Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Free trade can mean the poor stay hungry

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By Felicity Lawrence

It is not lack of food but lack of money to buy food that, as often as not, causes hunger in developing countries, as any aid agency will tell you. About 850 million people around the world are malnourished, but then about 1 billion of the global population are trying to survive on less than $1 (50p) a day. A further 2.5 billion people have less than $2 (£1) a day to live on. They have been hit hardest by rising food prices.

More than half the world's population also still depends for some of its income on agriculture. Rising food commodity prices ought to have helped them but they haven't. The fact is that much of the money made in the food chain is captured by transnational corporations based in richer nations.

The policy of the international financial institutions over the past two decades has been to encourage poor countries to open up their agricultural markets and pursue export-led growth, with food exports the engine of development. But the effect time and again has been to increase inequalities and deepen poverty for those at the bottom of the chain.

A hearing of the US Congress's Ways and Means committee in 2006 unintentionally provided one of the most succinct accounts of the problem I have come across. The Peruvian asparagus industry was up before the house to reassure representatives that any growth in imports to the US from Peru would be in US interests.

For every dollar spent by a US consumer on imported asparagus from Peru, 70 cents stayed in the US, the industry explained. The money goes not to Peruvian farmers but to US supermarkets and wholesalers, and to US shippers, distributors, importers, and storage owners. Just 30 cents stays in Peru. (The UK too imports most of its out-of-season asparagus from Peru.)

But Peru doesn't even get the full benefit of that 30 cents, because a large portion of the 30 cents Peru makes comes back to the US anyway: it is spent by Peruvians on US seed, US materials for processing, US fertiliser and US pesticides. US-based vegetable corporations, Del Monte and General Mills Green Giant, have been able to enjoy lower land values, cheap labour and low environmental costs by moving some of their production to Peru. The handful of corporations that dominate the global markets in seed, fertiliser, pesticides, trading, distribution and retailing take care of the rest.

Increased agricultural exports have indeed contributed to a growth in Peru's GDP, but the benefit to the poor of its population is hard to see.

This is a story repeated around the world, where free trade has so often meant a one-way ticket - poorer countries forced to open up their markets while western ones continue to subsidise their agriculture to the benefit of their traders and manufacturers. Until the system is radically restructured, people will still go hungry.

As economic crisis deepens, rich get richer

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By Tom Eley

Forbes publishes list of 400 wealthiest Americans

Even as the US careens into its greatest economic calamity since the Great Depression, the financial aristocracy whose parasitism and criminality has brought on the crisis has held its own—and then some.

The recently released Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans shows that the combined wealth of the aristocracy has increased 2 percent, even amidst the financial breakdown and recession of the economy. “In this, the 27th edition of the list,” Forbes glumly notes, “the assembled net worth of America’s wealthiest rose by $30 billion—only 2%—to $1.57 trillion.”

Readers will be forgiven for tripping over the word “only” in relationship to a $30 billion increase in wealth for 400 spectacularly wealthy individuals. This “modest” figure—the increase in wealth for the oligarchy in a bad year—is only slightly less than the federal government has budgeted for unemployment insurance for all of 2008.

The overall wealth of the 400 richest Americans is staggering. There are no multimillionaires on the list; a minimum of $1.3 billion being required to gain admittance, while the average net worth is $3.9 billion.

The combined wealth of the richest 400 individuals is $400 billion more than the entire discretionary spending budget for the federal government. It is more than $300 billion larger than the combined 2008 outlay for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. It is more than 15 times the combined appropriations for education and highways and mass transit.

The personal wealth of the top 400 Americans is more than twice the combined annual GDP of all of sub-Saharan Africa, home to nearly 800 million people, the vast majority of whom live in dire conditions. It is also several hundred billion dollars larger than the GDP of the world’s eighth biggest economy, that of Spain.

The club’s richest member is Microsoft magnate Bill Gates, whose net worth, $57 billion, is greater than the annual GDP of about 120 of the world’s 180 nations.

The year’s biggest winner is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose personal wealth increased by $8.5 billion to $20 billion, making Bloomberg the nation’s eighth richest individual.

On Tuesday, without a hint of irony—much less shame—Mayor Bloomberg proposed brutal across-the-board budget cuts for the city of New York. He is calling for cutbacks totaling $500 million for the current fiscal year, to be followed by much steeper cuts in the coming years. Meanwhile Bloomberg, in the course of just one year, pocketed 17 times what he is now demanding that millions of working people in New York City forfeit in terms of vital services and jobs. Only in America!

However, owing to the turbulence of the stock market, great fortunes were being both made and squandered even as Forbes published its list. “The Forbes 400 is a snapshot of estimated wealth on Aug. 29, 2008, the day we locked in prices of publicly traded stocks,” the magazine wrote. “Given how unsettled the stock market is, some of those on our list will become significantly richer or poorer within weeks—even days—of publication. Many, including AIG shareholders Eli Broad and Steven Udvar-Hazy, have lost hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Becoming poorer is of course a relative process; we can be certain that none of the demoted oligarchs faces hunger.

Among this year’s biggest “losers”—and there is a degree of poetic justice in this—are casino moguls. Kirk Kerkorian has managed to squander $6.8 billion of ill-gotten social wealth, while the fortune of his rival Sheldon Adelson “has fallen $13 billion in the past 12 months—$1.5 million per hour.” Adelson has managed to lose more in an hour than most US workers will earn in a lifetime.

That the nation’s financial aristocracy continues to gorge itself even as the economy stagnates demonstrates the increasing parasitism of the elite. The wealth of the super-rich is no longer bound up with the growth of the real economy, as it was in the days of Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Ford. Just the opposite is the case. The wealth of the aristocracy is based on the plundering and destruction of the real economy.

A perusal of the basis of the Forbes 400 members’ wealth illustrates the parasitic nature of US capitalism. The largest two categories on the list are “finance” with 65 members and “investments” with 51. Among the “sources” Forbes lists for these categories are “leveraged buyouts,” “investments,” “hedge funds,” “money management,” and “banking, insurance.”

The next largest category is “media/entertainment,” with 36 representatives among the Fortune 400, followed by the 35 members in the highly toxic “real estate” category. There are 30 members of the Fortune 400 who have reaped their fortunes from “technology,” almost all from Internet ventures or computer technology. Twenty-eight more are found in the “oil/gas” category.

Among the Fortune 400 there are 20 in the “retail” group, among them seven members of the Walton clan, owners of Wal-Mart, who collectively have assets of over $100 billion.

It has to be asked: Are there any members of the Forbes 400 actually associated with producing commodities or creating wealth of some sort?

There are only 19 members of the 400 in the category called “manufacturing.” However, upon inspection we see that this group is comprised of corporate raiders, oil refiners, inheritors, and controllers of holding companies. Only five members of this classification are actually associated with producing a commodity—and four of these produce light consumer goods.

Likewise, there are only 11 members of the financial aristocracy whose wealth has been associated with commodity production in the agricultural sector. But among these, nine are inheritors of the Cargill fortune. Of the other two, one has gained his fortune selling discount cigarettes; another by producing pesticides in Argentina.

There are nine members of the group in the “apparel” category, which is split between those whose wealth has come from retail sales, such as the owners of the Gap clothing stores, and those who have made windfalls by producing consumer goods in low-cost countries and selling the products for inflated prices in the US, such as Phil Knight of Nike.

There is only one member of the “construction/engineering” category, the 321st richest American, Alfred Clark, who has made his fortune by building sports stadiums. The “food” category, of which there are 21 members, is divided among retailers, inheritors, and the owners of single product lines, including the owner of the Slim-Fast empire. There are only three members of the “shipping/trucking/transport” category, and one member of “mining/lumber” (whose wealth came from overseas ventures).

In short, the incredible fortunes accumulated by the American elite have precious little to do with socially useful production. On the contrary, the financial aristocracy has reaped its obscene piles of wealth from the gutting of infrastructure, the shuttering of industrial production, and the impoverishment of working people, the broad mass of the population.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad interview Sept 23, 2008 (Video)

The 50 Richest Members of Congress

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By Paul Singer, Jennifer Yachnin and Casey Hynes

Everything that you are about to read might be wrong.

Roll Call’s annual attempt to rank the riches of Members of Congress is hampered by one fundamental flaw: It is based on the lawmakers’ financial disclosure forms, which are extraordinarily unreliable sources of information.

The disclosure rules allow Members to report assets in broad categories, so there is no way to tell the difference between a $20 million investment and a $5 million investment. The top category on the Members’ forms is “over $50 million,” so it is impossible to accurately account for anything worth more than that — like a professional sports team, for example. There is also a gaping loophole for assets owned by the Members’ spouse or dependent children; anything worth more than $1 million in value can be reported as “over $1 million.” There is no way to tell whether that is $1.2 million or $1.2 billion.

The rules also don’t require reporting things of value that are not used to produce income — most notably any primary residence or other home that is not used for rentals. That loophole removes from most Members’ portfolios hundreds of thousands of dollars and in come cases millions of dollars worth of assets. Airplanes, fancy cars, antiques or other valuable items are not reported.

