R.I.P Gil Scott-Heron

28/05/2011

Gil Scott-Heron combinava como ninguém uma grande qualidade musical com um discurso altamente politizado e crítico.

Poeta e músico, ele ainda se utilizava do humor e da ironia de um forma muito inteligente.

A primeira vez que eu ouvi um álbum do Gil Scott-Heron, aquilo mudou a minha vida. Eu me identifiquei profundamente com a música. Ali estava um exemplo de como a arte podia expressar todo o espírito de uma época e de uma luta, do contexto e da vida de um grande grupo de pessoas.

A música “Winter in America” é o maior exemplo disso.

“B Movie” também.

Ninguém exprimiu de forma melhor o sentimento dos ghettos dos Estados Unidos nas décadas de 70 e 80.

Uns dos criadores do Spoken Word, influenciado por artistas da Harlem Renaissance como Langston Hughes, o “Bluesologista” Gil Scott-Heron conseguia criar, pela música, algo que ele chamava de “Vibemosphere”, uma mistura de Vibration com Atmosphere, conseguindo passar verdadeiros sentimentos com suas criações musicais.

Sua poesia era às vezes chamada de Street Poetry. No documentário Black Wax, ele explica isso em uma cena de um show. Ele critica aqueles que acham que ser poético é escrever coisas que ninguém consegue entender. A poesia que ele queria fazer pretendia se comunicar com pessoas da rua e, portanto, não apenas tinha que falar de coisas que tinham a ver com a vida das pessoas, mas também tinha que fazê-lo de uma forma na qual as pessoas pudessem entender.

Seus Spoken Words “H2O G.A.T.E. Blues” e “Black History” são simplesmente fantásticos.

Seu livro “The Vulture” foi publicado em português pela Conrad e é um romance policial muito bom.

Gil Scott-Heron é mais conhecido pelo seu poema/música “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”. Essa frase foi muito utilizada e é mais conhecida até do que ele. Muitos nem sabem que é dele.

Devido a sua forte crítica social, sua obra nunca foi reconhecida de forma merecida. Sua música estava no mesmo nível da dos maiores nomes do Soul e do Funk da época, mas seu sucesso foi muito menor.

A vida difícil de alguém que sempre lutou fez com que ele acabasse tendo problemas com drogas.

Recentemente ele havia se recuperado e até lançou um disco em 2010.

O mundo perde um de seus maiores artistas.

Abaixo, segue a sua discografia.

Segue, também, um documentário antigo sobre ele.

Além disso, posto várias músicas.

No fim, um artigo do The New Yorker muito bom, para quem quiser conhecer melhor quem foi Gil Scott-Heron. O artigo também é triste, pois mostra como era sua vida nos últimos tempos.

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Discografia:

Discography

Studio albums

Year Album Label
1970 Small Talk at 125th and Lenox Flying Dutchman Records
1971 Pieces of a Man Flying Dutchman Records
1972 Free Will Flying Dutchman Records
1974 Winter in America Strata-East Records
1975 The First Minute of a New Day Arista Records
1976 From South Africa to South Carolina Arista Records
1976 It’s Your World Arista Records
1977 Bridges Arista Records
1978 Secrets Arista Records
1980 1980 Arista Records
1980 Real Eyes Arista Records
1981 Reflections Arista Records
1982 Moving Target Arista Records
1994 Spirits TVT Records
2010 I’m New Here XL Recordings

Live albums

Year Album Label
1976 It’s Your World Arista Records
1990 Tales of Gil Scott-Heron and His Amnesia Express Castle Music UK/Peak Top Records
1994 Minister of Information: Live Peak Top Records
2004 The Best Of Gil Scott-Heron Live Intersound
2004 Tour De Force Phantom Sound & Vision
2004 Save The Children Delta Music
2004 Winter In America, Summer In Europe Pickwick
2005 Greatest Hits Live Intersound
2008 Live At The Town & Country 1988 Acadia / Evangeline Records

Compilations

Year Album Label
1974 The Revolution Will Not Be Televised Flying Dutchman
1979 The Mind of Gil Scott-Heron Arista Records
1984 The Best of Gil Scott-Heron Arista Records
1988 The Revolution Will Not Be Televised Bluebird Records
1990 Glory: The Gil Scott-Heron Collection Arista Records
1998 The Gil Scott-Heron Collection Sampler: 1974-1975 TVT Records
1998 Ghetto Style Camden Records
1999 Evolution and Flashback: The Very Best of Gil Scott-Heron RCA Records
2005 Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson – Messages (Anthology) Soul Brother Records
2006 The Best Of Gil Scott-Heron Sony/BMG
2010 Storm Music (The Best Of Gil Scott-Heron) Phantom Sound & Vision

Bibliography

Year Title ISBN
1970 The Vulture 0862415284
1970 Small Talk at 125th and Lenox
1972 The Nigger Factory 0862415276
1990 So Far, So Good 0883781336
2001 Now and Then: The Poems of Gil Scott-Heron 086241900X
2003 The Last Holiday (unpublished) 1841953415

[edit]Filmography

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Documentário Gil Scott-Heron – Godfather of Rap:

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Músicas:

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http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/08/09/100809fa_fact_wilkinson?currentPage=all

Profiles

New York Is Killing Me

The inlikely survival of Gil Scott-Heron.

by Alec Wilkinson

AUGUST 9, 2010

Scott-Heron performing in 1998. Photograph by Monique de Latour.

Scott-Heron performing in 1998. Photograph by Monique de Latour.

Gil Scott-Heron is frequently called the “godfather of rap,” which is an epithet he doesn’t really care for. In 1968, when he was nineteen, he wrote a satirical spoken-word piece called “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” It was released on a very small label in 1970 and was probably heard of more than heard, but it had a following. It is the species of classic that sounds as subversive and intelligent now as it did when it was new, even though some of the references—Spiro Agnew, Natalie Wood, Roy Wilkins, Hooterville—have become dated. By the time Scott-Heron was twenty-three, he had published two novels and a book of poems and recorded three albums, each of which prospered modestly, but “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” made him famous.

Scott-Heron calls himself a bluesologist. He is sixty-one, tall and scrawny, and he lives in Harlem, in a ground-floor apartment that he doesn’t often leave. It is long and narrow, and there’s a bedspread covering a sliding glass door to a patio, so no light enters, making the place seem like a monk’s cell or a cave. Once, when I thought he was away, I called to convey a message, and he answered and said, “I’m here. Where else would a caveman be but in his cave?”

Recently, I arrived at his apartment while he was watching fight films with Mimi Little, whom he calls Miss Mimi. Miss Mimi helps run his affairs and those of his company, Brouhaha Music; the living room of his apartment is the company’s office. They were watching Muhammad Ali knock down George Foreman in the eighth round of the Rumble in the Jungle, in Zaire, in 1974. Scott-Heron was wearing baggy gray sweatpants, a red-and-white-striped polo shirt, and white socks, and he stood in front of the television, lifting one foot, then the other, as if the floor were hot. When Foreman collapsed, Scott-Heron pretended to be Ali chastising him as he lay on his back. “That’s the best you can do?” he said. “I had about enough of you.”

“It’s done now,” Little said.

“I thought you could hit,” Scott-Heron said. “You hit like a baby.”

A crowd flooded the ring. “Look at these silly people,” Scott-Heron said. A large black man in a blue blazer wrapped his arms around Ali from behind and lifted him, and Ali waved his arms like a cranky baby. “Brother try to pick up Ali here. He says, ‘Put me down.’ ”

All you could see then of Ali in the blending swarm was his head and shoulders, so he looked like a bust. “Ali’s thirty-two, having been exiled to nowhere,” Scott-Heron said. “Unbelievable odds. I like to see unbelievable odds, because that’s what I’ve been facing all these years. When I feel like giving up, I like to watch this.”

The phone rang, and Little answered. She said it was Kim Jordan, his piano player. Little covered the phone and said, “She wants to know what to practice.” Scott-Heron had a performance that week in Washington, D.C. He kept his eyes on the screen. “ ‘Lady Day and John Coltrane,’ key of A,” he said. “ ‘I Call It Morning,’ ‘Give Her a Call.’ ”

“He’ll give you a call,” Little said.

“No, that’s the name of the song, ‘Give Her a Call,’ ” Scott-Heron said.

Little hung up, and Scott-Heron sat down on the couch, facing the screen. The couch was brown, with so many little black burn circles that they seemed worked into the fabric’s design. A few extension cords crossed a rug on the floor, and lying at his feet among them was a propane torch. Taped to the wall facing him was a piece of paper on which he had written, in capital letters, with a Sharpie, “nothing nice to talk about? nothing good to say? no yuks? no smiles? then shut up. the mngmt.” On the shelf of a cabinet were some books, and some DVDs, which he buys at a video store next door to the Apollo Theatre, on 125th Street. He especially likes shows and movies and cartoons from his childhood, such as “Top Cat” and “Rocky and Bullwinkle” and “Underdog.” “Your life has to consist of more than ‘Black people should unite,’ ” he said. “You hope they do, but not twenty-four hours a day. If you aren’t having no fun, die, because you’re running a worthless program, far as I’m concerned.”

Little said that she was leaving to run errands. Staples was having a two-to-a-customer sale of something she needed a quantity of. “I’m going back two or three times,” she said. “I have a disguise, and I know where four Staples are.”

When she left, Scott-Heron seemed briefly at a loss, then he said, “We should listen to some music.” He put on a song of his from years ago called “Racetrack in France,” which is about a festival he played in the seventies. “I don’t feel as comfortable playing something of somebody else’s,” he said shyly. “I can’t say how the good parts got put together.”

Sometimes when I spoke to people who used to know Scott-Heron, they told me that they preferred to remember him as he had been. They meant before he had begun avidly smoking crack, which is a withering drug. As a young man, he had a long, narrow, slightly curved face, which seemed framed by hair that bloomed above his forehead like a hedge. The expression in his eyes was baleful, aloof, and slightly suspicious. He was thin then, but now he seems strung together from wires and sinews—he looks like bones wearing clothes. He is bald on top, and his hair, which is like cotton candy, sticks out in several directions. His cheeks are sunken and deeply lined. Dismayed by his appearance, he doesn’t like to look in mirrors. He likes to sit on the floor, with his legs crossed and his propane torch within reach, his cigarettes and something to drink or eat beside him. Nearly his entire diet consists of fruit and juice. Crack makes a user anxious and uncomfortable and, trying to relieve the tension, Scott-Heron would sometimes lean to one side or reach one hand across himself to grab his opposite ankle, then perhaps lean an elbow on one knee, then maybe press the soles of his feet together, so that he looked like a swami.

Scott-Heron’s voice has always been more of a declaimer’s voice than a singer’s voice—when he was young, he sounded like a writer singing. In 1971, he recorded a second version of “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” and the bassist Ron Carter, who played on it, told me, “He wasn’t a great singer, but, with that voice, if he had whispered it would have been dynamic. It was a voice like you would have for Shakespeare.” Smoking cigarettes erodes a singer’s subtlety and range, and Scott-Heron has smoked for decades, making his voice less versatile but raspier and even more idiosyncratic.

Scott-Heron says that he writes songs and records them all the time, but he has made only two albums since 1982. (Between 1970 and 1982, he made thirteen.) He writes at night, when it is quiet, but only, he says, when the spirits bring him a line or a melody.

Recently, though, Scott-Heron has returned to prominence, having released an album called “I’m New Here,” which has brought him a new, younger audience. It is the result of the British hip-hop producer Richard Russell’s sending him a letter in 2005 asking if he wanted to make a record. As a teen-ager in London in the nineteen-eighties, Russell had seen Scott-Heron perform. He also knew his music from clubs that played rare groove, the British term for obscure, older soul, funk, and Latin records, which hip-hop musicians covet for samples.

Scott-Heron and Russell met in 2006, at Rikers Island, where Scott-Heron was being held for a parole violation. Since 2001, he has been convicted twice of cocaine possession. The first time, he was arrested by cops who said that they saw him shake the hand of a man on a street corner and accept a small piece of tinfoil. The second time, cocaine that he had hidden in the lining of his bag showed up on an airport X-ray. A guard read on Russell’s paperwork the name of the prisoner he had come to see and said, “Don’t tell me it’s the Gil Scott-Heron.”

“I’m New Here” is a reverent and intimate record, almost more field work than entertainment—a collage partly sung and partly talked, and made largely from fragments of Scott-Heron’s poetry, handled here in a voguish manner. It presents a notional version of Scott-Heron, which is Scott-Heron as hip-hop practitioner.

Scott-Heron recorded the songs and his poems, and Russell added the hip-hop tracks that accompany them. “This is Richard’s CD,” Scott-Heron says. “My only knowledge when I got to the studio was how he seemed to have wanted this for a long time. You’re in a position to have somebody do something that they really want to do, and it was not something that would hurt me or damage me—why not? All the dreams you show up in are not your own.”

“I’m New Here” is twenty-eight minutes long and has fifteen tracks, four of which are songs, one of which Scott-Heron wrote. Russell left the microphone on between takes and during discussions, and so he collected asides and observations, which he presents as interludes.

The record starts and ends with excerpts from a poem written thirty years ago, called “Coming from a Broken Home,” which includes the lines “Womenfolk raised me and I was full grown / before I knew I came from a broken home.” Russell embedded the reading in a sample from a Kanye West song, a hip-hop self-reference, since Kanye West had already sampled Scott-Heron.

The first song, “Me and the Devil,” by Robert Johnson, is an account of a man who hears the Devil knocking early in the morning on his door. In Johnson’s version, delivered in his clear, glottal voice, the character is a violent reprobate. Scott-Heron portrays him as boastful, lunatic, and malignant—proud to be acknowledged by someone capable of appreciating the true cast of his soul. He amended one of the words, though. “I have this philosophy from further back in my family about beating women—that’s what this song is about,” he says. “ ‘Me and the Devil walking side by side, I’m going to beat my woman until I’m satisfied.’ That’s why the Devil’s coming to get him, that’s why he’s going to Hell, because he’s a hitter, he beats his woman. And that’s why he’s expecting him, because he’s resolved. I’m not hooked up that way, so I sing, ‘I’m going to see my woman.’ The song’s like a confession.” (Even so, Scott-Heron pleaded guilty in 1999 to assaulting a woman named Monique de Latour, who said that he threw a drafting table at her and cut her hand.)

The song Scott-Heron wrote, “New York Is Killing Me,” is a blues sung against a spare background of syncopated handclaps and looped fragments. His voice is weary and raw. “The doctors don’t know, but New York is killing me,” he sings. “Bunch of doctors come around, they don’t know, that New York is killing me / I need to go home and take it slow down in Jackson, Tennessee.”

More than one romance threads itself through “I’m New Here”—the most prominent of which is a younger man’s veneration of a charismatic elder. Aside from liking Scott-Heron’s music, Russell regards him as “genuinely philosophical,” he told me. “He’s not hung up on time or ordinary circumstances, and I’ve never come across anyone as interesting to talk to.” Russell has said that a difficulty of working with Scott-Heron was that sometimes he wouldn’t show up. A philosopher might miss appointments, but so might someone with a propane torch in his apartment, even if he is a philosopher.

