Saturday, May 27, 2006

"They're pretty good at press releases"

Amnesty International has compared the US to Syria and Chile under Pinochet in its use of torture, an Australian newspaper has reported.

Returning to centrism, Amnesty also referred to the US as a country that "was once considered an exemplar of human rights." The use of the passive voice allows them to avoid using a subject who was doing the considering, which makes sense, because few such subjects exist.

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

Weekly Roundup

I know the Pentagon's got to be shitting itself over this flash video.

Yet another overview of the controversy around the Walt/Mearsheimer paper (thorough but nothing new for those who've been following it) and a more interesting account of the workings of AIPAC and its effectiveness as a lobby:
[Michael Massing, "The Storm over the Israel Lobby," New York Review of Books, Volume 53, Number 10, June 8, 2006. Backup link here.]

An open letter from Minnesota Democrat and House Representative Betty McCollum to the executive director of AIPAC:
[Betty McCollum, "A LETTER TO AIPAC," New York Review of Books, Volume 53, Number 10, June 8, 2006]

A good overview of the immigrants' rights movement in LA:
[Sonali Kolhatkar, "LA's New Immigrant Movement," May 05, 2006]

This scandal has not received nearly as much attention as it should, perhaps under the venerable journalistic defense that an inconvenient story such as this is "old news" even though it's never reported on adequately in the first place so that it's hardly old news to the general public:
["Chicago's Abu Ghraib: UN Committee Against Torture Hears Report on How Police Tortured Over 135 African-American Men Inside Chicago Jails," Democracy Now!, May 9th, 2006]

Porter's brief analysis here mentions several valuable facts and documents:
[Gareth Porter, "Iran Nuclear Conflict Is About U.S. Dominance," Inter Press Service, May 11, 2006. Backup link here.]

This report chronicles the experiences of youth detained in the New Orleans juvenile justice system during the flooding resulting from Hurricane Katrina and the horrendous treatment they received:
["Treated Like Trash," Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana]
Just a few excerpts of a report full of horrific anecdotes:
For those who decided not to drink the floodwater and waited until they were removed from the facility, there was often no relief for hours, or even days. P.O., a 15 year-old boy, reported he saw a boy get "maced" by guards when he asked for drinking water while waiting to be evacuated from the Broad Street Bridge.
C.S., a 15 year-old boy, "We had human feces floating around us in the water ... we was forced to survive in for 3 days. I still have little sores on my skin. I can'’t seem to get that smell out of my skin. ... [M]aybe it'’s all in my head but that smell will be with me, and be in my head for a very long time."
O.S., a 14 year-old boy, stated once they arrived at the Broad Street Bridge, the children were threatened armed, uniformed officers whom O.S. believed were from the New Orleans Police Department. "They had guns. ... They told us that the mayor said '‘We can shoot to kill.'’ There was military there, too, but it was NOPD. NOPD beat up an adult prisoner. They busted open his head. ... You could see the meat."
T.J., a 17 year-old boy, stated, "Guards told [us] while [we] were being evacuated, 'You'’re not juveniles no more. You are in an adult jail. If you move the wrong way, we'’re gonna shoot you.'" T.J. also recalls, "One man was maced and beat up really badly. His head was busted. ... They let the dogs loose on that man. ... The dogs were biting him all over. They told people they would kill them if they moved. ... The worst thing I saw was the guards beating that man while everyone was just sitting there. ... Those people need to go to jail or something."

And in case you were wondering, yes Thomas Friedman is still vapid:
["Tom Friedman's Flexible Deadlines," FAIR, 5/16/06]

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Fox News analyst John Gibson says we need more white people

I mean, we know they all they think it, he's just saying it out loud. Does this remind anyone else of Israel's "demographic problem"?

