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Saturday, December 3, 2011

"Extraordinarily Dangerous And Un-American" -- So What Else Is New??

Outrageous.  Inexcusable.  Appalling.  The kind of "law-making" that germinates from a police state mentality.

Is this the kind offical fascist groupthink that nearly the entire United States Senate has descended into -- and is now trying to codify?? 

Reports the yesterday:

This week, the United States Senate passed S. 1867 also known as the National Defense Authorization Act including sections 1031 and 1032 which authorize the military to arrest and indefinitely detain American citizens without trial or charge.

Despite national outcry over the bill which effectively suspends the Constitutional rights of those suspected of terrorist activities and would allow Americans to be incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, the Senate passed the bill by an overwhelming margin of 93-7. This means that Congress could easily override the President’s threatened veto.

But this act of Congress is even more dangerous than we first thought. Included in the bill is Amendment 1068 which was offered by Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. This part of the bill undermines President Obama’s executive order that bans torture and overrides the list of permissible interrogation techniques in the US Army Field Manual.

In other words, the US military could arrest ordinary American citizens without reading them their Miranda Rights, put them in a cell at Gitmo without the benefit of an attorney, a trial, or charges of any kind, and then torture them during interrogation.

A secret list of torture techniques would be created without public knowledge.

Who does this affect? Every single man, woman, and child on American soil would be directly affected by this bill. It would give this President and all future Presidents, the power to arrest American citizens with the military and torture them into confession even if they are innocent. Essentially, it turns the Presidency into a dictatorship authorized to use the military against the people.
The Occupy movement in particular could face this unconstitutional military action. Just imagine if Republicans captured the White House in 2012. Conservative media, corporations, and Republican politicians have referred to the Occupy protesters as terrorists or worse than terrorists. Just this accusation alone gives the President cause to unleash the military to round up and arrest the protesters en masse, suspend their constitutional rights, and torture them in a prison off American soil, all because they were exercising their right to protest.

This is an extraordinarily dangerous and un-American bill that would destroy the Constitution and our system of government. The judicial system would be powerless to do anything about it too.

We the people must demand that our government discard this bill permanently. It goes against everything America values and stands for. We must write, email, call, and protest our senators and representatives and the White House and call for action......Unless Americans stand up and fight this, we may one day have to rely on other countries to free us from ourselves.

Who knows, just maybe someone like Mr. Iran will approach the United Nations to introduce a sanctions motion against Uncle Sam for not only the assorted wars of aggression but his rapidly unfolding war on its own populace.

Won't be the first time.

Friday, December 2, 2011

George Galloway NEEDS To Come Over Here And Talk Some Sense Into Our American War Mongers

The U.K.'s indomitable George Galloway makes absolute mincemeat out of the lies and hysteria being manufactured by U.S. & Israeli propagandists, who are hell-bent on replicating the Iraq Aggression in Iran.

It's sheer amazement that these government terrorists in Washington and Tel Aviv would even DARE to repeat their appalling crime committed in 2003 under the flagrant pretenses of rooting out "the threat of WMD's."

But even more amazing and outrageous and shocking is that the politicians are not only shameless enough to try the very same charade again--but that there are actually a number of people in the world stupid enough to fall for it twice.

Gullibility clearly is one of those commodities that has absolutely no limits on its shelf life.

Stop the madness.

Listen to Georgie.......

Sunday, November 27, 2011

NY Times: "A Family’s Billions, Artfully Sheltered"

It's been argued about again and again and again--yet only token efforts are done to stop the One Percenter parasites that continue their relentless feeding from our jugulars.

They're bringing this nation to absolute ruin with their cheating on the taxes for which we "mere mortals" get squeezed so mercilessly. 

 What is to be done with big fat greedy leeches like Ronald Lauder, then?  His rap sheet is really no different from his other One Percent cronies, just maybe different high crime techniques.  Lauder likes to employ those very profitable tricks such as "alternative minimum tax" and "shorting the box."

Lots of nice lucrative loopholes for Oligarch Ronnie, some of which have been so damn egregious that even his pals in Congress couldn't cover for him anymore.  So they abolished a few. But obviously juuuust not quite enough to stop this bottom feeder's insatiable feeding.

Anyone still think this so-called "budget shortfall" is only related to wasteful spending on wars of aggression?  Think again. 
Read yesterday's devastating expose on Leech Lauder's tactics, by    
David Kocieniewski of the New York Times, and see how it's done.

Then you can (A) just say "tsk, tsk, tsk" and bend over for more or (B) get mad and do something.

