surplus to political requirements
2 years ago
US troops returning from Iraq are for the first time to be offered state-of-the-art radiation testing to check for contamination from depleted uranium - a controversial substance linked by some to cancer and birth defects.
Campaigners say the Pentagon refuses to take seriously the issue of poisoning from depleted uranium (DU) and offers only the most basic checks, and only when it is specifically asked for. But state legislators across the US are pushing ahead with laws that will provide their National Guard troops access to the most sophisticated tests.
WASHINGTON, Sept. 27 (JTA) — Hours before a demonstration against the Iraq war swelled to tens of thousands of people, a few dozen protesters packed a stately synagogue in downtown Washington and considered Egypt.
Not the current regime of Hosni Mubarak, but the plight of the Hebrews under pharaoh millennia ago — “caught between a rock and a hard place,” as Rabbi Arthur Waskow told the congregants at the Shabbat service last weekend.
The rock the Jewish protesters faced was their impassioned opposition to the Iraq war, while the hard place was the vituperative anti-Israeli sentiment among some of their anti-war allies.
Between sermons, worshippers discussed which events to attend that weekend and which to avoid because of the likely presence of virulent anti-Zionism.
The service, a joyful melding of psalms and protest songs, offered Jewish protesters a way through, Waskow said afterward.
“We figured out a way to honor Shabbat and to celebrate the Jewish values of Israel and the Jewish values of ‘seek peace and pursue it,’ ” said Waskow, who heads Philadelphia’s Shalom Center.
It’s a dilemma that the national Jewish leadership may soon face as support for the war falls. In surveys last year, U.S. Jews opposed the war in even greater numbers than non-Jews, while recent surveys show that a majority of Americans oppose how the Bush administration is handling the situation.
Jewish officials say privately that they’re seeking an outlet for burgeoning anti-war sentiment at the grassroots level, but the problem is that some of the war’s leading opponents — such as Cindy Sheehan, a mother whose son died in the war — equate the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq with Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
Some of the best-organized groups — and those likeliest to attend anti-war protests — do not stop at criticizing Israeli policy but reject Israel’s very existence. International A.N.S.W.E.R., a cosponsor of several of the weekend events, speaks of Israel as “within the borders of historic Palestine.”
(CNN) -- Rep. Tom DeLay said Wednesday that he will step aside as House majority leader after a Texas grand jury indicted him on a conspiracy charge.
DeLay faces a single conspiracy count stemming from a long-running campaign finance investigation, the county clerk's office in Austin told CNN.
DeLay, a Republican, blasted the charge as a "sham" and an act of "political retribution."
"I have done nothing wrong," DeLay told reporters. "I have violated no law, no regulation, no rule of the House."
Sept. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Consumer confidence in the U.S. dropped by the most in 15 years in September after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast and pushed gasoline prices to a record.
The Conference Board's consumer confidence index fell to 86.6, the lowest since October 2003, from a revised 105.5 in August, the New York-based research group said today. The index was expected to fall to 95 from 105.6 previously reported for August, based on a Bloomberg News survey of 62 economists.
The plunge in confidence threatens to curtail the consumer spending that makes up 70 percent of the world's largest economy, hurting sales at companies including Avon Products Inc. Katrina damaged drilling rigs and curtailed fuel shipments, and companies shut down more energy production in Texas as Hurricane Rita approached last week.
``We may now see a pullback in spending,'' said Quincy Krosby, who helps oversee $293 billion in assets as chief investment strategist for The Hartford in Hartford, Connecticut. ``This winter and this Christmas shopping season are going to be the test case, and we're going to see if this is the tipping point for the consumer.
Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, [...] chastised him for not seeking fiscal or oversight help from Congress before the storm."I don't know how you can sleep at night," Granger said. "You lost the battle."
Brown, his voice dropping slightly, responded: "I probably should have just resigned my post earlier and gone public with some of these things because I have a great admiration for the men and women of FEMA and what they do, and they don't deserve what they've been getting."
"...experimental protocols that would be condemned as unethical in the West--including placebo trials among ailing AIDS patients--are frequently described in the medical press; when the subjects are poor Africans or Asians, nary an eye is batted. (Recall that papers describing this country's most egregious scientific study, the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, in which government doctors denied treatment to black syphilitics, regularly appeared in the medical press from the 1930s onward. That study wasn't terminated until 1972.)
In the film, the trial's results are so dangerous that they must be suppressed by an international conspiracy of corporate execs and state authorities. If only. The trouble is that most of the time new drugs aren't uniformly deadly, rendering unequivocal data showcasing their killer properties. Rather, new drugs do work, just not very well, or not for everyone, or not without side effects or, most frequently, not any better than older, safer drugs. What that means is that challenging unethical trials requires more than wrenching a few critical reports from official dustbins.
Most disappointing, perhaps, is that the film tells us precious little about the explosive trial at its center, despite the fact that the entire plot hinges on its wickedness. Some of the African subjects died in the trial, the film tells us, but little else is revealed. There's a reason for this strange omission. Most Western audiences will easily jump to the conclusion that any experiment that rendered any deaths is irredeemable, no matter the condition of the patients, the purpose of the trial or the rates of deaths from traditional therapies or no therapy. And yet the business of testing experimental drugs in humans is a risky one, no matter what the condition or drug. Humane research practices may minimize the risks, which must be balanced against potential benefits, but the risks remain, regardless. As one HIV researcher put it, "I mean, shit, we learn by climbing over the bodies of humans."