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Friday, May 19, 2006

identity change for spammer

It seems that the Nigerian guy who fell into wealth under some nebulous circumstances and seeks your help in getting a wire transfer has found an accomplice in a Venezuelan suffering under the Chavez "regime." Read on, open your pocketbooks and your hearts.











maintaining state supremacy

A lawsuit brought against the CIA by a Lebanese-born German, who accuses the agency of injecting him with drugs and beating him, has been thrown out by a US District Court judge who has refused to rule on the merits of the case because "private interests must give way to the national interest in preserving state secrets". What a touching argument.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Ecuador going Bolivian, and the US turning Venezuela into Iraq

Ecuador seizes an oilfield from the Occidental Petroleum Corporation, the US' fourth largest.

And the Washington Times has reported (I'm not sure if it can be accurately said that the Washington Times actually does any reporting, but I digress) that Thomas A. Shannon, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, is accusing Venezuela of ties to terrorism - sans evidence, if that's even worth mentioning.

From the article:
Venezuela has allowed its intelligence service to become a clone of Cuba's while it shelters groups with ties to Middle East terrorists and allows weapons from its official stockpiles to reach Colombian guerrillas...
"Cuban intelligence has effectively cloned itself inside Venezuelan intelligence to the point that [our] ability to cooperate and have a relationship with Venezuela on the intelligence side is very difficult," Mr. Shannon said.

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

weekend update, segunda parte

According to a Scottish study that attempts to document the inner workings of the highly complex Western mind, to whose core values all are to aspire,
Adolescents have become so inured to violent images that they find photographs depicting animal cruelty more distressing than pictures of dead humans and severed limbs, new research has discovered.
A study involving more than 500 from the north-east of Scotland found that teenagers become more visibly distressed when confronted with pictures of a starved dog than a heap of human bodies.

Turning to one of the West's offshoots - hereafter referred to the Middle East's only democracy - "Israel's Supreme Court has upheld a controversial law barring West Bank Palestinians from living with their spouses and children in Israel itself." Is the South Africa comparison strong enough to really convey the criminality of this?

Finally, in what can only be interpreted as extreme hubris and desperation...

Career appointees at the Department of Agriculture were stunned last week to receive e-mailed instructions that include Bush administration "talking points" -- saying things such as "President Bush has a clear strategy for victory in Iraq" -- in every speech they give for the department.
There's a sample introduction: "Several topics I'd like to talk about today -- Farm Bill, trade with Japan, WTO, avian flu . . . but before I do, let me touch on a subject people always ask about . . . progress in Iraq."
"The Iraqis have also discussed specific products, like tomatoes, which they are anxious to export into the world community," the e-mail notes.

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Friday, May 12, 2006

left-wing, Laitn American unity

Upside Down World has a solid summary of Bolivia's recent "nationalization" of gas, emphasizing Chávez's mediation role between Morales and Kirchner/Lula in preventing a more extreme reaction to the policy announcement on May 1.

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Weekly Roundup

Some of the most interesting news and analysis I've come across in the past week:
[Hilary MacGregor, "When diversity adds fairness," Los Angeles Times, April 17, 2006]
"Juries with white and black members are more likely to share information and challenge assumptions, a study finds."
Janet Schofield, a professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, said the study contradicts the idea of a "colorblind" society. Juries made up of one ethnic group can let stereotypes shape their assumptions, she says, but juries with at least two ethnic groups are more likely to broaden their perspective.
"There is an awareness that other jurors may be watching you and judging you," said Schofield, who specializes in integration and interracial behavior. "It might make people be, or appear to be, particularly careful. It could be that they really are, or they want to look that way, so they are not open to charges of having been unfair or racist."

[Ruth Conniff, "Halliburton's Immigrant Detention Centers," April 17, 2006]
KBR, the Halliburton subsidiary recently reprimanded for gross overcharging in its military contracts in Iraq, won a $385 million contract to build the centers. According to the Halliburton"the contract, which is effective immediately, provides for establishing temporary detention and processing capabilities to augment existing ICE Detention and Removal Operations Program facilities in the event of an emergency influx of immigrants into the U.S., or to support the rapid development of new programs."

