Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Champions of neoliberal economics are reversing New Deal economics


Champions of neoliberal economics are reversing New Deal economics
By Ismael Hossein-zadeh
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Mar 15, 2010

The “golden” years of the U.S. economy in the immediate post-WW II period, along with the recovery and expansion of the economies of other industrialized countries, afforded the working class of these countries a decent, even middle-class, standard of living. Combined with extensive social safety-net programs such as the New Deal reforms in the U.S. and Social-Democratic reforms in Europe, the economic recovery and high employment rates of that period paved the way for a relatively cooperative relationship between the working and capitalist classes in these countries.

This led many pundits of historical developments to argue that perhaps Karl Marx had underestimated capitalism’s ability to carry out reform and share the fruits of economic progress with the poor and working class, thereby obviating revolution. They pointed to guaranteed employment and labor-management cooperation in a number of industrialized countries such as Germany and Japan as indications of “erroneous” Marxian judgment of the antagonistic capital-labor relationship.

These pundits failed, however, to point out the fact that the New Deal and Social-Democratic reforms that evolved out of the Great Depression and World War II were not courtesy of “benevolent” capitalism, voluntarily bestowed upon the poor and working people. They did not bother to explain that those reforms were, rather, the product of years of struggle by the working class and their allies against the brutalities of the capitalist system -- struggle that often entailed great sacrifices, including occasional loss of life. The anti-Depression and anti-war struggles of the 1930s and 1940s compelled the capitalist class to “carry out reform in order to prevent revolution,” to paraphrase President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The laissez-faire doctrine, which firmly believed in the self-correcting ability of unbridled market mechanism, was the dominant economic principle before to the Great Depression. The financial crash of 1929 and the consequent long Depression shattered this long-held, religious-like belief. The Depression, precipitated largely by predatory loan-pushing and the resulting unsustainable bubble of asset (stock) prices, made living conditions for the overwhelming majority of people extremely difficult. The ensuing economic distress, in turn, precipitated popular unrest.

Large numbers of the discontented frequently took to the streets in the early 1930s. Their desire for change swelled the ranks of socialist, communist, and other opposition parties and groups. Left activists gained certain influence among labor ranks and workers’ movement for unionization, illegal in many industries until 1935, spread rapidly. Labor and other grassroots support for third party candidates in the 1932 presidential election resulted in unprecedented number of votes for those candidates. Third-party votes were even more impressive in congressional and local elections. “The union literature was like the labor literature of a century ago -- looking toward a successor to capitalism,” wrote the late Studs Terkel in his Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression (Pantheon Books, p. 309).

Business and government leaders clearly understood the gravity of the situation and the need for action. The pressure from “below” created consensus and coalitions at the “top” as the need for reform to fend off revolution became evident. “ . . . F.D.R. was very significant in understanding how best to lead this sort of situation. . . . The industrialists who had some understanding recognized this right away. He could not have done what he did without the support of important elements of the wealthy class. They did not sabotage the programs. Just the opposite” (Ibid., pp. 268-69).

Two principles lay at the core of the ensuing big business-government consensus reforms, which came to be known as the New Deal reforms. The first was that Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” was not capable of resuscitating the badly depressed economy; it needed government’s visible hand. The second principle was that government intervention must be limited to stimulative and distributive measures, and that the management of industries and businesses should be left to the private sector. Facilitating and maintaining a certain level of purchasing power in the market was considered crucial to the New Deal package. While this would provide relief to the economically hard pressed, and thus reduce social tension, it would also stimulate the economy and promise stable growth and rising profitability.

Regardless of the degree of the effectiveness of the New Deal reform package, the fact remains that it rescued U.S. capitalism -- just as Social-Democratic reforms rescued the economies of West European countries. Combined with what the late Ernest Mandel called “extra-economic” factors (such as pliant labor leadership and peaceful trade unionism, establishment of the Bretton Woods international monetary system, Cold War ideology and the suppression or pacification of any possible dissent, and relative decline in the price of oil and other raw materials in the immediate post-WW II period), the New Deal and other government-sponsored reforms ushered in a period of rapid economic expansion that came to be known as the “golden years of US capitalism,” which lasted until around 1970.

While the pressure from below played a key role in compelling the ruling establishment to carry out the New Deal and other welfare state programs, a number of other factors also contributed to the realization of those programs. One such factor was the emergence of an alternative economic model to capitalism from the ruins of the two world wars and Great Depression: the centrally-planned economies of the Soviet Union and its allies. The emergence of the rival economic system, despite its bureaucratic and dictatorial character, further exposed the unjust character of market mechanism because while in the 1930s the capitalist West was suffering from economic depression, unemployment, and poverty, the Soviet and other centrally-planned economies were enjoying impressive rates of growth -- with no unemployment, homelessness, or hunger.

The popularity of the Soviet-type economic system at the time also meant that many of the colonial and other less-developed areas of the world combined their anti-colonial and anti-imperial national liberation struggles with demands for government-sponsored models of socialist-oriented or “non-capitalist” development. In the core capitalist countries of the West, too, demands for reform and voices of revolution were frequently heard during the widespread protest demonstrations of the 1930s. Anti-capitalist sentiments and demands to harness or to do away with the skittish, unreliable and, at times, brutal forces of market mechanism in favor of regulating and/or managing national economies were heard not only among the Left and working classes but also in the ranks of the middle and lower-middle classes.

Although the fear of total economic collapse in the face of the Depression, and the “threat of revolution,” compelled government and business leaders to embark on reform in order to fend off revolution, proponents of unbridled market mechanism never really accepted or reconciled with those reforms as permanent features of capitalism. Not surprisingly, soon after the Depression turned to expansion in the immediate postwar period, and Western capitalism regained its lost confidence, the financial oligarchy and government leaders began to introduce “restructuring” measures that would undermine the New Deal reforms and revive the pre-Depression model of market fundamentalism.

Just as the rival economic system of the Soviet Union and its allies, which guaranteed basic needs and job security for their citizens, indirectly contributed to the implementation of the New Deal and Social-Democratic reforms in the industrialized West, the collapse of that rival system is now contributing to the retrogressive process of reviving pre-Depression market orthodoxy. Not only has the collapse of the Soviet-type economies opened up vast markets and huge reservoirs of cheap labor in places such as the former Soviet Union, China, and India, it has also served as grounds for capitalist triumphalism -- and its self-assured or self-righteous promotion of trickledown economics.

Many people believe that efforts to reverse the New Deal reforms began with the arrival of Ronald Reagan in the White House in 1980. Evidence shows, however, that such efforts, pursued by both Republican and Democratic administrations, began long before the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency. As Alan Nasser, professor emeritus of Political Economy and Philosophy at The Evergreen State College in Olympia (Washington), points out, “The foundations of neoliberalism were established in economic theory by liberal Democrats at the Brookings Institution, and in political practice by the Carter administration.”

Reagan picked the Democrat’s timid agenda of gradual return to economic liberalism and ran with it, replacing the rhetoric of capitalism-with-a-human-face with the imperious, self-righteous rhetoric of rugged individualism that greed and self-interest are virtues to be nurtured.

Neither President Clinton changed the course of neoliberal corporate welfare policies of Reaganomics, nor is President Obama hesitating to carry out those policies. This is clearly reflected in his administration’s supply-side restructuring policies whose core principle consists of redistributing national resources in favor of the rich and powerful -- cutting the critically-need social spending on basic needs to pay Wall Street gamblers and Pentagon contractors.

Perhaps a most sinister neoliberal strategy to roll back the New Deal and other poverty-reducing reforms has been deliberate creation of budget deficits in order to force cuts in social spending. This has often been accomplished by a combination of drastic tax cuts for the wealthy along with drastic hikes in military spending. As this combination creates big budget deficits, it then forces cuts in non-military public spending as a way to fill the budget gaps that are thus created.

The Obama administration has, indeed, escalated this creepy strategy by bailing out the Wall Street gamblers, financing multiple wars of choice and more than 800 military bases around the world, and then cutting social spending in an effort to reduce the national debt and budget deficits thus generated.

Another strategy of reviving the pre-New Deal laissez faire economics has been the increasing use of various schemes of outsourcing and privatization. The outsourcing of public services to private hands pervades all areas of state responsibility. Perhaps a most notorious example of this policy is the case of the Pentagon/security contracting. The services outsourced by the Pentagon are no longer limited to the relatively simple or routine tasks and responsibilities such as food and sanitation services. More importantly, they include contracts for services that are highly sophisticated and strategic in nature, such as the contracting of security services to corporate private armies, or modern-day mercenaries.

Reporting on the steadily rising trend of outsourcing, Scott Shane and Ron Nixon of the New York Times reported, “Without a public debate or formal policy decision, contractors have become a virtual fourth branch of government. On the rise for decades, spending on federal contracts has soared during the Bush administration, to about $400 billion last year from $207 billion in 2000, fueled by the war in Iraq, domestic security and Hurricane Katrina, but also by a philosophy that encourages outsourcing almost everything government does.”

The policy of privatization and outsourcing has led the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), tasked with expanding the American dream of home ownership and affordable housing free from discrimination to people of modest means, to surreptitiously “move a chunk of that role to Wall Street since 2002,” reports Pam Martens, a freelance investigative reporter.

Martens further writes, “From 2002 to 2005, HUD transferred in excess of $2.4 billion of defaulted mortgages insured by its sibling, the FHA, into the hands of Citigroup, Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns while providing the firms with wide latitude to foreclose, restructure or sell off in bundles to investors. HUD retained a minority interest of 30 to 40 percent in each joint venture. Citigroup was awarded the 2002 and 2004 joint ventures; Lehman Brothers the 2003; Bear Stearns the 2005.

“What the program effectively did was allow the biggest retail banks in the country to get accelerated payment on their defaulted, FHA-insured, single family mortgage loans while allowing another set of the biggest investment banks to make huge profits in fees for bundling and selling off the loans as securitizations. Once the loans were securitized (sold off to investors) they were no longer the problem of HUD or the Wall Street bankers. The loans conveniently disappeared from the radar screen and the balance sheet. The family’s fate had been sold off by HUD to Wall Street in exchange for a small piece of the action. Wall Street then sold off the family’s fate to thousands of investors around the world for a large piece of the action.”

Outsourcing policies are bound to be further accelerated by the rising budget deficits of many states and municipalities, and their need to sell off public property or outsource their traditional services in order to raise funds to finance their budgetary needs. These include outsourcing the maintenance of parks, the management of toll roads, the collection of waste, the operation of municipal neighborhood centers, and more. For example, according to a recent MSNBC report, in the two years since Mitch Daniels was elected governor in Indiana, “the state has leased the 157-mile Indiana Toll Road to an outside company for the next 75 years for $3.8 billion, hired vendors for $1.16 billion over 10 years to process welfare applications, and brought in a company to serve food at a mental hospital.”

While cash-strapped states and other local governments can generate quick cash by privatizing public property or outsourcing public services, they forgo long-term opportunities of income generation from such properties and services.

Another Wall Street plot to rob the people of their social safety net programs is the recently renewed attack on the once-sacred entitled programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Having piled up huge sums of national debt and deficit (through bank bailouts, military spending, and tax cuts for the affluent), Wall Street champions, firmly ensconced in the Congress and the White House, are now singing the “fiscal responsibility” song as a prelude to chip away at Social Security and other entitlements. This ominous scheme is clearly reflected in President Obama’s recently appointed “National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform,” a bi-partisan group that is tasked with reviewing the Social Security and other entitlements in an effort to further “trim” social spending in order to pay for the sins of major banks and military contractor.

