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golden-dawnA member of the Greek parliament from the far right party Golden Dawn has urged desperate people in the country to “kill those who are responsible for their problems” rather than commit suicide. He defines “those who are responsible” as bankers.
Ilias Panagiotaros made the comments during an interview for the Dateline show broadcast by Australian network SBC.

“The Golden Dawn aspires to become like Hezbollah as a second government for the benefit of Greek citizens,” he added.

Despite Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s insistence that “these types of policies have no place in Australia”, Panagiotaros insisted that members of the Golden Dawn will visit the country.

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U.S. President Barack Obama laughs at the White House Correspondents Association annual dinner in Washington

 

Is anyone really surprised that Attorney General Eric Holder said that the Justice Department followed the rules in seizing two months of telephone records from 20 Associated Press journalists to investigate a CIA leak aas he recused himself from a FBI investigation?

The Obama era has been one of the worst for domestic civil liberties. It has become the status quo for law enforcement at every level to spy on Americans. Los Angeles police track tens of thousands of cars daily. Seattle police read text messages without search warrants. California police look at old e-mails the same way. Internet companies say they will protect users’ privacy, but have policies that still give police what they want.

Which brings us to the Justice Department’s subpeona of the AP’s phone records for an investigation into who leaked details about a failed terror attack to the country’s largest news organization. The DOJ informed the AP on Friday that it had obtained the phone records, creating an uproar in media circles. But no one should be surprised.

“This administration is as untransparent as the Bush administration—if not more,” Dana Priest, Washington Post investigative reporter told the new released documentary, War on Whistleblowers, which traces how the Bush and Obama White Houses have declared war on a litany of national security and Pentagon leakers. “They have really tried very hard to prosecute people who they believe have leaked information.”

“It does have an intimidating effect—not just on leakers, but on the process, on us doing our job” said Michael Isikoff, NBC investigative reporter, told the filmmakers. “And I think the impact is the American public learns less and American democracy is poorer rather than richer as a result of these prosecutions.”

The Dismal Obama Years

Civil libertarians have had very few victories under Obama. In March, a federal District Court blocked the FBI from ordering telecom companies to turn over customer data and blocked FBI gag orders on this domestic spying program, although the government will appeal. And last fall, a federal court also suspended a section of a major defense bill that gave the government permission to arrest people who were suspected of speaking with alleged terrorists, which included the journalists who sued. However, another federal court reinstated that provision pending appeal.

Moreover, even Obama’s latest pledge to try to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has been seen as disingenuous—and not because Republicans in Congress say they will block that move—but because he hasn’t issued an executive order to do it.
These developments underscore that Obama barely differs from the George W. Bush when it comes to the ‘War on Terrorism.’ While Obama has not continued some tactics used by his predecessor, such as CIA black sites and torture, he’s gone further than Bush with targeted assassinations and with expanding the domestic national security state.

Let’s list Obama’s assault on civil liberties including newest attack on whistleblowers.

1. War on whistleblowers. The seizure of AP phone records is just the latest twist in a deepening war on media whistleblowers. Obama has revived the century-old Espionage Act to prosecute more then double the number of whistleblowers than all prior presidents combined. And he has draped these actions in secrecy. For example, the DOJ told the AP last Friday that it had already taken the phone records with one line in a letter.

2. War on domestic dissent. The Atlantic’s Wendy Kaminer, writinga powerful piece after Obama’s second inaugural said, “Kelly Clarkson’s musical paean to liberty seemed more sincere.” She lists five areas where the Obama is worse that Bush on civil liberties. “They include, but are probably not limited to, summary detention and torture; the prosecution of whistleblowers; surveillance of peaceful protesters; the criminalization of journalism and peaceful human-rights activism; and extensive blacklisting that would have been the envy of Joe McCarthy; and secrecy about a shadow legal system that makes the president’s ‘We the people’ trope seem less inspirational than sarcastic.”