That the film makes no allowance for this reality is more than a problem of accuracy. Our reluctance to acknowledge the risks of drug development is the single biggest reason why drug companies have fled the empty test clinics of the United States and Western Europe to set up shop in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America in the first place. On average, every American buys more than ten prescription drugs every year, and yet most are loath to participate in the clinical trials that make new drugs possible. Less than one in twenty Americans take part in experimental trials, with half the American public maligning test subjects as "guinea pigs," according to a June 2004 Harris poll.
'All that former advertising money has to go somewhere,' said one industry insider. 'The tobacco firms are looking to create extensive "design languages" in bars and clubs and other venues through the use of particular types of furniture or material which will make people think of their brands.'
Experts said such marketing was becoming increasingly popular. 'The more subtle the message, the more likely it is to be accepted,' said Gerard Hastings, director of the Institute for Social Marketing and Centre for Tobacco Control based at Stirling University.
The PDA’s “big tent” perspective sounds like a more “realistic” and achievable objective for the Left than building a party completely independent of the big business Democrats. But one only has to look at the experience of the 2004 election, when virtually the entire Left crowded under the Democrats’ tent, to see how wrong this is. Was George Bush and his conservative agenda destined to win the 2004 election in the face of an unpopular war, unprecedented job losses, and pessimism about the direction of the country? To many progressives, the answer was “yes,” because they believe that the U.S. is an irredeemably conservative country. But did the 2004 elections give working people the opportunity to vote against the occupation of Iraq, for national health care, or against attacks on civil rights? The pro-war, pro-business, anti-civil liberties Kerry/Edwards ticket didn’t.
The Nader/Camejo independent presidential campaign did offer left-wing alternatives on all of the key issues. But it was marginalized from the outset by an ABB [anyone but Bush, ed.] drumbeat consciously promoted by many leading progressive intellectuals and activists, including many of the current leaders and allies of PDA. The result of these political choices in 2004 was a disaster: the complete marginalization of any progressive ideas, the suspension of antiwar organizing for the better part of a year, and a possibly fatal blow to the Green Party as an independent force—all in the service of a strategy that failed on its own terms (i.e., of electing Kerry).
When elections roll around, Democratic politicians operate on the assumption that the Left “has nowhere else to go.” So they spend much of their time courting the “center,” i.e., moving to the right. As long as the Left doesn’t build an alternative, the Democrats will continue to take it for granted, just as it takes the Democratic “base” (women, Blacks, labor, and so on) for granted. As long as their threat of leaving the Democratic Party is empty, progressives will always be forced to back “lesser evil” Democratic candidates.
Activists point out that in the past few years, a large part of the planet's clean water has fallen under the control of transnational corporations.
They also warn that in just a few years time, a handful of corporations will control almost 75 percent of all water for human consumption in the world, as an increasing number of governments privatise water and sewage services.
The main concessionaires are the French Vivendi-Générale des Eaux and Suez-Lyonnaise des Eaux, which control 40 percent of the market and provide services to some 110 million people in more than 100 countries.
Governments argue that their main motivation in handing over drinking water distribution and treatment and sanitation services to the private sector is to improve public services.
But instead of alleviating the problem of limited public access to clean water, the private corporations have inflated rates, and corrupt corporate practices have led to severe crises in cities and entire countries in some cases, say the activists.
For supporters of competition in broadband Internet service, the hammer finally fell on August 5. Led by Chairman Kevin Martin, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) unanimously decreed that phone companies will have the power to exclude independent providers of digital subscriber line (DSL) Internet service from using their networks. This decision bestows complete control over DSL access to a handful of telecommunications giants. It comes in an industry already struggling to maintain a competitive atmosphere, as these companies (BellSouth, SBC, Verizon, and Qwest) dominate more than 83 percent of the market. Not coincidentally, each company is also a client of telecom lobbying firm Wiley Rein & Fielding, where Chairman Martin was a lobbyist prior to stints working for Kenneth Starr and then the Bush administration.
The spin these days is that all of these disasters -- 9/11, Iraq Insurgency, New Orleans flood -- were both unthinkable and unpredictable.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
These were all thought of and predicted -- way in advance. I can name at least a dozen private (and public) sector firms that spend all of their waking hours dreaming up stuff like this. Not only was all this foreseeable, but its the subject of deep and regular analyses by some very, very bright people.
Indeed, from the office of strategic planning in the Pentagon, to risk management officers in Re-insurance companies to capital preservation specialists at Futures trading firms to doctors who specialize in pandemics at the NIH, all sorts of these "what-could-go-wrong" analyses occurs everyday. Even Wal-Mart plans distribution and routing strategies around all kinds of planned and sudden unplanned weather interruptions (see our earlier discussion).
On Wall Street, bigger funds consider the "What-if" scenarios all the time. I have participated in stress-testing asset pools with funds running 100s of billions of dollars: What happens if a Nuke goes off in DC, if China invades Taiwan, if various heads of different States are assassinated (including the US President and/or VP), if the Royal House of Saud falls. Nukes are fun, cause there are so many scenarios -- in addition to the dirty bomb problems, there's what if N. Korea accidentally blows up a weapon, if Israel nukes Iran, if Russia admits 5 bombs are unaccounted for. Then there's the accidental US silo disaster, including various alternative misinterpretations (i.e., accident, terrorist, Russian or Chinese espionage, etc.)