The bipartisan nature of the attack on Social Security indicates that the plan to undercut economic safety net programs cannot be blamed solely on the blatently neoliberal Republicans. It shows that, with few exceptions, Democrats are as much indebted and committed to the powerful financial interests as are Republicans. The neoliberal economic policies of the Obama administration, crafted by his economic team of ex-bankers/Wall Street advisors, should dispel any illusions that he is committed to “change” in favor of the people.

The New Deal and other basic needs programs were put in place not so much because of F.D.R.’s or Keynes’s genius, or the goodness of their heart, as they were because of the compelling pressure from the people. Freed (or feeling free) from that pressure, the government, as the executive body of the financial/economic oligarchy, is now trying to undermine those social safety net programs, and revive the pre-New Deal/pre-Keynesian economic orthodoxy, that is, the economic model of the survival of the fittest. This sinister, profit-driven effort at undermining the poor and working people’s hard-won basic needs programs can be stopped only through a renewed and compelling pressure from the grassroots -- pressure that must be exerted not through the Democratic Party machine but independent of the so-called two-party system.

Ismael Hossein-zadeh, author of The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism, teaches Economics at Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa.

Baccarat, the Chinese way: Rituals you won't see in Vegas


Baccarat, the Chinese way: Rituals you won't see in Vegas
Pauline Chiou, CNN
March 15, 2010
Baccarat craze in China
Baccarat is game of choice for the majority of gamblers in Macau
Superstition still plays a part in the way that many Chinese gamblers play the game
Baccarat brought in 86 percent of Macau's $11.8 billion gaming revenue in 2008

Macau, China (CNN) -- Baccarat is not just for James Bond anymore. It is the game of choice for Chinese gamblers from mainland China and Hong Kong. Both groups make up the majority of gamblers in Macau. And they bring some unique, superstitious rituals with them that you won't see in Las Vegas.

If you watch many Chinese gamblers play baccarat in Macau, there is a good chance you will see the players squeeze the cards tightly between their fingers, slowly peek at the cards by lifting the vertical end just enough to see the suit and number, then turn the card horizontally to peek at the number again.

Each time, they crease the cards rendering the cards unusable for another round (Macau casinos seem to tolerate this). The slow dance of peeking and creasing is to increase the suspense as the player hopes for a good pair of numbers that close in on the magic number: 9.

Some Chinese players even blow on the cards, hoping to "blow away" bad numbers. At one table with a sizeable group, a woman exclaimed "hoi, hoi," ("turn it over, turn it over") as she watched a player perform his ritual.

"Sometimes, you almost believe that they can actually change the outcome of a card by the way they squeeze the card. So there's a lot of superstition," said Scott Milburn, vice president of table games at City of Dreams.

Ray Rody, a gaming professor at Macau Millennium College who studies gambling's cultural history, agreed that the typical Chinese gambler is superstitious. That nature is on full display at the baccarat table. In baccarat, one player is dealt a pair of cards and the other gamblers at the table can choose to bet with or against that player.

"The Chinese like to bet with a player when they win and against a player when they are losing because they believe in the luck of other players as well as their own," said Rody.

"They look for trends of three or more straight wins for the banker or player and then bet for a 4th or 5th straight win. The gamblers who believe in this type of luck walk around the casino searching for tables showing a trend."

In fact, City of Dreams has installed computer monitors at the baccarat tables to help gamblers track trends. The monitors show a chart of who won the last 20 or 30 rounds at that table. If a trend starts appearing, that table will most likely draw a big crowd.

Baccarat brings in the lion's share of Macau's casino revenues. According to the latest government statistics available from 2008, baccarat brought in 86 percent of Macau's total gaming revenues, ringing up $11.8 billion.

The other reason players like baccarat is because it's considered the table game with the best odds against the house.

Rody said a gambler who places a "banker bet" in baccarat has the best odds with a statistical disadvantage of 1.06 percent. A "player bet" has a little less favorable odds with a 1.24 percent disadvantage against the house.

"(Baccarat) is the best option for the player for their money to last the longest because most other table games run about a 3 percent disadvantage for the player ... or a 3 percent advantage for the house," Rody said.

Scott Milburn said baccarat is by far the casino's crown jewel.

"We have 70 percent of our floor space of mass market dedicated to baccarat tables," he said, noting he has seen individual VIP baccarat players win or lose between $7 million to $10 million in a day.

Homes of the Billionaires

Homes of the Billionaires
Sunday, March 14, 2010

Warren Buffett epitomizes living modestly in today's tough economic climate. Despite a $47 billion fortune, the legendary investor -- and the world's third-richest man -- lives in the same five-bedroom, gray stucco house he bought in Omaha, Neb.'s Happy Hollow suburb in 1958 for $31,500.

This folksiness is in line with his famous investing philosophy. "If you don't feel comfortable owning something for 10 years," he once told a reporter, "then don't own it for 10 minutes."

But Buffet, who also professes a love for pub fare like burgers and Cherry Coke, is the exception. Few billionaires are as frugal. Even in these tough times, modesty is a relative term among the superrich.

Computer mogul Michael Dell is a prime example. Dell claims to live simply, yet his Austin, Texas, residence built in 1997 is a 33,000-square-foot manse -- a home that locals call "the castle" because of its high walls and tight security that guard the 20-acre estate.


With an estimated billion-dollar cost, Mukesh Ambani's under-construction 27-story Mumbai skyscraper eclipses previous records for the world's most expensive homes.

No two floor plans for the inside of the lavish tower -- known as Antilla--are alike and each space uses different materials, such as one bathroom's Gingko-leaf sinks with stems guiding the running water into their leaf basins.

In the U.K., Russian-Israeli diamond magnate Lev Leviev owns the Palladio, an extravagant 17,000-square-foot manor outside London, which he bought for $65 million in January 2008. (That works out to $3,824 per square foot.) The home has a bulletproof front door, a gold-plated pool, an indoor cinema and a hair salon for good measure.

Nifty amenities like these drive up a home's price, something steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal knows all about. In 2004 he shelled out $124 million to buy his 12-bedroom spread in London's posh Kensington neighborhood, replete with extravagant Turkish baths and garage space for 20 cars.

American Estates

On this side of the Atlantic, Oracle Chief Executive Larry Ellison built a 23-acre, 10-building, Japanese-inspired imperial villa in Woodside, Calif.

But he didn't stop there. In recent years Ellison has spent an estimated $200 million more snapping up a dozen commercial and residential properties to create his own compound in the ritzy beachside enclave of Malibu, Calif.

The West Cost is also home to Bill Gates' 66,000-square-foot compound in Medina, Wash. Visitors to this estate have the option of climbing 84 stairs to get to the ground floor or simply riding the personal elevator.

Some billionaires, such as Star Wars director George Lucas, put their mansions to good use by both living in and working from them. Lucas' 5,156-acre Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, Calif. houses his personal residence as well as Skywalker Sound, a postproduction outfit that even has its own fire brigade.

Star sightings are the norm here. In 2000 Tom Hanks taped sound effects for Cast Away and Sean Penn paid a visit before releasing Into the Wild in 2007. Hollywood memorabilia, such as Charlie Chaplin's cane, a prop whip used by Rudolph Valentino and Indiana Jones' Holy Grail, can also be found in the main house.

Of course, no list of billionaire homes would be complete without mention of real estate magnate Donald Trump. His penthouse apartment in Manhattan's Trump Tower is a monument to marble and gold and has an entire floor designated to Trump's fifth child, Barron. This floor's decor is inspired by -- who else? -- Louis XIV.

Despite the costly details, Trump might say his apartment's best feature is its location, which allows him to ride the elevator to his offices in the same skyscraper. That's the true luxury of being a billionaire: an extravagant home and a short commute.

Warren Buffett
Omaha, Neb.
Net Worth: $47 billion
Rank: 3

The world's third-richest man still resides in the 6,000-square-foot, five-bedroom gray stucco home he bought in 1958 for $31,500. The home has everything the 79-year-old needs, including his very own handball court that he uses to keep fit. An intruder armed with a fake gun tried to break into the modest, ungated property in 2007 but was ultimately thwarted by security.

Bill Gates
Medina, Wash.
Net Worth: $53 billion
Rank: 2

Gates' 66,000-square-foot compound is built into a hillside on the edge of Lake Washington, near Seattle. Its enviable amenities include: a 60-foot swimming pool with an underwater music system, a 2,500-square-foot gym and a 1,000-square-foot dining room, which seats 24. For a personal touch, out-of-shape visitors can skip the 84-step hike to the ground floor and opt for an elevator ride instead.

Lakshmi Mittal
London, England
Net Worth: $28.7 billion
Rank: 5

In 2004 Mittal paid $128 million for his 12-bedroom townhouse in London's luxe Kensington district. Mittal's mansion, tucked between Kensington Palace and the Sultan of Brunei's spread, has an indoor pool, Turkish baths and garage space for 20 cars. The super-home is also embellished with marble taken from the same quarry that supplied the Taj Mahal.

Larry Ellison
Woodside, Calif.
Net Worth: $28 billion
Rank: 6

Over the last few years the Oracle co-founder has dropped $200 million by some estimates on near a dozen properties in Malibu to create a custom compound. His 23-acre estate in Woodside, pictured here, is inspired by the Japanese city of Kyoto and is reminiscent of a 16th-century imperial Japanese palace. It reportedly cost upward of $200 million to build.

Michael Dell
Austin, Texas
Net Worth: $13.5 billion
Rank: 37

Built in 1997, Dell's 33,000-square-foot hilltop manse sits on a 20-acre spread close to where he founded his eponymous computer company. The eight-bedroom house equipped with a conference room and both indoor and outdoor pools is known locally as "the castle" thanks to its high walls and tight security.

'Mission Impossible' and 'Airplane!' actor Peter Graves dies at 83

Mar 14, 2010
'Mission Impossible' and 'Airplane!' actor Peter Graves dies at 83
by Thom Geier

Actor Peter Graves, the square-jawed star of the 1967-73 TV spy series Mission Impossible and the original host of cable’s Biography series, died of a heart attack Sunday at his home in Pacific Palisades, Calif., according to the New York Times. He was 83.

He appeared in golden-age Hollywood classics like 1953’s Stalag 17 and 1955’s Night of the Hunter as well as a host of genre movies through the years, lending an air of seriousness to even the most trivial roles. In later years, that dedication made him a perfect choice for satire, including his famed turn as a seemingly straitlaced pilot in 1980’s Airplane! (“Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?”)

Born Peter Aurness in Minneapolis, he served in the U.S. Air Force in 1944-45, studied drama at the University of Minnesota, and then followed his older brother, Gunsmoke star James Arness, to Hollywood. (He took the surname of his maternal grandfather to avoid confusion with his brother.) Like his brother, Graves found some of his most recognizable roles on TV: In Mission Impossible, he played Jim Phelps, the cool-as-a-cucumber leader of a super-secret spy organization that conducted elaborate undercover operations, earning a Golden Globe in 1971 and an Emmy nomination in 1969. Beginning in 1987, he served as the original host of A&E’s Biography series (for which he won his only Emmy, in 1997, for Judy Garland: Beyond the Rainbow).

Born to run… at the mouth: Glenn Beck calls The Boss un-American.


Born to run… at the mouth: Glenn Beck calls The Boss un-American.
Richard Metzger

There are American icons and then there are American icons. And Bruce Springsteen is surely one of them. The kind you don’t mess with if you know what’s good for you. He’s the Boss and… you’re not, OK? Get it? Got it? Good.

Apparently Glenn Beck never got that memo because on his radio show Thursday, the Joseph McCarthy-loving, blubbering Fox News personality decided to read the lyrics to “Born in the U.S.A.” in a monotone voice similar to how William Shatner infamously declaimed Elton John’s “Rocket Man.” This is a tune Ronald Reagan tried to commandeer for his 1984 reelection campaign, a move rebuffed by Springsteen, the son of a union member.

