February 28, 2011

Globalist Fueled Revolutions Around the World

Calls on Facebook to Oust Syria’s Assad

February 27, 2011

AFP - A Facebook page has called for mass protests in Syria and in several Western countries against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

The organisers of the page, which had 25,000 fans early on Saturday, said the date for demonstrations to be held "in all Syrian cities" was being carefully studied and "will be determined in a few days."

It urged "peaceful demonstrations in all Syrian cities, in Canada, in the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany and Australia" to demand Assad's ouster.

Assad became president in 2000 after the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad, and was returned for a second seven-year term in a referendum in 2007 in which he was the only candidate.

The organisers say on the page that they do not belong to any party, but are "defenders of human rights, Syrian militants inside Syria and in Europe."

Other similar Facebook pages have cropped up recently, particularly in support of Tal al-Mallouhi, a 19-year-old Syrian blogger who was sentenced last week to five years in prison after she was accused of working for the CIA.

The US State Department has described the accusation as "preposterous."

Anti-government Protests Continue in Croatia

February 27, 2011

SETimes.com - About 60 people were arrested during an anti-government rally attended by about 15,000 people in Zagreb on Saturday (February 26th). In all 25 people, -- 12 of them police officers -- were injured in clashes that erupted when dozens of youth tried to reach the central square, where the government is headquartered. Pelted by rocks and sticks, police responded with tear gas. The rally came only a few days after another anti-government protest organised via Facebook ended in clashes.

Elsewhere in Zagreb, thousands joined a peaceful protest in support of war veterans, particularly a Croat awaiting extradition to Serbia in a Bosnian prison. Tihomir Purda, who fought in Vukovar, was detained in January at the border between Croatia and BiH, based on a Serbian arrest warrant. A similar protest was held in Osijek.

Two Dead as Protesters, Police Clash in Oman

February 28, 2011

CNN- Clashes between protesters and police in the Omani industrial town of Sohar wounded about 10 people Sunday, state media reported Sunday.

At least two protesters were killed, Oman TV editor Asma Rshid told CNN.
"The police shot them because they burned shops and cars in Sohar," Rshid said. Another source said it was rubber bullets that the police fired. A number of police had also reportedly been injured, but numbers were not confirmed.
The protests started Saturday and were ongoing Sunday, said Zamzam al Rashdi, editor-in-chief of the state-run Oman News Agency.

There were about 1,000 protesters in Sohar, calling for more jobs.

The demonstration started peacefully before a couple of groups split off and started attacking a supermarket and a police station, and members from the Shura Council, al Rashdi said.

One of the targeted buildings was the Walli House, where the governor who represents the sultan in Sohar lives, a witness told CNN.

Saudis Closely Monitoring Social Media to Stop Protests

February 28, 2011

Reuters - Democracy activists in Saudi Arabia say the government is closely monitoring social media to nip in the bud any protests inspired by uprisings that swept Arab countries, toppling leaders in Egypt and Tunisia.

Activists have set up Facebook pages calling for protests on March 11 and 20, with more than 17,000 supporters combined, but police managed to stifle two attempts to hold protests in the Red Sea city of Jeddah last month, highlighting the difficulties of such mobilization in the conservative kingdom.

In one case, between 30 and 50 people were detained by police when they gathered on the street, witnesses said. In the second, security forces flooded the location of a protest advertised on Facebook, scaring off protesters.
"They are watching closely what people are saying on Facebook and Twitter," said Saudi blogger Ahmed al-Omran. "Obviously they are anxious as they are surrounded with unrest and want to make sure we don't catch the bug."
Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil producer, bans public protests and political parties. In 2004, Saudi security forces, carrying batons and shields thwarted protests in Riyadh and Jeddah called for by a Saudi dissident group in London.

Last week, King Abdullah, a close U.S. ally, ordered wage rises for Saudi citizens and other benefits on his return from three months abroad for medical treatment.

The handouts, valued at $37 billion, were an apparent attempt to insulate the kingdom from the wave of protests affecting Arab countries but activists want more than money.

There has been no sign that the kingdom will introduce elections to its advisory Shura Assembly, a quasi-parliament, or a new round of municipal council elections.
"They have been monitoring the Internet, Facebook and other sites for some time but now it demands more attention," said Mai Yamani, a Saudi analyst based in London. "Saudis are no different from their brothers and sisters in the region -- they are educated, connected and angry."

It is difficult to estimate how many Saudis could be prepared to take part in protests.

There are three main population centers in the vast Arabian Peninsula state where protests could emerge: Riyadh with a population of more than 4 million, Jeddah with a population of more than 2 million and the Shi'ite Muslim areas of the Eastern Province.

Shi'ites, who have complained of second-class status, are watching protests in neighboring Bahrain, where Shi'ites are demanding democratic reforms.

About 60 percent of the native Saudi population of 18 million are believed to be aged under 30 and most have grown up in the information age which has raised awareness of rights among Arab protesters elsewhere and helped them organize.

Clerics, allowed wide powers in Saudi society, have traditionally said questioning the kingdom's rulers is taboo.

Activists say a widely anticipated cabinet reshuffle could help dampen Internet activism if it brings in new faces.
"All reformers are waiting for the long-awaited cabinet reshuffle," said Mahmoud Sabbagh, a newspaper columnist. "If it turns out to be just cosmetic, then my analysis is that reformers will regroup and escalate."
In an open letter published on Sunday, about 100 Saudi intellectuals, activists and academics called on the king to launch major political reforms and allow citizens to have a greater say in ruling the country.

Their principal demand is elections to the Shura Assembly.

The grand mufti, Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh, the government's main authority on religious issues, said on his website on Monday he opposed women taking a role in political life.
"These demands must be reconsidered. Do they serve Islam? Will they bring the Islamic nation together?" he said.

Don't Let the Powerful, Politically-connected Teachers' Unions Bully You Into Submission or Use Your Kids as Props for Union Demands; Your Property Taxes/A Portion of Your Rent Pay Their Generous Salaries & Benefits

Wisconsin Will Layoff Teachers to Help Reduce Budget Deficit; the Other Choice is to Cut Wages and Benefits for Teachers or Raise Their Contributions toward Benefits, but Teachers Don't Want to Make Sacrifices; They Want the Rest of Us to Bear the Burden

When asked the usual number of hours worked per week, public school teachers responded with 41.5 hours on average. While the actual number of days worked varies somewhat from district to district, teachers generally have the summer off, and their contracts provide also for generous holiday breaks. It is a commonly accepted estimate that teachers work 21 percent fewer days than the typical full-time worker. When asked, “How many weeks do you work in your main job?” the average response by public school teachers was 47 weeks. While this number is contrary to common sense, as well as actual teacher contracts, I include it here for completeness. In 2002, the average teacher with a 4-year degree earned $953 per week, which translated to a per annum salary of $49,556. For teachers with a master’s degree, these numbers rise to $1,215 and $63,180 respectively. Not only do these adjusted salaries continue to outpace those earned by private school teachers; they also show that public school teachers earn, on average, 22 percent more than other public sector employees and 4.5 percent more than non-teaching private sector employees. Controlling for actual time worked, in other words, shows that Wisconsin's public school teachers are among the best-compensated workers in the state. - M. Scott Niederjohn, Are Wisconsin Public School Teachers Really Underpaid?, Wisconsin Interest, Fall 2002

February 28, 2011

AP - Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's explosive proposal to take nearly all collective bargaining rights away from most public workers represents just one piece of his vision for the state's future. Now he's ready to reveal the rest.

