Truthout Stories Sat, 22 Nov 2014 09:38:02 -0500 en-gb Dividing the Spoils

We’ve been watching Congress since the mid-term elections and reading Zephyr Teachout’s terrific history book, Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United. That snuff box was a gift from King Louis XVI of France. His Majesty was a good friend of the American Revolution but when he gave Benjamin Franklin the gold box, featuring the monarch’s portrait surrounded with diamonds, some of our Founding Fathers objected. They worried that the gift would corrupt his judgment and unduly bias Franklin in France’s favor.

The framers debated the meaning of corruption at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, and Americans have been arguing about it ever since. Today, gifts to politicians that were once called graft or bribes are called contributions. The Supreme Court has granted corporations the rights our founders reserved for people, and told those corporations they can give just about anything they want to elect politicians favorable to their interests. Diamond and gold snuff boxes are as outmoded as the king’s powdered wig. Now we’re talking cash — millions upon millions of dollars. Quadrupled, quintupled and then some – and it’s not considered corruption.

Consider the new report from the watchdog Sunlight Foundation: From 2007 to 2012, the two hundred most politically active corporations in the United States spent almost $6 billion for lobbying and campaign contributions. And they received more than $4 trillion in US government contracts and other forms of assistance. That’s $760 for every dollar spent on influence, a stunning return on investment.

Peter Overby at National Public Radio reported that “Military contractors lead the list of contract recipients, and they hover in the upper ranks of companies with the biggest campaign contributions.” Raytheon, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin – all of them made hefty political donations to Republican campaigns. Not coincidentally, this year the Pentagon is due to spend $163 billion on research, development and procurement.

Then look at who’s expected to be the new Republican chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee – Thad Cochran of Mississippi. Breathlessly, The Washington Post writes, “This could mean additional funding for the Navy to modernize its fleet and potentially benefit contractors such as shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls.” Guess what company describes itself as “the largest manufacturing employer in Mississippi and a major contributor to the economic growth of the state,” not to mention a major contributor this year to Thad Cochran’s re-election campaign? Why, shiver our timbers, it’s Huntington Ingalls.

“The other dominant corporate sector is finance,” Overby said. “Some of the country’s biggest financial institutions — Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and others — are the top recipients of federal aid. That’s because it cost so much to rescue the financial sector after the 2008 market crash.”

Throw in the health insurers, media and telecommunications, retailers, Big Pharma – no wonder Washington’s K Street is lobbying’s road to Paradise. But it runs in both directions. NPR’s Overby talked with political scientist David Primo, who thinks Congress may be spending more time studying The Godfather than Robert’s Rules of Order. Primo told him, “The conventional wisdom out there is that businesses are going to Washington, writing checks and expecting big returns. But the other side of the story is that members of Congress may implicitly threaten businesses that if they don’t change their policy, or if they are not heavily involved in the political process, that bad things might happen to them.”

It’s not personal, Sonny, it’s strictly business. Our government has become a clearing house for corporations and plutocrats whose dollars grease the wheels for lucrative contracts and easy regulation. It’s all pay for play, and look the other way. Partisans of the system say, hey, it’s just business as usual, but that, of course, is the problem. We were struck by this headline in The Washington Post after the November elections: “Parties head back to Capitol to begin carving up spoils, remains from midterms.” Right: Not only leadership posts and committee chairmanships, but carving, dividing up the spoils also means divvying up the loot. And those contributions were not made for the sake of charity.

Once upon a time the GOP stood for Grand Old Party — now it stands for Guardians of Privilege, and this is payback time for everything from fracking to getting the big banks off the hook; from doing away with the minimum wage and coddling off-shore corporate tax avoiders to privatizing Medicare and Social Security; to gutting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Environmental Protection Agency, even the US Postal Service.

And that’s just for starters. House Speaker John Boehner, his majority now greater than ever, will govern as you might expect from the man who once handed out checks from the tobacco industry to members on the floor. And Mitch McConnell, finally in his ascendancy as Senate Majority Leader, will manipulate more powerfully than ever the Capitol Hill and K Street mechanisms that he has mastered – helped along by the clever placement of loyal former staff members in positions of influence. They assist him in the dispensation of favors to donors from on high. “We’re very excited,” one Republican lobbyist told the Post, the understatement of the century.

Democrats, meanwhile, are so compromised by their own addiction to Big Money they have forgotten their history as champion of the working stiff, the little folks down there at the bottom. The great problems facing everyday people in America – inequality, stagnant wages, children in poverty, our degraded infrastructure and stressed environment — are not being seriously addressed because the political class is afraid to offend the people who write the checks — the corporations and the rich. Everyone else can be safely ignored.

Watch this weeks show with Lawrence Lessig and Zephyr Teachout on “How Public Power Can Defeat Plutocrats.”

Opinion Fri, 21 Nov 2014 12:54:03 -0500
From Hottest October to Coldest November, Is Climate Change Behind the Extreme Weather?

Record cold temperatures have been recorded across the country this week. The most extreme weather is hitting western New York, where at least seven people have died. At least six feet of snow has already fallen on parts of Buffalo, and another two to three feet is expected today. Tuesday was the coldest November morning in the country since 1976. Temperatures dropped below freezing in every state including parts of Hawaii on Tuesday and Wednesday. This comes just days after NASA reported last month was the warmest October on record. We look at the link between extreme weather and climate change with Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist who writes about weather and climate for Slate.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to extreme weather. Last week, the news was about the record heat. According to NASA, last month was the warmest October ever recorded across the globe. This week, much of the United States is experiencing record cold. Tuesday was the coldest November morning in the country since 1976. Temperatures dropped below freezing in every state including parts of Hawaii on Tuesday and Wednesday. The most extreme weather is hitting the western New York city of Buffalo.

CNN REPORTER: Buffaloans are used to snow, but this storm dumped over five feet in some spots, almost an entire season’s snowfall in 24 hours. And more is on the way.

WIVB REPORTER: And it’s just a mess here in South Buffalo here on South Park and 10th. You can see there’s a big rig behind me and dozens of cars that have been stranded for more than a day.

GINGER ZEE: Yeah, take a look at this: five feet of snow in 36 hours in upstate New York. That was so much weight, it broke the door down—boom!

BRIAN WILLIAMS: It’s a weather emergency making news, a bitterly cold night in store for most people in this country. Officially as of this morning, temperatures were below freezing at least somewhere in all 50 states. And yes, that includes Hawaii.

AMY GOODMAN: In Buffalo, New York, six to seven feet of snow; another two to three feet could fall today in areas that have already received massive amounts, unprecedented. At least seven deaths in western New York have been blamed so far on the snow.

To talk more about this week’s extreme weather, we’re joined by Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist who writes about weather and climate for Slate. His most recent post is called "Global Warming Is Probably Boosting Lake-Effect Snows."

Eric, welcome to Democracy Now! How?

ERIC HOLTHAUS: Hi, thanks. Well, the science says that this is another example of extreme weather and how climate change is affecting it. In this case, the Great Lakes are, since I think the year—since the 1970s, have decreased their ice cover by about 70 percent. So, all that extra open water in the wintertime is giving more chance for things like lake-effect snow to form.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain actually what’s happening across the country, and particularly in western New York, upstate in Buffalo? How is this happening, especially in areas where you can have seven feet of snow, and right next door, two inches?

ERIC HOLTHAUS: Sure, yeah. Well, lake-effect snow is a very intense, narrow band that forms off the lake. If you get a persistent wind over warm water with cold air above, that makes it an extremely unstable atmosphere. And what happens is it turns into basically a thunderstorm of snow, and it falls right over that same area for hours and hours on end. And that’s what happened this week.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain how weather relates to climate change right now.

ERIC HOLTHAUS: Sure. Well, climate change is boosting the amount of energy that’s available in the atmosphere, in general, by heating the atmosphere, retrapping the sun’s incoming energy, and then that kind of gives an extra boost into these kind of weather systems. So when you’re talking about—when you’re talking about drought or extreme precipitation, in general, what climate change will do will make the wet days wetter, and it will make the dry periods more dry. So, again, this lake-effect snow is one example of that.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the backlash against what you’re writing? You faced this right-wing backlash on Twitter after your article came out in Slate on Wednesday. One user tweeted, "Got trapped in Buffalo by a blizzard in the late 70s. Back then it was evidence of global cooling." Another said, "Lake-effect snow is new?? You are a fool and a tool." This isn’t the first time you’ve faced criticism from the right wing for speaking out about climate change. Last year, you wrote about how the latest U.N. climate report brought you to tears and inspired you to resolve to give up air travel. This was how Greg Gutfeld of Fox News reacted.

GREG GUTFELD: The guy’s a kook. Someone should tell him that planes are better than driving, as their nitrous oxide causes cooling by ridding methane in the air. But hey, he says he’s the expert. In what? Beta mail sniveling?

AMY GOODMAN: Eric Holthaus, why do you think your scientific conclusions have inspired such a backlash?