3. Expanded surveillance state. In May 2011, Obama signed a renewal of several of the Patriot Act’s most controversial segments, including the use of ‘ roving wiretaps,’ the government’s expanded access to business records, and the ‘lone wolf’ provision, which allows surveillance of individuals not affiliated with any known terrorist organization. And last December, Obama signed five-year extension of the FISA Amendments Act, which was temporarily blocked in federal court but the administration is appealing it.

4. No legal recourse. Obama has claimed power not merely to detain citizens without judicial review but to execute them if they join America’s enemies abroad, about which The New York Times said, “It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing.” The Bush administration never claimed this right, but last fall The Washington Post reported the administration was formalizing a process for approving kills or captures and initially the CIA will not be bound by the new rules.”

5. Expanded military tribunals. Military justice systems do not fall under the U.S. Constitution. In late 2011, Obama signed a bill codifying the administration’s stance on military commissions and detention of terror suspects that extended Bush war on terror doctrine.

But this is not even the full list of the civil liberties abuses under Obama. His response to the Wikileaks case and prosecution of Bradley Manning and lack of transparency on his national security portfolio despite campaign pledges, pose an undeniable conclusion: Obama, the former constitutional law professor, is no friend of civil liberties.

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Welcome to Ayn Rand USA

aynIn 20 Years Corporate Profits Are Up 4X and Their Taxes Have Fallen by 50% — Meanwhile the Workers’ Payroll Tax Has Doubled

Corporations have decided to let middle-class workers pay for national investments that have largely benefited businesses over the years.

Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged” fantasizes a world in which anti-government citizens reject taxes and regulations, and “stop the motor” by withdrawing themselves from the system of production. In a perverse twist on the writer’s theme the prediction is coming true. But instead of productive people rejecting taxes, rejected taxes are shutting down productive people.

Perhaps Ayn Rand never anticipated the impact of unregulated greed on a productive middle class. Perhaps she never understood the fairness of tax money for public research and infrastructure and security, all of which have contributed to the success of big business. She must have known about the inequality of the pre-Depression years. But she couldn’t have foreseen the concurrent rise in technology and globalization that allowed inequality to surge again, more quickly, in a manner that threatens to put the greediest offenders out of our reach.

Ayn Rand’s philosophy suggests that average working people are ‘takers.’ In reality, those in the best position to make money take all they can get, with no scruples about their working class victims, because taking, in the minds of the rich, serves as a model for success. The strategy involves tax avoidance, in numerous forms.

Corporations Stopped Paying

In the past twenty years, corporate profits have quadrupled while the corporate tax percent has dropped by half. The payroll tax, paid by workers, has doubled.

In effect, corporations have decided to let middle-class workers pay for national investments that have largely benefited businesses over the years. The greater part of basic research, especially for technology and health care, has been conducted with government money. Even today 60% of university research is government-supported. Corporations use highways and shipping lanes and airports to ship their products, the FAA and TSA and Coast Guard and Department of Transportation to safeguard them, a nationwide energy grid to power their factories, and communications towers and satellites to conduct online business.

Yet as corporate profits surge and taxes plummet, our infrastructure is deteriorating. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that $3.63 trillion is needed over the next seven years to make the necessary repairs.

Turning Taxes Into Thin Air

Corporations have used numerous and creative means to avoid their tax responsibilities. They have about a year’s worth of profits stashed untaxed overseas. According to the Wall Street Journal, about 60% of their cash is offshore. Yet these corporate ‘persons’ enjoy a foreign earned income exclusion that real U.S. persons don’t get.

Corporate tax haven ploys are legendary, with almost 19,000 companies claiming home office space in one building in the low-tax Cayman Islands. But they don’t want to give up their U.S. benefits. Tech companies in 19 tax haven jurisdictions received $18.7 billion in 2011 federal contracts. A lot of smaller companies are legally exempt from taxes. As of 2008, according to IRS data, fully 69% of U.S. corporations were organized as nontaxablebusinesses.

There’s much more. Companies call their CEO bonuses “performance pay” to get a lower rate. Private equity firms call fees “capital gains” to get a lower rate. Fast food companies call their lunch menus “intellectual property” to get a lower rate.