All of this is called strategic planning. Up until recently, it was something that was not only carried out by the private sector and the military, but also at he highest levels of US government. Lately, it seems to have become a lost art.
My personal theory for a lot of what has gone wrong over the past few years is that ideology (i.e., Neo-Con) and faith-based belief systems (insert your choice here) have replaced elbow grease, deep thought, and long term strategizing as the methodology of implementing policy.
The fact is that Republicans have already raised taxes, big-time. They have raised spending consistently since their accession to power, and they have ratified commitments to future spending growth as well, particularly under the Medicare prescription drug benefit. All of this spending will have to be paid for sooner or later. Borrowing merely delays the payment; it does not preclude it, even if the debt incurred is never repaid. The reason is that paying interest on a debt indefinitely is tantamount to repaying the debt itself.
In short, the Bush tax cuts are an illusion. What we have instead is a shift in the tax burden, from predominantly well-off taxpayers in the present, to who-knows-who in the future. Somebody has to pay in the end.
"Our worst fears came true," said Maj. Barry Guidry of the Georgia National Guard.
"We have three significant breaches in the levee and the water is rising rapidly," he said. "At daybreak I found substantial breaks and they've grown larger."
WASHINGTON - When Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist asked a trustee to sell all his stock in his family's hospital corporation, a large-scale sell-off by HCA Inc. insiders was under way.
Shares of the Nashville, Tenn.-based hospital company were near a 52-week peak in June when Frist and HCA insiders were selling off their shares — just about a month before the price dropped.
Information about the insiders' moves was publicly available through disclosures required by the Securities and Exchange Commission
"...you had an antiwar movement, one part of which was focused almost solely on the issue of Iraqi oil. The iconic oil sign of the prewar protest period (sure to be found again at the big demonstration in Washington this Saturday) was: "NO BLOOD FOR OIL." But, with two years-plus of Iraqi experience under our belts, it should now be clear that this slogan was misconceived in at least one crucial way. It should have read: "BLOOD FOR NO OIL."
WASHINGTON, Sept. 20 - Conservative House Republicans plan to recommend on Wednesday more than $500 billion in savings over 10 years to compensate for the costs of Hurricane Katrina as lawmakers continue to struggle to develop a consensus on the fiscal approach to the disaster.
At the top of a partial list of the potential cuts being circulated on Tuesday were previously suggested ideas like delaying the start of the new Medicare prescription drug coverage for one year to save $31 billion and eliminating $25 billion in projects from the newly enacted transportation measure.
The list also proposed eliminating the Moon-Mars initiative that NASA announced on Monday, for $44 billion in savings; ending support for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, $4 billion; cutting taxpayer payments for the national political conventions and the presidential election campaign fund, $600 million; and charging federal employees for parking, $1.54 billion.
"What House conservatives will demonstrate through Operation Offset is that there is more than enough room in the federal budget to provide for the needs of the families affected by Katrina without raising taxes," said a House Republican aide who is working with lawmakers on the proposals and who insisted on anonymity because the package would not be made public until Wednesday.
The suggestions are certain to draw serious opposition from other lawmakers who consider those programs essential, illustrating the difficulty faced by the majority Republicans in finding acceptable ways to offset the hurricane costs.
Before the list was made public, Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, the House majority leader, declared that delaying the Medicare plan was a nonstarter. Mr. DeLay also expressed skepticism that most lawmakers would want to revisit the transportation bill, saying he would be reluctant to sacrifice the projects that he won for his district in the Houston area.
"My earmarks are pretty important to building an economy in that region," Mr. DeLay said of the local projects he backed in the bill. A watchdog group said those items totaled more than $114 million.
Mr. DeLay said Republicans would press ahead this year with their planned tax cuts, though Treasury Secretary John W. Snow told a trade association on Tuesday that some tax measures might have to be delayed, including a repeal of the estate tax and the effort to make permanent some cuts instituted earlier in the Bush administration.
"I think it will push to the back burner some issues that otherwise would have been on the agenda now," Mr. Snow said in a speech to the National Association of Federal Credit Unions.
Senate Republicans met for more than an hour on Tuesday with Joshua B. Bolten, director of the Office of Management and Budget, to try to hash out an approach to hurricane-related spending, a problem that lawmakers acknowledge is among the most difficult they have faced.
Senators said they continued to press the White House to name a prominent individual to oversee the relief effort, creating a central contact point for the flow of money, as well as many legislative proposals.
In the House, Democratic leaders called for establishing a special commission to try to prevent fraud and abuse in spending on the recovery.
"We need to make sure that federal contracts are awarded based on confidence and integrity instead of cronyism and greed," Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, said. "And at long last, we need to start putting the interests of the taxpayers ahead of the private contractor."
Senate Republican leaders promised to be diligent in overseeing the money, which they said was being spent more slowly than immediately after the storm. They said they would keep the deficit in mind.
Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader, said Congress needed "to make sure that that money is spent wisely, that it is spent with full accountability, that it is spent with fiscal responsibility and transparency."
There was a sharp split among Republicans. Some were more insistent on clearly defined cuts than others.
