociologist who studies social movements and social media, I am captivated by theories of what constitutes the “public sphere” for political discussions. Jürgen Habermas, a German scholar, described the public sphere as not so much a physical place but distinct historical periods when debate can flourish outside of those in power. So rather than the mall as simply a space for protest or the Internet as a tool for political debate, perhaps this moment has created an opportunity for a national conversation that includes the 99%, rather than the corporate voices that tend to dominate because of the power of money.
Yet the physical space of a public sphere does, indeed, matter. Other philosophers, such as Brecht, argued that counter public spheres can challenge the traditional public spheres controlled by dominant voices in the media, government, and corporations. Political movements, such as Occupy, do just that, particularly when private spaces, usually off-limits to the public, can become public megaphones. In other words, the material spaces that represent what is wrong with the current capitalist system – whether a shopping mall or a foreclosed home – also become a vehicle for protest and the public sphere itself.
Finally, the transformation of the Occupy movement onto private property has only escalated the Occupy movement, not diminished it. The West Coast Port shutdown on December 12 most symbolizes this. While there had been countless spontaneous acts of occupy solidarity before this action, this was the first city-to-city coordinated protest on private property since the inception of the Occupy movement. Being forced off public property has inspired the Occupy movement to be innovative and creative in its tactics, rather than extinguish it.
It has also expanded its base. At a home foreclosure action earlier this month in West Oakland, a largely low-income African-American community, a man across the street yelled to the crowd, “Where have you been the last 15 years?” While this statement may well be a legitimate critique of the whiteness of the movement, it can also be perceived as expansion, as the Occupy Oakland movement has spent countless hours canvassing Latino and African-American neighborhoods, working with local residents to occupy their foreclosed homes.
“Occupy Everywhere” has been one of the battle cries of the Occupy movement. The movement is not stopping at the gold-clad gates of the 1%. In the process, public actions challenge the sanctity of American private property.
As an arresting officer told one of my co-defendants, “This is private property. You have no rights.” As a result, the state and the corporation assume that simply making public comments on private property is an act of violence. All six of us were charged with the following:
"...intentionally cause a public disturbance at CRABTREE VALLEY MALL, by making utterances, intended and plainly likely to provoke immediate violent retaliation and thereby cause a breach of the peace. The acts of the defendant were directed toward CROWD IN FOOD COURT and consisted of REMARKS ABOUT THE OCCUPY RALEIGH PROTEST."
2011-12-28 "Whistleblower documents illuminate case against BNY Mellon" by Carrick Mollenkamp from "Reuters" newswire
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Confidential whistleblower documents that helped spark a massive state and federal investigation into how Bank of New York Mellon Corp charged pension funds for currency exchange, provide a rare window into how a bank insider aided a lawsuit against the bank.
 The information provided by whistleblower Grant Wilson, who worked at BNY Mellon, included a detailed analysis of how the bank allegedly provided "fictitious" foreign-currency costs for pension funds.
 The analysis included a step-by-step guide to how currencies were traded and internal profits generated by the bank, according to documents seen by Reuters. A memo detailing fellow employees also was provided.
 Aided by Wilson's information, multiple states, including Virginia, Florida and New York, have sued BNY Mellon, alleging that the bank improperly charged state and local pension funds for foreign exchange. The Department of Justice also has sued the bank.
 The allegations center on claims that BNY Mellon provided unfavorable currency-exchange rates for state and local pension funds for a decade. In a lawsuit in October, the New York attorney general alleged BNY Mellon earned $2 billion over the decade from the trading.
 A bank spokesman said the bank believes that many comments detailed in the documents were taken out of context or not said at all.
 "A handful of purported statements cherry-picked from millions of documents gathered over a decade do not reflect the way we do business or the value we provide our client," the spokesman said.
 The documents illuminate why insiders with highly confidential information can be a potent force in whistleblower lawsuits. Much of the information a whistleblower provides remains confidential.
 Wilson, for example, worked at the bank even as he secretly provided to his legal team -- lawyers in Boston and New York -- information about how BNY Mellon allegedly conducted foreign-exchange trading.
 Wilson's information was provided to the legal team that filed whistleblower lawsuits against BNY Mellon in 2009 and then aided state attorneys general in subsequent probes. The legal team includes Boston lawyer Michael Lesser, and Philip Michael, a lawyer in New York, as well as Harry Markopolos, a fraud investigator best known for warning that Bernard Madoff was operating a fraudulent scheme.
 Lesser, an attorney at Thornton & Naumes, said Wilson was not available for a comment.
 The information then was provided by Wilson's lawyers to the Florida attorney general in 2009 and 2010. The attorney general at the time was weighing whether to intervene in an October 2009 whistleblower lawsuit against BNY Mellon. That lawsuit was based on Wilson's information.
 In August this year, Florida Attorney General Pamela Jo Bondi filed her lawsuit in Leon County.
 A bank spokesman said the Florida lawsuit is "without merit."
 The Wall Street Journal earlier this year identified Wilson as the whistleblower behind the state and federal investigations and reported the existence of the documents.
 Wilson, according to the documents, worked as a foreign-exchange trader for 19 years. He joined a predecessor bank to BNY Mellon in 1997 and left this spring. He worked at BNY Mellon's Pittsburgh office.
 The documents detail Wilson's experience at the bank, noting that the trader "possesses deep and sophisticated knowledge and personal experience in these businesses, particularly with regard to foreign exchange." The documents note that he "never received a reprimand" during his career.
 Wilson's first-hand knowledge was crucial to the state lawsuits. Information provided in 2009 underpinned subsequent state claims. Wilson "can describe, step-by-step, how the fraud is committed against the affected funds and how the various departments of the Bank work to make the process as profitable as possible," one document alleges.
 Wilson and his lawyers, for example, provide 11 chronological steps to explain how pension clients allegedly receive a "falsified trade price," documents show. Those clients used a so-called "standing-instruction" program in which they effectively give control of foreign exchange to the bank.
 In one document, Wilson's lawyers provide a question-and-answer tutorial so the Florida attorney general's office knows the right questions to ask BNY Mellon employees.
 The documents also show how Wilson aided the legal effort even as he continued to work at BNY Mellon. One memo was written by Wilson's lawyers in August 2010, some eight months before Wilson left the bank. In the memo, Wilson's lawyers tell the Florida attorney general that Wilson knows that efforts to obtain documents from the bank are being stymied with "claims of difficulty in production or other delays."
 The memo, using Wilson's knowledge of the bank, states that the information actually could be easily obtained because it is "centrally stored."
 "It is stored at a state-of-the-art facility that should hasten, rather than hinder, any document response from the bank."
 A month later, in September 2010, Wilson's lawyers submitted another memo to Florida's attorney general, noting: "We would also like to remind you that (Wilson) continues in his employment at the bank. Specific information, documents and conversations mentioned here could be connected" to Wilson.
 That memo alleges that BNY Mellon "is now actively and hurriedly formulating a strategy" aimed at preserving profits from the foreign-exchange business at the center of the state inquiries. The memo explains that BNY Mellon publicly wants to provide a supposedly more "transparent" foreign-exchange system.
 Actually, the "Project Gateway" strategy provides "no true change," the memo claims.
 The memo also claims that one BNY Mellon client had received better pricing on currency transactions even as the bank continued "to steal" from other clients.
 The documents also show some inside BNY Mellon allegedly worried about the impact of the investigations and whether profits would soon disappear. One employee, having learned that probes were looking at how BNY Mellon traded currencies, said: "It's over, it's all over," according to a March 2010 document.
 Another document describes two months later how a senior banker addressed FX traders and told them the bank had received 16 subpoenas. This employee told the traders, "We have not done anything wrong."
 In a seven-page memo, Wilson and his legal team provided detailed biographies of fellow traders and employees at BNY Mellon to help determine whether they might be helpful in the whistleblower legal effort. One employee was described as "worried about job security ... Not financially secure. Scared and probably loyal to the Bank. But also would not be inclined to perjure herself ... She has a lot of information."
 Another senior executive "likes to rant and rave ... Mr. Wilson assumes he will want to defend the bank." A sales executive "seems willing to push the envelope when it comes to producing profits."
2011-12-28 "Jewish Conservative: Top 10 Ways Democrats Are Like Nazis" by David Badash 
Don Feder, a Jewish conservative extremist, two days before Christmas, posted to a Tea Party website an asinine screed, the “Top 10 Ways Democrats Are Like Nazis,” which, given his religion, is an especially unfortunate assault. The ludicrous attack by Feder, of the ultraconservative World Congress of Families, includes right wing flash points like “Solyndra,” and “Jeremiah Wright,” and stupid assertions like Obama wants to take your guns. The Feder falsehoods also include factually incorrect statements like Obama “declared himself the 4th best president in American history,” and absurdly offensive lies, including likening the Occupy Wall Street Movement to the paramilitary Nazi organization of the 1940’s, Hitler Youth.
Violators of Godwin’s law are bad enough, but a Jewish American who turns his back on the facts surrounding the murder of millions by Hitler and the Nazis, and likens that to America’s Democratic Party, is unconscionable.
Lastly, Feder’s statement, that “states with the least restrictive gun laws have the lowest crime rates,” woefully and inadequately tells the real story. The incidence of gun violence in America, especially as we have seen in the past few days, is frightening.
How many lies, twisted truths, and false statements can you find below? Shame on Don Feder. Here are Feder’s “Top 10 Ways Democrats Are Like Nazis.” Decide the truth for yourself.
1. Economic Fascism – Like the National Socialists, Democrats want to maintain the façade of private ownership while putting control in the hands of the state. Whether a business prospered or failed in the Third Reich depended on political pull – how close industrialists were to the Nazi leadership. Similarly, the Obama administration has come more and more to resemble the “crony capitalism” it denounced in 2008. Companies whose executives made lavish contributions to the Obama campaign ended up with contracts worth hundreds of millions for products that couldn’t possibly be manufactured with private financing. Solyndra is the most glaring example. The private/​government partnership typical of fascism is taken a step further. In January 2011, Obama appointed General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt head of his jobs council. Need you ask which candidate GE’s executives will invest in next year to keep their jobs?

