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Archive for September 26th, 2013

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Silence is the deadliest weapon of mass destruction.

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Detroit’s Emergency Manager Plans Early Payoff of Top Banks

In a move that illuminates the class character of the Detroit bankruptcy proceedings, the city’s emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, is proposing to pay off two banks before all the rest of the city’s creditors, including retired workers who are owed their pensions.

This week Orr’s legal team is appealing to the bankruptcy court to allow the city to pay at least $250 million to UBS and Bank of America immediately, as part of an agreement to “unwind” a complex interest rate swap agreement. The proposal amounts to a payment of the two banks of between 75 and 82 cents on the dollar, far more than Orr is proposing to pay other obligations.

On Monday, US Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes delayed a hearing on the proposal, with city officials requesting more time. Other wealthy bondholders are upset at the deal because it may mean that they get less money on their own claims.

The $250 million payment is for interest incurred and includes a sizable termination fee for a default-swap loan made in 2006 to enable the maintenance of payments to the pension fund. The deal was pushed by the two banks with the claim that interest rates were almost certain to go up. The city agreed to pay a fixed rate of 6.3 percent, while UBS and Bank of America would pay the difference between the actual market rate interest and the agreed upon fixed rate.

The collapse of the economy in 2008-2009 and the response of the government created the opposite situation: interests plummeted, creating a disaster for the city and a boondoggle for UBS and Bank of America. The city has been saddled with the interest debt at well above market rates, exacerbating the financial crisis and making Detroit more vulnerable to the financial predators who now are assailing it.

The Detroit News cites Robert Brooks, a professor of finance at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, who points out that Detroit is among many cities that made “bad bets” on interest rates. “They bought the story line in ’06 that rates were at an all-time low and they should lock this in with a swap. .. making the bet that rates were going to go up.”

Brooks added, “It’s kind of like gamblers ruin —now that I’m underwater, let’s double down.”

Orr’s office says there is no choice but to terminate the swap arrangement because the two banks control access to $15 million a month in casino tax revenue as part of an agreement made in 2009 to avert a much larger payout.

University of Maryland law school financial derivatives expert Michael Greenberger said, “He gave the banks a big, wet sloppy kiss. Why should the banks get 75 to 82 cents on the dollar, but the Detroit workers get 10 cents on the dollar? Whose life is destroyed by this?”

Unwinding the swap with UBS and the Bank of America entails the payment of huge termination fees demanded by the banks. Patrick O’Keefe, CEO of a Detroit-area financial restructuring firm said, “It makes almost no sense to unwind a swap because whatever you pay in a premium has to get factored into what you’re going [sic] pay.” Because the swap arrangements are tied to the duration of the pension bonds which expire in 2029 and 2034, the banks are free to levy large fees in order to end them.

The complex chain of events leading to the forced bankruptcy of the city all involve the operations of financial institutions plundering the assets of Detroit.

The proposal of Orr’s office has nothing to do with freeing funds for “reinvestment in this city to provide for the health, safety and welfare of the citizens,” as Orr testified last week, but rather to cherry-pick the existing revenues to ensure the profits of the largest creditors.

The proposals of the emergency manager to end retiree health care and slash pensions expose the real intentions of the financial dictatorship imposed on the citizens of Detroit.

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How Dianne Feinstein’s Husband Sells Post Office Real Estate to His Friends on the Cheap

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Going Postal

Proceeds from the sale of the e-book, Going Postal, which may be downloaded in its entirety at Amazon, go solely to the author of this report.

Editor’s Note: The following is an edited version of the introductory chapter of a new e-book, Going Postal, by investigative journalist Peter Byrne.

On July 27, two hundred people sang and chanted on the steps of the historic main post office in downtown Berkeley to protest its upcoming closure and sale. City Councilman Jesse Arreguin took the microphone to angrily decry the closure. In fact, the Berkeley City Council had voted unanimously to oppose the sale. Why the day of rage?

