Thursday, January 24, 2008

Justices Broaden Immunity for Officers

Published: January 23, 2008

WASHINGTON — Federal law enforcement officers are immune from lawsuits for mishandling, losing or even stealing personal property that comes under their control in the course of their official duties, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday in a 5-to-4 decision.

The case was brought by a federal prison inmate, but the ruling was not limited to the prison context. It was an interpretation of the Federal Tort Claims Act, which applies to federal employees’ liability for damages and generally waives immunity from being sued.

The statute has numerous exceptions that preserve immunity in particular situations, however. The exception at issue in the case provides that “any officer of customs or excise or any other law enforcement officer” will be immune from suit for “any claim arising in respect of the assessment or collection of any tax or customs duty or the detention of any goods, merchandise or other property.”

The question was the meaning of the phrase “any other law enforcement officer.” Did Congress mean to confer blanket immunity for property-related offenses on the part of any federal law enforcement officer? Or was the immunity limited to officers engaged in tax or customs work?

The answer was sufficiently ambiguous that of the 11 federal circuits of appeals to address the issue, six had interpreted the exception as applying broadly to all officers, and five had read it narrowly to apply only to property seizures connected to revenue or customs enforcement.

The Supreme Court majority, in an opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas, chose the broad interpretation. When Congress enacted the law in 1946, “it could easily have written ‘any other law enforcement officer acting in a customs or excise capacity,’ “ Justice Thomas wrote, adding, “We are not at liberty to rewrite the statute to reflect a meaning we deem more desirable.”

Beyond the holding in the case, Ali v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, No. 06-9130, this first 5-to-4 decision of the current term was notable in several respects.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote a dissent that was signed by the three other dissenters, John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter and Stephen G. Breyer. In the court’s last term, Justice Kennedy voted with the majority in all 24 of the 5-to-4 decisions.

His position on Tuesday meant that the swing vote was cast by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who in closely divided cases can almost always be found with Justices Stevens, Souter and Breyer. She did not write separately to explain her position.

Justice Kennedy said the majority had failed to adhere to longstanding principles of statutory interpretation, including the rule that “a single word must not be read in isolation, but instead defined by reference to its statutory context.”

He said the majority had mistakenly focused on the word “any” in the phrase “any other law enforcement officer,” when it was clear from the context that Congress was discussing only customs and revenue seizures.

Justice Breyer made a similar point in a dissenting opinion of his own. “It is context, not a dictionary” that matters the most, he said.

The plaintiff, Abdus-Shahid M. S. Ali, was being transferred from a federal prison in Atlanta to one in Inez, Ky., and left two duffle bags of personal property to be shipped. When he received the bags, religious articles, including two copies of the Koran, were missing.

Valuing the missing items at $177, Mr. Ali filed suit, appealing to the Supreme Court after the federal appeals court in Atlanta had dismissed his case in the decision that the justices affirmed.

CBO sees $250B federal budget deficit

By ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press Writer Wed Jan 23, 1:46 PM ET

WASHINGTON - The deficit for the current budget year will jump to about $250 billion under Congressional Budget Office figures released Wednesday, as a weaker economy and lower corporate profits weigh on the government's fiscal ledger.

And that figure does not reflect more than $100 billion in red ink from an economic stimulus measure in the works.

"After three years of declining budget deficits, a slowing economy this year will contribute to an increase in the deficit," the CBO report said.

The figure greatly exceeds the $163 billion in red ink registered last year. Adding likely but still unapproved outlays for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan brings its "baseline" deficit estimate of $219 billion to about $250 billion, the nonpartisan CBO said.

House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt Jr., D-S.C., said the 2008 deficit might reach $379 billion once the costs of an upcoming economic stimulus measure under negotiation between the Bush administration and Congress are factored in.

The CBO crunches economic and budget data for lawmakers.

Unlike an increasing number of economists, CBO does not forecast a recession this year. It instead forecasts a growth rate of 1.7 percent, down from 2.2 percent real growth in the gross domestic product (GDP) last year.