According to Beck, the song is un-American.

“Born down in a dead man’s town,” read Beck to the listeners of his March 11 radio program. “The first kick I took was when I hit the ground. You end up like a dog that’s been beat too much. ‘Til you spend half your life just covering up.”

Here’s what Beck had to say about the famous song afterward:

That’s what it’s all about. That’s what America’s all about, according to Springsteen…. It’s time for us to wake, wake up, out of our, um, dream state. Wake up out of the propaganda. The, you know, this is the thing that, people who come from the Soviet-bloc or Cuba, they’re all saying, “How do you guys not hear this? How do you not see this?” Well, that’s ‘cause we don’t ever expect it.

The Boss… un-American? Bruce Springsteen? Is that what Beck is trying to say? Now I could offer some snarky commentary—that’s my job, I’m a blogger after all—but it’s totally pointless when discussing Beck, someone I could call “nuts” and the copy desk at the Los Angeles Times will probably let it sail right past because it’s not like it’s an opinion!

And that’s not all. In January, Beck “analyzed” the Utopian lyrics of the Beatles’ “Revolution” and concluded that the song illustrated Liberal plans to slowly bring Marxism to America.

Glenn, wouldn’t that have been, uh, Lennonism? And I hate to remind you that Charles Manson saw hidden messages in Beatle songs too.

James Brown's body is 'missing from its crypt', alleges singer's daughter


James Brown's body is 'missing from its crypt', alleges singer's daughter
12th March 2010

James Brown's daughter has claimed the singer's body has gone missing from its crypt.

LaRhonda Pettit, 48, alleges the body of Brown, who died in December 2006 aged 73, is being hidden to prevent a full autopsy being carried out.

Ms Pettit said the official cause of death, which was said to be a heart attack brought by pneumonia, is not the real reason behind the Godfather of Soul's passing.

She said: 'My daddy's body has disappeared. I have no clue where it was taken, but I need to know where.

'I'm convinced his death was suspicious and I want the people responsible brought to justice.

'The only way to do that is to exhume his body and have an autopsy. I cannot understand why one was never conducted.'

Ms Pettit, who underwent a DNA test in 2007 to prove she was Brown's daughter, believes there were several people involved in Brown's death.

She added to America's Globe newspaper: 'It was common knowledge that my daddy took illegal drugs.

'He was also hooked on various prescription painkillers. At the very least there were enablers who helped cause his death.'

Ms Pettit, who is 99.99 per cent likely to be Brown's daughter, said the singer had a relationship with her mother after meeting her at one of his performances in the 1960s.

She is one of 12 people who came forward following Brown's death claiming to be one of his illegitimate children.

Brown's body is said to have been sealed in a temporary crypt at his daughter Deanna's South Carolina Home while arrangements are made for his permanent burial.

The warped platitude of DC "centrism"

Saturday, Mar 13, 2010
The warped platitude of DC "centrism"
Glenn Greenwald

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank dresses up in idiotic costumes, and the overriding attribute of his commentary is adolescent, above-it-all snideness, and he's thus deemed a wild, unpredictable, creative "contrarian" in Beltway media circles. In reality, he's one of the most cliché-ridden purveyors of conventional Washington widsom one can find, as he demonstrates yet again in his column today, where he venerates Lindsey Graham and his quest to statutorily implement a system of military commissions and indefinite detention:

But Graham's latest offer should still be taken seriously by Obama's White House, which needs a way to recover from its self-inflicted wounds over Gitmo. Obama goofed twice, missing his deadline for closing the prison and then making the ruinous choice to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed in a criminal trial in New York.

This took an eight-year-old dispute to a new level of rage. On one side, there's now Liz Cheney's absurd accusation that Justice Department lawyers are al-Qaeda sympathizers. On the other side is the ACLU, which, in demanding civilian trials for 9/11 conspirators, ran an ad morphing Obama's face into George W. Bush's. . . . [T]the ideological purists on both sides need to compromise.

Liz Cheney advocates torture and indefinite detention with no charges, and just launched a repulsive McCarthyite smear campaign equating all detainee lawyers with Al Qaeda. The ACLU has steadfastly opposed Bush's torture policies as early as anyone, advocates due process for all, and ran a newspaper advertisement pointing out the indisputable fact that military commissions and indefinite detention were the crux of the Bush/Cheney Terrorism template and urging Obama not to embrace it. But they're on opposite sides of these issues and thus are equivalent: they're the extremists and purists who need to be rejected by those in the Glorious Middle (embodied by Lindsey Graham). As long both of them are against what you're doing, it means you're right. Could a false equivalency be any more trite or vapid than that?

Far worse is the specific, Graham-endorsed policy which Milbank endorses -- not by making any substantive arguments in its favor, but simply by declaring it to be in between Liz Cheney and the ACLU, at the center of the two "purist" extremes (which, in Washington, means, by definition, that it's superior regardless of content):

Graham has provided Obama a way out of this standoff: Send KSM to a military tribunal in exchange for Congress abandoning legislation that would deny funding to close Gitmo. Next, the administration would work with Congress to create a "national security court," which would govern how other current and future terrorism suspects can be held in preventive detention.

This is the so-called "centrist compromise" -- the one Graham (along with the Brookings Institution) is pushing, Milbank is endorsing, and the administration may be heading towards adopting. But just think about what it actually is. According to its advocates, there is and will continue to be a group of people whom we deem Too Dangerous to allow to be free, yet who have committed no crime and/or against whom there is no evidence of actual wrongdoing. Therefore, we want to imprison them even though we can't prove they did anything wrong. Thus, we're going to create new, special courts -- and christen them with the Orwellian title "National Security Courts" -- and empower them to approve the President's decision to imprison human beings in cages even though they've committed no crime (not even the extremely broad criminal offense of "providing material support to Terrorist organizations," of which anyone who even gets near an actual Terrorist group is easily convicted).

This new judicial system will be devoted to imprisoning people "preventively" -- for being Dangerous. In other words, we're dispensing with the idea that the Government can only imprison those who we can prove have committed crimes, and are instead creating by statute a new category of human beings -- people who have committed no crimes but belong in prison anyway -- along with courts to keep them imprisoned (this idea was unveiled in Barack Obama's "civil liberties" speech last May when he described the so-called "fifth category" of people, and I wrote about everything wrong with that proposal here). But why stop with accused Terrorists? Why not dispense with this "due process" annoyance entirely, and imprison all people who we know deep down are guilty of something really bad, or at least will be in the future -- such as those we know murdered someone or raped children but can't find the evidence to prove it (or those we believe likely will in the future)? What decent person would possibly allow such monsters to go free just because we can't convict them in court?

That's the "centrist compromise" which Graham and Milbank advocate, and which the ACLU -- by virtue of its opposition -- is deemed by Milbank guilty of being the "purist" equivalent of Liz Cheney. Aside from how radical such a proposal is on its face, it's actually a more extreme version of what George Bush and Dick Cheney did. As a result of the Supreme Court's Boumediene ruling, detainees imprisoned by Bush/Cheney with no charges are now are entitled to habeas review by federal courts, and the vast majority have won their cases and been ordered released on the ground of insufficient evidence. Notably, it was the "centrist" Graham, to his eternal disgrace, who led the way in trying to deny those innocent detainees the right of habeas review -- and thus tried to keep innocent people imprisoned indefinitely with no judicial review -- by sponsoring the habeas-denying section of the Military Commissions Act which the Boumediene Court invalidated as unconstitutional.

Now, Graham (echoing Obama's May speech) wants to statutorily institutionalize this power of indefinite detention -- making it a permanent fixture of our political system and solidifying it as the bipartisan policy of all three branches. As demonstrated by the truly dangerous, extremist bill just introduced by John McCain and Joe Lieberman (the "Enemy Belligerent, Interrogation, Detention, and Prosecution Act of 2010") -- which, among other atrocities, would allow the President to indefinitely imprison even American citizens arrested on U.S. soil -- it's almost certain that having this fear-mongering Congress write an indefinite detention bill would result in a much broader and farther-reaching detention scheme than even what we've had under Bush/Cheney and now Obama. But hey: Liz Cheney and the ACLU (with whom I consult) are both against it (Cheney's opposition is due only to the fact that the "compromise" would lead to the re-location of Guantanamo to Illinois) -- and one can find some Democrats and some Republicans who favor it -- and, therefore, it is, by definition, the sensible "centrist" solution which all non-purist-extremists favor. That's the warped, childish, substance-free definition of "centrism" which Washington media drones like Dana Milbank constantly embrace, and nothing has led to more damaging policies than that.
* * * * *
The Washington Post Op-Ed page deserves some credit for publishing this excellent Op-Ed yesterday by Georgetown Professor Gary Solis, who points out that, under international law, CIA agents who operate lethal drone attacks are every bit as much "unlawful combatants" as the Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters we have imprisoned, rendered, tortured and killed, because "they are fighters without uniforms or insignia, directly participating in hostilities, employing armed force contrary to the laws and customs of war." He also points out that CIA officials involved in such activities are legitimate military targets of the enemy. The same is true, of course, for the vast number of private mercenaries the U.S. uses to engage in war-fighting and related activities. By the warped reasoning that has prevailed in our country, it would be perfectly legal and proper for these unlawful American combatants to be imprisoned indefinitely with no charges and even tortured. If you advocate and practice lawlessness, it's only a matter of time before you're subjected to your own deranged standards.

'Vaccines court' rejects mercury-autism link in 3 test cases


'Vaccines court' rejects mercury-autism link in 3 test cases
The finding supports a broad scientific consensus that the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal does not cause autism, and will likely disappoint parents who are convinced otherwise.
Thomas H. Maugh II and Andrew Zajac
March 13, 2010
Reporting from Washington and Los Angeles

The federal "vaccines court" ruled Friday in three separate cases that the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal does not cause autism, a finding that supports the broad scientific consensus on the matter but that greatly disappointed parents who are convinced that their child's illness was caused by vaccines.

The court had ruled 13 months ago that a combination of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, commonly known as the MMR vaccine, and thimerosal does not cause the disorder, so the new ruling may finally close the bulk of litigation on the matter. The earlier ruling has been appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals, and this one most likely will be also, but most experts think the court will uphold the decision.

A claim that the MMR vaccine alone causes autism has been withdrawn by parents.

More than 5,300 parents had filed claims with the vaccines court, a branch of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, seeking damages because they believed their children had developed autism as a result of vaccinations. And they reacted bitterly to Friday's ruling.

"Find me another industry where the U.S. government defends their product in court and funds the science that exonerates them," said J.B. Handley, a founder of Generation Rescue in Sherman Oaks and father of a child with autism. "The average citizen has no hope."

The cases that three judges, called special masters, chose to rule on as test cases were considered among the strongest, so the outlook appears grim for others making the same claim. Each ruled on one case.

Special Master Denise K. Vowell wrote in one of the decisions that "petitioners propose effects from mercury in [vaccines] that do not resemble mercury's known effects in the brain, either behaviorally or at the cellular level. To prevail, they must show that the exquisitely small amounts of mercury in [vaccines] that reach the brain can produce devastating effects that far larger amounts experienced prenatally or postnatally from other sources do not."

She also dismissed claims that some groups of children are unusually susceptible to the effects of mercury. "The only evidence that these children are unusually sensitive is the fact of their [autism] itself."

In a separate ruling, Special Master George L. Hastings wrote: "This case . . . is not a close case. The overall weight of the evidence is overwhelmingly contrary to the petitioners' causation theories."