With the union rights proposal stuck in a legislative stalemate thanks to runaway Senate Democrats, Walker planned to forge ahead with the Tuesday release of his two-year spending plan that will include major cuts to schools and local governments to help close a projected $3.6 billion budget shortfall.

Tens of thousands of protesters have demonstrated for two weeks against the Republican governor's collective bargaining proposal, which he calls necessary to free local governments from having to bargain with public employee unions as they deal with the cuts he'll outline Tuesday.

Schools last week started putting teachers on notice that their contracts may not be renewed for next year given the budget uncertainty. Walker has confirmed he will propose cutting education aid by about $900 million, or 9 percent statewide.
"All of this turmoil, all of this chaos, are examples that Walker's proposals are too extreme," said Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council. She said more than 2,000 teachers had received nonrenewal notices as of Monday.
Labor leaders and Democratic lawmakers say Walker's proposal is intended to undermine unions and weaken a key Democratic voter base. The state's largest public employee union filed a complaint Monday alleging Walker has engaged in unfair labor practices by refusing to negotiate.

The Wisconsin State Employees Union complaint asked the state labor relations board to extend its contract and require Walker's administration to engage in collective bargaining.

Walker insists Wisconsin is broke and has nothing to offer. He spent another day touring the state Monday, renewing his threat of deeper cuts and layoffs if his proposal isn't passed by Tuesday. If the state misses that deadline, it won't be able to save $165 million through debt refinancing, which was a key part of his bill, Walker said.

Walker has warned he will start issuing layoff notices to state workers as soon as this week if the bill isn't passed, but he hasn't said who would be targeted.

School leaders are bracing for more bad news.

The governor is expected Tuesday to announce a new revenue limit that would require a $500 per-pupil reduction in property tax authority. The limits, in place since 1993, have gradually grown to reflect increasing education costs. That part of Walker's proposal alone would reduce the money available to the state's 424 districts by 7 percent, or nearly $600 million, based on a study done by University of Wisconsin-Madison economics professor Andrew Reschovsky.
"When you make unprecedented and historic cuts like these to schools, it means teachers are laid off, class sizes are larger, course offerings are reduced, extracurricular activities are cut, and whole parts of what we value in our schools are gone," state superintendent Tony Evers said in a statement.
In Janesville, a district with about 10,000 students, the school expects to get about a $5 million cut in aid, said David Parr, president of the local teachers union. The district already is considering laying off up to 60 of its teachers to deal with a nearly $10 million budget deficit this year, Parr said. The teachers also have been asked to re-open contracts that are in effect until mid-2013, he said.
"If we don't reopen the contract, that means they would have to cut teachers," Parr said. "That's the bottom line. There aren't a lot of options left."
An analysis by the Wisconsin Association of School Boards determined the changes stripping workers' collective bargaining rights wouldn't take effect until an existing agreement expires or is extended, modified or renewed.

Teachers in Janesville are terrified to reopen their contracts, Parr said.
"The whole district is walking on eggshells," Parr said. "Teachers are upset, aides are upset, the administration is upset, school board members are upset."
A large state aid cut also could force Milwaukee Public Schools, the state's largest district, to lay off teachers. Their four-year contract runs until 2013. Reschovsky's analysis says the district stands to lose $60 million under Walker's revenue limit reduction alone.

A spokesman for the district declined to comment.

Wisconsin's average teacher salary of about $48,000 ranks in the top half of states nationally, though it remains significantly behind the $60,000 average salaries in the top-paying states of California and Connecticut, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. Wisconsin students also rank in the top half nationally on standardized tests, scoring a full percentage point better on the ACT college entrance exam.

Walker's stalled collective bargaining proposal would require state workers to contribute 5.8 percent of their salaries toward pensions and double their health insurance contribution beginning April 1. Those changes would be expanded to nearly all other public workers, except those operating under existing union contracts, beginning July 1.

The higher benefit contribution would equate to an 8 percent pay decrease for the average worker. The state would save $30 million this fiscal year and $300 million over the next two years.

Walker said not realizing those savings would mean laying off 1,500 workers between now and July and 12,000 state and local employees over the next two years.

The statewide teachers union and state workers unions, in an attempt to compromise with Walker, have said they will agree to the benefit concessions as long as they retain collective bargaining rights. The bill takes away collective bargaining except over wage increases that don't go above the rate of inflation.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, one of the 14 Democrats who fled to Illinois, scoffed at Walker's layoff threat, saying such a move ignores that public employees have agreed to abide by the financial concessions demanded by the governor.
"He's not even conceding the fact that they've given them the money," Erpenbach during a Monday interview in Chicago. "He's threatening their livelihoods. He's treating them like poker chips."
Erpenbach and other Democrats who fled say Walker's unwillingness to deal motivates them to stay away. The bill passed the Assembly on Friday following a three-day filibuster.
"There's a compromise here, I just really think there is," Democratic Sen. Jim Holperin said Monday. "We continue to seek it."

Regarding the Teacher Work Stoppage in Wisconsin

In May 2008, elementary school teachers had average yearly wages of $52,240. Middle school teachers made an average of $52,570 each year, while high school teachers made $54,390 each year. Special education teachers made slightly more than regular teachers. Some teachers earn extra money during the summer by doing other jobs. There were 4.5 million jobs for teachers in 2008. They taught in every State. - Bureau of Labor Statistics

February 19, 2011

Homeschool Under Siege - ...Education is big business in America. There are five to six million teachers in America! They start with salaries of between $35 – $40 thousand per year! That significant starter salary does not reference the many, many perks teachers receive for working around 180 days out of the year, the required school year. (The rest of us work at least 240 days a year, and many work far more.) Of course, the poor teacher does not stay at this starter rate very long. As of about 15 years ago, tenured college professors in Los Angeles were making at least $50,000 a year — after retirement. I knew two of them quite well, they were my closest friends.

Teachers unions in this country help get Presidents elected. That’s why every person running for office makes a lot of noise about supporting education. They claim it’s for the children, but they really make all that noise for the votes and financial support.

The Teachers Unions are extraordinarily powerful, given their numbers and the relative wealth and security of their membership. Their lobbyists are very well funded, amongst the best in Washington and in state houses across the nation. And heaven help the person who implies that teachers may not be “underpaid”, as teachers like to broadly promote. Heaven help the government official who murmurs something about failed school systems, dropout rates that tower over 50% in many large cities, and abusive teachers who cannot be removed from their posts thanks to their unions and tenure.

Please do not get me wrong. I think the self-named Tea Party is coming to Wisconsin for all the wrong reasons, which surprises me not at all. After all, they are a wing of a political party, and politics has utterly failed our children for over a century now. The Tea Partiers are winging their way to Wisconsin to support government and big business, to march against the right of collective bargaining. It’s big business against big business, all with an air of self-righteous indignation on the parts of both sides, and all while the children go to educational hell.

To quote Shakespeare, a curse on both your houses.

Do I think that teachers should be well paid? Sure — when they deliver extraordinary results. (So should a plumber who delivers great results, or a doctor, or a store clerk. Anyone who does a great job should be rewarded.) Given the dwindling condition of our country, it’s all too clear that very few teachers today (or for the past decades) deliver the sort of results that would justify teacher’s extraordinary perks and salaries. And as for schools and school districts that deliver such results, we all know that’s a joke.