There is a gentleness in Scott-Heron’s nature that suggests his childhood among the stern, intelligent women he pays homage to in “Coming from a Broken Home.” His father, Gilbert Heron, who died in 2008, and whom he never much knew, was a soccer player who grew up in Jamaica. In Chicago, Gilbert met Scott-Heron’s mother, Robert Scott, who was named for her father and called Bobbie. “It was after the war, working for Western Electric,” Scott-Heron told me. “He also played for the Chicago Maroons, or something like that. A Scottish team came through, and he scored on them, which was not what they had come for. They was all white. He went to Scotland, and the legend goes he scored the day he arrived. He was dubbed the Black Arrow, and played professionally for three more years.”

Scott-Heron’s parents separated when he was two years old, and while his mother went to Puerto Rico to teach English he lived with his grandmother in Jackson. “My grandmother was dead serious,” he said one day, sitting on his couch. “Her sense of humor was a secret. She started me playing the piano. There was a funeral parlor next door to our house, and they had this old piano that they used for wakes and funerals, and they were getting ready to take it to the junk yard. She wanted me to play hymns for the ladies’ sewing circle that met every Thursday, and she bought the piano for six dollars, and she paid a lady up the street five or ten cents a lesson to teach me to play four hymns, ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus,’ ‘Rock of Ages,’ ‘The Old Rugged Cross,’ and I can’t think of the other one. I was eight years old, and I had started to listen to WDIA in Memphis, and they would play the blues. When I was practicing, I would have to mix them, because my grandmother was not big on the blues. When she was out in the yard, I can play what I want, but if she’s in the house I got to mix John Lee Hooker with ‘Rock of Ages.’ ”

The phone rang, but he ignored it. “I found my grandmother dead,” he went on. “It shook me up. I got up to make her breakfast, and I knew it was strange that she wasn’t stirring. I went in to wake her, and she was laying in rigor mortis”—he leaned back and held his legs and arms stiff—“and I’m done. I called next door, and the kid picked up the phone, and I was so wild, he dropped it. I went outside and saw the woman from the house going to work, and she came and took over. I was twelve.”

With his mother and her brother, Scott-Heron moved to an apartment in the Bronx, and his mother went to work for the city housing authority. Before long, his uncle moved out, and his mother couldn’t afford the rent, so she put her name on a list for an apartment in a project in Chelsea, in Manhattan. “Black people didn’t want to live in Chelsea, but we just wanted to go somewhere,” Scott-Heron said. “We started in ’65. It was eighty-five per cent Puerto Rican, fifteen per cent white, and me.”

The young woman who taught Scott-Heron English in his sophomore year at DeWitt Clinton High School had gone to a private school called the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, which is in Riverdale, a prosperous section of the Bronx. “She was assigning all these books that didn’t mean anything, like ‘A Separate Peace,’ ” Scott-Heron said. “Finally, she asked me a question, and I said, ‘Look, can I get out of here? This just sucks.’ I told her—I figured she knew—‘I can write better than that. I been sitting here writing better than that.’ I handed her something from my notebook, and she gave it to the head of the department at Fieldston. They asked me would I come to a meeting. I said I might walk out, but we met at the Howard Johnson across from the Bronx Zoo, and I got a hamburger and a strawberry shake out of it, while they asked me would I take a test to see if I could go to their school.”

After he took the test, the school asked him to another meeting. “They looked at me like I was under a microscope,” he said. “They asked, ‘How would you feel if you see one of your classmates go by in a limousine while you’re walking up the hill from the subway?,’ and I said, ‘Same way as you. Y’all can’t afford no limousine. How do you feel?’ Anyway, it just happened to be the day that my mother was sabotaged by this diabetes. We took a break, and I called my uncle at the hospital, and he told me, ‘Come down here,’ so I went back to the meeting and I said, ‘Whatever you’re going to decide, you decide, but I have to go and be with my mother.’ From the way I handled it, I learned later that they thought that this was a sign that I was mature enough to handle whatever would come my way from the school.”

Scott-Heron was one of five black students among a class of a hundred, and in his second year he got in trouble for playing the piano. “They had a beautiful Steinway they used for the choir and the chorus, but I got caught using it to play the Temptations,” he said. “A guy came in and screamed at me to stop, and they put a sign up saying ‘Do Not Play.’ A few days later, he came in, and I’m sitting under the sign playing the piano. So they told me they were going to call my mother, and I laughed—not because I was being disrespectful, although he took it that way—but because I thought, You really don’t want to get my mother into this. But they called her and told her to come to a disciplinary meeting, and the evening before she asked me what had happened, and I told her. And she said, ‘Well, did you hit the man?,’ and I said, ‘No, I was playing the piano.’ I tried to explain that there had been no rule against it until I did it. A lot of kids had been going up there to play ‘Chopsticks,’ I said, and she asked me again, did I hit him. She had reached the conclusion that I had done something so awful that I didn’t want to describe it, because she couldn’t imagine that they had called her up there to tell her I had been playing the piano.”

The meeting took place around a horseshoe-shaped table. “My mother listened to them, and when they were finished she said, ‘You all know where we live, and the difficulties of our life, so I’m not going to talk about that. We got burglaries, assaults, muggings—it’s not the best place to raise a child—but whenever something happens down there that might involve my son, I don’t call you. I figure that’s my area, and this is yours. Now, I have read your discipline handbook, and what I suggest you do is expel him, because it’s this way or that, near as I can tell, so what I’m going to do right now, since this is your area, I’m going to leave and go to work, because if I don’t get there soon, they’re going to take half my day’s wages from me, and when I get home this evening he’ll tell me what you decided, but, if you’re asking my opinion, you have to expel him. We have really enjoyed it here, and it has added to my son’s life, and I think we’ve added to your ethical-culture thing, but I’m going to go now, and you’ll excuse my son because he’s got to walk me to the subway. Thank you all very much.’ She got up and put on her coat, and I took a hard look at the man who had started all this, to say, ‘See, I told you you didn’t want to get my mama involved.’

“She walked to the subway in a stone silence. All she said was ‘I want you to leave these people’s piano alone. You’re not here to play the piano.’ I said, ‘What if they expel me?’ ‘Then you won’t have to worry about it; you’ll be someplace else. You leave these people’s stuff alone, and when you tell me something from now on I’ll believe you.’ ”

Scott-Heron was made to stay after school three Wednesdays in a row to wash out the brushes in the art room. A classmate, Roderick Harrison, says that he remembers two things about Scott-Heron. “He could hold a classroom or a hallway in thrall” is one of them. The other recollection is of his mother. “She was,” he told me, “imposing.”

At the end of June, at a concert in Central Park, Scott-Heron played one song from his new record, the rhythm-and-blues standard “I’ll Take Care of You,” but for the rest of the concert, as is customary with him, he drew from his older catalogue. Later, he was joined by the rapper Common, who said that as a child in Chicago he had listened to Scott-Heron and that it was an honor to occupy the stage with him. Then Common began to rap, but stumbled because the pace was too fast. He asked the musicians to slow down, then he asked them to go even slower, and then he started again, sounding not quite so agitated and more earnest. The song he recited was called “My Way Home,” which includes samples from Scott-Heron’s “Home Is Where the Hatred Is.”

“We been sampled,” Scott-Heron told me. “I don’t want to tell you how embarrassing that can be. Long as it don’t talk about ‘yo mama’ and stuff, I usually let it go. It’s not all bad when you get sampled—hell, you make money. They give you some money to shut you up. I guess to shut you up they should have left you alone.”

The epithet “godfather of rap”—derived from the claim that Scott-Heron originated the form—is partly apt but also partisan. The case for him as proto-rapper goes like this: at the beginning, he had company, the Last Poets, who in the late nineteen-sixties in Harlem recited poetry while accompanied by conga drums, used mainly in Afro-Cuban music. “Compared to Gil, their stuff is very stripped down,” Bill Adler, the hip-hop critic, curator, and record executive, told me. “It was like a park jam that got onto a record. Nothing but beats and rhythms. They embodied a revolutionary idea of black manhood, and Gil likewise. He wasn’t as potent as they were—he was more musical—but at the very beginning you can think of Gil Scott-Heron as a one-man Last Poets. People often confused the two, or thought that he was a member of them.”

Scott-Heron went to Lincoln University, the historically black college in Pennsylvania that Langston Hughes had attended. The Last Poets performed there in 1969. “Gil was the student-body rep,” Abiodun Oyewole, one of the Last Poets, told me, “and after the gig he came backstage and said, ‘Listen, can I start a group like you guys?’ ”

A strict honoring of rap origin legends would say that it begins with d.j.s in the Bronx, among African-Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Jamaicans, in the summer of 1973, and especially with a d.j. named Kool Herc. The people involved were going to parties where they could dance to a spare form of recorded music that had been arranged so that the pulse was foremost. The language and the stories that went along with them were simple. “Hip-hop has its own superheroic myths and stories,” Greg Tate, the hip-hop critic, says. “Gil is a genre to himself.”

The legacy of the Last Poets and Scott-Heron was more deeply embraced by second-generation rappers with social convictions. Among these was Chuck D., of Public Enemy, who told me that he first heard Scott-Heron when he was a teen-ager, in the nineteen-seventies. Scott-Heron and the Last Poets are “not only important; they’re necessary, because they are the roots of rap—taking a word and juxtaposing it into some sort of music,” he said. “You can go into Ginsberg and the Beat poets and Dylan, but Gil Scott-Heron is the manifestation of the modern word. He and the Last Poets set the stage for everyone else. In what way necessary? Well, if you try to make pancakes, and you ain’t got the water or the milk or the eggs, you’re trying to do something you can’t. In combining music with the word, from the voice on down, you follow the template he laid out. His rapping is rhythmic, some of it’s songs, it’s punchy, and all those qualities are still used today.”

When I asked Scott-Heron what he thinks when people attribute rap music to him, he said, “I just think they made a mistake.”

Scott-Heron was one of the first musicians signed by Clive Davis, in 1975, for Arista Records. “I had seen a live performance, where he was very striking,” Davis told me. “Very charismatic, absolutely unique—the verbal and the performing abilities—he was electrifying, and based on his song ‘The Bottle,’ and ‘The Revolution,’ and seeing him, I signed him. He was very compelling as a speaker—the wit, the turn of phrase—it was all very special.”

Between 1975 and 1985, Scott-Heron made nine albums for Arista, and then they parted. “I always felt tremendous regard for him,” Davis said. “You see the success of a Jay-Z or a Kanye West, and I always felt that Gil was as charismatic as either of them. Seeing him in his prime, the ability to dominate a stage—Gil at his best was an all-timer.”

A theme that Scott-Heron often brings up at performances is how people say that he disappeared during the past decade—during the years, that is, when he was serving time. Not long ago, he sold out the Blue Note, a club in Manhattan. “I read all of those reviews that said I disappeared,” he said. “Wouldn’t that be great if I could add that to my act? Come up here and—poof!” Then he said, “I had read how great I was before I disappeared. It makes me afraid to show up.”

When I first began visiting Scott-Heron, he would leave the room at intervals and go into his bathroom. The next time I went to his apartment, he went into his kitchen and a stream of smoke drifted out. One day, I turned around, and he had his crack pipe to his lips, and after that he didn’t bother to leave the room anymore. Sometimes he would fall asleep in the middle of an interview, and I would excuse myself.

Monique de Latour, an artist who lived with Scott-Heron for three years beginning in 1997, says that he would smoke crack for four or five days without rest. The longest she saw him stay awake was seven days. She knew he was getting tired when the things he said no longer made sense. “He would be talking about baseball and say someone had scored a touchdown,” she told me. Periodically, he would disappear—he says he was trying to get away from her. To find him, de Latour would check the phone to see whom the last call had been made to, which was sometimes a clue. If his propane torch was gone, she began visiting the hotels he liked—the Casablanca, on 145th Street, or the Old Broadway, on 126th, or the New Ebony, on 112th, where he was eventually banned for setting fire to his room. He would check in as Benjamin Safir. “As in Ben Safir, as in Been Safer,” she said. The desk clerk had been paid to tell her that he wasn’t there. “I would find a crackhead who didn’t care about Gil and give him half a ripped five- or ten-dollar bill,” she said. “I gave him the other half after I had checked out what he told me.”

Sometimes de Latour found the door to Scott-Heron’s room left ajar and Scott-Heron asleep. She took photographs of him lying on the hotel bed, which she hung in their apartment in the hope of forcing him to face his circumstances, but he wouldn’t look at them. If she didn’t find him in the hotels, she called the neighborhood hospitals and then the police precincts. Not infrequently, she found him locked up for trespassing or loitering. Once he was arrested as Denis Heron, which is his half brother’s name. When he missed a court date, the cops went looking for Denis.

According to de Latour, after a couple of days of smoking, Scott-Heron would sometimes make holes in the walls looking for microphones and cameras. On the door of their apartment, he would post menacing remarks, which he would change every few weeks or months. One said, “For all visitors we despise. I will pray to ‘the spirits’ that you and all who conspire with you condemn your souls. You have been seen. You are known. You will be paid.” He believed that bad spirits came with crack, and to counteract them he would give money to charities.

When he ran low on money from royalties, de Latour says, he would arrange for gigs and insist on a deposit to pay for the band’s airfare. He would spend the deposit, then arrive with a two-piece band, which was all he could afford. When his money ran out altogether, he slept, sometimes for two weeks. “He could sleep until he knew the next check was coming,” de Latour said.

De Latour would try to get him to leave the apartment, because he couldn’t smoke crack in public, but he almost never would. His teeth fell out and he got implants, some of which also fell out—one time while he was onstage in Berlin. “I saw him once at Eighth Avenue and Twenty-third,” Bill Adler told me. “This tall guy staggering across the street, and I recognized Gil immediately—he’s very tall and distinctive—and he’s clearly whacked, and he could have been dead right there, stumbling across the intersection.”

In the fall of 1999, de Latour told him to choose between her and crack, and he chose crack and moved in with his mother, on East 106th Street. She was in poor health, and shortly after he moved in she died. “I went with Gil to the funeral, and he was such a mess,” de Latour says. “He was already going downhill, but he was going more downhill once his mother died.”

After the funeral, he moved out of his mother’s apartment. He ignored the eviction notice the landlord sent him. Her belongings were auctioned.

Even so, de Latour said, there were many moments of tenderness between them. “There is a very gentle person inside Gil,” she said, “but very remote. It’s the little boy who lived with his grandmother in Jackson. He used to say to me, ‘I wish you knew me before I was like this.’ ”

Scott-Heron spent July on tour in Europe. His tour manager, Walter Laurer, says the tour has gone smoothly, and Scott-Heron says he hasn’t used any drugs for more than a month.

Anyone familiar with Scott-Heron’s career knows that early on he had a partnership with a musician named Brian Jackson. In 1969, when they were students at Lincoln, they wrote songs together. Eventually, they made nine records. They parted company in 1979, although they made a few attempts to play together again. “We’ve had a few falling outs,” Scott-Heron told me, “but this last one, I think, is permanent.”

Jackson still records and performs, but he has a day job as a project manager in the City of New York’s I.T. department, where he began working in 1983, when, he told me, “I woke up one morning and realized I wasn’t getting my ascap checks anymore for publishing. I called and they said, ‘We don’t have you listed as a recipient.’ I said, ‘I could show you some checks that you just sent me,’ but they said that didn’t matter, and I didn’t have the money for a lawyer to find out what had happened. I sent for the papers to prove that I was a fifty-per-cent partner of Brouhaha Music, and I found that the company had been dissolved in 1980.”