Prisons and casinos have stooped to the level of calling themselves “real estate investment trusts” (REITs) to gain tax exemptions. Stooping lower yet, Disney and others have added cows and sheep to their greenspace to get a farmland exemption.

The Richest Individuals Stopped Paying

The IRS estimated that 17 percent of taxes owed were not paid in 2006, leaving an underpayment of $450 billion. The revenue loss from tax havens approaches $450 billion. Subsidies from special deductions, exemptions, exclusions, credits, capital gains, and loopholes are estimated at over $1 trillion. Expenditures overwhelmingly benefit the richest taxpayers.

In keeping with Ayn Rand’s assurance that “Money is the barometer of a society’s virtue,” the super-rich are relentless in their quest to make more money by eliminating taxes. Instead of calling their income ‘income,’ they call it “carried interest” or “performance-based earnings” or “deferred pay.” And when they cash in their stock options, they might look up last year’s lowest price, write that in as a purchase date, cash in the concocted profits, and take advantage of the lower capital gains tax rate.

So Who Has To Pay?

Middle-class families. The $2 trillion in tax losses from underpayments, expenditures, and tax havens costs every middle-class family about $20,000 in community benefits, including health care and education and food and housing.

Schoolkids, too. A study of 265 large companies by Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) determined that about $14 billion per year in state income taxes was unpaid over three years. That’s approximately equal to the loss of 2012-13 education funding due to budget cuts.

And the lowest-income taxpayers make up the difference, based on new data that shows that the Earned Income Tax Credit is the single biggest compliance problem cited by the IRS. The average sentence for cheating with secret offshore financial accounts, according to the Wall Street Journal, is about half as long as in some other types of tax cases.

Atlas Can’t Be Found Among the Rich

Only 3 percent of the CEOs, upper management, and financial professionals were entrepreneurs in 2005, even though they made up about 60 percent of the richest .1% of Americans. A recent study found that less than 1 percent of all entrepreneurs came from very rich or very poor backgrounds. Job creators come from the middle class.

So if the super-rich are not holding the world on their shoulders, what do they do with their money? According to both Marketwatch and economist Edward Wolff, over 90 percent of the assets owned by millionaires are held in a combination of low-risk investments (bonds and cash), personal business accounts, the stock market, and real estate.

Ayn Rand’s hero John Galt said, “We are on strike against those who believe that one man must exist for the sake of another.” In his world, Atlas has it easy, with only himself to think about.

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obama_lamericaby Mark Weisbrot

Recent events indicate that the Obama administration has stepped up its strategy of “regime change” against the left-of-center governments in Latin America, promoting conflict in ways not seen since the military coup that Washington supported in Venezuela in 2002. The most high-profile example is in Venezuela itself, during the past week. As this goes to press, Washington has grown increasingly isolated in its efforts to destabilize the newly elected government of Nicolas Maduro.

But Venezuela is not the only country to fall prey to Washington’s efforts to reverse the electoral results of the past 15 years in Latin America. It is now clear that last year’s ouster of President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay was also aided and abetted by the United States government. In a brilliant investigative work for Agência Pública, journalist Natalia Viana shows that the Obama administration funded the principal actors involved in the “parliamentary coup” against Lugo. Washington then helped organize international support for coup.

The U.S. role in Paraguay is similar to its role in the military overthrow of democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras in 2009, where Washington hijacked the Organization of American States (OAS) and used it to fight the efforts of South American governments who wanted to restore democracy. Zelaya later testified that Washington was also involved in the coup itself.

In Venezuela this past week, Washington could not hijack the OAS but only its Secretary General, José Miguel Insulza, who supported the White House (and Venezuela opposition) demand for a “100 percent recount.” But Insulza had to back down, as did Spain, the United States’ only other significant ally in this nefarious enterprise – because they had no support.

The demand for a “recount” in Venezuela is absurd, since there has already been a recount of the paper ballots for a random sample of 54 percent of the voting machines. The machine totals were compared with a hand count of the paper ballots in front of witnesses from all sides. Statistically, there is no practical difference between this enormous audit that has already happened, and the 100 percent audit that the opposition is demanding. Jimmy Carter called Venezuela’s electoral system “the best in the world,” and there is no doubt about the accuracy of the vote count,even among many in the Venezuelan opposition.