ERIC HOLTHAUS: Well, I think the real only reason to deny the changes that are happening in the atmosphere right now because of humans is political at this point. So, people are motivated by a worldview that doesn’t allow for things like humans changing the weather. So, that’s how I explain it, personally.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, the weather is blanketing the airwaves, to say the least—as it should be, because people are—it is so extreme, what is taking place across the country—in Hawaii, below freezing. You know, in Buffalo, not only did they face seven feet of snow in some areas, but two to three feet more possibly coming today, and then flooding when it warms over the weekend. They don’t even have the equipment that can move the snow.

ERIC HOLTHAUS: Sure, yeah, I think the football team, the Buffalo Bills, called for volunteers yesterday to scoop out the stadium, because I think one of my fellow meteorologists calculated that it would be something like eight-person years of time that it would take to scoop out that snow, like 200,000 tons of snow or something, that fell in that stadium.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet we’re on target for being the warmest, the hottest year on record. Is that right? Still?

ERIC HOLTHAUS: Yes, it’s still accurate. We have—six of the last 10 months have been the warmest such month on record. I’m going back to the late 1800s, so—but we have evidence from tree rings and from ice cores going back several thousand years that show that it’s been—this is the warmest year in that entire stretch of time. So, just because we have a snowstorm here, it does not—definitely does not mean that climate change is somehow not happening.

AMY GOODMAN: All four seasons were experienced in one week, you write in a recent post?

ERIC HOLTHAUS: Yeah. Well, it felt that way, definitely. So, we’re right in the middle of fall. So, on the East Coast, in New York, in New York City, was almost peak fall time this weekend, and we had a tornado outbreak in the Southeast, as that snowstorm moved to the Northeast. And on the West Coast, we’re having a Santa Ana wind event, which it tends to boost the chances of wildfire. And in southern Florida, there were record highs at the same time record lows were being felt in the Midwest. So, it was definitely quite an extreme week this week as far as weather.

AMY GOODMAN: And to those who say record cold makes a mockery of global warming?

ERIC HOLTHAUS: Sure, well, again, you have to remember that we’re just one patch of land on this huge planet. So, even though the United States is cold right now, actually, on Tuesday, the same day that all 50 states hit a freezing temperature, the Northern Hemisphere as a whole was about almost a full degree Celsius above normal. So, just because the cold pattern is happening here doesn’t mean it’s happening everywhere.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think it would be accurate if the meteorologists on television, instead of just flashing the two words "severe weather" or "extreme weather," also flashed "climate change" or "global warming"? How do you think that would affect people’s perceptions of what we could do?

ERIC HOLTHAUS: Well, I think it would be more scientifically accurate. I mean, I think, like I said earlier, the only reason not to talk about climate change anymore is, I think, political. So, to be true to the science, we can find a link for extreme weather events almost all around the country or around the world right now. The amount that it’s measurable is somewhat up for debate. So, for example, for this lake-effect snow, snow seasons in western New York are pretty variable, so it’s really hard to pull out that pattern or that signal of global warming. But the science has shown that it’s there. So, I think to talk about the science in a way that reflects how climate change is affecting weather patterns, I think that’s the honest path, as far as science.

AMY GOODMAN: Eric Holthaus, I want to thank you for being with us, speaking to us from Viroqua, Wisconsin. Eric Holthaus is a meteorologist who writes about weather and climate for Slate. We’ll link to your most recent post, "Global Warming Is Probably Boosting Lake-Effect Snows." We’ll link to it at

When we come back, the story of a—well, he started as a young man, at the age of 18—how he went to jail for taking the tools his father bequeathed him after his dad died. How is it possible that 34 years later he remains in jail—his name is Mark DeFriest in Florida—27 of those 34 years in solitary? Stay with us.

News Fri, 21 Nov 2014 12:43:15 -0500
Obama's Action Marks Historic Victory for Immigrant Rights, but Activists Warn of a Long Way to Go

In a prime-time speech Thursday night, President Obama outlined his plan to take executive action granting temporary legal status to up to 5 million undocumented immigrants, protecting them from deportation. Under the plan, undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents will be allowed to temporarily remain in the country and work legally if they have lived in the United States for at least five years and pass a background check. But the new plan will not provide relief to the parents of undocumented children, even those who qualified for deferred action in 2012. The executive order will also not provide undocumented immigrants any formal, lasting legal status. Many will receive work permits, which will give them Social Security numbers and the ability to work under their own names. But they will have to reapply after three years. We get analysis from Democracy Now! co-host and New York Daily News columnist Juan González, who watched the speech with a large group of undocumented immigrants Thursday night. We are also joined from Seattle by a family team of activists: Maru Mora Villapando, an activist and undocumented immigrant with the group Latino Advocacy, and her daughter, Josefina Mora, a U.S. citizen.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In a prime-time speech Thursday night, President Obama outlined his plan to take executive action to grant temporary legal status to up to five million undocumented immigrants, protecting them from deportation.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too. And whether our forebears were strangers who crossed the Atlantic or the Pacific or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like or what our last names are or how we worship. What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal: that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will.

AMY GOODMAN: Under the plan, undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents will be allowed to temporarily remain in the country and work legally if they’ve lived in the United States for at least five years and pass a background check. But the new plan will not provide relief to the parents of undocumented children, even those who qualified for deferred action in 2012. Immigrant rights groups held gatherings across the country last night to watch the president’s speech.

Juan, you were at one of those gatherings in Queens. Where were you? Who was there?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes, in Jackson Heights on Roosevelt Avenue in Queens, Make the Road New York, a very influential immigrant rights group, a grassroots organization here in this city, held a viewing party. The place was jammed, over 200 people crowding every single room with about a half dozen television sets. But to me, the most important part of it was not just the president’s speech, but the people giving testimony beforehand, talking in really emotional terms about the deportations that had torn apart families, the struggles that they had had coming to this country, being here 15, 20, 25 years without any kind of legal status. It was really an emotional night as they prepared to hear the president give his presentation.

And, of course, this—we’ve got to take this in context. It was nine years ago next month when the infamous Sensenbrenner bill was passed in the House of Representatives that would make it a felony for you to be in the country illegally or for anyone to assist an undocumented immigrant. And that is really what touched off this modern human rights movement, that we know as the immigrant rights movement, in a massive way, because by that spring millions of people had poured into the streets of all the major cities in the country. And everything that’s gone on since then has been a reaction to this whole new grassroots human rights movement of the immigrant community in the United States.

So this was a historic moment here, a culmination of that, although it’s—as everyone said in the speeches last night, there’s a long way yet to go, because this temporary resolution is just that, a temporary resolution. And in fact, it will be six months before any of the parents of undocumented immigrants can actually apply for legal status. And so that the Republicans in Congress, a new Republican majority has basically a six-month window, as Congressman Luis Gutiérrez said, to finally do something, rather than just complain and whine about what the president has done now.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s go back to President Obama’s speech Thursday night.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Now, here’s the thing. We expect people who live in this country to play by the rules. We expect that those who cut the line will not be unfairly rewarded. So we’re going to offer the following deal. If you have been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, pass a criminal background check, and you’re willing to pay your fair share of taxes, you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s President Obama last night in this historic address. I want to bring into this conversation two guests from Seattle, Washington, a mother and her daughter. Maru Mora Villalpando is an activist and undocumented Immigrant with the group Latino Advocacy. And we’re joined by her daughter, Josefina Mora. She is a U.S. citizen.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Because Josefina is a U.S. citizen, that means that you, too, will become a U.S. citizen—is that right—under President Obama’s plans?

MARU MORA VILLALPANDO: Good morning. Well, under this plan, I only get to be here for three years without being deported, and I could apply for a work permit. But that doesn’t put me in the path to legal permanent residence and then the path to citizenship. This is just a temporary relief. This is not permanent. It’s not really immigration status whatsoever. It’s very similar to what was granted to the childhood arrivals, the famous DACA.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And when you hear that already some of the Republicans in Congress are threatening to go to court, and some Republican governors are saying they will fight in their local states against providing work permits or providing driver’s licenses under the president’s executive order, what’s your response?

MARU MORA VILLALPANDO: Well, it’s not surprising. I think that Republicans have been really good at showing that they’re anti-immigrant, anti-women, anti-poor, anti-children. So when we fought for this incredible victory of ours, when we decided to shut down ICE, to put ourselves at risk of arrest and deportation, when the hunger strikers decided to call the attention of the world the detention center in Tacoma by putting themselves on risk, and their lives and their health, we knew that our target was the president, Obama, and we knew we were right. Obviously, we knew that whatever he does will be challenged by the Republicans, because that’s all they’ve been doing throughout all these years is challenging all his work.