Emad Mekay, "Rich Nations Use IMF-World Bank Meet to Advance Own Agenda," IPS News, April 24, 2006]
"They (IMF) were the big enforcer of a very powerful creditors' cartel, and that's almost broken down completely for the middle-income countries, and it is not nearly as relevant in the low-income countries," said Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research in Washington.
"So that's what they are trying to figure out: how to make it relevant again and do the things that really matter to the G7 (Group of Seven most industralised nations) and the U.S., most importantly," Weisbrot said.
But long-time observers of the IMF and World Bank say that even with some voice, the harm done by the IMF to the economies of poor nations will hardly ebb as long as it continues its policies of excessively low inflation and deficit ceilings required of borrowing nations to remain eligible for loans.

[Alister Bull, "America's rags-to-riches dream an illusion - study," Reuters, April 26, 2006; backup link]
The likelihood that a child born into a poor family will make it into the top five percent is just one percent, according to 'Understanding Mobility in America', a study by economist Tom Hertz from American University.
By contrast, a child born rich had a 22 percent chance of being rich as an adult, he said.
"In other words, the chances of getting rich are about 20 times higher if you are born rich than if you are born in a low-income family," he told an audience at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think-tank sponsoring the work.
He also found the United States had one of the lowest levels of inter-generational mobility in the wealthy world, on a par with Britain but way behind most of Europe.
"Consider a rich and poor family in the United States and a similar pair of families in Denmark, and ask how much of the difference in the parents' incomes would be transmitted, on average, to their grandchildren," Hertz said.
"In the United States this would be 22 percent; in Denmark it would be two percent," he said.
"This debunks the myth of America as the land of opportunity, but it doesn't tell us what to do to fix it," said Bhashkar Mazumder, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland who has researched this field.
Recent studies have highlighted growing income inequality in the United States, but Americans remain highly optimistic about the odds for economic improvement in their own lifetime.
A survey for the New York Times last year found that 80 percent of those polled believed that it was possible to start out poor, work hard and become rich, compared with less than 60 percent back in 1983.
Hertz examined channels transmitting income across generations and identified education as the single largest factor, explaining 30 percent of the income-correlation, in an argument to boost public access to universities.
Breaking the survey down by race spotlighted this as the next most powerful force to explain why the poor stay poor.
On average, 47 percent of poor families remain poor. But within this, 32 percent of whites stay poor while the figure for blacks is 63 percent.
It works the other way as well, with only 3 percent of blacks making it from the bottom quarter of the income ladder to the top quarter, versus 14 percent of whites.
"Part of the reason mobility is so low in America is that race still makes a difference in economic life," he said.

["Women Risk Rape, Death in U.S. Journey," THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, April 27, 2006]
The increase in women migrants comes as beefed-up border security has funneled migrants through one of the world's most forbidding deserts, and as smugglers adopt increasingly violent tactics.
Some cross with their children. Others leave them behind with relatives. Pregnant women, like the one who gave birth this week, walk for days through the desert in the hope that their children will have a better life as U.S. citizens.
Rape has become so prevalent that many women take birth control pills or shots before setting out to ensure they won't get pregnant. Some consider rape ''the price you pay for crossing the border,'' said Teresa Rodriguez, regional director of the U.N. Development Fund for Women.
If caught by the U.S. Border Patrol, women are often deported to Mexico's violent border towns in the middle of the night, despite a 1996 agreement between the two countries that promised women and children would only be returned in daylight hours, according to directors of migrant shelters along the 2,000-mile border.
"The normal rule, according to women who migrate, is that before leaving their countries they have to take the pill for at least one to three months to ensure that they will not get pregnant after a rape," said Aguilar, of the group Carecen Internacional.
Many Central Americans crossing Mexico hop cargo trains, where Aguilar said "there's almost a 99 percent chance that a woman will get raped."