"Although recent data suggest that the probability of a recession in 2008 has increased, CBO does not expect the slowdown in economic growth to be large enough to register as a recession," CBO said. The CBO economic forecast was completed last month, before a recent spike in unemployment and the release of disappointing holiday retail sales figures.

"A number of ominous economic signs have emerged since CBO finalized last month the forecast underlying today's report," Spratt said. "Today's new economic forecast thus adds to the growing evidence that the economy has weakened, and that policymakers in Washington must take action."

CBO Director Peter Orszag testified before the House Budget Committee. He warned them again that regardless of the short-term fluctuations in the deficit, the longer-term picture remains bleak due to expected spiraling costs of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security as the Baby Boom generation retires.

"A substantial reduction in the growth of spending, a significant increase in tax revenues relative to the size of the economy, or some combination of the two will be necessary to maintain the nation's long-term fiscal stability," Orszag said.

Officially, CBO predicts the 2008 deficit at $219 billion, but that figure fails to account for at least an additional $30 billion in war costs and the likely infusion of deficit-financed economic stimulus measures such as income tax rebates, business tax breaks and help for the unemployed now under discussion on Capitol Hill and at the White House.

The deficit seems to be an afterthought as lawmakers race toward agreement with President Bush on a plan to pump perhaps $150 billion worth of deficit spending into the economy. The bulk of the plan would come as tax cuts, though Democrats are pressing for additional help for the unemployed and people on food stamps. Constituency groups in both political parties are pressing for even more, such as Democratic-sought aid to cash-strapped states and people with high heating bills.

"I am concerned that, in our rush to help, we will talk ourselves into a quick, feel-good hit today that will leave us with a bigger budgetary hangover tomorrow," said Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, top Republican on the Budget panel. "We simply cannot spend our way to prosperity ... (and) use the excuse of fiscal stimulus to push through a wish list of new spending, further worsening our budget outlook and our nation's economic future."

Most of any economic stimulus bill would be released before the Oct. 1 start of the 2009 budget year, with any benefits to the economy — and therefore federal revenues — lagging behind.

The White House is set to release its 2009 budget on Feb. 4, and Bush has promised a plan that would erase the deficit by 2012 if his policies are followed.

The 2006 deficit was $248 billion and had closed from a high of $413 billion registered in 2004.

The deficit picture remains worse than it was when Bush took office seven years ago. Then, both White House and congressional forecasters projected cumulative surpluses of $5.6 trillion over the subsequent decade.

But a revenue bubble burst, a recession and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks adversely affected the books. Several rounds of tax cuts, including Bush's signature $1.35 trillion 2001 tax cut, also contributed to the return to deficits in 2002 after four years of budget surpluses. The national debt has risen to $9.2 trillion.

"This guy will come close to doubling the debt of the country during his period of presidency," Conrad said.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

US film studios and television networks announce layoffs and cutbacks

By Andrea Peters15 January 2008
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In response to the film and television writers’ strike, now in its twelfth week, Warner Bros. and ABC Studios are carrying out or preparing significant cutbacks.
Warner Bros., a unit of giant Time Warner, sent notices last week to approximately 1,000 television and film production workers warning that an unspecified number of layoffs would soon be announced.

ABC Studios has cancelled nearly two dozen production contracts, claiming force majeure (a clause in contracts covering events or circumstances beyond the control of one or both of the parties). According to the Hollywood newspaper Variety, this signifies a 25 percent reduction in ABC’s roster.

All the major studios had previously suspended such production deals, but ABC (owned by Disney) was the first to take the drastic step of ending them. There are media reports that the network is using the strike as an opportunity to downsize operations and even get rid of the pilot season entirely.

These are aggressive moves by the entertainment conglomerates, designed to make workers at all levels of the entertainment industry suffer the consequences of the writers’ walkout, which was provoked by the companies’ intransigence. In addition to saving money, the companies clearly hope that these actions will undermine support for the strike.

News of the cuts comes on the heels of the cancellation of the Golden Globes Awards ceremony, which was shut down by the refusal of numerous high-profile actors, members of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), to cross the Writers Guild (WGA) picket lines.