When a post office closes, it is obviously that much harder to buy a stamp, pick up a package, send a registered letter, or purchase a money order. But inconvenience alone did not account for the existential angst being expressed by the mostly over-fifty members of the throng as they questioned the motives of the United States Postal Service for selling post offices all over the country to developers. “Which of our public assets will be privatized next?” speakers asked. “Streets? Schools? The Lincoln Bedroom?”

The Berkeley crowd is not acting alone: From the beaches of Santa Monica to the avenues of the Bronx to the orange farms of Nalcrest, Florida, people who like the US Mail are getting mad. “Hey, wait a minute, Mr. Postman! That is our community post office — ”

To which the federal flak-catchers reply: “The Internet is killing us. The Postal Service is broke. We have to sell. Get used to it.”

But email is not the problem and the budget deficit is easy enough to fix, so there must be other reasons for the forced sales, say save-the-post-office activists. The post office is being killed for political reasons, they assert, pointing out that the corporation with the exclusive contract to negotiate sales for the Postal Service’s $85 billion real estate portfolio is C.B. Richard Ellis (CBRE). And that the company is chaired by Richard C. Blum, who is the husband of US Senator Dianne Feinstein and a member of the University of California Board of Regents. CBRE’s connection to a politically powerful family with a history of accessing public pension funds to make private investments has caused more than a few activists to suspect wrongdoing — even though no evidence of any conflicts of interest tied to the CBRE contract have been revealed.

Until now.

My yearlong investigation has uncovered evidence of multiple conflicts of interest and problems with post office sales supervised by Blum’s company, including:

• CBRE appears to have repeatedly violated its contractual duty to sell postal properties at or above fair market values.

• CBRE has sold valuable postal properties to developers at prices that appear to have been steeply discounted from fair market values, resulting in the loss of tens of millions of dollars in public revenue.

• In a series of apparently non-arm’s-length transactions, CBRE negotiated the sale of postal properties all around the country to its own clients and business partners, including to one of its corporate owners, Goldman Sachs Group.

• CBRE has been paid commissions as high as 6 percent by the Postal Service for representing both the seller and the buyer in many of the negotiations, thereby raising serious questions as to whether CBRE was doing its best to obtain the highest price possible for the Postal Service.

• Senator Feinstein has lobbied the Postmaster General on behalf of a redevelopment project in which her husband’s company was involved.

The Backstory

Because the Postal Service is running an artificially created budget deficit, tens of thousands of jobs are being liquidated as post offices and mail processing facilities in towns and cities across the country are short-listed to be sold for ready cash. CBRE has already sold 52 of these properties, and hundreds more are on the chopping block.

And 80 percent of the Postal Service’s multibillion-dollar deficit is caused by a law passed by Congress in 2006 that requires it to prepay retiree health benefits 75 years into the future. This unprecedented, budget-killing command does not apply to any other government agency. If this burden were to be rescinded — and business mail were to be charged the cost of its delivery — the Postal Service would be in the black, according to Congressional reports.

The ugly truth of the matter, say informed critics such as New York University professor Steve Hutkins, is that the Postal Service is being privatized in the interests of scores of corporations that not only compete with it, but are also its largest contractors, including FedEx and United Parcel Service (package routing); Parsons Corporation (management services); Accenture (financial consulting); and Pitney Bowes (direct mail).

And then there is CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate firm. In June 2013, Postal Service Inspector General David C. Williams published a scathing audit of CBRE’s exclusive contract to manage all the sales and leasing of postal real estate. Williams noted that outsourcing these activities to a single firm is “a fundamental change from how the Postal Service previously managed its real estate portfolio [and] Facilities officials should improve oversight to mitigate inherent risks associated with the CBRE contract …. Specifically, there are conflict of interest concerns.”

Williams warned of the potential for contract fraud, but he stopped short of referring the matter to a prosecutor, and advised the postal executives in charge of the CBRE contract to clean up their act.

Over the past year, my investigation has explored the kinds of conflicts of interest that concerned Williams by diving deep into the public record. CBRE’s contract, its postal facility sales data, as well as expense reports for Postal Service executives were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The deeds of sale and assessment data for most of the postal properties sold by CBRE were found at the county level.