[Stephen Zunes, "The United States, Israel, and the Possible Attack on Iran," Foreign Policy in Focus, April 29, 2006]

Public opinion polls show that a majority of Israelis oppose the idea of an Israeli strike against Iran. Policy analyst Steve Clemons was quoted in the Washington Monthly as saying, "I have witnessed far more worries about Iranian President Ahmadinejad's anti-Holocaust and anti-Israel rhetoric in the U.S. than I did in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem … Nearly everyone I spoke to in Israel who ranged in political sympathies from the Likud right to Maretz left thought that … Israel thought it wrong-headed and too impulsive to be engaged in saber-rattling with Iran at this stage." He added, "Israeli national security bureaucrats -- diplomats and generals -- have far greater confidence that there are numerous potential solutions to the growing Iran crisis short of bombing them in an invasive, hot attack."
One Israeli analyst was quoted as saying in the Washington Post during the Iran-Contra scandal, "It's like Israel has become just another federal agency, one that's convenient to use when you want something done quietly." Nathan Shahan wrote in Yediot Ahronot that his country serves as the "Godfather's messenger," since Israel "undertakes the dirty work of the Godfather, who always tries to appear to be the owner of some large respectable business." Israeli satirist B. Michael describes U.S. aid to Israel as a situation where "My master gives me food to eat and I bite those whom he tells me to bite. It's called strategic cooperation."
Just as the ruling elites of medieval Europe used the Jews as money-lenders and tax collectors to avoid the wrath of an exploited population, the elites of the world's one remaining superpower would similarly be quite willing to use Israel to do their dirty work against Iran. That way Israel, not the United States, will get the blame. (In fact, there are those who blame Israel even when the United States takes military action itself, such as the various conspiracy theories now circulating that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was done on behalf of Israel.)

[Roee Nahmias, "Turkey Refuses U.S. Request To Allow Attack On Iran From Turkish Base," YNetNews, 04/30/06]
Report: Turkey won’t let U.S. attack Iran from its land
Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said Sunday that his country refused a request from the United States to attack Iran from its Air Force base in Incirlik, despite the U.S. offer of a nuclear reactor, according to a report in Al Biyan.
In an interview for the United Arab Emirates newspaper, Gul noted that America’s efforts to attack Iran are "imaginary" and that Turkey’s stance is "strategic" and refuses the use of its land for any belligerent activity against neighboring countries.

This is one of the best contributions to the debate over the power of the "Israel lobby" that I've seen:
[NORMAN G. FINKELSTEIN, "It's Not Either/Or: The Israel Lobby,", May 1, 2006]
Another British official judged retrospectively that, however much Arab resentment it provoked, British support for Zionism was prudent policy, for it established in the midst of an "uncertain Arab world a well-to-do educated, modern community, ultimately bound to be dependent on the British Empire." Were it even possible, the British had little interest in promoting real Jewish-Arab cooperation because it would inevitably lessen this dependence. Similarly, the U.S. doesn't want an Israel truly at peace with the Arabs, for such an Israel could loosen its bonds of dependence on the U.S. , making it a less reliable proxy.
*** terms of trying to broaden public discussion here on the Israel-Palestine conflict the Lobby makes a huge and baneful difference. Especially since U.S. elites have no entrenched interest in the Israeli occupation, the mobilization of public opinion can have a real impact on policy-making ­ which is why the Lobby invests so much energy in suppressing discussion.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

he cares.........sometimes

Jimmy Carter published an op-ed decrying that "innocent Palestinian people are being treated like animals." Fine. But did he do anything about it while president?

And where was this legendary compassion while a full fourth of East Timor's population was being wiped out with arms supplied by the "human rights president's" weapons caches?

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Monday, May 08, 2006

when the lackey gets overzealous in licking his master's boots

According to the Associated Press, Colombian President Álvaro Uribe (bizarrely referred to in the article as Alfaro Uribe) "said he would consider having Colombian workers have microchips implanted into their bodies before they are permitted to enter the United States to work on a seasonal basis," in a quote from Pennsylvania Republican Senator Arlen Specter.

And to prove his moderate status, Specter replied with profound humanitarian concern by saying that he "doubted whether the implantation of microchips would be effective since the immigrant worker might be able to remove them."

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"whether he ends up liking boys, or girls, or chemistry..."