Yet for reasons that passeth understanding, teachers are held in high esteem. Parents listen and believe when a teacher says that their child is doing well or poorly. Families believe the teacher when they are told that their child’s problems in school are the child’s problems, and the parent’s problems. A student’s problems in school seem mysteriously never to be related to a failure on the part of the school or teacher. No, they are simply never at fault, though they consume a massive part of our national budget each year, those nearly six million teachers. Still, they can’t be bothered to take any real responsibility for their failure to our children and our country.

It appears impressive, this marching, counter-marching, and noise. But really, it isn’t at all impressive. It’s depressing and it’s destructive. And most importantly, it’s off point...

A Letter to Scott Walker from a Wisconsin Teacher

The teachers' unions has convinced the average teacher that they are underpaid and that they are entitled to be generously rewarded by the taxpayers. They seem to believe the lies they tell and their sense of entitlement seems to know no bounds. They don't seem to appreciate the fact that every working American contributes to society, not just teachers.

February 25, 2011

Positively Persistent Teach - ...You can have my money, but…. Ask any number of my students, who have heard me publicly proclaim that a proper solution to this fiscal crisis is to raise taxes. I will pay them. I have the great good fortune to live in a nation where opportunity is nearly limitless, and I am willing to pay for the honor of calling myself an American.

Incidentally, Warren Buffett, the second richest man in the nation (and a Democrat) agrees with me. Your proposed Budget Repair Bill will cost me just under $3000 per year at my current salary, with the stated goal of saving $30 million this year on the state budget. I say, take it. You can have it. It will hurt me financially, but if it will balance the budget of the state that has been my home since birth, take it with my blessing. But if I may, before you do, I have some questions.

According to the 2009 estimate for the U.S. Census, 5,654,774 people live in the state of Wisconsin. Of those, 23.2% are under the age of 18, and presumably are not subject to much in the way of income tax. That still leaves about 4,342,867 taxpayers in the state of Wisconsin. If you wished to trim $30 million off of the budget, that works out to about $6.91 per Wisconsin taxpayer. So I must ask: Is it fair that you ask $3000 of me, but you fail to ask $6.91 of everyone? I know that times are tough, but would it not be more equitable to ask that each taxpayer in the state contribute an extra 13 cents a week?...

Saul Alinsky's 'Rules for Radicals' Tells Unions How to Play Dirty

"There is ample evidence that the growth of teacher unions was a factor in the decline of the quality of public education. The dramatic rise in teacher union membership and collective bargaining in public education began in 1962. By 1976 teacher union membership had more than doubled. The decline in SAT scores began in 1963 and continued throughout this period. Yet all of the studies on the state of public education in America and the challenges it faces in the future completely ignore the question of the union role in the decline of quality."- David Y. Denholm, Beyond Public Sector Unionism: A Better Way, Public Service Research Foundation, 1994

David Y. Denholm, Public Service Research Foundation - Time and again public officials have described to me their shock and disbelief at what a union had done to them personally during organizing campaigns or labor disputes. I have told them that such activity was entirely predictable because it was almost textbook Alinsky. Their response has generally been that, if they had only known what to expect, they could have prepared for it and taken steps to neutralize its worst effects.

Alinsky emphatically states that the end justifies the means but cautions that extreme means are only justified in certain situations. He also had a set of rules for what he called power tactics" or the means used to "take." He described it as "how the Have Nots can take power away from the Haves." Even a cursory review of Alinsky's Rules for Radicals reveals that a union activist schooled in them will have no compunction about using almost any tactic in a conflict with a public agency. In fact, radicals must often create issues to stir up problems in order to radicalize their potential followers.

The tactic that seems to shock public officials most is the personalization of the attack -- union leaders use the "pick it, freeze it, personalize it and polarize it" tactic no matter how distasteful this might be -- Alinsky says that, even if the decision is 48% to 52%, once it is made the opposition becomes "100 percent devil." Even if public officials are not willing to respond in kind to this sort of tactic, a great deal can be accomplished before a conflict by warning audiences what will happen.

"The existence of public sector collective bargaining makes public employees 'super citizens' and relegates the rest of the public to second class status."

"The collective bargaining laws have given enormous political power to the public sector unions. No matter what the real intent of these laws, by any objective standard they are not in the public interest. They represent an expression of the selfish self-interest of public sector union organizers and, indirectly, the interest of the politicians who enact them in order to curry favor with the union's political operatives."


Bill Gates' Annual Letter 2011

2011 Annual Letter from Bill Gates

This year we're focusing on vaccines, particularly the polio vaccine. Learn more about our work in this area, as well as HIV/AIDS, malaria, agriculture, and education.

February 2011

Bill Gates - In my third annual letter, I make the case against cutting foreign aid for the poorest, even in the current budget environment. Investing in aid works. It has had a huge impact on the lives of poor people, and it also helps people in donor countries by promoting stable and prosperous societies across the globe. Whether you think it's an issue of morality or enlightened self-interest, aid spending is uniquely effective spending, and I wanted to give some examples.

The most important example is vaccines. Vaccines are the best investment in health. Just a few doses of a vaccine protects children from debilitating and deadly diseases for a lifetime. And most of them are very inexpensive. The measles vaccine costs 18 cents. The polio vaccine costs 13 cents. That's a small price to pay to save a life.

In the case of polio, we've increased coverage of the vaccine so that we're on the threshold of eradicating the disease altogether. The number of cases has gone down more than 99 percent in the past 20 years, and I think we can bring it all the way down to zero with the continued support of donor countries and a concerted push in polio-affected countries.

Running across all the issues I touch on in the letter--foreign aid, vaccines, polio, and more--is the theme of leadership. I talk about British Prime Minister David Cameron, who has been a bold leader on maintaining aid spending. I also talk about Jim Grant, the former head of UNICEF, who led a massive campaign in the 1980s to get vaccination rates up from 20 percent to almost 80 percent. In so many of the areas where the foundation works, the difference between success and stagnation is powerful leadership.

I hope when people read my letter, they see how optimistic I am about the future. Even though I'm impatient about some things, that's only because I see so many opportunities to make progress very quickly.

HTML Version

More videos of Bill Gates on his 2011 Annual Letter


Public Unions Silence Voters’ Choice, Redistribute Wealth, and Clog the Political System

End the Privileged Class

With the Wisconsin showdown at a fever pitch, Mark McKinnon says America doesn’t need public unions anymore—they silence voters’ choice, redistribute wealth, and clog the political system.

February 26, 2011

Mark McKinnon, The Daily Beast - The manufactured Madison, Wis., mob is not the movement the White House was hoping for. Both may find themselves at the wrong end of the populist pitchfork. While I generally defend collective bargaining and private-sector unions (lots of airline pilots in my family), it is the abuse by public unions and their bosses that pushes centrists like me to the GOP.

It is the right and duty of citizens to petition their government. The Tea Party and Republicans seek to limit government growth to protect their pocketbooks. Public-union bosses want to increase the cost of government to protect their racket.

1. Public unions are big money.

Public unions are big money. Paul Krugman is correct: we do need “some counterweight to the political power of big money.” But in the Alice in Wonderland world where what’s up is down and what’s down is up, Krugman believes public unions do not represent big money. Of the top 20 biggest givers in federal-level politics over the past 20 years, 10 are unions; just four are corporations. The three biggest public unions gave $171.5 million for the 2010 elections alone, according to The Wall Street Journal. That’s big money.

