Written by Hardy Drew and the Nancy Boys/-5:00
September 2008 Archives
NYT: Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke preparing to testify today. (Photo: Charles Dharapak/Associated Press)
From THE NATION
By WILLIAM GREIDER
23 September 2008
Wall Street put a gun to the head of the politicians and said, Give us the money--right now--or take the blame for whatever follows. The audacity of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's bailout proposal is reflected in what it refuses to say: no explanations of how the bailout will work, no demands on the bankers in exchange for the public's money. The Treasury's opaque, three-page summary of plan includes this chilling statement:
"Section 8. Review. Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency." In other words, no lawsuits allowed by aggrieved investors or American taxpayers. No complaints later from ignorant pols who didn't know what they voted for. Take it or leave it, suckers.
Both political parties may submit to this extortion because they don't have a clue what else to do and bending over for Wall Street instruction, their usual posture, seems less risky than taking responsibility. Paulson and Bernanke evoked intimidating pressure for two reasons. The previous efforts to restore investor confidence had all failed as their slapdash interventions worsened the global panic. Besides, the Federal Reserve was running out of money. Nearly three-fifths of the Fed's $800 billion portfolio is now loaded down with junk--the mortgage securities and other rotten assets it took off Wall Street balance sheets. The imperious central bank is fast approaching its own historic disgrace--potentially as discredited as it was after the 1929 crash.
Despite its size, the gargantuan bailout is still designed for the narrow purpose of relieving the major banks and investment houses of their grief, then hoping this restores regular order to economic life. There are lots of reasons to think it may fail. The big boys are acting, as usual, in self-interested ways since the government allows them to do so. Washington's money might pull firms back from the brink--at least the leaders of the Wall Street Club--but that does not guarantee the banks will resume normal lending, much less capital investing. The financial guys may well hunker down, scavenge the wreckage for cheap profits and wait for the real economy to get well. Likewise, global investors--China, Japan and other major creditors--have been burned and may step back from pumping more capital in the wobbly house of US finance.
Secrecy and opacity are crucial to achieve Wall Street's purposes. It could allow Paulson to overpay his old pals for near-worthless assets and slyly recapitalize the damaged banks while telling public and politicians the money is to save the system. To achieve this, Wall Street needs to keep control of the process whoever is elected president (the Wall Street Journal recommends John Thain, ex-chief of the New York Stock Exchange to succeed Paulson). Not everyone will be saved, of course, but high on the list of endangered nameplates is Goldman Sachs, Paulson's old firm. The high-flying investment house looks doomed by these events. The Fed quickly agreed to convert Goldman and Morgan Stanley into banks. Think of Paulson's solution as Goldman Sachs socialism.
The most hopeful comment I heard from an astute economist was by Nouriel Roubini of NYU, who has been darkly prescient during this crisis. The bailout should help, he told the Times. "The recession train has left the station, but it's going to be 18 months, instead of five years," he said. Hope he's right, but voters are unlikely to regard this as fair return on their $700 billion. The bandits will be back in business and partying, while the victims are still gasping for air.
If Paulson's gamble fails--just as possible--then maybe government will finally undertake forceful intervention rather than friendly solicitude for Wall Street. Washington should literally take control of the banking and finance sector and employ its emergency powers to oversee and direct these private, profit-making enterprises. If any bankers do not wish to play, cut them off from any public assistance (and wish them good luck). Then government can exercise temporary supervisory powers that force banking to cooperate with economic recovery by sustaining lending and investment to the real economy. Washington can put profit on hold.
Order full stop to the many financial gimmicks and accounting illusions that led to inflated lending and falsified asset valuations. Unwind the complicated time bombs known as credit derivatives and shut down this lucrative line of business. Meanwhile, instead of throwing millions of homeowners and debtors out of their homes and into bankruptcy, hold them harmless temporarily so people can work out reasonable terms for recovery. Finally, force-feed new life into the real economy with government spending on public projects and capital formation. How much spending? Rescuing America from irresponsible Wall Street is worth whatever it costs to save the bloodied bankers.