So, what we are going to do is to continue fighting, not only to keep what we have right now—which is very little, but it’s a step—but also to expand it, to make sure that others are included, because the Not One More campaign, that’s what it’s about, is to stop all deportations. And most importantly is to make it permanent, not only a three-year program that will be renewed, but who knows what will happen if another president comes in? We cannot be relying anymore on politics and allow politicians to use us anymore as their political ball to play with.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Josefina Mora, one of the things that the president mentioned is that he plans to eliminate the Secure Communities program and replace it with a new program that would target much more those undocumented immigrants who are felons. Could you talk about how Secure Communities has affected the many Latino communities across the country?

JOSEFINA MORA: Yeah, so, Secure Communities has really implemented more dividing families, not only because it allows local enforcement to work with ICE, but also because even if these people don’t have—aren’t charged with anything, they’re going to be—they have an ICE holder on them, and they can at any time be taken by ICE. So, many of the cases that we’ve worked with, many of the people that I know, have been affected by Secure Communities. And that’s actually, I think, the biggest thing that has leaded to detention, is Secure Communities.

And although he, Obama, announced that he was going to end it, he said that he was going to ramp up more enforcement for those who do not qualify for this. So that puts people who do not qualify for this in even more danger than they were before. And, you know, really, that’s—although he’s granting temporary relief, he’s still making it a little bit worse for people who will not qualify. And although I’m lucky that my mom qualifies for this, I’m worried for people like me who actually are not citizens, my counterparts, who will be even in more fear than I am right now for my mom. They will be in more fear for their parents in the future.

AMY GOODMAN: Josefina, how old are you?


AMY GOODMAN: You know, I think your view is reflected by the satirical newspaper The Onion. It’s headline captured many critics’ disappointment, saying, "5 Million Illegal Immigrants to Realize Dreams of Having Deportation Deferred." Republicans, though, say President Obama has overstepped his constitutional power by acting on his own. This is House Speaker John Boehner.

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER: Instead of working together to fix our broken immigration system, the president says he’s acting on his own. That’s just not how our democracy works. The president has said before that he’s not king and he’s not an emperor. But he’s sure acting like one. And he’s doing it at a time when the American people want nothing more than for us to work together.

AMY GOODMAN: So, we’re going to go back to our guests right now in Seattle, in Seattle, Washington. How are you, Josefina, going to organize? And, Maru Mora Villalpando, how will you be organizing at this point, because this is a period where decisions will be made as the Senate becomes Republican?

JOSEFINA MORA: Well, you know, I have always organized with my mom. I kind of have followed her wherever I’ve gone—wherever she’s gone, since I was about three years old. So, whatever she does, I will support her, and I will follow her, and I will do whatever I can in my school and in my community for people my age who do not—are not informed about the issue to really get involved and to really use, especially my white friends, to use their white privilege and their power to really influence decisions that are made in the future. And I hope to even in the future run for political office so that I can help in some small way to change this broken system, even though it’s changing, but very, very, very, very slowly. So, hopefully in the future, I’ll be able to help change that.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting that President Obama is flying right now to Nevada. IN Nevada, it’s something like 17, 18 percent of kids have at least one parent who is undocumented, and I think in the state something like 8 percent of the whole population is undocumented. That’s where he will be making his announcement again, following two years ago where he was in Las Vegas, as well. Maru Mora Villalpando, your response?

MARU MORA VILLALPANDO: Yeah, absolutely. I think that he is trying to sell this. And that’s the way he sounded last night: very apologetic. I think he just played with the rhetoric that the Republicans have used all this time.

For us, when reading the details of his action, of his executive action, it shows that now more than ever he made it really easy for us to know how we’re going to organize. We’re going to organize those that are left behind. We’re going to organize those that are going to be drafted into the military because there will be no route for them into any status. We’re going to work with those that will be targeted by this different program, just with a different name, but it’s really the same program—the PEP instead of the Secure Communities program. We’re going to work with border communities, including here in Washington state, that will see even more militarized border. We will continue working in addressing—pushing for the addressing of the roots of migration and the political stand and economic stand that the U.S. has portrayed throughout our countries that has really been the one that pushed us to this point of having to migrate. So, for us, the work at the detention center will continue more than ever, because it’s really—it’s really sad that those that organized the hunger strike, that those that put themselves on the line inside, are not going to benefit from this executive action. So, really, for us, the work just begun.

AMY GOODMAN: Maru Mora Villalpando, I want to thank you for being with us. And, you know, we last talked to you when you were protesting the immigration detention center in Washington. In Texas, a new 2,400-bed family detention center is set to open this December in Dilley, Texas. Josefina Mora, we also want to thank you for being with us. Again, Josefina is 17. She’s a U.S. citizen, so her mother, Maru Mora Villalpando, will qualify for the—under the executive order. This is Democracy Now! We’re going to continue on the issue of immigration and also the mass protests that are taking place in Mexico. We’ll talk to a leader of the New Sanctuary Movement. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Triste Bufon, "Canción de Protesta," "Protest Song." This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. And we’re going to link to Juan’s column in the New York Daily News today, having just come last night from a big gathering in Queens, New York, of hundreds of people—the headline, "Obama’s Immigration Actions are Bittersweet for Some."

News Fri, 21 Nov 2014 12:38:02 -0500
Food Chains: New Film Tracks How Immokalee Workers Won Fair Wages From Corporate Giants

Opening today around the U.S., the new film "Food Chain" documents the groundbreaking partnership between farmworkers, Florida tomato farmers and some of the largest fast food and grocery chains in the world. We are joined by one of the film’s key players, Gerardo Reyes-Chavez, a farm worker and organizer with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Reyes-Chave has helped lead the group’s success getting 12 corporations to join their Fair Food Program–including McDonalds, Taco Bell, and most recently, the retail giant Wal-Mart. Participants agree to pay a premium for the tomatoes in order to support a "penny per pound" bonus that is then paid to the tomato pickers. Soon, the Fair Food label will appear on Florida tomatoes at participating stores.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to a new film that documents the groundbreaking partnership between farm workers, Florida tomato farmers and some of the largest fast-food and grocery chains in the world. It’s called Food Chains, and it stars actress Eva Longoria and author Eric Schlosser, who are also executive producers. It is narrated by the actor Forest Whitaker.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We know our economy is stronger when we reward an honest day’s work with honest wages. Let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty.

EVA LONGORIA: Everybody should be concerned with where our food comes from and who picks it.

GERARDO REYES-CHÁVEZ: To live hungry while you are working, that’s not a dignified way of living.

ERIC SCHLOSSER: The defendants have been accused of beating them, locking them inside trailers, chaining them to a pole. These abuses are un-American, they are unacceptable, and they must stop.

The history of farm labor in the United States is a history of exploitation.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY: These people have suffered tremendously and grown much more slowly economically than any other segment of our society.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR.: If we cannot win this fight, we have lost the soul of America.

BARRY ESTABROOK: I think the entire supermarket business goes out of its way so that you’re not reminded of where your food came from.

ERIC SCHLOSSER: If you want to make change, you need to look at the people at the very top.

GERARDO REYES-CHÁVEZ: We became a little problem for the big corporations.

FOREST WHITAKER: Farm workers in Florida placed the responsibility of fair wages and conditions for workers on the big buyers of tomatoes rather than the farmers.

GERARDO REYES-CHÁVEZ: What we want is to establish change.

EVA LONGORIA: I still believe agriculture is the backbone of America. You’ve got to pay attention to the labor force.

ERIC SCHLOSSER: Most people have no idea that they’re connected to this system every time they buy fresh fruits and vegetables. If a handful of companies decided that they wanted to eliminate poverty among farm workers, it could happen very, very quickly.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That’s the trailer for Food Chains, which opens in more than 25 theaters around the country today in both English and Spanish.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by one of the film’s key players, Gerardo Reyes-Chávez, farm worker, organizer with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. He has helped lead the group’s success getting 12 corporations to join their Fair Food Program, including McDonald’s, Taco Bell and, most recently, the retail giant Wal-Mart in January. Participants agree to pay a premium for the tomatoes in order to support a penny-per-pound bonus that’s then paid to the tomato pickers. Soon, the Fair Food label will appear on Florida tomatoes at stores participating in the program, including Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s.

Gerardo Reyes, welcome back to Democracy Now!, Gerardo Reyes-Chávez. It’s great to have you with us.

GERARDO REYES-CHÁVEZ: Thank you so much.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about this latest—well, Wal-Mart, I mean, the world’s, what, largest retailer, that you got them to sign onto this, what does it mean?

GERARDO REYES-CHÁVEZ: Well, it means a lot of—a lot of things. First and foremost, it means an increase in wages for workers, because Wal-Mart is going to be paying the penny per pound, in the same way that the other 11 retailers have been doing. But also included on that agreement, we have the expansion of the program to cover other states. So, right now the program covers about 30,000 workers in Florida’s tomato industry, but then, starting in May and June of 2015, that’s going to expand to every state along the East Coastal line.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: One question—some companies have yet to sign on, and I know when I was out at Ohio State, there was already a student movement there trying to get the university to divest from Wendy’s, because Wendy’s is one of the companies that has refused to join your program. Could you talk about the divestment movement on this issue?