2. Public unions redistribute wealth.

Public employees contribute real value for the benefit of all citizens. Public-union bosses collect real money from all taxpayers for the benefit of a few. Unlike private-sector jobs, which are more than fully funded through revenues created in a voluntary exchange of money for goods or services, public-sector jobs are funded by taxpayer dollars, forcibly collected by the government (union dues are often deducted from public employees’ paychecks). In 28 states, state and local employees must pay full union dues or be fired. A sizable portion of those dues is then donated by the public unions almost exclusively to Democratic candidates. Michael Barone sums it up:
“Public-employee unions are a mechanism by which every taxpayer is forced to fund the Democratic Party.”
3. Public unions silence the voters’ voice.

Big money from public unions, collected through mandatory dues, and funded entirely by the taxpayer, is then redistributed as campaign cash to help elect the politicians who are then supposed to represent taxpayers in negotiations with those same unions. In effect, the unions sit on both sides of the table and collectively bargain to raise taxes while the voters’ voice is silenced.

But the noisy mob in Madison is amplified beyond its numbers. Wisconsin faces a $137 million deficit this year, and a $3.6 billion shortfall in the next two-year budget. The proposals offered by Gov. Scott Walker would avert 5,500 layoffs of public employees and save $300 million.

The public unions, representing just 300,000 government employees in the Badger State, are trying to trump the will of the voters. Though voters don’t get to sit at the bargaining table, they do speak collectively at the ballot box.

4. Public unions are unnecessary.

The primary purpose of private-sector unions today is to get workers a larger share of the profits they helped create. But with a power greater than their numbers, these unions have destroyed the manufacturing sector, forcing jobs overseas by driving labor costs above the price consumers here will pay.

The government is a monopoly and it earns no profits to be shared. Public employees are already protected by statutes that preclude arbitrary hiring and firing decisions.

The primary purpose of public unions today, as ugly as it sounds, is to work against the financial interests of taxpayers: the more public employees are paid in wages and uncapped benefits, the less taxpayers keep of the money they earn. It’s time to call an end to the privileged class. And the White House makes a mistake if it thinks it can grow a manufactured and uncivil unrest into a popular movement. Voters will not follow those who flee.

As vice chairman of Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, corporations and causes, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Governor Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono.

February 27, 2011

The U.S. Government Plans to Confiscate Your Private Retirement Assests [401(k)s, IRAs] to Fund the National Debt, Including Public Pensions

The U.S. Congress plans to slash social security 'entitlements' at a time when Wall Street has destroyed the home equity and private retirement accounts of potential retirees. Worse, they plan to increase the social security tax, disguised as a “mandatory savings tax.” This added tax would be automatically withdrawn from your paycheck and deposited to a “Guaranteed Retirement Account” managed by the Social Security Administration. Since the savings would be “mandatory,” you could not withdraw your money without stiff penalties; and rather than enjoying an earlier retirement paid out of your increased savings, a later retirement date was being called for. In the meantime, your “mandatory savings” would just be fattening the investment pool of the Wall Street bankers managing the funds. And that may be what really underlies the big push to educate the public to the dangers of the federal debt. - Ellen Brown, IMF-Style Austerity Comes to America, Web of Debt, March 2, 2010

The Coming Obama Retirement Trap Has Started! (Excerpt)

January 28, 2010

Ron Holland, LewRockwell.com - ...I fear that the control, nationalization and ultimate confiscation of trillions in private US retirement plan assets is on the horizon. Reports out of Washington indicate that new retirement annuities may be promoted by Obama aides. This is just the beginning! The question every successful American with substantial retirement assets must ask is "what will you do if our retirement funds are forced to become the buyer of last resort for US treasury obligations?"

Although the historical government solution to unsustainable government debt loads has always been the destruction of the debts by currency depreciation and eventual hyperinflation, there is always an intermediate step used to buy more time for the politicians in power. This action, usually side-stepped and downplayed by the establishment historians who are paid to hide the real facts of history, is wealth confiscation.

In the event of a future financial crisis, Washington might attempt to force your existing retirement funds into the new Guaranteed Retirement Annuity (GRA) or to invest a portion of your non-GRA retirement fund in certain government-preferred investments like treasury obligations. This proposal is first and foremost a government revenue generator, but second a bailout of underfunded, mismanaged and corrupt union retirement plans.

Most unemployed, underemployed union workers in failing union plans, and eventually state and local government employees, will benefit from this attack on the retirement assets of productive, successful Americans working in the private sector. Later, as local and state governments continue to flirt with bankruptcy, the GRA funds will likely be utilized to bailout state and local government plans. These underfunded union programs will be merged into the GRA program with the benefits paid by the confiscated funds of participants or with what the government considers over-funded benefits.

The largest source of liquid private wealth remaining in the United States is the $15 trillion in private retirement funds. Congress writes the laws, so they can tax, penalize, hold your funds hostage and (although they'd never use the word "confiscate") use your assets at their discretion. You will be forced into another Social Security-like scheme under the proposed mandatory GRA, with 5% of your salary confiscated into the program. You will also eventually find your existing retirement funds forced into the government program.

The government, as usual, will use the economic and fiscal problems to expand federal control and redirect the contributions currently going into quasi-private programs back toward the bankrupt coffers of the federal government.

Today over $15 trillion is setting in tax-favored retirement plans, including $4 trillion in IRA accounts (retirement savings make up 35% of all private assets). The politicians are tired of waiting; they need your money now. They want to create a new, third level of mandatory retirement benefits in addition to private plans and Social Security. This will be described as a Guaranteed Retirement Annuity or Account. Different proposals would delay retirement age until age 64, and some even later.

The Guaranteed Retirement Annuity would be structured to allow the government to hold and invest the money. I fear, following implementation of the contributory GRA program, a future legislative action by Congress would be to end the tax deductions and tax-deferred growth of all retirement plans, thus forcing these funds into the government-controlled annuity. Your forced retirement contributions would be pooled and professionally managed by Social Security. Also, beneficiaries would be cheated out of half of any benefits remaining at the death of a participant because Ghilarducci’s plan has 50% of all balances at death reverting to the Feds, not the beneficiaries.

At some time during the next decade, a global run on treasury debt and the dollar will also likely take the American stock market down past lows not seen since the financial meltdown crisis in 2008 and 2009. The 50% to 75% stock market pullback during the actual bankruptcy of the Washington debt and paper dollar will send shock waves through retirees and current plan participants as their private retirement plan balances plummet. At this time, Washington will "come to the rescue" and guarantee all private retirement plan market values back to pre-crisis levels. The gullible American public will overwhelmingly support this effort by switching their dwindling funds into the Guaranteed Retirement Annuity managed by the government.

They will find that their retirement funds in the mandatory Guaranteed Retirement Annuity will be used to purchase much of the rollover of treasury debt not repurchased by the Federal Reserve System. The taxpayers will be forced to become the buyer of last resort in the final collapse of Washington treasury obligations.

Have you ever noticed how lucky democratic political leaders are when public opinion needs to change? Economic, political and foreign policy crises, actions and responses have the unique ability of molding public opinion almost always behind the government. It will be the same when the global run on Washington treasury debt and the dollar happens. Asset values will tumble, and suddenly Washington will have the perfect solution to solve your loss in portfolio values and the debt crisis. It can only ride into law on a first-class national crisis. As we’ve mentioned, somehow the politicians are always able to find one when they need one.
The loss of triple-A status for Treasury bonds is the most likely trigger. A terrorist attack or a military disaster like the collapse of Pakistan or an Israel/Iran conflict and disruption of oil shipments could close American markets just as we saw in 2001.
That would create a financial crisis overnight. Any of those events would take place in an atmosphere of deep public worry and fear. That’s when Washington would come to your rescue and guarantee to restore your retirement funds back to a "pre-crash" level. However, in exchange you would need to "voluntarily" move your retirement assets into your new Guaranteed Retirement Account.