About William Greider
National affairs correspondent William Greider has been a political journalist for more than thirty-five years. A former Rolling Stone and Washington Post editor, he is the author of the national bestsellers One World, Ready or Not, Secrets of the Temple, Who Will Tell The People, The Soul of Capitalism (Simon & Schuster) and--due out in February from Rodale--Come Home, America.
Friday, Sept. 26: Presidential debate on foreign policy and national security, moderated by Jim Lehrer of PBS at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Mississippi, with the candidates standing at lecterns.
-Click here to read Obama's foreign policy philosophy & click here to read Obama's voting record on national security and the economy
-Click here to see McCain's foreign policy philosophy & click here to see McCain's voting record on national security & the economy
Thursday, Oct. 2: Vice-presidential debate, moderated by Gwen Ifill of PBS at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.
-Click here to read a debate on Democracy Now on Biden's foreign policy.
-Click here for a link to an article by Robert Dreyfuss in The Nation on Palin's "foreign policy."
Tuesday, Oct. 7: Presidential debate with questions on any topic from those in attendance and from the Internet, moderated by Tom Brokaw of NBC News at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, in a town hall-style format.
Wednesday, Oct. 15: Presidential debate on domestic and economic policy, moderated by Bob Schieffer of CBS News at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, with candidates seated at a table.
All four debates will last 90 minutes. They will be carried live by CNN International and BBC World and will begin at 1 a.m. the following day, Coordinated Universal Time. CNN will also replay the debates 8 and 18 hours later, starting at 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. UTC.
Sample starting times for the first debate: New York, 9 p.m. Friday
SOURCE: This debate schedule was taken from the International Herald Tribun.e All links come from Social Etymologies.
Rudolph Giuliani at the 2008 Republican National Convention in the Xcel Center in Downtown St. Paul, Minnesota
I've never "participated" in an election campaign before. I vote, but I don't believe in the process or the results. Note, 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, Katrina, mortgage frauds, and now, the bail-outs. But, the next morning after watching Mitt Romney, Rudolph Giuliani and then Sarah Palin at the Republican National Convention (RNC) just a couple of miles from our home, my husband and I went straight to the Obama campaign office near downtown St. Paul and signed up. They took us in the back of the office into a crowded space filled with paper, Obama signs, buttons, and fervor. The phones were ringing off the hooks, there were white and African American elders, students in their 20s in charge, an older white man in a golf outfit signing up seemingly out of desperation like us, and there were older white women with tattoos and piercings standing next to coiffed white women of with cardigans and pearls.
Mark and I met the field directors for our neighborhood, a young white woman, Tess, who had moved to Minnesota just to work on the campaign and a young African American man, Nick, from the area who had a land line on one ear, a cell on the other while simultaneously working on a laptop pitched on a too-small, over crowded card table. They gave us "I want Obama to be my president because__________" handouts for our daughter to take to her elementary school, a clip board, and voter registrations forms for us to take into our mainly working class African American neighborhood in St. Paul.
Amidst the excitement in the back of the campaign office, I saw on the wall above Tess's desk the following two emails from her parents, who have remained observers of politics and thus, politically silent through the years until the 2008 RNC aired. I began to cry when I read their emails to Tess for two reasons. Because I know Obama is not going to change the country or the way the world really feels about us--completely; I know he isn't some radical change agent, not that I support any thinking that's orthodox. When I saw these emails, I couldn't help remember something my father told me in regards to a question about what he hoped for in his life just days before my father died suddenly of a heart attack about ten years ago. My father told me "Mambí Maestra, I never want to die alone" which, unfortunately, he did and then he said, "Man, I want to live to see a Black president." Now, my dad didn't mean just any Black president; he meant a democrat. So, I cried because this election and Obama's place in it is truly amazing and I cried because I'm living to see something my father dreamed of but thought might never really happen--not in his lifetime anyway and of this he was right. And, I cried because despite all of this I know Obama as president won't solve the problems that lie at the core of "American" philosophies and practices--this country is ideologically (i.e., America's cultural processes and practices) twisted, perhaps for good.