GERARDO REYES-CHÁVEZ: Yeah, there is—well, interestingly enough, when we started the campaign, we were asking Taco Bell to join, to pay the penny per pound, to condition their purchasing—to cut purchasing, if necessary, when growers would refuse to fix any of the problems in the fields. And at that time, Emil Brolick was president of Taco Bell. Now he’s the CEO of Wendy’s. And the students know that they have a lot of power. They already showed that to Mr. Brolick. And for some reason, he’s trying to resist that. But at the end, I feel that the movement, the consumers, but mainly the students, are going to have a lot, a lot to say about it. So it’s just a matter of time before Wendy’s come on board, we feel.

AMY GOODMAN: I see you have—one of the papers you have in front of you is a Wendy’s protest. Which protest is this in the country?

GERARDO REYES-CHÁVEZ: Well, as part of the film, that you were mentioning a little bit earlier, there’s going to be about 12 protests, and more that are being organized, over the weekend of the 21st and some protests over the weekend of the 28th. So, we have protests here in New York on Saturday at 3:00 p.m. after the screening at the Quad Cinema. We’re going to march from Union Square to Broadway to protest Wendy’s.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to play another clip from Food Chains, which describes how supermarkets are controlling prices and squeezing farmers and farm workers. We hear from the actress Eva Longoria, agribusiness expert Shane Hamilton and farmer Jon Esformes. But first, author Eric Schlosser.

ERIC SCHLOSSER: I think it would be easy to demonize farmers and hold them responsible for the poor wages of migrants. That might have been true in some cases 30 years ago, 40 years ago, but that’s not really the problem today. If you want to make change, I think you need to look at the people who have the real power to make the lives of farm workers better, and those are the people at the very top.

FOREST WHITAKER: Farm workers are the foundation of a massive supply chain that includes farmers and distributors, but that is dominated by fast food, food service and supermarkets, like Publix. The power of supermarkets is rooted in their gross revenue. They earn more than Monsanto, Goldman Sachs, Microsoft and Apple.

EVA LONGORIA: When you talk about grocery chains, it is very, very easy for them to bully the small farmers. They are being villainized, and they know they’re being villainized. But their hands are tied.

SHANE HAMILTON: It’s a very difficult world for most farmers. Certainly, there is this nostalgic vision of, you know, the small family farm, where there was much more control over who you paid and how much they got paid. I think there is a sense now that everybody is deeply interdependent on this entire supply chain.

JON ESFORMES: Agriculture is doing great, as long as you’re not a farmer. There has become such a disconnect over the last 30 years between the ultimate point of sale and the actual production.

AMY GOODMAN: Another excerpt of the [film] Food Chains. It’s opening around the country this weekend. Finally, Gerardo, what you’re hoping to accomplish with this film beyond this weekend?

GERARDO REYES-CHÁVEZ: Well, we expect people to take action, because the beauty of this film is—the difference between this film and many documentaries is that this is an ongoing story. This is a story that people can build on as we are talking about it. The campaign for Fair Food is very well and alive, and we hope that people will join it. Cities like D.C. are preparing to do a protest, as well—Los Angeles, Denver, Tampa, Orlando, Chicago. There’s many people that are organizing actions in support of the campaign for Fair Food. And what we expect is for people to take this as an opportunity to be able to unite with the farm workers of Immokalee in this effort that we have to transform the tomato industry and, in the future, to be able to do much more for the workers in the fields of this nation.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Gerardo, thanks so much for being with us. Gerardo Reyes-Chávez, farm worker and organizer with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, featured in the new film Food Chains, which is out in 25 theaters around the country this weekend.

This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. Coming up, it’s the 10th anniversary of the first edition of Voices of a People’s History of the United States by the late, great historian Howard Zinn. We’ll be joined by actor Viggo Mortensen and Anthony Arnove, the editor of the volume. Stay with us.

News Fri, 21 Nov 2014 12:30:28 -0500
Elizabeth Warren: "Enough Is Enough" With Obama's Wall Street Appointees

Lately Sen. Elizabeth Warren has been talking about President Obama’s economic appointees – and it sounds like she’s pretty fed up.

Consider these words, from a Huffington Post essay she published earlier this week:

“I believe President Obama deserves deference in picking his team, and I’ve generally tried to give him that. But enough is enough.”

Warren (D-Mass.) was writing about Antonio Weiss, a banker with Lazard who has spent most of his career working in overseas finance – and was based in France for nearly a decade. That might not be much of a problem, if not for the fact that Weiss has been nominated for the post of Under Secretary for Domestic Finance at the Treasury Department.

Weiss, who is currently Lazard’s chief of global investment banking, was deeply involved with “corporate inversions” – a bland name for what happens when an American corporation moves overseas to avoid paying its taxes. One of the inversions Weiss worked on was the Burger King merger with Canadian corporation Tim Hortons (a move which resulted in some very angry – but sometimes entertaining – social media commentary.)

The White House has begun blocking some inversions, and has publicly denounced the practice. But its position is undercut when it appoints someone like Weiss to such a critical economic post.

Americans don’t like corporations who evade their taxes, according to the polls. They would presumably be unhappy to learn that their president has appointed someone like Antonio Weiss to a position of public trust – especially when the position holds lead responsibility for consumer protection, Dodd-Frank implementation, and what Warren describes as “a wide range of banking and economic and policymaking issues.”

Warren also pointed out that Lazard itself, where Weiss is a senior executive, exploited “a particularly slimy tax loophole” (to use Warren’s words) when it moved its official headquarters to Bermuda in 2005.

Is that who we want in this critical position? Warren doesn’t think so. And, in what amounted to a rare moment of constructive bipartisanship, neither does Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who described the appointment as hypocritical. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) has also expressed opposition.

Warren’s piece, which is well worth reading in full, also addresses what she describes as “the larger, more general issue of Wall Street executives dominating the Obama administration, as well as the Democratic Party’s overall economic policymaking apparatus.”

Thank God somebody’s finally saying it, in a voice loud enough to be heard.

Warren also had some stern words this week for Mel Watt, President Obama’s appointee to head the little-known but surprisingly powerful Federal Housing Finance Agency (or FHFA). As reported in The Washington Post, Warren interrupted recent Senate testimony from Mr. Watt several times in order to press him for an explanation of the FHFA’s inaction on behalf of struggling homeowners:

“You’ve done a whole list of really tough technical things, and I applaud you for doing that,” Warren said. “But people have lost their homes in the past year, and every day that you delay, more families lose their homes. There are 5.4 million families out there underwater, so I want to know, when are you going to have an answer on this?”

Watt’s response: “It won’t be as long as it has been — let me put it that way.”

That’s not good enough. It’s not even close.

Many, if not most, underwater homeowners have been directly or indirectly victimized by bank predation. But the administration’s senior economic officials have shown a disturbing tendency to treat them as if they were morally tainted and unworthy of support. At the same time, the administration has seeded top posts with executives from wrongdoing banks and has given Wall Street bankers a pass for widespread criminal fraud.

The president and his party have better rhetoric than their opponents on the subjects of bank fraud, consumer protection and a growth-oriented economy. At times they’ve passed good laws, too. But their appointments have often stood in marked contrast to their rhetoric. As Warren pointed out in an earlier editorial, both the Clinton and Obama administrations have been dominated by a “Citigroup clique” of bankers whose institution wouldn’t even exist in its present form had it not been for the assistance of President Bill Clinton economic team (some of whom later enriched themselves working at that institution).

As Warren wrote, “there is danger anytime the key economic positions in our government fall under the control of a single tight-knit group. Old ideas can stay around long after they’re useful, and new ideas don’t get a fair hearing.”

That’s a good principle, and it’s one that seems especially true of this set of individuals.

Perhaps the White House thought it was branching out by choosing an appointee from a new big bank, rather than continuing to draw solely on Citigroup. But that’s not the point. Antonio Weiss reflects a set of practices and values that diverges substantially from the values and policies our economy needs.

Mel Watt didn’t come from the banking industry at all, but was a member of Congress. A couple of years ago we were told that a Bush holdover was standing in the way of mortgage principal reductions, a form of relief that homeowners need and deserve – but President Obama’s appointee has the job now, and so far nothing’s changed.

Presidential appointees are thoroughly screened and vetted. They reflect the policies, priorities and preferences of the president who makes them – and, typically, of the party he represents. Once in office, appointees like these have reinforced the insular and self-interested perspectives that created our economic problems in the first place. It is a vicious cycle.

If we are going to have a better economy, those policies and priorities – as well as the kinds of appointees who determine them – must change. It is the president’s responsibility to lead that process of change, by laying out new goals and ending the epidemic of Wall Street executives that has blighted our economic policymaking machine. (Warren, to her everlasting credit, has characterized it more boldly as an “infestation.”)

It’s not surprising that Elizabeth Warren is fed up. The surprise is that more people aren’t. As the senator said: Enough is enough.