Sometimes an event or interview makes you question how such an odd couple of people were paired together - who in the Bush Administration, for example, thought it would be a good idea to let Stephen Colbert give the keynote address? But then there's just odd out of this world odd....Ali G interviews Noam Chomsky!

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Saturday, May 06, 2006

this will make Israel safer, right?

"The World Bank estimates that it [the Palestinian economy] will shrink in 2006 by 27%.

By 2008, it projects that 74% of Palestinians will be below the poverty line and 47% will be without a job."

Clearly someone needs to step up, be it the Arab League or others, lest an already poor and oppressed people are plunged even further into the depths of misery.

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if these guards want to beat the shit out of people, they should just join the army

"A 14-year-old boy beaten by guards at a Florida boot camp died because guards suffocated him," reports the BBC, contradcting earlier reports that he had died of sickle cell complications.

In fact, "the camp surveillance videotape showed the guards roughing him up and shoving ammonia pills up his nose."

What kind of society sends 14-year-olds to boot camp anyway?

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Friday, May 05, 2006

no comment

First Ariel Sharon, now this.

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"You know - fiction!"

Below, reprinted in its entirety, is an editorial penned by the Mexico Solidarity Network for the Chicago Tribune regarding the immigration debate. But will "the intrepid Washington reporter[s]" publish it?

The immigration experience is not for the faint of heart. Young men and women, from Mexico and further South make the often painful decision to leave their families with a strong possibility that they won’t see each other again for years. If a mother or father dies, if a brother gets married, if a sister gives birth, there’s no opportunity to share the experience with other family members.

Just looking at migration from Latin America, the cost of crossing the border has skyrocketed in recent years - $2,500 for Mexicans and as much as $20,000 for South Americans. This means assuming a substantial debt, a kind of indentured servitude very similar to slavery. Even after spending these princely sums, the border crossing is dangerous. On average, someone dies every day in the attempt, usually of heat exhaustion or dehydration. We hear that young women often take birth control pills before leaving in the expectation that they will be raped during the journey. And when migrant workers finally arrive in the US, they live under constant fear of deportation. Those that find work end up with below minimum wage jobs and are the target of fraud, unfair work practices and abuse.

So if the process is so difficult and the results are so unrewarding, why do undocumented workers come to the US? Because they have no choice - the very survival of families back home depends on the income from undocumented workers in the US. And when it comes down to questions of survival, nearly any loving, responsible family member would make the same sacrifices and the same decisions.

Why aren’t there options South of the border? Much of the problem stems from policies implemented in Washington that directly impact people throughout the South. The majority of undocumented workers come from Mexico, and the relationship between policies devised in DC and the decisions by Mexicans to migrate is very clear.

When Mexico experienced debt crises in 1982 and 1994, two different US administrations developed “rescue” packages worth billions of dollars. Rather than allowing investors to take the hit for their bad investment decisions, the debt was socialized, a form of corporate welfare dictated by the US Treasury Department. Private investors and US bankers got their money and the Mexican ruling class escaped virtually unscathed, while millions of Mexican workers will pay the bill for generations to come. About a quarter of Mexico’s federal budget each year goes to debt payments, leaving no funds for investments to create jobs. And the interest rates are double or triple what the US pays for international loans.

Equally important, the debt crisis essentially gave control of Mexico’s major economic decisions to the US Treasury Department via a series of Structural Adjustment Programs negotiated with the International Monetary Fund and bilateral agreements negotiated directly with the US. Structural Adjustment turned Mexico into an export platform. Corporations make use of cheap labor and lax environmental regulations to produce for the US market. Today about one-third of everything produced in Mexico is exported, and 90% goes to the US market. Most of the major producers are US-owned firms who also send profits back home, leaving little income for investment. Equally important, export-oriented industries don’t have the internal multiplier effect that production for internal consumption affords. Since the goods that are produced in Mexico aren’t consumed in Mexico, the consumer motor that drives the US economy is absent. Production for export at these levels deforms the economy, leaving it on a constant treadmill, producing for export to earn dollars to pay off the international debt, while leaving the economy in a constant state of low growth as profits and debt payments are quickly sent north of the border.