“Somebody should have pushed the mute button on that motherfucker,” Scott-Heron said of Jackson. “Our accomplishments show what kind of people we are. The way our careers have gone, you can see who the spirits favor.” On another occasion, he said, “I would not take a dollar from Brian.”

Scott-Heron says that in 2003 Jackson stole money that was meant to be used for his bail; Jackson says that, after the bondsman refused the money, he used some of it to pay members of the band for shows that were cancelled when Scott-Heron was arrested at the airport. He also paid some of his own bills. Jackson told me that, as Scott-Heron was about to go to jail, they spoke. “I thought it was time to go to him and say, as a friend, ‘Are you O.K.?’ He told me, ‘Yeah, I’m O.K. I’m doing better than you,’ meaning I was the one having to scratch for a living.” In one of the interludes on “I’m New Here,” Scott-Heron says, “If I hadn’t been as eccentric, as obnoxious, as arrogant, as aggressive, as introspective, as selfish, I wouldn’t be me.”

At the Blue Note, when Scott-Heron touched on the subject of prison he said, “They say my new record proves I came out of jail angry. Nobody comes out of jail angry. They come out of jail happy.” He wore dark trousers and a cap, and a suit jacket with a label that said “Jos. A. Bank” sewn above one wrist. When he finished talking, he sat down at an electric piano, which looked like a desk. His hands formed chords. He began a song called “Show Bizness,” which has the refrain “Do you really want to be in show business?,” then he stopped. “I used to be with Clive Davis,” he said. “I don’t think he liked this song. Not in that key.” He started in a second key. “Show business, want to be in show business,” he sang, then stopped again. “Now I don’t,” he said. He sang the words softly to himself as he searched for the chords, then he started a third time and said, “That’s right, that’s right.” At one moment, he leaned his head back and closed his eyes, and it looked like the expression of an ecstatic.

One of the last times I went to Scott-Heron’s apartment, he rose from the couch now and then to make slow journeys around the room. His movements appeared to have a purpose, for he spent some time opening drawers and meticulously sorting through the prescription bottles and folded-up dollar bills and scraps of paper they contained, but he didn’t say what he was after. When he found a lottery ticket that hadn’t been scratched off, he sat down and carefully ran a coin across its surface.

He was wearing jeans and a black-and-white shirt with the buttons askew. It was the morning after he had been expected at a video shoot downtown to make the second video for “I’m New Here,” and he hadn’t shown up. Meanwhile, the crew and the filmmaker had waited through most of the night. When the phone rang, he said, “That’s those people from the video shoot trying to get me,” and he didn’t answer. “They all think it’s some kind of mixup when I don’t show up where they are, but being too omni-visible is a bad idea. The kids at the record company are very enthusiastic, and they have a lot of friends they have made, and they all want to have an interview, and the only problem is they’re asking the same things people asked me a long, long time ago, because that’s what they do when they’re starting—you ask questions you already know the answer to. I don’t want to disappoint them, but you can’t disappoint unless you have an appointment. They don’t know I only like to talk to people who have something to talk about other than me. Like everybody in New York, they know everything. How can you tell them anything?”

He tossed the lottery ticket on the floor. “It’s the death of the vertical,” he went on. “They have taken all this time to stand up straight so that they can say ‘I.’ They’re very proud of that. The way you get to know yourself is by the expressions on other people’s faces, because that’s the only thing that you can see, unless you carry a mirror about. But if you keep saying ‘I’ and they’re saying ‘I,’ you don’t get much out of it. They’re not really into you, or we, or they; they’re into I. That makes conversation slow.

“I am the person I see least of over the course of my life, and even what I see is not accurate.” The phone rang. “This is Brouhaha Music,” he said. “Who the fuck is this?” He leaned back and talked softly, with his eyes closed and a hand on his forehead. Then he hung up and rubbed his neck with one hand, while turning his head from side to side. “I’m trying to stay out of traction,” he said. “I feel like I got a piece of gravel up at the top of my spine.” He lit the propane torch and touched the glass tube to his lips. “Ten to fifteen minutes of this, I don’t have pain,” he said. “I could have had an operation a few years ago, but there was an eight-per-cent chance of paralysis. I tried the painkillers, but after a couple of weeks I felt like a piece of furniture. It makes you feel like you don’t want to do anything. This I can quit anytime I’m ready.”

He touched the flame to the tube. “I have a novel that I can write,” he said next. “It’s about three soldiers from Somalia. Some babies have been disappearing up on 144th Street, and I speculate later on what happened to them and how they might have been got back. These guys are dead, all three, and they have a chance in the afterlife to do something they should have done when they were alive.” He raised the torch, then paused and said, “I have everything except a suitable conclusion.” ♦

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http://www.40acres.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1744%3Agil-scott-heron-a-life-without-commercial-interruption&catid=13%3Alead-story&Itemid=1

Gil Scott-Heron: A Life Without Commercial Interruption

Tuesday, 31 May 2011 08:46
by Barry Michael Cooper
“The Revolution/will not go better with Coke/
…the Revolution will put you in the driver’s seat/
the Revolution will not be televised/Not be televised/
the Revolution will be no rerun, Brother…”
Gil Scott Heron, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
On Friday, 27 May 2011, the world of spoken-word lost its poet laureate, and Hip Hop is missing it’s paterfamilias; Gil Scott-Heron died. He was 62. GOD Rest his soul.

When Gil Scott-Heron rejected the title “Godfather of Rap” it was with good reason. Money didn’t own him; as a genuine post-modern griot, Gil Scott-Heron embraced poverty. Not that he was poor–he wasn’t–or that he didn’t like money (I’m sure he did). Gil Scott-Heron didn’t love money, and therefore, money didn’t own him. A true MC, a true Master of the Ceremony must be just that; a master, leader, and conductor of the ceremony, pageantry, and celebration. One who can lead the band without becoming a slave to the rhythm. Or the money. To embrace poverty means the corporate sponsors can’t put a price ticket on your head, because if they can price you, then they can buy you, and if they can buy you, then they own you, and if they own you, then they can lock down and silence their caged bird when they disapprove of the song it sings.

Gil Scott-Heron said the Revolution wouldn’t be televised but that was his reverse psych on an enthralled public. Gil Scott-Heron forecast a revolution of Black thought and American letters–an analog-to-4G broadband-of-a-broadcast–for more than 40 years. A waveform of a higher vibration.

The life and creativity of Gil Scott-Heron exemplified the true meaning of wealth in poverty, because he was free to say what was on his mind. And we were enriched by his platinum thoughts. As a true hunger artist, Gil Scott-Heron knew that his wealth in poverty was the vault of his soulful authenticity; protecting the riches of his heart, and money can’t bankrupt a truth-tellers soul, overstand? Exeunt, noble Prince. We hardly knew thee, but what you allowed us to become acquainted with–the treasures stored in one of the greatest American literary minds this country has ever produced–changed us forever. No bottle could hold you. No crack could break you. The doves in all bedrooms will cry silently tonight as GOD steers your flight home. Many of us will rock something red, black and green in your memory. We have been saving it for just the right occasion.

 

 

 


After Summers, Which Path Will the President Take?

23/09/2010

Let’s hope Obama chooses someone who will really take action to stimulate the economy and create jobs.

The funny (and sad) thing is that Stiglitz and Krugman are considered as great progressives in the U.S.!

But they are still economists who believe and never question the core of the neoclassical economic theory.

And progressives in the U.S. consider the possibility of any of them being chosen a dream!

Good luck to the Americans!

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http://www.thenation.com/blog/154958/summerss-over-whats-next-obamas-economic-team

Summers’s Over. What’s Next for Obama’s Economic Team?

Ari Berman

September 22, 2010

First Rahm Emanuel, now Larry Summers. If Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner follows them out the door, Barack Obama may be on the verge of successfully shaking up his administration and rebooting his presidency.

Or maybe not. First the good news about Summers’s exit: the chair of the National Economic Council (NEC) may be an economic policy genius but he was a terrible public face for Obama’s economic agenda and could never convey how those policies would help Americans struggling to weather the recession. Plus, his background somehow managed to combine the worst of smug elite academia with the deregulation excesses of the nineties and the hedge fund bubble. He was not exactly the sort of fellow Americans could relate to at a time of economic calamity.

That said, his replacement could be worse. Names being floated include Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy and former Young & Rubicam Brands CEO Ann Fudge, based on the belief propagated by the business community that Obama needs a CEO inside his White House. But Derek Thompson of The Atlantic wrote a good column about why that’s not such a hot idea: CEOs care about making money for their own companies, while a top economic adviser should be concerned with pursuing the economic policies that will benefit as many Americans as possible. Those two poles aren’t always compatible.

Other contenders include Summers’ deputies Jason Furman and Diana Farrell. Farrell used to work at Goldman Sachs, hardly a bonus in this economy nor a rarity inside Obama world, while Furman directed the Hamilton Project, the centrist think tank co-founded by Clinton deregulation czar Bob Rubin. Tim Fernholz of The American Prospect says the top contender is UC-Berkeley professor Laura Tyson, who held the job under Clinton. That’s a safe pick, though not very inspired.

So who might shake up Obama’s team for the better and bring a Main Street perspective that is currently lacking? The Progressive Campaign Change Committee yesterday suggested someone like new Treasury adviser and consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren, outgoing North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan, former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich, Nobel Prize-–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman or FDIC chair Sheila Bair. I’d add to that list Jared Bernstein, who is currently Vice President Joe Biden’s chief economic adviser and often the lone progressive economist in the room during policy discussions. He’d play well with others, bring a fresh perspective to our stagnant economic debate and perhaps even energize Obama’s dispirited base—promising a renewed focus on jobs, jobs, jobs—with the election just round the corner.

Ari Berman’s new book, Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics, will be published on October 5 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

About the Author

Ari Berman
Ari Berman is a contributing writer for The Nation magazine and an Investigative Journalism Fellow at The Nation…

Also by The Author

The Professional Left Isn’t Dead Yet (Campaigns and Elections, Tea Party, The Left, Politics)

Progressive scored a victory last night in a closely watched House race in New Hampshire, improving Democrats’ odds in the general election.

The Sooner Rahm Leaves, the Better for Obama (Politics)

Rahm’s alleged biggest asset—his ties to Capitol Hill and intricate knowledge of Beltway politics—has paid few dividends for Obama. Shaking up the White House should start with him.

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http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rj-eskow/after-summers-which-path_b_734198.html

Richard (RJ) Eskow

Richard (RJ) Eskow

Consultant, Writer, Senior Fellow with The Campaign for America’s Future

Posted: September 21, 2010 10:18 PM

After Summers, Which Path Will the President Take?

Now that Larry Summers is leaving, the President has a decision to make. His choice of a replacement will send a signal about the next two years of economic policy. That signal can restore consumer confidence and reinvigorate the electorate, or it can lead to even more discouragement and despair. Today unnamed Administration officials floated the idea of naming a corporate executive to the position. That’s a trial balloon that should be punctured immediately.

The thirty-year-old law school graduate who asked the President yesterday, “Is the American dream over for me?” might interpret a choice like that as a ‘yes’ — unless he also happens to be a Fortune 500 CEO.

There’s some confusion around today’s news about Summers’ end-of-year departure. Was it a rushed announcement? Did Summers choose to leave, or did he get the axe? Bloomberg News observed that Summers’ departure leaves Tim Geithner as the sole remaining member of Obama’s original economic team, which adds up to something that looks very much like a shakeup.

Or maybe not.

The Bloomberg article also quotes Robert Gibbs as saying “it is not a surprise,” and it’s true that it’s common for Administration officials to leave after the midterm elections. For his part, the President lavished Summers with praise: “I will always be grateful that at a time of great peril for our country, a man of Larry’s brilliance, experience and judgment was willing to answer the call and lead our economic team. Over the past two years, he has helped guide us from the depths of the worst recession since the 1930s to renewed growth.”

Despite the kind words, the Wall Street Journal reports that “Administration officials say Mr. Summers’ departure could reinvigorate the White House economic team.” And there’s this quote from the President’s town hall meeting yesterday (via David Dayen): “Well, look, I have not made any determinations about personnel. I think Larry Summers and Tim Geithner have done an outstanding job… This is tough, the work that they do… they’re going to have a whole range of decisions about family… the bottom line is that we’re constantly thinking, is what we’re doing working as well as it could?”

But for those who are hoping that this move signals a change in policy, we can zigzag back to the “no policy change” camp if we take this quote seriously (from the WSJ article:) “Those who know Mr. Summers say his departure has more to do with the need to recover from two tough years in which he worked brutal hours and often did not sleep.”

In other words, we don’t know nothin’. That means the Administration doesn’t have to pay the political price for looking like it’s in disarray. But it also means the President doesn’t get the benefit of looking as if he’s taking decisive action after seeing unsatisfactory results.

Here’s what we do know: For middle-class Americans in search of economic relief, Summers’ departure is hardly what you’d call a setback. According to all reports it was Summers who insisted on introducing a smaller stimulus package, back when Obama had the political clout to get whatever he needed to fix the economy. We’re seeing the results in today’s “jobless recovery.” Ezra Klein quotes Stephanie Taylor of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, who said his departure is “a big victory for anyone who voted for change in 2008 only to see Summers work from the inside to water down Wall Street reform, block President Obama’s promise to protect Net Neutrality, and urge other pro-corporate positions.”

The Bloomberg report tried to pin down the Administration’s thinking about possible replacements. But by citing a variety of unnamed sources (“one person familiar with White House discussion,” two people,” “one person”) we’re left with a cloud of unknowing:

Administration officials are weighing whether to put a prominent corporate executive in the NEC director’s job to counter criticism that the administration is anti-business …White House aides are also eager to name a woman to serve in a high-level position … They also are concerned about finding someone with Summers’ experience and stature…

That’s enough trial balloons to float an army of economists somewhere high above the clouds. (Whoever said “good idea” — hey, that’s not nice!) The President’s choice will be watched closely by discouraged Americans like those he met yesterday. His appointment of Elizabeth Warren last week sent an encouraging message, not only to progressives but to middle class Americans who seem to have resonated with Warren whenever they’ve seen her. But whatever glow the Warren appointment cast will soon be outshone, for better or for worse, by this appointment.

Felix Salmon said that the idea of replacing Summers with a corporate executive is “a bit weird,” and that’s putting it mildly. I have nothing against corporate executives, having been one myself, but Salmon is right when he says that this position calls for an economist’s technical expertise.

And that’s not even considering the political ramifications. With poverty on the rise, record joblessness, the employed middle class struggling to make ends meet, and staggering numbers of mortgages underwater, delinquent, or foreclosed, the selection of a wealthy CEO would probably set off a political firestorm. One CEO mentioned in press reports was Richard Parsons, former head of Time Warner AOL and current head of Citigroup. Parsons is a very sharp guy, but does the Administration really think it can fix its public perception problems by naming the head of Citigroup as his senior economic advisor?