News Fri, 21 Nov 2014 10:14:12 -0500
Edelman TransCanada Leak: Aggressive PR for Keystone Alternative

Leaked documents expose a plan by Edelman for TransCanada to launch an "aggressive" American-style policy/politics PR campaign to persuade Canadians to support a Canada-based alternative to the stalled Keystone XL pipeline to get controversial tar sands oil to refineries in eastern Canada for export.

But, according to the documents, this Canada-centric campaign would actually be run out of an office in Washington, DC. And the digital campaign is being led by a rightwing American political operative employed by the world's largest public relations firm.

The documents were obtained by Greenpeace.

Ian Austen of The New York Times published some excerpts from the planning documents on November 17 that show how a new PR operation is in the works to persuade skeptical Canadians the "Energy East Pipeline" from Alberta to Quebec and to New Brunswick is a good idea.

The proposed pipeline conversion from gas to oil and the expansion of the line would allow TransCanada's corporate partners to sell more tar sands oil to foreign countries than it can under TransCanada's current shipping methods, with the completion of its proposed southern route through the U.S. to the Gulf of Mexico on hold.

TransCanada Admits It Dug for Dirt on Those Concerned about Pipeline Expansion

Austen's story not only revealed details of the war plan Edelman put together to try to distract opponents of TransCanada and waste their resources, it also secured confirmation that Canada's big energy company had conducted "opposition research" digging for dirt on those who dare to oppose its business plans.

According to the documents: the PR campaign includes a "pressure" campaign against actvists, which included "Detailed Background Research on Key Opposition Groups," beginning with the Council of Canadians, but would likely extended to Equiterre, the David Suzuki Foundation, Avaaz, and Ecology Ottawa."

One of the activists the Times interviewed objected to such corporate tactics as "all wrong" if deployed against grandmothers like her: "To me it's a sign of desperation," Maude Barlow, who leads the Council of Canadians/Le Conseil des Canadiens, told Austen.

The Edelman documents for TransCanada note that to achieve their goal of adding "layers of difficulty for opponents, we will work with third parties and arm them with the information they need to pressure opponents and distract them from their mission . . . . Third-party voices must be identified, recruited and heard to build an echo chamber of aligned voices."

One of the identified tactics of this "third party technique," pioneered by corrupt U.S. tobacco companies, was Edelman's recommendation that professors be identified and used as trusted speakers to advance the corporation's point of view (while not disclosing that the academics had been recruited to do so or "armed" with corporate talking points). Edelman previously represented big tobacco companies for which it deployed the third party technique repeatedly.

TransCanada Digital PR Effort Spearheaded by Michael Krempasky, a Koch-Connected Operative

The Council/Conseil noted that the TransCanada-Edelman digital PR operation is being led by a rightwing U.S. activist named Michael Krempasky.

On election day just a few weeks ago, Krempasky tweeted a photo of his Koch Industries coffee mug with an "I voted" sticker and the message: "6:11am; Falls Church, VA; I voted; And Harry Reid can suck it." And just last year, Krempasky posted a photo of his personalized copy of the strategic plans of David Koch's Americans for Prosperity (a binder detailing for Krempasky and select insiders AFP's "strategy initiatives, past performance, budget allocations, target markets").

A few years back, Jack O'Dwyer's PR Daily noted that Edelman hired the blogger and co-founder "for his ability to connect with conservative audiences." At RedState, Krempasky helped promote the growth of the "Tea Party," an activist movement in the U.S. whose infrastructure is actually fueled in part through major expenditures by two rightwing operations spawned by David Koch's "Citizens for a Sound Economy," the predecessor of AFP and "FreedomWorks."

Before Krempasky's hire was officially announced a few years ago, Michael Barbero of the New York Times reported that Krempasky was working with Marshall Manson at Edelman blogging Walmart's corporate talking points in support of Edelman's client, the largest retailer on the planet. Edelman's war room operation for Walmart came under fire at the time for how it was using bloggers and deploying an astroturf operation christened "Working Families for Walmart," back in 2006.

But Krempasky is notorious for more than what was dubbed "flogging" for Walmart.

His role in the coordinated rightwing effort to push CBS Evening News Anchor Dan Rather off the air apparently did not dissuade the Edelman firm from hiring him. The website "" was run by Krempasky, who was then working as the political director of the rightwing political direct mail operation, American Target Advertising, which is chaired by powerful rightwing fundraiser Richard Viguerie.

Dan Rather--whom some rightwingers claimed was "intensely liberal"--and his producers were provided with faked documents critical of George W. Bush's service in the National Guard records a few months before the 2004 presidential election against Vietnam veteran John Kerry. After Rather ran the story without sufficient authentication, Krempansky and numerous other rightwing bloggers moved quickly to oust the broadcaster from his long-standing role editing the news for CBS. Both Republican and Democratic party leaders denied being the source of the materials that were critical of Bush but that effectively took claims that Bush dodged his military duties off the table after the documents were discredited.

Krempasky is also an alum of the "Leadeship Institute," which has long been funded in part by the Koch family fortune of oil conglomerate Koch Industries, which is led by billionaire brothers, Charles and David Koch. (The Leadership Institute has served as the training ground for thousands of rightwing activists, including the infamous ex-con James O'Keefe, whom it distanced itself from after one of his early PR stunts.)

On Twitter, Krempasky describes himself as a "flacktivist," a play on the words activist and "flack," slang for publicist.

Krempasky's team for TransCanada includes former GOP spokesperson Nate Bailey, who has aided Edelman in corporate campaigns for corporate clients known for trying to delay efforts to address climate change. It also includes Brian McNeill, who directed opposition research during John McCain's presidential bid in 2008 and who was also outed subsequently for being paid by Edelman to anonymously blog about groups that were described by him as paid critics of Walmart.

Edelman-TransCanada PR Plan Includes Some Interesting Polling and PR Spin

The leaked material includes some recent polling that may be illuminating both for the underlying findings and by the Edelman approach to the polling:

  • Only 16% of Canadians surveyed had a favorable view of tar sands compared with 36% for methane gas (the potent greenhouse gas branded as "natural gas"). In the documents, Edelman asks "Can we change or mitigate the perception that oil sands is worse than natural gas?" That question was posed by Edelman without regard to the scientific reality underlying perceptions about the dangers of both.
  • "More than a third of Quebeckers believe in the higher toxicity and corrosiveness of oil extracted from the oil sands."
  • "There has been an increase in the number of people who are worried that a pipeline could become the target for sabotage. In the documents, Edelman notes "We should be careful where we stand in the pipeline vs. rail debate in terms of risk."

It is not clear how much TransCanada or Edelman's other clients may be relying on trains for transporting oil or other petroleum products from the tar sands, but public awareness of the dangers of rail transport has increased after the Lac-Megantic derailment and explosion killed 47 Canadians. That disaster displaced hundreds of people in Quebec, where half the town was destroyed and severely contaminated with toxic Benzene. TransCanada was not involved in that disaster, although it has had numerous spills over the years, none as devastating.

Obama Acknowledges Keystone Is Mainly for Canadian Exports as Lame Duck Senate Preps for Vote

Just this past week, President Obama critiqued some of the U.S. PR about what the Keystone XL is and what it is not, saying: "It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land, down to the Gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else." (CMD, the publisher of PRWatch, has debunked claims of Keystone proponents in the US with their inflated jobs and "national security" claims.)

The Energy East Pipeline proposal, as a substitute for Keystone XL for access to export infrastructure, would put the risk of a major pipeline leak on Canada rather than on the U.S. and its Ogallala aquifer that supplies fresh water for millions of Americans and American farms. According to Edelman's PR plan, Canada's federal and provincial governments would yield projected tax revenues, unlike in the U.S. which could not tax the production of the oil on Canadian soil, which does not tax the import of oil, and which has refineries for export located in free trade zones.

However, any pipeline expansion to allow increased burning of Alberta tar sands oil would increase the risks and increase the speed of climate and oceanic changes that are underway, with devastating consequences, according to leading scientists. As James Hansen wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times in 2012, "If Canada proceeds . . . it will be game over for the planet." Environmental groups estimate that getting more tar sands oil exported and burned would greatly aggravate the climate, adding 30 million tons per year of carbon and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and also threatening water and air as well as habitat for wildlife.

Despite such concerns, the U.S. Senate is poised to allow a vote in favor of the Keystone pipeline in a risky move to try to boost Senator Mary Landrieu's chances in an upcoming run-off election in Louisiana, even though her seat would not change the incoming majority in the upper house of Congress and risks alienating environmental voters within the Democratic party.

Independent economic analysis has shown that approving Keystone would directly create only a few thousand temporary and primarily non-local jobs plus exceedingly few permanent jobs anywhere in the U.S.

Some of the proponents of expanding exports of tar sands oil are climate change deniers, who support a host of measures that enrich the oil industry.