It is good to see Lula denouncing the U.S. for its interference and Dilma joining the rest of South America to defend Venezuela’s right to a free elections. But it is not just Venezuela and the weaker democracies that are threatened by the United States. As reported in the pages of this newspaper, in 2005, the U.S. government funded and organized efforts to change the laws in Brazil in order to weaken the Workers’ Party. This information was discovered in U.S. government documents obtained under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. Most likely Washington has done much more in Brazil that remains secret.

It is clear that Washington did not see the mildly reformist Fernando Lugo as threatening or even radical. It’s just that he was too friendly with the other left governments. The Obama administration, like that of President Bush, does not accept that the region has changed. Their goal is to get rid of all of the left-of-center governments, partly because they tend to be more independent from Washington. Brazil, too, must be vigilant in the face of this threat to the region.

 

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. He is also president of Just Foreign Policy.

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Rejoice: Thatcher is Dead!

Thatcher-dead

 

A picture, in this case, is worth a thousand words!

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mcdonalds2Bolivia became the first McDonald’s-free Latin American nation, after struggling for more than a decade to keep their numbers out of ‘the red.’

And that fact is still making news.

After 14 years in the nation and despite many campaigns and promos McDonald’s was forced to close in 2002, its 8 Bolivian restaurants in the major cities of La Paz, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz de la Sierra.

McDonald’s served its last hamburgers in Bolivia, after announcing a global restructuring plan in which it would close its doors in seven other countries with poor profit margins.

The failure of McDonald’s in Bolivia had such a deep impact that a documentary titled “Por que quebro McDonald’s en Bolivia” or “Why did McDonald’s Bolivia go Bankrupt,” trying to explain why did Bolivians never crossed-over from their empanadas to Big Macs.

The documentary includes interviews with cooks, sociologists, nutritionists and educators who all seem to agree, Bolivians are not against hamburgers per sé, just against ‘fast food,’ a concept widely unaccepted in the Bolivian community.

The story has also attracted world wide attention toward fast foods in Latin America. El Polvorin blog noted:

Fast-food represents the complete opposite of what Bolivians consider a meal should be. To be a good meal, food has to have be prepared with love, dedication, certain hygiene standards and proper cook time.”

Source: Hispanically Speaking News

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Anonymous_emblemThe hacktivist collective Anonymous said that it’s published a document dump that targets executives at financial services firms.

“Now we have your attention America: Anonymous’s Superbowl Commercial 4k banker d0x via the FED,” said a Sunday tweet from Operation Last Resort. A followup tweet from the same Twitter channel said, “Yes we posted over 4000 U.S. bank executive credentials.”

Operation Last Resort is the name for an Anonymous campaign that seeks “reform of computer crime laws, and the overzealous prosecutors,” and which was launched after Internet activist Aaron Swartz committed suicide. Although Swartz had long battled depression, numerous people have come forward to criticize the Department of Justice’s handling of his case, including prosecutors’ apparent strong-arm tactics.

The Sunday dox – a.k.a. data dump — appears to contain about 4,600 records, including people’s names, email addresses, institutions, IP addresses and login IDs, as well as their salted and hashed password, including the salt that was used. The records stretch to nearly 700 pages, and per the Anonymous tweet, appear to have been obtained from the Federal Reserve System.

The “bankd0x” — as Anonymous has dubbed it — initially was published on Pastebin, as well as to the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center website in an HTML file titled “oops-we-did-it-again.html.” After the Alabama state government removed the page, Anonymous reposted it on what appeared to be a Chinese government website.

Is the data legitimate? A small, random sample of the published information revealed names and email addresses that do appear to be real. Other people who investigated the data also suggested that it was legitimate. “OK, I called a few of them,” said one Reddit user. “What must be so problematic for the Federal Reserve is not the information so much as this file was stolen from their computers at all. The ramifications of that kind of loss of control is severe.”

more here.

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