"There is no agreement to pay for this at all," Senator Judd Gregg, Republican of New Hampshire, said. "Those of us who would like to pay for it are very much a minority within our caucus."
Mr. DeLay said estimates that the recovery and rebuilding effort could cost $200 billion or more were unfounded. Other lawmakers disputed that, saying none of the rebuilding costs have been considered, as the Louisiana delegation is preparing a multibillion-dollar aid request.
The current Bush administration's plan to weaponize space and seize the new high-tech military "high ground" poses perhaps the greatest threat to humankind in the 21st century. The U.S.'s stated policy, revealed in the U.S. Space Command document "Joint Vision for 2020," calls for "full spectrum dominance" of Earth, both militarily and economically, through control of the moon corridor.
By more than 4-to-1, Americans want an independent panel - not Congress - to investigate the government's response to Katrina.
NEW YORK -- Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan said Tuesday she was hurt slightly in a scuffle that erupted when police broke up a rally as she was at the microphone.
[NYPD] Inspector Michael McEnroy, commander of the 13th Precinct, insisted the shutdown order had nothing to do with the content of Sheehan’s speech [...]“I don’t even know the woman.” That last part prompted one pissed-off onlooker to shoot back: “Haven’t you watched the news or read a paper in the last three months? ”
American Conservative Union Chairman David A. Keene said federal spending already was "spiraling out of control" before Katrina, and conservatives are "increasingly losing faith in the president and the Republican leadership in Congress."
"Excluding military and homeland security, American taxpayers have witnessed the largest spending increase under any preceding president and Congress since the Great Depression," he said.
Mr. Keene said annual nonmilitary and non-homeland security spending increased $303 billion between fiscal year 2001 and 2005; the acknowledged federal debt increased more than $2 trillion since fiscal year 2000; and the 2003 Medicare prescription drug bill is estimated to increase the government's unfunded obligations by $16 trillion.
“As all of us saw on television, there is also some deep, persistent poverty in this region as well. And that poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America.”George W. Bush (9/15/05)
"[Bush] explicitly ruled out tax increases to pay for the reconstruction and relief costs, saying, "We got to maintain economic growth." He continues to press for a permanent extension of his tax cuts, which would cost $1.4 trillion over 10 years."
[...] there’s the digital divide, which community Internet initiatives also address. Forty percent of homes currently have no Internet access and the trajectory of the spread of the Internet is leveling off. Meanwhile, many local government and community resources are migrating services to an online-only arrangement amid budget cuts. The importance of the Internet as a communicative medium in other ways will only increase.
Certain communities are left behind, frequently along class lines, by incumbent Internet providers over concerns of profitability. Community Internet initiatives may help to provide that necessary public service and even a leveling effect.
UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 13 -- With an hour-long slide show that blends satellite imagery with disquieting assumptions about Iran's nuclear energy program, Bush administration officials have been trying to convince allies that Tehran is on a fast track toward nuclear weapons.
The PowerPoint briefing, titled "A History of Concealment and Deception," has been presented to diplomats from more than a dozen countries. Several diplomats said the presentation, intended to win allies for increasing pressure on the Iranian government, dismisses ambiguities in the evidence about Iran's intentions and omits alternative explanations under debate among intelligence analysts.
Several diplomats said the slide show reminded them of the flawed presentation on Iraq's weapons programs made by then-secretary of state Colin L. Powell to the U.N. Security Council in February 2003. "I don't think they'll lose any support, but it isn't going to win anyone either," said one European diplomat who attended the recent briefing and whose country backs the U.S. position on Iran.
The MoveOn petition is calling for an independent Hurricane Katrina Commission, modeled after the 9/11 Commission, to investigate government failures in the wake of the hurricane and make policy recommendations to keep us safer. The Note reports that pollster Stan Greeberg found that 83 percent of Americans support an independent commission with equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans—rather than a bicameral commission with more Republicans, another idea that's been floated.
'It is low-wage workers who are being hurt the most by the steady drip, drip, drip of coverage draining out of the employer-based health insurance system," said Drew E. Altman, president of the foundation, a nonprofit that provides information and analysis of healthcare issues but does not take sides in policy debates. ''Every year, health insurance becomes less affordable to working people."
A good neighbor ethic means that the U.S. government wouldn’t interfere in the internal politics of its hemispheric neighbors, as much as it disagreed with their politics and behavior—as long as there were no direct threats to our country. Contrary to what Robertson and other administration-associated ideologues would have us believe, the Chavez government is not exporting Muslim terrorism, communism, or any other politics that threaten life in the United States.
With regard to the new trends in Latin America, self-determination should be the operative value that guides U.S. foreign policy rather than an insistence on a U.S.-determined course of political economics. Diplomacy rather than political assassination, kidnapping, coups, or political aid to Chavez opponents is the only appropriate U.S. foreign policy.
Just as Chavez backs his explosive rhetoric with his ambitious social projects, the United States would do well for Latin America—and for itself—if it took some positive steps to demonstrate its commitment to development and democracy. The type of social projects and economic integration spearheaded by the Venezuelan government deserve the backing of the U.S. government and people.
By the time it was served on the table August 28, the final draft of the Iraqi constitution must have tasted very different from the previous servings. Not only were some of the key ingredients of the previous drafts removed outright, new ingredients with distinctly neo-liberal flavors were also added in.