This was a blow to the studios and networks, currently bracing for the possible cancellation of the airing of the Academy Awards ceremony. If no settlement is reached in the next several weeks, either on a general contract or a temporary agreement for the night of the awards ceremony, it is likely that many SAG members will support the writers’ strike and refuse to attend.

Organizers of the Oscar ceremony claim they are intending to go ahead with the program, no matter what. Gil Cates, producer of the broadcast planned for February 24, told the Associated Press, “We are going to do it. I can’t elaborate on how we’re going to do it, because I don’t want anybody to deal with the elaboration in a way that might impact its success.” Significantly, Cates is also a chief negotiator for the Directors Guild of America (DGA), the outcome of whose negotiations with the studios and networks could undermine the writers’ struggle.

There have been no talks since the AMPTP walked out of the negotiations December 7. On January 11, George Clooney announced that he would attempt to set up a “mediation panel” to bring the two sides back to the bargaining table and help them come to a deal. He is trying to enlist the support of Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg and former WGA head John Wells, who was accused by rank-and-file members of selling out the writers on the DVD residual issue.

Whatever Clooney’s intentions, this kind of maneuver will be of no assistance to the writers. The stark reality is this: a number of massive corporations are determined to defeat the writers and send a message to every other worker in the industry. In the face of corporate ruthlessness, various efforts at conciliation and the tactical maneuvers of the WGA leadership have come to nothing.

The union has cut temporary deals with a number of smaller production companies, including David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants Production, Tom Cruise’s United Artists, and most recently, the firm owned by Harvey and Bob Weinstein.

These agreements have been presented by the WGA as victories and a sign of its reasonableness and ability to reach agreements—contrary to the claims of the AMPTP.
Such tactics will get the writers nowhere. Among the rank-and-file the effect has been to create tension, with some members angered over the fact that their colleagues are able to get back to work while they are still out on the picket lines. This can only serve to demoralize the strikers.
The pro-business Los Angeles Times pointed out in an editorial published on January 9 that the WGA’s deals with smaller companies were undermining its efforts.

“The deals mean some small amounts of revenue are again flowing for, respectively, CBS and MGM. As a result, those organizations have incrementally less incentive to give in,” opined the newspaper. “The guild’s argument seems to be that the independent deals will be a Trojan horse to get the writers’ demands inside the producers’ camp. But the Trojan horse is a made-up story. It doesn’t work in an actual fight,” they continued.

The shutting down of “Oscar Night” would not be a small matter. The ceremony is second only to the Super Bowl in the millions of dollars in advertising revenue it generates. In addition, its cancellation would result in losses for the local economy estimated at $130 million.

Moreover, the weeks of media hype in the lead-up to the Oscar ceremony, the endless pre- and post-event discussions of the fashions being paraded on the red carpet and the general fawning over the wealth and glitz of Hollywood are things that the entertainment elite is loath to give up, particularly under conditions in which wide layers of the population are becoming disaffected with the present state of everyday affairs. The cancellation of the Academy Awards due to a conflict between writers and their employers would remind people of certain social realities.
The WGA leadership is presenting the possibility that the strike could force the cancellation of the Oscar ceremony as a sign of the union’s strong position. Of course, such an eventuality would underscore the writers’ indispensable role and the support for their cause within Hollywood. But to imagine that this would deliver a decisive blow is an illusion.

The writers are engaged in a struggle with powerful elements of the American ruling elite. The defense of the writers’ interests demands nothing less than a stand against the companies and the entire socio-economic order of which they are a part. Such a struggle raises the need for a massive industry-wide mobilization, based on an appeal to all sections of Hollywood workers, to completely shut down the studios and networks and all their operations.

Most importantly, only a socialist outlook and strategy corresponds to the reality of the present situation. The conglomerates want to drive the majority of writers back to the conditions that existed prior to the formation of the Screen Writers Guild in the late 1930s, when writers were entirely at the mercy of their employers. Decent economic and cultural conditions depend on the transformation of the entertainment conglomerates into publicly-owned and democratically-run enterprises.