The county records allow for comparing the assessed value of the postal properties before they were sold to the final sales prices negotiated by CBRE on behalf of the Postal Service: And the comparisons reveal that CBRE has sold the bulk of this public real estate at prices under their assessed values — and apparently at far below fair market values.

When these findings were shared with Chuck Zlatkin, Legislative and Political Director of the New York Metro Area Postal Union, he said, “Shocking as this information is, it is not surprising because we have seen a pattern of corruption at the Post Office ever since the manufacture of the health care benefit prepayment crisis. It is certainly not permissible for CBRE to sell property paid for by the public to its own business partners, or to anyone else, at a discount. In my opinion, CBRE’s conflicts of interest contain an element of fraud.”

CBRE Group Inc. was given a list of the key facts and analysis reported in this investigation. Through its spokesman Philip Russo, the company declined to comment.

Conflicts of Interest

In June 2011, the Postal Service hired CBRE as its exclusive agent to sell post offices, warehouses, parking lots, and vacant land worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The contract instructs CBRE to propose properties to sell with final approval reserved to the head of the Postal Service’s Facilities Division, Tom Samra. And it requires CBRE to sell them at or above appraised (fair market) values, or not at all.

CBRE is also charged with appraising the fair market value of these properties and listing a reasonable sales price. It is important to point out that real estate appraisals are not customarily performed by the agent marketing the property. To avoid conflicts of interest, property appraisals are normally performed by professionals not involved in negotiating the sale.

Responding to a FOIA request through a staff attorney, Postmaster Patrick Donahoe categorically refused to disclose CBRE’s appraisals. Attorney Jeff Meadows said that CBRE’s appraisals do not need to be disclosed to the public because such information is “commercially sensitive” and it is comparable to a “national security” secret (even though the appraisals are not classified). The Postal Service eventually released the final sales price for each property sold by CBRE and CBRE’s sales invoices, which recorded the amount of its commissions (2 to 6 percent). The appraisal figures, however, remain secret.

By way of explanation, an assessed value is normally based upon the most recent sales price of a parcel, which is likely to be less than its current fair market value. In many counties, the assessed value is calculated as a percentage of the fair market value. And during economic downturns, assessed values are often lowered to keep pace with a falling market.

During the first two years of its contract, CBRE sold the 52 properties it had picked to market for millions of dollars less than their assessed values. For example, in Seattle, CBRE sold a post office building in 2011 for $8 million that was assessed at $16 million. And earlier this year, it sold a seventeen-story office building in St. Paul, Minnesota for $20 million under the 2009 value assessed for it shortly before it was put on the market by CBRE.

Details presented in the chapter “Following the Money” of this e-book show that from June 2011 through May 2013, CBRE sold 52 postal properties for $166 million. The total assessed value of this portfolio at the time of sale was $232 million. Subtracting out the nine properties that sold at a value higher than their assessed value, CBRE has arguably undersold its postal real estate portfolio by at least $79 million. And it undersold these properties even as the price of commercial real estate, especially for central downtown parcels, was approaching the pre-crash highs of 2007.

Interviews about standard real estate practices with two experts provided by the National Association of Realtors indicate that the sale of a property at or below assessed values most often occurs when it is located in a distressed or impoverished area. When there is shortage of commercial real estate in developable areas — which has been the general situation, nationwide, for several years — demand tends to push prices far higher than assessed values.

But the vast majority of the CBRE-negotiated sales did not involve distressed properties: They were mostly located in economically healthy neighborhoods. The sales were mostly of central downtown buildings, with parking, in wealthy or revitalizing neighborhoods that attracted restaurant, boutique, and residential developers, or modern, suburban office buildings and warehouses, also with ample parking that attracted high-tech industrial firms.

In other words, the most saleable postal properties were the ones most likely to command prices that exceeded their assessed values.

Not at Arm’s Length

Real estate transactions are normally negotiated by agents who stay at “arm’s length” from each other’s interests. That makes sense because sellers try to obtain the highest price possible, while buyers angle for the lowest price. Each agent is bound to get the best possible price for his or her client in a competitive marketplace.