Gone was the article proclaiming adherence to social justice as the basis of the economy. In its place was a provision binding the state to “reforming the Iraqi economy according to modern economic bases, in a way that ensures complete investment of its resources, diversifying its sources and encouraging and developing the private sector.” By “reforming,” the framers of the constitution could only have meant the usual stock of neoliberal economic “reforms” which have been prescribed or imposed on dozens of developing countries around the world. This includes privatizing state-owned enterprises, liberalizing trade, deregulating the market, and opening it up to foreign investors. Instead of revoking the so-called Bremer Laws, or the decrees enacted by the occupation authority implementing these neoliberal policies, the draft constitution would make Iraqis constitutionally bound to enforce them. Another provision reiterates, “[t]he country shall guarantee the encouragement of investments in different sectors.”
Also gone was the provision affirming the Iraqi people’s collective ownership of Iraq’s oil and other natural resources and obliging the state to protect and safeguard them. Instead, a new article lays the legal ground for selling off Iraq’s oil and putting it under the control of the big multinational oil companies. Article 110 goes so far as to spell out that “the federal government and the governments of the producing regions and provinces together will draw up the necessary strategic policies to develop oil and gas wealth to bring the greatest benefit for the Iraqi people, relying on the most modern techniques of market principles and encouraging investment.”
By “modern techniques of market principles,” the draft is most likely referring to current plans—supported by the interim government’s top leadership—to privatize the Iraqi National Oil Companies and to open up Iraq’s oil reserves to the big oil companies. Referring to such plans, Adil Abdel Mahdi, a senior leader of SCIRI and now Iraq’s vice president, told an audience in Washington, just before the elections: “[T]his is very promising to the American investors and to American enterprises, certainly to oil companies.
Despite his apology, the [police] commissioner argued that the policy of shooting suspected suicide bombers was "the least worst option".
"I think a watershed has been passed and I think now we have to find a process for debating these issues without necessarily revealing the absolute detail of the tactics, which would be extremely unhelpful," [the commissioner] said.
"It remains a secret policy, a policy that nobody knows how it operates, a policy that has never been discussed in Parliament."
Nearly two-thirds of students attending a four-year public college or university take on student
loans while they are in school. As of last year, the average indebted graduating senior was
$17,600 in debt on graduation day.
Our analysis of the National Center for Education Statistics’ National Postsecondary Student Aid
Survey finds that students from lower- income families who attend public schools are one-third
more likely to take on debt than are students from high- income families. Over the past decade
and a half, however, more students from higher-income families took out loans, shrinking the
gap in the percentage of students borrowing money between richer and poorer students.
Among students who took on loans, the average debt owed by students from lower-income
families was slightly higher than by students from higher- income families. For public-school
students graduating in 2003-04 from families in the bottom quartile, the average cumulative
amount of loans was $16,438, compared to $15,253 for students from families in the highest
income quartile. Compared to students who graduated in 1989-90, this is an increase of 116
percent for students from the bottom quartile and 28 percent for students from the top quartile,
Students who take out student loans are more likely to hold a job while in school, compared to
students who did not take on loans. Among students who took on loans in 2003-04 and who
attended public, four-year institutions, 83.6 percent held a job during the school, working an
average of 22.8 hours per week. Among similar students who did not take on loans, 78.2 percent
held a job, working an average of 21.5 hours per week.
High levels of student debt are the result of rapidly increasing college costs and policy choices
that have made more loans, but not grant aid, available to students. College costs have risen by
over 50 percent (adjusted for inflation) since 1990 and loans now comprise over half of financial
aid packages, up from about one- fifth in the 1970s.
To put this in perspective, back in 1981, a student could work full-time all summer at a minimum
wage job and earn about two-thirds of their annual college costs, leaving less than $2,000 (in
inflation-adjusted 2004 dollars) that they needed to pull together from grants, loans, working
during the school year, or their parents. Today, however, a student earning the minimum wage
would have to work full- time, full- year to afford one year of education at a four-year public
college or university.
Higher levels of debt upon graduation have implications for how students think about postcollege
jobs and life-choices. Highly indebted graduates may have little flexibility in the kinds of
jobs that they must take in order to afford their debts and may choose to postpone marriage,
buying a house, or starting a family while they pay off their loans.
Experts say it has been common practice in both Republican and Democratic administrations for policy makers to take lobbying jobs once they leave office, and many of the same companies seeking contracts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina have already received billions of dollars for work in Iraq.
Over the last several years the top corporate executives at Northwest and Delta airlines negotiated retirement packages guaranteeing them millions in the event the companies declared bankruptcy and defaulted on their pension payments to employees. Both companies filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last Wednesday, in large measure to escape their pension obligations and seek the bankruptcy court’s backing for sweeping cuts in airline workers’ jobs, wages and benefits.
Since 2000, Delta has lost $10 billion, slashed 23,000 jobs and cut pay for pilots, managers and other employees. Three years ago the company spent more than $44 million setting up trusts to protect executives’ pension benefits from creditors in case of bankruptcy, saying the perk was needed to retain executives in hard times. Because transferring money to bankruptcy-proof trusts typically triggers big tax bills for the executives, Delta inflated the amounts to compensate for the extra taxes.