Writers and supporters
The WSWS spoke recently to writers and supporters both in New York City and the Los Angeles area.
At the picket line outside Viacom’s headquarters in Times Square in New York City, screenwriter Steven Katz spoke about the overall issues in the strike: “The companies say that they don’t know if they will make money on the Internet, and yet they tell their shareholders that this will be a lucrative market. Telling us that the new media is of questionable value is what they said about VCRs and DVDs, and they creamed us on that.
“It is clear that the Internet is the future. The issues around the new technologies that we are debating here will affect everybody. Eventually the computer and the television will no longer be two separate machines. They’ll become united in one machine. This technology impacts on every employer and employee. The evolution of this technology is like the development of the assembly line was in the early 1900s. They pay residuals for movies and television, but now they are saying that they don’t want to pay for residuals on the internet.”
Greg Parker, a retired maintenance worker who came to express his solidarity at the Viacom rally, noted:
“I have been to a number of strike rallies. I see the writers as part of the entire labor movement. What affects them affects all workers. They should get more support. I don’t know why my union or all the unions aren’t on this picket line showing their solidarity. The unions could be here if they wanted to, but I guess they feel that this struggle is not their struggle.”
On the other side of the continent, picketing outside CBS Radford Studios in Studio City, California, Doug Allen, a comedy writer, told the WSWS:
“I think the strike will be successful in the end. We’ve seen how much money the studios are losing by not broadcasting the Golden Globes and their usual awards broadcasts. It shows that we’re hitting them.”
Also at Radford Studios, picket captain Steve Skrovan spoke with the WSWS about the tactics of the other unions. He noted that the Directors Guild was entering into negotiations with the AMPTP and that the former had not come out in strong support of the writers, because the DGA leaders were trying to “cut their own deal. ... We’re always afraid they’re going to sell us out,” he added.
About the possibility of expanding the strike throughout the industry, Skovran was skeptical, because he didn’t believe that actors and others in Hollywood would breach their contracts in defense of the writers.
Instead, he described the WGA’s tactic as follows: “It’s a slow bleeding. There’s no knock-out punch. I make the analogy—it’s David versus Goliath but David is not going to bring Goliath to his knees, he just needs to bloody his nose a little bit.”
The difficulty is that the writers are facing massive corporations whose determination is proven by the fact that that they have already lost hundreds of millions of dollars as a result of the strike and have made no move to return to the bargaining table.
Many striking writers do have a sense of some of the larger political and economic issues in the strike.
As Allen told us, “A lot of what we’re seeing now, and not just in this industry, is the constant squeezing of the middle class. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer, so this is just part of that.
“I don’t subscribe to either of the two parties, because I don’t believe that there’s a big enough difference between them, and the needs of the country can’t be represented by just two parties. They fight each other for a power, and a three, four, or five-party system would be a nice change,” he added.
Skrovan also expressed considerable skepticism about official politics. When the WSWS asked him about the intimate relationship between the public relations firm run by Mark Fabiani and Chris Lehane, hired by the AMPTP to smear the writers, and the Democratic Party, he replied, “If I can be blunt, they’ve obviously proven themselves to be whores. They’ve also worked for the ‘Change to Win’ unions. It just shows you the state of liberalism and progressivism in this country, where somebody like Hillary Clinton can be depicted as a wacko lefty, when she is to the right of Eisenhower.”
He continued about the Democratic Party-connected public relations outfit, “They called us ‘organizers.’ God forbid people should organize! This is the term this supposedly progressive PR firm is using in the service of six or seven mega corporations.”

The private bankers of the Federal Reserve: Creating Wars for Fun and Profit

On June 4, 1963, presidential order EO 11110 authorised the president to issue currency. Kennedy ordered the US Treasury to print $4 billion worth of "United States Notes" backed incidentally by US bullion reserves, to replace Federal Reserve Notes, which were backed by nothing, so he could end the Federal Reserve System and the control it gave international bankers over the US government and its citizens. Kennedy’s strategy to bring US troops home from Vietnam by the end of 1965, combined with the removal of the Fed’s control of the US money supply would have killed the profits of this private bank. Literally as Kennedy’s dollars went into circulation he was assassinated in Dallas.

