Alaska’s F-22 Raptor stealth fighters on their way to the Middle East

Sep 30 2013

By David Cenciotti

Six F-22 Raptor aircraft belonging to the 3rd Wing from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson have arrived at Lajes field, in the Azores on Sept. 27.

The aircraft were deploying to an undisclosed location in the Middle East: considered the almost permanent presence of the stealth fighter jets at Al Dhafra, it is quite likely the Raptors photographed by André Inácio were on their way to the large U.S. base in the United Arab Emirates.

Few days ago, Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said that an F-22 Raptor flying an HVAAE (High Value Air Asset Escort)  over the Persian Gulf flew under two Iranian F-4 to check out their weapons load without them knowing that he was there, and then pulled up on their left wing, called them and said ‘you really ought to go home’ because they were pursuing an MQ-1 Predator.

The 3rd Wing has recently developed a new concept to deploy four F-22s and make them ready for combat from a remote location in 24 hours. Raptors from JBER in Alaska are among the F-22s with the most recent “Block 3.1″ hardware and software upgrade, that provides the ability to find and engage ground targets and drop GBU-39 small diameter bombs.

F-22 Lajes 2

Image credit: André Inácio

The year persistence edged plutocracy

Too Much
Let others spread the doom and gloom. Here at Too Much eternal optimism reigns. And some weeks even bring real reason for that optimism. Last week, for instance, we learned the winners in the latest Nation magazine essay contest.

The Nation had asked high school and college students to pick “one root cause underlying our broken politics” and expound about that one root cause in 800 words. About 700 students across the United States responded. And what did they see at the core of what ails us? They saw plutocracy.

“Inequality,” as one winner, Colorado high school student Bryn Grunwald, put it, “makes democracy impossible.”

We don’t know, of course, exactly how many young people currently feel that way. But many, as the Nation student essays indicate, clearly do. And that augurs well for tomorrow. And what about what’s going on today? More on that, both the good and the bad, in this week’s Too Much.

Some 46.5 million Americans, the Census Bureau reports, lived in official poverty last year, under $23,050 for a family of four, under $11,170 for a single person. Among kids under 18, over 20 percent spent 2012 under the poverty line. How much money would eliminating U.S. poverty take? Analyst Matt Bruenig last week crunched the Census data and came up with a total: $175.3 billion. That, he notes, would be enough to “bring every person in the United States up to the poverty line.” Some perspective: The wealth of America’s 400 richest individuals, Forbes magazine reports, has jumped by $300 billion over the last year . . .

Larry EllisonThe number three billionaire on the latest Forbes 400, Oracle software CEO Larry Ellison, last week took a pay cut. Ellison “voluntarily declined” to take a $1.2 million cash bonus. He didn’t feel he deserved it. In fiscal 2013, turns out, his Oracle didn’t reach its internal targets. What did Ellison take for the year? Just $78.4 million in stock and other compensation. What do Oracle shareholders get for all these millions? Something less than Ellison’s full attention. Last Tuesday, the chief exec voluntarily declined to deliver the keynote address at the annual Oracle OpenWorld conference, a key annual event that draws over 50,000 tech professionals. Why couldn’t Ellison attend? He had to zip over to San Francisco Bay to watch his $100-million catamaran sail in the America’s Cup, yachting’s premiere global competition . . .

Larry Ellison’s fellow yachtsmen have been feeling a tad defensive of late. Seems that some folks today consider the $4.1 billion spent last year building 169 super yachts an outrage at a time of chronic economic crisis. But the luxury yachting industry, the Financial Times reports, is fighting back. Shipyards and brokers are commissioning studies on the “economic value” yachting generates. Building one medium-sized super yacht, their story goes, creates 350 construction jobs! No other luxury sector, says the International Superyacht Society’s Ken Hickling, can match yachting’s capacity to “redistribute wealth.” Compared to fine art, jewels, and private jets, he insists, yachts clearly rank as the “most ethical” luxury. Adds Hickling: “Buying boats supports jobs. Buying big boats supports more jobs.” In other words, a solution for global hard times: bigger yachts.

Quote of the Week

“Indicators as diverse as happiness, mental illness, infant mortality, children’s educational performance, teenage pregnancy, homicide, imprisonment, social trust and social mobility all get worse as the income gaps within society deepen.”
Jordan Brennan and Jim Stanford, Toronto Star, September 26, 2013

AIG CEO BenmoscheYour company gets a $180 billion bailout, and 73 execs at your firm get over $1 million in bonuses. As the firm’s CEO, what do you get — besides $10.5 million in take-home? You get angry at the taxpaying public that kept your company from sinking! Robert Benmosche, the CEO of the bailed-out insurance giant AIG, last week called public outrage over AIG bonuses “just as bad and just as wrong” as the nooses that once terrorized the Deep South. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the son of sharecroppers “who actually experienced lynchings,” quickly termed Benmosche’s rant “unbelievably appalling.” Benmosche has been appalling before. Right after starting as CEO at the bailed-out AIG, notes CNN, he “requested use of AIG corporate jets for personal travel” and flew to his summer home in Croatia for a two-week vacation.

Take Action
on Inequality

Add your name to the petition that demands AIG CEO Robert Benmosche resign for comparing legitimate criticism of Wall Street bonuses to lynching in the Deep South.