In filing a detailed disclosure form on behalf of Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), his accountants added this editorial note, which sums up the problem: The form is meant to comply with Senate disclosure rules but “is not intended to be a complete presentation of Senator Corker’s financial position.”

Beyond all of these flaws, there remains the fact that many, many financial disclosure forms filed by Members of Congress are simply inaccurate. A check mark placed in the wrong box can inflate or deflate a Member’s apparent net worth by millions of dollars, and misunderstandings of the rules have led Members to understate some assets, overstate others and claim additional assets they no longer own.

Where the errors are obvious or have created noticeable discrepancies from prior-year filings, Roll Call has attempted to contact the offices to get a proper understanding of the actual value of the asset or assets in question.

What remains below is a ranking of the 50 wealthiest Members of Congress based on the minimum net worth reported on their financial disclosure forms. To achieve these numbers, Roll Call totaled the assets listed on financial disclosure forms filed in 2008 (covering calendar year 2007) using the lowest number in the ranges in which Members are required to report. An asset from $500,000 to $1 million is counted as being worth $500,000, unless the Member has provided a brokerage statement or other documentation that offers more specific detail.

Liabilities, which are also reported in ranges, are calculated based on the minimum value, and are subtracted from total minimum assets to establish total net worth.

Assets that are not included on the forms but have values that have been established by Roll Call or other publications are not included for the purposes of assembling this ranking, because the Members are not required to report these numbers. This ranking is based only on what is reported on the annual disclosure forms.

1. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.)
$230.98 million

The Massachusetts Senator claims the mantel of richest Member in the 110th Congress. Kerry’s actual holdings, however — including those of wife Teresa Heinz Kerry, widow to ketchup heir Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.) — are likely much greater.

In an April 2008 article, Forbes.com estimated Heinz Kerry’s net worth at $1 billion.

Kerry’s disclosure forms list the value of more than 180 assets — including Heinz family trusts and investment funds — only as “over $1 million,” rather than the more specific ranges including $1 million to $5 million. Senators are allowed to list assets in the “over $1 million” category only if the items are held independently by a spouse or dependent child.

2. Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.)
$225.96 million

The wealthy Californian, who remains heavily invested in Harman International Industries, has seen her wealth increase nearly $10 million since filing her 2006 report.

Harman’s report lists three accounts, including one held solely by her husband, totaling a combined minimum of $125 million in stock and options in the company. Harman’s spouse founded the company, which manufactures electronics under the brand names AKG Acoustics, Harman Kardon, Infinity and JBL, among others.

In addition, Harman, who has no outstanding debts, lists a trust fund worth $1.8 million and an additional $2 million in multiple hedge fund accounts.
3. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)
$160.62 million

The Golden State lawmaker added $2 million to his bottom line in 2007, increasing his fortune by a little more than 1 percent.

Issa, founder of the Vista, Calif.-based Directed Electronics, which manufactures car alarms, claims an investment worth at least $50 million in DEI and $25 million to $50 million in Greene Properties Inc. Both corporations own and operate office and industrial properties in California.

His portfolio also comprises numerous investment funds, including a dozen valued at a minimum of $5 million each.

4. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.)
$80.40 million

A descendant of oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, the West Virginian’s vast assets remained stable in 2007, as his net worth increased by a little more than 1 percent.

Rockefeller’s fortunes are stored primarily in three blind trusts with JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wachovia Corp. and United National Bank, valued at more than $50 million, $25 million to $50 million, and $5 million to $25 million, respectively.

Another family trust is listed at simply “over $1 million.”

The Senator lists at least $5.5 million in debt on two loans, down from $6.5 million in 2006, when he listed an additional $1 million loan from United National Bank in Charleston, W.Va.

5. Rep. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.)
$78.96 million

The Tar Heel State lawmaker’s wealth more than doubled since 2006, when he identified about $36 million in assets.

According to Hayes’ office, the increase, including more than $36 million in new trust funds, is the result of an inheritance. Hayes’ mother passed away in 2007.

Among the holdings in Hayes’ numerous trust funds are a mix of stocks and bonds, as well as properties including land in Lake County, Minn., and Sheldon, S.C., valued at least $5 million and $1 million, respectively.

The funds include at least $1 million in stock in corporations such as Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Merck, Pfizer, General Electric and Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris USA.

The North Carolinian also lists a commercial loan of at least $1 million to finance his private airplane.

6. Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.)
$65.49 million

Buchanan, the owner of several car dealerships, watched his wealth dip slightly in the past year, dropping $1.74 million, or more than 2 percent below his 2006 total.

While the Florida lawmaker’s empire — comprising several automobile dealerships, an aircraft charter business, real estate holdings and investment accounts — amounts to $102.34 million, it carries with it nearly $37 million in debt.

Included in that figure are new purchases in 2007: a King Air 350 aircraft and a Learjet, both listed as debts valued at $5 million to $25 million from SunTrust Leasing of Baltimore.

He also lists an Embraer Legacy from the same creditor for $5 million to $25 million.

7. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.)
$55.33 million

Lautenberg, who made millions from the payroll processing company he created five decades ago, reported that his total minimum assets jumped about 24 percent, from $45 million in 2006, but that number is still not very revealing. Lautenberg’s two biggest assets are two blind trusts that he set up for himself, each worth $5 million to $25 million. Together they count for $10 million of his assets for this list, though they could be worth five times that amount.

The major increase over last year appears to be in his wife’s assets. She has several family trusts in her name, mostly holding real estate, and between 2006 and 2007 she received additional assets from her mother, Lautenberg’s office said.

So in 2006, Lautenberg reported that through an entity called LCBS Corp. his wife held “over $1 million” of Mira Loma Associates, a company holding residential real estate in Riverside, Calif. In 2007, Mira Loma was listed twice at “over $1 million” — once as part of LCBS and once as a separate asset in Bonnie Englebardt Lautenberg’s name. Several of her family trusts also purchased real estate and other assets worth more than $5 million in 2007.

8. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)
$52.34 million

Together with her husband, financier Richard Blum, Feinstein claims a diversified portfolio that grew by $1.8 million, or an increase of just under 4 percent, since 2006.

The Californian lists assets with her husband that include ownership of all or part of numerous limited partnerships.

Among those, the Blum Family Partners, owned entirely by Blum, claims “over $1 million” in stock in RAE Systems, a manufacturer of chemical and radiation detection equipment. The fund also includes “over $1 million” in a real estate investment trust.

In addition, Feinstein lists a $5 million to $25 million investment in Carlton Hotel Properties in San Francisco and owns condos in both Tahoe City, Calif., and on Kauai in Hawaii, both valued at $1 million to $5 million.

Feinstein also lists at least $2 million in debt to Bank of America for two loans made to Blum Capital Partners.

9. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.)
$47.62 million

Much of Kennedy’s wealth stems from family trusts, and the Massachusetts Senator reported almost no change in 2007, with an increase of less than 1 percent.

Kennedy lists one family trust valued from $25 million to $50 million, as well as four trusts worth at least $5 million each and a blind trust totaling at least $1 million.

The Bay State lawmaker also owns a rental property in Hyannisport, Mass., valued at at least $1 million and lists a plot of undeveloped land in Lafayette, La., owned by his wife, worth from $500,000 to $1 million.

Kennedy lists $1 million in mortgage debt from Northern Trust Co. for his Hyannisport property.

10. Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.)
$28.65 million

If you take financial disclosure forms seriously (never a good idea), you might be led to believe that Smith’s net worth tripled last year. His 2006 financial disclosure form disclosed net assets of about $8.5 million.

But Smith’s worth is largely derived from Smith Food Sales, a purveyor of frozen vegetables. In 2006 he listed that asset as being worth $5 million to $25 million. In 2007, the value has jumped to the next category, $25 million to $50 million, so even if the value of the asset rose from just under to just more than $25 million, the effect on the disclosure form is to add $20 million to Smith’s minimum net worth. Since Smith doesn’t have to report the assets of the corporation, his actual net worth may be far above what is reported on the Congressional form.

11. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas)
$23.93 million

The Lone Star State lawmaker saw his wealth increase by more than $6 million in 2007, largely thanks to his wife’s investment in a San Antonio real estate partnership.

According to his disclosures, Maychild Ltd. increased in value to at least $5 million, adding $4 million to his minimum net worth under Roll Call’s evaluation method. In 2006, McCaul listed the real estate partnership, which owns a mix of commercial and residential properties, in the $1 million to $5 million range.

Together with his wife and family, McCaul also invests at least $12.1 million in Clear Channel Communications, the company founded by his father-in-law, Lowry Mays. The McCauls also list nearly $1 million invested in Live Nation, a Clear Channel spinoff.

The Texan lists no debts.

12. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.)
$22.41 million

The New Jersey lawmaker’s riches shrank almost imperceptibly in 2007, decreasing slightly more than 1 percent.

Frelinghuysen’s assets comprise more than $15 million from several family trusts invested primarily in stocks.