But in a series of non-arm’s-length transactions, CBRE has sold 20 percent of its postal portfolio to its own clients and/or business partners. In Boston, it sold a parcel at a large discount of its assessed value to a developer with whom it was partnered. And it sold another Boston parcel to one of its largest shareholders, Goldman Sachs Group. Real estate industry ethics require agents to get the best deal for their clients (in this case, the US Postal Service), not for their business partners and owners.

CBRE kept the entire seller/buyer commission of up to 6 percent in 34 of 52 transactions. In the majority of these deals, CBRE appears to have represented the interests of the buyer as well as those of the seller, even though CBRE was originally contracted to represent only the interests of the Postal Service.

Astonishingly, CBRE’s contract was amended in 2012, at the request of CBRE, to allow it to negotiate on behalf of both the Postal Service and prospective buyers.

No Oversight

To be fair, CBRE need not shoulder all of the blame for the $79 million in lost revenue. In his June 2013 audit, the post office’s inspector general reported that executives running the Postal Service Facilities Division were not properly monitoring the CBRE contract.

Williams found that:

• the dollar amount of the contract was improperly open-ended and posed a risk of runaway costs. The original $2 million budget had unaccountably tripled.

• Facilities Division officials improperly paid CBRE invoices without checking for fraud. At least 227 invoices worth $1.7 million were paid without proper oversight — “present[ing] an increased risk of fraud [and] pos[ing] an increased risk to the Postal Service’s finances, brand, and reputation.”

In short, the normal checks-and-balances mechanisms for preventing conflicts of interest and contract fraud have been missing in the monitoring of CBRE’s performance by Facilities Division officials. Given the ethical norms at play on the top floors of the Postal Service’s headquarters at L’Enfant Plaza in Washington, DC, this is not surprising. The inspector general has also reported that high-ranking Postal Service executives have charged home mortgages and European vacations to their government credit cards.

And Facilities Division expense reports reveal that staffers have purchased hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of expensive dinners, online gift cards, books, and even toys with their government-issued credit cards. The division’s chief, Samra, has billed the deficit-ridden Postal Service for flying first class to Europe, even though he personally is worth as much as $98 million.

The Postal Service was given a list of the key facts and analysis reported in this investigation. Through his spokesman, David Partenheimer, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe declined to comment.

The Boston Seaport Deals

CBRE is a major player in the development of a brand-new neighborhood in downtown Boston called the Seaport District. The mixed-use district is slated to revitalize 1,000 acres of abandoned railways and crumbling docks that surround the Boston Convention Center. The linchpin of the giant redevelopment project’s design is the upscale Channel Center, which will sport expensive residences, office buildings, and grassy parks. A portion of the project is sited on Postal Service land that has been sold by CBRE to the developers.

In Boston, during 2012, while acting as the Postal Service’s agent, CBRE sold real estate at less than its assessed value to a group of developers called Commonwealth Ventures LLC, with whom it was partnered in a redevelopment project. CBRE also sold a valuable parcel in the same development project to one of its largest stockholders, Goldman Sachs Group. These and a host of similar transactions around the country raise questions as to whether CBRE improperly benefited from selling postal properties to its clients and business partners.

According to the Channel Center developer, Commonwealth Ventures LLC, CBRE is a member of its development team, which provides real estate services to the project. Commonwealth Ventures is also partnered with AREA Property Partners, which has collaborated with CBRE on other real estate ventures. Another CBRE client, the real estate arm of General Electric Corporation, is also a member of Commonwealth Ventures’ Channel Center team. In what appears to have been a conflict of interest, CBRE has acted as the broker for both the Postal Service and the Channel Center development partnership, which is composed of its clients.

In September 2012, AREA Property Partners paid the Postal Service $10.3 million for a parking lot on which the company planned to construct the Channel Center parking garage. The Postal Service was represented by CBRE in the sale, even though CBRE is also the agent for the Channel Center developers, Commonwealth Ventures, and AREA.

According to the Boston Assessor’s property database, the parking lot was valued at $12.4 million in 1991. This key piece of real estate in the Channel Center project was sold by CBRE for 20 percent less than it had been valued more than two decades before. In addition, because CBRE is also a member of the development team, the sale raises questions as to whether the company stands to reap additional profits from the Channel Center project.