NAFTA also has a decisively negative impact in Mexico, driving nearly three million farmers off their lands.

Corn is the most important crop in Mexico. About 18 million people depend largely on corn production for their survival, and corn provides about half of the caloric intake of a typical campesino diet. When NAFTA forced Mexico to lower protective tariffs and flooded Mexico with US grown corn (all agricultural tariffs are schedule to end in 2009), and the price of corn dropped drastically. Small farmers were no longer able to compete. Before NAFTA, these same farmers sold excess production in local markets, providing their only source of cash income for medicines, tools, and school supplies – anything they couldn’t produce themselves.

NAFTA forced millions of Mexican farmers to abandon their fields and look for another source of income as migrant workers. The export sector was supposed to provide these jobs, but these jobs are poorly paid (averaging around a dollar an hour), difficult, and, most importantly, insufficient to cover the demand. Now as a direct effect of NAFTA they have to look elsewhere for that income, and immigration is the only available alternative.

Comprehensive immigration reform requires a comprehensive look at the causes of immigration.

Obviously the Mexican government is not without blame and the Mexican people need to hold their government accountable for its economic decisions, but until Washington accepts its role in causing undocumented immigration and re-thinks NAFTA and its other so called “free trade” agreements, there is little chance for anything but band-aid policies that will not fix the problem and migration to the US will only increase.

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

eminent domain, Mexican po-po style

Residents of San Salvador Atenco drove police out of town on Wednesday, an action precipitated by the arrests of three street vendors - on the future site, according to the Mexico Solidarity Network, of a Wal-Mart. The area is now being occupied by some 4000 police, a sure human rights disaster in the making.
View a photo log of the events.

And Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf accuses the US, in BBC's paraphrasing, of "funding a coalition of Somali warlords" and "fuelling Somalia's civil war."

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

May Day in Boston

I took the photo to the right at the Boston May Day celebration /protest on Monday. The turnout of about 2,000 people was, of course, nowhere near the numbers in cities like Chicago and Los Angeles but was certainly respectable in comparison with other protests that have occurred in Boston in the past year that I've lived here. From what I could find online, last year's Boston May Day event brought out around 100 people. It's great to see the event is finally clawing its way out of the memory hole here in the U.S.

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Weekly Roundup

Some articles of note from the past week:
[Gary Rivlin, "In Rebuilding as in the Disaster, Wealth and Class Help Define New Orleans," New York Times, April 25, 2006. Backup link.]

[Jad Mouawad, "For Leading Exxon to Its Riches, $144,573 a Day," New York Times, April 15, 2006]
Lee R. Raymond was paid the equivalent of $144,573 a day during his 13 year stint as the chairman and chief executive of Exxon Mobile (the company which garnered $36 billion in profits last year - the largest corporate profit posting in history).

