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Larry Summers: Goldman Sacked September 17, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Barack Obama.
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GregPalast.com

Larry Summers:  Goldman Sacked

By Greg Palast for Vice Magazine
Monday, 16 September 2013

Joseph Stiglitz couldn’t believe his ears.  Here they were in the White House, with President Bill Clinton asking the chiefs of the US Treasury for guidance on the life and death of America’s economy, when the Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Larry Summers turns to his boss, Secretary Robert Rubin, and says, “What would Goldman think of that?”

Huh?

Then, at another meeting, Summers said it again:  What would Goldman think?

A shocked Stiglitz, then Chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, told me he’d turned to Summers, and asked if Summers thought it appropriate to decide US economic policy based on “what Goldman thought.”  As opposed to say, the facts, or say, the needs of the American public, you know, all that stuff that we heard in Cabinet meetings on The West Wing.

Summers looked at Stiglitz like Stiglitz was some kind of naive fool who’d read too many civics books.

R.I.P. Larry Summers
On Sunday afternoon, facing a revolt by his own party’s senators, Obama dumped Larry as likely replacement for Ben Bernanke as Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.
Until news came that Summers’ torch had been snuffed, I was going to write another column about Larry, the Typhoid Mary of Economics.  (My first, in The Guardian, 15 years ago, warned that “Summers is, in fact, a colony of aliens sent to Earth to turn humans into a cheap source of protein.”)

But the fact that Obama even tried to shove Summers down the planet’s throat tells us more about Obama than Summers—and whom Obama works for.  Hint:  You aren’t one of them.

All these Cabinet discussions back in the 1990s requiring the blessing of Goldman Sachs revolved around the Rubin-Summers idea of ending regulation of the US banking system.  To free the US economy, Summers argued, all you’d have to do is allow commercial banks to bet government-guaranteed savings on new “derivatives products,” let banks sell high-risk sub-prime mortgage securities and cut their reserves against losses.

What could possibly go wrong?
Stiglitz, who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Economics, tried to tell them exactly what would go wrong.  But when he tried, he was replaced and exiled.
Summers did more than ask Rubin to channel the spirit of Goldman: Summers secretly called and met with Goldman’s new CEO at the time, Jon Corzine, to plan out the planet’s financial deregulation. I’m not guessing:  I have the confidential memo to Summers reminding him to call Corzine.

[For the complete story of that memo and a copy of it, read The Confidential Memo at the Heart of the Global Financial Crisis.]

Summers, as Treasury official, can call any banker he damn well pleases.  But not secretly.  And absolutely not to scheme over details of policies that could make a bank billions.  And Goldman did make billions on those plans.

Example:  Goldman and clients pocketed $4 billion on the collapse of “synthetic collateralized debt obligations”—flim-flam feathers sold to suckers and dimwits i.e. the bankers at RBS.  (See Did Fabrice Tourre Really Create The Global Financial Crisis?)

Goldman also cashed in big on the implosion of Greece’s debt via secret derivatives trades permitted by Summers’ decriminalization of such cross-border financial gaming.

The collapse of the euro-zone and the US mortgage market caused by Bankers Gone Wild was made possible only by Treasury Secretary Summers lobbying for the Commodities Futures Modernization Act which banned regulators from controlling the 100,000% increase in derivatives assets, especially super-risky “naked” credit-default swaps.

The CMFA was the financial equivalent of a fire department banning smoke alarms.

Summers took over the Treasury’s reins from Rubin who’d left to become director of a strange new financial behemoth:  The combine of Citibank with and an investment bank, Travelers. The new bank beast went bankrupt and required $50 billion in bail-out funds.  (Goldman did not require any bail-out funds–but took $10 billion anyway.)

Other banks-turned-casinos followed Citi into insolvency.  Most got bail-outs … and got Larry Summers–or, at least, Larry’s lips for “consulting” or for gold-plated speaking gigs.

Derivatives trader D.E. Shaw paid Summers $5 million for a couple of years of “part-time” work.  This added to payments from Citigroup, Goldman and other finance houses, raising the net worth of this once penurious professor to more than $31 million.

Foreclosure fills the Golden Sacks
When Summers left Treasury in 2000, The New York Times reports that a grateful Rubin got Summers the post of President of Harvard University—from which Summers was fired. He gambled away over half a billion dollars of the university’s endowment on those crazy derivatives he’d legalized.  (Given Summers’ almost pathological inability to understand finance, it was most odd that, while President of the university, he suggested that humans with vaginas aren’t very good with numbers.)

In 2009, Summers, Daddy of the Deregulation Disaster, returned to the Cabinet in triumph. Barack Obama crowned him “Economics Tsar,” allowing Summers to run the Treasury without having to be questioned by Congress in a formal confirmation hearing.

As Economics Tsar in Obama’s first term, did Summers redeem himself?

Not a chance.

In 2008, both Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican John McCain called for using the $300 billion remaining in the “bail-out’ fund for a foreclosure-blocking program identical to the one Franklin Roosevelt had used to pull the US out of the Great Depression.  But Tsar Larry would have none of it, although banks had been given $400 billion from the same fund.

Indeed, on the advice of Summers and his wee assistant, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Obama spent only $7 billon of the $300 billion available to save US homeowners.

What would Goldman think? 
As noted, Goldman and clients pocketed billions as a result of Obama’s abandonment of 3.9 million families whose homes were repossessed during his first term.  While American homeowners were drowning, Tsar Summers torpedoed their lifeboat:  a plan to prevent foreclosures by forcing banks to write-off the overcharges in predatory sub-prime mortgages.  Notably, Summers’ action (and Obama’s inaction) saved Citibank billions.

Loan Shark Larry
The deregulation disaster machinery is not done with mangling Americans.  While not-for-profit credit unions, lenders of last resort for working people and the poor in the US, have been under legal and political attack, a new kind of banking operation has bubbled out of the minds of the grifters looking for a way to make loan-sharking legit.

One new outfit, for example, called “Lending Club,” has figured out a way to collect fees for arranging loans charging as much as 29%.  Lending Club claims it cannot and should not be regulated by the Federal Reserve or other banking police.  The recent addition to its Board of Directors:  Larry Summers.

If you want to know why Obama would choose such a grifter and gamer to head the Fed, you have to ask, Who picked Obama?  Ten years ago, Barry Obama was a nothing, a State Senator from the South Side of Chicago.