As he stood in the opulent marble foyer of a Fifth Avenue mansion late last month, greeting the coterie of prominent guests arriving at his private art gallery, Ronald S. Lauder was doing more than just being a gracious host.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Neue Galerie, Mr. Lauder’s museum of Austrian and German art, he exhibited many of the treasures of a personal collection valued at more than $1 billion, including works by Van Gogh, Cézanne and Matisse, and a Klimt portrait he bought five years ago for $135 million.

Lauder's pricey art acquisition (a "Klimt".)  For $135 million,
it serves him well in his artful tax dodging schemes. 

Yet for Mr. Lauder, an heir to the Estée Lauder fortune whose net worth is estimated at more than $3.1 billion, the evening went beyond social and cultural significance. As is often the case with his activities, just beneath the surface was a shrewd use of the United States tax code. By donating his art to his private foundation, Mr. Lauder has qualified for deductions worth tens of millions of dollars in federal income taxes over the years, savings that help defray the hundreds of millions he has spent creating one of New York City’s cultural gems.

The charitable deductions generated by Mr. Lauder — whose donations have aided causes as varied as hospitals and efforts to rebuild Jewish identity in Eastern Europe — are just one facet of a sophisticated tax strategy used to preserve a fortune that Forbes magazine says makes him the world’s 362nd wealthiest person. From offshore havens to a tax-sheltering stock deal so audacious that Congress later enacted a law forbidding the tactic, Mr. Lauder has for decades aggressively taken advantage of tax breaks that are useful only for the most affluent.

The debate over whether to reduce tax shelters and preferences for the rich is one of the most volatile in Washington and will move to the presidential campaign, now that repeated attempts in Congress to strike a grand bargain over spending cuts and an overhaul of the tax code have failed.

A handful of billionaires like Warren E. Buffett and Bill Gates have joined Democrats in calling for an elimination of the breaks, saying that the current system adds to the budget deficit, contributes to the widening income gap between the richest and the rest of society, and shifts the tax burden onto small businesses and the middle class. Republicans have resisted, saying the tax increases on the wealthy would harm the economy and cost jobs.

Big Boehner and fellow Repukes....the best friends
our One Percenter tax cheats could ever have

An examination of public documents involving Mr. Lauder’s companies, investments and charities offers a glimpse of the wide array of legal options for the world’s wealthiest citizens to avoid taxes both at home and abroad.

His vast holdings — which include hundreds of millions in stock, one of the world’s largest private collections of medieval armor, homes in Washington, D.C., and on Park Avenue as well as oceanfront mansions in Palm Beach and the Hamptons — are organized in a labyrinth of trusts, limited liability corporations and holding companies, some of which his lawyers acknowledge are intended for tax purposes. The cable television network he built in Central Europe, CME Enterprises, maintains an official headquarters in the tax haven of Bermuda, where it does not operate any stations.

And earlier this year, Mr. Lauder used his stake in the family business, Estée Lauder Companies, to create a tax shelter to avoid as much as $10 million in federal income tax for years. In June, regulatory filings show, Mr. Lauder entered into a sophisticated contract to sell $72 million of stock to an investment bank in 2014 at a price of about 75 percent of its current value in exchange for cash now. The transaction, known as a variable prepaid forward, minimizes potential losses for shareholders and gives them access to cash. But because the I.R.S. does not classify this as a sale, it allows investors like Mr. Lauder to defer paying taxes for years.

It was a common tax reduction strategy for chief executives and wealthy shareholders a decade ago, but in 2006 the I.R.S. said it appeared to be an abusive tax shelter and issued tighter restrictions to regulate the practice. That ruling was enough to persuade most wealthy taxpayers to abandon the technique, according to tax lawyers and records at the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Advisers to Mr. Lauder maintain that his deal “was made in compliance with published I.R.S. guidance on these types of transactions and was fully reported as required by S.E.C. rules,” said his spokesman, Gary Lewi.

The SEC--another blessing that just keeps on
giving and giving to folks like Lauder.  Instead of
an eagle, maybe they ought to feature a
goose laying golden eggs into the
 paws of the Oligarchs R Us 

In theory, Mr. Lauder is scheduled to pay taxes on the $72 million when the shares are actually delivered in 2014. But tax experts say wealthy taxpayers can use other accounting techniques to further defer their payment.

The tax burden on the nation’s superelite has steadily declined in recent decades, according to a sliver of data released annually by the I.R.S. The effective federal income tax rate for the 400 wealthiest taxpayers, representing the top 0.000258 percent, fell from about 30 percent in 1995 to 18 percent in 2008, the most recent data available.

When Mr. Lauder ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for mayor of New York and released his tax return to the public, he reported paying 30 percent in total federal, state and city taxes on about $30 million in income in 1988. At the time, his net worth was estimated at nearly a quarter of a billion dollars.