The final forced takeover of existing retirement plans will be Washington's response to a crisis; yet this will be just another revenue generator for Washington and a payback for the unions, just like the planned nationalization of health care.

Don't expect a broad public reaction to the stealth nationalization of your hard-earned benefits. The target of this takeover will be successful, productive Americans who make good annual incomes or who have been frugal and built up substantial retirement benefits in qualified plans. This redistribution of wealth will be welcomed by a majority of the American public, and there will be no public outcry like with nationalized health care.
"A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people take away the rights of the other forty-nine." ~ Thomas Jefferson
Most unemployed, underemployed union workers in failing union plans, and eventually state and local government employees, will benefit from this attack on the retirement assets of productive, successful Americans working in the private sector. You are a minority, and the mob rule of democracy warned about by Thomas Jefferson is just doing what it has always done, but this time with you as the target.

If you have over $200,000 in retirement funds, you can expect future controls, wealth taxes, and probable excess distribution penalties in addition to current regulations. The best way to reduce the risks of the coming retirement threat is to take your funds out of these qualified plan programs which will soon be under revenue and political attack.

Remember, these retirement proposals are just in the discussion stage, but progressives are promoting this confiscation agenda to the Obama Administration as a new source of revenue for a bankrupt federal government desperate for additional sources of revenue. When the next economic or stock market crisis hits, your retirement assets will be at risk from this type of confiscation effort regardless of whether the Democrats or Republicans are in control...


Warren Buffett's Letter to Uncle Sam [the U.S. Taxpayers]

Warren Buffett praised the U.S. government's efforts to bail out the economy during the financial crisis two years ago, preventing an economic collapse. In a letter published by the New York Times, Buffett wrote that all corporate America's dominoes were lined up and were ready to topple at lightning speed in the aftermath of Lehman Brothers bankruptcy in September 2008. The U.S. government's decision to buy up assets that many investors considered to be toxic had helped pull back the economy from the brink of collapse. Buffett commended the architects of the bailout program including Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and praised U.S. President George W. Bush for leading the program even as Congress "postured and squabbled." - Reuters, Warren Buffett Praises Bailout Efforts, November 17, 2010

November 17, 2010

Dear Uncle Sam,

My mother told me to send thank-you notes promptly. I’ve been remiss.

Let me remind you why I’m writing. Just over two years ago, in September 2008, our country faced an economic meltdown. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the pillars that supported our mortgage system, had been forced into conservatorship. Several of our largest commercial banks were teetering. One of Wall Street’s giant investment banks had gone bankrupt, and the remaining three were poised to follow. A.I.G., the world’s most famous insurer, was at death’s door.

Many of our largest industrial companies, dependent on commercial paper financing that had disappeared, were weeks away from exhausting their cash resources. Indeed, all of corporate America’s dominoes were lined up, ready to topple at lightning speed. My own company, Berkshire Hathaway, might have been the last to fall, but that distinction provided little solace.

Nor was it just business that was in peril: 300 million Americans were in the domino line as well. Just days before, the jobs, income, 401(k)’s and money-market funds of these citizens had seemed secure. Then, virtually overnight, everything began to turn into pumpkins and mice. There was no hiding place. A destructive economic force unlike any seen for generations had been unleashed.

Only one counterforce was available, and that was you, Uncle Sam. Yes, you are often clumsy, even inept. But when businesses and people worldwide race to get liquid, you are the only party with the resources to take the other side of the transaction. And when our citizens are losing trust by the hour in institutions they once revered, only you can restore calm.

When the crisis struck, I felt you would understand the role you had to play. But you’ve never been known for speed, and in a meltdown minutes matter. I worried whether the barrage of shattering surprises would disorient you. You would have to improvise solutions on the run, stretch legal boundaries and avoid slowdowns, like Congressional hearings and studies. You would also need to get turf-conscious departments to work together in mounting your counterattack. The challenge was huge, and many people thought you were not up to it.

Well, Uncle Sam, you delivered. People will second-guess your specific decisions; you can always count on that. But just as there is a fog of war, there is a fog of panic — and, overall, your actions were remarkably effective.

I don’t know precisely how you orchestrated these. But I did have a pretty good seat as events unfolded, and I would like to commend a few of your troops. In the darkest of days, Ben Bernanke, Hank Paulson, Tim Geithner and Sheila Bair grasped the gravity of the situation and acted with courage and dispatch. And though I never voted for George W. Bush, I give him great credit for leading, even as Congress postured and squabbled.

You have been criticized, Uncle Sam, for some of the earlier decisions that got us in this mess — most prominently, for not battling the rot building up in the housing market. But then few of your critics saw matters clearly either. In truth, almost all of the country became possessed by the idea that home prices could never fall significantly.

That was a mass delusion, reinforced by rapidly rising prices that discredited the few skeptics who warned of trouble. Delusions, whether about tulips or Internet stocks, produce bubbles. And when bubbles pop, they can generate waves of trouble that hit shores far from their origin. This bubble was a doozy and its pop was felt around the world.

So, again, Uncle Sam, thanks to you and your aides. Often you are wasteful, and sometimes you are bullying. On occasion, you are downright maddening. But in this extraordinary emergency, you came through — and the world would look far different now if you had not.

Your grateful nephew,


Warren E. Buffett is the chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, a diversified holding company.

The world's richest give billions to remake the world in their image: In May 2009, word leaked to the press that the two richest men in America, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, had organized and presided over a confidential dinner meeting of billionaires in New York City. The crowd at the inaugural event added up to a list that would make any charity – or any conspiracy theorist – swoon. Left to right: Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffett, Eli and Edythe Broad, Ted Turner, David Rockefeller, Chuck Feeney, Michael Bloomberg, George Soros, Julian Robertson, John and Tashia Morgridge, Pete Peterson

'Commoners' Bailing Out the 'Aristocrats' in a Crisis of Their Own Making
Tracking the Bailout and Stimulus Programs
“Five Myths About the Federal Reserve” in Washington Post

In the shocking video above, Howard Dean declares that it is the job of the government to redistribute our wealth. Not only that, he says it in such a way that indicates that he believes that such a notion should be obvious to anyone with half a brain. Well, while it is true that the United States has become a highly socialized nation, the reality is that this is not what the founding fathers intended. The founders intended for us to live in a land where we would have enough freedom and enough liberty to be able to work hard and enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They did not intend for a gigantic federal government to take huge amounts of money from one group of people and give it to another group of people. In any nation where a large-scale redistribution of wealth is happening, the incentive to work goes right out the window. Pretty soon you end up with an entire class of people that have learned how to "make a living" by being a parasite of the government, and that is not good for any economy. - Shocking Video of Howard Dean Declaring That It Is the Job of the Government to Redistribute Our Wealth, The Economic Collapse, February 9, 2011


Protests Likely to Spread in the U.S. as States Raise Taxes and Cut Spending Rather Than Address Public Pension Reform

State-worker Pension Reform Should Join Tax Increases on the June Ballot

February 3, 2011

Orange County Register - While Gov. Jerry Brown believes Californians are now ready to vote themselves new taxes to close a portion of the state's $25 billion budget deficit, he ought to give voters the opportunity to also vote on reforming the pension systems for state workers. State Sen. Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Hills, agrees. She is calling for the newly elected governor to add a pension-reform ballot measure to the special election ballot in June.