But then, he got lucky.  A local bank, Superior, was shut down by regulators for mortgage shenanigans ripping off Black folk.  The bank’s Chairwoman, Penny Pritzker was so angry at regulators, she decided to eliminate them:  and that required a new President.

The billionaires connected Obama to Jamie Dimon of J.P. Morgan, but most importantly to Robert Rubin, former Treasury Secretary, but most important, former CEO of Goldman Sachs and mentor of Larry Summers.  Without Rubin’s blessing and overwhelming fundraising power, Obama would still be arguing over zoning on Halsted Street.

Rubin picked Obama and Obama picks whom Rubin picks for him.

Because, in the end, Obama knows he must choose a Fed chief based on the answer to one question:  What would Goldman think?

Special thanks to expert Lori Wallach of Public Citizen without whom our investigation could not have begun.

For the complete story of the investigation of Larry Summers, the “End Game” memo and the finance crisis, see Palast’s highly acclaimed book Vultures’ Picnic.
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Greg Palast is also the author of the New York Times bestsellers, Billionaires & Ballot BanditsThe Best Democracy Money Can Buy and Armed Madhouse.

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The Worst Teacher in Chicago September 12, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Chicago, Education, Labor.
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Roger’s note: sorry to inundate you with articles on the Chicago Teachers Strike, but here is one more I found interesting and insightful.

By
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opednews.com

For the OccupiedChicago Tribune
This is a true story. CHICAGO.   In a school with some of the poorest kids in Chicago, one English teacher–I won’t use her name–who’d been cemented into the school system for over a decade, wouldn’t do a damn thing to lift test scores, yet had an annual salary level of close to $70,000 a year.  Under Chicago’s new rules holding teachers accountable and allowing charter schools to compete, this seniority-bloated teacher was finally fired by the principal.
In a nearby neighborhood, a charter school, part of the city system, had complete freedom to hire.  No teachers’ union interference. The charter school was able to bring in an innovative English teacher with advanced degrees and a national reputation in her field – for $29,000 a year less than was paid to the fired teacher.
You’ve guessed it by now:  It’s the same teacher.I t’s Back to School Time!  Time for the editorialists and the Tea Party, the GOP and Barack Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan to rip into the people who dare teach in public schools.
And in Arne’s old stomping grounds, Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is stomping on the teachers, pushing them into the street.
Let’s stop kidding ourselves. This is what Mitt Romney and Obama and Arne Duncan and Paul Ryan have in mind when they promote charter schools and the right to fire teachers with tenure:  slash teachers salaries and bust their unions.


Greg Palast is the author of the new Book Billionalres and Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps.  For two decades, Palast was an investigator for Chicago-area unions, including the Chicago Teachers Union.


They’ve almost stopped pretending, too.  Both the Right Wing-nuts and the Obama Administration laud the “progress” of New Orleans’ schools–a deeply sick joke.  The poorest students, that struggle most with standardized tests, were drowned or washed away.
One thing Democrat Emanuel and Republican Romney both demand of Chicago teachers is that their pay, their jobs, depend on “standardized tests.” Yes, but whose standard?

Here is an actual question from the standardized test that were given third graders here in NYC by the nation’s biggest test-for-profit company:
“…Most young tennis stars learn the game from coaches at private clubs.  In this sentence a private club is….”   Then you have some choices in which the right answer is “Country Club – place where people meet.”
Now not many of the “people [who] meet” at country clubs are from the South Side of Chicago–unless their parents are caddies.  A teacher on the South Side whose students are puzzled by the question will lose their pay or job. Students on the lakefront Gold Coast all know that mommy plays tennis at the Country Club with Raul on Wednesdays. So their teacher gets a raise and their school has high marks.
And while Mayor Rahm promises kids in “bad” schools new teachers (the same ones at lower pay) at high-score schools, in fact, they are never actually allowed in.
But Rahm, after all, is just imposing Bush education law which should be called, No Child’s Behind Left.
You want to know what’s wrong with our schools?  Benno Schmidt, CEO of the big Edison Schools teach-for-profit business is a creepy, greedy privateer.  But he told me straight: that before Hurricane Katrina, his company would never go into New Orleans because Louisiana spent peanuts per child on education.  He made it clear: You get what you pay for.  Not what you test for.
So the charter carpetbaggers slither in, cherry-pick the easy students, declare success. The tough cases and special ed kids are left in the public system so they can claim the public system fails.
Here’s what the teacher who was terrible at $70,000 but brilliant at $41,000 told me:
“They’re not doing this in white neighborhoods.  And they want to get rid of the older, experienced teachers with seniority who cost more.  Get rid of the teachers and, ultimately get rid of the kids.  And the charter school gets to pick the kids who get in.”
It’s simple.  When you look at the drop-out rates in New York (41%) and Chicago (44%), the solution offered is to pay teachers less. They punish those who dare to work in poor schools where kids struggle and you can bet that “washing away” half the kids in our schools is, in fact, exactly what they’ve planned.
It’s notable that, when he lived in Chicago, Barack Obama played basketball with city school chief Arne Duncan, but Obama sure as hell didn’t send his kids to Arne’s crap public schools. Those are for po’ folk.
His kids went to the tony “Lab” School in Hyde Park.  Obama believes what Duncan believes and what Romney believes:  there’s no need for universal education and no need to spend money on it.  Yes, they like to say that “children are our future.”  But they mean the children of China are our future, the Chinese kids who will make the stuff we want and the children of India who will program it all for us. After all, how much education does some obese kid from Texas need to stack boxes from China in a Wal-Mart warehouse?
Education is no longer about information and learning skills.  It’s now about “triage.”  A few selected by standardized tests or privileged birth will be anointed and permitted into better and “gifted” schools.
The chosen elite are still very much needed:  to invest in India and Vietnam, to design new derivatives to circumvent the laughable new banking laws, and to maintain order among the restless hundred-million drop-outs squeezed out of the colon of our educational system.
Democrats’ Bantustans, Republicans’ Value-less Vouchers.
The Obama/Duncan/Emanuel plan is to create Bantustans of un-chartered, cheaply-run dumpster schools within a government system.  But Romney and the GOP would give every child a “choice” even outside government schools with “vouchers.”
Of course, the “vouchers” don’t vouch for much.  Romney’s old alma mater, Cranbrook Academy, runs at $34,025 a year, not counting the polo sticks and horse.  The most generous voucher program is Washington DC’s, beloved of the GOP, which pays about $7,500, or if the student’s “choice” is Cranbrook, about 2 months of school.  Hyde Park Day School Chicago is $35,900.  To give each kid a real choice, not just a coupon, means a massive increase in spending per pupil.  I didn’t see that in the Republican platform, did you?
The experienced teacher in Chicago who took the pay cut was offered one consolation.  She was told she could make up some of the pay loss by quitting the union and saving on union dues.
So that’s the program.  An educational Katrina: squeeze the teachers until they strike, demolish their unions and drown the students.Chicago’s classroom war is class war by another name.