According to a report by Lee Fang for The Investigative Fund, Edelman was paid more than $50 million to run the PR campaign of the American Petroleum Institute (API), to push politicians to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, support tax deduction for the oil industry companies that fund API, and press for expanded drilling in America's national parks. As Greenpeace documented, API's PR campaign included the astroturf group called "Energy Citizens," which includes corporate employees at corporate-bankrolled rallies to support corporate-friendly policies of their energy industries employer. TransCanada has funded ALEC, whose legislative agenda echoes the API agenda. (CMD launched in 2011.)

However, the current leader of TransCanada's PR firm, Dan Edelman, has taken to the blogosphere in recent months to claim that his firm would no longer work on climate denial campaigns and would no longer deploy astroturf. Whether those public positions altered the implementation of the firm's TransCanada plan remains to be seen.

Some Are Getting Richer while TransCanada Tries to Shape the Public Opinion of Its Pipeline Plans

Even with the difficulties getting tar sands to coastal ports in the U.S. or Canada, TransCanada's pipeline business has proven lucrative for some. TransCanada's CEO, the 51-year old Russ Girling, received $8.4 million in direct compensation last year, a whopping 19% raise over the prior year (see uploaded screenshot below). In all, Girling has received corporate stock currently valued at $8.9 million and he has a defined benefit pension plan valued at $10.9 million, according to a 2014 circular for shareholders. His fellow TransCanada execs also have multimillion dollar compensation and pension plans.

It is unknown how much money Edelman or its principle staff have been paid or are poised to make from its efforts to promote TransCanada's eastward pipeline dreams to Canadians by deploying its DC PR team on a DC-style PR campaign to win over Canadians about what's best for Canada.

News Fri, 21 Nov 2014 09:48:34 -0500
Secret Tapes Hint at Turmoil in New York Fed Team Monitoring JPMorgan

As the Federal Reserve Bank of New York moved to beef up its oversight of Wall Street two years ago, the team charged with supervising the nation's largest bank, JPMorgan Chase, was in turmoil.

New York Fed examiners embedded at JPMorgan complained about being blocked from doing their jobs. In frustration, some requested transfers. Top New York Fed managers knew about the problems, according to interviews and secret recordings of internal meetings obtained by ProPublica. Similar frustrations had surfaced among examiners at other banks as well.

"You're not the only one experiencing difficulties at an institution," one New York Fed manager told Carmen Segarra, an examiner stationed at Goldman Sachs who made the surreptitious recordings. "You've heard about all the issues at JPMorgan."

Listen to more excerpts of the Carmen Segarra tapes »

In meetings in early 2012, the manager, Johnathan Kim, described how bosses in the JPMorgan team had stymied examiners by blocking access to bank information and constraining independent inquiries in ways that "grinds everything to a halt."

The revelations of internal strife add new details to the summary of an investigation by the Federal Reserve Board's inspector general into the New York Fed's supervision of JPMorgan before the "London Whale" trading scandal. The disastrous series of trades, which became public in April 2012, cost JPMorgan $7 billion in losses, settlements and fines and forced it to admit to securities law violations.

In the summary of its two-year investigation, which was released last month, the IG stopped short of saying the New York Fed could have detected the trading risk before it blew up. Still, it chastised the bank, saying it had identified risky activities in JPMorgan's investment office years earlier but didn't follow up or tell the bank's primary regulator, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), as procedures demanded.

The IG's office has withheld its full investigation report, saying it contained information that was "confidential" and "privileged." A spokesman declined to provide even a page count.

The New York Fed declined to respond to detailed questions. JPMorgan also declined to comment.

The IG's summary offered only a glimpse into the job performance of what is arguably the most important U.S. financial regulator. The New York Fed's primary responsibility is to protect the safety and soundness of the financial system. After the 2008 financial crisis, Congress gave the Federal Reserve System the task of supervising the biggest and most complex financial institutions whose failure could disrupt the economy. Because of its location, the New York Fed has direct responsibility for many of Wall Street's biggest players. Yet its supervisory culture has been slow to adapt, as ProPublica and This American Life recently reported.

To comply with its new Congressional mandate, the New York Fed went on a hiring spree in 2011, in part to bring in more specialized examiners to station inside JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and other systemically important financial institutions. These examiners, called "risk specialists," were chosen because of their expertise in areas such as compliance, credit risk and operations. Their task was to continuously monitor their institutions to see how they fared in these key areas. The specialists reported to two bosses – managers for their specialty and the head New York Fed officer at the bank.  

By early January 2012, it was clear that this dual reporting system had become a problem at several institutions and that on some teams the new experts were encountering resistance from their non-specialist colleagues and supervisors. In a meeting of legal and compliance specialists caught on Segarra's recordings, examiners complained about management not valuing their expertise and struggles over who had final say over examinations.  

In some cases, the senior New York Fed person on site at the bank would not allow the new examiners to act on their knowledge and work independently. The JPMorgan team was widely recognized as dysfunctional in this regard, according to discussions on Segarra's tapes and interviews with two former Fed employees, who continue to work in finance and asked for anonymity to discuss confidential information.

Segarra had joined the New York Fed as a legal and compliance examiner in November 2011. She was fired seven months later after a dispute with her bosses in which she refused to rescind a detrimental finding about Goldman Sachs. The New York Fed says Segarra's firing was unrelated to her supervision of Goldman; her lawsuit contesting the firing was dismissed without a ruling on the merits and is on appeal. 

In January 2012, to build her own record of events, Segarra began secretly recording meetings with colleagues. She was among roughly 230 New York Fed supervisors assigned to the largest financial institutions. The risk specialists were a small subset of that group in a given area were called a "risk stripe." The members of each stripe from the different systemically important banks met weekly to discuss the issues they were facing on their respective teams. Tensions within the JPMorgan team were common knowledge, according to a former examiner. 

On the recordings, Kim put the responsibility for the tensions at the JPMorgan team on Dianne Dobbeck, then the senior New York Fed supervisor at the bank. The issue came up when Kim tried to assuage Segarra about pressures she was experiencing at Goldman. In some respects, he said, the situation was worse at JPMorgan.

"You look at JPMC, that is an iron hand woman," Kim said, referring to Dobbeck. "They have already made their determination. They don't care what risk do[es]."

Kim added that the legal and compliance specialist embedded at JPMorgan wasn't allowed "access to anything — nada." Dobbeck expected the risk specialists to follow orders, not think for themselves, Kim indicated.

"You do what we tell you," he said, portraying Dobbeck.

"Hold on. How am I being a risk expert here?" he continued, mimicking the perspective of a risk specialist. "How am I being independent?"

In another meeting, Kim said examinations at JPMorgan had been stymied because the Fed leadership inside the bank wouldn't allow any investigation until they had a complete understanding of all the issues. "They want all the information, and therefore just [Kim makes a crunching sound] grinds everything to a halt until they come to understand it."

Kim declined to respond to questions.

The former examiner, who was not on the JPMorgan team but maintained good contacts with those working under Dobbeck, echoed Kim's characterizations. The continuous monitoring that was supposed to take place bogged down when all meetings and document requests had to be cleared by Dobbeck, the examiner remembers his colleagues telling him. "The examination scope was limited even though the point of risk specialists was there was supposed to be no limit to their scope," he said.

Jamie Dimon, the chairman, president and CEO at JPMorgan, conceded in congressional testimony about the London Whale in 2012 that the bank's risk processes "were not as formal or robust as they should have been."

An exhaustive U.S. Senate subcommittee report last year was more blunt: "[T]he whale trades exposed a bank culture in which risk limit breaches were routinely disregarded, risk metrics were frequently criticized or downplayed, and risk evaluation models were targeted by bank personnel seeking to produce artificially lower capital requirements."

In early January 2012, Sarah Dahlgren, the head of supervision at the New York Fed, attended a meeting of legal and compliance risk specialists that Segarra recorded. Dahlgren listened to complaints about the resistance the examiners were encountering. "Other views on this dual reporting?" she asked the risk specialists. "This is obviously an issue that has come up, and I've heard, on the GE [Capital] team last week, too, and the JPM [JPMorgan] team, this issue is one that is alive."

Dahlgren declined to respond to questions.

The former examiner said that by mid-2012, there was an effort by a number of risk specialists on the JPMorgan team to transfer to other institutions. By the end of the year several left the team to join Fed supervisors at other banks. "A lot of people wanted to leave because they felt their information was getting stonewalled or it was not getting traction," the former examiner said.

Dobbeck did not respond to a detailed request for comment. She is a New York Fed veteran who started as a financial analyst in the policy department in 1997. By September 2005, she had moved to the supervision side of the bank and become the New York Fed's "Central Point of Contact" for Citigroup. Dobbeck held the job until May 2007, a crucial period for Citigroup in the lead-up to the financial crisis.

At the outset of 2005, the Federal Reserve had downgraded Citigroup because of " demonstrated weakness in the company's ability to comply with all rules and regulations." By February 2006, the New York Fed determined that Citigroup had made improvements. The Federal Reserve raised Citigroup's rating. At that point, however, the bank's production of structured mortgage bonds called collateralized debt obligations went into overdrive. The bank increasingly relied on off-balance sheet entities in which to stash these mortgage assets. When their value plummeted, they flooded back onto the bank's balance sheets to catastrophic effect.