2. Cult of personality – Hitler, Stalin and Mao were its most prominent practitioners. Obama is no slouch. It started at the 2008 Democratic nominating convention in Denver. Mere mortals accept their party’s nomination at the convention site. Not Barack Obama, whose campaign packed 80,000 delirious followers into the Denver Bronco’s stadium to hear Glorious Leader-​in-​waiting deliver his coronation speech amidst fake Greek pillars. (It was all reminiscent of the elaborately-​staged events in Nuremberg, where the masses worshipped another man-​God). At Obama’s $150-​million inauguration, celebrity cretins like Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore and Cameron Diaz, pledged to their leader to “be the change” (his change). In a recent “60 Minutes” interview, the man whose hubris is in perpetual overdrive obliquely declared himself the 4th best president in American history. Why only 4th? Can the divine image on stamps, coins and statues be far off?

3. Penchant for thuggery – The Nazis used their S.A. street fighters to intimidate opponents. In 1972, during the McGovern campaign, the national Democratic Party was taken over by the New Left, whose hallmark was violent confrontations with the police during the ‘60s anti-​war movement. (Obama has never disavowed ex-​Weatherman Bill Ayers, who still boasts of blowing things up in the 1960s.) In answer to Tea Party activism and Republican victories in 2010, Democrats have become increasingly unhinged. In February, Massachusetts Congressman Mike Capuano told a gang of labor goons in Boston, “Every once and awhile, you need to get out in the streets and get a little bloody when necessary.” (The goons proceeded to rough-​up counter-​protestors.) On Labor Day, Obama appeared at a rally with AFL-​CIO Capo Richard Trumka, who had earlier told Illinois UMW members to get out and “kick the sh-​t out of every last” worker who crossed picket lines. Lately, we had the Occupy Wall Street Movement (the Obama Jugend) battling cops who came to evict the squatters. Totalitarians of all stripes believe adherence to their vision justifies violence.

4. They’ve come for your guns –The National Socialists inherited a firearms registration law from the Weimar Republic and preceded to make it progressively harsher. In 1938, gun ownership was limited to Nazi party members. Earlier, the Weimar registration lists were used to confiscate guns from “undesirables.” The German socialists feared guns in the hands of their opponents. Starting with the U.S. Gun Control Act of 1968, every major piece of anti-​Second Amendment legislation has been passed by Democrats. Fast and Furious, through which the ATF ran guns to Mexican drug cartels, was intended to discredit firearms dealers. Democrats call their gun-​grabbing mania crime-​prevention. Can they really be that stupid? The states with the least restrictive gun laws have the lowest crime rates. In a recent speech to the NRA, Newt Gingrich unmasked Obama’s stealth strategy – rather than push anti-​gun legislation, he appoints anti-​gun judges and signs anti-​firearms treaties. The result is the same.