Sen. Walters is preparing a new set of pension reform bills that she wants addressed by the Legislature before any new taxes are proposed, including a reform that would require all newly hired public employees to enrolled in 401(k) retirement plans rather than the traditional pensions that guarantee a certain benefit. While Ms. Walters and her colleagues in the Republican minority are unlikely to support the tax increases, they might be willing to support them being placed on the ballot if accompanied by pension reform.

Raising taxes on the already struggling citizens and businesses in California in a down economy is, in our view, unwise. But the idea to allow a popular vote on tax increases if they are coupled with pension reform is interesting. If we correctly judge voter sentiment, they will once again reject tax increases, as they did in 2009, and, quite possibly, support pension reform. That would be a win-win for taxpayers, who then could send a simple and clear message back to the governor and Legislature: Live within your means.

For Gov. Brown, the move would lend him some credibility with voters on pension issues, though it would admittedly put him at odds with public employee unions, which supported his candidacy and are being counted on to fund much of the upcoming campaign to win passage of the tax extensions. Adding pension reform to the mix would likely allow the governor to gain needed support from Republicans for the special election, though the GOP would take a hard line against the tax hikes.

Pension reform is too important for the state to be put on the back burner. If Gov. Brown is serious about addressing pensions and truly wants to empower voters, he ought to put pension reform on the special election ballot.

Pension Reform and Why You Should Care

December 2, 2010

New York Observer - ...Many state like California, New Jersey and New York already have significantly high tax rates, and sensible politicians are reluctant to raise taxes to bridge budget gaps, as this could potentially drive businesses and job-creating individuals out of their states. For many facing large budget deficits, the only method of survival will be to cut spending in a meaningful way. This, unfortunately, means inevitable tough battles against public-sector unions, which have been granted unsustainable collective bargaining arrangements and pensions systems that are driving municipalities into balance sheet insolvency.

Recently, the first of approximately 80 million baby boomers have begun to retire. This fact is placing a magnifying glass on the increasingly apparent fact that the United States is up against a pension crisis of unprecedented magnitude. Almost all state and local government pension plans are significantly underfunded; many large corporate pension plans have collapsed or are near insolvency; the Social Security system is a time bomb waiting to explode; and nearly half of all Americans have managed to save just about zero upon which to live during their golden years.

In order to make it through this potentially devastating problem, we must realize that we need to change almost everything we know about retirement. It is simply impossible to keep all of the financial promises that we have made to an entire generation of Americans, as we have promised to provide more than can be delivered to future retirees. This is particularly true when it comes to public-sector unions, which have negotiated packages that are oblivious to economic reality.

So at this point, you may be asking why a real estate guy cares so much about pension obligations. In this case, the dots are fairly easy to connect. To the extent pension obligations cannot be reformed and controlled, property taxes will increase. If property taxes increase disproportionately to other expenses, property value falls. If property values fall, history has shown us that transaction volume will fall. Any market participant that relies on transaction volume within the real estate industry for their livelihood clearly understands the relationship between transaction volume and their relative level of professional happiness.

The pension issue is one that must be dealt with and must be dealt with soon. On Capitol Hill, you know questions will be asked as to whether the federal government will bail out states and municipalities facing budget problems caused particularly by their overly generous and significantly underfunded pension plans.

The options for the government, include
  1. Doing nothing, which will likely create emergency cost-cutting and increases in taxes, which will drive away businesses and jobs;
  2. Yielding to pressure from politicians and organized labor for condition-free funding; or
  3. Motivating states to straighten out their own affairs by providing resources that have restrictive conditions attached to them.
The catch with these scenarios is that even the possibility of a federal bailout will stop politicians from making the tough decisions that need to be made in dealing with these very real problems.

Reforming pension systems is not an easy task and requires tremendous political will. Public-sector-union pension funds require fundamental reform, which is unlikely to come if potential bailouts are on the horizon. The current administration could take great strides in resolving this problem by simply stating that they will not provide the assistance that so many municipalities are praying for.

One of the most significant methods of reforming these pension systems is to switch from the current "defined-benefit" plans to "defined-contribution" plans such as 401(k)s for new employees. The current defined-benefit scenario is tantamount to a Ponzi-style system, where contributions from workers today are funneled to benefit retired recipients.

Recent published reports have indicated that in New York, we are doing relatively well compared with the rest of the country, as our pension obligations are "funded" at 107 percent, an amount that sounds more than adequate. However, this number, and all funding obligation percentages, are derived using hocus-pocus accounting. One of the major contributors to this fantasy is the assumption of a 7.5 percent annual compounded rate of return within the funds. This expected return percentage was recently lowered in New York from 8 percent, which is the national average.

Notwithstanding this lowered expectation, does anyone really believe that a 7.5 percent return is achievable given market conditions?

These lofty expectations persist despite the fact that the stock market is approximately where it was a decade ago; the 10-year treasury note is yielding approximately 2.75 percent; and inflation has been running at less than 1 percent on an annualized basis. As Bernard Madoff is unavailable to consult with the state and produce these types of returns, perhaps a more reasonable expected yield should be utilized.

In another baffling smoke-and-mirrors mechanism, New York's pension-fund protocol allows local governments to borrow against future pension-fund gains to defer a portion of their contributions for up to five years. This is like a homeowner who can't afford to make mortgage payments increasing their already underwater mortgage balance in order to make the monthly payments. Some studies that use honest accounting indicate that New York's state pension funds are underfunded by anywhere from $30 billion to as much as $80 billion. This is significant compared to an approximate aggregate balance of $150 billion.

Addressing public-sector pensions, and associated health benefits, is likely to be among the most daunting tasks for Governor-elect Cuomo. During his campaign, he proclaimed pledges of "no new taxes" (which he subsequently clarified as not including any increases on old taxes) as well as a 2 percent annual cap on property taxes. If he expects to keep those promises, he must go head-to-head with the public-sector unions and their unsustainable collective bargaining agreements. For too long, these special interests have had the loudest voice in Albany and have therefore, singularly, placed themselves in a position to bankrupt the state.

In order to succeed, Mr. Cuomo will need cooperation and assistance from the business community as well as private-sector unions (the heads of which he specifically acknowledged and thanked for their support during his election-night speech). Although the help of private-sector unions may seem initially counterintuitive, it is important to remember a tangible difference between public-sector unions and private-sector unions: Private-sector union members pay taxes; public-sector union members are paid with taxes.

Surely, when a first shot is fired over the bow of the teachers' union and the health care workers' union, we will see millions of dollars in TV ads complaining of the devastating impact that spending cuts and tangible reform will have on the state. Therefore, it is important that an equally vociferous campaign is implemented to support these essential reforms.

Simply stated, we can't credibly expect tax caps, whether they are real estate taxes or personal taxes, without significant reforms to the collective bargaining provisions that now make it so difficult for local governments and school districts to control their labor costs. Public-sector pension obligations are about to skyrocket to levels never before seen in New York, and these increases are sure to crowd out programs of great importance to our residents.

New York's huge unfunded pension and health care promises, granted by past governments and exacerbated by deceptive pension-fund accounting that understates liabilities and overstates future investment returns, is a disaster looming over our economic future.

Reforming public-sector employee compensation and benefits won't close next year's $9 billion budget deficit. It will, however, protect the next generation of New Yorkers from suffocating financial burdens. In the short term, seeing tangible reform will provide a comfort level for the idea that massive tax increases will not be the mechanism utilized to bridge these gaps.