Mr. Lauder’s more recent tax returns remain private, and he declined to make them available for this article.

The Family Fortune

Mr. Lauder, now 67, was born into a storied American fortune. His mother, Estée Lauder, the daughter of Eastern European immigrants, began selling homemade beauty creams at a few New York City hair salons in the 1940s and built her product line into a multibillion-dollar global empire.

As the son of a fabulously wealthy fashion icon, Mr. Lauder developed aristocratic tastes — and grand aspirations — at an early age. He summered in Vienna as a boy, developing a passion for Austrian art and medieval armor. At age 13, he bought his first Schiele with money from his bar mitzvah. Mr. Lauder grew so enthralled by politics as a young man that he told friends he dreamed of becoming the first Jewish president of the United States.
After studying in Brussels and Paris and at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, he joined the family business in 1964 and served in a variety of limited roles.

While his older brother Leonard rose to become Estée Lauder’s chief executive, Ronald engaged in a variety of pursuits: becoming a major Republican fund-raiser; serving a rocky tenure as ambassador to Austria; running for mayor, an unsuccessful bid in which he spent $363 for each vote he received; and starting an assortment of business ventures in Eastern Europe, one of which went bankrupt during the technology bubble.

While the family’s wealth was created by hard work and ingenuity, it was bolstered by aggressive tax planning, a skill that has become Ronald Lauder’s specialty. When Mr. Lauder’s father, Joseph, died in 1983, family members fought the I.R.S. for more than a decade to reduce their estate tax. The dispute involved a block of shares bequeathed to the family — the estate valued it at $29 million, while the I.R.S. placed it at $89.5 million. A panel of judges ultimately decided on $50 million, a decision that saved the estate more than $20 million in taxes.

Estée Lauder Companies went public in 1995, and Ronald Lauder and his mother cashed in hundreds of millions of dollars in stock but managed to sidestep paying tens of millions in federal capital gains taxes by using a hedging technique known as shorting against the box.

Together, Mr. Lauder and his mother borrowed 13.8 million shares of company stock from relatives and sold them to the public during the offering at $26 a share. Selling borrowed shares in this way is referred to as a short position. Since the Lauders retained their own shares, the maneuver allowed them to have a neutral position in the stock, not subject to price swings. Under I.R.S. rules at the time, they avoided paying as much as $95 million in capital gains taxes that might otherwise have been due had they sold their own shares.
Such transactions allowed investors to cash in their shareholdings without paying taxes. But the Lauders’ use of the technique was so aggressive that Congress enacted a law afterward that limited the length of the tax deferral. And the Lauders eventually paid tens of millions in stock from the transaction.

Still, the family’s tax planning was effective enough that after Estée Lauder died in 2004, she passed down nearly $4 billion to her heirs, according to tax experts who studied the case and estimated that the estate was taxed at an effective rate of 16 percent — about a third of the top estate tax rate at the time.

Ronald Lauder has not been a director of the company since 2009, but he still serves as the president of its Clinique Laboratories subdivision. He also sublets a full floor of office space from Estée Lauder, on the 42nd story of the General Motors Building in Manhattan, which serves as the hub for the matrix of foundations, investment funds, partnerships and trusts used to control his businesses and personal finances.
His stake in Estée Lauder Companies, according to regulatory filings, is valued at more than $600 million. Nearly $400 million of that stock is pledged to secure various lines of credit. Many financial planners consider it imprudent for principal shareholders in a company to borrow against their stock. But it remains a popular way for wealthy taxpayers to get cash out of their holdings without selling and paying taxes.

There is a certain irony that Mr. Lauder has used $72 million worth of his Estée Lauder shares to carry out his latest state-of-the-art tax reduction tactic. These contracts emerged as a popular tool about a decade ago and were developed by accountants and tax planners after Congress closed down the loophole on the Estée Lauder public offering. The I.R.S. began cracking down on these contracts in 2008, and has pursued a prominent case against the billionaire Philip Anschutz, who used one to avoid more than $140 million in federal taxes.
Whether or not the I.R.S. agrees with Mr. Lauder’s contention that his contract is legitimate, some tax policy experts say the deal illustrates how the wealthy take advantage of the system.

“There’s real truth to the idea that the tax code for the 1 percent is different from the tax code for the 99 percent,” said Victor Fleischer, a law professor at the University of Colorado. “Any taxpayer lucky enough to have appreciated property is usually put to a choice: cash out and pay some tax, or hold the property and risk the vagaries of the market. Only the truly rich can use derivatives to get the best of both worlds — lots of cash and very little risk.”