Retiring CEO Leo Mullin, who was paid $13 million in compensation in 2001, was given 22 years of instant seniority—although he worked for Delta for only five-and-half years—boosting his retirement package to $16 million. While incoming CEO Gerald Grinstein took a ceremonial pay reduction to bolster the company’s demands for sweeping employee wage and pension cuts, behind the scenes other executives were cashing in on the benefits of their golden parachutes.
Former CEO Ronald Allen, who was forced out in 1997, continued to draw $500,000 a year from Delta for consulting services up until 2005, although neither the company nor Allen would say whether he ever provided any such services. Allen’s exit package also included a $4.5 million cash severance payment and a $765,000-a-year pension that continues. He also got 10 years’ worth of perks, such as a 2,090-square-foot Buckhead, Georgia office, a car and club memberships provided by Delta.
When Northwest Airlines CEO Richard Anderson left the company last year, he took his pension in a lump-sum payment of $3,028,700. Anderson’s check covered three separate pensions he received from Northwest: the regular pension plan, his excess pension plan and his supplemental executive retirement plan, or SERP. Other top executives at Northwest, including current CEO Doug Steenland, also were guaranteed three pensions.
Union workers at Northwest have a pension plan based on years of service. For mechanics, custodians and cleaners—currently on strike against Northwest’s demands for the elimination of more than half their jobs and the replacement of traditional guaranteed pensions with 401(k) plans—that amounts to $85 a month for every year they work. According to the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA), a mechanic who retires at 65, after 40 years at Northwest, will collect about $40,000 a year.
The company’s 2005 proxy statement indicated that CEO Steenland will receive $947,417 a year if he retires at 65. Delta’s “supplemental plan” adds multipliers to boost the pensions of the company’s four top executives, crediting Steenland with 15 years of service for every five he works and paying him pension credits at twice the rate applied to regular salaried workers.
The company’s four top executives—Steenland and executive vice presidents Tim Griffin, Phillip Haan and Andrew Roberts—will receive a total of $2,476,100 in annual pension benefits. This is enough to fund the pensions of 90 flight attendants with comparable years of service.
In addition to their pension benefits, Northwest’s top five executives (the above-mentioned, plus Executive Vice President and General Counsel Barry Simon) have taken in $32,000,721 in compensation since 2002, not including other perks such as lifetime health-care coverage and travel benefits. The five also sold more than $1 million worth of stock in the months leading up to the bankruptcy announcement, as did big investors, like professional financier and former NWA Board of Directors member Al Checchi, who sold 1,650,240 shares from April 23 to May 3, raking in $8,439,884.
The New York Times reported Thursday that the timing of Northwest’s bankruptcy filing allowed the company to protect its assets while executives reneged on a payment of $65 million into the employee pension fund, which is already underfunded by $3.8 billion. If Northwest skipped the payment before filing for bankruptcy, it would have been in violation of federal pension laws, and the government-run Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) could have placed a lien on the airline’s assets, giving itself a better chance of recovering some of the money.
Instead, the newspaper noted, “[S]ince Northwest filed for bankruptcy first, then skipped the pension contribution, the government has no legal power to place a lien on its assets. It makes the pension guarantor—and the employees and retirees whose interests the government represents—into unsecured creditors for the $65 million. Unsecured creditors generally fare poorly in bankruptcy, recovering just pennies for every dollar they are owed.”
If the PBGC takes over Northwest’s pension plans pilots would suffer the loss of half or more of their pensions because the PBGC caps payments at $45,613 a year for plans canceled in 2005. Other unionized workers could also see drastic reductions.
Northwest also wants to freeze its current defined benefit pension plans and switch to defined contribution plans, such as 401(k)s, which are cheaper for employers but don’t provide workers the guaranteed benefits of traditional pensions.
Delta’s pension funds are in even worse shape. If the company defaults on its obligations it would set a record, surpassing the size of the United Airlines pension collapse earlier this year, and further staggering the overburdened pension guarantee board. According to board officials, Delta’s pension plan has promised benefits worth $17.5 billion, but it only has $6.9 billion in assets. With its bankruptcy filing the company is expected to press for even more drastic cuts than it outlined in its corporate restructuring plan last year, when it announced plans to cut $5 billion and 7,000 jobs by next year.
The looting of airline workers’ pension funds is but one example of how the assets of the major airlines have been squandered over the last several decades to enrich the airline bosses and big investors. It also underscores the widespread parasitism that pervades the boardrooms of corporate America.
The top personnel of the airline industry are chosen—and highly compensated—not because of their ability to manage complex organizations or to lay out a long-term corporate strategy. Instead a definite social type has risen to the top, whose only qualifications are its acuity for slashing tens of thousands of jobs and guaranteeing the quickest and largest payoffs to Wall Street.
Northwest’s CEO Steenland began his career working for the Office of General Counsel for the secretary of the Department of Transportation when the Democratic administration of President Jimmy Carter was preparing the deregulation of the airline industry. He later joined a top law firm in Washington DC, which represented Pan American Air Lines during the merger frenzy that preceded the company’s bankruptcy declaration, and later represented an investor group that organized the leveraged buyout of Northwest Airlines in 1989.
Steenland is particular adept at working the halls of Congress to lift regulations on pension funding and any other restrictions on profit-making, and at making use of the services of the labor bureaucracy to cut labor costs. “Since the biggest input is the wages, salaries, and benefits line, this puts a lot of attention on working with our employees in knowing what we need to do to survive in the long term,” he commented.