Commenting on the rulings, Dr. Paul Offit of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia said in a news conference that the idea that vaccines or thimerosal cause autism "had its day in scientific court and was shown not to hold up. . . . The ruling clearly supported the science, fortunately." Offit, inventor of the rotavirus vaccine and author of five books on the vaccine controversy, is a strong proponent of vaccination and has been vilified by many parents.

Parents and advocacy groups argued that the ruling represents a conspiracy to protect vaccination programs. "The courts won't concede something that will bring down the vaccination program," Handley said.

Vaccine court special masters are protecting the vaccine program at the expense of children harmed by inoculations, said Mary Holland of the Coalition for Vaccine Safety, an umbrella organization of autism groups that says it is focused on improving vaccine safety science.

"I'm sure they sincerely believe they're protecting the public health because they think that if people believed vaccines caused diseases, they would stop vaccinating children," Holland said. "They bend over backwards to not acknowledge vaccine injury."

Largely because of parental fears, thimerosal was removed from all childhood vaccines by 2001, except for multidose vials of influenza vaccine. Despite that action, the prevalence of autism has continued to grow, and it is now thought to affect as many as one in every 100 children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The vaccine court was established in 1986 because vaccine manufacturers were facing many liability suits that threatened their ability to continue manufacturing the medicines. The court holds no-fault hearings to determine whether a child has been harmed by a vaccine. Compensation comes from a $2.5-billion fund based on a 75-cent surcharge on each dose of vaccine.

The court has made many awards to parents who successfully showed that their children were damaged neurologically or otherwise by vaccinations -- a rare, but nonetheless real event -- but has refused to accept claims that autism is caused by vaccination.

The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear an appeal from Pittsburgh parents who want to sue vaccine manufacturer Wyeth directly because their daughter suffered a series of debilitating seizures after being vaccinated. They argue that they cannot get a fair hearing in the vaccine court.



Trine Tsouderos in Chicago contributed to this report.

Slim Overtakes Gates, Buffett to Become Forbes Richest Person

Slim Overtakes Gates, Buffett to Become Forbes Richest Person
March 11, 2010
Chris Dolmetsch and Crayton Harrison

March 11 (Bloomberg) -- Mexico’s Carlos Slim beat Bill Gates and Warren Buffett for the top spot on Forbes magazine’s annual list of billionaires, becoming the first person from outside the U.S. to lead the rankings in 16 years.

The net worth of Slim, 70, who built a telecommunications empire after buying Mexico’s state-run phone monopoly two decades ago, rose $18.5 billion to $53.5 billion. Gates, 54, chairman of Microsoft Corp., fell to second as his net worth increased $13 billion to $53 billion. Buffett, 79, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., was third with $47 billion, a rise of $10 billion.

Slim is the first person other than Gates, last year’s richest person, or Buffett to top the list since 1994, which was also the last time a billionaire from outside the U.S. led the ranking: Japanese real estate tycoon Yoshiaki Tsutsumi.

“We’ve been watching Slim for a while and kind of wondered when the stars would align and he would take over,” Forbes senior editor Luisa Kroll said in an interview yesterday.

More than 80 percent of Slim’s holdings are held in five public stocks, she said. “His net worth really reflects how well those stocks are doing. Everything that he owns has done very, very well this year.”

Mexican shares of America Movil SAB, the wireless carrier controlled by Slim, have gained more than 56 percent in the last year, according to Bloomberg data. The company’s reach extends to 18 countries in the Western hemisphere, including Mexico, Brazil and the U.S., where it is the biggest carrier of prepaid wireless service.

Market Dominance

Slim’s Telefonos de Mexico SAB remains the biggest landline phone company in the country, with about 80 percent of the lines. His Telmex Internacional SAB, which America Movil is planning to buy, controls Brazil’s biggest long-distance and cable TV companies as well as phone and video carriers in Colombia, Peru and other South American countries.

Slim’s holdings in Mexico extend from retail, with the Sanborns department store chain, through banking and construction. Through his holding companies and investment vehicles, he holds stakes in U.S. companies including the New York Times Co., Saks Inc. and Bronco Drilling Co.

“His management of America Movil, which I believe is the principal reason for his wealth, has been exceptional,” said Jose Miguel Garaicochea, who helps manage 10 billion pesos ($793 million) in stocks, including the wireless carrier, at Banco Santander SA. “And when he has gone outside of Mexico, he has also done very well.”

Asia’s Richest

Asia’s richest person, Mukesh Ambani, 52, of India, chairman of Mumbai-based refiner and energy explorer Reliance Industries Ltd., was ranked fourth with $29 billion, up from $19.5 billion last year, when he was seventh.

Lakshmi Mittal, 59, also of India, the chief executive officer of the world’s biggest steelmaker, ArcelorMittal, rose to fifth from eighth. Mittal’s net worth increased $9.4 billion to $28.7 billion as shares of his company have almost doubled in the past year.

Larry Ellison, 65, chief executive of Oracle Corp., fell to sixth from fourth as his net worth increased $5.5 billion to $28 billion. Bernard Arnault, 61, of France, chairman and chief executive of luxury goods maker LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA, rose to seventh from 15th as his net worth jumped $11 billion to $27.5 billion.

Batista’s Climb

Brazilian mining magnate Eike Batista, 53, had the biggest increase in net worth, rising to $27 billion from $7.5 billion and boosting his rank to eighth from 61st. Spain’s richest man, Amancio Ortega, 73, chairman and founder of clothing retailer Inditex SA, rose to ninth from 10th as his net worth jumped $6.7 billion to $25 billion.

Karl Albrecht, a co-founder of discount retailer Aldi Group, rounded out the list’s top 10, falling to 10th from sixth place as his net worth rose $2 billion to $23.5 billion.

The number of billionaires climbed to 1,011 from 793 last year, although still below the rankings’ high of 1,125 in 2008. Their cumulative net worth increased to $3.6 trillion from $2.4 trillion, and the average jumped $500 million to $3.5 billion as the world economy began to rebound from its worst slump since the Great Depression.

The list includes billionaires from 55 countries. The U.S. has the most with 403, up from 359 last year, while Europe follows with 248. The Asia-Pacific region has 234 people in the rankings, up from 130 in 2009, including 62 newcomers.

“The global boom that we experienced from the 1980s, particularly since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, which was temporarily derailed in 2007, now looks like it’s beginning to get back on track,” the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Steve Forbes, said at a press conference in New York yesterday. “But Asia and a handful of others are surging, relatively the United States and western Europe are lagging.”

The Forbes rankings are based on information including stakes in publicly traded and privately held companies; real estate holdings; and investments in items such as art, gems and yachts; and compiled as of the close of U.S. markets on Feb. 12.

--Editors: Mark Schoifet, Don Frederick

To contact the reporters on this story: Chris Dolmetsch in New York at cdolmetsch@bloomberg.net; Crayton Harrison in Mexico City at tharrison5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jim Kirk at jkirk12@bloomberg.net

Ventura: ‘You’re not allowed to ask’ about 9/11


Ventura: ‘You’re not allowed to ask’ about 9/11
Muriel Kane
Friday, March 12th, 2010

Former Minnesota governor and one-time professional wrestler Jesse Ventura has run afoul of the Huffington Post's no-conspiracy-theory policy, and he's not happy about it.

"I can't believe the Huffington Post today will practice censorship," Ventura says in astonishment. "I've got news for them. ... I won't ever write for 'em again."

Ventura had posted an item on Tuesday which took note of a recent conference at which "more than one thousand architects and engineers signed a petition demanding that Congress begin a new investigation into the destruction of the World Trade Center skyscrapers on 9/11." He also quoted a few paragraphs from his new book, American Conspiracies, to explain why some of those experts see signs of controlled demolition.

The item was featured on the front page of Huffington Post when it first went up, but after a few hours it vanished. All that appears now at its original location is an editor's note saying, "The Huffington Post's editorial policy, laid out in our blogger guidelines, prohibits the promotion and promulgation of conspiracy theories -- including those about 9/11. As such, we have removed this post."

The note is followed by three pages of comments, enthusiastically arguing the pros and cons of controlled demolition and other 9/11 theories, that were posted during the couple of hours before the entry was deleted and comments were closed.

Huffington Post's own guidelines for its bloggers state, "We must -- and do -- reserve the right to remove objectionable, inaccurate, or inflammatory material and, if necessary, suspend or revoke blogging privileges. This also includes propagating conspiracy theories and blogging about behind-the-scenes housekeeping issues that are not of interest to the general public."

Anastasia Churkina, a correspondent for RT, interviewed Ventura about the controversy. "He's a man who doesn't mince his words too much," she reported on Thursday. "He was pretty blunt."

"I can't believe the Huffington Post today will practice censorship," Ventura told her angrily. "They asked me to be a contributing editor and they said, 'Write about anything you want.' So it was the second time I did something -- and they removed it?"

"Well, I've got news for them," he continued. "I won't ever write for 'em again. ... I won't do a thing for the Huffington Post because I don't like it when people censor what I have to say."

"All I do is ask questions!" he exploded. "That's what bugs me about 9/11. 9/11 is an event you're not allowed to ask a question about. ... Clearly they don't want any questions on it."

Ironically, Ventura had to go to RT, the English-language version of a Russian news channel, to tell his story. Although polls show that large numbers of Americans believe in a broad range of conspiracy theories, and a majority entertain doubts about the official story of 9/11, few of those questions ever appear in the mainstream media.

As Raw Story recently reported , "In November of 2007, an online article noted, 'Nearly two-thirds of Americans think it is possible that some federal officials had specific warnings of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, but chose to ignore those warnings, according to a Scripps Howard News Service/Ohio University poll.' A national survey of 811 adult residents of the United States conducted by Scripps and Ohio University found that more than a third believe in a broad smorgasbord of conspiracy theories including the attacks, international plots to rig oil prices, the plot to assassinate President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and the government’s knowledge of intelligent life from other worlds. The high percentage is a manifestation, some say, of an American public that increasingly distrusts the federal government."

Even liberal websites, however, discourage questions about 9/11, to the point where BooMan of the Booman Tribune had to preface a post at Daily Kos in 2005 by writing "I know this touches on verboten conspiracy theories, but this is a front-page NYT article."

"It's kind of hard to tell whether or not a new investigation will be launched," Churkina concluded. "Many people don't think this is going to be happening any time soon, even with such public figures, like Jesse Venture and other, calling for it."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Obama stumps for his cost-cutting health care overhaul


Obama stumps for his cost-cutting health care overhaul
By Kate Randall
10 March 2010

Barack Obama is conducting a last-ditch effort to see his health care overhaul passed by Congress before lawmakers recess for the Easter break. It is still unclear whether he has the votes of Democrats in both the House and Senate to approve the legislation with a simple majority, with the numbers shifting on a daily basis.

Appearing Monday at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pennsylvania, Obama put on a performance reminiscent of his campaign stump speeches, attempting to work the crowd as a man of the people and vehicle of “change”—in this case, in the realm of health care.

With unrestrained contempt for the intelligence of the American people, Obama switched to his phony “fired up” mode only a week after he gave a speech before the Chamber of Commerce, publicly endorsing the mass firing of teachers and outlining an extremely right-wing education policy.

However, in his half-hour remarks, replete with demagogic attacks on the insurance companies, the president was at pains to conceal the right-wing character of the legislation he is promoting and his contempt for the millions of people who stand to pay for it—both financially and with their health and lives.

After “shout-outs” to various conservative Pennsylvania Democrats in the crowd—Senator Arlen Specter, Governor Ed Rendell, Philadelphia Mayor Mike Nutter—Obama struck the pose of a Washington outsider concerned with the struggles of ordinary Americans.