A CEO name that’s getting even more traction is Ann Fudge. Ms. Fudge served as a senior executive at Kraft Foods before becoming head of Young & Rubicam. She’s an impressive leader by any measure, and that includes the personal qualities she’s integrated into her management style (although I have to admit that in my own executive life I tended to get very impatient with “team building” exercises like the ones she reportedly pushed at Young & Rubicam.) Fudge’s background suggests she might surprise some people by bringing a more progressive perspective. But she brings some political baggage, too. She sits on the President’s Deficit Commission, which is becoming increasingly controversial because of its co-chairs’ shared antipathy toward Social Security. She also sits on the board of Novartis, and pharmaceutical companies aren’t very popular.

Ann Fudge would be a great choice for a cabinet position with greater management responsibility — Commerce would be ideal — but putting any business person into this slot right now could pose real problems for the Administration.

In any case, a CEO appointment won’t placate the executives who complain that “Obama doesn’t like us.” That’s just a ploy to intimidate him into giving them what they always want: less regulation. If he names an executive to this position, they’ll just use a new ploy. Besides, the Administration already has a senior business executive on its economic team: Jacob Lew, who is being nominated to run the Office of Management and Budget. Lew is both an economist and a former executive who was the COO of Citi’s Alternative Investments unit. That means the Administration already has its private-sector leader on board (although the fact that Lew received a $950,000 bonus after the bank was bailed out may make it something they’re not eager to advertise).

But if he doesn’t pick an executive, who should he choose? The President could start by considering the economists who were right from the start — about deregulation, about the housing bubble, and about the need for stimulus. And for academic credentials, he could go straight to the top of that group by seeking out a Nobel laureate. Imagine the spike in consumer confidence we’d see if Paul Krugman or Joseph Stiglitz got the nod. (Hey, a guy can dream, can’t he?) Since the Republicans won’t work with the Administration anyway, there’s no downside.

Alright, alright — I know. He won’t do that. But if not Krugman or Stiglitz, then who? Given the Administration’s appropriate emphasis on finding a woman for the slot, one interesting choice might be Janet Yellin, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. She’s been a little more pro-growth and pro-employment than many of her peers. Laura D’Andrea Tyson, who’s been arguing cogently and forcefully for more stimulus spending, could be an excellent candidate.

Our number one concern right now is jobs. So if we’re looking at men as well, Robert Reich would be an inspired choice. While he’s not an economist, he is a former Secretary of Labor. He’s also an articulate and outspoken advocate for policies that will put people back to work. Washington insiders might be appalled, but Reich would bring a much-needed perspective and would send an encouraging signal to disaffected voters. He’d also make a great spokesman for Administration policies.

Jared Bernstein would be a very good choice, and as Joe Biden’s chief economic advisor he’s already on the team. (Maybe — I don’t know how the turf’s laid out in this Administration.) And while I’ve been critical of Jason Furman on a couple of issues (Wal-Mart, the so-called “excise tax”), he’s smart and dedicated and would provide an excellent counterbalance to some of the Administration’s other players.

This is all just speculation, of course. But the President has the opportunity to set a new economic course for his Administration. By choosing a CEO he would be signaling a turn to the right, a capitulation to the special interests and political groups that will dog him no matter what he does. By choosing another economist in the Rubin/Summers mold, he would be telling a disgruntled American electorate that it can expect more of the same. But by selecting someone with a different outlook, he could help turn the economy around — while injecting new life into the political debate at the same time.
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(Note to readers: Hey! Zach Carter and I have a new financial/economics blog over at Campaign for America’s Future — www.curbingwallstreet.org. Check it out — we’ll have economic commentary, updates on news items, and probably the occasional inappropriate musical reference, too. What’s not to love?)

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Richard (RJ) Eskow, a consultant and writer (and former insurance/finance executive), is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future. This post was produced as part of the Curbing Wall Street project. Richard also blogs at A Night Light.

He can be reached at “rjeskow@ourfuture.org.”

Website: Eskow and Associates


Financial Reform Bill

26/05/2010

Some articles to understand better the meaning of the Financial Reform Bill.

The first is the news about the passing od the Bill in the Senate.

The second explains the main parts of the Bill, it’s effects, the difference between the House and the Senate Bills and the Proposals that didn’t make it to the Bill.

The third shows the main differences between the House and the Senate Bills.

The fourth explains some of the ammendments that didn’t make it to the Bill and shows the two main proposals that would be important to restrain the power of the financial sector.

The fifth explores the limits of the Bill, specially regarding the “too big to fail” problem, but argues that the Bill might reduce the power of the big banks.

The sixth analyses the relations between Democrats, Republicans, the Obama asministration, the Congress and the Lobbyists and discusses if it was possible to go further on the regulation.

The last one makes an analysis of the shift in the power relation inside the U.S. represented by the passing of the Bill.

Despite their differences, all articles tend to reach a similar conclusion: the Bill is an important step towards regulation of the financial sector, but it should go further.

The problem is that the financial sector still have a lot of power, even after the crisis and it’s not that easy to defeat them. In the 30’s, the New Deal was able to do it, but now it’s a different moment.

But the fact that a Bill regulating the financial sector was even able to go to Congress and be approved may signal a change in the power relations in the U.S. Let’s hope this change is real and continues.

The fact is that it was the U.S. government that started deregulation in the first place (together with the U.K.) in the late 60’s. And it did it because the expansion of the American financial capital may create some problemas, but it benefits the U.S. government, by helping to spread the Dollar as the international currency.

But now it seems that the deregulation created a problem for the U.S. government, because it affected the internal economy, so that’s probably why they are coming back with some regulation.

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http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/20/senate-clears-way-for-fin_n_583802.html

Senate Passes Financial Reform Bill, 59-39

AP / Huffington Post First Posted: 05-20-10 08:51 PM

WASHINGTON — Prodded by national anger at Wall Street, the Senate on Thursday passed the most far-reaching restraints on big banks since the Great Depression. In its broad sweep, the massive bill would touch Wall Street CEOs and first-time home buyers, high-flying traders and small town lenders.

The 59-39 vote represents an important achievement for President Barack Obama, and comes just two months after his health care overhaul became law. The bill must now be reconciled with a House version that passed in December. A key House negotiator predicted the legislation would reach Obama’s desk before the Fourth of July.

The legislation aims to prevent a recurrence of the near-meltdown of big Wall Street investment banks and the resulting costly bailouts. It calls for new ways to watch for risks in the financial system and makes it easier to liquidate large failing financial firms. It also writes new rules for complex securities blamed for helping precipitate the 2008 economic crisis, and it creates a new consumer protection agency.

It would impose new restraints on the largest, most interconnected banks and demand proof that borrowers could pay for the simplest of mortgages.

“Our goal is not to punish the banks but to protect the larger economy and the American people from the kind of upheavals that we’ve seen in the past few years,” Obama said earlier Thursday after the Senate cleared a key 60-vote hurdle blocking final action.

The financial industry, Obama said, had tried to stop the new regulations “with hordes of lobbyists and millions of dollars in ads.”

Two Democrats, Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Russ Feingold (D-WI), voted against the bill. Four Republicans, Sens. Scott Brown (R-MA), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), voted in favor of the bill.

In a statement released after the vote, Feingold explained that the legislation does not address the root causes of the financial crisis:

“The bill does not eliminate the risk to our economy posed by ‘too big to fail’ financial firms, nor does it restore the proven safeguards established after the Great Depression, which separated Main Street banks from big Wall Street firms and are essential to preventing another economic meltdown. The recent financial crisis triggered the nation’s worst recession since the Great Depression. The bill should have included reforms to prevent another such crisis. Regrettably, it did not.”

Cantwell echoed Feingold’s concerns in a separate statement after the vote:

“While this bill takes much needed steps to help prevent a crisis of this magnitude from ever happening again, it fails to close the very same loopholes in derivatives trading that led to the biggest economic implosion since the Great Depression,” Senator Cantwell said. “Throughout this debate I have fought hard against efforts to weaken this legislation as well as to pass language to strengthen it further. But the fact of the matter is, without key reforms in derivatives trading, this bill does not safeguard America’s economy from a repeat of this crisis.It sets up a process for responding the next time we have a financial crisis, but it doesn’t prevent this kind of thing from ever happening again. We have to stop these kinds of dangerous activities. We need stronger bans on banks gambling with depositors’ money. We need bright lines – like Glass-Steagall – that separate risky activities from the traditional banking system. We need to refocus our financial system away from synthetic bets and get more capital into the hands of job creators and Main Street businesses. There are good, strong provisions in this bill, and I’m proud of the work we did to get them in there, but I fear that without closing the loopholes primarily responsible for this economic meltdown, we are missing the entire heart of the matter.”

The Senate passed the bill without the Merkley-Levin amendment, an addition that would have imposed stricter language on the “Volcker Rule.” Named after Obama economic adviser Paul Volcker, the “Volcker Rule” bars commercial banks from using taxpayer-backed money to trade for their own gain. Without the Merkley-Levin amendment, sponsored by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Carl Levin (D-MI), regulators who were blamed for their lack of oversight preceding the financial crisis will be empowered to shape the “Volcker Rule” and possibly water it down.

Levin and Merkley’s amendment was never debated on the Senate floor. Instead, “last-minute maneuvering” killed it. Levin said that it showed “the power of Wall Street,” reports Reuters:

Last-minute maneuvering on the Senate floor killed two controversial amendments: one to tighten proposed restrictions on risky trading by banks, and another exempting car dealers that do not finance their own lending to auto buyers from oversight by a new federal consumer watchdog.Republicans withdrew the auto-dealer amendment, offered by Senator Sam Brownback, so that the bank trading amendment, offered by Democrats Jeff Merkley and Carl Levin, would not come to a vote. It is firmly opposed by major financial firms.

Twice the Senate had to beat back efforts by Republicans to delay the bill before achieving final passage.

“The decisions we’ve made will have an impact on the lives of Americans for decades to come,” said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., who voted against the legislation. “Judgment will not be rendered by self-congratulatory press releases, but, rather, by the marketplace. And the marketplace does not give credit for good intentions.”

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http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/05/20/business/20100520-regulation-graphic.html

Major Parts of the Financial Regulation Overhaul

Published: May 20, 2010

The Senate on Thursday approved a far-reaching financial regulatory bill, 59 to 39. Democratic Congressional leaders and the Obama administration must now reconcile it with the House bill that was passed in December. Related Article »

Effect Notable differences between
House and Senate bills
Proposals omitted or defeated
Derivatives For the first time, establishes federal oversight of derivatives, complex products that bet on the future movement of underlying securities. Requires most deals to be insured by a third-party clearinghouse and traded on public exchanges. The Senate bill bars banks from derivatives trading. It also requires a larger share of derivatives to pass through clearinghouses and trade on exchanges. A ban on derivatives called naked credit-default swaps, in which investors essentially purchase insurance on the performance of assets they don’t own. The Senate voted down this amendment.
Consumer protection Creates a federal regulator to write and enforce rules protecting consumers of financial products like checking accounts, mortgages and payday loans. Increases the authority of state regulators to enforce protections. The Senate bill gives the federal regulator broader authority, including over loans made by auto dealers. The House bill creates a free-standing regulator, while the Senate bill places it inside the Federal Reserve. The administration proposed requiring lenders to offer each borrower a “plain vanilla” loan, like a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage, to illuminate the range of possibilities, but the proposal didn’t make it into either bill.
Financial regulation Creates a council of regulators to watch for systemic risks. Gives the Federal Reserve new authority over large financial companies. Consolidates banking regulators, merging the Office of Thrift Supervision into the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. The House bill places tighter limits on the Fed, authorizing regular audits, and limiting its authority to impose new restrictions and to make emergency loans. Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, proposed creating a single agency to regulate financial companies. There are still three: the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Fed and the F.D.I.C. A proposal by the Bush administration for a single agency to regulate financial markets also never materialized. There are still two: the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
Too big to fail Authorizes regulators to impose restrictions on large, troubled financial companies. Creates a process for the government to liquidate failing companies at no cost to taxpayers, which is similar to the F.D.I.C. process for liquidating failed banks. The House bill would cover costs with a $150 billion fund collected from the largest financial companies. The Senate bill would recoup costs from the same group of large companies after the fact. An amendment to impose size limits on the largest financial companies failed in the Senate.
Shareholder protections Requires companies to have executive compensation set by independent directors. Gives shareholders a nonbinding vote on those decisions. The Senate bill also requires so-called clawback provisions that force executives to repay any earnings based on inaccurate financial statements. An early populist swell of support for a “bonus tax” on top earners never found its way into either bill. Neither did any other limits on compensation.
Proprietary trading The Senate’s bill includes the Volcker Rule, which restricts banks from making “proprietary” investments that do not benefit clients, including in hedge funds and private equity funds. The provision particularly affects banks like Goldman Sachs, which make much of their income from this type of activity. The House bill does not contain any version of the Volcker Rule, which President Obama proposed in January, after the House bill had already passed. The Senate never voted on an amendment to restore the barrier between commercial banking and Wall Street trading, adopted as part of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 and repealed in 1999.
Investor protections Requires companies selling certain complex financial products, most notably mortgage-backed securities, to retain a portion of the risk. Allows investors to sue credit ratings agencies. The House bill also requires risk retention when banks sell investors basic products like mortgages. It also requires brokers to act in the interest of their clients. The Senate bill would create a new federal system for assigning work to ratings agencies to limit the influence of banks over the ratings of their own products. The Senate never voted on amendment to change the business model of ratings agencies, in which banks pay for ratings on the products that they sell to clients.

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http://wonkroom.thinkprogress.org/2010/05/21/difference-house-senate-reg/

By Pat Garofalo at 10:51 am

Laying Out Some Key Differences Between The House And Senate Financial Reform Bills

Last night, the Senate approved Sen. Chris Dodd’s (D-CT) financial regulatory reform bill by a vote of 59-39. Four Republicans — Sens. Charles Grassley (R-IA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Scott Brown (R-MA) — voted in favor of the legislation, while two Democrats — Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) — voted against it. Sens. Arlen Specter (D-PA) and Robert Byrd (D-WV) did not vote.

Next, the bill moves to a conference committee, where it will be merged with the bill passed by the House of Representatives last December. Already, lobbyists for the financial services industry have their eye on the conference, hoping to weaken various provisions of the legislation. “We are going to have to try and clean up as much of this as we can,” said Ed Yingling, the American Bankers Association’s president.

Due to the fairly open amendment process on the Senate floor, and the considerably different point from which Dodd’s bill started, there are several key differences between the two pieces of legislation that will have to be ironed out in conference. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are some of the major ways in which the bills differ:

Provision Senate House
Consumer Protection Agency Creates a Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, placed inside the Federal Reserve, with an independent director and budget. Its rules could be vetoed by a two-thirds vote of a council of bank regulators. Creates a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA), with an independent director and budget. The CFPA has full rule-writing authority.
Derivatives Mandates exchange trading and clearing for most derivatives, with a limited end-user exemption. Forces federally insured banks to spin-off their swaps desks. Mandates exchange trading and clearing for most derivatives, with wide exemptions for end-users.
Volcker Rule Gives regulators discretion regarding whether to implement the Volcker rule, which is a ban on proprietary trading. Does not include a proprietary trading ban.
Auto Dealer Exemption Does not currently include a provision exempting auto dealers from new consumer protection rules. However, the Senate on Monday will vote on whether or not it wants to recommend to the conferees that such an exemption be added. Includes an exemption for auto dealers from the CFPA’s rules.
Resolution Fund The resolution authority for unwinding systemically risky financial institutions will be funded by an after-the-fact levy on the biggest financial firms. Any money necessary for the unwinding will be fronted by the Treasury Department. Raises a $150 billion resolution fund from the biggest financial firms, which would be tapped in order to unwind a failed institution.