Last year, in the midst of concession talks with the pilots union, Steenland hired Barry Simon as the company’s executive vice president and general counsel. Simon was a top executive in the Seabury Group, a New York consulting firm whose “restructuring” clients have included Air Canada, US Airways, America West Airlines and Continental.
Simon earned his credentials as an executive at Continental and Eastern airlines, where he served under corporate raider and union-buster Frank Lorenzo. In 1983 Continental filed for bankruptcy—despite the airline’s $60 million in cash reserves—in order to exploit a provision in the Bankruptcy Code allowing Lorenzo to abrogate his contracts with the unions. Simon directed Continental’s legal strategy when it emerged from bankruptcy a second time in 1991.
Simon also played a leading role in the bankruptcy of Eastern Airlines, which stopped flying in 1991 following the bitter strike by unionized mechanics. At the time, Lorenzo and his team stripped the airline of valuable assets and sold them at fire-sale prices to Continental.
The 1980s and 1990s saw the emergence of junk-bond dealers and corporate raiders in the airline industry like Lorenzo and Carl Icahn (who bankrupted Trans World Airlines, among others, and who is now worth $5.8 billion—no. 55 on the list of the world’s richest people).
Today, after nearly a quarter of a century of betrayals by the trade union bureaucracy (from the striking air traffic controllers in 1981 to the present scabbing organized by the airline unions against the striking Northwest mechanics), the corporate executives running the airlines feel even less restraint than their predecessors did when slashing workers’ jobs, wages and benefits and looting company assets to enrich themselves.
Multinational companies operating in the world's poorest countries are "dodging" around £270bn a year in tax, anti-poverty campaigners claimed today.
By not paying the taxes, rich businesses are depriving developing countries of much needed revenue, according to a report by Christian Aid.
Beijing sees energy shortages as one of the biggest potential threats to China's national security and social stability. China became a net importer of oil in 1993 and imports since then have risen sharply. Last year it imported 2.46 million barrels per day (bpd), accounting for about 40% of current demand. By 2025, according to projections by the US Energy Information Administration, China's oil imports will reach 9.4 million bpd of a total consumption of 12.8 million bpd.
If we think it is outrageous that Americans should go without clean water and toilet paper, infant formula and heart medicine for four or five days, then why are we not outraged that millions of people go without those necessities for their entire lives?
Contrary to NAFTA, whose tenets were laid out in a single negotiated treaty subjected to at least cursory review by the legislatures of the participating countries, NAFTA Plus is more the elites’ shared vision of what a merged future will look like. Their ideas are being implemented through the signing of “regulations,” not subject to citizens’ review. This vision may initially have been labeled NAFTA Plus, but the name gives a mistaken impression of what is at hand, since there will be no single treaty text, no unique label to facilitate keeping tabs. Perhaps for this reason, some civil society groups are calling the phenomenon by another name, the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPPNA), an official sobriquet for the summits held by the three chief executives to agree on the future of “North America.”
"...ExxonMobil's profits are likely to soar above $10 billion this quarter on the back of the fuel crisis. That's $110 million a day, and more net income than any company has ever made in a quarter. It's also a stunning 69 percent increase over the same period a year ago and a 34 percent jump from the $7.6 billion Exxon made just last quarter."
"No joke - the White House is now trying to use the disaster on the Gulf Coast to justify its scheme to privatize Social Security. CongressDaily reports that Bush spokesman Trent Duffy "asserted that the vast spending that would be required to address the hurricane's impact adds to the need to change Social Security, which threatens to strain the budget in coming years." Right - because a plan that would cost trillions to implement, and deplete the retirement savings of millions will somehow help the tragic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina."
CAIRO, Sept. 7 - Egyptians voted Wednesday in the nation's first multicandidate race for president, and while Egypt has clearly not yet shaken off decades of one-man, one-party rule, the streets were calm, protesters were allowed to block city traffic and voters could cast a ballot for someone other than Hosni Mubarak.
This election was far from free and fair, based on visits to polling stations around the city. But it was a step forward, no matter how small, for a country that has operated under a state of emergency for decades, that has never allowed opposition candidates to appear on a presidential ballot and that routinely sanctioned violence as a tool on Election Day, political analysts and government critics said.
"There are violations but in comparison to before, it's much better than we expected," said Gasser Abdel Razeq, a member of the board of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights and a frequent critic of the government's heavy-handed tactics.
Independent civic groups said turnout seemed low, but election officials said figures would not be immediately available. Mr. Mubarak's party was eager to bolster the vote's credibility by encouraging higher turnouts.
Still, it was clear that Mr. Mubarak would win - and that his supporters would do what they needed to make that happen. Polling stations around the capital were swamped with Mr. Mubarak's supporters, and in several districts around the city people who promised to vote for the president were given raffle tickets offering prizes that included an apartment, a pilgrimage to Mecca, a bedroom furniture set, televisions, refrigerators and stoves.
Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. and closed at 10 p.m. Mr. Mubarak faced nine opponents, though only two had any real following. After so many years in power, and with a political patronage system that employs about seven million people, Mr. Mubarak was expected to win easily. By law, after ballots are counted, the presidential commission has three days to announce official results.