[Eric Dash, "Off to the Races Again, Leaving Many Behind," New York Times, April 9, 2006]
Some things to think about amidst the perpetual explanations that low paying jobs are unavoidable since corporations must cut costs to maintain market viability.
The average pay for a chief executive increased 27 percent last year, to $11.3 million, according to a survey of 200 large companies by Pearl Meyer & Partners, the compensation practice of Clark Consulting... By contrast, the average wage-earner took home $43,480 in 2004, according to Commerce Department data.
Compensation committees, meanwhile, are often reluctant to withhold a bonus or stock award for poor performance. Many big shareholders, such as mutual funds and pension plans, have chosen not to cast votes critical of management. The results have been a growing gap between chief executives and ordinary employees, and often between the boss and managers one layer below.
The average top executive's salary at a big company was more than 170 times the average worker's earnings in 2004, up from a multiple of 68 in 1940, according to a study last year by Carola Frydman, a doctoral candidate at Harvard, and Raven E. Saks, an economist at the Federal Reserve.
About 81 percent of Americans say they think that the chief executives of large companies are overpaid, a percentage that changes little with income level or political party affiliation, according to a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg survey in February. Many shareholders, moreover, are just plain angry.
The divide between executives and ordinary workers was not always so great. From the mid-1940's through the 1970's, the pay of both groups grew at about the same rate, 1.3 percent, according to the study by Ms. Frydman and Ms. Saks. They analyzed the compensation of top executives at 102 large companies from 1936 to 2003.
But starting in the 1980's, executive compensation began to accelerate. In 1980, the average chief executive made about $1.6 million in today's dollars. By 1990, the figure had risen to $2.7 million; by 2004, it was about $7.6 million, after peaking at almost twice that amount in 2000. In other words, executive pay rose an average of 6.8 percent a year.
At the same time, the growth rate slowed for the average worker's pay. That figure rose to about $43,000 in 2004 from about $36,000 in 1980, an increase of 0.8 percent a year in inflation-adjusted terms.
CORPORATIONS, meanwhile, projected that their own earnings would grow by an average of 11.5 percent a year during that 24-year stretch, by Mr. Bogle's calculations. In reality, he said, they delivered growth of 6 percent a year, slightly less than the growth rate of the entire economy, as measured by gross domestic product.
Chief executives "aren't creating any exceptional value, so you would think that the average compensation of the C.E.O. would grow at the rate of the average worker," Mr. Bogle said. "When you look at it in that way, it is a real problem."

[Claudia H. Deutsch, "Behind Big Dollars, Worrisome Boards," New York Times, April 9, 2006]
It seems that extremely high pay for executives stems from the fact that the upper management of these corporations is not particularly vested in the performance of the company. The bureaucratic nature of these organizations tends to allow the people at the top to use their companies, to some extent, as merely a structure for funneling wealth to themselves. This creates a certain tension with other sectors of the elite in our society (namely the shareholders) who have an interest in seeing the company behave effectively in the market.
That is the question that worries Charles M. Elson, the director of the John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware. As he sees it, forcing companies to bring excessive pay to light is, at best, treating a symptom. It does little to cure the underlying diseases: runaway compensation packages, granted by boards that barely monitor the performance of the chief executive.
"Disclosure is like aspirin; it can make you feel a little better, but it can't even cure the common cold," he said. "The fact is, a board that overpays the C.E.O. is in all probability not minding the store on other issues, either."
The real problem is that institutional investors have traditionally seen excessive pay as a minor if not nonexistent issue when it comes to earnings.
Q. So what's an enlightened shareholder to do? Fight for the right to vote out the whole slate of overpaying directors?
A. That will help only if they can be sure that the directors they choose as replacements are better than the ones that were ousted. We really need the institutional investors themselves to sit on the boards. Or at least they should vote in people who are sympathetic to their financial goals and are deeply enmeshed in shareholder responsibility. And they should insist that every director invest a personally meaningful amount into the company's stock. If you do your job right, it can be a very nice investment. And it can help contain runaway compensation.
I did a study in 1992 that showed that companies whose directors owned an average of $100,000 worth of shares were much less likely to be overpaying their executives. And I did a follow-up study that showed that the more equity directors held, the more likely they were to replace the C.E.O. when the company performed poorly. When you think it's your money you are about to pay to the C.E.O., you might drive a harder bargain. Otherwise, it's like going to a car dealership to bargain for a friend; if you're not writing the check yourself, you don't try as hard.

["CNN's Immigration Problem," Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 4/24/06]
"When the Wall Street Journal (—4/13/06) —surveyed economists on whether illegal immigration provided a net gain to the U.S. economy, 44 of 46 said that it did."