After the 2008 meltdown, Congress created the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission to investigate the causes. The commission focused much of its Wall Street investigation on Citigroup, which got the biggest government bank bailout from the financial crisis, $476 billion in cash and guarantees.

Commission investigators conducted several interviews with Dobbeck, who acknowledged to them that she and her colleagues had missed what was happening at Citigroup. They had looked at mortgages the bank was originating and managing, but not "the potential exposure they had through their structured activity," she told FCIC investigators.

Dobbeck also described the poor working relationship the New York Fed team had with the OCC, the other big federal supervisor onsite at Citigroup. She characterized relations between the two regulator teams as "assertive and tense." The OCC regulators, she said, "would prefer for us not to attend meetings or have discussions with them."

One of the top OCC supervisors at Citigroup at the time was Scott Waterhouse. Years later, in 2012, when Dobbeck ran the New York Fed team at JPMorgan, her OCC counterpart at the bank was again Waterhouse. He did not respond to emailed questions.

Last year's examination of the London Whale trades by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations criticized the OCC's efforts but did not look into the New York Fed. But if the primary regulator, in this case the OCC, fails "to notice and follow up on red flags," as the Senate investigation concluded, the Fed is supposed to step in, according to a 2009 review by the Federal Reserve Board.

Bart Dzivi investigated the New York Fed's activities as special counsel for the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission and conducted the panel's interviews with Dobbeck in 2010. Dzivi told ProPublica that Dobbeck was "smart, pleasant and exactly the wrong type of person to be in charge of any safety and soundness position" because he believed she lacked the resolve to stand up to the banks. 

After leading the Citigroup team, Dobbeck was promoted to head of the credit risk department for the New York Fed's Bank Supervision group in June 2007. Two years later she was made a senior vice president. By 2011, Dobbeck was the top New York Fed supervisor at JPMorgan. She left the JPMorgan team in late 2013 for another promotion, this time to be the head of all supervisory policy for the New York Fed.

The Fed inspector general's summary of the London Whale investigation does not name Dobbeck or anyone else, and some of the problems the IG chose to highlight predate her time leading the JPMorgan team. The summary report catalogs several missed warning signs, including reviews in 2008 and 2010 of JPMorgan's Chief Investment Office that were planned but never took place.

In confidential reports before and immediately after the financial crisis, the Federal Reserve Board in Washington, D.C., repeatedly faulted the New York Fed for doing a poor job of supervision. These reports, made public by the financial crisis commission, cite persistent problems and offer recommendations including "leveraging the knowledge and expertise of specialized examiners."

The commission's release of that information in 2011 marks the last detailed public look at the New York Fed's supervision by a government entity.

By comparison, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released more than 1,200 pages of documents, including emails and internal reports from the OCC and JPMorgan, in its London Whale investigation. It held hours of public hearings with key players, including the Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry, who pledged to reform his agency and then acted to do so.

To date, the only public review of the New York Fed's handling of the London Whale is the inspector general's summary report. It is four pages long.

News Fri, 21 Nov 2014 09:30:54 -0500
Latin America Moves Towards Decarbonizing the Economy

The Brazilian Amazon basin in the Rondonia State, April 27, 2012. Environmental groups say the construction of the Jirau and Santo Antônio Dams in Rondônia State displaces indigenous peoples and causes flooding, potentially releasing large quantities of methane gas. (Noah Friedman-Rudovsky/The New York Times).The Brazilian Amazon basin in the Rondonia State, April 27, 2012. Environmental groups say the construction of the Jirau and Santo Antônio Dams in Rondônia State displaces indigenous peoples and causes flooding, potentially releasing large quantities of methane gas. (Noah Friedman-Rudovsky/The New York Times).

Rio de Janeiro - When the advances made towards curbing global warming are analysed in the first 12 days of December in Lima, during the 20th climate conference, Latin America will present some achievements, as well as the many challenges it faces in “decarbonising development”.

Experts consulted by IPS said that during the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP20) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) the region will be able to point to progress in reducing deforestation in the Amazon jungle, especially in the Brazilian portion where forest loss was reduced 80 percent in the last decade, according to official sources.

But they say Latin America’s focus should be the “decarbonisation” of the economy, limiting the share of fossil fuels and other sources of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the energy mix, in order to mitigate the impact of climate change, as demanded by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its fifth report, launched Nov. 2.

“We can break with the idea that it is always difficult to reach a consensus in Latin America,” the head of Friends of the Earth Brazil, Roberto Smeraldi, told IPS. “There is a diversity of new experiences; the region is a laboratory of learning with respect to climate change.”

In his view, new alliances must be created by means of bilateral and regional accords, aimed at strengthening the position of Latin American countries in the negotiations among the parties, both in Lima and along the road that is to lead to a new climate treaty a year later in Paris.

But he complained that Brazil is not harnessing its comparative advantages in terms of natural resources and great potential for decarbonising its economy and investments, in order to take on a leadership role in the climate negotiations.

“Brazil should be interested in assuming a more aggressive role and pushing for progress [in the talks]. I’m convinced that it can develop a low-carbon economy, even if it becomes a major oil exporter,” he argued.

The IPCC advocates a low-carbon economy. Financial flows must be modified to substantially reduce CO2 emissions, the panel says. It is calling, for example, for a 30 billion dollar a year reduction in investment in fossil fuels for electricity worldwide.

The director of the Climate Reality Project’s Climate Leadership Corps, Mario Molina, said Latin America could feasibly make progress towards decarbonising the economy.

The international organisation, headed by former U.S. vice president Al Gore, held a leadership training on response to climate change Nov. 4-6 in this Brazilian city.

Molina told IPS that the idea that the region’s wealth and development depend on the extraction of natural resources, especially fossil fuels, is a myth.

“I have a lot of faith in Latin America,” he said. “We have talked about the need to make reparations for past emissions and the responsibilities of the most developed countries. The truth is that it is the responsibility of all of us. We have to look towards the future and identify ourselves as leaders in sustainability.”

The creation of mechanisms that ensure the transfer of technology and funds for investment in sustainable projects and renewable energies is an alternative for the region, Molina said.

“When it comes to tackling climate change, Latin Americans don’t have to cling to a narrative based in the past,” he said.

Chile, according to the experts, assumed a vanguard position when it announced the first tax on carbon in South America, in September, aimed at forcing power companies to gradually move to cleaner sources, with the target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by 2020, from 2007 levels.

But Smeraldi and Molina said there is still a great deal of pressure from infrastructure projects and companies exploiting natural resources which invade the limits of protected natural areas.

“Chile demonstrated great leadership by setting a price on carbon emissions and we need something similar in the region, on a large scale. At the other end of the spectrum we have Venezuela [with an oil-based economy] and also the case of Ecuador,” Molina said.

“We have to understand that Latin America’s natural resources are on top of the ground: our people, solar power, and wind energy.”

Molina and the other experts interviewed by IPS said one alarming case is that of Ecuador and its plans for large-scale oil drilling in the Amazon region, including the reserves in the Yasuní National Park, an area of nearly 10,000 sq km.

The president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, argues that the income brought in from that oil is necessary for poverty reduction and development in the country.

Because of a development model focusing on carbon-based growth, four million hectares in forest cover were lost in South America between 2000 and 2014, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report “The Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010”.

Brazil alone lost an average of 2.6 million hectares of green areas per year during that period, despite the decline in deforestation in the Amazon.

The FAO report underscores the essential role played by forests in climate change mitigation. Trees store 289 gigatons of carbon a year around the world, and the Amazon region captures 100 gigatons.

The Climate Reality Project’s Molina acknowledged that despite the efforts made, deforestation remains high in tropical forests, because the regulation of the sustainable use of soil and governance of natural areas are generally pending issues in Latin America, as part of emissions reduction policies.

“The importance of the Amazon rainforest and other tropical jungles is globally recognised, and there is support to preserve them. But we have a lot of work to do,” Molina said.

The executive secretary of the Climate Observatory in Brazil, Carlos Rittl, pointed out that “there is no regional commitment with regard to forests or to eliminating deforestation, because the countries of the developing South have no mandatory targets for emissions reduction under the UNFCCC.”

But some countries, he noted, have assumed national commitments, like Paraguay, with its zero deforestation plan, or Peru, which created a forestry fund to finance sustainability projects.

Especially significant is the case of Costa Rica, the first country in the world to set a carbon neutrality target: the goal is for the country to fix as much CO2 as it emits by 2021.

And on Sept. 23, Chile, Colombia, Guyana and Peru signed the New York Declaration on Forests during a U.N. summit on climate change held in New York, which pledged to halt the loss of the world’s natural forests by 2030.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

News Fri, 21 Nov 2014 10:09:57 -0500
Fossil Free Canada Convergence Deepens an International Movement

The first ever Fossil Free Convergence brought together 80 youth organizers from across Canada. (Facebook / Fossil Free Canada)The first ever Fossil Free Convergence brought together 80 youth organizers from across Canada. (Facebook / Fossil Free Canada)

As a junior in college, I helped to organize a conference at my alma mater, Swarthmore. A number of us had traveled to Appalachia two years prior on a school-funded trip to visit with communities resisting mountaintop removal coal mining there. Upon returning, we decided to start what would become the country’s first fossil fuel divestment campaign.