At a late-night news conference, the minister of information, Anas el-Feky, acknowledged that there were some problems at the polls, but he emphasized the unprecedented nature of the vote.
Even before the balloting began, there was concern that the election would be plagued by fraud and tampering because outside monitors were barred.
A special presidential election commission, which was created with the constitutional amendment that allowed for multicandidate elections, prohibited foreign monitors. The commission also banned civic organizations from serving as poll monitors - then reversed itself hours before the polls were to open, giving few groups the chance to set up monitoring operation around the country.
The only monitors scheduled were judges, who sat inside the polling stations, but they were removed from the activities and political pressure tactics taking place outside.
"I am really sad that this commission failed to establish the desired rules of integrity and guarantees of transparency," said Muhammad el-Sayed Said, deputy director of the government-financed Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. "What they seem to be saying, together with state officials, is that 'you should trust us.' "
The commission has declined to explain its decisions - and governing party officials said they would not criticize the commission out of respect for the Constitution.
Without monitors in place in most of the nearly 10,000 polling stations, it was Mr. Mubarak's National Democratic Party that effectively ran the voting process. Whether they were told to or not, many people acted as if Election Day was an exercise in leader worship.
"I vote for President Mubarak because I could not find any candidate more handsome than Hosni Mubarak," said Mohany Ziad, 48, as he cast his ballot in the Cairo neighborhood of Torah, and then pressed his neighbors to vote the same way.
At many polling stations, Mubarak supporters literally stood over voters as they cast their ballots. Murad Mahmoud Abdullah videotaped people in his polling station, and the message of intimidation was clear. Khalid Ahmed Muhammad stood beside voters chanting, "Hosni! Hosni!" in a threatening manner.
And in at least one polling station, the only person who appeared to be in charge was a governing party representative who wore a Mubarak button as he told people where to go to vote.
There were other problems, too. The red ink used to mark a voter's finger to prevent him or her from voting again was easily rubbed off or washed off with water. Polling stations were chaotic and disorganized, with voters forced to wait as poll workers searched long lists of names before they were allowed to vote. Many people said they were denied the right to vote because their names could not be located on the lists.
Mr. Mubarak's campaign also complained that judges were not following the rules and were slowing down the process.
And there was the matter of the raffle. People were lured to the polls by supporters of the National Democratic Party who offered the prospect of extravagant gifts in exchange for their votes. In many cases, people walked up to the ballot box holding the stub of their raffle ticket in their hand. Governing party officials said that the raffle was not organized by the party, but that it was probably the work of local supporters.
Still even some of the government's harshest critics said that while the process appeared heavily tilted in favor of Mr. Mubarak, it was far better than in years past when voters were bullied by thugs, and ballot boxes were brazenly stuffed.
"It is too soon to say but it appears there are some violations but nothing major," said Ghada Shahbandar, founder of a committee that worked to monitor the elections. "To an extent we can say there is a greater degree of fairness compared to before."
Even Mr. Mubarak's most outspoken critics - members of the movement called Kifaya, or Enough - were taken aback when they crowded into the symbolic center of the city and were allowed to chant antigovernment slogans for hours without being thrashed or chased off by the police.
"We are kind of shocked they didn't beat us," said Ahmad Salah, a Kifaya member who was one of several hundred protesters blocking traffic in Tahrir Square.
While victory was virtually assured for Mr. Mubarak and his party, turnout remained a concern. After so many years of one-party rule, which stifled political participation, officials said turnout in cities was traditionally about 4 percent, and in the countryside, where patronage drove people to the polls, generally around 15 percent.
Officials with Mr. Mubarak's campaign said they were hoping for better than 25 percent - and government officials were hoping for 35 to 45 percent, figures that political observers dismissed as unlikely.
The aim for Mubarak supporters was to win enough votes to confer credibility on a fifth term for the president. And the campaign set up a process to try to achieve that. Working from a large white tent pitched in the Cairo neighborhood of Heliopolis, 500 campaign aides worked telephones trying to draw out the vote.
Aides to Mr. Mubarak's two main opponents, Ayman Nour, of the Tomorrow party, and Noaman Gomaa, of the party called Wafd, charged that the get-out-the-vote-effort had crossed over into inappropriate manipulation - a charge that the Mubarak campaign dismissed, saying it was simply better organized.
"They are bringing in large numbers of people on buses and transporting them from one place to another to give their vote to Mubarak," said Gamila Ismail, Mr. Nour's wife. "These are huge numbers and this will make a big difference."
Mr. Mubarak announced six months ago that he would support the idea of multicandidate elections and then helped push through a constitutional amendment that allowed such a race.
But the amendment also set up a presidential monitoring commission that is effectively above the law. Its decrees cannot be appealed - and that has allowed the government and Mr. Mubarak's party to deflect any criticism of the election process.
"Of course, as with Iraq, Venezuela's ample oil reserves are never acknowledged as a possible motive. This is striking, since oil has been taking on even more significance lately. The reason is simple: The world seems to be fast reaching the point where there won't be enough oil available to meet the world's ever-growing demand."
Accompanying her husband, former President George
H.W.Bush, on a tour of hurricane relief centers in
Houston, Barbara Bush said today:
"And so many of the people in the arena here, you
know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this (she
chuckles slightly) is working very well for them."