5. Undermine traditional religion while seeking to exploit it – But didn’t Hitler say he was a Christian. So does Obama. The religion mongered in the temple of Jeremiah Wright (anti-​America, anti-​Israel) bears the same relationship to normative Christianity that Obama-​nomics does to the free market. Hitler idolized philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and composer Richard Wagner – both militant atheists. In public, Hitler would try to use Christianity. Privately, he was contemptuous of the faith as a conspiracy of the Jews to foist their morality on happy pagans. In 1942, his deputy, Martin Bormann, flatly stated, “National Socialist and Christian concepts are incompatible.” The Democrats never miss a chance to undermine traditional religion, especially by placing Church-​State fetishists on the bench. Until it was exposed by a Republican Congressman and hastily rescinded, Obama’s New PC Army tried to ban gifts of Bibles to wounded warriors at Walter Reed Army Hospital. The National Christmas Tree on the Capitol grounds has a number of ornaments with references to Obama, but nothing about Christmas or the Nativity or a crèche at the base. The Capitol police threatened to arrest Rev. Patrick Mahoney if he carried out plans to read the Christmas story or sing carols at the lighting ceremony. Totalitarians don’t like competition for the people’s loyalty. One god at a time, please.

6. Anti-​progress – The Democratic Party is the Sierra Club in office. It opposes coal-​mining, domestic oil production and nuclear power. If they could, Democrats would happily ban the internal-​combustion engine. In 1935, the Third Reich passed a precursor of today’s environmental legislation (the Reich Nature Protection Law), which required “environmental effect reports” (environmental impact statements?) for any construction that might alter the landscape. Nazi biologist Ernst Lehmann explained: “We recognize that separating humanity from nature, from the whole of life, leads to humankind’s own destruction and the death of nations. Only through the re-​integration of humanity into the whole of nature can our people be made stronger.” Sound familiar? Had it been published in Berlin in 1935, “Earth In Balance” would have become an instant classic.

7. Intellectual apologists – The left has dominated our college campuses since the 1960s. As early as 1931, the Nazis enjoyed far more support in German universities than with the general public – among both professors and students (the later through the National Socialist German Students). Philosophers, poets and scientists lined up to pledge allegiance to the Thousand Year Reich. Hitler railed at intellectuals. The Hitler Youth barbecued books. But if there’s one thing intellectuals like even more than their pet theories it’s the power to force them on the public, which is why every totalitarian régime has its intellectual running dogs. In 2012, watch for prominent economists (like Nobel laureate Paul Krugman), writers and scientists (especially the global warming crowd) to line up behind the man who celebrates himself as the smartest president since Thomas Jefferson.

8. Anti-​Jewish – Hitler’s anti-​Semitism is too well known to require elaboration. Less well known is that, like the liberal left, he was appreciative of Islam and viewed Muslims as allies. Haj Amin al-​Husseini – Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and uncle to Yasser Arafat – spent World War II in Berlin and recruited a Muslim SS division in the Balkans. The degeneration of the Democratic Party from Harry S. Truman, who made the Jewish state possible, to Barack Hussein Obama (who would make the Jewish state impossible to maintain) is unprecedented. Obama’s open contempt for Israel caused a heavily Jewish congressional district in New York to elect a Republican for the first time in 70 years in 2011. The Democratic think tank Center for American Progress compares Israel’s fight for survival to segregation in the pre-​Civil Rights era. Obama’s ambassador to Belgium is reported to have remarked that a “distinction should be made between traditional anti-​Semitism, which should be condemned and Muslim hatred for Jews (which should be tolerated?), which stems from the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians” – thus excusing the ongoing Kristallnacht in Europe, courtesy of the religion of peace. Should this be surprising from the president who sat in a pew of the Trinity United Church for 19 years and listened to Wright rant about “state terrorism against the Palestinians”? Obama’s “The Audacity of Hope” was inspired by one of the Wright Reverend’s sermons. In turn, Jeremiah gave an award to Louis, who called Judaism a “gutter religion.”

9. Practice the big lie – The Nazis were infamous for their propaganda techniques – which were actually pioneered by the Bolsheviks. Goebbels advised: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe.” Although the competition is fierce, probably the Democrats’ most outrageous lie is that they are for the middle class and all of the problems of Main Street can be laid at the door of Republicans and Wall Street. Democratic solicitude for Middle America is manifested by: giving us chronic 9% unemployment, an anti-​progress tax system, crippling domestic energy production (leading to pain at the pump, among other effects), growing the national debt to shrink the economy (Obama increased the debt almost 30% in less than 3 years), leaving our borders unguarded so that blue-​collar workers have to compete with hordes of illegal aliens, and a government-​created crisis in the mortgage-​housing market, putting homeownership out of reach for young families for decades. Democrats’ declaration of solidarity with the middle class is as sincere as Hitler’s assurances throughout the 1930s that he wanted peace – up until the moment he invaded Poland. While assuring us they have our interests at heart, Democrats invade our bank accounts and pension plans.