While Mr. Lauder’s stock holdings in publicly traded companies show some of his tactics, much of his wealth is harder to examine because it is controlled by a maze of privately held trusts and companies. Court documents, S.E.C. filings and property tax records spotlight a few of the more ordinary tax breaks used by affluent people.

Significant portions of his inherited stock are held in family trusts, which reduce the ultimate estate tax. Mr. Lauder and his wife have also established their own family trusts, allowing them to bequeath their wealth to their heirs with minimal taxes.

Other trusts and partnerships control his real estate properties in Palm Beach and the Hamptons and at 740 Park Avenue, a building that was once home to John D. Rockefeller, and is known as one of the world’s wealthiest apartment buildings.

United States tax law allows taxpayers to deduct mortgage interest on one’s homes up to $1.1 million in debt. Households with more than $1 million in income claimed more than $27 billion in such deductions from 2006 to ’09, according to a report this month by Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who said some wealthy taxpayers even deducted mortgage interest on their yachts.
One of Ronnie's several playhouses.  This Palm Beach
mansion is this capitalist pig's ultimate piggy bank
that also pays off like a never-ending ATM at tax time

And there is no limit on the amount of property taxes that can be deducted from federal income. So Mr. Lauder is entitled to deduct the $400,000 he pays annually on his Palm Beach mansion as well as what he pays on his home on Park Avenue and his holdings in the Hamptons.

Mr. Lauder deducts property taxes on all of his holdings, his spokesman said. Mr. Lauder declined to say how much that reduced his federal taxes, but said he did not receive tax benefits in some years because of the alternative minimum tax and other limits.

Charity and Tax Breaks

A week before the opening at the Neue Galerie last month, Mr. Lauder appeared at another gala, 40 blocks south, at the New York Public Library, to receive the Carnegie Foundation’s Medal of Philanthropy.

The program honored people who have given profusely to charities, including Mr. Lauder’s brother Leonard and his wife, Evelyn (who died Nov. 12), whose causes include the Whitney Museum and the pink ribbon campaign for breast cancer awareness.

Jo Carole and her highly industrious hubby Ronnie,
puttin' on the philanthropic boogie dance in
public while their armies of accountants and shysters
make sure more that the lion's share of goodies
remain stuffed in their high tech mattresses

Ronald Lauder and his wife, Jo Carole, were honored for a variety of contributions: the work of their joint foundation supporting hospitals, rebuilding monuments and refurbishing American embassies around the world — more than a quarter of a billion dollars over the last five years, according to his spokesman.

The Ronald S. Lauder Foundation has donated tens of millions of dollars to rebuild Jewish communities devastated by the Holocaust and communist rule. Mr. Lauder has also given to a variety of Jewish and Israeli organizations, including the World Jewish Congress, where he has served as president since 2007. Richard Parsons, the former Time Warner chairman, presented the award, calling Mr. Lauder and his wife two of “the nation’s pre-eminent supporters of the arts and civic causes.”

Mr. Lauder said his life was changed 25 years ago when he visited a kindergarten in Austria and met a classroom full of Jewish children who were refugees from Russia. Still, he said he found it odd to be referred to as a philanthropist.

“I did what I wanted to do,” he said. “What I thought was right.”

A Passion for Art

In the United States, Mr. Lauder has focused on what he calls his greatest passion — art.

In 1976, at age 32, his generous donations helped him become the youngest trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He later served as chairman of the Museum of Modern Art and remains an honorary chairman. He has donated and lent artwork to an assortment of museums. Part of his collection of lavishly decorated ceremonial armor is on display at the Met, in a gallery named for him.

As all art collectors may, Mr. Lauder is entitled to deduct the full market value of artworks donated to museums. (For years, Mr. Lauder availed himself of a quirk in the tax code that allowed donors to take a deduction for donating a portion of an artwork, without actually turning over the art. That break, known as fractional donation, was eliminated in 2006.)

 The tax code also allows artwork in offices to be deducted as a business expense. Unlike some wealthy collectors who are criticized for using tax breaks to underwrite private collections that offer little access to the public, Mr. Lauder is widely praised for making his artwork a community asset.

The Neue Galerie, created by Mr. Lauder and Serge Sabarsky, who died in 1996, in a mansion once owned by Cornelia Vanderbilt, offers public viewing of an exquisite collection, worth more than $200 million even before Mr. Lauder added dozens of pieces for its 10th anniversary.

Sheldon Cohen, a former I.R.S. commissioner, said that when used as intended, the tax code’s breaks for art collectors balance private interests with the public good.

“If an art collector makes significant contributions, and the public actually gets access to the works they are donating, then the major thing the collector gets is prestige and social status,” said Mr. Cohen, now a lawyer in Washington.