Long Island Sound island

Find this itty-bitty island off the coast of Connecticut cute? So did Christine Svenningsen, the mega-millionaire widow of a party-goods magnate. Starting in the late 1990s, she spent $36 million out of her quarter-billion-dollar fortune buying up nine of these little gems. But island-hopping must get stale. Svenningsen recently put two of her “Thimble Islands” up for sale. This one, Jepson Island, comes with a century-old cottage and a $2 million price-tag.

Web Gem

Responsible Budget Reporting/ Pols who harangue us about the “high cost” of food stamps — and other programs meant to ease our gaping economic divides — like to throw around big budget numbers to confuse us. This handy online calculator from the Center for Economic and Policy Research lets you place these incomprehensible big numbers in a much more meaningful perspective.

Thomas McDonnellTwo think tanks in Ireland, a nation that has been struggling mightily since the Great Recession hit, have just proposed a new antidote for Irish austerity: a wealth tax calibrated to fall only on Ireland’s top 2 percent. An annual 0.6 percent levy on household wealth over 1 million euros, the TASC and Nevin Economic Research Institute think tanks note, would raise revenue equal to at least 0.1 percent of Ireland’s GDP — and likely much more. Several European nations, TASC’s Thomas McDonnell notes, have abandoned wealth taxes over recent years. But poor policy design doomed these taxes. If unencumbered with myriad exemptions, says McDonnell, a new Irish wealth tax could be “an important element of social solidarity, particularly at a time of deteriorating living standards for a large section of the population.”





inequality by the numbers
Census income figures

Stat of the Week

The median, or most typical, U.S. household collected $51,017 in income last year, the Census Bureau calculates. To live a “middle class” life —  a house, a car, a periodic vacation, decent health care, a retirement nest-egg, and savings for your kids’ college years — requires over $81,000 in annual income, says the U.S. Department of Commerce.


The Year Persistence Edged Plutocracy

Exactly a hundred years ago, decades of progressive struggle finally paid off and outfitted America with a tool for braking the unlimited accumulation of grand private fortune.

The federal income tax this week turns a century old. A hundred years ago, on October 3, 1913, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the first modern federal tax on income.

John Buenker has been researching and writing about the events — and attitudes — that led to that signing for a good bit of the last 50 years. His 1985 book, The Income Tax and the Progressive Era, remains the single most insightful history of the years of struggle that led to federal income taxation.

John BuenkerThat history clearly matters to Buenker, an emeritus historian at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. But should this history also matter to the rest of us?

Actually, John Buenker’s income tax history may matter more today than ever before. Here in 2013, after all, Americans face almost the same exact challenge our counterparts in 1913 faced. They lived amid a staggeringly intense concentration of wealth and income. We do, too.

Today’s plutocrats, in fact, strike Buenker as even “more dangerous than the Robber Barons of yore.”

The Rockefellers, Carnegies, and their ilk, the veteran historian told Too Much last week, could certainly be vicious. But these plutocrats had to “moderate their actions,” at least to some degree, because they needed U.S. workers and consumers. Their plutocratic wealth sat largely rooted in America’s “factories, mines, machinery, and transportation networks.”

Today’s wealthy have no such roots.

“With globalization, outsourcing, off-shore schemes, and ‘free trade’ agreements,” Buenker points out, “today’s ‘masters of the universe’ operate virtually beyond the reach of the even the most progressive of governments and powerful of unions.”

Still, even so, America’s original plutocrats a century ago did wield formidable power. The world had never seen fortunes as massive as theirs, and America’s deepest pockets seemed to enjoy nearly a lockgrip over the nation’s politics.

U.S. senators back then never had to stand before voters. State legislatures, not average Americans, decided who served in the Senate, and the state lawmakers who filled these legislatures often considered corporate giants their only constituents who mattered.

And should legislation hostile to plutocratic interests somehow slip into law, the Supreme Court stood ready to rescue the nation’s most comfortable. In 1894, with the West and South aflame in Populist revolt, Congress passed a modest income tax on America’s affluent. The Supreme Court the next year declared the tax unconstitutional.

Americans of modest means, despite this stacked political deck, would eventually prevail over America’s plutocrats in the battle to tax high incomes. Growing economic hardship, historian John Buenker believes, certainly played a key role in this victory.

The depression of the mid 1890s, the sharp inflation of the early 1900s, and the financial panic of 1907 all nurtured growing public unease over the political and economic domination the rich exercised over American life.

But this growing unease, Buenker observes, only translated into an income tax because progressive activists had spent decades on the “frustrating, brutal, and boring work” of building a “multifaceted, nationwide coalition” committed to taxing the rich.

“They kept grinding away against all that wealth and power,” says Buenker. “They refused to give up, no matter how many barriers their opponents threw in their path.”

Conservatives in Congress threw up the last major barrier in 1909. Challengers of plutocracy that year finally appeared to have enough votes to put an income tax into law. But a series of cynical congressional deals sent to the states instead a constitutional amendment that only gave Congress the authority to consider income taxation sometime in the future.

Conservatives felt sure this amendment would never gain enough states to win ratification. They would be unpleasantly surprised. In 1910 and again in 1912, progressive groups mobilized to elect pro-income tax state legislative majorities in state after state.

The 1912 elections also gave Congress pro-income tax majorities in the House and Senate, and these majorities would welcome the newly ratified income tax amendment and move expeditiously to act upon it.