The Rising Son of the House of JP Morgan.
By Glyn Myerscough

15/01/08 "ICH" -- - As former British Prime Minister Tony Blair takes up an advisory post with JP Morgan, at an annual salary of £2 million? – some might ask is JP Morgan a successor company of the JP Morgan private bank whose senior executives met in secrecy – from both the US government and nation – with representatives of the private banks of Rockefeller, Kune, Loeb and Co at Jekyll Island on 22nd November 1910 to write what, on the eve of the [First] World War, became the US Banking Bill, creating the Federal Reserve Bank?

US military families, and British families - who lost ill-equipped husbands and sons in Iraq - might even be a little upset if they knew some of the owners of the US Federal Reserve Bank are powerful foreign investors from old Europe, including, reportedly, partners with giant US banks such as JP Morgan Chase as well as powerful Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs - a world order banking cartel whose tentacles have profited from every global business activity - and every war - for the last two centuries.

The one attempt in the 20th century to break the power of this defacto-private bank, for this is precisely what the Federal Reserve is - when founded its board comprised 80% private bankers 20% government representatives – failed spectacularly. 44 years ago John F Kennedy attempted to end the Federal Reserve System to eliminate the national debt this ‘so called’ central bank creates by printing money and lending it to government.

The private banking cartels meanwhile can plan the next stage in the great game. The single world currency - reportedly to be called the Phoenix - full spectrum financial dominance, another war perhaps?

1913: The private bankers of the misnamed "Federal Reserve" are put in charge of the nation's money supply. Shortly thereafter, the government re-institutes the federal income tax.
Within one year of these two actions taking place, World War I erupts, condemning millions to death and hundreds of millions to suffering, pain and misery, while an elite few rake in untold billions of dollars in profits from their investments and war profiteering.
It wasn't long before the insidious power of the private bankers of the Federal Reserve became known.

Listen to what Louis T. McFadden, who was the Chairman of the House Banking Committee in the 1930's, had to say about the Federal Reserve:

"Mr. Chairman, we have in this country one of the most corrupt institutions the world has ever known. I refer to the Federal Reserve Board and the Federal reserve banks. The Federal Reserve Board, a Government Board, has cheated the Government of the United States and he people of the United States out of enough money to pay the national debt. The depredations and the iniquities of the Federal Reserve Board and the Federal reserve banks acting together have cost this country enough money to pay the national debt several times over. This evil institution has impoverished and ruined the people of the United States; has bankrupted itself, and has practically bankrupted our Government. It has done this through the maladministration of that law by which the Federal Reserve Board, and through the corrupt practices of the moneyed vultures who control it".

(Congressional Record, House pages 1295 and 1296 on June 10, 1932)

After making this statement, McFadden was attacked in print and in person. He was labeled "Anti-Semitic" and suffered two attempts on his life, a failed shooting and an apparent poisoning that made him "violently ill" after attending a political banquet in Washington.Not long after these attempts on his life, McFadden died of "heart-failure sudden-death" on Oct. 3, 1936, after a "dose" of "intestinal flu."

Who are some of the private bankers of the Federal Reserve?
The Rothschilds of London and Berlin; Lazard Brothers of Paris; Israel Moses Seif of Italy; Kuhn, Loeb and Warburg of Germany; and the Lehman Brothers, Goldman, Sachs and the Rockefeller families of New York.

Some of the same hooligans who not only helped start the Iraq War, but are now profiting handsomely from that exercise in brutality, mass murder and genocide.
History is repeating itself. While millions of Iraqi's have been killed and untold millions more are condemned to suffering, pain and various depredations, an elite few is raking in billions and billions of dollars in profits.

"If the America people ever allow private banks to control the issuance of their currencies, first by inflation and then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of all their prosperity until their children will wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered."
Thomas Jefferson