Class dismissed.

 

http://www.gregpalast.com

Author of the New York Times and international bestsellers, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and Armed Madhouse, Palast is Patron of the Trinity College Philosophical Society, an honor previously held by Jonathan Swift and Oscar Wilde. Palast (more…)

Tokyo Electric to Build US Nuclear Plants: The No BS Info on Japan’s Disastrous Nuclear Operators March 14, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Japan, Nuclear weapons/power, Texas.
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Monday 14 March 2011

by: Greg Palast, t r u t h o u t | News Analysis

Tokyo Electric to Build US Nuclear Plants: The No BS Info on Japan's Disastrous Nuclear Operators
Texas nuclear plants planned by Tokyo Electric. (Image: NINA)

I need to speak to you, not as a reporter, but in my former capacity as lead investigator in several government nuclear plant fraud and racketeering investigations.

I don’t know the law in Japan, so I can’t tell you if Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) can plead insanity to the homicides about to happen.

But what will Obama plead? The administration, just months ago, asked Congress to provide a $4 billion loan guarantee for two new nuclear reactors to be built and operated on the Gulf Coast of Texas – by TEPCO and local partners. As if the Gulf hasn’t suffered enough. Here are the facts about TEPCO and the industry you haven’t heard on CNN:

The failure of emergency systems at Japan’s nuclear plants comes as no surprise to those of us who have worked in the field.

Nuclear plants the world over must be certified for what is called “SQ” or “Seismic Qualification.” That is, the owners swear that all components are designed for the maximum conceivable shaking event, be it from an earthquake or an exploding Christmas card from al-Qaeda.

The most inexpensive way to meet your SQ is to lie. The industry does it all the time. The government team I worked with caught them once, in 1988, at the Shoreham plant in New York. Correcting the SQ problem at Shoreham would have cost a cool billion, so engineers were told to change the tests from “failed” to “passed.”

The company that put in the false safety report? Stone & Webster, now the nuclear unit of Shaw Construction, which will work with TEPCO to build the Texas plant. Lord help us.

There’s more.

Last night, I heard CNN reporters repeat the official line that the tsunami disabled the pumps needed to cool the reactors, implying that water unexpectedly got into the diesel generators that run the pumps.

These safety backup systems are the “EDGs” in nuke-speak: Emergency Diesel Generators. That they didn’t work in an emergency is like a fire department telling us they couldn’t save a building because “it was on fire.”

What dim bulbs designed this system? One of the reactors dancing with death at Fukushima Station 1 was built by Toshiba. Toshiba was also an architect of the emergency diesel system.

Now be afraid. Obama’s $4 billion bailout in the making is called the South Texas Project. It’s been sold as a red-white-and-blue way to make power domestically with a reactor from Westinghouse, a great American brand. However, the reactor will be made substantially in Japan by the company that bought the US brand name, Westinghouse – Toshiba.

I once had a Toshiba computer. I only had to send it in once for warranty work. However, it’s kind of hard to mail back a reactor with the warranty slip inside the box if the fuel rods are melted and sinking halfway to the earth’s core.

TEPCO and Toshiba don’t know what my son learned in eighth grade science class: tsunamis follow Pacific Rim earthquakes. So, these companies are real stupid, eh? Maybe. More likely is that the diesels and related systems wouldn’t have worked on a fine, dry afternoon.

Back in the day, when we checked the emergency backup diesels in America, a mind-blowing number flunked. At the New York nuclear plant, for example, the builders swore under oath that their three diesel engines were ready for an emergency. They’d been tested. The tests were faked; the diesels run for just a short time at low speed. When the diesels were put through a real test under emergency-like conditions, the crankshaft on the first one snapped in about an hour, then the second and third. We nicknamed the diesels, “Snap, Crackle and Pop.”

(Note: Moments after I wrote that sentence, word came that two of three diesels failed at the Tokai Station as well.)

In the US, we supposedly fixed our diesels after much complaining by the industry. But in Japan, no one tells TEPCO to do anything the Emperor of Electricity doesn’t want to do.

I get lots of confidential notes from nuclear industry insiders. One engineer, a big name in the field, is especially concerned that Obama waved the come-hither check to Toshiba and TEPCO to lure them to America. The US has a long history of whistleblowers willing to put themselves on the line to save the public. In our racketeering case in New York, the government only found out about the seismic test fraud because two courageous engineers, Gordon Dick and John Daly, gave our team the documentary evidence.

In Japan, it’s simply not done. The culture does not allow the salary men, who work all their lives for one company, to drop the dime.

Not that US law is a wondrous shield: both engineers in the New York case were fired and blacklisted by the industry. Nevertheless, the government (local, state, federal) brought civil racketeering charges against the builders. The jury didn’t buy the corporation’s excuses and, in the end, the plant was, thankfully, dismantled.

Am I on some kind of xenophobic anti-Nippon crusade? No. In fact, I’m far more frightened by the American operators in the South Texas nuclear project, especially Shaw. Stone & Webster, now the Shaw nuclear division, was also the firm that conspired to fake the EDG tests in New York . (The company’s other exploits have been exposed by their former consultant, John Perkins, in his book, “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.”) If the planet wants to shiver, consider this: Toshiba and Shaw have recently signed a deal to become worldwide partners in the construction of nuclear stations.

The other characters involved at the South Texas Plant that Obama is backing should also give you the willies. But as I’m in the middle of investigating the American partners, I’ll save that for another day.

So, if we turned to America’s own nuclear contractors, would we be safe? Well, two of the melting Japanese reactors, including the one whose building blew sky high, were built by General Electric of the Good Old US of A.

After Texas, you’re next. The Obama administration is planning a total of $56 billion in loans for nuclear reactors all over America.

And now, the homicides:

CNN is only interested in body counts, how many workers burnt by radiation, swept away or lost in the explosion. These plants are now releasing radioactive steam into the atmosphere. Be skeptical about the statements that the “levels are not dangerous.” These are the same people who said these meltdowns could never happen. Over years, not days, there may be a thousand people, two thousand, ten thousand who will suffer from cancers induced by this radiation.