That first income tax statute lawmakers sent to President Wilson in 1913 wouldn’t amount to much more than a nuisance for America’s rich — no dollar of income faced more than 7 cents in tax — but tax rates on high incomes would go on to rise significantly in the years to come.

By mid-century, notes Buenker, the income tax had become the federal government’s “most effective tool for dealing with the obscene maldistribution of income and wealth.” By 1944, the tax rate on income over $200,000 had jumped to 94 percent, and the nation’s top tax rate would hover around 90 percent for the next two decades, years of unprecedented middle class prosperity.

John Buenker started researching all this income tax history as a grad student in the mid 1960s. Back in those years, he remembers, historians took the income tax as a done deal. They saw progressive income taxation as a basic reform that had helped permanently transform the United States.

These historians a half-century ago never imagined the massive conservative counterattack that would soon start blindsiding the reforms of the Progressive Era, New Deal, and Great Society.

“I guess,” says Buenker, “we were living in something of a ‘fool’s paradise.’”

Given this conservative drive to “repeal the 20th century,” what would Buenker do differently if he were writing his income tax history today?

“I would go into much more depth,” he notes, “in researching the dynamics and mechanics of building the multifaceted, nationwide coalition that brought the income tax into effect.”

The lesson from that coalition? Achieving success against concentrated wealth and power, says Buenker, “takes persistence over a long period of time.”

We need, he believes, to show that same persistence today in the struggle against America’s contemporary plutocracy.

“We need to keep plugging away because trying to change things protects us from accepting them,” the historian adds.

And Buenker, for his part, will keep plugging.

“As a grandfather and great grandfather,” as he puts it, “I don’t want my progeny to inherit the world that the Koch brothers, Fox News, and the Tea Party want to force upon them.”

New Wisdom
on Wealth

Jared Bernstein, The Path to Dysfunction, Economix, September 24, 2013. How concentrated wealth and lax campaign finance mean big money can buy the facts, not just the politics, it wants.

Chuck Collins, Our Road to Elysium, OtherWords, September 25, 2013. A new sci-fi film envisions an astonishingly unequal Los Angeles in the year 2154. A new documentary may help avoid that future dystopia.

Rick Wartzman, The Long View: Why ‘Maximizing Shareholder Value’ Is on Its Way Out, Time, September 25, 2013. The director of the Drucker Institute explores the backlash against short-term corporate thinking.

Alyce Lomax, These Corporate Managers Aren’t Sweating Over CEO-to-Worker Pay Disclosure, Motley Fool, September 26, 2013. Not all top execs are brazenly plundering.

Gus Lubin, Three Charts that Show How Income Inequality Is Hurting America, Business Insider, September 27, 2013. Our economic divides are limiting our lives: some compelling visual evidence.

Paul Krugman, Plutocrats Feeling Persecuted, New York Times, September 27, 2013. The rich already have the multiple big houses, the servants, the private jet. What they really want now: our adulation.

Sanjay Sanghoee, A solution to skyrocketing CEO pay, Fortune, September 27, 2013. Offer firms tax credits if they keep their CEO-worker pay ratio within modest bounds.

The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class cover

Read what Rugged Egalitarianism had to say last week about this new history of the triumph over America’s first plutocracy.

NEW AND notable

Much, Much More than a Lesson in Economics

Inequality for All, a documentary film directed by Jacob Kornbluth. National release: September 27, 2013. Running time: 110 minutes. Rating: PG. Music composed by Marco D’Ambrosio. Cast: Robert Reich.

If you know anything at all about Robert Reich, the former U.S. labor secretary, you’ll walk into Inequality for All, the just-released feature film that revolves around his work and thought, with a set of specific expectations.

Inequality for AllYou would expect, for starters, to laugh. Reich has a delightful, self-deprecating sense of humor, and Inequality for All doesn’t disappoint on this score. You will laugh.

You would also expect any film that features Robert Reich to be deeply informative, and this movie doesn’t disappoint here either.

Seldom have serious stats come through, on the big screen, any more clearly than they do in Inequality for All. The film’s always effective graphics drive home just how amazingly unequal the United States has become — and why.

So the big surprise in Inequality for All? That may be how emotionally moving the film turns out to be. Director Jacob Kornbluth lets both Reich and average Americans share their personal stories. The deeper they go, the more inspiring the film becomes.

Inequality for All doesn’t, to be sure, cover all the inequality bases. No single movie can. The film, for instance, does a fine job getting across how deeply inequality has savaged our economy and our democracy.

But the film doesn’t go into how inequality has also savaged our social fabric and left us with a stressed-out society where people, affluent and poor alike, don’t live as long as people who reside in nations more equal than the United States.

The good news: The next big inequality movie on the horizon — The Spirit Level, a documentary based on the work of British epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett — neatly fills in the gaps that Inequality for All leaves behind. Watch for this film next year.

In the meantime, gather your friends, co-workers and colleagues, neighbors and family, and go see Inequality for All. You’ll laugh. You’ll learn. And you may even walk out with a lump in your throat.

Looking for Inequality for All theater listings? Check here.


Chevy Silverado Black Ops Concept Is The Perfect Vehicle For The Zombie Apocalypse






Chevrolet Silverado Black Ops concept


At the State Fair of Texas, Chevrolet today unveiled a Silverado-based concept that it says will “explore the extremes of preparedness.”

“Luck favors the prepared and the Silverado Black Ops concept is a survival kit on four wheels,” Chevy design manager Dave Ross said in a statement.