["Wounded Soldiers Fight Off Bill Collectors at Home," ABC News, April 26, 2006]
Hundreds of soldiers wounded in battle in Iraq have found themselves fighting off bill collectors on the home front, according to a report to be released tomorrow. The draft report by the Government Accountability Office, which ABC News obtained, said that hundreds of wounded soldiers had military debts incurred through no fault of their own turned over to collection agencies.
Army specialist Tyson Johnson of Mobile, Ala., had just been promoted in a field ceremony in Iraq when a mortar round exploded outside his tent, almost killing him.
"It took my kidney, my left kidney, shrapnel came in through my head, back of my head," he recounted.
His injuries forced him out of the military, and the Army demanded he repay an enlistment bonus of $2,700 because he'd only served two-thirds of his three-year tour.
When he couldn't pay, Johnson's account was turned over to bill collectors. He ended up living out of his car when the Army reported him to credit agencies as having bad debts, making it impossible for him to rent an apartment.
"Oh, man, I felt betrayed," Johnson said. "I felt like, oh, my heart dropped."
And there are many more like Johnson. Staff Sgt. Ryan Kelly lost his leg in a roadside bomb attack in Iraq.
He didn't realize it, but the Army continued to mistakenly pay him combat bonus pay, about $2,000, while he was in the hospital rehabilitating, and then demanded that he pay it back.
He, too, was threatened by the Army with debt collectors and a negative credit report.
"By law, he's not entitled to the money, so he must pay it back," said Col. Richard Shrank, the commander of the United States Army Finance Command.
The Army said it moved wounded soldiers out of the battlefield so quickly its accounting office could not keep up, resulting in numerous payroll errors.
"This is no way to win a war, I can tell you that," said Davis. "You'd think after four years after fighting a war in Iraq, the government would have its act together."
But the Army said it is now trying to correct the problem. Since ABC News first reported on the plight of soldiers, featuring Johnson and Kelly in a "Primetime" investigation in October 2004, the Army has forgiven most of their debts.

"It's not working. It's not working."

Isn't there something cruel and unusual about this?

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a brief history of May 1

While much of the rest of the world (and indeed, many in the US) celebrated May Day or some variant thereof on Monday, the US had - no, really - "Loyalty Day." What in the name of bizarre propaganda inventions, you may be asking, is Loyalty Day? King George'll tell ya - it apparently has a lot to do with the "light of freedom" and "support[ing] our troops," and not so much with the 8-hour workday.

And, continuing with the chain of creepy, fascistic names, Loyalty Day - first proclaimed by President Eisenhower - replaced a prior holiday on May 1, known as "Americanization Day." As if this all weren't already enough to drive you into a chorus of Sieg Heils, then wait, there's more; May 1 is also "Law Day," which calls for red-blooded gringos to celebrate a "reaffirmation of their loyalty to the United States" and a "cultivation of the respect for law", which, of course, both directly opposed everything that the non-jingoist version of May 1 signifies.

You just couldn't make this shit up - no, not even us at Que Se Vayan Todos, the most jaded and cynical of the most jaded and cynical, though apparently not enough in either category to approach reality.

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

how could the PR firm masquerading as a presidential administration let this happen?

Watch parts 1 and 2 of Stephen Colbert laying into President Bush, the media, and beyond at a Washington DC press banquet.

Some favorite excerpts:
The greatest thing about this man [Bush] is he's steady. You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change; this man's beliefs never will.
John McCain is here...By the way, Senator McCain, it's so wonderful to see you coming back into the Republican fold. I have a summer house in South Carolina; look me up when you go to speak at Bob Jones University. So glad you've seen the light, sir.

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Monday, May 01, 2006

Morales sets out gas nationalization plan

This may temper some of the criticism that Morales has received from the left and mobilized indigenous sectors as of late; no word as of yet on reactions from foreign energy concerns (then again, they react with coups, not words, don't they?). And there are a lot of Bolivians waving Cuban flags in the BBC photo.

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Happy May Day - except for Lou Dobbs

CNN analyst Lou Dobbs is squirming in his white robe over the May 1 protests, both because he's further to the right on the immigration debate than Pat Buchanan and Samuel Huntington combined, and because of the involvement of ANSWER - as if authentic leftists weren't at the forefront of criticizing said group.

And a Burger King in Mexico City gets "only one customer" after being open for an hour and a half.

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