He lists an investment of at least $1 million in Procter & Gamble Co., and one family trust lists an additional $5 million to $25 million invested in the same company.

Frelinghuysen’s holdings in Johnson & Johnson decreased in minimal value by half in 2007, dropping to $500,000 from $1 million last year.

The lawmaker’s investments also include 18 acres in Frelinghuysen Township, N.J., valued at a minimum of $250,000, and a stake in 236 acres in Stockbridge, Mass., worth at least $100,000.

13. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)
$19.64 million

McCain’s true value is impossible to estimate because most of the major assets are listed in the name of his wife or children, thereby requiring far less detailed disclosure. Other news outlets have suggested that Cindy McCain’s net worth may exceed $100 million, but there is no documentation to prove that figure.

McCain’s disclosure form lists 12 items with values of “over $1 million” that are owned by his wife and children. In 2007, the family liquidated a trust set up by Cindy McCain’s late mother that had a reported value in 2006 of more than $2.5 million. The proceeds were then distributed to three other trusts, which show a minimum value of $1.4 million. Cindy McCain also liquidated a blind trust in 2007, selling millions of dollars worth of stock, and the reported value of the stock she owns through Hensley & Co. — her family’s beer distributorship — dropped more than $4 million in value last year.

The only assets McCain claims as his own are a checking account with a balance of $15,000 to $50,000, a money market fund worth less than $15,000 and several book deals.

14. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.)
$19.42 million

McCaskill watched her net worth grow in 2007, increasing more than 24 percent over her estimated $15.66 million total in 2006.

Among McCaskill’s major assets: approximately 270 limited partnerships in affordable housing real estate and a handful of “enterprise trust investment funds” held by her husband that showed a combined increase of approximately $2.7 million in value from last year.

Her spouse purchased a Kansas City, Mo., housing bond listed in the “over $1 million” category.

The Senator’s husband also identified a loan of at least $1 million, the only liability listed by the couple, from Enterprise Bank.

15. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.)
$19.19 million

In 2006, Corker sold off several commercial properties, thereby eliminating more than $20 million in mortgages that had counted as liabilities against his assets. With those liabilities out of the way, Corker’s minimum net worth jumps from about $1.5 million on his 2006 report to more than $19 million on his 2007 report.

One of the liabilities remaining is attributed to Corker’s “dependent child”: a loan from the Senator valued at more than $1 million, payable at 5.05 percent interest.

In 2007, according to an explanatory note attached to his disclosure form, Corker also divested himself of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of publicly traded stock in order to avoid any appearance of conflicts of interest. He consolidated his investments in several funds that are widely diversified and therefore do not have to report their underlying holdings. When one of the funds could not meet the Ethics Committee’s requirements for an “exempt” fund, Corker withdrew from the investment.

16. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.)
$19.01 million

The New York lawmaker saw her estimated net worth increase more than 44 percent over the past year, up from $13.18 million.

The jump results from growth in her portion of a real estate development company, which moved up from the $1 million minimum category to the $5 million minimum category, effectively adding $4 million to Maloney’s bottom line.

Maloney listed a value of at least $5 million for Bosher Family, a partner of the real estate development company HPB Enterprises.

She also lists a separate $1 million entry for HPB Enterprises in Hertford, N.C.

The Democrat also owns a “rental property and residence” in New York valued at $5 million to $25 million, a rental property in New Canaan, Conn., ($1 million to $5 million) and a Washington, D.C., house ($1 million to $5 million).

Maloney also has about $2 million in mortgage debts and real estate loans on those properties and an Arlington, Va., condo.

17. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)
$18.71 million

The Californian’s net worth rose nearly 16 percent in 2007, adding $2.5 million to her personal wealth.

Among her assets, Pelosi lists a Norden, Calif., town house valued at $1 million to $5 million and a real estate investment in Napa, Calif., worth at least $500,000.

In addition, her husband owns a commercial property in San Francisco valued at $5 million to $25 million. In 2006, the property was listed as worth $1 million to $5 million, so that property alone added $4 million to Pelosi’s net worth last year.

The couple also owns a vineyard in St. Helena, Calif., valued at $5 million to $25 million.

The Speaker’s husband also increased tenfold his holdings in Apple Computer Inc. stock to at least $5 million, up from a minimum of $500,000 in 2006.

Pelosi and her husband also owe mortgage debt on several of their properties, including the vineyard, totaling at least $8.75 million.

Other debts listed by Pelosi include lines of credit totaling at least $3.5 million.

18. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.)
$17.77 million

The largest asset on Lowey’s disclosure form is an account in her husband’s name with the investment firm Ingalls & Snyder listed with a value of $5 million to $25 million. In 2006, Lowey listed the same asset with a value of $1 million to $5 million.

Her husband has several other investment accounts worth a minimum of $1 million each, as well as at least $1 million in a profit- sharing plan from his law firm, Lowey Dannenberg Bemporad & Selinger (which has since been renamed). The couple also list joint investment accounts at Glickenhaus & Co. and Fidelity worth from $1 million to $5 million each.

19. Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.)
$16.45 million

The North Carolinian and her husband, former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), saw a modest rise in their wealth, increasing a little more than 2 percent since 2006.

The Doles’ assets include the only liability listed by the couple multiple checking and money market accounts worth at least $1.12 million, including one account held by Bob Dole valued at “over $1 million.”

The former Senator also claims a stake in five investment funds, worth a combined minimum of nearly $5 million. He also lists multiple promissory notes from the Robert J. Dole Irrevocable Trust, including two worth “over $1 million.”

Elizabeth Dole also lists about 119 acres of land in Johnson City, Kan., valued at $1 million to $5 million.

20. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine)
$15.05 million

Snowe’s net worth is largely tied to her husband’s position as chairman of the board of Education Management Corp., a Pittsburgh-based education company. Snowe lists her husband’s stock in Education Management as an asset worth $5 million to $25 million. In last year’s disclosure form, that asset was valued at $1 million to $5 million.

He also holds stock options worth $1 million to $5 million. The couple jointly holds mutual funds shares worth more than $2 million.

21. Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.)
$14.63 million

The Wisconsin lawmaker claimed a nearly 7 percent increase in his holdings over the past year, increasing his wealth by more than $900,000.

Petri’s major investments include stock in both U.S. Bank and Walgreens Co., each valued at $5 million to $25 million.

He also claims at least $1 million in stock for both Berkshire Hathaway and British insurance exchange Lloyds of London. The latter has doubled in minimum value since 2006, when Petri listed the asset as worth at least $500,000.

Petri’s only debt is a loan issued by Merrill Lynch, valued at $1 million to $5 million.

22. Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.)
$14.49 million

Having disposed of several debts, Miller’s net worth has rocketed more than 39 percent, or about $4 million, in his most recent report.

The Californian no longer lists debts of at least $1 million each for the Fontana Library Co. and the Upland, Calif.-based Church Haven Co., which he listed last year.

Miller’s assets include an account with Pomona Bank and Trust 1st Federal worth $5 million to $25 million and 382 acres in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., valued at at least $5 million.

He also added a new investment worth $1 million to $5 million in PFF Bancorp, the parent company of Rancho Cucamonga-based PFF Bank and Trust.

23. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.)
$12.43 million

The Tennessee Senator’s largest asset is his stock in Processed Foods Corp., a Knoxville-based company where Alexander served on the board prior to his election to the Senate in 2002. He holds $5 million to $25 million worth of the company’s stock, and his wife holds “over $1 million” as well.

The family’s other major assets are land and real estate, in particular a patch in Nantucket, Mass., that is worth $1 million to $5 million for Alexander and “over $1 million” for his wife.

He incurred several new debts in 2007, taking out four loans totaling at least $560,000.

24. Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.)
$11.39 million

Kids. You pour your heart into them, and they grow up, leave and take all your money. Or something like that.

Campbell’s financial disclosure form for 2007 notes that one of his children reached the age of majority, so Campbell is no longer required to report the assets that were previously counted as belonging to the “dependent child.” That and the fact that one of the rental properties Campbell owns was misreported the year before (it was listed as being worth at least $1 million, but should have been listed at $500,000 to $1 million) leaves the California Congressman showing a drop of more than $2 million in the assets that he declared last year.

However, he still owns more than $6 million worth of California real estate, among his other holdings.

25. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.)
$11.34 million

Sensenbrenner, who submits one of the lengthiest financial disclosures each year by providing his regular report along with a detailed accounting of his net worth, saw his tally drop by about 3 percent from the previous year.

Much of the Wisconsin lawmaker’s losses come from a downtick in his $6.7 million of investments in stocks and bonds, comprising $1.3 million in Merck & Co. Inc. and significant investments in Exxon Mobil Corp., General Electric Co., Pfizer Inc. and Abbot Laboratories Inc.

He also owns an Alexandria, Va., home valued at $1.5 million and a $1 million interest in a Waukesha County, Wis., home.

Sensenbrenner has also listed $7,800 in travelers checks for the past two years.

26. Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.)
$11.20 million

Rehberg increased his net worth by 5 percent in 2007 as the value of his wife’s Billings, Mont., farm increased by $500,000.

The Montanan’s office said Rehberg’s spouse reincorporated the property in preparation to sell it, revising the property value to at least $1 million. The Rehbergs did not ultimately sell the parcel.

Rehberg’s assets also include at least $10 million in ranching and livestock operations and $1 million in Rehberg Ranch Marketing Inc.

He also lists $1.3 million in loan debt for development, construction and agriculture.

27. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa)
$10.50 million

According to Harkin’s financial disclosure forms, his minimum net worth has essentially doubled since 2006 because of his wife’s purchase of about $5 million worth of stock in 2007.

Harkin’s office wouldn’t comment on where the money for the purchases came from, but the disclosure form indicates that his wife, Ruth, bought and sold “over $1 million” worth of stock in United Technologies Corp., where she used to be a vice president. Harkin’s forms have previously stated that his wife’s compensation from UTC included a “contractual right to receive stock in the future,” so it is possible that she took stock that was owed to her and converted it to other securities.

The assets that are listed as belonging to the Senator alone or through joint ownership have a minimum value of less than $100,000. The Harkins list no liabilities.

28. Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Texas)
$10.49 million

In 2007, Marchant exchanged several ranch properties for a partnership interest in Bonita Lands and Cattle, a group that holds 3,500 acres, plus cows and equipment. Bonita became the largest asset on his disclosure form for 2007, valued at $5 million to $25 million.

Marchant’s other major assets are rolled into a family partnership called Marken Interests Ltd. The partnership holds 73 acres in Ft. Worth, Texas, which Marchant values at $1 million to $5 million, plus mineral rights and a wide array of stocks.

Marchant also lists more than $3 million in liabilities, but several of those items are mortgages that appear to have been paid off or assumed by Bonita, which would suggest that his net worth has already risen over the total reported on his latest financial disclosure form.

29. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.)
$10.39 million

In 2006, in preparation for her White House bid, Clinton closed a blind trust worth $5 million to $25 million, reported its stock holdings and then sold them off because of different disclosure requirements for presidential candidates.

In 2007, her primary assets were two Citibank deposit accounts, each worth $5 million to $25 million, one of which is new. While the disclosure form she prepared for the presidential race indicated a minimum net worth of about $17 million and her current disclosure only tallies about $10 million, the wide ranges reported for the family’s cash accounts could easily accommodate millions more in assets than she gets credit for in this tally.

Beyond the two giant bank accounts, the family’s biggest asset appears to be Bill Clinton, who earned more than $10 million giving speeches in 2007.

30. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)
$8.64 million

The Alabaman’s fortunes diminished nearly 6.5 percent in 2007, a drop of about $600,000.

Shelby owns 48 shares in Tuscaloosa Title, a title abstract and insurance company, with a value of $1 million to $5 million, and his wife owns two shares worth $50,000 to $100,000.

The couple transferred a 49 percent stake in a Tuscaloosa, Ala., apartment building, listed at $500,000 to $1 million, to the Shelby Family Trust in late 2007.

Shelby’s assets also include a D.C. town house and a Tuscaloosa home, both valued in the “over $1 million” category, as well as a Tuscaloosa office building listed at $500,000 to $1 million.

The Senator lists $1 million in mortgage debt on the apartment building, as well as a personal note issued by Regions Bank for $250,000 to $500,000.

31. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.)
$8.40 million

After the sale of his oil services company in 2003, several other companies Pearce founded have continued to grow. Last year, LFT, which takes its name from Lea Fishing Tools, the company Pearce sold, rose from $500,000 to $1 million to $1 million to $5 million, and Pearce also bought investment land in New Mexico.

Roll Call reported in April that Pearce apparently sold his company for about $12 million, but because the assets are held in a corporate account, he does not have to list the total amount among his assets or income.

32. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas)
$8.38 million

Since Members of Congress are required to report only properties that are producing income, it is not uncommon to see assets hop on or off Members’ disclosure forms from year to year when they start or stop renting them. Doggett appears to be a case in point: An Austin, Texas, property that was not reported in 2006 appears on his 2007 form with a value of $100,000 to $250,000, producing $5,000 to $15,000 in income. There is no reported transaction, which suggests that Doggett already owned it but began renting the “garage apt” last year.

His other holdings, which showed a solid increase over the prior year, include investments of at least $500,000 in several Vanguard investment funds, as well as Whole Foods Market Inc.

33. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.)
$8.20 million

The Georgia Senator paid off a small home mortgage while adding a new Massachusetts Avenue condo to his real estate portfolio.

Isakson reports a stable fortune, increasing his net worth less than 2 percent over his 2006 values.

His only debt is a $15,000 to $50,000 equity loan from Wachovia Bank.

Isakson also reported the purchase of a condo for $250,000 to $500,000.

The lawmaker’s assets include a mix of real estate and stocks, including Synovus, a financial services company. Isakson lists an investment of $1 million to $5 million in the company.

Among his real estate holdings are 12 acres in Rabun City, Ga., valued at $1 million to $5 million.

34. Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah)
$7.93 million

Bennett’s fortune remained the same from 2006, with at least $5 million of his assets tied to Watermark Corp., a company that owns lodging properties in Salt Lake City.

While Bennett, who once owned all of Watermark Corp, now claims only a one-third stake, he acknowledges in his disclosure form that he maintains full rights to the company’s assets because he remains a guarantor on mortgages for company properties.

Those mortgage debts, for two Anniversary Inns located in Salt Lake City, are valued at minimums of $1 million and $5 million, respectively. Bennett lists the net value of those properties at $1 million to $5 million each.

35. Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.)
$7.81 million

It was a good financial year for the one-time NFL quarterback, who added a more than 20 percent increase, about $1.3 million, to his net worth.

Shuler’s investment in River Crest Development, a Del Rio, Tenn.-based real estate development firm, jumped to a minimum value of $1 million, doubling from its $500,000 minimum rating last year.

The North Carolinian also added to his portfolio the River at Shining Rock, a Haywood County, N.C.-based real estate development company, valued at $1 million to $5 million.

His real estate holdings also include the Cove at Blackberry Ridge, valued at a minimum of $5 million, and a stake in a Knoxville, Tenn., shopping center valued at a minimum of $1 million.

Shuler carries $1 million in mortgage debt on rental property, as well as an additional $500,000 in business loans and a $50,000 consumer line of credit from United Community Bank in Lenoir City, Tenn.

36. Rep. John Spratt (D-S.C.)
$7.50 million

Spratt’s minimum net worth soared in 2007 as the value of an 800-acre swath of pasture land in Fort Mill, S.C., moved into the $5 million to $25 million range.

The increase over its previous minimum $1 million listing swells the Democrat’s fortunes by $4 million, the largest factor in his 141 percent increase.

Spratt’s other assets include investments in Bank of America Corp. valued at $500,000 to $1 million and York Bancshares at $1 million to $5 million.

His real estate holdings include a D.C. rental unit and properties in South Carolina, with a combined value of at least $850,000.

Spratt carries $480,000 in debt, a combination of mortgage debt, credit cards and promissory notes.

37. Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.)
$7.37 million

Foster, who won the special election to replace former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R), has almost all of his assets tied up in the theater lighting company he founded with his brother in 1975, Electronic Theatre Controls. Foster reports holding $5 million to $25 million in a promissory note “for payments over time arising from sale of interest” in the company, but also a $1 million to $5 million ownership interest in the company “that owns the factory building used by ETC Inc.”

He also has more than $1 million in savings, checking and money market accounts.

Foster reports no liabilities.

38. Rep. Steve Kagen (D-Wis.)
$7.31 million

The Wisconsin lawmaker, who operated Kagen Allergy Clinics before his election to the House, maintains a portfolio composed largely of bonds, as well as a money market account valued at $1 million to $5 million.

He lists no debts.

39. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.)
$7.21 million

Upton’s fortunes increased by approximately $460,000 in 2007, adding nearly 7 percent to his net worth.

Together with his wife, the Michigan lawmaker owns $1 million to $5 million in Whirlpool, the Benton Harbor, Mich.-based appliance company co-founded by his grandfather.

The couple also lists $5 million to $25 million in family trusts and an additional $1 million in an investment account.

Upton lists no debts.

40. Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.)
$7.03 million

Dreier’s wealth remains relatively unchanged at just over $7 million, decreasing less than 1 percent from his estimated 2006 net worth.

The California Republican’s primary asset, valued at $5 million to $25 million, is an interest in Tiffany Manor Apartments, a complex in Kansas City, Mo.

He also has $500,000 to $1 million invested in the Oklahoma Publishing Co., which produces both the Oklahoman newspaper and its Web site, NewsOK.com.

Dreier, who lists no debts, also has investments worth at least $250,000 in both Viacom and Gaylord Entertainment, which owns resorts in Nashville, Orlando, Dallas and D.C., as well as the Grand Ole Opry.

41. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.)
$7.02 million

Nelson holds an unusual investment portfolio that is made up almost entirely of certificates of deposit, municipal bonds and treasury notes. As such, his net reportable worth did not grow much over the past year, but his report also doesn’t indicate significant investment losses.

Nelson does report “residential acreages held for resale” in Nebraska, with a value of $500,000 to $1 million; a year ago, that property was valued at $1 million to $5 million. He also holds stock worth $500,000 to $1 million in a Nebraska metal building manufacturing company.

42. Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.)
$6.99 million

The Georgia lawmaker’s net worth increased nearly 15 percent, or about $1 million, in the past year.

Much of that growth is the result of an increase in the value of a Minnesota Life annuities fund that Price lists in the $1 million to $5 million category. In 2006, he listed the annuities at a base value of $500,000.

Price also lists partial ownership for at least $600,000 worth of real estate in Roswell, Ga., including medical buildings and a condo development. Together with his wife, he also lists a vacant lot in St. Simons, Ga., valued at $1 million.

The Republican and his spouse also have multiple retirement and investment accounts valued at at least $4 million.

43. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.)
$6.20 million

Bingaman is something of a media mogul, having much of his worth invested in partnerships that hold stock in broadcast, print media and digital communications, among other things.

Bingaman’s net worth appears to have dropped by almost 20 percent from 2006 to 2007, as his wife sold off $2 million worth of stock from a Goldman Sachs investment account. The couple also put up nearly $400,000 in “capital calls” for various investments.

44. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.)
$5.88 million

DeLauro remains financially steady, reporting an identical figure for her net worth two years in a row.

The Connecticut Democrat’s wealth comes primarily from the stake her husband, pollster Stan Greenberg, holds in Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, valued at $5 million to $25 million.

DeLauro’s only debt is a loan from Chase Auto in Phoenix, listed at $15,000 to $50,000.

45. Sen. John Warner (R-Va.)
$5.86 million

The retiring Senator has assets scattered across a handful of brokerage accounts, none of which by itself is worth more than $1 million. Last year he added two real estate investments — Under the Missouri Sky Properties and Golden Dome partners — worth nearly $300,000.

Warner reports no liabilities.

46. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.)
$5.77 million

Speier, a newcomer to Congress, owns four California properties with a combined value of at least $3 million, which propels her onto this list. She is also boosted by her husband’s assets, including more than $1 million worth of stock in a California investment firm.

Her disclosure form lists no liabilities.

47. Rep. John Linder (R-Ga.)
$5.67 million

In August 2007, Linder sold his holdings in Grayling Industries, a Georgia manufacturer of plastic packaging, for $5 million to $25 million, netting a capital gain of more than $5 million.

His financial disclosure form shows two new Schwab money market accounts, one in his name and one in his wife’s, both listed as having a value of $1 million to $5 million. The couple also have two other IRA funds listed in the same category. Linder’s wife also owns three companies holding Mississippi timber land worth at least $700,000.

48. Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas)
$5.50 million

A developer before he came to Congress, Neugebauer remains active in land and real estate dealings. According to his disclosure forms, in 2007 he sold properties valued at a minimum of $180,000 and bought properties worth at least $317,000, and he holds a passel of other properties, including a D.C. town house. He also bought $1 million to $5 million in U.S. treasury bills last year.

49. Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.)
$5.49 million

Though he is among the wealthiest Members of Congress, Kohl’s financial disclosure fails to do him justice under Roll Call’s methodology.

The owner of the Milwaukee Bucks, Kohl values the NBA team at more than $50 million, the highest category available on the forms. But according to Forbes, the team’s estimated value in 2007 was $264 million.

Using that figure would put Kohl’s net worth at about $219 million, but his liabilities cancel out most of his assets.

The Wisconsin lawmaker’s debts are also tied to the basketball team, including three promissory notes from the NBA credit facility combined to value at least $55 million. Kohl also lists a promissory note to himself from the Bucks for more than $50 million.

The Senator also lists a blind trust valued at more than $50 million.

50. Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.)
$5.02 million

Emanuel’s blind trust appears to have lost a few hundred thousand dollars in value over the past year, resulting in a disclosure report that falsely indicates he lost almost half his personal wealth.

In 2006, he listed the blind trust at $5 million to $25 million; last year it was listed as from $1 million to $5 million. In a separate filing with the ethics committee, Emanuel reported that as of June 30, the value of the trust was $4.1 million. If that number were reported on his disclosure form, it would raise his minimum wealth to about $8 million.

Most Americans think U.S. is losing war on terrorism

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By Steven Thomma

A majority of Americans think the United States isn't winning the war on terrorism, a perception that could undermine a key Republican strength just as John McCain and Barack Obama head into their first debate Friday night, a clash over foreign policy and national security. A new Ipsos/McClatchy online poll finds a solid majority of 57 percent thinking that the country can win the war on terrorism but a similar majority of 54 percent saying that the country is NOT winning it.

The poll came just days before the two major-party candidates meet for the first of three debates, a 90-minute showdown Friday on foreign policy and national security at the University of Mississippi.

Jim Lehrer of PBS will moderate the debate between Republican McCain and Democrat Obama, which will be televised nationally starting at 9 pm EDT.

If Americans are turning more pessimistic about the so-called war on terrorism, it could present a challenge for McCain. Voters traditionally trust Republicans more than Democrats to handle terrorism and national security, but a loss of confidence in the results of the fighting so far could erode that edge.

Some people are more skeptical than others, including women, those aged 18 to 34, those with college degrees and people in the Northeast. The most optimistic: Southerners.

The survey also found that Americans think by 57-43 percent that Afghanistan is now a more important front in combating terrorists than Iraq is.

That could benefit Obama, who opposed the war in Iraq and has long maintained that Iraq was a distraction from the war on terrorism. However, it also could reflect confidence that McCain's strategy of sending more U.S. troops to Iraq has worked.

Either way, Americans appear cool to proposals from McCain and Obama to send more troops to Afghanistan, preferring instead to start bringing service members home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

By 66-34 percent, Americans oppose proposals to send more troops to Afghanistan, either redeployed from Iraq or sent from elsewhere.

Rather, Americans favor gradually withdrawing troops from both countries by 74-26 percent. Among those most in favor of getting out of both countries were women, young people, those who make less than $50,000 a year and Northeasterners.

Finally, given four options, 57 percent said they wanted to gradually withdraw troops from both countries and bring them home, 21 percent want to redeploy some troops now from Iraq to Afghanistan, 12 percent want to keep troop levels the same in Iraq while sending new troops to Afghanistan and 10 percent want to keep troop levels the same in Iraq until the country is secure and then redeploy them to Afghanistan.

The poll has no statistical margin of error because the online sample isn't a random one that mirrors the population within a statistical probability ratio, although Ipsos weights the sample to resemble U.S. demographics.


These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted last Wednesday through Friday. For this survey, a national sample of 1,009 adults aged 18 or older from Ipsos' U.S. online panel is interviewed online. Weighting then is employed to balance demographics and ensure that the sample's composition reflects that of the U.S. adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. Even so, there's no statistical margin of error, because the online panel isn't a random sample that mirrors the population within a statistical probability ratio.

Réconcilier Main Street et Wall Street

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Soudain, le duel Obama-McCain perd de son intérêt. Le coup de grisou qui a soufflé comme des quilles les plus grands noms de la place financière de New York relègue le jeu politique à un théâtre assez secondaire. S'ajoute à cela la difficulté de mesurer l'ampleur de la crise financière. 400 milliards de dollars - soit le déficit budgétaire annuel américain ? Plus ? Impossible de faire face sans coordination internationale ? Nul ne le sait. Ce qui est certain, en revanche, et rend aux responsables politiques américains toute leur importance, c'est que la crise de Wall Street impose de s'atteler très sérieusement à la question économique récurrente du XXe siècle : l'équilibre entre Etat et marché. En d'autres termes, dans un pays marqué par une angoisse qui monte comme une inexorable marée, il devient vital de réconcilier l'économie « réelle » et une économie financière emportée par sa fuite en avant - produits gagés sur des crédits immobiliers et autres actifs, dont la sophistication n'a d'égale que le risque qui lui est inhérent, « effet de levier » qui gonfle la valeur des actifs au bilan et crée un endettement disproportionné. Latente depuis que l'innovation technologique et la mondialisation érodent le contrat social du New Deal (classes moyennes de propriétaires, relative équanimité de revenu, garanties sociales fournies par les grands groupes), cette question s'impose désormais, à l'heure d'une élection qui est déjà historique.