The Silverado Black Ops concept looks like it’s prepared for the zombie apocalypse.


The Black Ops features a raised suspension and body armor to help it traverse the post-apocalyptic wasteland, and winch in case the wasteland gets the better of the truck.


Even the undead might be frightened by its sinister-looking paint scheme.


In the bed is a (presumably) zombie-proof Truck Vault storage unit, containing a solar power pack, gas masks, gloves, a military First Aid kit, a folding shovel, and rope. Mounted atop the storage locker are a generator, fuel can, and food and water rations.


What, no shotguns?


The Black Ops is powered by the same 5.3-liter EcoTec V-8 as the Silverado 1500 Crew Cab it’s based on. It produces 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque, but also gets 18 mpg combined (16 mpg city, 22 mpg highway).


There won’t be many functioning gas stations after the undead rise to feast on the living, so gas mileage is important.


The interior is trimmed in yellow piping, and includes a USB port and Chevy’s MyLink infotainment system.


The latter two features probably won’t be very useful in the smoldering hellscapes the Black Ops was designed for.


The Black Ops is just a concept, but it shows the potential the 2014 Silverado has as a zombie survival vehicle.

5 Industries That Are Mercilessly Robbing the American People



This system is tearing our once-great society to shreds.

Photo Credit:

There are more than five ways, of course. There are numerous product ripoffs, as described in a recent article byLynn Stuart Parramore, who identified textbooks and bottled water and print cartridges as a few of the ways Americans are duped into paying a lot more than reason and regulation would dictate.

And there are many industry-specific ripoffs, most notably in health care. We have the most expensive health care system in the world, and yet we’re falling behind other developed countries in numerous health measures.

Here are five more industry-specific ripoffs of the American people:

1. The Retail Industry (Walmart): Building Owner Fortunes with Public Tax Money

study in Wisconsin by the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce determined that a typical Walmart store costs taxpayers over $1.7 million per year, or about $5,815 per employee. A 2004 study in California put the cost per employee at $2,103.

For the year 2012, Walmart’s pre-tax U.S. income was almost $18.7 billion. That’s over $14,000 per U.S. Walmart employee.

For the year 2012, the four Walton family members made over $20 billion from their investments. That’s over $15,000 per Walmart employee.

2. The Financial Industry: Printing Their Own Money

Thanks in good part to the derivatives market, the world’s wealth has doubled in ten years. Estimates of the speculative value of the financial derivatives market vary, from $708 trillion to $1.2 quadrillion. The Chicago Mercantile Exchange alone reported a 2011 trading volume of over $1 quadrillion on 3.4 billion annual contracts.

A quadrillion is a thousand trillion. A return to the financiers of just .1 percent (a tenth of a penny from every dollar) would generate $1 trillion, the total Adjusted Gross Income for half of Americans.

3. The Private Prison Industry: Billing Taxpayers for Empty Cells, then Selling Inmate Labor and Paying Them Sub-Minimum Wages

Almost two-thirds of the private prison contracts analyzed by In the Public Interest “included occupancy guarantees in the form of quotas or required payments for empty prison cells (a ‘low-crime tax’).”

Some private prisons, such as Corrections Corporation of America and G4S, sell inmate labor to corporations like Chevron, Bank of America, AT&T, and IBM, and pay the prisoners less than a dollar an hour.

4. The Telecommunications Industry: Low Quality at High Prices

In the 1990s the FCC deregulated phone and cable and Internet companies, with the intention of promoting competition. But just a few companies — Verizon and AT&T and Comcast and Time Warner — have divided up the market, reducing competition as they remain poorly regulated.

So now South Korea has Internet access speeds 200 times faster than us at half the cost. Same thing in Hong Kong. And in Europe unlimited texting and voice from Verizon costs about a third of U.S. prices.

It gets worse, according to David Cay Johnston, who reports that regulations have been written that allow large corporations to add unsubstantiated charges to cell phones, cable TV, internet service providers and others that can cost American families over $2,000 per year.

5. The Drug Industry: Buy American…But Tax Us Like We’re Foreigners

Bernie Sanders notes that pharmaceutical companies like Eli Lilly and Pfizer have lobbied to keep Americans from buying cheaper prescription drugs from Canada and Europe, but then they their shift drug patents and profits to offshore tax havens to avoid paying U.S. taxes.

Higher drug prices cost an average American family over $1250 per year.

Drug companies also participate in “Pay-for-Delay” deals, through which brand-name firms pay generic makers to keep their cheaper drugs out of the market for a number of years.

That’s capitalism. Ripping a once-strong society into little pieces.

Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, a writer for progressive publications, and the founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (,,

San Jose, California moves to slash pensions

By David Brown

30 September 2013

Earlier this month the city of San Jose in California finished its closing arguments in a court case over an effort to cut public employees pensions by referendum last year. The results of that referendum and the ensuing legal dispute are being watched by cities across the country looking for a way to slash pensions without going through bankruptcy like Stockton, California or Detroit.

At issue in the case is whether San Jose can force a new contract on public employees by referendum, reducing pension plans for both new hires and current employees, without bargaining with the unions.

Under the referendum last year, current employees would be given the option of maintaining their current plan by paying up to 16 percent more or switching over to a worse plan with a higher retirement age, lower cost-of-living increase, and that accrues more slowly. New hires would only have access to a plan with even worse benefits and would be required to contribute half its cost.