Remarkably, the invoice that CBRE submitted to the Postal Service’s Facilities Division for the sale of the Channel Center parking lot to Commonwealth Ventures did not contain an address for the property sold, only the notation “0 Square Feet.” Under “value,” someone wrote, “?” Nowhere on the undated invoice does the purchase price appear. Nor does the invoice reference a contract number, nor any form of payment authorization. It demands a “flat fee” of $377,500 for negotiating the sale, even though the CBRE contract does not allow for flat fees. Nonetheless, the incomplete invoice was paid by Postal Service facilities executives.

The Goldman Sachs Connection

A real estate partnership created by the Goldman Sachs Group called W2005 BWH Realty LLC purchased a parcel of Postal Service land for a residential development alongside the Channel Center in September 2011. The parcel was subdivided from a larger parcel, so it had no previously assessed value as a unit. CBRE sold the postal parcel for $1 million to the entity controlled by the Goldman Sachs Group, which owns 6.6 percent of CBRE, a stake that rivals Blum Capital Partners’ stake of 6.9 percent. Goldman Sachs is also a longstanding CBRE client and its co-investor in numerous ventures. Since CBRE took the entire commission of 6 percent, it appears to have represented both seller and buyer in a transaction that poses an apparent conflict of interest.

The CBRE invoice for the sale to the Goldman Sachs partnership does not list a dollar amount for the sale, nor the name of the buyer (which was obtained from deeds on file with the Boston Assessor’s office).

In an email, James Allen of the Postal Service Facilities Division wrote that after paying CBRE for both of the Boston Seaport deals, facilities managers requested that CBRE change the format of its invoices to include more information.

Richard C. Blum did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

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FOI Panel: Newtown Must Release 911 Calls; State to Appeal

–Danbury State’s Attorney Stephen Sedensky said listening to the tapes ‘isn’t something that needed to be done.’

25 Sep 2013 The state Freedom of Information Commission Wednesday ordered Newtown police to release 911 calls made from Sandy Hook Elementary School during last December’s attack, but the tapes won’t be made public while state prosecutors appeal the decision in court. After an hour-long argument by lawyers on both sides of the issue, the full commission unanimously adopted a hearing officer’s report finding that police violated state law when they refused a request by the Associated Press for copies of the tapes. The battle will now move to Superior Court.

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US Demands Syria Destroy Chemical Weapons Lickety-Split, But Says It Needs Decades To Safely Eliminate Its Own Chems

The US is demanding, in negotiations at the UN, that all Syrian chemical weapons, stocks and production facilities be eliminated by June 30 of next year.  This has an element of hypocrisy, because the US itself has been incredibly slow about eliminating its own stocks of chemical weapons.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has referred to Syria as having one of the largest chemical stockpiles in the world. But the US and Russia both still have stocks of chemicals many times as large. Syria’s neighbor Israel, which refuses to admit it has the weapons and has yet to ratify the treaty banning them, is suspected of also having a large arsenal.

The US caches, at 3100 tons, are three times as large as Syria’s reported 1000 tons.

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The United Nations Convention on Chemical Weapons, which Washington ratified in 1997, required signers to eliminate all stocks of chemical arms by 2012. But the US, like Russia, requested an extension to 2023. It claimed that “difficulties involving old chemical warheads” and environmental issues were making it impossible to comply within the framework of the treaty.

Destroying the stocks is no small task. The Army’s Pueblo Chemical Depot, in Pueblo, Colorado, still houses an estimated 2611 tons of mustard gas and the Blue Grass Army Depot, Blue Grass, Kentucky, may have on site 523 tons of sarin (the same weapons whose use in Syria caused such an uproar), VX and mustard gas agent. That’s a whole lot of poison to dispose of safely.

Some $10 billion has been spent to date on the process of locating and destroying the US chemical arsenal—and the ultimate cost may top $30 billion. According to the US Army Chemical Materials Agency (USACMA), two mammoth destruction facilities are being constructed, at a cost of billions of dollars each, at the Pueblo and Blue Grass sites, by the notorious war profiteer corporation Bechtel Parsons.