Le phénomène auquel on assiste met un terme à plus de vingt ans « d'exubérance irrationnelle », pour reprendre l'expression d'Alan Greenspan. Jusqu'aux années 1980, les produits financiers se limitaient pour l'essentiel au secteur bancaire et restaient assez solidement enchâssés dans l'économie industrielle et les actifs tangibles. Il y a eu ensuite un découplage et une période historique- ment unique de développement de l'industrie financière marquée par trois éléments : la libéralisation et la généralisation de l'activité boursière, la multiplication de produits financiers complexes et une valorisation de titres détachée des réalités économiques - la bulle Internet en est l'exemple achevé. La création de richesse par le commerce de produits financiers a installé les départements d'investissement des banques et les fonds d'investissement dans la vie économique, et s'est accompagnée d'une dissémination du risque. L'essor des activités financières des assureurs a aussi joué dans la financiarisation de l'économie, qui a ringardisé les activités productives classiques. La titrisation est devenue emblématique d'une économie financière aux fondations de plus en plus fragiles, cachant des créances insolvables dans un pot-pourri au contenu de plus en plus incertain, et que se repassent les établissements (banques, fonds et assureurs) comme un mistigri jusqu'à ce que l'un trébuche, entraînant les autres avec lui.

La crise du crédit hypothécaire fut le signal. Mais la dissémination du risque via le crédit et les mécanismes de refinancement des prêteurs, et l'érosion du facteur confiance a révélé ses effets au-delà de Fanny Mae et Freddie Mac. Cycle ou, comme le craignent certains, disparition de la banque d'investissement indépendante née dans l'entre-deux-guerres ? Le plus important sans doute est que se retrouvent économie financière et économie de la production, après le grand découplage des années 1980, 1990 et 2000, et que l'Etat crée de nouvelles règles d'encadrement du marché. Les disparités de revenu qui stigmatisent les dérives de la finance américaine, dont l'Etat fédéral tente d'amortir les conséquences en intervenant spectaculairement (nationalisation de Freddie et Fanny, garanties aux repreneurs de Bear Stearns et crédit à AIG), imposent un réexamen sérieux du rôle de l'Etat pour réguler l'économie financière et prévenir un défaut de liquidité, qui grippe le reste de l'économie.

Le discours des deux candidats écartant le recours à des fonds publics rejoint celui du secrétaire au Trésor Paulson, ancien patron de Goldman Sachs, sur les réticences à créer une culture du sauvetage public déresponsabilisant les banques. Lehman a payé pour les autres... Or, non seulement le recours à l'argent du contribuable - qui requiert une décision du Congrès - paraît indispensable, mais ce qui se joue est la capacité des dirigeants politiques américains à apporter des solutions aux excès exubérants de Wall Street pour protéger l'« American way of life » de Main Street, c'est-à-dire les Américains ordinaires, et en premier lieu les classes moyennes et démunies, premières victimes des créances pourries qu'elles ont souscrites et que le « système » a encouragées. Le marécage de l'Amérique profonde sublimé en crédit doré par les as de Wall Street : ce scénario (raccourci) prend fin.

Il appartient aux politiques d'élaborer une politique d'intervention comme les Etats-Unis la connurent au début du XXe siècle et après 1929, et recréer les conditions d'une distribution plus homogène des revenus que la finance américaine a contribué à altérer. Le chemin d'une restauration est « simple » : restructuration, priorité à l'éducation pour adapter les classes moyennes à l'économie du savoir.

Georgia death row prisoner faces execution following denial of clemency

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By Kate Randall

The state of Georgia is intent on executing Troy Anthony Davis. Barring a last-minute intervention by the US Supreme Court, Davis will die by lethal injection Tuesday at 7 p.m. local time in the death chamber at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison in Jackson. The Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles denied his clemency bid on September 12.

Troy Davis was sentenced to death in 1991 for the 1989 murder of an off-duty Savannah, Georgia police officer, 27-year-old Mark Allen MacPhail, who was working as a security guard. MacPhail was killed after responding to an altercation between a homeless man and an assailant in a Burger King parking lot near a Greyhound bus terminal.

No murder weapon has ever been produced by authorities, and there is no DNA or physical evidence linking Davis to the crime. Davis’s conviction was based wholly on the testimony of eyewitnesses, nine of whom testified at his trial. However, seven of these nine have now changed their testimony. Their recantations made clear that their statements were in many cases coerced, and that they were made out of fear of reprisals by police.

Typical was the statement of witness Monty Holmes, who wrote in an affidavit: “I told them I didn’t know anything about who shot the officer, but they kept questioning me. I was real young at the time and here they were questioning me about the murder of a police officer like I was in trouble or something. I was scared ... [I]t seems like they wouldn’t stop questioning me until I told them what they wanted to hear... I signed a statement saying that Troy told me that he shot the cop.”

A prisoner who testified against Davis said he fabricated the story. And at least three witnesses who testified to Davis’s guilt at trial now say that another man—Sylvester “Redd” Coles—admitted that he fired the fatal shots that killed the police officer.

On July 16, 2007, less than 24 hours before Davis was scheduled to be executed, the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles temporarily halted his execution, granting him a 90-day stay. The temporary reprieve was based on the board’s consideration of evidence presented by Davis’s defense at a nine-hour closed-door hearing, which heard numerous witnesses recant their testimony. (See “Georgia parole board issues 90-day stay of execution for death row inmate”)

The parole board stated at the time that it would “not allow an execution to proceed in this state unless and until its members are convinced that there is no doubt as to the guilt of the accused.” Board members said they would undertake an exhaustive examination of the case.

Earlier this month, on Friday, September 12, the board issued its final judgment: they ruled that the execution would proceed. The board issued its ruling denying clemency after a hearing that took testimony from a number of witnesses, including those who had recanted and apparently at least one who testified to Davis’s guilt.

The parole board’s deliberations are held in secret and they are not required to comment on their decisions. However, due to the extensive publicity surrounding the case, a spokesperson for the board felt compelled to issue the following statement: “After an exhaustive review of all available information regarding the Troy Davis case and after considering all possible reasons for granting clemency, the board has determined that clemency is not warranted.”

There was no explanation as to why they have decided to send Davis to his death in the face of testimony casting overwhelming doubt on his guilt. Georgia NAACP state president Edward DuBose commented: “Troy Anthony Davis is an innocent man and Georgia is on watch by the world. This is a modern-day lynching if it’s allowed to go forward.”

Davis’s only hope of evading execution now rests with the US Supreme Court. Currently, the high court is scheduled to hear an appeal by his attorneys on September 29—six days after his planned execution. In similar cases, the court has not moved up the date.

At every turn in his case, Troy Anthony Davis has come up against a judicial system hell-bent on denying him justice. It began with the actions of the police and prosecutors, extracting incriminating statements from witnesses on the basis of threats and coercion.

Due largely to measures contained in the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), signed into law under the Clinton administration in 1996, Davis’s defense has never been able to present new exculpatory evidence on appeal. Georgia courts have ruled that new evidence could not be presented in his case because five of the witnesses did not recant their testimony until after his state appeals had been exhausted.

The Georgia Supreme Court voted to hear a discretionary appeal of Davis’s conviction in August 2007, but denied the appeal on March 17, 2008. Georgia is one of three US states in which the governor has no power to grant clemency to condemned prisoners, so that route is not open to Davis.

The prospect of his state killing has provoked revulsion among significant sections of the US population, where opposition to the death penalty is on the rise. Hundreds marched in downtown Atlanta, Georgia last Thursday in a demonstration organized by Amnesty International and the NAACP. Protesters held signs proclaiming “Innocence Matters” and called for a new hearing in Davis’s case. Protests have taken place in Paris and other cities internationally.

Davis’s case provides a graphic exposé of the death penalty as practiced in the US. His entire case serves as a grim indictment of the barbarity of capital punishment and of those forces in the political establishment that work to promote and perpetuate it.

Banks race to profit from US bailout

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By Barry Grey

The announcement of a virtually open-ended government bailout of Wall Street has set off a frenzied competition among the biggest banks and financial firms to grab the lion’s share of the super profits to be reaped from the program.

Banks, brokerage houses, insurance firms, mortgage lenders, private equity companies and asset managers are furiously lobbying the Bush administration and Congress to make sure that the legislation authorizing the bailout gives them the biggest possible share in the spoils. Behind the public speech-making and posturing by administration officials, presidential candidates and congressmen, a sordid campaign of influence-peddling and vote-buying is under way, which will determine the details of the bailout law that is expected to be passed either this week or next.

Tens of billions of dollars in corporate profits and billions more in personal windfalls for senior executives and big investors are at stake. The plan drawn up by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson not only allows the biggest financial firms to rid themselves of virtually worthless assets that are driving down their stock and slashing their profits, it provides vast opportunities for the winners in the money race to realize huge gains from the management of the program and the ultimate resale of the assets by the government.

The entire program is so rife with “conflicts of interest” that the term does not begin to capture the level of corruption and criminality it entails.

The New York Times on Monday carried an unusually frank article, which began, “Even as policy makers worked on details of a $700 bailout of the financial industry, Wall Street began looking for ways to profit from it.

“Financial firms were lobbying to have all manner of troubled investments covered, not just those related to mortgages.

“At the same time, investment firms were jockeying to oversee all the assets that Treasury plans to take off the books of financial institutions, a role that could earn them hundreds of millions of dollars a year in fees.

“Nobody wants to be left out of Treasury’s proposal to buy up bad assets of financial institutions.”

