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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

How Republicans live their lives in the dark

I'm stopped at a red light when a decrepit old Chevrolet pickup with its windows rolled down pulls into the adjacent lane.

Its radio is bleating Rush Limbaugh, and the rear bumper bears a sticker that reads, "My wife, yes. My dog, maybe. My gun, NEVER!"

The driver looks disheveled and haggard, making it very easy to surmise that here's the perfect example of an American totally screwed over by capitalism run greedily amok, decisively abetted by conservative ideology.

He's probably unemployed, has no medical insurance, no pension prospects, and is likely facing having sheriff's deputies put his family's belongings out on the sidewalk, following a heartbreaking eviction.

But he's got that radio tuned to right-wing propaganda, and he's so completely brainwashed that he thinks his greatest worry is gays getting married!

He's undoubtedly convinced that the "Democrat Socialist Party" is ruining his life -- not to mention his beloved country -- and that liberals are the reason his wallet has thinned to nothing but pictures of his gaunt spouse and sickly, skinny kids.

Meanwhile, Limbaugh and other well-compensated voices of radio or television reaction, live in luxury, exceeded in ill-gotten wealth only by the corporate Fat Cats who hire them to keep
the masses from angrily identifying their true enemy.

That allows the Silk Suits to laugh all the way to the bank, and then lean back with Mint Juleps in their poolside gazebos, while poor bastards like my guy in that truck fart out the remains of their
last unhealthy meal.

Or maybe a little cheap beer.

But here's the real kicker:

A father from our area, pretty much like that Chevy dude, sent his son off to war a couple years back.

"There aren't any jobs here, anyway. Plus, you'll learn a useful trade."

He did so with teary-eyed pride, emphatically believing both this nation's foreign policy myths and George Bush's lies.

It was beyond his awareness to comprehend that the U.S. aggressing a sovereign country for fraudulent reasons, in blatant violation of international law, made us no different than Nazis attacking Poland in 1939, or the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor.

Despite letters from his boy that contained strange passages that a more critical soul would have seen as indicators of things on the battlefield being much different than what Republicans gloriously portrayed, Dad never let his patriotism waver.

Publicized photos of Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse didn't faze him, because right-wing media "explained" it all to his manipulated satisfaction.

Then, one tragic day, his precious child got blown to bloody shards by a rocket-propelled grenade. Shortly thereafter, what was left of him came home in a box, and was lowered beneath cemetery sod as a bugler played taps.

The greatest tragedy, however, is that Dad will probably go to his own grave, decades from now, still convinced that his "Hometown Hero" served a noble cause, never mind those many thousands of foreign innocents who were themselves violently killed because the Americans needlessly, wrongfully invaded.

Or maybe, at some clarifying moment in otherwise foggy old age, he'll have an epiphany, understanding that his entire life was spent fleshing out a massive Fox News falsehood.

That medal from the President, presented posthumously, will suddenly lose it's luster.

It'll perhaps get hurled against the wall, leading nursing home residents to wonder what that bang and the accompanying, agonized scream were all about.

That's what it sadly boils down to for rank-and-file conservatives.

They'll either die entirely unreconstructed and unenlightened, clinging to absurdity until the very end.

Or they'll eventually see the light, as the armor of their fallacies finally turns to fully-powdered rust.

There's nothing worse than realizing -- too late -- that one's entire existence was spent living, breathing, sweating, and bleeding to advance somebody else's abysmally selfish, decidedly wicked agenda.
It just doesn't get any worse than this | The Smirking Chimp

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Greg Palast » Grand Theft Auto: How Stevie the Rat bankrupted GM

Greg Palast » Grand Theft Auto: How Stevie the Rat bankrupted GM
Screw the autoworkers.
They may be crying about General Motors' bankruptcy today.  But dumping 40,000 of the last 60,000 union jobs into a mass grave won't spoil Jamie Dimon's day.

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

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

I smell a rat.

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

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

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

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

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

Preventive Detention for Pensions

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

            "...act prudently and must diversify the plan's investments in order to minimize the risk of large losses."

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

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


House of Rubin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Economist and journalist  Greg Palast, a former trade union contract negotiator, is author of the New York Times bestsellers The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and Armed Madhouse.  He is a GM bondholder and card-carrying member of United Automobile Workers Local 1981.