In court the city argues that it can legally change employees’ pension plans as long as they leave untouched benefits that have already accrued.

Like many cities, San Jose has responded to the economic crisis by slashing services and attacking public employees. In California since 2008, 668,000 state and local government jobs have been cut. In San Jose, 1,592 city employees, over 20 percent, have lost their jobs while those that remained took a 10 percent pay cut. At the same time, San Jose has left four new libraries it built closed due to lack of funds, and reduced fire coverage.

The Democratic mayor of San Jose, Chuck Reed, has laid the blame for these cuts squarely on the pension system. Between 2007 and 2009, investment losses in the city’s pension plan amounted to $1 billion and unlike the major banks and insurance companies, pension plans were not bailed out by the federal government. Maintaining the pension fund following that crash now makes up a fifth of the city’s general fund.

In order to get the referendum against pensions passed, Reed launched a campaign threatening funding to every city function unless voters agreed to cut the “extremely expensive” benefits of city employees.

Like California Governor Jerry Brown, and President Obama, Reed is using the economic crisis as a pretext to attack the living standards of workers under the guise of “pension reform,” “fiscal responsibility,” and “sustainable budgets.” However, this attack on pensions cuts across a traditional cash cow of the union bureaucracies, which in turn support the Democratic Party.

In pushing through these cuts the Democrats will broach no dissent, no matter how timid, from the unions. According to Reed, Democrats need to lead the way on pensions cuts. “It can’t become something that Republicans are doing to unions,” he said.

It was the public employee unions that launched the court case on the grounds that the city should have to negotiate in order to change current contracts. In principle these unions, such as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), have no objection to cuts in any of their members’ compensation, they merely want “a seat at the table.”

The unions have maintained their support for the Democratic Party irrespective of Governor Brown’s “pension reform,” and Congress’ “sequester cuts.” In city after city like San Jose, they have agreed to wage and benefit cuts under the premise of “shared sacrifice.”

Unlike cities such as Stockton or Detroit, which face Depression-era levels of poverty, San Jose has one of the highest median household incomes in the country thanks to the relatively booming tech sector. At $77,000, the median income is over three times larger than that of Detroit, at $25,000.

The wealth of San Jose and the tech companies in the area is central to why San Jose is not seeking bankruptcy protection to attack city workers. In a bankruptcy court the bondholders who loaned the city money would face a potential reduction of principal.

If Reed succeeds in his efforts to cut pensions by referendum it would open up a new tool for cities to attack pensions without lowering their credit rating or reducing the profits of the banks. It would open the door to cities across the country, in much better condition than Detroit or Stockton, slashing benefits.

Snowden Strikes Again: NSA Mapping Social Connections of US Citizens

“The New York Times is reporting on yet another NSA revelation: for the last three years, the National Security Agency has been exploiting its huge collections of data to create sophisticated graphs of some Americans’ social connections that can identify their associates, their locations at certain times, their traveling companions and other personal information. ‘The agency can augment the communications data with material from public, commercial and other sources, including bank codes, insurance information, Facebook profiles, passenger manifests, voter registration rolls and GPS location information, as well as property records and unspecified tax data, according to the documents. They do not indicate any restrictions on the use of such “enrichment” data, and several former senior Obama administration officials said the agency drew on it for both Americans and foreigners.’ In a memorandum, NSA analysts were ‘told that they could trace the contacts of Americans as long as they cited a foreign intelligence justification.’ ‘That could include anything from ties to terrorism, weapons proliferation or international drug smuggling to spying on conversations of foreign politicians, business figures or activists. Analysts were warned to follow existing “minimization rules,” which prohibit the NSA from sharing with other agencies names and other details of Americans whose communications are collected, unless they are necessary to understand foreign intelligence reports or there is evidence of a crime. The agency is required to obtain a warrant from the intelligence court to target a “U.S. person” — a citizen or legal resident — for actual eavesdropping.'”


s underground ‘anomaly’ a trove of Nazi treasure?

Filmmaker believes he’s broken code


Courtesy Karl Hammer

This annotated score of the composer Gottfried Federlein’s “March Impromptu” could hold the key to finding hidden Nazi treasure.

MAINZ, Germany – An underground “anomaly” has been discovered in a German town after a filmmaker potentially cracked a code that he believes will lead him to a hidden Nazi treasure.

For decades, a myth has taken root over millions of dollars worth of diamonds and gold bullion, which is rumored to be buried somewhere in Bavaria. Nazi leaders supposedly brought the cache to the “Alpine Fortress” that Heinrich Himmler, head of Adolf Hitler’s dreaded “SS” protection squadron, hoped to erect in southern Germany.

AFP – Getty Images, file

A picture dated 1939 shows Adolf Hitler consulting a geographical survey map with his general staff including Heinrich Himmler, left, and Martin Bormann, right.

It is believed that the Nazi regime intended to use the treasure trove to fund secret “Werewolf” commandos they planned to send behind enemy lines towards the end of World War II.

Legend also has it that Hitler’s private secretary, Martin Bormann, hid a map in an annotated score of the “March Impromptu” by composer Gottfried Federlein. In the musical notes, Bormann is said to have embedded a series of letters, figures and lyrics that provide the exact coordinates of where the treasure is hidden.

In Germany, finders can be rewarded with 3 to 5 percent of a trove’s current value, should a person or institution legitimately claim ownership. But they could receive up to 50 percent should no owner be found.