In my New York investigation, I had the unhappy job of totaling up post-meltdown “morbidity” rates for the county government. It would be irresponsible for me to estimate the number of cancer deaths that will occur from these releases without further information; but it is just plain criminal for the TEPCO shoguns to say that these releases are not dangerous.

Indeed, the fact that residents near the Japanese nuclear plants were not issued iodine pills to keep at the ready shows TEPCO doesn’t care who lives and who dies, whether in Japan or the USA. The carcinogenic isotopes that are released at Fukushima are already floating to Seattle with effects we simply cannot measure.

Heaven help us. Because Obama won’t.

Supreme Court’s “Radical and Destructive” Decision Hands Over Democracy to the Corporations January 21, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy.
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One expert calls the Citizens United decision “the most radical and destructive campaign finance decision in the history of the Supreme Court.”

By Liliana Segura, AlterNet. Posted January 21, 2010.

The Supreme Court has just predicted the winners of the next November election,” Sen. Chuck Schumer announced this morning. “It won’t be Republicans. It won’t be Democrats. It will be Corporate America.”

Indeed, in a momentous 5 to 4 decision that the New York Times has called a “doctrinal earthquake,” the U.S. Supreme Court handed down an unprecedented ruling today that gives new significance to the phrase “corporate personhood.” In it, the Roberts Court overturned the federal ban on corporate contributions to political campaigns, ruling that forbidding corporations from spending money to support or undermine political candidates amounts to censorship. Corporations, the Court ruled, should enjoy the same First Amendment rights as individuals.

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that the Supreme Court rejects “the argument that political speech of corporations or other associations should be treated differently under the First Amendment simply because such associations are not ‘natural persons.'”

In other words, as Stephen Colbert put it last year, “Corporations are people too.”

On a conference call with reporters following the decision, critics could not overemphasize the enormity of the ruling, whose implications will be visible as early as the upcoming midterm elections. Bob Edgar, head of the watchdog group Common Cause, called it “the SuperBowl of really bad decisions.” Nick Nyhart of Public Campaign called it an “immoral decision” that will make an already untenable mix of money and politics even worse.

“This is the most radical and destructive campaign finance decision in the history of the Supreme Court,” said Fred Wertheimer, President of Democracy 21. “With a stroke of the pen, five justices wiped out a century of American history devoted to preventing corporate corruption of our democracy.”

Writing about the ruling, Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy described it as “a revolution in the law,” one that has been in the works for years thanks to conservative activism.

“Today’s decision is a huge gift to corporations from a Supreme Court that has been radicalized by right-wing ideology, whose political agenda was made obvious in the Bush v. Gore case and whose very political decision today only makes things worse.”

Of course, corporate cash has long had a corrupting influence on our politics, but never before has this been seen as some sort of fundamental freedom. “This court has said its the constitutional right of a corporation to spend as much money as it wants to influence an election,” said Wertheimer. The potential “fear factor” for politicians when it comes to the way they vote is huge. Members of Congress, who already spend a disproportionate amount of time fundraising to stay in office, now have reason to worry that their re-election chances will be derailed by corporations whose limitless funds can be aggressively used to protect their interests.

Writing for AlterNet last month, Greg Palast, author of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, argued that President Obama may never have been elected with these new rules on the books:

Candidate Barack Obama was one sharp speaker, but he would not have been heard, and certainly would not have won, without the astonishing outpouring of donations from two million Americans. It was an unprecedented uprising-by-PayPal, overwhelming the old fat-cat sources of funding.

Well, kiss that small-donor revolution goodbye. If the Supreme Court votes as expected, progressive list serves won’t stand a chance against the resources of new ‘citizens’ such as CNOOC, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation. Maybe UBS (United Bank of Switzerland), which faces U.S. criminal prosecution and a billion-dollar fine for fraud, might be tempted to invest in a few Senate seats.”

The case before the Court, Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, centered around a rabidly anti-Hillary Clinton documentary produced by the right-wing group Citizens United. In a statement, Citizens United called the riling “a tremendous victory, not only for Citizens United but for every American who desires to participate in the political process.”

Meanwhile, President Obama, whose critics on the left have accused him of being himself beholden to Wall Street, has called upon Congress to “develop a forceful response to this decision.”

“With its ruling today,” he said, “the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.”

Grand Theft Auto: How Stevie the Rat Bankrupted GM June 8, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Labor.
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Monday 01 June 2009

by: Greg Palast  |  Visit article original @ GregPalast.com

Screw the autoworkers. They may be crying about General Motors’ bankruptcy today. But dumping 40,000 of the last 60,000 union jobs into a mass grave won’t spoil Jamie Dimon’s day.

    Dimon is the CEO of JP Morgan Chase bank. While GM workers are losing their retirement health benefits, their jobs, their life savings; while shareholders are getting zilch and many creditors getting hosed, a few privileged GM lenders – led by Morgan and Citibank – expect to get back 100% of their loans to GM, a stunning $6 billion.

    The way these banks are getting their $6 billion bonanza is stone cold illegal.

    I smell a rat.

    Stevie the Rat, to be precise. Steven Rattner, Barack Obama’s “Car Czar” – the man who essentially ordered GM into bankruptcy this morning.

    When a company goes bankrupt, everyone takes a hit: fair or not, workers lose some contract wages, stockholders get wiped out and creditors get fragments of what’s left. That’s the law. What workers don’t lose are their pensions (including old-age health funds) already taken from their wages and held in their name.

    But not this time. Stevie the Rat has a different plan for GM: grab the pension funds to pay off Morgan and Citi.

    Here’s the scheme: Rattner is demanding the bankruptcy court simply wipe away the money GM owes workers for their retirement health insurance. Cash in the insurance fund would be replaced by GM stock. The percentage may be 17% of GM’s stock – or 25%. Whatever, 17% or 25% is worth, well … just try paying for your dialysis with 50 shares of bankrupt auto stock.

    Yet Citibank and Morgan, says Rattner, should get their whole enchilada – $6 billion right now and in cash – from a company that can’t pay for auto parts or worker eye exams.

    Preventive Detention for Pensions

    So what’s wrong with seizing workers’ pension fund money in a bankruptcy? The answer, Mr. Obama, Mr. Law Professor, is that it’s illegal.