In other words, disposing of chemical weapons is not something you just do, like snapping your fingers.

A Leaky Arsenal?

Worse, some experts suspect the US of the exact same fakeout game it accuses Syria of contemplating.

Meryl Nass, a physician with the group Physicians for Social Responsibility, who since 2007 has run a respected blog about biological and chemical weapons called AnthraxVaccine is wary of reports from USACMA about accidental leaks of sarin gas. “I’m concerned that this could be a cover for removing some stocks from the accounting and the destruction process,” Nass says, “so that UN inspectors can be told that the missing material had simply leaked away.”

Even in the purportedly safest, most stable settings, like those US sites, destroying chemicals and poison gas is a tricky proposition, with vast environmental, health and safety risks. After all, these substances can kill hundreds of people in short order if anything goes wrong. But such concerns surely must be multiplied ten-fold when the same process is being undertaken in a civil war environment in a third-world country such as Syria.

Yet the US is insisting that Syria’s gas stocks must be gone or destroyed within the next eight and a half months. If that doesn’t happen, says Washington, the UN Security Council should sign off on a military campaign. As further backup, the US is still prepared to act unilaterally with a punitive bombing and rocket blitz against the Syrian government’s forces.

US_Chemical_Weapons_Stockpile_c_f_51That impatience is astonishing when one considers that the US itself says it needs over a quarter of a century to destroy its own chemical arsenal. That’s because it wants to construct those two expensive state-of-the-art chemical weapons destruction facilities, ostensibly for safety reasons (though presumably pork barrel politics plays a role.) And it plans to take its time. The Army says the facility in Pueblo won’t begin operation until 2017, and the one in Blue Grass won’t even be ready for operation until 2020.

Another reason some are skeptical about the US’s intentions is that notwithstanding this long-term proposition, the US admits it already possesses and has in the past used mobile truck-mounted destruction equipment capable of destroying five tons of toxic weapons per day. Do the math: at this rate the entire US stockpile could be eliminated in less than two years – that’s 2015, a far cry from the current target date of 2023.

A BBC report says these US mobile destruction units, each called an Explosive Destruction System, work by putting chemical warheads or shells into a “bang box” and exploding them, thus neutralizing the warhead and the toxin. Each unit is capable of destroying six weapons at a time. These units were reportedly used to destroy “more than 1700 items” in the US arsenal since 2001.

But they are no longer being used. Why—is not clear.

Safety Concerns?

The army ascribes these lengthy delays to environmental concerns.

Miguel Monteverde, a spokesman for the Program Executive Office Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives, the Army department responsible for overseeing the destruction of the remaining US chemical arms, tells WhoWhatWhy that the snails’ pace should be ascribed to worries expressed by  residents of the Pueblo and Blue Grass communities.

Monteverde says that in response to local sentiment, the army scrapped initial plans to incinerate most of the remaining weapons (the method used to destroy most of the other 28,000 tons of US chemical weapons already eliminated), and new facilities were planned that will use “safer” methods.

The new plants, he said, will also be “fully automated” so that no human hands will have to handle the deadly weapons and chemicals. Yet the army rep concedes that during the destruction of 90% of the US arsenal in prior decades there was “not one fatality” among workers.

As for those mobile Pentagon units, which were designed following 9-11 for use in case a terrorist stash of chemical or biological weapons was discovered, Monteverde says they are “not appropriate” for the job of eliminating the remaining stocks. “There’s too much risk because people have to handle the weapons,” he explained.

chemistry_thumbThat of course begs the question of what risks would be posed to those—most likely Syrians hired by any UN-led team charged with destroying Syria’s chemical weapons—if the process were done in a hurry and “under the gun” of US threats of bombardment.

Many of America’s stockpiled weapons contain deadly toxins linked to explosive warheads or potentially explosive propulsion systems that could be triggered inadvertently.  If this makes deactivating them so difficult it’s taking the US a generation to accomplish, can we really expect an ad hoc international team to eliminate Syria’s weapons in only eight months—in the midst of a horrific civil war?