While politicians were “obsessed with the sport of politics,” he said, “all across America folks are worried about bigger things… They’re worried about the next paycheck, or the next tuition payment that’s due. They’re thinking about retirement.” His administration’s concern for these challenges facing the population, Obama argued, was “why we are fighting so hard to deal with the health care crisis in this country.”

His ensuing remarks combined attacks on the health insurance industry with feigned empathy for the victims of their drive for profit. Utilizing a combination of rhetorical tricks, evasion and outright lies, Obama attempted to argue that the proposals he is championing would improve care, rein in health care costs for working people, and hold the insurance companies accountable.

“We can’t have a system that works better for the insurance companies than it does for the American people,” he said. He referred to Anthem Blue Cross in California, which recently proposed raising its premium rates by nearly 40 percent. “Anybody’s paycheck gone up 40 percent?” Obama asked.

The president gave no explanation, however, of how his health care legislation would actually stop insurers from jacking up premium prices. While individuals and families would be forced to purchase insurance or pay a penalty under his plan, there would be no restrictions on what the insurance companies could charge for coverage. This “insurance mandate” would actually serve to boost insurance company profits.

In his latest proposal, Obama calls only for the establishment of a toothless Health Insurance Rate Authority, which “would issue an annual report setting the parameters for reasonable rate increases based on conditions in the market.” What is considered “reasonable” would invariably be tied to what is profitable for the insurers.

He then made a reference to a recent conference call between Goldman Sachs and an insurance broker, who he said told the investment bankers that insurers “know they will lose customers if they keep on raising premiums, but because there’s so little competition in the insurance industry, they’re okay with people being priced out of the insurance market.”

The reference to Goldman Sachs in relation to curbing profits was particularly cynical coming from Obama, whose administration is stacked with protégés of Robert Rubin, the Goldman executive who served as treasury secretary under Clinton. These include Obama’s chief economic adviser, Lawrence Summers, and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. The basic policies of the administration have been entirely devoted to ensuring the profits of the large banks, including Goldman Sachs.

Medicare, the government-run health care program for the elderly, received first mention from Obama in relation to government spending. “How many more years can the federal budget handle the crushing costs of Medicare and Medicaid?” he asked the audience, making clear that the main aim of his bill is reducing government outlays and reducing the deficit.

He made no mention of the hundreds of billions of dollars to be slashed from Medicare under his proposals, while making the lying claim that reducing costs by going after “waste and abuse in our system, including in programs like Medicare” could be achieved “while protecting Medicare benefits.”

The president related the life stories of a number of people suffering due to the woeful state of the US health care system—Leslie, a single mother trying to put her daughter through college; Natoma, a self-employed cancer survivor forced to drop her insurance due to high costs; Laura, a young mother with breast cancer whose medical bills have plunged her tens of thousands of dollars into debt.

Obama’s utilization of this timeworn technique, first popularized by Ronald Reagan, of exploiting the plight of selected individuals to advance the government’s agenda is particularly despicable in the context of a discussion on health care. The horrible predicaments confronting these individuals and others like them will not be resolved by the provisions of his health care plan, but will in all likelihood be exacerbated.

Even the fig leaf of reform that would have been provided by a “public option” on the exchange where individuals can purchase health insurance has been ditched under pressure from the insurers, who have spent millions of dollars to lobby Congress to oppose any measures that might threaten their profits.

Obama received some boos from his Pennsylvania audience when he voiced his opposition to the so-called single-payer approach to health care. “There were those at the beginning of this process who wanted to scrap our system of private insurance and replace it with a government-run health care system, like they have in some other countries,” he said.

“Look, it works in places like Canada, but I didn’t think it was going to be practical or realistic to do it here.” In other words, any measure that jeopardizes the profits of the giant insurers or pharmaceuticals is unacceptable. In fact, the precise aim of the legislation is to boost their profits, while establishing a class-based system in which health care is rationed for the vast majority.

Obama continued, “I believe it’s time to give you, the American people, more control over your own health insurance.” And how is this to be done?—by building “on the current system where most Americans get their health insurance from their employer.” Here he left out another detail: businesses will be under no obligation to provide insurance to their employees and will pay only nominal fees if their workers receive subsidized coverage.

The fundamental premise of the “current system” of health care is its subordination in every respect to the profit interests of various corporate interests. This framework will be maintained, and in fact expanded, under Obama’s proposals.

The president boasted, “We have now incorporated almost every single serious idea from across the political spectrum about how to contain the rising cost of health care.” Among these are numerous measures targeting “waste and abuse.” These include a task force to combat Medicare fraud and implement cuts, as well as measures to move from a fee-for-service system in Medicare to one where providers are rewarded for reducing care.

Obama has also embraced several Republican-backed measures, including expanding malpractice reform to shield doctors and hospitals from lawsuits, and recruiting medical professionals as spies in undercover investigations of health care providers that receive reimbursements from Medicare and other federal programs. He has adopted these provisions despite the fact that no Republican in Congress supports his legislation or will vote for it.

Obama concluded by calling for swift passage of his health care overhaul. Advancing the notion that the legislation is of an historic, progressive nature, akin to the establishment of Social Security or Medicare, he intoned, “At this moment, we are being called upon to fulfill our duty to the citizens of this nation and to future generations.”

His remarks were aimed mainly at those Democrats in Congress who fear that a vote for the bill threatens their chances at reelection due to growing popular opposition to Obama’s proposals. Increasing numbers of people correctly see the health care legislation as a cost-cutting plan aimed at rationing care for working people and the elderly.

Obama’s stump speech at Arcadia University was a cynical attempt to conceal this reality and press for passage of legislation that will have devastating and far-reaching consequences for the lives of millions of working class families.

The Public Option's Last Stand: A Matter Of Will, Not Votes

Ryan Grim
ryan@huffingtonpost.com | HuffPost
The Public Option's Last Stand: A Matter Of Will, Not Votes

The public option faces its last stand. With more than 40 senators publicly willing to vote for a health care reform reconciliation package that includes the option, the opportunity to reinsert it into the final bill has never been greater, though the battle is nearly over without having been fought.

Sen. Dick Durbin, the Democrat in charge of rounding up votes for the health care reconciliation bill, said on Thursday that he will whip support for whatever package comes through the House. With 50 Democratic votes, Vice President Joe Biden could then break the tie and send the bill directly to the White House. If any amendments are adopted, it slows the process down by requiring the House to vote once again.

That balance of power gives House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) extraordinary leverage of a historical nature. Pelosi, however, has yet to concede in negotiations that it is the obligation of the House to go first. And the deal that is being reached is driven largely by the White House. But both the Senate and the White House need Pelosi. And the House, of course, has already passed a health care bill with a public option.

If the House does move first, the Senate would essentially face an up-or-down vote on whatever Pelosi sends over. Durbin was asked by HuffPost if he would whip a reconciliation package from the House that included a public option. An analysis of past statements and positions taken by members of the Democratic caucus indicates that there could plausibly be 53 votes for a public option and perhaps several more.

Durbin, in response to the question, said at first that it was hypothetical, but then answered, "I think there will come a time when we reach agreement on what the reconciliation package includes, with the understanding that any changes in the House or Senate could slow down or stop the process."

So whatever comes from the House, that's what you will whip?

"That's basically it," he said. "I hope that what comes from the House is what we agree on going into this debate."

Has that been agreed to yet?

"Not yet," said Durbin.

"Dick Durbin just offered Nancy Pelosi a rubber stamp, something that will never happen again -- especially in a 50-vote reconciliation environment," said Adam Green, when told of Durbin's remark. Green is a co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which has been pushing for a public option.

If the public option is going to work its way back into health care talks, it will have to do it in the next day or two, before the parties finalize negotiations.

The White House and congressional leaders have not taken much notice of the revived debate over including a public option in the last several weeks, other than to insist, as the administration did, that it doesn't have "political support."

Yet without any whip effort from the Senate or the White House, 41 individual senators have publicly said that they are willing to support a public option through the reconciliation process. The full list is here.

That list does not include several senators who have said they support the public option but may not want to upset the delicate political balance, including Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), both vocal public option backers.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has not taken a position on supporting the public option through reconciliation, but he has previously said he supports it. What's more, as Finance Committee chairman, he has called this health care reform the most important public policy effort he has ever been involved in. He would be unlikely to kill it over the public option, especially given his state's support for it.

Rockefeller, Harkin and Baucus make it 44.

HuffPost also spoke to Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) this week. Hagan has previously said that she supports the public option and told HuffPost she'd be open to voting for it through reconciliation, but had to see the details. Begich said that he wouldn't let the health care bill overall "live or die" over the issue of the public option. Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.) declined to answer when asked by HuffPost about the public option, but he is a reliable Democratic vote and it is difficult to imagine him bucking his leadership on such an important vote. Kohl has previously stated his support for the public option.

Adding Kohl, Begich and Hagan to the total gets Durbin and the White House to 47.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) told HuffPost she wasn't sure how she would vote, but she has been a reliable supporter of the president going back to the campaign. She would be the last person to kill health care, Obama's signature domestic policy priority.

Her vote would give Democrats 48.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) has said in the past that he would support a health care bill with a public option.

His vote would bring the number to 49 - one shy.

Sen. Bob Byrd (D-W.Va.) said he would support health care reform done through reconciliation. Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), who is retiring, has said he's open to using reconciliation to pass health care. Either of their votes would put Democrats over the top and both are gettable with an effort from leadership and the White House.

That would allow senators such as Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Jim Webb (D-Va.), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) to vote no.

And if both Byrd and Bayh refused to support the final bill, there's always Sen. Ben Nelson. The Nebraska Democrat badly wants to vote to change the "Cornhusker Kickback," for which he's been pilloried at home and across the nation. Voting for reconciliation is the only way to do it.

In that case, Ben Nelson makes 50 -- or, with Bayh and Byrd, 52.

The Democrats' scam becomes more transparent


Friday, Mar 12, 2010 07:13 EST
The Democrats' scam becomes more transparent
By Glenn Greenwald

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about what seemed to be a glaring (and quite typical) scam perpetrated by Congressional Democrats: all year long, they insisted that the White House and a majority of Democratic Senators vigorously supported a public option, but the only thing oh-so-unfortunately preventing its enactment was the filibuster: sadly, we have 50 but not 60 votes for it, they insisted. Democratic pundits used that claim to push for "filibuster reform," arguing that if only majority rule were required in the Senate, then the noble Democrats would be able to deliver all sorts of wonderful progressive reforms that they were truly eager to enact but which the evil filibuster now prevents. In response, advocates of the public option kept arguing that the public option could be accomplished by reconciliation -- where only 50 votes, not 60, would be required -- but Obama loyalists scorned that reconciliation proposal, insisting (at least before the Senate passed a bill with 60 votes) that using reconciliation was Unserious, naive, procedurally impossible, and politically disastrous.

But all those claims were put to the test -- all those bluffs were called -- once the White House decided that it had to use reconciliation to pass a final health care reform bill. That meant that any changes to the Senate bill (which had passed with 60 votes) -- including the addition of the public option -- would only require 50 votes, which Democrats assured progressives all year long that they had. Great news for the public option, right? Wrong. As soon as it actually became possible to pass it, the 50 votes magically vanished. Senate Democrats (and the White House) were willing to pretend they supported a public option only as long as it was impossible to pass it. Once reconciliation gave them the opportunity they claimed all year long they needed -- a "majority rule" system -- they began concocting ways to ensure that it lacked 50 votes.