At times, Mr. Lauder’s efforts to enhance his art collection have coincided with tax avoidance techniques.

In 2006, three months after he agreed to pay $135 million, a record at the time, for the Klimt painting “Adele Bloch-Bauer I,” Mr. Lauder sold a $190 million stake in his broadcast network CME.
When asked about the sale, Mr. Lauder’s spokesman said the proceeds were taxable in the United States at the full capital gains rate. Even then, though, CME’s complex corporate structure — it operates in Central Europe, is organized as a Netherlands holding company, keeps its headquarters in Bermuda and routed the $190 million sale through two Cayman Island companies — allowed Mr. Lauder to minimize taxes in countries outside the United States where it does business.

Some tax reform advocates say that it is unfair that the wealthiest can subsidize their lifestyles using myriad offshore maneuvers and complex accounting strategies.

“It’s admirable when people back their charitable impulses up with donations,” said Scott Klinger, tax policy director of the group Business for Shared Prosperity. “But the tax code shouldn’t allow the wealthy the kind of loopholes that let them, essentially, force other taxpayers to underwrite donations to their pet causes.”

Oh, but then it does allow it, doesn't it Scott.  And just keeps on givin' and givin' to avaricious, unscrupulous slobs like Ronald Lauder because "he can."  He'll keep right on taking, as long as the public remains the nice compliant sheeple they've been.

The 99 percenters will likely keep scampering feverishly for events like the Black Friday Funfest while Ronnie & Co. will keep on smirking all the way to the offshore bank.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


When you wake up tomorrow, decide.......

......which one you really want to provide nourishment.......

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Witnessing The D.C. Occupy Battleground, Close & Personal

Demonstrators at the new Martin Luther King
Memorial in Washington keep his dream percolating

Jobs.  Education.  Fairness.  Three of many basic human rights being increasingly stripped from the people, here and around the world.

It's no wonder that today was a global day of protests, in cities stretching from San Francisco to Athens.  Here in the nation's capital, Al Sharpton spearheaded a march that took protesters all the way onto the grounds of Dr. Martin Luther King's towering memorial, set to be dedicated on Sunday by President Obama.


Will the light of justice ever get through enough to turn this crazy world around so we'll ever see a semblance of balance and equity restored, when the one percenters at long last get their blood-sucking fangs out of the rest of us?

Over at D.C.'s Freedom Plaza, where that city's "Occupy" forces are battle stationed, there were lots of signs of hope and determination that the people will prevail in this desperate struggle for survival.

Clearly one of the big ones is this business of blowing $11,000,000,000 every month to fight two wars of aggression in the Middle East (and agitating for yet another one, against Iran), while giving the elites even more welfare, is the final straw.  This, and all the while demanding that we need to "sacrifice" more and more??

Unfrigging believable. 

Then again, the military-industrial powers that be never let rhyme or reason intrude upon a big fat blood-soaked profit, did they.  Some of the other sights in Freedom Plaza:

So many scenes that resonated with memories of past protests against "the establishment"--but this one has an altogether different feel to it.  More than just a sense of fighting off corruption.  This time it's for our actual survival.

Made me really ruminate today.

I proudly wore the same anti-Teabagger shirt from a year earlier when I attended commedian Jon Stewart's famed DC counter-rally protesting that lunatic Glenn Beck and his fan of right-wing crazies.  This time, however, there's not a whole lot to chuckle about.

Everything seems to be at stake now.  Those ravenous Wall Street hyenas are more insatiable than they've ever been.  They're having millions more of us for lunch, breakfast, dinner, and getting increasingly fatter and more aggressive with each passing day.

Dr. King would have reacted to this appalling situation just as he did in that famous march on Washington nearly 50 years ago.  The dream was also about making a living wage and sustaining a life with dignity and hope.  Sadly, unlike the victory of winning Civil Rights, this battle continues without end and the coporate forces are hell-bent to turn just about all of us into indentured servants or outright slaves.

Doesn't matter really what profession you might be.  Teachers are a choice target for the ruling class predators.  But everyone is in their crosshairs, except of course their stockholders.  We will continue this fight, however, because the obvious fact is that we've got nothing and everything to lose at this point. 

Last year the Nation magazine referenced King's great concerns for economic justice:  "In a November 1956 sermon, King presented an imaginary letter from the apostle Paul to American Christians, which stated, 'Oh America, how often have you taken necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes... God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty.'"

Those detestable Republicans recently made progress in killing a jobs creation bill, along with further gutting what was already a pitiful excuse for medical care reform.  Meanwhile, corporate profits are skyrocketing as Wall Street banksters horde over $2 TRILLION in cash, refusing to invest in any of that "miracle free enterprise job creation" for the ten to twenty million unemployed Americans.