10. Come to power democratically, retain power dictatorially – Hitler came to power through the democratic process, then proceeded to eliminate his opponents, by banning competing parties, dissolving trade unions and, eventually, sending the leadership of both to concentration camps. Like the Nazis, Democrats believe their opponents are evil. They’ve done their best to demonize the Tea Parties and talk radio. Periodically, they threaten to revive the Fairness Doctrine and apply it rigorously to the only media they don’t control. Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe says that in 2007, he overheard a conversation between Hillary Clinton and Barbara Boxer in which they agreed that something had to be done about talk radio and “there’s got to be a legislative fix for this.” Democrats also seek to stifle dissent through hate-​crimes laws and campaign spending limits. Would they go so far as to imprison opponents of the régime? The president has done a complete about-​face on indefinite detention of suspected terrorists, which he swears would never, ever be used against U.S. citizens. In 2009, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said future terrorists would likely come from the ranks of Second Amendment activists, anti-​tax protestors, proponents of border security and disgruntled Iraq war veterans. Connect the dots.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011-12-27 "Book Examines America's Turn from Science, Warns of Danger for Democracy" by Renee Schoof from "McClatchy Newspapers"
WASHINGTON — Americans have trouble dealing with science, and one place that's especially obvious is in presidential campaigns, says Shawn Lawrence Otto, who tried, with limited success, to get the candidates to debate scientific questions in the 2008 presidential election.
Otto is the author of a new book, "Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America," which opens with a quote from Thomas Jefferson: "Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government."
And if the people and their leaders aren't well informed and don't use scientific information to solve modern problems, Otto suggests, the United States could soon skid into decline.
"Without the mooring provided by the well-informed opinion of the people, governments may become paralyzed or, worse, corrupted by powerful interests seeking to oppress and enslave," he writes.
Today, he adds, Congress seems paralyzed and "ideology and rhetoric increasingly guide policy discussion, often bearing little relationship to factual reality."
In 2008, Otto and a group of other writers tried to organize a presidential debate on science issues. Neither Barack Obama nor John McCain was interested. In the end, the two candidates agreed to respond to 14 questions in writing, and Otto's group posted them on its ScienceDebate.org website.
Otto said the group plans to try for another science debate in 2012.
Reporters play a role in whether science is discussed in campaigns. A League of Conservation Voters analysis in early 2008 found that prime-time TV journalists asked 2,975 questions in 171 interviews. Only six questions were about climate change, "and the same could be said of any one of several major policy topoics surrounding science," Otto writes in the book.
Today's policymakers "are increasingly unwilling to pursue many of the remedies science presents," he argues. They "take one of two routes: Deny the science, or pretend the problems don't exist."
Otto said he wasn't looking for simple answers in the book: "I don't blame corporations because they are stuck in a system we have created and they can't solve it all themselves," he said in an interview. "I don't blame the Republican Party for going anti-science because there are a lot of factors that led to that socially, and I don't think it's a decision of Republican Party leadership to one day say, 'oh, we're not going to accept science anymore.' And it's not just because evangelicals got involved in politics. There's a lot of compex reasons."

Here are some questions with the author and his answers:
Are Americans rejecting science?
"I think it's a myth Americans aren't interested. It's a myth they don't like science and scientists ... But there's some partisan political affiliation going on, and sometimes science tells them they don't want to hear and they don't like to deal with. Climate change is a great example, because the problem is so enormous and the implications mean restructuring our economy and our energy supply system."
"Science does two things that we don't love. It does lots of things that we do love, but the two things we don't love are: Whenever we extend our knowledge, we have to parse that new knowledge morally and ethically . . . . The other thing is that it either confirms or vexes somebody's vested interested."

Will we hear about science issues in the 2012 campaign?
"I think science is going to remain a charged issue . .. Science is such a major part of everything, but particularly our unsolved challenges."
On climate change, Republican presidential candidates generally say they don't think the science is settled, even though the nation's scientific organizations have reported a consensus view that the Earth is warming mostly as a result of pollution from fossil fuel combustion.
Things could change after the primaries, when the eventual candidate appeals for swing voters and tries to avoid an anti-science label, Otto said.
The Obama administration accepts the scientific understanding of climate change, but rarely mentions it, stressing instead ways that clean energy could create jobs and boost competitiveness.