All of that was bad enough, but now the scam is getting even more extreme, more transparent. Faced with the dilemma of how they could possibly justify their year-long claimed support for the public option only now to fail to enact it, more and more Democratic Senators were pressured into signing a letter supporting the enactment of the public option through reconciliation; that number is now above 40, and is rapidly approaching 50. In other words, there is a serious possibility that the Senate might enact a public option if there is a vote on it, because it's very difficult for these Senators to vote "No" after pretending all year long -- on the record -- that they supported it. In fact, The Huffington Post's Ryan Grim yesterday wrote: "the votes appear to exist to include a public option. It's only a matter of will."

The one last hope for Senate Democratic leaders was to avoid a vote altogether on the public option, thereby relieving Senators of having to take a position and being exposed. But that trick would require the cooperation of all Senators -- any one Senator can introduce a public option amendment during the reconciliation and force a vote -- and it now seems that Bernie Sanders, to his great credit, is refusing to go along with the Democrats' sham and will do exactly that: ignore the wishes of the Senate leadership and force a roll call vote on the public option.

So now what is to be done? They only need 50 votes, so they can't use the filibuster excuse. They don't seem able to prevent a vote, as they tried to do, because Sanders will force one. And it seems there aren't enough Senate Democrats willing to vote against the public option after publicly saying all year long they supported it, which means it might get 50 votes if a roll call vote is held. So what is the Senate Democratic leadership now doing? They're whipping against the public option, which they pretended all year along to so vigorously support:

Senate Democratic leaders are concerned about the amount of mischief their own Members could create if or when a health care reconciliation bill comes up for debate. And sources said some supporters of creating a public insurance option are privately worried that they will be asked to vote against the idea during debate on the bill, which could occur before March 26.

Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) acknowledged Wednesday that liberals may be asked to oppose any amendment, including one creating a public option, to ensure a smooth ride for the bill. "We have to tell people, 'You just have to swallow hard' and say that putting an amendment on this is either going to stop it or slow it down, and we just can’t let it happen," Durbin, who supports a public option, told reporters.

If -- as they claimed all year long -- a majority of Congressional Democrats and the White House all support a public option, why would they possibly whip against it, and ensure its rejection, at exactly the moment when it finally became possible to pass it? If majorities of the House and Senate support it, as does the White House, how could the inclusion of a public option possibly jeopardize passage of the bill?

I've argued since August that the evidence was clear that the White House had privately negotiated away the public option and didn't want it, even as the President claimed publicly (and repeatedly) that he did. And while I support the concept of "filibuster reform" in theory, it's long seemed clear that it would actually accomplish little, because the 60-vote rule does not actually impede anything. Rather, it is the excuse Democrats fraudulently invoke, using what I called the Rotating Villain tactic (it's now Durbin's turn), to refuse to pass what they claim they support but are politically afraid to pass, or which they actually oppose (sorry, we'd so love to do this, but gosh darn it, we just can't get 60 votes). If only 50 votes were required, they'd just find ways to ensure they lacked 50. Both of those are merely theories insusceptible to conclusive proof, but if I had the power to create the most compelling evidence for those theories that I could dream up, it would be hard to surpass what Democrats are doing now with regard to the public option. They're actually whipping against the public option. Could this sham be any more transparent?

Democratic Senators Fight Obama Over State Projects In Health Bill

"Obama has railed against the 'ugly process' of cutting special deals, but the president and his top advisers were prime players in negotiations on the agreements to win votes and push the legislation forward."


Democratic Senators Fight Obama Over State Projects In Health Bill
ALAN FRAM | 03/13/10

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama says he wants projects helping specific states yanked from the health care bill Congress is writing. Democratic senators, being senators, beg to differ.

The Senate-approved health measure lawmakers hope to send to Obama soon would steer $600 million over the next decade to Vermont in added federal payments for Medicaid and nearly as much to Massachusetts.

Connecticut would get $100 million to build a hospital. About 800,000 Florida seniors could keep certain Medicare benefits. Asbestos-disease victims in tiny Libby, Mont., and some coal miners with black lung disease or their widows would get help, and there are prizes for Louisiana, the Dakotas and more states.

"We're going to do what we have to do to get a bill out of the House and Senate," said James Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. As for Obama's wish list of deletions: "We'll certainly keep it in mind as we pull together a final bill."

That tepid salute underscores the prickliness with which many senators have greeted what they consider Obama's meddling in their business and raises questions about how successful the president will be in erasing the special projects from final legislation.

It also highlights a spat between a White House and Senate, dominated by the same party, that the president has ignited just as he needs to garner support to finally push his No. 1 legislative goal to passage over monolithic Republican opposition and nervous Democrats.

Obama's proposal to eliminate state-specific items comes with polls finding heightened public opposition to backroom political deals. Republicans have been happy to fan that discontent. Many Democrats, particularly House moderates facing tight re-election battles this fall, are eager to dissociate themselves from such spending.

The president wants votes from House Democrats "who were deeply offended by those provisions in the Senate bill," said Sheryl Skolnick, who analyzes federal health legislation for CRT Capital Group of Stamford, Conn. "Clearly the math was, 'I gain more in the House by taking out those provisions than I lose in the Senate.'"

Obama has railed against the "ugly process" of cutting special deals, but the president and his top advisers were prime players in negotiations on the agreements to win votes and push the legislation forward.

Republicans say Obama's push to remove deals for states won't help. Because every Democratic senator voted for that chamber's bill and all its special provisions, even voting later to remove them leaves those Democrats in a pickle, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters Friday.

"They will have then voted for them before they voted against them," McConnell said of the bill's projects, an echo of the line that 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry uttered that proved politically damaging.

Obama came out with a summary last month of the nearly $1 trillion health overhaul legislation he wants. It specifically eliminates $100 million in extra Medicaid money the Senate bill provided solely to Nebraska to help win support from that state's Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson. The so-called Cornhusker Kickback drew such widespread scorn that even Nelson favors repealing it.

Obama also proposed changes in the Senate bill that, without mentioning it, deleted extra Medicaid money for Massachusetts and Vermont, the Florida Medicare exemption and some money for Michigan, according to White House officials.

Days later, at Obama's nationally televised meeting with bipartisan leaders on health care, his 2008 presidential rival, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., criticized the Senate bill for exempting 800,000 Florida seniors from cuts in the privately run Medicare Advantage program. Obama surprised him by agreeing, and that tone has carried over as the White House and top congressional Democrats labor to complete a compromise health package.

"We've made it clear to the Senate that the president's position in the final legislation should not contain provisions that favor a single state or a single district differently than others," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said this week.

There are exceptions. The White House says $300 million for Louisiana, which helped win support from moderate Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., should survive because of that state's struggle to rebound from its 2005 pummeling by Hurricane Katrina.

Even so, Obama's targeting of state projects is going over poorly in the Senate.

Take Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who helped win extra Medicaid money for his state in the Senate health bill.

Vermont is one of several states that have already boosted the benefits they provide to many poor people. All states would get added federal financing for a nationwide Medicaid expansion under the Senate bill. But states such as Vermont – already providing more generous benefits – say they're being shortchanged and don't want Obama taking that money away.

"What I told Harry Reid is that Vermont does the right thing, and I don't want Vermont to be penalized for doing the right thing," Leahy said.

The White House asked lawmakers to delete $100 million to build a public hospital in Connecticut inserted by Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn. But the money will remain in the final bill, according to people familiar with Democratic negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose the unannounced decision. Less certain is the fate of other money the White House wants eliminated for Montana.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., put a provision in the Senate health bill allowing many of the 2,900 residents of Libby to qualify for Medicare benefits. Some of them have asbestos-related diseases from a now shuttered mine.

"It simply doesn't make sense to ignore this obligation, or victims of these disasters," Baucus said.

Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., won a Senate provision making it easier for longtime coal miners or miners' widows to get compensation for black lung disease.

The Senate bill also has extra money for hospitals and doctors in North and South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming.
Associated Press writers Erica Werner and Charles Babington contributed to this report.

Bernie Sanders: I’m Prepared To Introduce Public Option Amendment


Bernie Sanders: I’m Prepared To Introduce Public Option Amendment
Greg Sargent

The public option just might get its straight up-or-down vote after all.

Senator Bernie Sanders, in a brief interview in the Capitol just now, confirmed to me that he’s willing to commit to introducing an amendment that would add the public option to the Senate bill’s reconciliation fix.

This is important, because as far fetched as this seems, if this amendment is introduced, a vote on it would be very hard for the Senate Dem leadership to block. The only thing that could stop it from happening, according to Senate expert Robert Dove, is for the parliamentarian to rule that it’s not germane to the Senate bill somehow — something that seems unlikely.

“I think somebody should do that, and I’d certainly be prepared to do that,” Sanders told me when I asked him if he’d be willing to commit to introducing a public option amendment. This is, in effect, a commitment to introduce the amendment if no one else does.

The possiblity that a single Senator will introduce a public option amendment — which would get a straight majority vote — is actually worrying to Senate Dem leaders. Indeed, Dick Durbin, the number two Senate Dem, yesterday told reporters that this would create headaches and even conceded that the leadership might be forced to ask liberal Senators to vote against it to ensure smooth passage for the overall bill.

Now, however, Sanders is essentially committing to doing it if no one else does. So it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the public option will indeed get its day in the Senate — and that the Senate Dem caucus may be forced to stand up and be counted on it.

The Not-So-Spontaneous Birth of the Libertarian Movement

Monday, 22 December 2008
Mr. Anonymous and the Not-So-Spontaneous Birth of the Libertarian Movement

Disclaimer: This is not a conspiracy story, though it has all the elements of one. Anonymous shadowy figures, international "societies", complete political "ideologies" created for convenience alone, social institutions corrupted through the mere distribution of cash (science, politics, universities, governments and even the Nobel Prize), and a global strategy designed to "rule the world" - no doubt about it, this one is better than a novel. But, don't get carried away. There are no secret ceremonies or lizard people in this tale. Nor is it a story about groups named after Italian light fixtures or German beer. It is instead the story of how "everyday conspiracies" work.

Karl Marx wrote that the ruling ideas of any age are the ideas of its ruling class. Looking backward, it is hard to dispute this observation, but how does it actually work? That is what our story is about. It starts with the businessman below and his simple frustration at the success of Marxism as an idea, first among his own workers and then amongst the American establishment whose wide-spread adoption of the appropriately conciliatory "New-Dealism" was entirely in response. In an economic system in which everything is reduced to a commodity, a man of means should be able to simply buy a counter-idea, shouldn't he? So it turns out...

William S. Volker (1859-1947)
Mr. Anonymous

William Volker, alias "Mr. Anonymous," alias the "First Citizen" of Kansas City, Missouri, "was an extremely modest, enormously wealthy home-furnishings tycoon. He became the unrecognized donor of thousands of gifts, large and small."

Volker was born on April 1, 1859 into a prosperous household in Hanover, Germany. At age 12, Volker's family immigrated to Chicago. At 17 he went to work for a picture frame manufacturer. With the death of his employer in 1882, Volker bought out the company and moved the enterprise to Kansas City. From there, his "little window shade business" grew into a national giant.

In 1911, 52 year old William Volker married. Returning from his honeymoon, he announced he had put one million dollars in his wife's name and, he said, intended to give the rest of his enormous fortune away. Over the next 36 years, he donated millions of dollars, much of it anonymously. When Volker died at age 88 on November 4, 1947, many schools, parks, and public spaces were named for the furnishings tycoon.

So why pick on this guy?

The answer is that the overwhelming priority of Volker's "philanthropy" was focused, not on public spaces but on reactionary ideology. Dismayed by the rise of Socialism in America and doubly dismayed by what he saw as the evolution of government and political thinking towards accommodation and a "new liberalism", eventually personified by the widespread adoption of the economic views of John Maynard Keynes and the New Deal policies of Franklin Roosevelt, Volker set out to create a new and much more reactionary "mainstream" ideology based loosely around his own ideas of "laissez-faire" capitalism (i.e. a largely unregulated economy) and social Darwinism (the pseudo-scientific notion that in society, unhindered competition would allow the "cream to rise to the top").