  Martin, we need you now, more than ever. 


Saturday, October 8, 2011

Is the Right-Wing STILL Befuddled Over How And Why This "Occupy" Rebellion Is Sweeping The Country?

It is just this kind of corporate parasite-coddling--being perpetrated of course not only in Michigan but everywhere--that finally unleashed the long-overdue backlash.

And what started on Wall Street has now spread to over a thousand cities across the nation.  What, after all, have we got to lose?  These 1 Percenters have no intention of stopping their ravenous feeding until the other 99 percent (you and me) are reduced to the status of  Middle Ages serfs.

Fahget about it, oligarchy punks.  Now come the days, no matter how long they take, of reckoning.

A lot of the MSM (mainstream media) like to go on about the protesters having "no agenda" other than anger.  Come now, they know perfectly well what the agenda is:  REFORM!
And reform of what, pray tell? 

The other day, Alternet's Les Leopold provided a superb, crystal-clear 10 point assessment of "the problem" that needs fixing.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize this American Rocket of ours has been hijacked by unscrupulous, rapacious, lying thieves, who are flying us right into oblivion, fast.

Read up and take action, before it's too late.

"1. Wall Street caused the crash: Unless you are suffering from financial amnesia, you should remember that it was Wall Street’s reckless gambling that did us in. It was Wall Street banks and hedge funds, not home buyers, who created the enormous demand for high-risk mortgages to pool, to securitize, and to turn into Ponzi-like gambling structures with names like CDOs, CDO squared and synthetic CDOs. It was the money-grubbing rating agencies that blessed these pieces of garbage with AAA ratings. As a result, trillions of dollars of worthless toxic assets polluted our financial system. When the bubble they induced burst, our system crashed, causing 8 million working people to lose their jobs in a matter of months due to no fault of their own. Anyone who still blames low-income home buyers, or regulations or Greece -- or anyone other than Wall Street -- should be checked for dementia.

2. The Wall Street crash directly caused the gravest unemployment crisis since the Great Depression: We’re three years into the worst jobs crisis since 1937. Upwards of 29 million people are out of work or have been forced into part-time jobs. The number of people who have been jobless for more than 26 weeks is at post-WWII record levels. And there’s no end in sight to this misery. Meanwhile, Wall Street’s representatives in Washington want us to focus on cutting public employment and public services to address the debt that Wall Street itself precipitated. WE wouldn’t have a debt crisis were it not for the bailouts, the crash, the lost jobs and the soaring cost of jobless benefits that can be laid at Wall Street’s door. (The debt was also caused by tax cuts for the rich, and the bankers certainly don’t want to talk about that.) For those diversionary debt tactics alone, Wall Street should be occupied until it pays to replace the jobs it destroyed.

3. Wall Street profited from the bailouts and remains unaccountable: Taxpayers provided trillions of dollars in cash and asset guarantees to the wealthiest bankers and hedge fund managers in the world. But nothing was extracted from them in return. Here’s one egregious example: Goldman Sachs paid $550 million in SEC fines for selling mortgage-related securities that were designed to fail so that a large hedge fund could bet against them. The securities failed as planned and the hedge fund pocketed $1 billion in profits. But after we bailed out AIG, Goldman Sachs picked up nearly $12 billion for similar bets that AIG had insured. Goldman Sachs collected 100 cents on the dollar and those dollars were ours.

4. The super-rich are getting richer: When the economy was crashing during 2008, high frequency traders in hedge funds and banks made upwards of $20 billion from the turmoil. This trading scam provided no redeeming value to our economy. Rather, it was a hidden tax on our sorrows -- a transfer of funds from the many to the few. In 2010 the top hedge fund managers “earned” over $2 million an HOUR! The top 25 hedge fund managers took in as much as 650,000 teachers. Young people have the right to question these lopsided values. All of us have the duty to do something about it.

5. The super-rich are paying lower and lower taxes: While the government pleads poverty when asked to create a massive jobs program, our financial elites use every loophole available to avoid taxes. In 1995, the 400 wealthiest families paid about 30 percent of their income in taxes (after all deductions). Today their effective rate is less than 16 percent. And for what? What did society gain from their retained wealth? Not jobs, not debt reduction, only more Wall Street gambling.

6. Financial elites pay lower taxes than their secretaries: Venture capitalists and private equity fund managers, as well as some hedge fund elites, get a fantastic tax break called “carried interest” that allows them to pay a top rate of 15 percent on their income (rather than the 35 percent top rate regular people pay). This tax break, originally designed for small business partnerships, has made the mega-rich even richer. You might be wondering why this outrageous tax break continues for billionaires. The answer is simple: these elites are pouring money into Washington to make sure that Republicans and Democrats alike keep the loophole in place. Even some liberal Democrats are parroting the line that this tax break for billionaires is good for America. So when the occupiers say they are disenfranchised, they’re right.