What makes dealing with climate change so difficult?
"Nobody wants to feel bad about the future. Everybody wants to be hopeful."
The nation was settled by "insanely hopeful immigrants," Otto said, and Americans still have a strong sense of opportunity, including the idea that hard work pays off and that people get what they deserve.
"It doesn't mean that we're bad or stupid. It just means that it's just hard. It's hard to get our minds around and embrace, because it means maybe we've screwed up somehow and nobody wants to feel that way. But the great thing about Americans is that because of that hopefulness, once we get through this painful process of self-reflection ... then we really kick it in and we can solve problems like nobody else."
2011-12-27 "Half of America In Poverty? The Facts Say It's True"  by Paul Buchheit from "CommonDreams.org"
Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, an active member of US Uncut Chicago, founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org, RappingHistory.org), and the editor and main author of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul@UsAgainstGreed.org.
Recent reports suggest that almost 50% of Americans are in poverty or at a "low income" level. The claim is based on a new supplemental measure by the Census Bureau that includes health care, transportation, and other essential living expenses in the poverty calculation.
The concept of "low income" is controversial. It has been defined as earnings between 100 and 199 percent of the poverty level, a claim which, if true, would place every American family making $50,000 or less at a near-poverty level.
Conservative organizations believe the whole 'poverty' issue is overblown. The Cato Institute blames LBJ and Obama for reversing a declining poverty rate. Forbes blames the calculations. The Heritage Foundation argues, "The average poor person, as defined by the government, has a living standard far higher than the public imagines...In the kitchen, the household had a refrigerator, an oven and stove, and a microwave." The case for a growing "consumption equality" is alternately defended and denied.
With emotions running high on both sides, we need to take a balanced look at the available data to determine how well the highest-earning family of the poorest 50% -- a family with a $50,000 income -- can survive. (The maximum individual income for the poorest 50% is about $30,000.)
Start with taxes. It is frequently noted by conservatives that the richest 1% pay most of the federal income taxes, and indeed they paid about 37 percent in 2009, more than the poorest 90% of Americans. But only the richest 5% of Americans have experienced income growth since 1980. And during that time, their tax rate has dropped from 34% to 23%. As for the 3 percent rate paid by the poorest 50%, the Tax Policy Center sums it up nicely: "The basic structure of the income tax simply exempts subsistence levels of income from tax."
More relevant to the poverty issue is that federal income tax is only a small part of the tax expense for lower-income families. According to a study by The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, the poorest 50% paid about 10 percent of their incomes in state and local taxes (the richest 1% paid 5 percent). Congressional Budget Office (CBO) figures reveal that the bottom 50% pays about 9 percent of their incomes toward social security (the top 1% pays just under 2 percent). CBO also shows that the bottom 50% is paying about 2 percent of their incomes on excise taxes, a negligible expense for the people at the top. Another year of Bush tax cuts will chop another 1-2 percent off the taxes of the very rich.
So total taxes for the poorest 50% are 24 percent of their incomes (3% + 10% + 9% + 2%), as compared to 29 percent for the richest 1% (23% + 5% + 2% - 1%).
Other significant expenses for low-income people, based on the most conservative estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Census Bureau, the National Center for Children in Poverty, the Carsey Institute, and the Economic Policy Institute, include food (10%), housing (27%), transportation (6%), health care (5%), child care (8%), and household expenditures (5%). Expenses for insurance and savings and entertainment, although important to most households, are not being included here.
Energy costs hit low-income families especially hard, taking about 20% of their incomes. At the $50,000 income level the burden is closer to 12%, as generally agreed upon by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the American Gas Association.
Total expenses for the richest family in the bottom half of America?
* 24% taxes
* 27% housing
* 34% food, health care, child care, transportation, household needs
* 12% energy
That's 97% of their income. The richest family among 70,000,000 households is left with just $1,500 for a car, appliances, a TV, a cell phone, a loan repayment, an occasional night out. It comes to $30 a week, barely enough to take the family out for a pizza.
Critics bemoan the amounts of aid being lavished on lower-income Americans, making dubious claims about $16,800 in government funds going to every poor family and families with $90,000 incomes being classified as "near poor."
The fact is that only 4,375,000 families (out of 70,000,000 in the bottom half) received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) in 2010, for a total expense of about $36 billion. Current federal budgets include about $350 billion for food, housing, and traditional 'welfare' programs for needy children, elderly care, and energy assistance. This averages out to about $400 per month per family.
Another fact is that earnings have remained flat for most people while productivity has grown 80% since 1980. If a $50,000 family had received a fair share from their contribution to America's growth, they'd be making $90,000, and they wouldn't need a dime from government.
Conservatives complain about the TVs and refrigerators owned by low-income people. But it's the height of insensitivity to admonish people who are trying to survive in a perversely unequal society.
2011-12-27 "Economic Downturn Took a Detour at Capitol Hill" by Eric Lichtblau from "The New York Times"
WASHINGTON — When Representative Ed Pastor was first elected to Congress two decades ago, he was comfortably ensconced in the middle class. Mr. Pastor, a Democrat from Arizona, held $100,000 or so in savings accounts in the mid-1990s and had a retirement pension, but like many Americans, he also owed the banks nearly as much in loans.
Today, Mr. Pastor, a miner’s son and a former high school teacher, is a member of a not-so-exclusive club: Capitol Hill millionaires. That group has grown in recent years to include nearly half of all members of Congress — 250 in all — and the wealth gap between lawmakers and their constituents appears to be growing quickly, even as Congress debates unemployment benefits, possible cuts in food stamps and a “millionaire’s tax.”
Mr. Pastor buys a Powerball lottery ticket every weekend and says he does not consider himself rich. Indeed, within the halls of Congress, where the median net worth is $913,000 and climbing, he is not. He is a rank-and-file millionaire. But compared with the country at large, where the median net worth is $100,000 and has dropped significantly since 2004, he and most of his fellow lawmakers are true aristocrats.
Largely insulated from the country’s economic downturn since 2008, members of Congress — many of them among the “1 percenters” denounced by Occupy Wall Street protesters — have gotten much richer even as most of the country has become much poorer in the last six years, according to an analysis by The New York Times based on data from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit research group.
Congress has never been a place for paupers. From plantation owners in the pre-Civil War era to industrialists in the early 1900s to ex-Wall Street financiers and Internet executives today, it has long been populated with the rich, including scions of families like the Guggenheims, Hearsts, Kennedys and Rockefellers.
But rarely has the divide appeared so wide, or the public contrast so stark, between lawmakers and those they represent.
The wealth gap may go largely unnoticed in good times. “But with the American public feeling all this economic pain, people just resent it more,” said Alan J. Ziobrowski, a professor at Georgia State who studied lawmakers’ stock investments.
There is broad debate about just why the wealth gap appears to be growing. For starters, the prohibitive costs of political campaigning may discourage the less affluent from even considering a candidacy. Beyond that, loose ethics controls, shrewd stock picks, profitable land deals, favorable tax laws, inheritances and even marriages to wealthy spouses are all cited as possible explanations for the rising fortunes on Capitol Hill.
What is clear is that members of Congress are getting richer compared not only with the average American worker, but also with other very rich Americans.
While the median net worth of members of Congress jumped 15 percent from 2004 to 2010, the net worth of the richest 10 percent of Americans remained essentially flat. For all Americans, median net worth dropped 8 percent, based on inflation-adjusted data from Moody’s Analytics.
Going back further, the median wealth of House members grew some two and a half times between 1984 and 2009 in inflation-adjusted dollars, while the wealth of the average American family has actually declined slightly in that same time period, according to data cited by The Washington Post in an article published Monday on its Web site.
With millionaire status now the norm, the rarefied air in the Capitol these days is $100 million. That lofty level appears to have been surpassed by at least 10 members, led by Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican and former auto alarm magnate who is worth somewhere between $195 million and $700 million. (Because federal law requires lawmakers to disclose their assets only in broad dollar ranges, more precise estimates are impossible.)
Their wealth has created occasional political problems for Congress’s richest.
Mr. Issa, for instance, has faced outside scrutiny because of the overlap of his Congressional work and outside interests, including extensive investments with Wall Street firms like Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs, as well as land holdings in his San Diego district. In one case, he obtained some $800,000 in federal earmarks for a road-widening project running along his commercial property.
Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat who is married to Teresa Heinz Kerry, set off an uproar last year when it was disclosed that he had docked his $7 million, 76-foot yacht not in his home state but in neighboring Rhode Island, which has no sales or use tax on pleasure boats. (Mr. Kerry, worth at least $181 million, voluntarily paid $400,000 in Massachusetts taxes after criticism.)
Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, was challenged about her wealth, as much as $196 million, by a member of her own party a few weeks ago. Representative Laura Richardson, a California Democrat who is among the poorest members of Congress with as much as $464,000 in debt, attacked Ms. Pelosi at a closed-door Democratic caucus meeting for endorsing a Congressional pay freeze, according to a report in Politico that was confirmed by other members.
Ms. Richardson angrily told Ms. Pelosi that, unlike her, some members needed the raise. Members now make a base pay of $174,000 and would automatically get a cost-of-living adjustment unless they were to decide, for a third straight year, to pass it up. Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, said the rising Congressional wealth fuels public doubts about whether members are more focused on their constituents’ interests or their own investment portfolios.
“There’s always a concern that they can’t truly understand or relate to the hardships that their constituents feel — that rich people just don’t get it,” she said.
In an effort to gauge how directly the country’s economic problems affected lawmakers, The New York Times contacted the offices of the 534 current members (one seat is vacant) for an informal survey. It asked if they had close friends or family members who had lost jobs or homes since the 2008 downturn.
Only 18 members responded.
Half the respondents said they had close friends or relatives who lost homes, while the other half said their personal contact was limited to constituents who came for help.
Two-thirds said they had close friends or relatives who had been laid off or had shut down a business during the downturn. The rest knew no one in that category personally.
Representative Anna G. Eshoo, a California Democrat who took part in the survey, said several cousins in their 40s and 50s whom she considers brothers and sisters lost their jobs recently. Without college degrees, none have found work, and they have emphasized to her the importance of unemployment benefits.
“Personal stories are very powerful because it’s not a theory,” Ms. Eshoo said. “It’s not talking points of a party. These are people experiencing the harshness of what is an economic depression for them.”
Multimillionaires in Congress “view life through a different lens,” she said.
Ms. Eshoo herself has escaped the worries weighing on her cousins. While she reported being in debt in 2004, she is now worth an estimated $1.8 million, her financial reports show. She said the rise came mostly from the sale of a family home where she lived for 40 years.
“I was fortunate,” she said. “I’ve lived from paycheck to paycheck most of my life, and I’m a single mother.”
One likely cause of the rising wealth, political analysts say, is the growing cost of a political campaign. A successful Senate run cost on average nearly $10 million last year, and a successful House race was $1.4 million, significantly above past elections.
The prohibitive cost has inevitably drawn richer candidates who can help bankroll their own campaigns and attract donations from rich friends — while deterring less well-off candidates, political analysts say.
The data analyzed by The Times corroborated the idea that incoming members are in fact richer than those in the past. The freshman class of 106 members elected last year, including many Tea Party-backed Republicans, had a median net worth of $864,000 — an inflation-adjusted increase of 26 percent from the 2004 freshmen.
Once in Congress, members benefit from many financial perks unavailable to most Americans. Beyond a base salary of $174,000 — an increase of about 10 percent since 2004, somewhat less than inflation — members get extra pay for senior posts and generous medical and pension benefits, as well as accouterments of power often financed by taxpayers or their campaigns.
While the housing collapse nationwide has hurt many Americans, lawmakers still find the real estate sector the most popular place to park their money, statistics from the Center of Responsive Politics show, and members of Congress continue to profit from their investments there. Perhaps the most tantalizing but hotly debated factor in the rising wealth of Congress is lawmakers’ performance in the stock markets — and the question of whether they are using their access to confidential information to enrich themselves.
In a study completed this year, Mr. Ziobrowski at Georgia State and his colleagues found that House members saw the stocks they owned outperform the market by 6 percent a year. Their research from several years ago found that senators did even better, at 12 percent above average. The researchers attributed the performance to a “significant information advantage” that lawmakers hold by virtue of their positions and the fact they are not bound by insider-trading law.
However, a separate study last year by researchers at Yale and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that the portfolios of lawmakers actually performed somewhat worse than average investors. It found that members did do better when investing in companies in their home districts or associated with campaign donors — suggesting that they benefited from their political connections — but still not as well as the average investor.
While concerns go back decades about lawmakers trading on confidential information, the issue drew renewed attention with a new book on the topic, “Throw Them All Out” by Peter Schweizer, and a “60 Minutes” report in November. Both linked high-level briefings that Congressional leaders received on the 2008 financial crisis and on health care to their purchase and sale of certain stocks.
Members insisted that they never traded on information that was not public, and some Congressional leaders pointed out that their investments were in blind trusts managed by professional advisers. Nonetheless, the publicity led some 90 members of Congress to call anew for a ban on insider trading.
Mr. Pastor, the Arizona congressman, said he never relied on fancy stock investments to make money. He said the key to his good fortune was watching what he spends, paying off debts and, at age 68, collecting Social Security and a pension from his days as a county supervisor.
“I don’t see myself as a man of great wealth,” he said. “To say that I’m enjoying a millionaire’s lifestyle — well, I can tell you, I guess a millionaire’s income doesn’t go very far these days.”