It appears Mr. Cuomo is well aware of this. To the extent he has the support, determination and political will to do what needs to be done, our economy and our real estate market will be much the better for it.

Tell Legislators: No Tax Increase Without Pension Reform!

January 4, 2011

Chicago Now - Some scary things are happening in Springfield.

The governor is considering borrowing $15 billion. Lawmakers are talking about borrowing $3.7 billion for pensions. And everyone is talking about increasing the personal income tax from 3 to 5 percent.

Responsible legislators in both parties should just say "no" to the tax-increase and bond proposals. They should vote against - and speak out against - any solution that fails to first reform pension and retiree health care programs and Medicaid, and fails to cut the State's budget by billions each year. Instead, they should seize this opportunity to put the State back on the path to financial health.

Virtually every political figure in Illinois now concedes that our State Government is in a terrible fiscal mess. Our annual embedded budget deficit is about $15 billion. In addition, the unfunded liabilities of the State's five pension plans have snowballed to about $85 billion - with additional billions at the municipal level. Unfunded obligations for retiree health care costs of public employees add another $40 billion. Toss in a few more billions of pension bonds and notes. The total debt is already staggering - almost incomprehensible.

Clearly the proposed tax increase and massive new bond issue would not address the State's underlying fiscal imbalance The huge unfunded pension obligations would not be reduced by a nickel, but would continue to grow - putting the funds at great risk of bankruptcy.

We can't allow our lawmakers to continue borrowing money and taxing Illinois citizens unless they first address the pension crisis that nearly every community throughout Illinois is facing.

Tell Springfield to solve the real problem - $130 billion in unfunded obligations for pensions and retiree health care. Reforms and cost-cutting should be an absolute precondition to any tax increase. Current public employees should be given choices in their pension programs going forward, and they should make higher contributions if they choose more costly programs. State retirees should contribute toward their health care premiums.

Illinois Must Reform Pensions, Make Cuts Before Tax Talk

February 23, 2010

RRStar.com - Illinois’ budget hole — almost $13 billion — is the result of years of the state spending beyond its means, years of neglecting pension reforms and years of mismanagement.

The solutions will be painful, but doing nothing would be worse.

One potential solution, proposed by the Civic Federation, calls for $2.5 billion in cuts, an income tax increase and pension reforms.

The Civic Federation is a 116-year-old nonpartisan government research group in Chicago that lists Jane Addams among its founders. Its 100-page report should come as no surprise. Many of its recommendations have been made by other civic and business groups. Some recommendations have even seen their way into legislation, but lawmakers have not had the courage to act, exacerbating the state’s fiscal misery.

The federation’s call for raising the income tax from 3 percent to 5 percent has received a lot of attention. It’s a bigger increase than the one Gov. Pat Quinn proposed last year. Quinn wanted to raise the income tax to 4.5 percent, but his proposal went nowhere.

A key sentence in the federation’s report has not received as much attention as the income tax increase:
“The Civic Federation opposes any revenue increases until pension reforms are undertaken and at least $2.1 billion in budget cuts and savings have been made.”

The problem with any tax increase, no matter how needed, is that our lawmakers in Springfield have not shown taxpayers they can manage the money they have. There is no track record that would make us believe that they would spend extra money wisely.

We could easily imagine lawmakers raising taxes and then using the new money for pet projects they hope will boost their re-election efforts.

That’s why cuts — and especially pension reform — need to be done first.

The Legislature has been averse to altering the pension structure. We’ve long advocated for a two-tier system that puts new employees on a 401(k)-style plan and provides them lesser benefits. The Civic Federation’s report agrees.

Illinois has the worst unfunded pension liability in the U.S. If pensions are not dealt with, they will eat so much of the state’s budget that there won’t be any money left over for education, social services or any of the other programs we expect the state to finance.

Instead of fixing pensions, lawmakers have skipped payments and made the situation worse. Time is running out. Pensions must be dealt with before lawmakers adjourn this spring.

We doubt they will act on a tax increase during this session, but we hope they see the wisdom in cutting spending and reforming pensions. Then in the fall, if a tax increase is approved, the money should be used to reduce debt rather than increase spending on existing programs or start new ones.

Stabilizing finances is the only way the state can honor its commitments. It owes $3.7 billion to social service and medical providers, and an additional $2.3 billion in loans coming due.

The Far-reaching Effects of Social Media

How Social Media Is Pushing the Limits of Legal Ethics

February 26, 2011

GigaOM - That some people simply cannot keep their social media usage to an acceptable level is no secret. Only unlike a student spending the entirety of Biology 101 updating her Facebook page or an NBA player tweeting from the locker room, this type of behavior can have real consequences when the user in question is sitting in a courtroom. The legal community has taken notice, and this week the American Bar Association held an entire event dedicated to the cause, complete with a keynote from former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. However, although the legal community has caught on to the fact that its very traditional profession isn’t immune to the effects of social media, it’s far from having figured out the far-reaching effects that social media might have, much less having found many workable solutions.

And it affects the entire legal process, from jurors tweeting while sitting in the jury box to judges exposing potential biases on their Facebook accounts. Everyone has a cell phone, a computer and, likely, at least one social media account, so there are plenty of avenues on which to cross ethical lines.

Tweeting from the jury box: Public enemy No. 1?

Juror tweets have already made plenty of headlines, most recently when Steve Martin tweeted death penalty jokes while doing jury duty. In 2009, an Arkansas juror in a civil case tweeted — supposedly after the verdict had been issued — insults about the defendant in the case, and the plaintiff sought a declaration of mistrial based in part on those tweets. In November 2010, a Washington juror in a death-penalty case tweeted after getting selected for jury duty

“OMG! jdg picked me 2 decide doods f8! Looks gil-t frm here ;-).”
Although the judge scolded the juror, he was allowed to remain on; the case resulted in a hung jury.

According to Ben Holden, director of the Reynolds Center for Courts and Media, jurors using social media during the trial is a big deal, but it takes on different flavors that not all judges or attorneys understand. A juror pontificating, or pushing information out, is easy enough to deal with: If the information is discovered and shows a bias, the judge (hopefully) removes him. But Holden says that jurors pulling information is a far more complex issue and can end up polluting the entire jury pool. Tweeting jurors could have their opinions swayed by their cyberspace contacts, or they could actually conduct outside research on the case, which is a big no-no. Jennifer Lynch, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, describes these situations as the intersection of parties’ right to a fair trial with jurors’ free speech rights.

It’s anyone’s guess how a judge will react in any given situation. Holden said that some judges are particularly naive about social media.

“I find some judges I’ve spoken with either don’t fully understand how pervasive social media … is, or they don’t respect it enough,” he said. “[T]hey don’t see it as fundamentally different from newspapers, magazines or the town crier.”
But some judges do get it, and their reactions might be as draconian — and potentially unconstitutional — as their colleagues’ opinions are naive. According to Lynch, some judges are actually demanding jurors’ social media login information so the judge and attorney can monitor their web activity during the case.

Your Facebook profile could get you out of jury duty

Jurors’ web activity presents other issues, too. Some attorneys are using Facebook profiles and tweets to both select a jury and cater their trial strategies based on what they find. Researching jurors is nothing new, though, and Lynch points out that there’s probably not much wrong with attorneys using even publicly available information from social media services to this end. Actually, a few bar associations even have authorized the practice in advisory opinions, she noted. At this point, the clear ethical line appears to be at creating fake profiles to friend jurors and access information in someone’s private account — a prohibition that extends to unearthing evidence about parties during the discovery process.