There are plenty of smaller differences between the bills, including the way in which they address capital requirements, preemption of state consumer protection laws (the Senate allows more preemption leeway), and cracking down on interchange fees (which the Senate bill does, but the House does not). House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-MA) said today that he expects the bills to be fully reconciled and passed by the Fourth of July. “I’ve cleared my calendar for the month of June to get this done,” said Frank.

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http://baselinescenario.com/2010/05/21/focus-on-this-merkley-levin-did-not-get-a-vote/#more-7616

Focus On This: Merkley-Levin Did Not Get A Vote

By Simon Johnson

After 9 months of hard fighting, yesterday financial reform came down to this: an amendment, proposed by Senators Jeff Merkley and Carl Levin that would have forced big banks to get rid of their speculative proprietary trading activities (i.e., a relatively strong version of the Volcker Rule.)

The amendment had picked up a great deal of support in recent weeks, partly because of unflagging support from Paul Volcker and partly because of the broader debate around the Brown-Kaufman amendment (which would have forced the biggest 6 banks to become smaller).  Brown-Kaufman failed, 33-61, but it demonstrated that a growing number of senators were willing to confront the power of our biggest and worst banks.

Yet, at the end of the day, the Merkley-Levin amendment did not even get a vote.  Why?

Partly this was because of procedural maneuvers.  Merkley-Levin could only get a vote if another amendment, proposed by Senator Brownback (on exempting auto dealers from new consumer protection rules) got a vote.  Late yesterday afternoon, Senator Brownback was persuaded, presumably by his Republican colleagues and by financial lobbyists, to withdraw his amendment.

Of course, Merkley-Levin was only in this awkward position because of an earlier lack of wholehearted support from the Democratic leadership – and from the White House.  Again, the long reach of Wall Street was at work.

But the important point here is quite different.  If Merkley-Levin did not have the votes, it was in the interest of the megabanks to have it come to the floor and be defeated.  That would have been a clear victory for the status quo.

But Merkley-Levin had momentum and could potentially have passed – reflecting a big change of opinion within the Senate (and more broadly around the country).  The big banks were forced into overdrive to stop it.

The Volcker Rule, in its weaker Dodd bill form (“do a study and think about implementing”), perhaps will survive the upcoming House-Senate conference – although, because this process likely will not be televised, all kinds of bad things may happen behind closed doors.  Regulators may also take the Volcker Rule more seriously – but the most probable outcome is that the Fed and other officials will get a great deal of discretion regarding how to implement the principles, and they will completely fudge the issue.

Most importantly, everyone who wants to rein in the largest banks now has a much clearer idea of what to push for, what to campaign on, and for what purpose to raise money.  This is the completely reasonable and responsible ask:

  1. The Volcker Rule, as specifically proposed in the Merkley-Levin amendment
  2. Constraints on the size and leverage of our largest banks, as proposed by the Brown-Kaufman amendment

When the mainstream consensus shifts in favor of these measures, or their functional equivalents, we will have finally begun the long process of reining in the dangerous economic and political power of our largest banks.

Written by Simon Johnson

May 21, 2010 at 9:02 am

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http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/75107/preventative-measures

Politics

Preventive Measures

Have we finally fixed the ‘too big to fail’ problem?

Last night the Senate approved a major financial reform bill almost a year in the making. A few hours before the vote, the president hailed the legislation, which he said ensures that “the American people will never again be asked to foot the bill for Wall Street’s mistakes.” He elaborated:

There will be no more taxpayer-funded bailouts–period. If a large financial institution should ever fail, we will have the tools to wind it down without endangering the broader economy. And there will be new rules to prevent financial institutions from becoming “too big to fail” in the first place, so that we don’t have another AIG.

But is this really true? Does the financial reform bill really solve the problem of “too big to fail”? The answer is: “Sorta,” but not quite in the way the bill’s supporters suggest.

The gist of the administration’s attack on the too-big-to-fail (TBTF) problem is a provision known as “resolution authority.” Under the status quo, the government basically has two choices for dealing with a major financial firm on the brink of collapse: It can get out of the way and hope for the best, as it did to disastrous effect with Lehman Brothers. Or the Federal Reserve can float the company a massive loan, as in the case of AIG.

The idea behind resolution authority is to avoid these lousy choices. Under the new law, the government would be able seize the wobbly firm, fire its executives, and fund its operations until it could sell them off in pieces. The proceeds from these sales would pay the government back; whatever was left would go to bondholders, who would presumably suffer some losses. The shareholders—the people who own common stock—would get wiped out entirely. (If the proceeds weren’t enough to repay the government, it would recoup the rest by levying a fee on the industry.) This is basically a scaled up (and stretched out) version of the way the FDIC handles smaller-bank failures.

Long story short, resolution authority is unquestionably an improvement over the status quo. The biggest reason is that the prospect of losses for bondholders mitigates the most pernicious consequence of TBTF: moral hazard. That is, because people who lend money to megabanks assume the government will make them whole if the bank collapses, the lenders have little incentive to rein in excessive risk-taking by the bank’s managers. In fact, they actually encourage it by under-pricing their loans. The threat of being “resolved” by the government should change that calculus.

That’s how it’s supposed to work, in any case. In practice, there are a number of complications. For one thing, it’s not clear that bondholders actually will suffer losses in the end, at least not all or even most of them. The government isn’t likely to impose losses when it first takes over a failing megabank because doing so in the middle of a financial crisis—and you’re almost by definition in a crisis if a megabank is failing—risks accelerating the panic. (Investors might refuse to roll over their loans to other troubled companies for fear of suffering similar losses.) And if the government waits to impose losses until it’s done liquidating the company—a process that could stretch for years—the short-term bondholders will have long since taken their money and run. So, at the very least, the people who lend short-term can probably count on being bailed out, which encourages companies to fund themselves with short-term debt, which is the least stable form of funding.

And there are other potential problems. First, the new law only extends to U.S. companies, while most megabanks have an international footing. It’s not clear what happens to the overseas operations of American companies while their U.S. assets are in receivership. In the case of AIG, the Fed loan kept the overseas affiliates solvent. But Congress is on the verge of explicitly preventing the Fed from extending such a loan in the future. The upshot could be chaos. For example, U.S. creditors might have to take big, upfront losses to make bondholders in overseas subsidiaries whole. That would worsen the panic at home for the reasons described above (and could eventually force Congress to step in with a bailout). All of which is to say that, while resolution authority is clearly a step in the right direction, it raises almost as many questions as it answers.

The good news is that resolution authority isn’t the only way to deal with the problem of too big to fail. Congress could simply break up the banks, for example. Alternatively, if you think of “bigness” as an externality—which is to say, something we get too much of because, like pollution or unhealthy eating, it imposes a social cost that the producer doesn’t entirely pay—then you can discourage it through taxation. (In economist-speak, this would force the banks to internalize the true social cost of their size.) One way to do this would have been to simply impose a tax on the biggest banks, which even conservative economists like Harvard’s Greg Mankiw support. Another way would be to impose stricter limits on leverage for the largest banks—that is, the amount of debt banks can take on relative to equity. Because banks earn more profits when they’re more leveraged (just like you make a larger profit, percentage-wise, when you flip a house on which you put down 5 percent versus 10 percent), this is similar to a tax on bigness.

Alas, none of these things is in the bill that Obama will soon sign. Congress voted down, and the administration opposed, an amendment by Senators Sherrod Brown and Ted Kaufman that would have shrunk some of the country’s biggest banks. Republicans then deployed a variety of underhanded tactics to block a vote on an amendment by Senators Carl Levin and Jeff Merkley that would have shut down the banks’ proprietary trading desks—which is to say, the trading they do for their own bottom line. (The administration and the congressional leadership supported the amendment, which was a relatively strict version of the so-called Volcker Rule.) And, while the government may soon assess a fee on banks to bridge the difference between the bailout money it paid out and the bailout money companies have returned, there won’t be a permanent tax on big banks.

And yet, perhaps unwittingly, the upshot of financial reform will have been to make it costlier to be a big bank relative to being a small or medium-sized bank—which is to say, it has effectively taxed bigness. That’s because the legislation imposes a handful of new mandates and regulations—like oversight by a soon-to-be-established consumer financial protection agency, as well as limits on fees for debit-card transactions—from which small and medium-sized banks are exempt. Other reforms—such as a bill Congress passed last year to limit hidden credit-card fees and make statements more transparent, and new restrictions on trading derivatives—would disproportionately dent profits at megabanks. These banks tend to have far bigger credit card operations, and are the only bona fide derivatives brokers around.

The big banks typically complain that these efforts will drive them out of this or that line of business, or at least curtail their activity significantly. And there may be something to those concerns. But in a world in which we worry about megabanks doing too much rather than too little, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If only there were a bit more of it.

Noam Scheiber is a senior editor of The New Republic

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http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2010-05-21/obamas-iffy-financial-regulation-victory/

The Senate passed a historic finance reform bill on Thursday night, fulfilling a major goal of the administration. But, Eric Alterman writes, the legislation is a thicket of compromises.

Whatever you think about the financial regulation bill that finally passed in the Senate Thursday night, you can’t say it’s not a big deal. It’s 1500 pages long, and just take a look at Journal’s précis of its major provisions.

When was the last time Congress passed a bill so large that even its significant provisions resisted summarization, both for reasons of complexity and enormity? If you said “health care,” well, perhaps you’re noticing a pattern. Once again, Democrats spent the better part of a year playing three-dimensional chess with themselves, lobbyists, and Republicans to pass a middling bill whose ultimate effect no one can confidently predict. And forget this “No Drama Obama” nonsense. This bill, like the health care legislation, had more than its fair share of cliffhangers.

The Obama team lets Congress take the lead and there, the lobbyists play their game of tug-of-war with the public interest.

Harry Reid had to get Maria Cantwell (D W.A) to vote to allow the legislation onto the Senate floor, only to see her vote against its final passage because she finds it to be too wimpy. Reid also had to prevent a vote on what might have been one of the bill’s most popular provisions: the amendment proposed by Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Carl Levin’s (D-Mich.) to strengthen the Volcker Rule, barring banks from risky proprietary trading. The banks were so afraid that this would pass, they convinced Sam Brownback to drop his amendment exempting the lending institutions set up by car dealers from regulation by the new Consumer Financial Protection Agency (something they got in the House version). No amendments were allowed and the bill passed as proposed.

And again, like with health care, liberals left feeling queasy at best. Cantwell and Feingold voted against the bill. Merkley voted for it but complained that the reason his amendment was barred by the leadership was the fact that “it would probably pass and Wall Street doesn’t want it to pass, but the second reason is, I believe that colleagues who were planning to vote no didn’t want to have to vote no. If they voted no it would make Wall Street happy but would make their constituents mad, because this is the type of fundamental reform that is expected for us to get done.”

For a bit more déjà vu, Republicans, save three Northeasterners, and one Iowan up for re-election, all think it stinks. Once again, they are as one with Thomas J. Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who said, “If you want to drive capital out of the United States, this is your bill.”

So yes, we have a pattern here. The Obama team lets Congress take the lead and there, the lobbyists play their game of tug-of-war with the public interest. A watered-down rough draft emerges, in which the Republicans, after long negotiations, decide that, after all, they can’t really support the thing, much as they would like to in, say, some other universe. Even so, they get much of what they want simply because a) Democrats need lobbyists’ cash just as much as Republicans do, and b) the Obama administration remains desperate to pursue bipartisan solutions to America’s problems, even though it has long ago lost any hope of actually achieving them.

In the case of financial regulation, they made these compromises even though, unlike health care, they enjoyed strong public support for a harder line. It’s not just Levin/Merkley that was dropped. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) was unable to pass his amendment that would have let states cap credit-card interest rates and impose restrictions on rates charged by out-of-state lenders. With some banks charging nearly 30 percent interest on money the government is lending them for free, who would be against that? (Merkley, as it happens, is from Delaware, where the banks holding this usurious debt are located.)

Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve, whose asleep-at-the-switch regulation turned out to be so costly, came away happy. They need to deal with only a one-time audit of previous mistakes, and lost almost none of the agency’s awesome power to make them again. As the AP reported, the Fed “retained supervision over bank holding companies and state-chartered banks and would also oversee any large interconnected nonbank financial firm deemed a potential risk to the financial system.”

All of this is the result of an extremely complicated and confusing set of compromises among too many forces even to name, much less explain. But they all occur inside a pretty simple framework. On the one hand, taxpayers were mad as hell. When Goldman Sachs found itself facing both civil and potential criminal charges, the story had its clear villain and Democrats could have tried to go much further than they did in reigning in abusive practices.

But that’s the public game. In private, the banking industry has been making friends and influencing Congress, literally, for centuries. (“They frankly own the place” explained Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., in 2009.) And for the past year, they have been using every resource at their collective disposal to weaken both houses’ reform plans. Remember, according to Public Citizen, over seventy ex-members of Congress could be found lobbying for Wall Street and the financial services sector in 2009, including two former Senate majority leaders, two former House majority leaders, and a former House speaker. At the staff level, the numbers are even more impressive, with literally hundreds of ex-staffers on the banks’ payrolls and hundreds more planning to join them in the near future. They will still be there when the rest of us have stopped paying attention.

But given that even in dumbed-down, oversimplified journalese, the actual provisions of this bill are beyond the capacity of most of us to understand, it must be counted as a major political victory for Obama and his maddening commitment to reasonableness at all costs. The dude got the job done, again. He’s “doing something,” and looking like a winner as he does it. And Republicans, worried about the Tea Party/Jacobin element of their own base, are going to be hard-pressed to make too much of their failure to protect the banks next time around.

Should the Obama and the Democrats have done more? Sure. Could they have done more? Well, that’s the question that keeps haunting Obama supporters. In the meantime, we’re back where we were the first time he disappointed us… hoping he really does know best.

Eric Alterman is a professor of English and journalism at Brooklyn College and a professor of journalism at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. He is the author, most recently, of Why We’re Liberals: A Handbook for Restoring America’s Important Ideals.

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http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-creamer/senate-vote-signals-histo_b_584853.html

Robert Creamer

Political organizer, strategist and author

Posted: May 21, 2010 11:13 AM

Senate Vote Signals Historic Change in Wall Street

The Wall Street Reform bill passed last night by the United States Senate goes a long way toward reining in the reckless casino economy that cost eight million Americans their jobs, and brought our economy to its knees.

But its passage signals an even more significant shift in the economic assumptions and power relationships that undergird American political and economic life.

For four decades Wall Street had its way with American government. The big Wall Street banks and their economic apologists dominated the main stream of economic thought – and their army of lobbyists called the shots on Capitol Hill. Last night their domination came to a screeching halt.

Wall Street’s minions – and their Republican enablers – did fend off many proposals that would have strengthened the bill that passed last night. But, contrary to conventional wisdom, as the original Wall Street Reform bill moved from the House to the Senate – and then to the Senate floor – the bill actually got tougher.

The bill that passed the Senate includes provisions detested by the biggest Wall Street banks that would prevent them from trading in derivatives – the economic time bombs that were at the center of the 2008 financial collapse. That provision alone would cost the big Banks $40 to $50 billion in profit.