The other reason I cried was because of Tess. Born of certainly far less left parents than she, this very woman in her early twenties had moved all of her belongings here in an attempt to make this thing my father wanted to see so badly happen. And, Tess's white parents--who I believe are "middle class"--were open enough to change what the years of non-social participation had built up over decades. Some of my tears were tears of relief, because someone white, someone not a democrat had seen the farce in, the derision and danger of that convention just miles from our house. Somehow, irrational I know, I felt safer, less desperate, better.
Below are the letters from the parents of Tess, the field director at Obama's campaign office in St. Paul, MN. Thanks Tess and thanks Tess's parents for your willingness to not just hear, but listen deeply.
Keep the faith.
Palin's speech (I've only read the text) was, as you know, filled with misdirections that irritated the informed and lied to the uninformed. She reeks of desperation, and is flinging mud presumably with the hope that some of her accusations will stick; she obfuscates, in hopes that the weakness of her positions, following the disastrous last eight years, will be lost in the confusion. Her speech was mean-spirited and disrespectful to the voting electorate, the country, both political parties, and humanity.
Vent as you need, to vomit the poison. Then, when you are interacting again, with staff and the public, lead as you have, with positive expression, facts and a vision for the future. I encourage you to pity and fight her, and not to be drawn into her gutter-drama. This approach is better manners, better for your equanimity, and will be to your advantage in persuading voters—once their jingoistic spasm has passed.
Tess adds in an email to me: "And the one from my mother who has never cared a bit about politics in her life:"
I nearly busted an artery last night listening to the speeches...Did you watch? I don't think I've ever heard so many mean-spirited, sarcastic, and down-right rude things said in my life. Basically, Obama is stupid and vain, McCain is a war hero, and if you love America, you have to vote Republican.
I've always said I would be open to voting for a Republican if I like the candidate, but I can say now that because of the tone of last night, I will NEVER vote for any Republican, ever.
-K, that's all.
Dir. Robert Stevenson; 1:20
King Solomon's Mines is a 1937 film based on H. Rider Haggard starring's 1884 novel. The film stars Paul Robeson as "Umbopa," as the chief of the Kukuanas, and Anna Lee as "Kathleen 'Kathy' O'Brien."
Now, CNN is certainly not the most critical "news" agency, but last night the terrific, direct, and unrelenting questions CNN's Campbell Brown fired at McCain aide Tucker Bound were to be lauded. Brown laid the groundwork for Bound to demonstrate to the CNN public that the Republican campaign is running on thin air, if not thin ice.
By MAYA SCHENWAR
t r u t h o u t | Report
28 August 2008
On an expanse of 18,000 acres of farmland, 59 miles northwest of Baton Rouge, long rows of men, mostly African-American, till the fields under the hot Louisiana sun. The men pick cotton, wheat, soybeans and corn. They work for pennies, literally. Armed guards, mostly white, ride up and down the rows on horseback, keeping watch. At the end of a long workweek, a bad disciplinary report from a guard - whether true or false - could mean a weekend toiling in the fields. The farm is called Angola, after the homeland of the slaves who first worked its soil.
This scene is not a glimpse of plantation days long gone by. It's the present-day reality of thousands of prisoners at the maximum security Louisiana State Penitentiary, otherwise known as Angola. The block of land on which the prison sits is a composite of several slave plantations, bought up in the decades following the Civil War. Acre-wise, it is the largest prison in the United States. Eighty percent of its prisoners are African-American.
"Angola is disturbing every time I go there," Tory Pegram, who coordinates the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3, told Truthout. "It's not even really a metaphor for slavery. Slavery is what's going on."
Mwalimu Johnson, who spent 15 years as a prisoner at the penitentiary and now works as executive secretary of the Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana, concurred.
"I would truthfully say that Angola prison is a sophisticated plantation," Johnson told Truthout. "'Cotton is King' still applies when it come to Angola."
Angola is not alone. Sixteen percent of Louisiana prisoners are compelled to perform farm labor, as are 17 percent of Texas prisoners and a full 40 percent of Arkansas prisoners, according to the 2002 Corrections Yearbook, compiled by the Criminal Justice Institute. They are paid little to nothing for planting and picking the same crops harvested by slaves 150 years ago.