Sunday, December 25, 2011

2011-12-25 "Hackers target US security think tank" by CASSANDRA VINOGRAD and Jennifer Kway | from "Associated Press"
LONDON (AP) — Hackers on Sunday claimed to have stolen a raft of e-mails and credit card data from U.S.-based security think tank Stratfor, promising it was just the start of a weeklong Christmas-inspired assault on a long list of targets.
One alleged hacker said the goal was to use the credit data to steal a million dollars and give it away as Christmas donations, and images posted online claimed to show the receipts.
Members of the loose-knit hacking movement known as "Anonymous" posted a link on Twitter to what they said was Stratfor's tightly-guarded, confidential client list. Among those on the list: The U.S. Army, the U.S. Air Force and the Miami Police Department.
The rest of the list, which Anonymous said was a small slice of its 200 gigabytes worth of plunder, included banks, law enforcement agencies, defense contractors and technology firms such as Apple and Microsoft.
"Not so private and secret anymore?" the group taunted in a message on the microblogging site.
Lt. Col. John Dorrian, public affairs officer for the Air Force, said that "for obvious reasons" the Air Force doesn't discuss specific vulnerabilities, threats or responses to them.
"The Air Force will continue to monitor the situation and, as always, take apporpriate action as necessary to protect Air Force networks and information," he said in an email.
Miami Police Department spokesman Sgt. Freddie Cruz Jr. said that he could not confirm that the agency was a client of Stratfor, and he said he had not received any information about any security breach involving the police department.
Anonymous said it was able to get the credit details in part because Stratfor didn't bother encrypting them — an easy-to-avoid blunder which, if true, would be a major embarrassment for any security-related company.
Hours after publishing what it claimed was Stratfor's client list, Anonymous posted images online that it suggested were receipts for charitable donations made by the group manipulating the credit card data it stole.
"Thank you! Defense Intelligence Agency," read the text above one image that appeared to show a transaction summary indicating that an agency employee's information was used to donate $250 to a non-profit.
Stratfor said in an email to members that it had suspended its servers and email after learning that its website had been hacked.
"We have reason to believe that the names of our corporate subscribers have been posted on other web sites," said the email, passed on to The Associated Press by subscribers. "We are diligently investigating the extent to which subscriber information may have been obtained."
The email, signed by Stratfor Chief Executive George Friedman, said the company is "working closely with law enforcement to identify who is behind the breach."
"Stratfor's relationship with its members and, in particular, the confidentiality of their subscriber information, are very important to Stratfor and me," Friedman wrote.
Stratfor's website was down midday Sunday, with a banner saying "site is currently undergoing maintenance."
Wishing everyone a "Merry LulzXMas" — a nod to its spinoff hacking group Lulz Security — Anonymous also posted a link on Twitter to a site containing the email, phone number and credit number of a U.S. Homeland Security employee.
The employee, Cody Sultenfuss, said he had no warning before his details were posted.
"They took money I did not have," he told The Associated Press in a series of emails, which did not specify the amount taken. "I think why me? I am not rich."
One member of the hacking group, who uses the handle AnonymousAbu on Twitter, claimed that more than 90,000 credit cards from law enforcement, the intelligence community and journalists — "corporate/exec accounts of people like Fox" news — had been hacked and used to "steal a million dollars" and make donations.
It was impossible to verify where credit card details were used. Fox News was not on the excerpted list of Stratfor members posted online, but other media organizations including MSNBC and Al Jazeera English appeared in the file.
Anonymous warned it has "enough targets lined up to extend the fun fun fun of LulzXmas through the entire next week."
The group has previously claimed responsibility for attacks on companies such as Visa, MasterCard and PayPal, as well as others in the music industry and the Church of Scientology.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