Sitting around a friend’s living room one muggy September night before classes started for the semester, our group — Swarthmore Mountain Justice — was vaguely aware that divestment was catching on: with the help of partner organizations like the Responsible Endowments Coalition and the Energy Action Coalition, roughly a dozen campaigns had taken off in the last year. Around 10 p.m., we settled on hosting a gathering for students from seven or eight campuses, ordering some food and talking through how we could support each other in this work that was starting to form the rough outlines of a movement.

Then it became one. In November of 2012, launched the Do the Math Tour, and virtually overnight fossil fuel divestment exploded onto 100 campuses nationwide. By February, our little summit became a convergence of over 200 students, staff supporters and frontline organizers from across the country. For the first time, student divestment organizers got to see each other in the flesh, learning organizing skills and from the generations-strong fight again extraction on its frontlines.

I got to see that happen all over again a few days ago.

Last weekend, the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition hosted the first-ever Fossil Free Canada Convergence. Held at Concordia and McGill Universities in Montreal, the convergence brought together 80 youth organizers from around the country. Divestment has been up and running on campuses across Canada for well over a year; campaigns at the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, have already passed successful referenda for divestment through their student governments.

Kristen Perry — a fourth year student at McGill, who helped to organize the convening with Divest McGill — remarked on what it was like to have the country’s divestment activists together for the first time: “A lot of the time we get wrapped up into our individual campaigns and we need to remember that this is a bigger movement, within divestment and also within the climate movement.”

Like Quebec itself, the conference was bilingual in French and English. English programming focused generally on fossil fuel divestment, while French workshops and speakers dealt with the province’s growing anti-extraction movement against tar sands oil and pipelines, like the Energy East pipeline slated to stretch from Alberta and through Winnipeg and Montreal before its endpoint in Saint John, New Brunswick.

The convergence started Friday night, with keynotes from veteran organizers Alyssa Symons-Bélanger, Heather Milton-Lightening and Denise Jourdain, an elder of the Innu community of Uashat mak Mani-utenam working for indigenous sovereignty and to oppose the Canadian government’s controversial Plan Nord. Another speaker, Crystal Lameman of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, has been a leading voice in the fight against tar sands development on First Nations land in Alberta with the Indigenous Environmental Network and the Sierra Club. She connected fossil fuel divestment with her own work fighting tar sands, noting that “Universities are beginning to understand that we have inherent treaty rights.” Lameman also gave a keynote address at last year’s Power Up! Convergence in Swarthmore.

Saturday kicked off with a panel called “Divestment as a solidarity tactic,” featuring Lameman, Milton-Lightening and Clayton Thomas-Muller, who’s been active in the fight against tar sands with the Indigenous Environmental Network, Idle No More and now Panelists pointed to the role of fossil fuel divestment in the broader climate justice movement, with Thomas-Muller commenting that “We want to invest in what creates abundance and nourishes us, not what creates scarcity and destruction.”

The rest of the day orbited largely around three themes: “digging in” (to political analysis and organizing skills), “linking up” (with other campaigns and community fights) and “taking action.” Workshops led by other students, along with supporters from and the Divestment Student Network in the United States, aimed to help organizers develop skills to take back to their campus campaigns, featuring sessions on team-building, nonviolent direct action and media and communication. Jade Wong, a University of Toronto student who got involved with divestment after attending the People’s Climate March in September, commented that “There’s a network of people willing to help, some further in on the campaign than others. There’s a lot more communication, hopefully, to be had.”

After hearing an update on the state of the divestment movement in the United States, participants on Sunday divided out into break-out sessions to discuss next steps for building out fossil fuel divestment campaigns across Canada. Groups discussed a Global Divestment Day of Action, frontline solidarity, storytelling and escalation strategies. Another break-out was formed after lunch to discuss connections between anti-austerity organizing and the climate justice movement in Quebec.

Hearing the words “global movement” and seeing it face-to-face are two wildly different experiences. As Conor Curtis, a student at Grenfell Campus of Memorial University in Newfoundland, put it, “When you’re trying to connect with people online, it can be very abstract. But it’s harder to tell where people are with their campaigns — how big is this movement? Now that I see it on a national level, meeting with people face to face, I realize it’s incredibly strong.” Given that there are some 500 divestment campaigns worldwide, the question for the movement now is more about depth than breadth. Campaigns in Canada have the benefit of knowing there’s a thriving international movement behind them, and a national infrastructure far more sophisticated than that pieced together in the early days of the Divestment Student Network after Power Up!

Thinking back to Swarthmore Mountain Justice’s late-night strategy session years ago, all I can remember is how surprised we were at how rapidly the movement swelled just months later. If the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, mid-term elections and a wave of divestment rejections from university administrations are any indication, winning will mean a lot more organizing, some truly strategic escalation, and — hopefully — a few more pleasant surprises.

Opinion Fri, 21 Nov 2014 09:55:33 -0500
Chief Tax-Dodging Officers

Hiding profits in tax havens is one of the most common ways large corporations avoid paying their fair share to the IRS. And indeed, the 31 firms who paid their CEOs more than Uncle Sam operate 237 subsidiaries in low- or no-tax zones like the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. But that’s just one tax-dodging trick. Corporations have lobbied successfully for a plethora of other tax loopholes and subsidies.

(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)If you value media that isn't controlled by advertisers or billionaire sponsors, show your support today! Donate to Truthout now to keep independent media strong.

Republican and Democratic leaders don’t often see eye to eye on taxes.

But surprisingly, corporate tax reform looks like one area where there might actually be some potential for bipartisan action in Washington. This should be good news, since our corporate tax system is clearly hopelessly broken.

Here’s a stark indicator of just how broken: Last year, 29 of the 100 highest-paid CEOs made more in personal compensation than their companies paid in federal income taxes. That’s according to a new report by the Institute for Policy Studies and the Center for Effective Government.

Yes, it’s gotten that easy for large corporations to avoid the Tax Man.

This is true even for the country’s wealthiest companies. Citigroup, Halliburton, Boeing, Ford, Chesapeake Energy, Chevron, Verizon, and General Motors all made more than $1 billion in U.S. profits last year, but still paid their CEOs more than they paid Uncle Sam. In fact, most of them got massive tax refunds.

How is this possible?

(Source: Fleecing Uncle Sam, an Institute for Policy Studies and Center for Effective Government report)(Source: Fleecing Uncle Sam, an Institute for Policy Studies and Center for Effective Government report)

While big businesses moan about the U.S. corporate tax rate of 35 percent, most of them pay nowhere near that. Between 2008 and 2012, the average large corporation paid an effective rate of less than 20 percent.

Hiding profits in tax havens is one of the most common ways large corporations avoid paying their fair share to the IRS. And indeed, the 31 firms who paid their CEOs more than Uncle Sam operate 237 subsidiaries in low- or no-tax zones like the Cayman Islands and Bermuda.

But that’s just one tax-dodging trick. Corporations have lobbied successfully for a plethora of other tax loopholes and subsidies.

Boeing, for example, has figured out how to double dip in the Treasury’s pool.

The aerospace giant hauled in more than $20 billion in federal contracts in 2013. According to Citizens for Tax Justice, taxpayers also picked up the tab for $300 million of Boeing’s research expenses last year through a tax break that Congress is now considering making permanent.

When tax time came, Boeing got $82 million back from the IRS, despite reporting nearly $6 billion in U.S. pre-tax profits. Meanwhile, Boeing chief executive Jim McNerney made $23.3 million.

Corporate tax dodging is bad for ordinary Americans — and our nation’s long-term economic health.

For example, if Boeing had paid the statutory corporate tax rate of 35 percent on its $6 billion in profits, it would’ve added an extra $2 billion to the funds available for public services. That sum could’ve covered the cost of hiring 2,775 teachers for a year.

Shirking taxes may boost the bottom line in the short term, but in the long run it erodes the economic infrastructure businesses need to be competitive.

Unfortunately, the current political rhetoric has little to do with cracking down on corporate tax avoidance.

Republicans are hooked on corporate tax giveaways. And President Barack Obama has suggested that he’s ready to reward corporations for stashing money overseas by giving them deeply discounted tax rates on their profits if they’ll just agree to bring them home.

Both of these positions are based on the unfounded claim that smaller corporate tax burdens translate into more good jobs.

In a Hart Research poll of voters on election night, only 22 percent favored taxing corporations less. In the same poll, less than 30 percent wanted Congress to make tax cuts a higher priority than investments in education, health care, and job creation.

The American people have their priorities straight. They deserve leaders who do too.

Opinion Fri, 21 Nov 2014 11:18:04 -0500