    In 1974, after a series of scandalous take-downs of pension and retirement funds during the Nixon era, Congress passed the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. ERISA says you can’t seize workers’ pension funds (whether monthly payments or health insurance) any more than you can seize their private bank accounts. And that’s because they are the same thing: workers give up wages in return for retirement benefits.

    The law is darn explicit that grabbing pension money is a no-no. Company executives must hold these retirement funds as “fiduciaries.” Here’s the law, Professor Obama, as described on the government’s own web site under the heading, “Health Plans and Benefits.”

    

“The primary responsibility of fiduciaries is to run the plan solely in the interest of participants and beneficiaries and for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits.”

    Every business in America that runs short of cash would love to dip into retirement kitties, but it’s not their money any more than a banker can seize your account when the bank’s a little short. A plan’s assets are for the plan’s members only, not for Mr. Dimon nor Mr. Rubin.

    Yet, in effect, the Obama Administration is demanding that money for an elderly auto worker’s spleen should be siphoned off to feed the TARP babies. Workers go without lung transplants so Dimon and Rubin can pimp out their ride. This is another “Guantanamo” moment for the Obama Administration – channeling Nixon to endorse the preventive detention of retiree health insurance.

    Filching GM’s pension assets doesn’t become legal because the cash due the fund is replaced with GM stock. Congress saw through that switch-a-roo by requiring that companies, as fiduciaries, must

    

“… act prudently and must diversify the plan’s investments in order to minimize the risk of large losses.”

    By “diversify” for safety, the law does not mean put 100% of worker funds into a single busted company’s stock.

    This is dangerous business: The Rattner plan opens the floodgate to every politically-connected or down-on-their-luck company seeking to drain health care retirement funds.

    House of Rubin

    Pensions are wiped away and two connected banks don’t even get a haircut? How come Citi and Morgan aren’t asked, like workers and other creditors, to take stock in GM?

    As Butch said to Sundance, who ARE these guys? You remember Morgan and Citi. These are the corporate Welfare Queens who’ve already sucked up over a third of a trillion dollars in aid from the US Treasury and Federal Reserve. Not coincidentally, Citi, the big winner, has paid over $100 million to Robert Rubin, the former US Treasury Secretary. Rubin was Obama’s point-man in winning banks’ endorsement and campaign donations (by far, his largest source of his corporate funding).

    With GM’s last dying dimes about to fall into one pocket, and the Obama Treasury in his other pocket, Morgan’s Jamie Dimon is correct in saying that the last twelve months will prove to be the bank’s “finest year ever.”

    Which leaves us to ask the question: is the forced bankruptcy of GM, the elimination of tens of thousands of jobs, just a collection action for favored financiers?

    And it’s been a good year for Senor Rattner. While the Obama Administration made a big deal out of Rattner’s youth spent working for the Steelworkers Union, they tried to sweep under the chassis that Rattner was one of the privileged, select group of investors in Cerberus Capital, the owners of Chrysler. “Owning” is a loose term. Cerberus “owned” Chrysler the way a cannibal “hosts” you for dinner. Cerberus paid nothing for Chrysler – indeed, they were paid billions by Germany’s Daimler Corporation to haul it away. Cerberus kept the cash, then dumped Chrysler’s bankrupt corpse on the US taxpayer.

    (“Cerberus,” by the way, named itself after the Roman’s mythical three-headed dog guarding the gates of Hell. Subtle these guys are not.)

    While Stevie the Rat sold his interest in the Dog from Hell when he became Car Czar, he never relinquished his post at the shop of vultures called Quadrangle Hedge Fund. Rattner’s personal net worth stands at roughly half a billion dollars. This is Obama’s working class hero.

    If you ran a business and played fast and loose with your workers’ funds, you could land in prison. Stevie the Rat’s plan is nothing less than Grand Theft Auto Pension.

    It doesn’t make it any less of a crime if the President drives the getaway car.

    ——-

    Economist and journalist Greg Palast, a former trade union contract negotiator, is author of the New York Times bestsellers “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy” and “Armed Madhouse.” He is a GM bondholder and card-carrying member of United Automobile Workers Local 1981. Palast’s latest reports for BBC Television and Democracy Now! are collected on the newly released DVD, “Palast Investigates: From 8-Mile to the Amazon – on the trail of the financial marauders.” Watch the trailer here.

Stick Your Damn Hand In It March 26, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Environment.
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Oil spill killPhoto by Alaska-in-Pictures.com

20th Birthday of the Exxon Valdez Lie

by Greg Palast    

www.opednews.com, March 23, 2009

by Greg Palast    

www.opednews.com, March 23, 2009

 

 

 

“Gail, Please! Stick your hand in it!”
 
The petite Eskimo-Chugach woman gave me that you-dumb-ass-white-boy look.
 
“Gail, Gail. STICK YOUR DAMN HAND IN IT!”
 
She stuck it in, under the gravel of the beach at Sleepy Bay, her village’s fishing ground. Gail’s hand came up dripping with black, sickening goo. It could make you vomit. Oil from the Exxon Valdez.
 
It was already two years after the spill and Exxon had crowed that Mother Nature had happily cleaned up their stinking oil mess for them. It was a lie. But the media wouldn’t question the bald-faced bullshit. And who the hell was going to investigate Exxon’s claim way out in some godforsaken Native village in the Prince William Sound?
 
So I convinced the Natives to fly the lazy-ass reporters out to Sleepy Bay on rented float planes to see the oil that Exxon said wasn’t there.
 
The reporters looked, but didn’t see it, because it was three inches under their feet, under the shingle rock of the icy beach. Gail pulled out her hand and now the whole place smelled like a gas station. The network crews wanted to puke.
 
And now, with their eyes open, they saw the oil, the vile feces-colored smear across the glaciated ridge faces, the poisonous “bathtub ring” that ran for miles and miles at the high tide level. And it’s still there. Less for sure. But twenty years later, IT’S STILL THERE, GODDAMMIT. And I want YOU, dear reader, to stick your hand in it. I want YOU, President Obama, to stick your hand in it before you blithely fulfill your Palin-esque campaign promise for a little more offshore drilling.
 
***
Tuesday marks the 20th Anniversary of the Exxon Valdez grounding and the smearing of 1,200 miles of Alaska’s coastline with its oil.