On land previously occupied by a slave plantation, Louisiana prisoners pick cotton, earning 4 cents an hour. (Photo: Louisiana State Penitentiary)
Many prison farms, Angola included, have gruesome post-bellum histories. In the 1950s, '60s and '70s, Angola made news with a host of assaults - and killings - of inmates by guards. In 1952, a group of Angola prisoners found their work conditions so oppressive that they resorted to cutting their Achilles' tendons in protest. At Mississippi's Parchman Farm, another plantation-to-prison convert, prisoners were routinely subjected to near-death whippings and even shootings for the first half of the 20th century. Cummins Farm, in Arkansas, sported a "prison hospital" that doubled as a torture chamber until a federal investigation exposed it in 1970. And Texas's Jester State Prison Farm, formerly Harlem Prison Farm, garnered its claim to fame from eight prisoners who suffocated to death after being sealed into a tiny cell and abandoned by guards.
Since a wave of activism forced prison farm brutalities into the spotlight in the 1970s, some reforms have taken place: At Angola, for example, prison violence has been significantly reduced. But to a large extent, the official stories have been repackaged. State correctional departments now portray prison farm labor as educational or vocational opportunities, as opposed to involuntary servitude. The Alabama Department of Corrections web site, for example, states that its "Agriculture Program" "allows inmates to be trained in work habits and allows them to develop marketable skills in the areas of: Farming, Animal Husbandry, Vegetable, meat, and milk processing."
According to Angola's web site, "massive reform" has transformed the prison into a "stable, safe and constitutional" environment. A host of new faith-based programs at Angola have gotten a lot of media play, including features in The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor.
Cathy Fontenot, Angola's assistant warden, told Truthout that the penitentiary is now widely known as an "innovative and progressive prison."
"The warden says it takes good food, good medicine, good prayin' and good playin' to have a good prison," Fontenot said, referring to the head warden, Burl Cain. "Angola has all these."
However, the makeover has been markedly incomplete, according to prisoners and their advocates.
"Most of the changes are cosmetic," said Johnson, who was released from Angola in 1992 and, in his new capacity as a prison rights advocate, stays in contact with Angola prisoners. "In the conventional plantations, slaves were given just enough food, clothing and shelter to be a financial asset to the owner. The same is true for the Louisiana prison system."
Wages for agricultural and industrial prison labor are still almost nonexistent compared with the federal minimum wage. Angola prisoners are paid anywhere from four to twenty cents per hour, according to Fontenot. Agricultural laborers fall on the lowest end of the pay scale.
What's more, prisoners may keep only half the money they make, according to Johnson, who notes that the other half is placed in an account for prisoners to use to "set themselves up" after they're released.
Besides the fact that two cents an hour may not accumulate much of a start-up fund, there is one glaring peculiarity about this arrangement: due to some of the harshest sentencing practices in the country, most Angola prisoners are never released. Ninety-seven percent will die in prison, according to Fontenot.
(Ironically, the "progressive" label may well apply to Angola, relative to some locations: In Texas, Arkansas and Georgia, most prison farms pay nothing at all.)
Angola prisoners technically work eight-hour days. However, since extra work can be mandated as a punishment for "bad behavior," hours may pile up well over that limit, former prisoner Robert King told Truthout.
"Prisoners worked out in the field, sometimes 17 hours straight, rain or shine," remembered King, who spent 29 years in solitary confinement at Angola, until he was released in 2001 after proving his innocence of the crime for which he was incarcerated.
It's common for Angola prisoners to work 65 hours a week after disciplinary reports have been filed, according to Johnson. Yet, those reports don't necessarily indicate that a prisoner has violated any rules. Johnson describes guards writing out reports well before the weekend, fabricating incident citations, then filling in prisoners' names on Friday, sometimes at random. Those prisoners would then spend their weekend in the cotton fields.
Although mechanical cotton pickers are almost universally used on modern-day farms, Angola prisoners must harvest by hand, echoing the exact ritual that characterized the plantation before emancipation.