These would seem the core questions to be asked about this raging international issue. But few are asking them.

Chemical vs. Cluster Weapons

There is one other big issue that suggests a double standard.

While the US decries Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons “against its own people” in the Aug. 21 incident in a Damascus suburb, the United States itself is a holdout (along with Russia, China, Israel, Syria and Pakistan) and an active opponent of another UN convention, which went into force in 2008. It bans anti-personnel cluster weapons. These insidious devices have killed and maimed far more people than poison gas in the years since World War I. And since World War II the primary user of these nightmarish weapons has been the US.

Indeed, it is likely that the Tomahawk cruise missile blitz that the Obama administration came close to launching against Syrian government installations and military targets in late summer—and which it still wants to keep as an open threat—would have included cluster weapons. For they are among the warheads designed for use on the Tomahawk.

surviving-cluster-bombs-04Missile-delivered cluster weapons are notorious for their imprecision, with as many as 98% of their victims proving to be civilians. President Obama, in his Sept. 10 address to the nation on Syria’s chemical weapons, made much of the tragic images of children allegedly dying from Syrian government poison gas weapons in Damascus.

But in trying to make the case for a Tomahawk attack on Syria, the President ignored the reality that fully 40% of the victims of cluster weapons, which the US has used massively in Iraq, Afghanistan and even in Yemen, are children.

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The United States Capitol

The United States Capitol (Photo credit: jpellgen)

$5.25 Million For Senate Hair Care And 21 Other Ways Politicians Are Living The High Life At Your Expense

If you want to live the high life, you don’t have to become a rap star, a professional athlete or a Wall Street banker.  All it really takes is winning an election.  Right now, more than half of all the members of Congress are millionaires, and most of them leave “public service” far wealthier than when they entered it.  Since most of them have so much money, you would think that they would be willing to do a little “belt-tightening” for the sake of the American people.  After all, things are supposedly “extremely tight” in Washington D.C. right now.  In fact, just the other day Nancy Pelosi insisted that there were “no more cuts to make” to the federal budget.  But even as they claim that things are so tough right now, our politicians continue to live the high life at the expense of U.S. taxpayers.  The statistics that I am about to share with you are very disturbing.  Please share them with everyone that you know.  The American people deserve the truth.

According to the Weekly Standard, an absolutely insane amount of money is being spent on the “hair care needs” of U.S. Senators…

Senate Hair Care Services has cost taxpayers about $5.25 million over 15 years. They foot the bill of more than $40,000 for the shoeshine attendant last fiscal year. Six barbers took in more than $40,000 each, including nearly $80,000 for the head barber.

Keep in mind that there are only 100 U.S. Senators, and many of them don’t have much hair left at this point.

But hair care is just the tip of the iceberg.  The following are 21 other ways that our politicians are living the high life at your expense…

#1 According to Roll Call’s annual survey of Congressional wealth, the super wealthy in Congress just continue to get much wealthier even though they are supposedly dedicating their lives to “public service”…

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) is the richest Member of Congress for the second year in a row, reporting a vast fortune that in 2011 had a minimum net worth surpassing $300 million for the first time.

McCaul is followed by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who reported a minimum net worth of $198.65 million, and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who reported a minimum net worth of $140.55 million. The two lawmakers swapped places since last year’s list.

The lawmakers who round out the top five, Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), also flipped positions from 2010 to 2011, with Warner’s reported minimum worth rising about $9 million to $85.81 million and Rockefeller’s minimum worth rising slightly to $83.08 million.

#2 Amazingly, the 50th most wealthy member of Congress has a net worth of 6.14 million dollars.

#3 At this point, more than half of those “serving the American people” in Congress are millionaires.

#4 In one recent year, an average of $4,005,900 of U.S. taxpayer money was spent on “personal” and “office” expenses per U.S. Senator.

#5 Once they leave Washington, former members of Congress continue to collect huge checks for the rest of their lives

In 2011, 280 former lawmakers who retired under a former government pension system received average annual pensions of $70,620, according to a Congressional Research Service report. They averaged around 20 years of service. At the same time, another 215 retirees (elected in 1984 or later with an average of 15 years of service) received average annual checks of roughly $40,000 a year.