7. None of those who caused the crash have been prosecuted: Raj Rajaratnam, the hedge fund billionaire, is going to the hoosegow for insider trading. Bernie Madoff is in prison for life for his Ponzi scheme. And about 40 others have pleaded guilty to insider trading crimes. Yet none of these scoundrels, as immoral as they may be, had much to do with the financial crash. They didn’t peddle toxic mortgage-related securities. They didn’t push predatory loans. They didn’t rate garbage securities as if they were gold. None of these perps pumped up the housing bubble. Those who did are still roaming free, financially armed and dangerous.

8. Wall Street is much too big and its salaries are much too high: The financial sector is supposed to be an intermediary that turns our savings into productive investments. It’s not supposed to be a casino and it’s not supposed to dwarf the rest of the productive economy. But after years of deregulatory foolishness, it has metastasized to destructive levels. From the 1930s until the mid-1970s, financial sector employees earned the same as those in other sectors, relative to their skills and experience. That’s the way it should be. But since we embarked on the long march of financial deregulation and tax breaks for the super-rich, people working in the financial sector have seen their incomes skyrocket compared to everyone else. The bigger that gap, the more danger we face. And unless we build a massive populist uprising, it won’t change.

9. Wall Street still owns the regulators: When you put too much money in the hands of the few and when you deregulate finance, you get a financial casino. That’s what happened in the years leading up to the 1929 crash, and it happened again in 2008. During the New Deal we regulated the tar out of finance, ending their reign of speculative terror. And it worked for nearly a quarter of a century as financial crises virtually disappeared. Since financial deregulation reappeared over the last 30 years, there have been over 180 financial crises around the world. So you would think after 2008, we’d be back to reining in the bankers. But, no…our leaders are afraid to stifle “financial innovation” (See next point.) The Dodd-Frank bill is weak and getting weaker, thanks to intensive Wall Street lobbying. High government officials still believe that Wall Street can lead the nation forward. The kids are telling us that we should shut down the casinos now. Right again.

10. Financial innovation is a joke: Washington genuflects before the gods of financial innovation: the adjustable no-money down mortgages with resetting teaser rates, the synthetic collateralized debt obligations that turn garbage mortgages into AAA securities, the credit default swaps that are financial insurance policies without regulation, the nanosecond trading programs that flip millions of stocks per second while milking slower investors, and the myriad of ways to make enormous financial bets using little or none of your own money. They tremble at the thought of whispering anything that might stifle these highly profitable Wall Street inventions. They are wowed by trading measured in nanoseconds, by the alphabet soup of securities, by the dark pools of financial trading and most of all by financial billionaires and their lobbyists. But to paraphrase former fed chair Paul Volcker, the only real financial innovation in the last 25 years is the ATM machine. The rest are simply gambling games designed to enrich Wall Street's elites who pocket the winnings and pawn off the losses on us. The protesters sense the game is rigged. It is.

Does Wall Street pay or do we? In the end, it comes down to a clear-cut struggle between the few and the many. (There’s that 99 percent again.) Who is going to pay for the jobs we need? Who is going to pay for the debt that was created to bail out Wall Street and prevent another Great Depression? Wall Street wants us to pay in the form of cuts in Social Security and medical coverage, reduced wages and higher taxes (for everyone but them). In fact, they want the kids to pay by working longer before they retire (if they can ever find a job), paying higher medical costs as they grow older, and turning their Social Security accounts into Wall Street playthings no one can rely on.

At the same time financial elites are arguing for fewer regulations and lower taxes on themselves and their fellow millionaires and billionaires. Financial interests are hoping we’ll simply forget who caused what and instead focus on debt, more debt and still more debt. They’re hoping we’ll blame government, regulations and taxes, while they laugh all the way to the bank – their banks. Some of us may be old and tired and fatalistic about all this looting, and sour about the chances for change. Thank god the kids still have their wits about them—and a fighting spirit.

Get out there and join them. And if you’re too old to stay overnight (like me), visit often and urge your unions, churches and community groups to join the fray. A progressive populist uprising only works when it’s large, vocal and full of spunk.

Go occupiers, go!"

DAMN RIGHT, Les.......Enough of this running alongside the plutocrats' buggy ride, begging for handouts while they count their plunder.

As is said in financial parlance, it's now time to call in that note--and get this promised "Change We Can Believe In"! 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

El Charango -- Andean Musical Magic!