According to King, these practices are undergirded by entrenched notions of race-based authority.
"Guards talked to prisoners like slaves," King told Truthout. "They'd tell you the officer was always right, no matter what."
During the 1970s, prisoners were routinely beaten or "dungeonized" without cause, King said. Now, guards' power abuses are more expertly concealed, but they persist, fed by racist assumptions, according to King.
Johnson described some of the white guards burning crosses on prison lawns.
Much of this overt racism stems from the way the basic system - and even the basic population - of Angola and its environs have remained static since the days of slavery, according to Pegram. After the plantation was converted to a prison, former plantation overseers and their descendants kept their general roles, becoming prison officials and guards. This white overseer community, called B-Line, is located on the farm's grounds, both close to the prisoners and completely separate from them. In addition to their prison labor, Angola's inmates do free work for B-Line residents, from cutting their grass to trimming their hair to cleaning up Prison View Golf Course, the only course in the country where players can watch prisoners laboring as they golf.
Another landmark of the town, the Angola Prison Museum, is also run by multi-generation Angola residents. The museum exhibits "Old Sparky," the solid oak electric chair used for executions at Angola until 1991. Visitors can purchase shirts that read, "Angola: A Gated Community."
Despite its antebellum MO, Angola's labor system does not break the law. In fact, it is explicitly authorized by the Constitution. The 13th Amendment, which prohibits forced labor, contains a caveat. It reads, "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where of the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States."
That clause has a history of being manipulated, according to Fordham Law Professor Robert Kaczorowski, who has written extensively on civil rights and the Constitution. Directly after the 13th Amendment was enacted, it began to be utilized to justify slavery-like practices, according to Kaczorowski. Throughout the South, former slaves were arrested for trivial crimes (vagrancy, for example), fined, and imprisoned when they could not pay their fines. Then, landowners could supply the fine in exchange for the prisoner's labor, essentially perpetuating slavery.
Although such close reproductions of private enslavement were phased out, the 13th Amendment still permits involuntary servitude.
"Prisoners can be forced to work for the government against their will, and this is true in every state," Kaczorowski told Truthout.
In recent years, activists have begun to focus on the 13th Amendment's exception for prisoners, according to Pegram. African-Americans are disproportionately incarcerated; one in three black men has been in prison at some point in his life. Therefore, African-Americans are much more likely to be subject to involuntary servitude.
"I would have more faith in that amendment if it weren't so clear that our criminal justice system is racially biased in a really obvious way," Pegram said.
Prison activists like Johnson believe that ultimately, permanently changing the status quo at places like Angola may mean changing the Constitution - amending the 13th Amendment to abolish involuntary servitude for all.
"I don't have any illusions that this is a simple process," Johnson said. "Many people are apathetic about what happens in prisons. It would be very difficult, but I would not suggest it would be impossible."
Even without a constitutional overhaul, some states have done away with prison farms of their own accord. In Connecticut, where the farms were prevalent before the 1970s, the farms have been phased out, partially due to the perceived slavery connection. "Many black inmates viewed farm work under these circumstances as too close to slavery to want to participate," according to a 1995 report to the Connecticut General Assembly.
For now, though, the prison farm is alive and well in Louisiana. And at Angola, many prisoners can expect to be buried on the land they till. Two cemeteries, Point Lookout 1 and 2, lie on the prison grounds. No one knows exactly how many prisoners are interred in the former, since, after a flood washed away the first Angola cemetery in 1927, the bodies were reburied in a large common grave.
African American refugee camp near Baton Rouge Louisiana during the 1927 flood
Point Lookout 1 is now full, and with the vast majority of Angola's prisoners destined to die in prison, Point Lookout 2 is well on its way, according to King.
"Angola is pretty huge," King said. "They've got a lot of land to bury a lot of prisoners."
No one knows how many of the prisoners kept in involuntary servitude at Angola are innocent. But at least one who has proven his innocence in court, overturning his conviction, is still behind bars. Please see "Declared Innocent, but Not Free."