The article quoted Bert Ely, a financial services industry consultant in Alexandria, Virginia, as saying, “Of course there will be fierce lobbying. The real question is, Who wouldn’t want to be included in the package?” The plan was so open-ended, Ely said, it could be interpreted to mean that the US government was open to buying “any asset, anywhere in the world.”

The Wall Street Journal on Monday quoted Scott Talbott, senior vice president of government affairs at the Financial Services Roundtable, which consists of chief executives of the nation’s most powerful banks, brokerages and insurers, who said of the industry lobbying campaign, “This is the Super Bowl and New Year’s Eve of legislation.”

Key issues in play include: Which institutions will be covered by the plan; what kinds of assets will the government buy; how much will it pay; how will the assets be valued that are palmed off to the government; which financial firms will get the franchise to manage the program and thereby cash in on fees and the eventual resale of the assets?

The Times article noted that within one day of the presentation on Saturday of the initial Treasury Department proposal, major changes had been made at the behest of big banks and Wall Street lobbying organizations. The changes dramatically widened the scope of the bailout.

Foreign-based financial firms that do business in the US, initially excluded, were given a place at the trough; the range of institutions qualifying for the program was broadened to include insurance companies, mortgage lenders and other non-banking firms; and the type of assets to be off-loaded to the government was widened from “mortgage-related assets” to include “any other financial instrument.”

As the Times article put it: “There were signs of the industry’s fingerprints on drafts of the legislation released over the weekend.... Securities firms were initially excluded but were included in a version released Sunday afternoon.”

Among the changes being called for by various industry lobby groups are:

* Pushing back the date of purchase of assets which the government will accept. The Treasury proposal released Saturday set the cut-off date at September 17 of this year. Some bankers are demanding that the date be changed to December of 2007, and, according to the Financial Times, some industry groups are lobbying for a clause that would “allow banks selling assets to the fund to account for any losses realized over a number of years.”

* Small banks are urging the government to buy loans they made to homebuilders and commercial developers.

* Some bankers are pushing for government support for municipal securities.

* The banking industry, according to the Wall Street Journal, “has gone directly to the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) demanding a letter changing US accounting rules that require banks to state the value of their assets at the market price.” They instead want their rotten assets to be valued at their price at the time of purchase—a change that would cost the government additional hundreds of billions in taxpayer money.

To put it bluntly, the American financial industry is preparing to deliver to the US Treasury every bad debt it accumulated over the years of reckless speculation and financial manipulation that generated super-profits and multimillion-dollar compensation packages for its top executives. And it is insuring that the American people pay super-inflated prices for their financial junk, so that they can launch a new and even bigger orgy of speculation.

The announcement of the bailout plan has set off a particularly ferocious competition for inclusion among the financial companies that are to be hired by the government to manage the operation. This plum job could, according to the Times, earn the winners $1 billion a year in fees.

Among the firms in the race is the asset management company BlackRock. Morgan Stanley, the Wall Street investment bank, is also running hard for the prize.

Another firm reportedly in the running is the private equity company Blackstone Group. It has expressed interest in buying up the assets when they are put back onto the market by the government. Blackstone made a fortune by betting against these very same assets early last year.

Bank of New York Mellon is also campaigning for a spot, as is JPMorgan Chase, the giant commercial bank that made a windfall in the rescue of Bear Stearns last March, in a takeover deal that was subsidized by the Federal Reserve Board to the tune of $29 billion.

All of these firms played major roles in creating the financial disaster from which they now seek to profit. They all are deeply involved in speculation on the assets that are to be bought by the government, and some, such as Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase, have billions of such assets on their books.

Another figure who would like to be a Treasury Department asset manager is William Gross, chief investment officer at the bond management firm Pimco. The Times article noted, in passing, that Gross “is among the financial executives Mr. Paulson... has regularly consulted with since the financial crisis began.”

Gross made a cool $1.7 billion earlier this month in the government takeover of mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, after having bet on the firms’ demise and publicly agitated for a government buyout of the companies. In recent weeks, he has been campaigning for precisely the type of government plan to buy the banks’ bad debt that is now being implemented.

Paulson warns: No limits on CEO pay

Go to Original
By Barry Grey

Speaking on the “Fox News Sunday” program, US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson opposed proposals from some Democrats as well as Republicans that the Bush administration’s plan for a massive taxpayer bailout of the most powerful banks and financial institutions include provisions limiting the pay of CEOs whose companies benefit from the government handout.

Paulson, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs whose wealth is estimated at $700 million, argued that including any such provision would result in banks refusing to participate in the program.

As the New York Times reported Monday, “Mr. Paulson said that he was concerned that imposing limits on the compensation of executives could discourage companies from participating in the program.

“’If we design it so it’s punitive and so institutions aren’t going to participate, this won’t work the way we need it to work,’ Mr. Paulson said...”

Working people who are being told by both parties that they will have to foot the bill for the biggest corporate bailout in world history—estimated by the government at $700 billion, a conservative figure that underestimates the actual cost of the plan—should consider the implications of Paulson’s statements.

He, President Bush and other political figures in both parties are insisting that quick Congressional passage of the bailout scheme is critical to averting an economic and social calamity at least as great as the Great Depression of the 1930s. There is, they insist, no time to discuss, debate, or even think.

The universal mantra is the need for all Americans to “come together,” put aside their partisan differences and personal interests and accept the need for “sacrifice” in support of the common good—which just happens to coincide with the interests of Wall Street and the multi-millionaires and billionaires who control it.

But Paulson, in his weekend television appearances, was obliged to implicitly acknowledge that there is one segment of society that is not prepared to sacrifice a dime and will not hesitate to throw the country into a depression, if the alternative is the slightest diminution in its seven- and eight-figure compensation packages.

In spite of his intentions, Paulson’s comments demonstrate the utter fraud of the claims that the plan to place the national wealth at the disposal of Wall Street is driven by concerns for the well-being of the American people. His remarks reveal the most basic truth about American society: The interests of the overwhelming majority of the people are entirely subordinated to the money-mad strivings of a financial aristocracy.

The plutocrats call the shots. They determine public policy. They exercise an absolute veto on all decisions taken by the government, which is, in the final analysis, an instrument for the defense and advancement of their narrow and socially destructive interests.

The constant invocations of patriotism are purely for public consumption—a means of blinding the people to the class relations that dominate America.

The logical conclusion that flows from Paulson’s own statements on CEO pay is that the greatest problem the country faces is the very class he defends and embodies—the American capitalist class. Its removal through the independent political and revolutionary mobilization of the working class is the precondition for a rational and democratic solution to the crisis.

Kucinich: No 'cash for trash,' give taxpayers a stake in bailout

Go to Original
By Nick Juliano

With the White House and Wall Street pressuring Congress to quickly approve a massive taxpayer-funded bailout package this week, several Democrats are coming forward with proposals they say would benefit average Americans alongside financial executives.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) outlined a proposal he said would create "a genuine ownership society," by giving taxpayers a stake in the companies the government will be saving with its proposed $700 billion package.

“Simply purchasing bad debt, ’cash for trash’ and not receiving anything of value or giving $700 billion and not having a commensurate equity interest in Wall Street firms is unacceptable," Kucinich said in a news release Monday. "No ’cash for trash.’"

The former Democratic presidential candidate said he would be introducing a bill this week to create a "United States Mutual Trust Fund" to convert assets purchased by the governemnt into shares that would be distributed to every man, woman and child in the country. Every American would receive about $2,300 worth of shares because that is the cost of the bailout package to each individual, Kucinich said.

While it was unclear whether Kucinich’s proposal would gain any traction, Democratic leaders in the House and Senate were offering a variety of additional proposals to add to the bailout bill, the New York Times reported:
Democrats said the plan would need to provide more specific relief for troubled homeowners. They said the program, which the administration proposed to be run by Treasury, would have to be more accountable to Congress. And they said that the plan must restrict the compensation of corporate executives from companies that make use of the program to sell the burdensome securities on their balance sheets to the United States.

“We need to offer some assurance to the American taxpayer that Congress is watching,” Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut and chairman of the banking committee, told reporters on Sunday. “One of the things that got us into this mess was the lack of accountability and the lack of oversight that was occurring, and I don’t think we want to repeat those mistakes with a program of this magnitude.”
This week is expected to be Congress’s last in session until after the November election, putting added pressure on lawmakers to act quickly.

Hey, Government! How About Calling on Us?

Go to Original
By William J. Astore

Reviving National Service in a Big Way

Lately, our news has focused on tropical depressions maturing into monster hurricanes that leave devastation in their wake -- and I’m not just talking about Gustav and Ike. Today, we face a perfect storm of financial devastation, notable for the enormity of the greed that generated it and the somnolent response of our government in helping Americans left devastated in its wake.

As unemployment rates soar to their highest level in five years and home construction sinks to its lowest level in 17 years, all our federal government seems able to do is buy up to $700 billion in "distressed" mortgage-related assets, bail-out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (at a cost of roughly $200 billion) or "loan" $85 billion to liquidate insurance giant AIG. If you’re Merrill Lynch, you get a hearing; if you’re just plain Marilyn Lynch of Topeka, what you get is a recession, a looming depression, and a federal tax bill for the fat-cat bail-outs.