Dutch journalist Karl Hammer made the documents public, following several of his own failed attempts to decipher the code.

After nine months of studying the documents, musician and documentary filmmaker Leon Giesen, 51, is convinced he understands the code and has “a very good theory” about where to find the treasure.

A lyric in the composition that reads “wo Matthias die Saiten streichelt” (“where Matthew plucks strings”) prompted Hammer to believe that the line is a reference to Matthias Klotz, a 17th-century violin maker from the small southern German town of Mittenwald.

Courtesy Karl Hammer

Leon Giesen was intrigued by a bold, capital letter “M” in the score (highlighted here by Karl Hammer).

Giesen, who lives in the Dutch city of Utrecht, continued to put together his own puzzle pieces and stumbled across a bold, capital letter “M” in the score, which reminded him of the same single letter he had seen in the photo of a Berlin railway station.

He began looking for old railway connections from the 1940s and interpreted the lyrics “Enden der Tanz,” (“end the dance”) as a clue to the former location of a buffer stop for trains.

Following extensive research, which included the evaluation of historic aerial photos taken by Allied forces, Giesen concluded that he had to look for train tracks in the former location of former Nazi military barracks in Mittenwald.

Local authorities recently granted permission to drill three deep holes in a public street in the town.

“Our geophysical survey showed a so-called ‘anomaly’ deep below the surface and experts excluded that it could be an old aircraft bomb or a big stone,” Giesen said.

The initial testing was financed with crowd funding. Giesen performed at a Dutch theater festival this summer, where he sold replicas of the “treasure map” for 50 euros ($65), a piece. Giesen sold more than 700 copies.

Giesen now is seeking to raise more money for a full excavation at the site and hopes that German authorities will allow him to complete the final stages of his hunt.

“If there are boxes with valuable items below the surface they could be booby-trapped, so we need to bring in specialists and meet all safety requirements first,” he said.

But while Giesen’s endeavor could have been choreographed by thriller author Dan Brown, the Dutch filmmaker says he is not interested in the money or glory.

“People call me a treasure hunter, but the only treasure I am looking for is a good story,” said Giesen, who plans to donate any  possible reward. “In fact, I feel dirty when I walk around with a metal detector.”

Tobias Hase / AFP – Getty Images, file

Hikers standing on the Herzogstand mountain look toward Lake Walchensee in the Bavarian foothills of the Alps. The area has become popular with treasures hunters.

The Alpine region near the Austrian border is a mecca for treasure hunters seeking troves said to include tons of gold, boxes with diamonds and bags full of foreign currency. Last year, divers scoured for valuables on the bottom of Lake Walchensee, but only found a rusty bazooka and a few old rifles.

Juergen Proske, a 51-year-old hobby treasure hunter from nearby Garmisch-Partenkirche, said several groups each year visit the area in the belief that they have broken the code.

“The code theory is believed to be historically accurate, but I think the treasure is in a different location,” said Proske, who has set off on more than 60 treasure hunts with his high-tech metal detector over the past 15 years. “I have searched myself many times, but so far only found a few old wine bottles.”

Al Gore’s Hypocrisy: The Climate Crusader Profits from Fossil Fuels

By Robert Rapier | Wed, 06 February 2013 23:20 | 12

Oil Money is Bad Money, Except When…

Al Gore has just released a new book — The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change  — and is on a media tour to promote it. But he has had to face some very uncomfortable questions involving a charge that has been around for a while: That Al Gore is a hypocrite.

The hypocrisy charge has been raised against Gore over the years. Until now, the most infamous incident of apparent hypocrisy took place in 2007 when it was widely reported that Al Gore’s mansion had a utility bill about 20 times more than the average family home. (See Al Gore’s ‘Inconvenient Truth’? — A $30,000 Utility Bill). I found the news troubling; after all Gore was the Conservationist-in-Chief but he certainly didn’t appear to be walking his talk.

But I also wrote that if he was running a staff out of his home, then the higher electric bills were more understandable. I also learned at the time just how rabidly partisan people can be when discussing Gore. Some on the left would not tolerate criticism of Gore, and I was vilified for saying that I was disappointed in his behavior.

But, I really wanted to like Al Gore. I thought of him as someone who was making a positive impact by calling attention to a serious problem, and getting people to conserve. I defended him when people noted that Gore traveled around the world in fossil-fueled jets. After all, I argued, if he traveled halfway around the world but convinced 500 people in a foreign country to become involved and take action, then the net impact could easily be lower carbon emissions as a result of his travels.

I even have an award on my desk signed by Gore. In 1996 I traveled to the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. and received the 1996 Green Chemistry Challenge Award as part of Professor Mark Holtzapple’s research team at Texas A&M. The award was presented by Carol Browner, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and it was autographed by Vice President Al Gore. I imagined at the time that some day Gore would become president, and I would show that award with pride to visitors.

I say all of this, because I want to make it clear that I didn’t set out to dislike Al Gore. But I have come to the conclusion that he is in fact one of the worst hypocrites I have ever seen.

Hypocrisy: When a Climate Change Crusader Sells Out to Fossil Fuels

Gore has vilified fossil fuel usage for decades. In his new book, he writes “Virtually every news and political commentary program on television is sponsored in part by oil, coal and gas companies — not just during campaign seasons, but all the time, year in and year out — with messages designed to soothe and reassure the audience that everything is fine, the global environment is not threatened.”