Say "hola" to Senor Charango everyone.

This 26-inch long member of La Famila Lute hails from Peru & Bolivia.  This traditional model, made from an armadillo shell, was invented in the early 18th century, though many of the contemporary ones are made from cedar or spruce wood.

It's said that when the conquistadores arrived in South America, they brought along the vihuela, the ancestor of Spain's classical guitar.  Whether or not the charango is a direct descendant is unclear but there's many stories about how the traditional charango was constructed from the soundbox of armadillo.
One account has it that native musicians enjoyed the rhythm of the vihuela made but were unable to shape the wood to reproduce the sound.  So they grabbed the next best thing, a nearby armadillo.  Another story is that the Spaniards refused to allow the natives to practice their ancestral music and the charango was designed as a lute that could be concealed under a poncho.

To hear this typically 10-stringed instrument is an ethereal wonder.  Yesterday I had my first encounter with the Charango, played by an expert Bolivian in the heart of downtown D.C.  What a gorgeous sound experience it was.

There's even a short film, "El Charango," which expands on the history of this wondrous little guitarra.

Andean music--takes me airborne!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Taking To The Streets And Takin' It To The AIPAC Beast -- Never Surrender!

They were loud.  They were demanding.  And all of 'em wanted justice as they showed up to deliver a clear message to this ferocious, relentless Israeli Lobby:  MOVE OVER!

Last Sunday's protest against the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Convention in Washington featured activists from all across the spectrum.  There was a group of orthodox Jews there, praying their hearts out that Zionism will go away and stop its assault on Judiasm.  

The Palestinians were in force, reminding everyone about one of the biggest Zionist lies promoting the fantasy that their homeland was a "land without people," which explains of course why the Nakba's survivors and their descendents--more than four million in total--make up the largest group of refugees in the world. 

 And lots of Americans showed up to fight AIPAC too, including yours truly.  This marked my first but not last time to rail in person against this grotesque,
pernicious "special interest" group that robs over $3,000,000,000 annually from our cash-strapped economy. 

During our march towards the entrance to the convention center, President Obama was delivering his loyalty oath to Tel Aviv's war machine, proudly boasting about "the cooperation of our militaries to unprecedented levels" and delivering "our most advanced technology to our Israeli allies."

Nice sanitized way to put it, Barry.  Our "most advanced technology"--bringing huge profits to arms dealers in the U.S. and campaign contributions to the congresswhores that send it--definitely produces significant results.


While Obama crowed about the purported "values that we share" with Israel, Code Pink protesters illustrated exactly what other "values" these entail in addition to the wholesale murder of women & children.

The AIPAC conventioneers got to see the replica of Israel's "separation fence," a monstrosity constructed with American tax dollars and Caterpillar bulldozers that Zionists conveniently employ to stop suicide bombers and mutilate what's left of Palestine with insatiable landgrabs for their cancerous colonies and Jewish-only connecting roads.

Surprising, too.  One would think that Obama might object to Apartheid, having witnessed its practice in South Africa and now being imposed on Palestinians with a brutal vengeance.

 There was also a replica set of these colonies--which Tel Aviv's  Gangster-In-Chief "Bibi" Netanyahu likes to call his "settlements in Judea & Samaria."  This accompanying sign would be a bad omen for Zionism's official place in history.

Judging from the yahoo's wildly received address before his Congressional lapdogs, it doesn't appear this accomplished ethnic cleanser is worried one little bit about it.  His AIPAC goons will take care of all the details.  In fact, it's been reported they now have three-quarters of the membership of both the House and the Senate to sign a letter calling for an official end to public criticism of Israel, no matter what war crimes it continues committing, and to urge the U.S. to "reinforce" its relationship with Tel Aviv.

Doesn't leave a whole lot of hope for a realistic peace process, let alone a just, enduring outcome.

Wouldn't it be nice if it were left up to our consciencious D.C. police department to remove those settlements from Palestine as efficiently as they did the ones illegally errected in front of the AIPAC convention hall?

The AIPAC androids didn't look to be worried about a thing, either.  In fact, they seemed to really be enjoying themselves, swaggering, smirking, and mocking the appeals for justice.

Which is exactly why this conflict goes on and on, no matter what, because there's just some that will never let go of the false notion that "might makes right," no matter what the consequences or how many people suffer as a result.  As long as AIPAC thrives and maintains its stranglehold on the American government, Israel will continue committing its war crimes with impunity and without delay.

We must always hope, however, and from the hope emerges the fire to keep battling these bullies and tyrants.

When that day happens, a new Palestine will emerge.  It will, as the opposite face of the replica wall revealed.