In truth, Volker was no great scholar or thinker. The ideology he set out to create was built upside down, starting only with a set of foggy conclusions for which he had a predisposition. From these conclusions, it was the task of Volker's considerable fortune to find a set of justifications, then an enabling ideology or "theory" that gave it all perspective and unity and, eventually, a true philosophical platform from which to launch the whole. But if this task was analogous to building the Great Pyramid, starting from the top, Volker was undaunted. He may not have had a brain but he had money... and he had a personal connection to one of the most reactionary sections of that most reactionary of organizations - the National Association of Manufacturers. Volker's "associates", who would all participate closely, included Jasper Crane of DuPont, B. E. Hutchinson of Chrysler, Henry Weaver of General Electric, Pierre Goodrich of B.F. Goodrich, and Richard Earhart of White Star Oil (which through many mergers and acquisitions would eventually become Mobil Oil). Moreover, Volker had "influence" at the leading scholarly institution in his home town: The University of Chicago was founded by none other than John D. Rockefeller and created with a certain ideological "bent".

In 1932 Volker established the William Volker Fund and, with that, started on the road to becoming perhaps the most significant anonymous asshole of our times. In every way, William S. Volker was the true "father" of Libertarianism and Modern Conservatism.

For the first dozen years, the fund largely floundered. There is some evidence that Volker may have flirted with Fascism. That ideology though, which attracted such celebrities as Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh, was thought to have a limited future in America. In the face of Keynesian economics, widespread social spending, and the CIO, what was really required was a return to pre-New Deal economic policy and an anti-communist/anti-union social policy.


The breakthrough came in 1944, when Volker's nephew, Harold Luhnow, took over, first the business and then the Fund. In the same year, Friedrich Hayek's The Road to Serfdom was published. The book was a product of the "Austrian School" of economists, originating at the University of Vienna and first coming to modest prominence at the end of the 19th century in its attacks on Marxist and Socialist economics. Hayek's book was an almost mystical (and hysterical) defense of laissez-faire capitalism and the "free market". According to Hayek, market prices created a "spontaneous order, or what is referred to as 'that which is the result of human action but not of human design'. Thus, Hayek put the price mechanism on the same level as, for example, language." In turn, any attempt at regulation would inevitably lead to "totalitarianism" and in this, both Marxist and New Deal "socialism" were essentially similar. The theory was perfect . Volker and Luhnow had found their ideology. The cash began to flow.

In short order, the Volker Fund and its larger network arranged for the re-publication of Hayek's book by the University of Chicago (a recurring and important connection) despite the fact that it had been almost universally rejected by the Economics establishment. A year later, the book was published in serial form by the ultra-reactionary Readers Digest not withstanding the fact that it was supposed to be a "scholarly text", ordinarily inappropriate for the readership of the Digest, and despite the fact that it had also had been panned by literary critics. In 1950, the Fund arranged for Hayek to secure a position at the University of Chicago and when the University only granted an unpaid position, they arranged for the Earhart Foundation to pay him a salary. Hayek was only the first of a veritable flood of émigré, "scholars".

Recruiting the Homeless

Hayek's teacher in Vienna had been one Ludwig von Mises who, in turn, had been the student of Eugen von Boehm-Bawerk (who had gained fame for his attack on Marxist Economics) and who, in his turn, had been the student of Carl Menger, the founder of the Austrian school. Each of these had published several books that were virulent attacks on Socialism and defended "pure capitalism". It was all very good. Von Mises book was called Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis and it too had been received with yawns when it was published in English in 1936.

While von Mises really had "taught" at the University of Vienna, his was an unpaid position. The University had turned him down on four separate occasions for a paid position. Not surprisingly, in 1940 the nearly destitute von Mises had emigrated to the United States. In 1945, an unpaid "visiting professorship" was obtained for him at NYU while his salary was paid by "businessmen such as Lawrence Fertig". Fertig was an associate of the Volker Fund and a friend of Henry Hazlitt, the Fund's friendliest journalist. In all, they would fund von Mises for 25 years and von Mises never would need a "real job".

In fact, this was typical of the Fund's "bait and switch" tactic for developing resumes. In the United States, von Mises was the "famed economics professor from the University of Vienna". In Europe, he would become the "famous American economist from NYU".

Local Reinforcements

The economist Milton Friedman, during his fifteen minutes of fame, took the opportunity of the publication of his opus, Capitalism and Freedom to decry the shabby treatment that the likes of Hayek and Mises had received from the Economics "establishment". On his own similar reception, he wrote in the 1982 preface of his book:

"Those of us who were deeply concerned about the danger to freedom and prosperity from the growth of government, from the triumph of welfare-state and Keynesian ideas, were a small beleaguered minority regarded as eccentrics by the great majority of our fellow intellectuals.

Even seven years later, when this book was first published, its views were so far out of the mainstream that it was not reviewed by any major national publication--not by the New York Times or the Herald Tribune (then still being published in New York) or the Chicago Tribune, or by Time or Newsweek or even the Saturday Review--though it was reviewed by the London Economist and by the major professional journals. And this for a book directed at the general public, written by a professor at a major U.S. university, and destined to sell more than 400,000 copies in the next eighteen years."

It is attractive to believe that Friedman was really this foolish and that his expertise in the "politics of fame" was similar to his expertise in Monetary Policy. In fact, his separate acknowledgements of the importance of the Volker Fund belie this possibility. In truth, the Fund and its progeny identified Friedman early on, shepherded his career at the University of Chicago, subsidized him through a paid lecture series (which eventually were combined into Capitalism and Freedom), paid his way to Mont Pelerin, arranged for the serialization of his book by Reader's Digest, and bought a significant number of the books that Friedman was so proud of "selling".

Friedman was only one of dozens of such local "scholars" who were suddenly "discovered" through the efforts of the Fund.

The Fund also now began to recruit friendly young "future-scholars" and subsidize their development. Not only was the cause thus advanced, but a modest intelligence network became a part of the "Libertarian Movement". One such early recruit was Murray Rothbard, later to become famous as the "father" of "Left Libertarianism", "Libertarian anarchism", and "anarco-capitalism". Later much castigated for his "sellout to the Right-wing Republicans", Rothbard had, from the first, been intimately wrapped up in Anti-Communism, McCarthyism, the "Old Right", and the right-wing ideology of the Volker Fund. It was through the Fund that he became an associate of Ayn Rand and a student of Mises.

"Rothbard began his consulting work for the Volker Fund in 1951. This relationship lasted until 1962, when the VF was dissolved. A major part of Rothbard's work for the VF consisted of reading and evaluating books, journal articles, and other materials. On the basis of written reports by Rothbard and another reader - Rose Wilder Lane - the VF's directors would decide whether to undertake massive distribution of particular works to public libraries.

The VF also asked Rothbard to submit reports on particular questions, such as how to rank sundry economists in terms of friendliness to the free market, surveys of the literature on monopoly, Soviet wage structures, etc., etc. Rothbard's memos number several hundred, covering works in economics, history, philosophy, and political science. The memos, which range in length from one page to seventy pages, provide a window into the scholarship of the period - and Rothbard's views on that scholarship. They thereby shed much light on Rothbard's emerging worldview and his systematic defense of liberty."

They also shed "much light" on how the Fund decided which "scholars" to promote, and which to attack. Rothbard later called his work with the Volker Fund, "the best job I've ever had in my life".

Multiplying Like Rabbits

In support of the imported scholars and the new ideology, the Volker Fund also pioneered a process which would become the hallmark of the "Libertarian Movement". The Fund started to spin-off organizations by the boatload, each intended, not just to serve specific purposes but to give the appearance of many "independent" efforts spawned by a "mass" appeal. The list of "begats" is too numerous to chronicle but the first set are illuminating.

Among the very first "front organizations" of the Volker Fund was the "National Book Foundation". While the Foundation's affiliation to the Volker Fund was not hidden, it was circumspect enough to suggest, even to most "Libertarians", that it was independent. The fund began modestly enough by distributing free copies Eugene Böhm-Bawerk's works to thousands of libraries and universities across the country. As the Volker efforts geared up, the Foundation began to distribute millions of books from dozens of authors, all coming from the Fund's stables. Many educational "incentives" were initiated such as "teach a course on Hayek, get 10 (or 100) textbooks for free"...

The Foundation for Economic Education was spun out in 1946, under the leadership of Leonard Read, a leading figure in the Chambers of Commerce. The grand-daddy of all libertarian "think-tanks", the FEE initiated the original Mont Pelerin Society meetings. Its own publication, The Freeman, became the founding journal of "Libertarianism". The rent was paid by Volker.

The Institute for Humane Studies was created by Floyd "Baldy" Harper, the "ace recruiter" of the Volker Fund, in 1961. The IHS identified and subsidized "bright young students" and "promising scholars" friendly to the new "Libertarian" doctrine. Not only did the IHS fund thousands of "students", but it spawned dozens of similar organizations throughout the world. After the Volker Fund was finally closed, subsidies for the IHS shifted to some of the most reactionary organizations in America: The Scaife Foundation, Koch Family Foundations, The Bradley Foundation, and the Carthage Foundation.

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute was founded in 1953 to combat what they would eventually call "political correctness" and "'left-bias" in colleges and universities. The organization now consists of 50,000 college students and faculty and through its lavish subsidies, sponsors dozens of programs representing the entire spectrum of right-wing "Libertarian" causes. The first president of the ISI was a young William F. Buckley Jr.

The Earhart Foundation was created by and named for Richard Earhart of White Star Oil, one of Volker's original collaborators in the National Association of Manufacturers. This foundation was used to subsidize various émigrés and not only financed Hayek but also Eric Voegelin, yet another "Austrian". Through Voeglin, the Earhardt Foundation became connected with the infamous Leo Strauss and, since then, various "projects" of not just a "libertarian" but of a "neo-conservative" perspective have been beneficiaries of the Foundation. In addition, The Earhart Foundation helped to pioneer still another use of the newly-emergent Libertarian think-tanks. As the network of these think-tanks grew, they undertook not only to promote ideology but also specific points of policy, particularly in support of private corporations. The culmination of the Foundation's efforts in this direction came with the founding of the George C. Marshall Institute in 1984. The Institute was initially a foremost proponent of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), heavily promoted by the Defense Industry, and later became the leading non-industry critic of "Climate Change". The CEO of the Institute is currently a registered lobbyist for ExxonMobil.

Through the list of organizations, above, the Volker Fund's near-biblical "begats" encompass nearly every single prominent individual and organization of the "Libertarian" and "New Conservative" movements of today.

The Not-So-Secret Society

"In 1947, 39 scholars, mostly economists, with some historians and philosophers, were invited by Professor Friedrich Hayek to meet at Mont Pelerin, Switzerland, and discuss the state, and possible fate of classical liberalism and to combat the "state ascendancy and Marxist or Keynesian planning [that was] sweeping the globe". Invitees included Henry Simons (who would later train Milton Friedman, a future president of the society, at the University of Chicago); the American former-Fabian socialist Walter Lippmann; Viennese Aristotelian Society leader Karl Popper; fellow Austrian School economist Ludwig von Mises; Sir John Clapham, a senior official of the Bank of England who from 1940-6 was the president of the British Royal Society; Otto von Habsburg, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne; and Max von Thurn und Taxis, Bavaria-based head of the 400-year-old Venetian Thurn und Taxis family." [1]

If the above rings of "Bohemian Grove" and similar fodder for conspiracies, it is because informal "retreats" at out-of-the-way resorts are one of the favorite methods by which the wealthy of many countries formulate a common international policy. What distinguishes the Mont Pelerin Society, however, is that it did not consist primarily of the wealthy. Instead, it was comprised of a majority of marginal, thread-bare "scholars", united only by their common hatred of "socialism" and Keynesianism (which were one and the same for most of them) and sprinkled with only a handful of rich patrons and journalists. In fact the Mount Pelerin Society was organized as much by the Volker Fund as by Hayek himself and the Foundation paid the way for all 10 of the American "participants".