But what did Gore turn around and do? He sold his Current TV network to Al Jazeera for $500 million. Gore reportedly pocketed $100 million, and in another widely reported story he is alleged to have pushed to get the transaction completed before higher tax rates kicked in on January 1 of this year.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that Al Jazeera is funded by Qatar, which receives the bulk of its wealth from fossil fuels. Gore was grilled over this apparent hypocrisy, first by Matt Lauer:

Lauer challenged him on the fact that he had criticized the influence of fossil fuel money in television, but then got very wealthy selling his network to another network that exists because of fossil fuel money. Al Jazeera had the money to pay Gore $500 million because of fossil fuels. Lauer asked Gore if he saw a contradiction in his position. While Gore said he understands the criticism, he disagrees with it because Al Jazeera is a great network and has won major awards.

Now, someone can correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t ever recall Gore saying that it was OK to take fossil fuel money in television as long as the network is a good network or is one that has won awards. He is engaging in the logical fallacy of special pleading, which is where someone applies a special exemption to their rules when those rules contradict their actions. For example:

Al Gore: “You should never run a red light.”

Me: “But you just ran a red light.”

Al Gore: “Yes, but I was in a hurry.”

I can apply the same special pleading to any oil company and justify consuming their oil since they make charitable contributions and invest in renewables.

Gore was also grilled on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show (one of the only TV programs I regularly watch). Jon was polite with the questions, but he went after Gore several times over the apparent hypocrisy:

Here is an excerpt of their exchange:

Jon Stewart: “You had an opportunity to make a statement, probably, about your principles, and some people would feel, and for me as well, I thought it was an odd move. Not because of some of the other things, but because it is backed by fossil fuel money.”

Al Gore: “I get it. I get it. I get it. But it was an easy choice after doing the diligence on the network itself.”

Jon Stewart: “Can you see how people at home might think — but he’s asking me in my life to make choices about light bulbs and a cost-benefit analysis for the purpose of sustainability when I just want to see my book. That’s the issue.”

Al Gore: “I’m very, very comfortable with it. I completely get the criticism, but this was a good choice and the net benefit for the U.S. is going to be very positive.”

Yes, Al Gore appears to be very comfortable in selling out his principles for a $100 million profit. And at least he “gets” the criticism. He disagrees that it is hypocrisy, apparently on the basis that he doesn’t like the word hypocrisy.

Stewart highlighted the fact that Gore could have made a statement about his principles, but at the end of the day Gore determined that the cost-benefit analysis benefited him enough to be comfortable with taking fossil fuel money.

Cost-Benefit — For Whom?

What Gore doesn’t seem to understand is that this is the same cost-benefit analysis that results in the world’s rising use of fossil fuels. He is like many environmentalists who don’t seem to understand the real reasons we are dependent upon fossil fuels. They would rather blame the fossil fuel companies and their various lobbying and subsidies than blame the real culprit — the desire of consumers to have affordable and reliable energy.

Poor people across the developing world determine that their contribution to climate change is insignificant relative to the benefit they will receive from introducing heat and electricity into their homes. Every day millions of people around the world determine that the benefit of them filling up with gasoline and driving to work outweighs the cost of their fossil fuel consumption. Everyone — Mr. Gore — can argue that the cost-benefit analysis favors their usage of fossil fuels. People from all walks of life — including staunch environmentalists — use fossil fuels every day and justify it based on the cost-benefit to themselves. Even Bill McKibben once admitted that he was a hypocrite, but like you he rationalized his hypocrisy.

And that, in a nutshell, is why the world is so dependent (and becoming more dependent) upon fossil fuels. People determine that the benefits of using fossil fuels outweigh the cost. You aren’t special Mr. Gore. You did what others do every day. The only difference is that you have used a bully pulpit for years to urge people to sacrifice and make different choices. Yet when faced with the same cost-benefit analysis, you proved to the world that you are the hypocrite many always believed you to be.

Al Gore’s “activism” has been a money maker on a tremendous scale. He has made a mint selling indulgences — er, I mean “carbon offsets” — and in some cases even sold them to himself in order to claim that his (very high) carbon footprint was neutral. So while he’s busy taking the high road telling people what to do, he himself not only goes and profits off of that (creates network, sells it) but his profit comes from the very same people/industry he built his reputation on by vilifying and imploring people to avoid.

I realize that Saint Al can do no wrong in some people’s eyes, and some will (wrongly) conclude that this is a partisan attack. It is nothing of the sort. But I will never attempt to defend Gore again. I also hope to never hear his voice again. It grates on my nerves now, because all I hear now are the ramblings of a hypocritical windbag.

By Robert Rapier


Golden Dawn leader arrested in dubious crackdown

by Jerome Roos on September 28, 2013

Post image for Golden Dawn leader arrested in dubious crackdown

Greek state cracks down on neo-Nazi movement, but questions remain about how willing and able it truly is to stamp out the fascist threat it created.

It’s quite incredible what difference two weeks can make. Just 10 days ago, government officials and members of Greece’s ruling centrist coalition were openly discussing the possibilities of a future government with the outspokenly neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party. Then, a group of Golden Dawn thugs shamelessly murdered antifascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas, and suddenly everything seemed to change. As tens of thousands of antifascist protesters took to the streets, government officials and mainstream media for the first time openly denounced the party as a “criminal organization”. Investigations were launched, senior police officers suspended and Golden Dawn collapsed in the polls.