Oil still being cleaned up seven years after the spill (James McAlpine) James Macalpine
 
It also marks the 20th Anniversary of a lie. Lots of lies: catalogued in a four-volume investigation of the disaster; four volumes you’ll never see. I wrote that report, with my team of investigators working with the Natives preparing fraud and racketeering charges against Exxon. You’ll never see the report because Exxon lawyers threatened the Natives, “Mention the f-word [fraud] and you’ll never get a dime” of compensation to clean up the villages. The Natives agreed to drop the fraud charge — and Exxon stiffed them on the money. You’re surprised, right?
 
***
Doubtless, for the 20th Anniversary of the Great Spill, the media will schlep out that old story that the tanker ran aground because its captain was drunk at the wheel. Bullshit. Yes, the captain was “three sheets to the wind” — but sleeping it off below-decks. The ship was in the hands of the third mate who was driving blind. That is, the Exxon Valdez’ Raycas radar system was turned off; turned off because it was busted and had been busted since its maiden voyage. Exxon didn’t want to spend the cash to fix it. So the man at the helm, electronically blindfolded, drove it up onto the reef.
 
So why the story of the drunken skipper? Because it lets Exxon off the hook: Calling it a case of “drunk driving” turns the disaster into a case of human error, not corporate penny-pinching
 
Indeed, the “human error” tale was the hook used by the Bush-stacked Supreme Court to slash the punitive damages awarded against Exxon by 90%, from $5 billion, to half a billion for 30,000 Natives and fishermen. Chief Justice John Roberts erased almost all of the payment due with the la-dee-dah comment, “What more can a corporation do?”
 
Well, here’s what they could have done: Besides fix the radar, Exxon could have set out equipment to contain the spill. Containing a spill is actually quite simple. Stick a rubber skirt around the oil slick and suck it back up. The law requires it and Exxon promised it.
 
So, when the tanker hit, where was the rubber skirt and where was the sucker? Answer: The rubber skirt, called “boom” — was a fiction. Exxon promised to have it sitting right there near the Native village at Bligh Reef. The oil company fulfilled that promised the cheap way: they lied.
 
And the lie was engineered at the very top. After the spill, we got our hands on a series of memos describing a secret meeting of chief executives of Exxon and its oil company partners, including ARCO, a unit of British Petroleum. In a meeting of these oil chieftains held in April 1988, ten months before the spill, Exxon rejected a plea from T.L. Polasek, the Vice-President of its Alaska shipping operations, to provide the oil spill containment equipment required by law. Polasek warned the CEOs it was “not possible” to contain a spill in the mid-Sound without the emergency set-up.
 
Exxon angrily vetoed ARCO’s suggestion that the oil companies supply the rubber skirts and other materiel that would have prevented the spill from spreading, virtually eliminating the spill’s damage.
 
Regulations state that no tanker may leave the Alaska port of Valdez without the “sucker” equipment, called a “containment barge,” at the ready. Exxon signed off on the barge’s readiness. But, that night twenty years ago, the barge was in dry-dock with its pumps locked up under arctic ice. By the time it arrived at the tanker, half a day after the spill, the oil was well along its thousand-mile killing path.
 
Natives watched as the now-unstoppable oil overwhelmed their islands. Eyak Native elder Henry Makarka saw an otter rip out its own eyes burning from oil residue. Henry, pointing down a waterside dead-zone, told me, in a mix of Alutiiq and English, “If I had a machine gun, I’d shoot every one of those white sons-of-bitches.”
 
***
 
Exxon promised — promised — to pay the Natives and other fisherman for all their losses. The Chief of the Natives at Nanwalek lost his boat to bankruptcy. His village, like other villages, Native and non-Native, decayed into alcoholism. The Mayor of fishing port Cordova killed himself, citing Exxon in his suicide note.
 
On the island village of Chenega, Gail Evanoff’s uncle Paul Kompkoff was hungry. Until the spill, he had lived on seal meat, razor clams and salmon Chenegans would catch, and on deer they hunted. The clams and salmon were declared deadly and the deer, not able to read the government warning signs, ate the poisoned vegetation and died.
 
The President of Exxon, Lee Raymond, helicoptered into Chenega for a photo op. He promised to compensate the Natives and all fishermen for their losses, and Exxon would thoroughly clean the beaches.
 
Uncle Paul told the Exxon chief of his hunger. The oil company, sensing PR disaster, shipped in seal meat to the isolated village. The cans were marked, “NOT FIT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION.” Uncle Paul said, “Zoo food.”
 
Paul didn’t want a seal in a can. He wanted a boat to go fishing, to bring the village back to life.
 
Two years after the spill, Otto Harrison, General Manager of Exxon USA, told Evanoff and me to forget about a fishing boat for Uncle Paul. Exxon was immortal and Natives were not. The company would litigate for 20 years.
 
They did. Only now, two decades on, Exxon has finally begun its payout of the court award — but only ten cents on the dollar. And Uncle Paul’s boat? No matter. Paul’s dead. So are a third of the fishermen owed the money.

Lee Raymond, President of Exxon at the time of the spill — and its President when the company made the secret decision to do without oil spill equipment, retired in April 2006. The company awarded him a $400 million retirement bonus, more than double the bonuses received by all AIG executives combined.
 
***
 
Gail’s oily hand never made it to national television. The networks were distracted with another oil story.
 
After sailing back to Chenega from Sleepy Bay, I sat with Uncle Paul, watching the smart bombs explode over Baghdad. Gulf War I had begun.
 
Uncle Paul was silent a long time. The generals on CNN pointed to the burning oil fields near Basra. Paul said, “I guess were all some kind of Native now.”

************
For SuicideGirls.com
Greg Palast investigated fraud and racketeering claims for the Chugach Natives of Alaska. Now a journalist whose work appears on BBC Television Newsnight, Palast is the author of the New York Times bestselling books The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and Armed Madhouse. Visit GregPalast.com for more.
 
Check out the YouTube clip of Greg Palast on Air America’s ‘Ring of Fire’ with Mike Papantonio on the Exxon Valdez and on the death of investigative reporting in America.  Listen in this weekend on your Air America station.

And get ready:  This Friday – the launch of GREG PALAST INVESTIGATES – On the Trail with investigative reporter Palast – with three of his latest ass-kicking BBC Television reports.
 
Palast is looking for co-producers for the film’s DVD release.  Support the team behind the work that the Chicago Tribune calls, “Stories so relevant, they threaten to alter history.” Pre-order the DVD today.

Palast is a Nation Institute/Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow for investigative reporting.