As the bill moved through Senate debate, provisions were added to place new restrictions on credit rating agencies, limit fees that credit card companies can charge to merchants, and force big banks to maintain higher capital requirements.

Wall Street failed in its attempt to stop a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that would protect borrowers from many of the abusive and fraudulent financial practices that lead to the economic collapse and siphoned billions — from the pockets of those who work in the real economy — to the bloated financial sector.

In the final hours of the debate, Republicans made one last attempt to exempt auto dealers from consumer protection rules when they make auto loans. They couldn’t manage to get the provision to a vote.

The reason for their change in fortunes is simple. Wall Street is toxic. Support for Wall Street is becoming another third rail in American politics. Even the Republicans justified their defense of Wall Street in Orwellian terms that made it appear they were attacking their Wall Street sponsors. Democrats found that attacking Republicans for supporting the Wall Street banks was like shooting fish in a barrel.

The economic collapse, the taxpayer bailout, and then their subsequent return to business as usual – to the same old recklessness and greed — have sickened everyday Americans. Now the chickens are coming home to roost. Or to put it another way: the pigs get fat, the hogs get slaughtered.

Not that it’s time to have a tag day for the “ten million dollar bonus” crowd. And Wall Street’s army of lobbyists will do everything they can to weaken the final bill in House-Senate conference. But a significant turning point has been reached. The notion that the “geniuses of Wall Street” know best – that they should be left on their own to suck up as much of the nation’s wealth as possible because it serves the “common good” – that dog will no longer hunt.

In 1792, the nation suffered its first credit crisis. Financial crises recurred in the United States roughly every 15 years until the Great Depression. Then New Deal reforms changed the game. The Security and Exchange Commission instituted tough new rules for the stock market. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation provided stability to the nation’s banks – and its means of allocating credit to the real, productive economy. And the Glass-Steagall Act created a firewall between banking and the risky speculative activities that had – in large measure – caused the credit collapse that led to the Great Depression.

For the next fifty years America had uninterrupted economic growth – with no recurrence of financial meltdown. That ended when the resurgent “markets-know-best” conservative economic movement led to the deregulation of the savings and loan industry. Undaunted by the bust that followed the savings and loan disaster, Wall Street successfully pushed to repeal Glass-Steagall – and prevent the regulation of its new “innovative” esoteric derivative securities. The casino economy and financial sector exploded.

During the period 1973 to 1985, the financial sector never earned more than 16% of domestic profits. This decade, it has averaged 41% of all the profits earned by businesses in the U.S. In 1947, the financial sector represented only 2.5% of our gross domestic product. In 2006, it had risen to 8%. In other words, of every 12.5 dollars earned in the United States, one dollar goes to the financial sector, much of which, let us recall, produces nothing.

Wall Street’s expansion is one big reason that most of America’s economic growth during the last decade has flowed into the hands of investment bankers, stock traders and partners in firms like Goldman Sachs. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that fully two-thirds of all income gains during the last economic expansion (2002 to 2007) flowed to the top 1% of the population. And that, in turn, is one of the chief reasons why the median income for ordinary Americans actually dropped by $2,197 per year since 2000.

The passage of Wall Street Regulatory Reform symbolizes a fundamental change in the political power of Wall Street, and a collapse of the economic and political narrative that it used to justify its confiscation of an ever-growing portion of the economic pie.

Wall Street is in political retreat. But the most important lesson of politics is that when they’re on the run, that’s the time to chase them. Progressives – and all advocates for the interests of everyday working people – need to make sure that we consolidate our victories as the Wall Street Reform bill goes to conference. And once that is done we should continue the crusade to limit the size and power of the financial sector, and redirect resources to the people in our economy who actually create the goods and services that generate widely-shared economic growth.

Robert Creamer is a longtime political organizer and strategist and author of the recent book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com.


Police Torture in Chicago

24/05/2010

It seems like the police in the U.S. is not so different from the police here in Brazil, although I think the practice of torture is much more widespread in the police here. But we must remember that the U.S. trained a lot of the torturers of the Latin American military dictatorships. And, in Brazil, the police has continued with its practices from the dictatorship period.

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http://www.democracynow.org/2010/5/24/trial_begins_for_ex_chicago_police

May 24, 2010

Trial Begins for Ex-Chicago Police Lt. Accused of Torturing More than 100 African American Men

Burgeweb A former police commander accused of overseeing the torture of more than 100 African American men goes on trial today in Chicago. Former Lieutenant Jon Burge is accused of lying when he denied in a civil lawsuit that he and other detectives had tortured anyone. He faces a maximum of forty-five years in prison if convicted of all charges. The accusations of torture date back forty years, but Burge has avoided prosecution until now. For nearly two decades, beginning in 1971, Burge was at the epicenter of what has been described as the systematic torture of dozens of black men to coerce confessions. In total, more than 100 people in Chicago say they were subjected to abuse, including having guns forced into their mouths, suffocation with bags placed over their heads, and electric shocks inflicted to their genitals. We speak to attorney Flint Taylor and torture victim Darrell Cannon.

Guests:

Flint Taylor, attorney with the People’s Law Office in Chicago. He has represented many of the torture victims and was directly involved in spearheading the special prosecutor’s investigation.

Darrell Cannon, one of dozens of men to come forward with allegations of abuse at the hands of the Chicago police. Darrell says police tortured him in 1983 and forced him to confess to a murder he didn’t commit. He spent more than twenty years in prison, but after a hearing on his tortured confession, prosecutors dismissed his case in 2004. He was released three years later.

AMY GOODMAN: A former police commander accused of overseeing the torture of more than 100 African American men goes on trial today in Chicago. Former Lieutenant Jon Burge is accused of lying when he denied in a civil lawsuit that he and other detectives had tortured anyone. He faces a maximum of forty-five years in prison if convicted of all charges.

The accusations of torture date back forty years, but Burge has avoided prosecution until now. For nearly two decades, beginning in 1971, Burge was at the epicenter of what’s been described as the systematic torture of dozens of black men to coerce confessions. In total, more than a hundred people in Chicago say they were subjected to abuse, including having guns forced into their mouths, suffocation with bags placed over their heads, and electric shocks inflicted on their genitals.

The police department fired Burge in 1993 for mistreatment of a suspect, but did not press charges. A decade later, then-Illinois-governor George Ryan released four men on death row he said Burge had extracted confessions from using torture. Public outcry eventually led Cook County to appoint two special prosecutors to look into the allegations. In 2006, prosecutors found there was evidence to show beyond a reasonable doubt that torture had occurred, but the statute of limitations had expired.

Two years ago, federal prosecutors finally brought charges against Burge, though not for torture. They say he lied in a civil suit about the torture, and they’ve charged him with perjury and obstruction of justice. The trial is expected to last six weeks.

We go now to Chicago, where we’re joined by two guests. Darrell Cannon, one of dozens of men to come forward with allegations of abuse at the hands of the Chicago police—Darrell says police tortured him in 1983 and forced him to confess to a murder he didn’t commit. He spent more than twenty years in prison, but after a hearing on his tortured confession, prosecutors dismissed his case in 2004. Now he’s suing Chicago for wrongful conviction. We’re also joined by Flint Taylor, an attorney with the People’s Law Office in Chicago. He has represented many of the torture victims and was directly involved in spearheading the special prosecutor’s investigation.

Flint Taylor, let’s begin with you. Just lay out the scope of what is about to happen today in a Chicago courtroom.

FLINT TAYLOR: Well, it’s very significant what’s finally happening, decades after it should have. This trial, although it will not deal with allegations of torture itself, will deal with obstruction of justice and perjury. The reason that it won’t deal with the crime of torture itself is because the mayor of the city of Chicago, who at that time was the chief prosecutor, Richard Daley, back in 1982, when evidence was presented to him that definitively showed that there was police torture under Burge and by Burge, he chose not to prosecute Burge and not to move to have him released from the police department, but rather continued to prosecute men for many years after that who had been falsely accused of torture.

Darrell Cannon here, my client, was tortured in 1983. If Daley had moved in 1982 with the evidence he had to remove Burge from the police force and prosecute him for torture, we would not have Darrell Cannon spending twenty, twenty-five years behind bars and not having him tortured by electric shock. So, the real crime here started many years ago with the cover-up, a cover-up that was engineered by the mayor himself and his first assistant at that time, who went on to be the chief prosecutor, Richard Devine. That really is the background to why we are having this prosecution now only for obstruction of justice and perjury, rather than for the crime against humanity which is torture.

AMY GOODMAN: Go back to 1971. Can you reconstruct what began then, Flint Taylor?

FLINT TAYLOR: Certainly. Burge was at a POW camp in Vietnam in the late ’60s. Of course, in Vietnam, we now know, there was electric shock used on people in POW camps of Vietnamese prisoners. At that time, it appears that Burge learned the techniques that he brought back to Chicago. In 1972, he became a detective at a South Side police station, where they interrogated suspects, almost predominantly African American suspects. In 1973, we first hear of the first victim of torture. That man was tortured with electric shock with a bag over his head, beaten into a false confession. From that point forward, the cases started to stack up through the ’70s, ’80s and all the way to 1991.

At the same time, Burge had moved from detective to sergeant to lieutenant in charge of the violent crimes unit to a commander of an entire police area. And so, as the cases of torture increased, he continued to be promoted. And more and more people, not just detectives, but supervisors and subsequently, as I mentioned, prosecutors, the chief prosecutor, the superintendent of the police, successive superintendants, they all came to know what was going on, and their response to it was rather than to stop the scandal, stop the systematic torture, was to promote Burge.

And only when the evidence mounted too high—there were two public trials—and the community became so outraged and demanded that Burge be fired, that anything was done. But to this day, and until a two years ago, there were no charges. And, in fact, the special prosecutor that you mentioned in your piece actually issued a whitewash report and in fact said the statute of limitations barred prosecution, when, of course, the US attorney found otherwise.

AMY GOODMAN: Of course, torture is an extremely serious charge. As you said, it violates national and international law. But I’m surprised that just for obstruction of justice and for perjury, he faces forty-five years in prison.

FLINT TAYLOR: Well, that’s the statute of limitations problem and one of the many unaddressed issues in Chicago. We are very pleased that Burge is being prosecuted, but there is much left to do, and that includes dealing with federal and state statutes, legislation that would make torture a specific crime. And since it’s a crime against humanity, there would be no statute of limitations, like there is no statute of limitations for genocide or murder. And in that instance, in the future, if there were another Burge or other torture—another torture ring and it were covered up successfully for many years, then he could still or they could still be prosecuted for torture.

And that is a major issue that’s still being dealt with by the activists here in the city of Chicago, along with the fact that twenty or twenty-five men are not as “fortunate”—and I put quotes around “fortunate”—as Darrell has been to be out now. And those men are still behind bars so many decades later, because of tortured confessions. And we’re fighting those cases one by one. But, in fact, all those men should be given new trials, and they should be new trials without the tortured evidence, obviously.

And the other aspect that we feel very strongly about, the men, the henchmen that worked under Burge, and that includes the two right-hand men of Burge, self-admittedly, who tortured Darrell at the remote torture site, those men have yet to be charged. Now, there’s an ongoing investigation into their perjury and obstruction of justice, but to this point, they haven’t been indicted for the scores of cases where men have said that they tortured them. So there’s much unfinished business, as well as there’s many, many victims and survivors of police torture here in the city of Chicago who have received no compensation because of a similar statute of limitations in civil cases. So—

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go back—

FLINT TAYLOR: —we feel that—

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to come back to this discussion in a minute, Flint Taylor, an attorney with the People’s Law Office in Chicago, has represented a number of men who say they were tortured by Jon Burge, the police commander who’s going on trial today. We’ll also hear from Darrell Cannon, who is one of those victims. He served twenty years in prison.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. Back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to one of the people who says he was tortured. We’re joined by Darrell Cannon. He says police tortured him in 1983 and forced him to confess to a murder he didn’t commit. He spent more than two decades in prison. But after a hearing on his tortured confession, prosecutors dismissed his case in 2004. Now he’s suing the city of Chicago for wrongful conviction.

We’re also joined by Flint Taylor, an attorney who represents a number of the torture victims. But let’s go to Darrell Cannon.

Darrell, tell us what happened to you. Talk about how you were picked up and what you admitted to and what happened to you in Burge’s custody.

DARRELL CANNON: It was on November the 2nd, 1983, between the hours of 6:30, 7:00 in the morning. A group of all-white detectives invaded my apartment, where I stayed with my common-law wife and my son. They kicked open the door, and they cursed her out. They searched for me. They finally found me. They gave me my clothes. They ransacked the entire apartment, found nothing. They took me downstairs, placed me on my knees in front of the vestibule, until the rest of the detectives had searched other apartments. Then they came down, put me in a car. They drove around looking for another guy that they say was complicit in this particular crime. After they didn’t find him, they took me to the police station. I stayed there for a short period of time.

They took me out of the police station. They took me to a restaurant that caters to truckers and police officers. They left me double-handcuffed in the back seat of a defective car while they went in and had breakfast. They came out from breakfast. They took me to a remote area, where they drove through a pipe, came out on the opposite end of an isolated area where there was nothing but water and railroad tracks around. They got me out the backseat of the car, and they proceeded to ask me some more questions about a homicide that had took place. I told them I had no knowledge about the homicide.

They then did a mock hanging, where I’m cuffed behind my back and one of the detectives would get on the bumper of the detective car, the other two detectives would lift me up to him, and he would grab my handcuffs from behind. They would let me go. That will cause my arms to go up backwards, almost wrenching the inside my shoulders. That method went on for—I don’t know how long. But eventually, it wasn’t successful, because of the fact that there was a fine-mist rain out that morning, and John Byrne, which is the tallest detective, he kept slipping off the back of the bumper.

They did switch to a second torture treatment, which was the shotgun, where they got their shotgun, pump shotgun, out the back—out the trunk of the car, and Peter Dignan, which is another one of the detectives, the most vicious one out of all of them, he proceeded to ask me some more questions about the murder and to tell me what they knew had already occurred and wanted me to fill in the gaps. I refused to do so. He took a shotgun shell, showed it to me, and his exact words were, “Listen, nigger”—and that’s when he turned his back to me. I heard a clicking sound, which seemed like it was the shell being placed in the chamber. He turned back around to face me, I no longer seeing a shotgun shell. So they continued to ask me questions. I refused to answer. One of them said, “Go ahead, blow that nigger’s head off.” And that’s when Peter Dignan forced the shotgun in my mouth. And he said, “You’re not going to tell me what I want to hear? You’re not going to tell me?” I said, “No.” And that’s when he pulled the trigger. They did a mock execution three times. The third time they did it, when I heard the trigger pull, in my mind, I thought he was blowing the back of my head off, because the hair on the back of my head stood straight up when I heard that click.