Today, the sudden state crackdown on the violent extremists took a dramatic turn with the arrest of the party’s undisputed leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, by the national anti-terrorism unit. Three other MPs, a party leader from the Athenian suburb of Nikaia and 12 more party members were also arrested, while further arrest warrants have been issued for several MPs and party members. In an indication of the government’s resolve to finally sweep away the institutional basis of the neo-Nazi movement, today’s crackdown marks the first time since the fall of the military junta in 1974 that sitting MPs — let alone an official party leader — have been arrested.

Unfortunately, the institutional crackdown and criminal charges are long overdue, as the government (with Europe’s blessing) willingly tolerated the proliferation of neo-Nazi violence against immigrants and leftists for years. There are thus good reasons to remain profoundly skeptical of the government’s actual intentions and the broader implications of the arrests for the future of the antifascist struggle. While arresting its leaders will undoubtedly cripple Golden Dawn’s hierarchical organization and may temporarily paralyze the party’s official actions, it does not eradicate the penetration of fascism into the very fabric of the Greek state and society. Most importantly, a very large amount of Greek police officers and key elements of the country’s armed forces still support and adhere to Golden Dawn’s violent and openly racist ideology.

This fact was underlined when, just a few days ago, a group of special force reservists publicly demanded the government to resign and openly called for a military coup should it fail to do so. Since Golden Dawn claims up to 60 percent support from the country’s police force, and since most of its MPs and thugs have so far escaped imprisonment thanks to the right-wing inclinations of the judicial system, it is also unclear how effective the legal crackdown can really be. The current charges may set in motion the criminalization of the party, but it remains unclear how far state institutions are really willing and able to go in their efforts to stamp out the specter of neo-fascism.

These institutional limitations are compounded by the fact that Golden Dawn has traditionally been supported by a powerful sub-section of Greece’s oligarchic capitalist elite, whose financial interests have been neatly served by Golden Dawn’s anti-immigrant narrative and its violent attacks on anarchist and communist organizers. Already a while back, investigations by the Financial Crimes Unit revealed that Golden Dawn is funded by a group of wealthy businessmen, shipowners and orthodox priests (the latter are among the richest landowners in Greece). These are the same people who control the Greek government and media, and the same who are likely to be pulling the strings behind the “sacrificial” moves currently being taken against Golden Dawn.

So why did these corporate and political elites suddenly swing their weight against the neo-Nazi party that they previously turned a blind eye to, or even actively supported? Basically, the Greek elite always had only two diametrically opposed options to stay in power: either it tried to co-opt Golden Dawn by coaxing its leadership into “politics as usual”, or it repressed the party in an attempt to steal back its voters. The coldblooded murder of Pavlos — which appears to have been ordered by the party leader himself — and the powerful popular backlash this triggered, simply made the former position untenable. And so the elite shifted its strategy 180 degrees and dumped the neo-Nazi group that had previously been so beneficial to its interests.

For this reason, it remains crucial to remember that Golden Dawn is far from the only expression of fascism roiling Greek society today. As I argued in a previous piece, Greece’s centrist parties have been setting the political parameters of fascist policymaking for decades, and many current and former government ministers have openly expressed their support for the fascist cause. In a tough interview on BBC Hardtalk yesterday, health minister Adonis Georgidadis was faced with some difficult questions about his own political past as a member of the ultra-nationalist LAOS party, whose leader is widely known for his raging anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant tirades. Former PASOK health minister Andreas Loverdos once referred to Golden Dawn as the country’s “first authentic movement born after the dictatorship”.





“Joseph Stromberg reports at the Smithsonian that if there’s one group has an obvious and immediate financial stake in climate change, it’s the insurance industry and in recent years, insurance industry researchers who attempt to determine the annual odds of catastrophic weather-related disasters say they’re seeing something new. ‘Our business depends on us being neutral. We simply try to make the best possible assessment of risk today, with no vested interest,’ says Robert Muir-Wood, the chief scientist of Risk Management Solutions (RMS), a company that creates software models to allow insurance companies to calculate risk. Most insurers, including the reinsurance companies that bear much of the ultimate risk in the industry,have little time for the arguments heard in some right-wing circles that climate change isn’t happening, and are quite comfortable with the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels is the main culprit of global warming. ‘Insurance is heavily dependent on scientific thought,’ says Frank Nutter, president of the Reinsurance Association of America. ‘It is not as amenable to politicized scientific thought.’ A pronounced shift can be seen in extreme rainfall events, heat waves and wind storms and the underlying reason is climate change, says Muir-Wood, driven by rising greenhouse gas emissions. ‘The first model in which we changed our perspective is on U.S. Atlantic hurricanes. Basically, after the 2004 and 2005 seasons, we determined that it was unsafe to simply assume that historical averages still applied,’ he says. ‘We’ve since seen that today’s activity has changed in other particular areas as well—with extreme rainfall events, such as the recent flooding in Boulder, Colorado, and with heat waves in certain parts of the world.’ Muir-Wood puts his money where his mouth is. ‘I personally wouldn’t invest in beachfront property anymore,’ he says, noting the steady increase in sea level we’re expecting to see worldwide in the coming century, on top of more extreme storms. ‘And if you’re thinking about it, I’d calculate quite carefully how far back you’d have to be in the event of a hurricane.'”