More Alaska photos by James Macalpine for the Palast Investigative Fund, a 501c3 not-for-profit educational foundation, can be found at the original post at GregPalast.com   

 

 

 

http://www.gregpalast.com

Greg Palast, winner of the George Orwell Courage-In-Journalism Prize, is the author of the New York Times bestsellers The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and “ARMED MADHOUSE: (more…)
 

From Ecuador: Good and Evil December 22, 2008

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A Conversation with Ecuador’s New President
by Greg Palast http://www.gregpalast.com/a-quechua-christmas-carol/ (no date)

[Quito] I don’t know what the hell seized me. In the middle of an hour-long interview with the President of Ecuador, I asked him about his father.

I’m not Barbara Walters. It’s not the kind of question I ask.Correa reading his daughters letter

He hesitated. Then said, “My father was unemployed.”

He paused. Then added, “He took a little drugs to the States… This is called in Spanish a mula [mule]. He passed four years in the states- in a jail.”

He continued. “I’d never talked about my father before.”

Apparently he hadn’t. His staff stood stone silent, eyes widened.

Correa’s dad took that frightening chance in the 1960s, a time when his family, like almost all families in Ecuador, was destitute. Ecuador was the original “banana republic” – and the price of bananas had hit the floor. A million desperate Ecuadorans, probably a tenth of the entire adult population, fled to the USA anyway they could.

“My mother told us he was working in the States.”

His father, released from prison, was deported back to Ecuador. Humiliated, poor, broken, his father, I learned later, committed suicide.

At the end of our formal interview, through a doorway surrounded by paintings of the pale plutocrats who once ruled this difficult land, he took me into his own Oval Office. I asked him about an odd-looking framed note he had on the wall. It was, he said, from his daughter and her grade school class at Christmas time. He translated for me.

“We are writing to remind you that in Ecuador there are a lot of very poor children in the streets and we ask you please to help these children who are cold almost every night.”

It was kind of corny. And kind of sweet. A smart display for a politician.

Or maybe there was something else to it.

Correa is one of the first dark-skinned men to win election to this Quechua and mixed-race nation. Certainly, one of the first from the streets. He’d won a surprise victory over the richest man in Ecuador, the owner of the biggest banana plantation.

Doctor Correa, I should say, with a Ph.D in economics earned in Europe. Professor Correa as he is officially called – who, until not long ago, taught at the University of Illinois.

And Professor Doctor Correa is one tough character. He told George Bush to take the US military base and stick it where the equatorial sun don’t shine. He told the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which held Ecuador’s finances by the throat, to go to hell. He ripped up the “agreements” which his predecessors had signed at financial gun point. He told the Miami bond vultures that were charging Ecuador usurious interest, to eat their bonds. He said ‘We are not going to pay off this debt with the hunger of our people. ” Food first, interest later. Much later. And he meant it.

It was a stunning performance. I’d met two years ago with his predecessor, President Alfredo Palacio, a man of good heart, who told me, looking at the secret IMF agreements I showed him, “We cannot pay this level of debt. If we do, we are DEAD. And if we are dead, how can we pay?” Palacio told me that he would explain this to George Bush and Condoleezza Rice and the World Bank, then headed by Paul Wolfowitz. He was sure they would understand. They didn’t. They cut off Ecuador at the knees.

But Ecuador didn’t fall to the floor. Correa, then Economics Minister, secretly went to Hugo Chavez Venezuela’s president and obtained emergency financing. Ecuador survived.

And thrived. But Correa was not done.

Elected President, one of his first acts was to establish a fund for the Ecuadoran refugees in America – to give them loans to return to Ecuador with a little cash and lot of dignity. And there were other dragons to slay. He and Palacio kicked US oil giant Occidental Petroleum out of the country.

Correa STILL wasn’t done.

I’d returned from a very wet visit to the rainforest – by canoe to a Cofan Indian village in the Amazon where there was an epidemic of childhood cancers. The indigenous folk related this to the hundreds of open pits of oil sludge left to them by Texaco Oil, now part of Chevron, and its partners. I met the Cofan’s chief. His three year old son swam in what appeared to be contaminated water then came outCofan Leader Criollo vomiting blood and died.

Correa had gone there too, to the rainforest, though probably in something sturdier than a canoe. And President Correa announced that the company that left these filthy pits would pay to clean them up.

But it’s not just any company he was challenging. Chevron’s largest oil tanker was named after a long-serving member of its Board of Directors, the Condoleezza. Our Secretary of State.

The Cofan have sued Condi’s corporation, demanding the oil company clean up the crap it left in the jungle. The cost would be roughly $12 billion. Correa won’t comment on the suit itself, a private legal action. But if there’s a verdict in favor of Ecuador’s citizens, Correa told me, he will make sure Chevron pays up.

Is he kidding? No one has ever made an oil company pay for their slop. Even in the USA, the Exxon Valdez case drags on to its 18th year. Correa is not deterred.

He told me he would create an international tribunal to collect, if necessary. In retaliation, he could hold up payments to US companies who sue Ecuador in US courts.

This is hard core. No one – NO ONE – has made such a threat to Bush and Big Oil and lived to carry it out.

And, in an office tower looking down on Quito, the lawyers for Chevron were not amused. I met with them.

Chevron Lawyers“And it’s the only case of cancer in the world? How many cases of children with cancer do you have in the States?” Rodrigo Perez, Texaco’s top lawyer in Ecuador was chuckling over the legal difficulties the Indians would have in proving their case that Chevron-Texaco caused their kids’ deaths. “If there is somebody with cancer there, [the Cofan parents] must prove [the deaths were] caused by crude or by petroleum industry. And, second, they have to prove that it is OUR crude – which is absolutely impossible.” He laughed again. You have to see this on film to believe it.

The oil company lawyer added, “No one has ever proved scientifically the connection between cancer and crude oil.” Really? You could swim in the stuff and you’d be just fine.

The Cofan had heard this before. When Chevron’s Texaco unit came to their land the the oil men said they could rub the crude oil on their arms and it would cure their ailments. Now Condi’s men had told me that crude oil doesn’t cause cancer. But maybe they are right. I’m no expert. So I called one. Robert F Kennedy Jr., professor of Environmental Law at Pace University, told me that elements of crude oil production – benzene, toluene, and xylene, “are well-known carcinogens.” Kennedy told me he’s seen Chevron-Texaco’s ugly open pits in the Amazon and said that this toxic dumping would mean jail time in the USA.