By them not being successful in getting what they wanted out of me, they then did a third treatment, which was they put me in the backseat of a detective car. They unhandcuffed my cuffs from behind, put them in front. John Byrne had a gun to my head and told me, “Don’t move,” when they redid the handcuffs. They put me sideways in the backseat of a detective car and made me lay down across the seat. They pulled my pants and my shorts down, and that’s when Byrne took an electric cattle prod, turned it on, and proceeded to shock me on my testicles. They did this what seems like forever with me, but it wasn’t that long. At one point, I was able to kick the cattle prod out of the detective’s hands, and that knocked the batteries out. He got the batteries, put them back in. One of them tried to take his feet and put it on top of one of my feet, the other one did the same thing, to stop me from kicking. Then this is when they started using the electric cattle prod on me again, while telling me that they knew that I wasn’t the one they wanted, but I had information that could lead them to the other person that they wanted. They continued to do this until finally I agreed to tell them anything they wanted to hear. Anything. It didn’t matter to me. You know, if they said, “Did your mother do it?” “Yes, yes, yes.” Because the diabolical treatment that I received was such that I had never in my life experienced anything like this. I didn’t even know anything like this here existed in the United States.

You know, it wasn’t until years later that I heard about torture in Chile and other places. This was after I was in the penitentiary. And it was amazing to me that these things had previously happened to me here in the United States, and the more we screamed about it, the less people cared to do anything about it. You know, and to this day, it is still amazing to me that there is a statute of limitation in the United States on torture, but there is not a statute dealing with arson and other things of this nature here. So, they should not be able to hide behind any kind of alleged statute. Wrong is wrong. Right is right. What these despicable detectives did could never be justified in the United States under any shape, form or fashion.

AMY GOODMAN: Darrell Cannon, what happened after they took you to this isolated area and tortured you in these various ways? Where did they then bring you?

DARRELL CANNON: What? The torture site?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes. Where did they—

DARRELL CANNON: Is that—OK, the—

AMY GOODMAN: You were held in this car. They tortured you in various ways. Then what happened?

DARRELL CANNON: Yes, ma’am. From there, they took me back to the police station. Before we went to the police station, they drove around again, looking for another guy that they said participated in this. To me, it seemed like they wanted to keep me away from the police station all day. Keep in mind, they arrested me at a quarter to 7:00 in the morning. Their shift was over with at 7:00 a.m., but yet and still, they didn’t leave my presence until probably well after 3:00 that afternoon.

Why was that necessary? I was already in custody. They had other detectives involved in the case, anyway. It was just a thing where they had fun. They had fun torturing me, and they lost track of what time it was, as a process of this. And like I said, to keep me away from the police station was did intentionally, because I’m pretty sure that they knew that my common-law wife had called an attorney. An attorney probably had came down to the police station looking for me. But until they were finished doing what they wanted to do with me, they didn’t want any interference.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, did you tell your attorney what had happened then?

DARRELL CANNON: I agreed to everything they said. You know, in fact, they had already told me that they didn’t deem me as a perpetrator, but they felt that I knew who the perpetrator was. And I kept telling them I didn’t. As a result from having been tortured in the manner in which I was and them feeding me various information, it got to the point where I started speaking back to them what they had already spoke to me. And as a result of that, that evening, a state’s attorney came in, along with the detectives that was involved in my torture, and spoke to me about the alleged crime. And afterwards, I repeated to that particular state’s attorney everything that the detectives had been told and everything that I had repeated back to the detectives.

AMY GOODMAN: But did you tell your—

DARRELL CANNON: As a result from that, I was charged with murder.

AMY GOODMAN: And did you tell your lawyer what the police, what the detectives, what Burge had done to you? Had you told your lawyer about the torture?

DARRELL CANNON: Yes, ma’am. I wasn’t allowed to see my lawyer until the following day, on November 3rd. I went to court, and before I came out before the judge, my attorney came back to the bullpen. And at that time, I told him what had happened to me the day before. He instructed me not to talk about it or say anything else, that he would deal with it in court at a later date. Then he went on to tell me that the hearing that we was getting ready to go before the judge was just a preliminary hearing to read off the charges and to ask me how I pled. And I pled not guilty.

AMY GOODMAN: You were convicted, though, of murder?

DARRELL CANNON: Yes, ma’am.

AMY GOODMAN: And how long did you serve in prison?

DARRELL CANNON: I ended up doing twenty-three-and-a-half years in prison, with the last nine of those twenty-three-and-a-half years did in solitary confinement in an institution called Tamms Supermax.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you end up there?

DARRELL CANNON: The system felt like it was better to put me in a place to keep me quiet, because throughout the last twenty-some years, I’ve continuously raised the issue about having been tortured. I was having hearings. So Tamms was designed for, quote, “the worst of the worst” in the Illinois prison system, even though my record does not indicate that I am the worst of the worst. I’ve never harmed the staff or inmates, anything else. But that was the justification for putting me in Tamms. And in Tamms, reporters are not allowed to come and visit you. You weren’t allowed to have phone calls. So that was a way of probably trying to hush me up.

AMY GOODMAN: You got out in 2004, because prosecutors—

DARRELL CANNON: No, ma’am. No, ma’am. 2007.

AMY GOODMAN: But in 2004, the prosecutors dismissed the case based on these allegations of torture?

DARRELL CANNON: Yes, ma’am. But the parole board refused to release me. The parole board took the banner up and decided that I must have been complicity in some type of way in the alleged crime, so they considered me to be a parole violation, even though there was no evidence of such. So it took me additional few years fighting the parole board in federal court before I finally won. And that’s how I got out in 2007.

AMY GOODMAN: Flint Taylor, can you put this in the context of the four men that were on death row that eventually led to what we’re seeing today and the moratorium on the death penalty that was eventually imposed in Illinois by the former governor, George Ryan?

FLINT TAYLOR: Well, there was a very significant victory for the convergence of two movements here in the city of Chicago—the human rights movement, the movement against torture, and the movement against the death penalty. And what happened was that Ryan became convinced not only that men should not be given the death penalty and should not be on death row, but that there were innocent men among those on death row and that they were innocent partially because they had been tortured into giving false confessions. And that’s why he pardoned the four men that he pardoned, at the same time that he cleared death row and gave—commuted the sentences of 164 men and women that were on death row at that time to life without parole. There have been many significant victories here, not the least of which is the indictment of Jon Burge and the fact that he’s actually going to trial.

But, Amy, it’s important to understand this case in the context, as Darrell mentioned, not only internationally, but nationally. We sit here in Chicago actually prosecuting a torturer. That hasn’t happened nationally. The administration hasn’t seen fit to even give serious investigation to people like Cheney and Rove and those who tortured across this world in our name. And in the same way that the conscience of this country cannot be cleansed without proper prosecutions of those who approved and participated in torture in Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib and places like that, the conscience of the city of Chicago cannot be cleansed until there’s a complete dealing with all of the issues of torture, starting with the mayor, on all the way down, and starting with the men behind bars and starting with all the men that need to be prosecuted. So there has to be an understanding that what we’re dealing with here is a microcosm of what’s going on and isn’t going on nationally, in terms of prosecutions, in terms of restorative justice, in terms of dealing with the victims and the survivors of torture, and compelling the court system and the powers that be to deal responsibly and thoroughly and in a just manner with the whole scope of torture as an issue, both nationally and locally.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Michael McDermott, explain who he is, one of the chief prosecution witnesses.

FLINT TAYLOR: Well, all these years, the first time that anyone who worked with Burge came forward in any form was in 1989. And they—a detective anonymously wrote me and my partners, while we were on trial in a civil torture case, and told us about other victims of torture and told us that other men, including those who tortured Darrell, were participants in this ring of torture. That started our investigation, and it started us to unpeel the 110 victims of torture that we know about today. But no one—that man or woman didn’t come forward publicly. It was an anonymous contact. It was anonymous letters. And we never knew who that person was.

It wasn’t until 2004, after the men were pardoned and we had lawsuits for them, that we were able to go out and talk to retired detectives who were black, and they told us, now that they had retired, that they knew certain things. They had seen the torture box. They knew it was an open secret. They heard screaming. But Burge kept them out of the loop, because he knew—because they were African American, he didn’t trust them with the secret of the torture.

However, when the government investigated the case recently, with the power of immunity, the grant of immunity, they were able to get this white detective, who had been involved in several cases of where torture was alleged, including one that—of a victim who was going to testify for the government, and they gave him immunity, and apparently, although we haven’t seen the transcript, he reluctantly told what he knew about this incident of torture and perhaps others. Now, he is not a voluntary witness. He is not a happy witness. He is very scared. But we’re have hopeful that his testimony will be significant in terms of finally revealing at least one instance of torture from the inside and breaking the code of silence in that way. And if it is, and that’s what his testimony is, then it’s going to be obviously a significant crack in the conspiracy or code of silence.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. We will certainly follow this trial. It begins today, the trial of Jon Burge, not for torture, but for perjury and obstruction of justice. Flint Taylor, thanks for being us, attorney with the People’s Law Office in Chicago, and Darrell Cannon, who was one of the torture victims of Jon Burge’s whole group. Darrell Cannon served more than two decades in prison.


Galbraith: The danger posed by the deficit ‘is zero’

18/05/2010

One of the few economists who are saying the obvious about the U.S. deficit. Since the Dollar is the international currency, the U.S. has no problems in their balance of payments. They can spend whatever they want. That’s why it’s so good to be the only hegemonic power in the world. And that’s why it’s so difficult to see any long term decline in their  hegemony.

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http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2010/05/galbraith_the_danger_posed_by.html

Galbraith: The danger posed by the deficit ‘is zero’

James Galbraith is an economist and the Lloyd M. Bentsen Jr. chair in government and business relations at the University of Texas at Austin. He’s also a skeptic of the prevailing concern over America’s long-term deficit. With many people now comparing America’s fiscal condition to Greece, I spoke with Galbraith to get the other side of the argument. An edited transcript of our conversation follows.

EK: You think the danger posed by the long-term deficit is overstated by most economists and economic commentators.

JG: No, I think the danger is zero. It’s not overstated. It’s completely misstated.

EK: Why?

JG: What is the nature of the danger? The only possible answer is that this larger deficit would cause a rise in the interest rate. Well, if the markets thought that was a serious risk, the rate on 20-year treasury bonds wouldn’t be 4 percent and change now. If the markets thought that the interest rate would be forced up by funding difficulties 10 year from now, it would show up in the 20-year rate. That rate has actually been coming down in the wake of the European crisis.

So there are two possibilities here. One is the theory is wrong. The other is that the market isn’t rational. And if the market isn’t rational, there’s no point in designing policy to accommodate the markets because you can’t accommodate an irrational entity.

EK: Then why are the bulk of your colleagues so worried about this?

JG: Let’s push a bit deeper on the CBO forecasts. They publish a baseline set of projections. One of those projections holds the economy will return to a normal high-employment level with low inflation over the next 10 years. If true, that would be wonderful news. Go down a few lines and they also have the short-term interest rate going up to 5 percent. It’s that short-term interest rate combined with that low inflation rate that allows them to generate, quite mechanically, these enormous future deficit forecasts. And those forecasts are driven partially by the assumption that health-care costs will rise forever at a faster rate than everything else and by interest payments on the debt will hit 20 or 25 percent of GDP.

At this point, the whole thing is completely incoherent. You cannot write checks to 20 percent to anybody without that money entering the economy and increasing employment and inflation. And if it does that, then debt-to-GDP has to be lower, because inflation figures into how much debt we have. These numbers need to come together in a coherent story, and the CBO’s forecast does not give us a coherent story. So everything that is said that is based on the CBO’s baseline is, strictly speaking, nonsense.

EK: But couldn’t there be a space between the CBO being totally correct and the debt not being a problem? It seems certain, for instance, that health-care costs will continue to rise faster than other sectors of the economy.

JG: No, it’s not reasonable. Share of health-care cost would rise as part of total GDP and the inflation would rise to be nearer to what the rate of health-care inflation is. And if health care does get that expensive, and we’re paying 30 percent of GDP while everyone else is paying 12 percent, we could buy Paris and all the doctors and just move our elderly there.

EK: But putting inflation aside, the gap between spending and revenues won’t have other ill effects?

JG: Is there any terrible consequence because we haven’t prefunded the defense budget? No. There’s only one budget and one borrowing authority and all that matters is what that authority pays. Say I’m the federal government and I wish to pay you, Ezra Klein, a billion dollars to build an aircraft carrier. I put money in your bank account for that. Did the Federal Reserve look into that? Did the IRS sign off on it? Government does not need money to spend just as a bowling alley does not run out of points.

What people worry about is that the federal government won’t be able to sell bonds. But there can never be a problem for the federal government selling bonds. It goes the other way. The government’s spending creates the bank’s demand for bonds, because they want a higher return on the money that the government is putting into the economy. My father said this process is so simple that the mind recoils from it.

EK: What are the policy implications of this view?

JG: It says that we should be focusing on real problems and not fake ones. We have serious problems. Unemployment is at 10 percent. if we got busy and worked out things for the unemployed to do, we’d be much better off. And we can certainly afford it. We have an impending energy crisis and a climate crisis. We could spend a generation fixing those problems in a way that would rebuild our country, too. On the tax side, what you want to do is reverse the burden on working people. Since the beginning of the crisis, I’ve supported a payroll tax holiday so everyone gets an increase in their after-tax earnings so they can pay down their mortgages, which would be a good thing. You also want to encourage rich people to recycle their money, which is why I support the estate tax, which has accounted for an enormous number of our great universities and nonprofits and philanthropic organizations. That’s one difference between us and Europe.

EK: That does it for my questions, I think.

JG: I have one more answer, though! Since the 1790s, how often has the federal government not run a deficit? Six short periods, all leading to recession. Why? Because the government needs to run a deficit, it’s the only way to inject financial resources into the economy. If you’re not running a deficit, it’s draining the pockets of the private sector. I was at a meeting in Cambridge last month where the managing director of the IMF said he was against deficits but in favor of saving, but they’re exactly the same thing! A government deficit means more money in private pockets.

The way people suggest they can cut spending without cutting activity is completely fallacious. This is appalling in Europe right now. The Greeks are being asked to cut 10 percent from spending in a few years. And the assumption is that this won’t affect GDP. But of course it will! It will cut at least 10 percent! And so they won’t have the tax collections to fund the new lower level of spending. Spain was forced to make the same announcement yesterday. So the Eurozone is going down the tubes.

On the other hand, look at Japan. They’ve had enormous deficits ever since the crash in 1988. What’s been the interest rate on government bonds ever since? It’s zero! They’ve had no problem funding themselves. The best asset to own in Japan is cash, because the price level is falling. It gets you 4 percent return. The idea that funding difficulties are driven by deficits is an argument backed by a very powerful metaphor, but not much in the way of fact, theory or current experience.

// By Ezra Klein  |  May 12, 2010; 3:50 PM ET


Charles Bowden on “The War Next Door”

06/05/2010

Very good interview. The mexican army that acts in Ciudad Juarez is partly financed by the U.S. And, despite all the war on drugs, the drugs keep entering, going to Phoenix and redistributed to the entire country. While the arms keep going to Mexico and contributing to all the violence. Drug legalization is one of the main ways of really solving the problem. The other would be to fight the arm traffic and money laundering. But I guess solving the problem is not exactly what they want.

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http://www.democracynow.org/2010/3/16/charles_bowden_on_the_war_next

March 16, 2010

Charles Bowden on “The War Next Door”

Ciudadjuarezkillingsweb In the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juárez, a US consular employee and her husband were shot dead on Saturday while driving in their SUV. In a separate incident nearby, the husband of a Mexican employee at the US consulate was shot dead. The shootings are believed to be the first deadly attacks on US officials and their families by Mexico’s powerful drug organizations. We go to the US-Mexico border to speak with reporter Charles Bowden. “There is no serious War on Drugs,” Bowden writes. “Rather, there is violence, nourished by the money to be made from drugs. And there are U.S. industries whose primary lifeblood comes from fighting a war on drugs.”