But the problem isn’t that simple. Maybe one attorney is, as Holden put it, “a friend of a friend of a friend of a Facebook friend” and has access to certain juror information that the opposing attorney doesn’t have. That attorney hasn’t necessarily done anything wrong, but, Holden asks,

“Do you really want to have a system of law where the Sixth Amendment turns a blind eye to the fact that a lawyer happens to have friended someone who allows [the lawyer] into an account … giving them access to information on the prosecution side that perhaps the defense lawyer doesn’t get because he’s not a friend?”
It’s one thing to gain an edge because of due diligence in a fair fight, but he sees a problem with cases potentially being decided because of an attorney’s social graph.

Can a Foursquare check-in prove an alibi or seal one’s fate?

For criminal defendants and civil litigants, their social media profiles can provide a rich field of evidence. Lynch said that judges now see a lot of social-media-derived evidence, which might inspire citizens, in general, to think about how they use the services. MySpace is still rather popular among individuals who end up in the criminal justice system, she explained, and Facebook photos could be used to disprove the extent of damage in a personal injury case. Even if attorneys don’t undertake underhanded methods to access private information, Lynch noted that profile photos are always available.

Additionally, noted Kurt Roemer, chief security strategist at Citrix, Facebook privacy settings are sometimes rolled back with updates, potentially making once-private information public. In other instances, he suggested, Foursquare check-ins could be used for a multitude of purposes, from finding potential witnesses to a crime, to helping prove whether a defendant was where he said he was. Knowing the potential for their previous social media activity to be used against them, Roemer also pointed to a trend among UK young adults of legally changing their names when entering the workforce to disassociate themselves with their Facebook accounts.

Should judges ‘friend’ lawyers, or be on Facebook at all?

Judges and lawyers aren’t immune from the ethical pitfalls of social media, either. EFF’s Lynch notes that attorneys tweeting or posting Facebook status updates that even casually relate to cases could violate the attorney-client privilege, and that rules restricting how attorneys solicit business also extend to social media. The Reynolds Center’s Holden cites, among other issues, possible concerns over ex parte communications stemming from judges friending attorneys that have cases before the judge. Whereas Ohio generally allows such relationships provided judges remain vigilant, Florida has taken a relatively hard-line stance against the practice.

At this point, it’s unclear that the legal system will get a handle on which social media practices are acceptable and which are not anytime soon. Lynch thinks there might be clear solutions to specific problems, but acknowledges that it’s a topic not easily addressable on a broad scale. Holden, who also heads up a new academic publication called the Courts and Media Law Journal, concurs.

“We’re going to kill enough trees for 500 pages in a year [on this subject],” he said, “and we will not come up with an answer.”

February 26, 2011

Protests Likely to Spread in U.S. as States Raise Taxes and Cut Spending

State Budget Crisis Looms Over Governors' Meeting

Governors are proposing a variety of tax increases on the people, yet it is the state workers that are protesting for their collective bargaining power so that they can maintain their stranglehold on politicians. The existence of public sector collective bargaining makes public employees "super citizens" and relegates the rest of the public to second class status.

February 26, 2011

AP – Confronting crushing budget woes, many of the nation's governors are calling for painful spending cuts. But beyond that, their approaches are diverging drastically, from union-cramping proposals in Wisconsin and other states to higher taxes in Illinois and elsewhere.

Most states' chief executives are struggling to plug massive budget holes without pushing unemployment higher and hampering a fragile post-recession recovery, and that's setting a worrisome atmosphere as they gather in Washington for their winter meeting.

Not all are coming; some are choosing to stay at home to wage budget battles with their legislatures.
  1. The financial emergencies — and what to do about them — will be issue No. 1 over the next three days.

  2. Issue No. 2 is certain to be one prescription that's been in the headlines: Republican Gov. Scott Walker's effort in Wisconsin to strip bargaining rights from many state employees. It's prompted weeks of protests and outcry.
"We have to balance our budgets. We have to address costs. And we also have to move forward at the same time," said Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, the head of the Democratic Governors Association after his group met with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden at the White House.

"We're not bracing for the worst. We're preparing for the best. And the best we can do right now is create jobs."
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, cast blame on Washington for much of the turmoil states are facing, saying:
"The fact is that Washington, D.C., is trying to tell all of us how to run our states with way too much specificity, and the costs of that is what's driving the deficits in our country."
True or not, the situation is grim.

A day before the National Governors Association gathering began, the Commerce Department reported that state and local responses to growing budget crises were undercutting the national recovery, weighing down economic growth in the final three months of last year. Obama is counting on that recovery to propel him to re-election next year, and the governors are well aware of the political stakes in their states as well.

States have weathered two brutal budget years in which they sliced spending and laid off workers. Now, they face a third challenging year with federal stimulus money drying up and lower-than-expected tax collections coming up.

Over the past two months, governors' state-of-the-state speeches have been peppered with talk of tough budget choices, more streamlined services and job-creation strategies.
"Government redesign efforts are a part of virtually every aspect of state policy in 2011 as governors adjust to the new normal in the wake of the Great Recession," says John Thomasian, a director at the National Governors Association's Center for Best Practices. "Governors are focusing on consolidation, streamlining bureaucratic processes and controlling employee and pension costs, while at the same time doing as much as they can to spur job growth."
More than a dozen governors — Republicans and Democrats alike — have proposed plans to try to shrink the size of state government and make it more efficient by eliminating or combining agencies, boards and commissions. Several from both parties also want to cut the state work force to save money. And both Republicans and Democrats in some states are trying to overhaul pension systems.

But those similarities have largely taken a backseat to more high-profile budget proposals.

Democratic Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn was lambasted after signing a 66 percent temporary personal income tax increase and a separate corporate rate hike to help close a $15 billion budget gap. Among other Democrats following his lead: California Gov. Jerry Brown has promoted a package of temporary tax increases as a ballot measure for voters to consider; Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy has proposed a budget that raises taxes on everything from personal income to haircuts, and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton is pushing $3.3 billion in new taxes, primarily by raising rates on top earners.

But, in a twist, it's not the tax hikes that have caused the most heartache in states lately. It's the Wisconsin anti-union measure, as well as similar proposals by Republican governors in Ohio and Indiana that have dominated the budget discussions and led to massive protests.

Ahead of the weekend bipartisan meeting, O'Malley criticized Walker's approach, saying
"Extremism and ideology is trumpeting problem solving" in Wisconsin and "when you try to vilify, make one side of the equation the enemy, I think you're asking for trouble."

He added: "I don't think the drama and the circus going on with this drive to eliminate unions ... has anything to do with creating jobs."
Republican Perry said each state is different, and he defended Walker, saying:
"He knows what he believes in and he's expressing that, and the voters in Wisconsin said this is the person we want running the state."

Asked if Walker was overreaching, Perry said: "No."
It was a preview of the partisan lines likely to be drawn during the governors' gathering, which is usually a bipartisan affair focused on problem-solving strategies.

After huge victories last fall, Republican governors have used their new perches to undercut several parts of Obama's agenda, including his health care plan and high-speed rail proposal, and several have sought to hamper the power of unions, a key Democratic voting bloc.

Obama, for his part, invited only Democratic governors to the White House for a private meeting ahead of the weekend's events, a first in recent memory. He also came out publically against Walker's proposal.

All that ensures a far more spirited gathering than in years past.