But it wasn’t as much what the Chevron-Texaco lawyers said that shook me. It was the way they said it. Childhood cancer answered with a chuckle. The Chevron lawyer, a wealthy guy, Jaime Varela, with a blond bouffant hairdo, in the kind of yellow chinos you’d see on country club links, was beside himself with delight at the impossibility of the legal hurdles the Cofan would face. Especially this one: Chevron had pulled all its assets out of Ecuador. The Indians could win, but they wouldn’t get a dime. “What about the chairs in this office?” I asked. Couldn’t the Cofan at least get those? “No,” they laughed, the chairs were held in the name of the law firm.

Well, now they might not be laughing. Correa’s threat to use the power of his Presidency to protect the Indians, should they win, is a shocker. No one could have expected that. And Correa, no fool, knows that confronting Chevron means confronting the full power of the Bush Administration. But to this President, it’s all about justice, fairness. “You [Americans] wouldn’t do this to your own people,” he told me. Oh yes we would, I was thinking to myself, remembering Alaska’s Natives.

Correa’s not unique. He’s the latest of a new breed in Latin America. Lula, President of Brazil, Evo Morales, the first Indian ever elected President of Bolivia, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. All “Leftists,” as the press tells us. But all have something else in common: they are dark-skinned working-class or poor kids who found themselves leaders of nations of dark-skinned people who had forever been ruled by an elite of bouffant blonds.

When I was in Venezuela, the leaders of the old order liked to refer to Chavez as, “the monkey.” Chavez told me proudly, “I am negro e indio” – Black and Indian, like most Venezuelans. Chavez, as a kid rising in the ranks of the blond-controlled armed forces, undoubtedly had to endure many jeers of “monkey.” Now, all over Latin America, the “monkeys” are in charge.

And they are unlocking the economic cages.

Maybe the mood will drift north. Far above the equator, a nation is ruled by a blond oil company executive. He never made much in oil – but every time he lost his money or his investors’ money, his daddy, another oil man, would give him another oil well. And when, as a rich young man out of Philips Andover Academy, the wayward youth tooted a little blow off the bar, daddy took care of that too. Maybe young George got his powder from some guy up from Ecuador.

I know this is an incredibly simple story. Indians in white hats with their dead kids and oil millionaires in black hats laughing at kiddy cancer and playing musical chairs with oil assets.

But maybe it’s just that simple. Maybe in this world there really is Good and Evil.

Maybe Santa will sort it out for us, tell us who’s been good and who’s been bad. Maybe Lawyer Yellow Pants will wake up on Christmas Eve staring at the ghost of Christmas Future and promise to get the oil sludge out of the Cofan’s drinking water.

Or maybe we’ll have to figure it out ourselves. When I met Chief Emergildo, I was reminded of an evening years back, when I was way the hell in the middle of nowhere in the Prince William Sound, Alaska, in the Chugach Native village of Chenega. I was investigating the damage done by Exxon’s oil. There was oil sludge all over Chenega’s beaches. It was March 1991, and I was in the home of village elder Paul Kompkoff on the island’s shore, watching CNN. We stared in silence as “smart” bombs exploded in Baghdad and Basra.

Then Paul said to me, in that slow, quiet way he had, “Well, I guess we’re all Natives now.”

Well, maybe we are. But we don’t have to be, do we?

Maybe we can take some guidance from this tiny nation at the center of the earth. I listened back through my talk with President Correa. And I can assure his daughter that she didn’t have to worry that her dad would forget about “the poor children who are cold” on the streets of Quito.

Because the Professor Doctor is still one of them.

Steal Back Your Vote October 15, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in U.S. Election 2008.
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by: Sari Gelzer, t r u t h o u t | Report

photo
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Greg Palast have teamed up to tell voters how to ensure their votes will be counted. (Artwork: http://www.stealbackyourvote.org)

    Greg Palast and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. believe that the 2008 elections have already been stolen. What’s an American to do given these circumstances? They suggest: “Steal it back”.

    Palast, an investigative journalist, and Kennedy, a voting rights attorney, paired up to create a nonpartisan voter guide that illustrates the six ways that American votes will be stolen this election and seven ways to steal them back.

    You may ask who’s stealing your votes. Palast and Kennedy believe that the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), created in 2002, is one of the main reasons votes are systematically being stolen. Secretaries of state attempting to comply with HAVA are purging voters from the registration rolls and blocking new ones from registering. The purging occurs if a voter’s name does not match a government database.

Those who are at most risk for having their vote stolen are new voters, people of color, low-income, elderly and swing state voters, Palast told Truthout.

    In 2006, Palast says that 40 percent of citizens who were purged from the voter rolls in California had Islamic, Vietnamese, Chinese and Hispanic names. These names were at most risk for misspellings.

    The Steal Back Your Vote Guidelines promote the importance of going to the secretary of state Web site for your state to confirm that you are registered ahead of the election.

    The New York Times appeared to confirm Palast and Kennedy’s findings on mass voter purges in its report last week titled “States’ Actions to Block Voters Appear Illegal”. The newspaper found that tens of thousands of eligible voters were being illegally purged ahead of the 2008 elections.

    In the crucial swing states of Indiana, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio, The New York Times reported that Social Security databases are being used to verify voters, as opposed to more accurate state databases. Federal law requires Social Security databases to be used for verification only as a last resort.

    The swing states of Michigan and Colorado are also violating federal law, according to The New York Times, because they are removing voters from the registration rolls within 90 days of the presidential election.

    When a name has been purged from the voter rolls, election workers will hand out a provisional ballot. However, Palast points to 1.1 million provisional ballots that went uncounted in the 2004 elections as proof that provisional ballots often go uncounted.

    “Once you sign that provisional ballot, the chances are officially one in three that your ballot will be thrown in the garbage can,” said Palast.

    In their guide, Palast and Kennedy write that a provisional ballot will most often render a vote uncounted. They suggest seeking adjudication on the spot, by calling a voter’s rights hotline instead of accepting and signing the provisional ballot.

    “Don’t go postal,” says Palast, urging voters not to mail in their ballot.

    Palast told Truthout: “All you need is the most minor error, like you didn’t use your middle initial in your registration; not enough postage cost a third of a million votes in the US the last time around because most ballots are two stamps, not one. There’s a million ways to not count your vote on a mail-in; don’t do it.”

    The other suggestions in the “Steal Back Your Vote” guide include voting early, getting involved in voter-registration and get-out-the-vote organizations, and pursuing legal action if disenfranchised.

    Palast and Kennedy will be following the 2008 elections as they unfold, including publishing reports in Rolling Stone and BBC news.

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