Guest:

Charles Bowden, reporter who has extensively covered the drug violence in Mexico. He is author of the forthcoming book, Murder City: Ciudad Juárez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields. His latest article for High Country News is called The War Next Door.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: We turn now to Mexico, where spiraling drug violence appears to have hit US officials for the first time. In the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juárez, a US consular employee and her husband were shot dead on Saturday while driving in their SUV. Their one-year-old baby was found unharmed in the back seat. In a separate incident nearby, the husband of a Mexican employee at the US consulate was shot dead. The shootings are believed to be the first deadly attacks on US officials and their families by Mexico’s powerful drug organizations.

The State Department has authorized government employees at six US consulates in northern Mexico to send their family members out of the area because of concerns about rising drug-related violence. The FBI, meanwhile, has sent a team of agents to investigate the killings.

AMY GOODMAN: Overall, nearly fifty people died over the weekend in Mexico in drug-gang violence, the latest victims of a conflict that’s killed nearly 19,000 people since Mexican President Felipe Calderon took office in 2006. The US has backed Calderon with hundreds of millions of dollars on military training and equipment. But critics say the increased militarization of the so-called drug war will only lead to more deaths.

Well, for more, we’re joined now by Charles Bowden. a reporter who has extensively covered the drug violence in Mexico, author of the forthcoming book Murder City: Ciudad Juárez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields. His latest article for High Country News is “The War Next Door”, available at hcn.org. Charles Bowden joins us now on the phone from Las Cruces, New Mexico, just across the border from Ciudad Juárez.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Charles Bowden. What happened this weekend?

CHARLES BOWDEN: Well, thank you. It’s my pleasure.

What happened is what happens every weekend: death. What is different, or was the reason you’re calling me, is because US citizens were killed, who worked for the consulate.

It’s impossible to see this as, one, an accident or ignore that it’s a provocation. The actual thing to compare it to is the abduction of DEA agent Enrique Camarena in February 1985 from in front of the US consulate in Guadalajara, in which he was then tortured for thirty hours, slaughtered and secretly buried, and caused an explosion in the US government. Now, you have to ask yourself, given that experience, why anybody in the drug business would want to repeat it. And I don’t have an answer to that, nor do I know why these people were killed or who killed them.

What I do know is that on Friday twelve people were slaughtered in Juárez, and nobody in the US paid any attention. What I do know is, on Saturday, there were eleven people slaughtered; three of them worked for the embassy. What I do know is, on Sunday, there were eight slaughtered, that Juárez is the most violent city in the world. It’s breaking down for various reasons.

What our response will be, I suspect, is more of the same. We’ll try and shore up the Mexican military, which has been killing people in the city busily for a year now. There’s hundreds of official complaints filed with the human rights office in the government. And we will announce our rededication to the war on drugs, which has imprisoned—created the largest prison population in the world in our own country.

I think that what your listeners should realize is the President of Mexico has said repeatedly that there’s no part of Mexico he doesn’t control. We have proof positive of his claim today. He’s arriving in Juárez for a visit. When he arrives is a secret. Where he goes is a secret. Who he sees is now a secret. That’s how much control he has over his own country.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And President Obama, he denounced what he called the brutal murders of these people in Juárez. And what is the role of the US in all of this? They have funded the so-called war on drugs in Mexico to the tune of more than a billion dollars. Where does this money go? And what is the role of the Mexican military in all of this?

CHARLES BOWDEN: Well, where the money goes is mainly, if you look into it, we’re selling them our hardware. This is part of our beloved military-industrial complex. That’s what they get for the money. But the Mexico military has historically been involved in drugs, I mean, going back decades. This is no secret. They were supervising Rancho Bufalo in Chihuahua, a huge marijuana plantation in the ’70s.

What we’re doing is what the—you know, we have three policies that affect Mexico. One, we have the free trade agreement, which has bankrupted small farmers in the country and destroyed small industry in the country. Two, we have an immigration policy which means a Mexican would have to live 150 years to get a visa to move to the United States, which has unleashed the largest human migration on earth. And three, we have our war on drugs, which over the course of forty years has made drugs in our country of higher quality more available and enriched a bunch of criminals in Mexico and the United States. That’s our policy.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And can you paint a picture of Ciudad Juárez? How has it changed over the years?

CHARLES BOWDEN: Well, you know, what’s changed is—this is simple. Twenty-seven percent of the houses in the city are abandoned. That’s 116,000 units. This is in a city where people live in cardboard boxes sometimes. Ten thousand businesses have given up and closed in the last year. Thirty to sixty thousand people from Juárez, mainly the rich, have moved across the river to El Paso for safety, including the mayor of Juárez, who likes to bunk in El Paso. And the publisher of the newspaper there lives in El Paso. Somewhere between 100,000 and 400,000 people simply left the city. A lot of the problem is economic, not simply violence. At least 100,000 jobs in the border factories have vanished during this recession because of the competition from Asia. There’s 500 to 900 gangs there, estimates vary.

So what you have is you have—and then you lay on top of it 10,000 federal troops and federal police agents all marauding. You have a city where no one goes out at night; where small businesses all pay extortion; where 20,000 cars were officially stolen last year; where 2,600-plus people were officially murdered last year; where nobody keeps track of the people who have been kidnapped and never come back; where nobody counts the people buried in secret burying grounds, and they, in an unseemly way, claw out of the earth from time to time. You’ve got a disaster. And you have a million people, too poor to leave, imprisoned in it. And they’re going to be the people that the Mexican army and the Mexican police will make sure the President never meets today when he descends on Juárez for his sort of official visit. That’s the city.

AMY GOODMAN: Charles Bowden, Hillary Clinton said last March, “We know very well that the drug traffickers are motivated by the demand for illegal drugs in the United States and that they are armed by the transport of weapons from the United States.” What is your response?

CHARLES BOWDEN: Well, to start with, it’s—drugs are sold in the United States because we have customers. But Hillary Clinton doesn’t think American citizens can consume substances she doesn’t approve of.

As far as the guns, that’s an open question. What you’re referring to is an ATF report which tracked guns that have been seized in Mexico. In that report, somewhere between 20 and 40 percent came from the US. The reason we don’t know where the others came from is the Mexican army, who has seized them, won’t let ATF agents examine them. Now, what you have to understand is, in a six-year period, out of an army of 250,000, about 150,000 deserted. I suspect some of the boys and girls who fled the Mexican army took guns with them. But if you shut down every gun shop in the United States, criminals in Mexico would still be armed.

So what we’re facing is a failed drug policy, but we can never admit that. That’s a sacred cause here. We’re a twelve-pack nation that won’t let anybody have a joint.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: In your latest article in High Country News, you write, “There is no serious War on Drugs. Rather, there is violence, nourished by the money to be made from drugs. And there are U.S. industries whose primary lifeblood comes from fighting a war on drugs.” Explain what you mean by that.

CHARLES BOWDEN: Well, certainly. We’re spending $30 to $40 billion a year on narcotics officers in this country. Every state in the union, if you get out of the house and drive, is now studded with little prisons, some private. They’re all dependent on the—on laws outlawing drugs. The income from drugs in Mexico exceeds all other sources of foreign currency, except possibly oil, and that’s debatable. In other words, if President Calderon succeeded in his claimed goal of eradicating the drug industry in Mexico, Mexico would collapse in a minute. That’s what I mean.

I mean, why don’t we face the fact that drugs are like alcohol? They’re part of our culture now. They’re not going away. If we want to make them illegal, we can continue to live the way we have: imprisoning our own people, creating a police state, having prisons everywhere. But no matter what we do, they’re going to be in the neighborhood, just as they are.

There was an interesting government study released a while ago that said 232 American cities now have the presence of Mexican drug organizations. Well, look, I’m a little older, possibly, than some of your listeners, but if you bought a joint in 1975, it wasn’t coming from Finland or some place. They’ve always been here. It’s a market. All we’ve got to decide is whether it’s legal or illegal. That’s it. It’s like gambling. It’s got a life of its own.

But we are destroying, or helping to destroy, a country next door by our policies. Although there are many explanations for the problems in Mexico, and most of them lie with Mexicans, but certainly our economic policy, NAFTA, our drug policies, the war on drugs, and our militarization of the country have proven to be nothing but a disaster for the Mexican people.

AMY GOODMAN: Charles Bowden, how does this relate to the hundreds of women who have been murdered in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua over the last, oh, fifteen years? We’re talking nearly 500 or more.

CHARLES BOWDEN: Well, we’re talking nearly 500 in a fifteen-year period in a city that had a million and a half. Here’s how it relates. Essentially, none of those crimes have never been solved. During that same period, 95—between 90 and 95 percent of the murders have been males. None of those crimes have been solved. Last year, of those 2,600-plus murders in Juárez, there were thirty arrests. Not solutions, just arrests. The way they figure in is, if you’re a Mexican citizen, anybody can kill you, and nothing’s going to happen to them. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a child, a man or a woman, that their justice system is broken. I can understand, because of the sort of cause célèbre quality while people are focused on the dead women, but I think we ought to focus on the dead human beings. This city kills people, and nothing happens to the killers.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, but we will continue to follow this. Charles Bowden, thank you for joining us. His latest piece, “The War Next Door.” His forthcoming book, Murder City: Ciudad Juárez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields, speaking to us from Las Cruces, New Mexico, just near Ciudad Juárez on the other side of the border.


In Health Bill, Obama Attacks Wealth Inequality

24/03/2010

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/24/business/24leonhardt.html?th&emc=th

In Health Bill, Obama Attacks Wealth Inequality

By DAVID LEONHARDT
Published: March 23, 2010

For all the political and economic uncertainties about health reform, at least one thing seems clear: The bill that President Obama signed on Tuesday is the federal government’s biggest attack on economic inequality since inequality began rising more than three decades ago.

Over most of that period, government policy and market forces have been moving in the same direction, both increasing inequality. The pretax incomes of the wealthy have soared since the late 1970s, while their tax rates have fallen more than rates for the middle class and poor.

Nearly every major aspect of the health bill pushes in the other direction. This fact helps explain why Mr. Obama was willing to spend so much political capital on the issue, even though it did not appear to be his top priority as a presidential candidate. Beyond the health reform’s effect on the medical system, it is the centerpiece of his deliberate effort to end what historians have called the age of Reagan.

Speaking to an ebullient audience of Democratic legislators and White House aides at the bill-signing ceremony on Tuesday, Mr. Obama claimed that health reform would “mark a new season in America.” He added, “We have now just enshrined, as soon as I sign this bill, the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health care.”

The bill is the most sweeping piece of federal legislation since Medicare was passed in 1965. It aims to smooth out one of the roughest edges in American society — the inability of many people to afford medical care after they lose a job or get sick. And it would do so in large measure by taxing the rich.

A big chunk of the money to pay for the bill comes from lifting payroll taxes on households making more than $250,000. On average, the annual tax bill for households making more than $1 million a year will rise by $46,000 in 2013, according to the Tax Policy Center, a Washington research group. Another major piece of financing would cut Medicare subsidies for private insurers, ultimately affecting their executives and shareholders.

The benefits, meanwhile, flow mostly to households making less than four times the poverty level — $88,200 for a family of four people. Those without insurance in this group will become eligible to receive subsidies or to join Medicaid. (Many of the poor are already covered by Medicaid.) Insurance costs are also likely to drop for higher-income workers at small companies.

Finally, the bill will also reduce a different kind of inequality. In the broadest sense, insurance is meant to spread the costs of an individual’s misfortune — illness, death, fire, flood — across society. Since the late 1970s, though, the share of Americans with health insurance has shrunk. As a result, the gap between the economic well-being of the sick and the healthy has been growing, at virtually every level of the income distribution.

The health reform bill will reverse that trend. By 2019, 95 percent of people are projected to be covered, up from 85 percent today (and about 90 percent in the late 1970s). Even affluent families ineligible for subsidies will benefit if they lose their insurance, by being able to buy a plan that can no longer charge more for pre-existing conditions. In effect, healthy families will be picking up most of the bill — and their insurance will be somewhat more expensive than it otherwise would have been.

Much about health reform remains unknown. Maybe it will deliver Congress to the Republicans this fall, or maybe it will help the Democrats keep power. Maybe the bill’s attempts to hold down the recent growth of medical costs will prove a big success, or maybe the results will be modest and inadequate. But the ways in which the bill attacks the inequality of the Reagan era — whether you love them or hate them — will probably be around for a long time.

“Legislative majorities come and go,” David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, lamented on Sunday. “This health care bill is forever.”

Since Mr. Obama began his presidential campaign in 2007, he has had a complicated relationship with the Reagan legacy. He has been more willing than many other Democrats to praise President Reagan. “Reagan’s central insight — that the liberal welfare state had grown complacent and overly bureaucratic,” Mr. Obama wrote in his second book, “contained a good deal of truth.” Most notably, he praised Mr. Reagan as a president who “changed the trajectory of America.”

But Mr. Obama also argued that the Reagan administration had gone too far, and that if elected, he would try to put the country on a new trajectory. “The project of the next president,” he said in an interview during the campaign, “is figuring out how you create bottom-up economic growth, as opposed to the trickle-down economic growth.”

Since 1980, median real household income has risen less than 15 percent. The only period of strong middle-class income growth during this time came in the mid- and late 1990s, which by coincidence was also the one time when taxes on the affluent were rising.

For most of the last three decades, tax rates for the wealthy have been falling, while their pretax pay has been rising rapidly. Real incomes at the 99.99th percentile have jumped more than 300 percent since 1980. At the 99th percentile — about $300,000 today — real pay has roughly doubled.

The laissez-faire revolution that Mr. Reagan started did not cause these trends. But its policies — tax cuts, light regulation, a patchwork safety net — have contributed to them.

Health reform hardly solves all of the American economy’s problems. Economic growth over the last decade was slower than in any decade since World War II. The tax cuts of the last 30 years, the two current wars, the Great Recession, the stimulus program and the looming retirement of the baby boomers have created huge deficits. Educational gains have slowed, and the planet is getting hotter.

Above all, the central question that both the Reagan and Obama administrations have tried to answer — what is the proper balance between the market and the government? — remains unresolved. But the bill signed on Tuesday certainly shifts our place on that spectrum.

Before he became Mr. Obama’s top economic adviser, Lawrence Summers told me a story about helping his daughter study for her Advanced Placement exam in American history. While doing so, Mr. Summers realized that the federal government had not passed major social legislation in decades. There was the frenzy of the New Deal, followed by the G.I. Bill, the Interstate Highway System, civil rights and Medicare — and then nothing worth its own section in the history books.

Now there is.

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Comment:

If the Health Bill is the biggest attack on inequality since the 70’s, it means that it is a significant sign of the progressive character of Obama’s administration, in spite of what he said about Reagan. But the U.S. government can and should make much more aggressive policies to redistribute wealth. That fact that it did the opposite in the last 30 years is an indicative of a shift that occurred in the class power in the U.S. society. The conservative reaction that started with Nixon and was deepened by Reagan is responsible for it. Let’s hope this power relation shifts again.