#6 Speaker of the House John Boehner would bring home a yearly pension of close to $85,000 if he left Congress when his current term ends in 2014.

#7 At this point, quite a few former lawmakers are collecting federal pensions for life worth at least $100,000 annually.  That list includes such notable names as Newt Gingrich, Bob Dole, Trent Lott, Dick Gephardt and Dick Cheney.

#8 The U.S. government is spending approximately 3.6 million dollars a year to support the lavish lifestyles of former presidents such as George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

#9 Nearly 500,000 federal employees now make at least $100,000 a year.

#10 During one recent year, the average federal employee in the Washington D.C. area received total compensation worth more than $126,000.

#11 During one recent year, compensation for federal employees came to a grand total of approximately 447 billion dollars.

#12 If you can believe it, there are 77,000 federal workers that make more than the governors of their own states do.

#13 When Joe Biden and his staff took a trip to London, the hotel bill cost U.S. taxpayers $459,388.65.

#14 Joe Biden and his staff also stopped in Paris for one night.  The hotel bill for that one night came to $585,000.50.

#15 When Biden and his staff visited Moscow for two days in 2011, the total hotel bill came to $665,445.00.

#16 During 2012, the salaries of Barack Obama’s three climate change advisers combined came to a grand total of more than $370,000.

#17 Overall, 139 different White House staffers were making at least $100,000 during 2012, and there were 20 staffers that made the maximum of $172,200.

#18 It is estimated that the trip that the Obamas took to Africa cost U.S. taxpayers about 100 million dollars.

#19 The Obamas only have one dog named “Bo”, but the White House “dog handler” reportedly makes $102,000 per year and sometimes he is even flown to where the Obamas are vacationing so that he can take care of the dog.

#20 There is always at least one projectionist at the White House 24 hours a day just in case there is someone that wants to watch a movie.  Apparently turning on a DVD player is too much to ask.

#21 In one recent year, more than 1.4 billion dollars was spent on the Obamas.  Meanwhile, British taxpayers only spent about 58 million dollars on the entire royal family.

So who pays for all of this extravagance?

The American people do of course.

Unfortunately, what most of our politicians fail to understand is that most families are struggling tremendously right now.

This week, Yahoo featured the story of a 77-year-old former executive that is now flipping burgers and serving drinks to make ends meet.  He says that he now earns in a week what he once earned in a single hour, but he is thankful to have a job in this economic environment…

It seems like another life. At the height of his corporate career, Tom Palome was pulling in a salary in the low six-figures and flying first class on business trips to Europe.

Today, the 77-year-old former vice president of marketing for Oral-B juggles two part-time jobs: one as a $10-an-hour food demonstrator at Sam’s Club, the other flipping burgers and serving drinks at a golf club grill for slightly more than minimum wage.

While Palome worked hard his entire career, paid off his mortgage and put his kids through college, like most Americans he didn’t save enough for retirement. Even many affluent baby boomers who are approaching the end of their careers haven’t come close to saving the 10 to 20 times their annual working income that investment experts say they’ll need to maintain their standard of living in old age.

So many Americans are barely making it from month to month at this point.  Most people work very, very hard for their money, and it is very discouraging to see our politicians waste our hard-earned tax dollars so frivolously.

Fortunately, there are signs that the American people are starting to get fed up with all of this.  According to a stunning new Gallup survey, more Americans than ever before (60 percent) believe that the federal government has too much power.

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“A contractor from Plaquemine monitoring hurricane cleanup in Grand Isle was spit on and called the “N” word, and captured the entire assault on her cell phone. “It was humiliating,” Brandi Worley told News 2. “It was just so hurtful.” Worley said two of her other coworkers were also hit by the man, who was arrested after the incident. Grand Isle Police identified him as Josh Jambon, and said he was charged with battery. As Worley began recording the racial slurs on her phone, Jambon noticed she was recording him with her phone. That’s when the video shows him going into a rage…”

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