Once in Switzerland, the "scholars" agreed on their hatred of "socialism" but on little else except to meet yearly to "facilitate an exchange of ideas between like-minded scholars in the hope of strengthening the principles and practice of a free society and to study the workings, virtues, and defects of market-oriented economic systems."

From this not-so-secret-but-thoroughly-right-wing society's more than humble beginnings, the phoenix of laissez-faire capitalism would rise, propelled skyward by unlimited funds. Over a dozen of the scholars who could not previously get a job, a review, or a book deal would go on to win the "Nobel Prize in Economics" (this "epic" story will be told separately). More importantly, the Mont Pelerin Society would itself beget 500 foundations and organizations in nearly 80 countries... again with strategic contributions from Mr. Anonymous. Once transformed into an "international movement", there was no end to what was possible. One example tells the story.

Initiated at Mont Pelerin and copying the FEE, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) was created in London in 1955. Serving as a conduit for both cash and "ideas", the IEA set about the task of "rejuvenating" the dead and decaying British Tories. By 1985, the "Iron Lady", Margaret Thatcher, would positively gush on the occasion of the Institute's 30th Anniversary: "You created the atmosphere which made our victory possible... May I say how thankful we are to those who joined your great endeavor. They were the few, but they were right, and they saved Britain." With that, the IEA begat the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, which in turn created a network of over 50 "think-tanks" in more than 30 countries.

And what were the scale of these efforts? John Blundell, the head of the IEA, in a speech to the Heritage Foundation, and Atlas in 1990, would identify a rare failure in the Society's efforts. Shaking his head at the abortive attempt to subsidize academic "Chairs of Free Enterprise" in dozens of countries throughout the world, Blundell complained about wasting, "hundreds of millions, perhaps one billion dollars". This was just one initiative among many.

Oceans of Cash

Aaron Director was a lawyer and Ukrainian émigré whose sister had married Milton Friedman prior to the Second World War. That then became the connection which led to the Volker Fund's subsidy of Director and his association with the University of Chicago. He was one of the fund's "imports", alongside Von Mises. Director's collaborator at the University was Edward Levi who would eventually go on to become the President of the University and then Attorney General of the United States. Together, Director and Levi were instrumental in the development of the Chicago School of Economics, or the conquest by the Economics department of the School of Business and the Law School.

The Law School? What does law have to do with economics? The answer was everything according to Director, who developed a theory of "Law and Economics" (called, without tongue-in-cheek, the L&E "Movement'), stressing free-enterprise principles and the primacy of property law as well as measuring legal rulings with longer-term economic criteria. "He founded the Journal of Law & Economics in 1958... that helped to unite the fields of law and economics with far-reaching influence." The journal was, of course, funded in large part by what had now become a substantial network of Volker affiliates. Despite the fact that he himself wrote virtually nothing throughout his career, "Director influenced a generation of jurists, including Robert Bork, Richard Posner, Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice William Rehnquist."

John M. Olin

One part of what made such a thing possible was not just new territories in which to sell the tired old "economic" ideas, but also new benefactors who spread the message far and wide. In this case, perhaps the most important new "convert" was the munitions magnate, John M. Olin and his Foundation:

"...John M. Olin was disturbed by a building takeover at his alma mater, Cornell University. At the age of 80, he decided that he must pour his time and resources into preserving the free market system that had allowed him to acquire his own wealth. The Foundation is most notable for its early support and funding of the law and economics movement, a discipline that applies incentive-based thinking and cost-benefit analysis to the field of legal theory. Olin believed that law schools have a disproportionately large impact on society given their size and to this end decided to focus the majority of his funding there." [2]

Between 1969 and 2005, when the Foundation disbanded, the John M. Olin Foundation disbursed no less than $370 Million, "primarily to conservative think tanks, media outlets, and law programs at influential universities. The Foundation is most notable for its early support and funding of the law and economics movement."

But that was not the only thing that the Olin foundation promoted. Through its contacts at the University of Chicago, the Olin Fund ran into political sciences professor Leo Strauss:

"Strauss taught that liberalism in its modern form contained within it an intrinsic tendency towards relativism, which in turn led to two types of nihilism ("Epilogue").[2] The first was a "brutal" nihilism, expressed in Nazi and Marxist regimes. These ideologies, both descendants of Enlightenment thought, tried to destroy all traditions, history, ethics, and moral standards and replace it by force with a supreme authority under which nature and mankind are subjugated and conquered.[4] The second type -- the "gentle" nihilism expressed in Western liberal democracies -- was a kind of value-free aimlessness and hedonism, which he saw as permeating the fabric of contemporary American society.[5] In the belief that 20th century relativism, scientism, historicism, and nihilism were all implicated in the deterioration of modern society and philosophy, Strauss sought to uncover the philosophical pathways that had led to this situation. The resultant study led him to revive classical political philosophy as a source by which political action could be judged." [3]

Well, it was not exactly the same thing but it was close enough... and, with its further evolution, "neo-liberalism" would abandon the "classical liberals" in favor of medieval scholars, thus coming much closer to a "synergy". Meanwhile, for both, "classical political philosophy" was, of course, synonymous with political reaction. The unmentioned irony was that the critique of Straussianism, that it was "crudely anti-democratic, obsessed with secret meanings and in love with white lies told by powerful men to keep the rabble in line" applied neatly as a summation of the "classical liberalism" or "Libertarian" movement as a whole. In addition to its Libertarian mission, The Olin Foundation became a founder and one of the principal funding sources for the Project for the New American Century (PNAC).

Extending their reach, the inheritors of Mr. Anonymous' legacy, also set about creating umbrella organizations for Libertarian funding sources dedicated to funding the "counter-intelligentsia." These extended from newly created, shadowy and "anonymous" Foundations to the famous think-tanks (such as Cato, Hoover, and Hudson) to the infamous (such as the Scaife Foundation). As the network has grown, the financing of "scholars" has been supplemented by the adoption of campaigns, not just in the name of "Capitalism", "Freedom", and "Liberty" in general, but on behalf of individual capitalists in particular. Today there is virtually no public campaign, against anti-tobacco legislation, against environmental legislation, rejecting climate change theory, on behalf of HMOs and private health care, against pharmaceutical regulation and so on - outside of industry and trade associations - that does not originate within the network created or touched by Mr. Anonymous. Today the size of the cash flow is not counted in millions or hundreds of millions or in billions, but in tens of billions, and perhaps even more.

But, what about "ideas"?

In our search for cash and connections without parallel, it might be argued that we have missed the "great ideas" of Libertarianism. The simple explanation is that there are none. Beyond a pro forma agreement on the evils of Marxism, Keynesianism, and "big government" and a thoroughly mystical, near religious belief in capitalism and "free-markets", reduced to paper-thin slogans such as "Personal Freedom" and "Individual Liberty", there is no other point of consensus. Pressed beyond such platitudes, the "theoreticians" of this "movement" have always descended into the most bitter disagreements about the most substantial of issues. Such might easily be suspected of an "ideology" that embraces a political spectrum which includes right-wing Republicans, and neo conservatives and neo liberals and neo-Fascist Ayn Randians, and "classical Liberals" and Libertarian Party members, and "anarchists".

The economic historian, Jamie Peck, in setting out to write a history of the theories of the Austrian School, was dismayed to find that he could not find an "Aha moment" in that history, nor could he see substantial points of agreement between any of the authors (beyond the obvious), nor could he detect a coherent point-of-view that remained constant amongst any one of them for long. "There was nothing spontaneous about neo-liberalism; it was speculatively planned, it was opportunistically built, and it has been repeatedly reconstructed", wrote Peck.

We will deal with this subject in accompanying material, but for the moment it should be said that even the above misses the point. Beyond congenital disagreements, the embrace of Libertarian Economics as political slogan from the beginning meant that the "science" (and it is only as "economic science" that the ideology has ever had even nominal roots) was still-born, no matter how miserable its stock in trade may have turned out to be. Hayek said as much at the time of his "Nobel Prize". He complained that Serfdom. had ended his "career" as an "economist" and implied that it began his life as an "ideologist". No matter what illusions he may have harbored as to his own "destiny", the comment passes down to us as the complaints of a paid shill of the real Libertarian "science" - the science of propaganda, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Volker Fund - with Hayek only counting as just another whiney paid-professional, complaining about his job-title.

There is no evidence that the much larger irony ever occurred to Hayek:

Tens, perhaps hundreds of billions of dollars, hundreds of millions of books, hundreds of journals, dozens of universities, tens of thousands of people and thousands of professorships, and so on in a network touching virtually everyone in the "Western Democracies" - all of it centrally planned, all of it subsidized, none of it capable of existing by itself in the commercial marketplace or in the "marketplace of ideas" and all of it failing dozens of times until hooked into the river of cash produced by the simple subsidies of the rich designed to derail the "free" evolution of ideas as they were actually proceeding... is there any such example in all of human history of a "movement" so far at odds with its own self-proclaimed "principles"? No problem, though, for William S. Volker, for whom "belief" was always optional. Mr. Anonymous got exactly what he paid for.
For anyone who would attempt to understand class societies, the unmediated slogans of those same societies are the worst possible places to begin. For feudal societies, slogans such as "Chivalry", "Honor", "Fealty", "Chastity", "Virtue" and the like, underlay a social fabric that was monstrous, arbitrary, and treacherous. In most cases the slogans hid social truths which were the exact opposite of their rhetorical claims. The cruelty of the joke was not fully apparent until the end times of feudalism itself or, perhaps, even after.

In our own times, the slogans which have replaced these are those of "Freedom", "Liberty", "Democracy", "Enterprise", "Individuality", and so on. It is impossible to know the meaning of these as given and even more unlikely that one may make of them as one may wish. In the present society, they are like virgin forests that one may stumble upon while walking. No matter how pristine and unfettered such may appear, in our contemporary social system that forest is inevitably someone's private property and is thus absolutely resistant to any other appropriation.

So too, it is the same with "Freedom" and "Liberty". No matter how one may "choose" to think of them, in truth they have only one source and one meaning.

The current stakeholder for those terms is the anonymous asshole above, William Volker. He mined the ore, refined the technique, processed the product, and merchandised the result; finally sending the finished commodity out on rivers of cash, no less so than Henry Ford did with his automobiles. As with all other industrial Barons of his time, that he knew nothing of the actual ideas, processes, and practices meant nothing at all. He bought them, he paid for them, he owned them, and in the process, he spawned the liberty industry, a multi-billion dollar monopoly which today owns "the marketplace of ideas". So too, just as with Ford, the complete legacy of his "works" becomes apparent only now.

As far as a postscript goes, we end as we began - with yet more fodder for conspiracy theorists. The William S. Volker Fund closed up shop in 1974, secure in the fact that it's "mission" had been taken up by others. The last millions in the Fund were passed on to the ultra-conservative Hoover Institution. What were not passed on were the files of the Volker Fund, which mysteriously disappeared. The entire paper trail documenting where the money had come from, how it was spent and who was "touched" by it, all of this disappeared with a "poof". Three decades after he died, Volker seems to have guaranteed his anonymity in perpetuity and to this day nothing but the vague outlines of this story are known. And so it goes...