2011-12-24 "The second cold war and South America" by Raúl Zibechi (Translation: Jordan Bishop). [http://www.alainet.org/active/51794&lang=en]
Raúl Zibechi, an Uruguayan journalist, is a teacher and researcher in the Multiversidad Franciscana de America Latina, and an advisor for a number of social institutions.
The "war against terror" inaugurated by George W. Bush as a response to the September 11 2001 attack is now giving way to a strategy of "containment" of China, the new strategy laid out by the Pentagon to encircle, and eventually stifle the asiatic power, with the objective of maintaining US global supremacy. The new course of the Empire includes South America.
 The change of course appeared in November. "In our plans and proposals for the future, we shall dedicate resources to maintain our strong military presence in the region", said Barack Obama on November 17 to the Australian parliament. In the November edition of Foreign Policy, secretary of State Hillary Clinton filled in some of the gaps. "During the past ten years we have dedicated considerable resources to Irak and Afghanistan. During the next ten years, we have to look carefully at an intelligent use of our time and energy, in a way that we establish the best possible position to maintain our leadership."
 During the next decade, according to Clinton, the United States will realize major "diplomatic, strategic and other" investments "in the Asia-Pacific region." As with all U.S. strategies, the economic and the military form one policy. In the short term, 250 Marines are to be based in Darwin (North Australia), towards an eventual 2.500 military personnel. At the moment the Pentagon has bases in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Guam, but on setting up base themselves in Australia they will establish a vice around the Chinese opening to the Pacific Ocean. This policy forms part of an undeclared objective of forming a "Nato of the Pacific" to pressure and fence in China.
 The second step is not military but economic. It consists of an ambitious free trade agreement among various Pacific countries called the TransPacific Association Agreement, TPP (1). At the moment it is a question of nine countries: Australia, Brunei, Chile, the United States, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. China is left out and the plan is to break ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, where China enjoys a hegemonic role.
 According to Michael T. Klare, the new centre of gravity of US policy presupposes the abandonment of the Middle East, which for half a century was its priority, to focus on what is now considered its principal adversary. The Pentagon theory is that the Aquiles Heel of the Chinese economy are the oil imports that come to the country through the South China sea, where Obama foresees the greatest US military concentration (2).
 The response on the part of China continues to be one of dialogue, but strengthening their defensive capacity. Contrary to the Western powers, who established their hegemony through aggressive wars (from Spain and Portugal to England and the United States), the Chinese ascendency is based on commerce and diplomacy. This difference is at once their major strength, in the measure in which it is not an aggressive power, but at the same time its weakness, since it can be displaced by force as happened in Libya.

Structural weakness -
 The crisis facing the United States is worse than that of the European Union. "As it is financially insolvent the country becomes ungovernable, bringing the people of the United States and those who are dependent on them to economic, financial, monetary, geopolitical and social upheaval, which is at once violent and destructive", according to the European Bulletin of Political Forecasting (Geab No. 60, December 16).
 In the next four years the country that dominated the global map since 1945 will, according to this analysis, undergo an "institutional paralysis and the destruction of traditional bi-partisan rule", a spiral of recession-depression-inflation and the "decomposition of the socio-political network." While this prognostic sounds apocalyptic, who would have ever thought that Standard and Poor would downgrade their rating of the country?
 On the international scene, the United States has fewer allies than ever. Immanuel Wallerstein recalls that in November and the first part of December alone the White House "has had confrontations with China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Germany and Latin America." (La Jornada, December 18th). The failures have been amplified. Obama sent the secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner to Europe to suggest alternatives to the crisis that were haughtily ignored; he was humiliated by Pakistan and then by Iran, since apparently the drone that "landed" in that country did not suffer an accident but was brought down by a cyber-attack.
 But the most serious situation is internal. One US citizen in six is in receipt of food aid, as well as one in four children. Fifty-seven percent of children live in poor households; forty-eight and a half percent live in family groups dependent on State welfare, compared to thirty percent in 1983 (The Economic Collapse, December 16). This calls attention to the serious social decline in a few years: since 2007 family income has fallen by seven percent; in parts of California housing prices fell by sixty-three percent. The average price of a house in Detroit is 6.000 dollars and eighteen percent of houses in Florida are vacant. One child out of five experiences life-threatening events in the streets.
 Every day new data appears that reveals the social and moral decline of the country. The journal Pediatrics, of the Pediatric Academy, revealed that by the age of twenty-three years one of three US inhabitants has at some time been arrested. In 1965 this was the case for only twenty-two percent (USA Today, December 19). According to the authors of the study, this data does not indicate a real rise in juvenile crime, but "responds to stricter legislation" on situations of public scandal or the consumption of prohibited substances. They conclude that these arrests of young people have serious impact on their development and lead to "violent and anti-social conduct." If the study had controlled for arrests suffered by black and Hispanic youth, the results would have been scandalous.