But, amazingly enough, ordinary Americans generally don’t want bail-outs, nor do they want handouts. What they normally want is honorable work, decent wages, and a government willing to wake up and help them contribute to a national restoration.

How America Was Once Rebuilt

Before surging ahead, however, let’s look back. Seventy-five years ago, our country faced an even deeper depression. Millions of men had neither jobs, nor job prospects. Families were struggling to put food on the table. And President Franklin Delano Roosevelt acted. He created the Civilian Conservation Corps, soon widely known as the CCC.

From 1933 to 1942, the CCC enrolled nearly 3.5 million men in roughly 4,500 camps across the country. It helped to build roads, build and repair bridges, clear brush and fight forest fires, create state parks and recreational areas, and otherwise develop and improve our nation’s infrastructure -- work no less desperately needed today than it was back then. These young men -- women were not included -- willingly lived in primitive camps and barracks, sacrificing to support their families who were hurting back home.

My father, who served in the CCC from 1935 to 1937, was among those young men. They earned $30 a month for their labor -- a dollar a day -- and he sent home $25 of that to support the family. For those modest wages, he and others like him gave liberally to our country in return. The stats are still impressive: 800 state parks developed; 125,000 miles of road built; more than two billion trees planted; 972 million fish stocked. The list goes on and on in jaw-dropping detail.

Not only did the CCC improve our country physically, you might even say that experiencing it prepared a significant part of the "greatest generation" of World War II for greatness. After all, veterans of the CCC had already learned to work and sacrifice for something larger than themselves -- for, in fact, their families, their state, their country. As important as the G.I. Bill was to veterans returning from that war and to our country’s economic boom in the 1950s, the CCC was certainly no less important in building character and instilling an ethic of teamwork, service, and sacrifice in a generation of American men.

Today, we desperately need to tap a similar ethic of service to country. The parlous health of our communities, our rickety infrastructure, and our increasingly rickety country demands nothing less.

Of course, I’m hardly alone in suggesting the importance of national service. Last year, in Time Magazine, for example, Richard Stengel called for a revival of national service and urged the formation of a "Green Corps," analogous to the CCC, and dedicated to the rejuvenation of our national infrastructure.

To mark the seventh anniversary of 9/11, John McCain and Barack Obama recently spoke in glowing terms of national service at a forum hosted by Columbia University. Both men expressed support for increased governmental spending, with McCain promising that, as president, he would sign into law the Kennedy-Hatch "Serve America Act," which would, among other things, triple the size of the AmeriCorps. (Of course, McCain had just come from a Republican convention that had again and again mocked Obama’s time as a "community organizer" and, even at Columbia, he expressed a preference for faith-based organizations and the private sector over service programs run by the government.) Obama has made national service a pillar of his campaign, promising to spend $3.5 billion annually to more than triple the size of AmeriCorps, while also doubling the size of the Peace Corps.

It all sounds impressive. But is it? Compared to the roughly $900 billion being spent in FY2009 on national defense, homeland security, intelligence, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, $3.5 billion seems like chump change, not a major investment in national service or in Americans. When you consider the problems facing American workers and our country, both McCain and Obama are remarkable in their timidity. Now is surely not the time to tinker with the controls on a ship of state that’s listing dangerously to starboard.

Do I overstate? Here are just two data points. Last month our national unemployment rate rose to 6.1%, a five-year high. This year alone, we’ve shed more than 600,000 jobs in eight months. If you include the so-called marginally attached jobless, 11 million Americans are currently out of work, which adds up to a real unemployment rate of 7.1%. Now, that doesn’t begin to compare to the unemployment rate during the Great Depression which, at times, exceeded 20%. In absolute terms, however, 11 million unemployed American workers represent an enormous waste of human potential.

How can we get people off the jobless rolls, while offering them useful tasks that will help support families, while building character, community, and country?

Here’s where our federal government really should step in, just as it did in 1933. For we face an enormous national challenge today which goes largely unaddressed: shoring up our nation’s crumbling infrastructure. The prestigious American Society of Civil Engineers did a survey of, and a report card on, the state of the American infrastructure. Our country’s backbone earned a dismal "D," barely above a failing (and fatal) grade. The Society estimates that we need to invest $1.6 trillion in infrastructure maintenance and improvements over the next five years or face ever more collapsing bridges and bursting dams. It’s a staggering sum, until you realize that we’re already approaching a trillion dollars spent on the Iraq war alone.

No less pressing than a trillion-dollar investment in our nation’s physical health is a commensurate investment in the emotional and civic well-being of our country -- not just the drop-in-the-bucket amounts both Obama and McCain are talking about, but something commensurate with the task ahead of us. As our president dithers, even refusing to use the "R" word of recession, The Wall Street Journal quotes Mark Gertler, a New York University economist, simply stating this is "the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression."

The best and fairest way to head off that crisis is not simply to spend untold scores of billions of taxpayer dollars rescuing (or even liquidating) recklessly speculative outfits that gave no thought to ordinary workers while they were living large. Rather, our government should invest scores of billions in empowering the ordinary American worker, particularly those who have suffered the most from the economic ravages of our financial hurricane.

Just as in 1933, a call today to serve our country and strengthen its infrastructure would serve to reenergize a shared sense of commitment to America. Such service would touch millions of Americans in powerful ways that can’t be fully predicted in advance, just as it touched my father as a young man.

What "Ordinary" Americans Are Capable Of

My father was a self-confessed "regular guy," and his CCC service was typical. He was a "woodsman-falling," a somewhat droll job title perhaps, but one that concealed considerable danger. In the fall of 1936, he fought the Bandon forest fire in Oregon, a huge conflagration that burned 100,000 acres and killed a dozen people. To corral and contain that fire, he and the other "fellows" in his company worked on the fire lines for five straight weeks. At one point, my father worked 22 hours straight, in part because the fire raged so fiercely and so close to him that he was too scared to sleep (as he admitted to me long after).

My father was 19 when he fought that fire. Previously, he had been a newspaper boy and had after the tenth grade quit high school to support the family. Still, nothing marked him as a man who would risk his own life to save the lives of others, but his country gave him an opportunity to serve and prove himself, and he did.

Before joining the CCC, my father had been a city boy, but in the Oregon woods he discovered a new world of great wonder. It enriched his life, just as his recollections of it enrich my own:

"Thunder and lightning are very dangerous in the forest. Well, one stormy night a Forest Ranger smoke chaser got a call from the fire tower. They spotted a small night fire; getting the location the Ranger took me and another CCC boy to check it out. After walking about a mile in the woods we spotted the fire. It had burned a circle of fire at least 100 yards in diameter from the impact of the lightning bolt.

"You never saw anything so beautiful. The trees were all lit in fire; the fire on the ground was lit up in hot coals. Also fiery embers were falling off the trees. Some of the trees were dried dead snags. It looked like the New York skyline lit up at night. The Ranger radioed back for a fire crew. Meanwhile the three of us started to contain the fire with a fire trail.

"Later, we got caught in a thunderstorm in the mountains. We stretched a tarpaulin to protect ourselves from the downpours. You could see the storm clouds, with thunder and lightning flashing, approaching and passing over us. Then the torrents of rain. It would stop and clear with stars shining. And sure enough it must have repeated the sequence at least five times. What a night."

Jump ahead to 2008 and picture a nineteen-year-old high school dropout. Do you see a self-centered slacker, someone too preoccupied exercising his thumbs on video games, or advertising himself on MySpace and Facebook, to do much of anything to help anyone other than himself?

Sure, there are a few of these. Aren’t there always? But many more young Americans already serve or volunteer in some capacity. Even our imaginary slacker may just need an opportunity -- and a little push -- to prove his mettle. We’ll never know unless our leaders put our money where, at present, only their mouths are.

Remaking National Service -- And Our Country

Today, when most people think of national service, they think of military service. As a retired military officer, I’m hardly one to discount the importance of such service, but we need to extend the notion of service beyond the military, beyond national defense, to embrace all dimensions of civic life. Imagine if such service was as much the norm as in the 1930s, rather than the exception, and imagine if our government was no longer seen as the problem, but the progenitor of opportunity and solutions?

Some will say it can no longer be done. Much like Rudy Giuliani, they’ll poke fun at the whole idea of service, and paint the government as dangerously corrupt, or wasteful, or even as the enemy of the people -- perhaps because they’re part of that same government.

How sad. We don’t need jaded "insiders" or callow "outsiders" in Washington; what we need are doers and dreamers. We need leaders with faith both in the people -- the common worker with uncommon spirit -- and the government to inspire and get things done.

The unselfish idealism, work ethic, and public service of the CCC could be tapped again, if only our government remembers that our greatest national resource is not exhaustible commodities like oil or natural gas, but the inexhaustible spirit and generosity of the American worker.