A fence around integration -
 Given such a serious internal and international situation, the strategic change of course could, as Klare points out, bring the world to an "extremely dangerous" situation. In his opinion, which is shared by other analysts, we are moving into another cold war that does not exclude "domination and military provocation", with a strong emphasis on the control of hydrocarbons on the planet. If the objective of the United States vis-à-vis China is to "bring their economy to its knees, through a blockade of their energy supplies" this policy, which is not new, is in fact a warning to the rest of the world. We must remember two things: South America supplies twenty-five percent of oil imports to the United States, and the biggest crude oil discoveries in the past decade are in territorial waters of Brazil.
 Venezuelan exports to China are in view. Chinese investment in this country amounts to forty billion dollars since 2007. PDVSA exports 530 thousand barrels of petroleum to China every day, but the state industry CNPC and Sinopec plan to multiply their pumping of crude by ten to reach 1,1 million barrels daily by 2014, for which they have targeted five areas in the Petroleum fringe of the Orinoco, which require some twenty billion dollars of investment for each of these five areas (Reuters, December 20).
 The change of course for Obama when he insists that "the United States is a Pacific country" while it had always been an Atlantic one, not only implies patching together alliances in Asia but also in Latin America. The TPP includes Chile and Peru and hopes to include Mexico. At the same time, in Mérida on December 5, the four countries of the Pacific Alliance (Chile, Mexico Peru and Colombia) agreed to launch a commercial block in June of 2012, to create an integrated market with its stock markets and the elimination of customs duties as of 2020.
 For Andrés Oppenheimer, "we will see a de facto division of Latin America, between a Pacific block and an Atlantic block" (La Nación, December 13). Conservative analysis underestimates the recently created Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). In effect, the columnist of La Nación (who also writes for the Miami Herald and is a political analyst for CNN in Spanish) maintains that in the presidential summit of Caracas there was only some "poetical discourse on regional unity" without any economic consequences.
 One of the most importent tendencies that has appeared since the crisis of 2008, is toward the formation of regional and commercial blocks, that involve a return to protectionism. The recent decision of Mercosur to raise the external duties from 14 to 35 percent, forms part of this tendency to protect the region in the face of central countries exports of products that they cannot consume internally.
 With the crisis, internal demand has fallen in Europe and the United States, which is causing emerging countries such as China and India to accumulate stocks of merchandise that they move at very low prices, which is affecting industries in the region, in particular those of Brazil and Argentina. Countries such as Paraguay and Uruguay, who do not have an important industrial sector, will not benefit from these measures, but they may nonetheless obtain large export quotas with respect to the big countries of the region.

Brazil takes note -
 In Brazil there is an increasing realization that they must face new threats and that these come from central countries, and in particular from the United States. It is interesting that this conviction is shared by the whole society, from top to bottom.
 Five days after Obama's speech to the Australian parliament, Brazilian military leaked to the press an internal memo from the Ministry of Defence on the situation of military equipment. The conservative press headlined that a good portion of military equipment was "junk" and assured that of the one hundred combat ships of the Navy only fifty-three were navigating and that only two or their twenty-four A-4 aircraft were operational (O Estado de São Paulo, November 22).
 The circulation of the "secret memo" took place at a time when diverse sectors, including the Minister of Defence, Celso Amorim, were exerting pressure to accelerate the process of modernization and equipping the armed forces, and in particular those of the Navy charged with defending the green and blue Amazonia, referring to the two principle sources of wealth of the country: biodiversity and oil. Another tender point is the purchase of 36 fighter aircraft from France, which has been paralyzed for two years. Nevertheless, the press does not underline the important advances that are being made in the building of submarines with important transfers of technology.
 Brigadier (retired) Luiz Eduardo Rocha Paiva, a member of the Centro de Estudios Estratégicos of the Army who has a serious military and strategic formation, analyzed the recent US change of course noting that the "loss of spaces" of the superpower and its allies has a direct repercussion on South America and Brazil. It is worthy of note, since it reflects the vision of a good part of governing classes, both military and civilian, of the country. "These conflicts may involve us. The failure or limited successes of the United States and its allies in distant areas will result in pressure to impose conditions to ensure privileged access to the wealth of South America and of the South Atlantic" (O Estado de São Paulo, December 20).
 Rocha Paiva underlines the growing influence of China in the region, the Russian and Iranian presence in countries such as Venezuela and concludes: "The United States will react to the penetration of rivals in their own area of influence and this will affect Brazilian leadership in the process of regional integration and in the defence of her patrimony and sovereignty." Because of this there is an effort to reinforce the defensive military power in face of this reality.
 The views presented here on the region are as interesting as those on the global situation. "Our neighbours are not the reason for the need to reinforce the military power of the country, but the country's ascent as a global economic power, the position of the country as a global economic power, its position in international commerce and the desire [on the part of others] for our resources and our geostrategic position. All this brought Brazil out of the periphery and placed it in a position of cooperation and conflict." He ends noting that Brazil could see in the twenty-first century what China saw in the nineteenth: "Rival powers could unite to pressure and threaten the country."(3)
 This perception concerning the threats facing the country is shared by a majority of Brazilians. A recent study done by; the Institute of Investigation of Applied Economics (IPEA for its Portuguese acronym), with a sample of nearly four thousand people, indicates that sixty-seven percent believe that a foreign military threat exists because of the natural resources in Amazonia. Sixty-three percent believe that the hydrocarbon deposits under the sea could give rise to external military action (4).
 The replies are even more interesting when the question concerns the country which posts a military threat to Brazil in the next twenty years. Thirty-seven percent think of the United States. Far down on the list is Argentina at fifteen percent. It should be noted that this was the most probable hypothesis for war from independence to the creation of Mercosur, including the period of the military dictatorship (1964-1985), whose principal unfolding was towards the south. This perception reveals that the changes in military strategy in Brazil, which took shape in the last decade and above all with the "National Defence Strategy" published in 2008, have ample support from the population.
 The strategic position of a country matures over long periods of time and the application of a new strategy takes decades. Brazil, from top to bottom is in agreement that the country is vulnerable to external threats. It may well be that this take on the reality began December 8, when the welders of the Franco-Brazilian team working in the DCNS (Directory of Naval Construction) shipyards in Cherbourg, with a total of 115 apprentices working on technological transfer, began welding operations on the final union of diverse section of the first of four Scorpène submarines destined for Brazil. In the future, these will be built in the Naval Shipyard in Rio de Janeiro.

 1) The Trans-Pacific Strategic Agreement of Economic Association was signed in 2005 by four countries: Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore. The rest, including the United States, were incorporated later.
 2) "Playing with fire. Obama threatens China", Sin Permiso, December 11.
 3) The reference is to the two Opium Wars when England and France united against China.
 4) “O sistema de indicadores de percepção social. Defensa Nacional”, IPEA, 15 de diciembre de 2011.