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Expunge corruption with ethics reform


Transparency International, a non-governmental organization, conducted a poll of 114,000 people in 107 countries on the problem of corruption.

More than 50 percent of the respondents said they believe that global corruption has gotten worse over the past two years.

According to the survey, a lack of ethics – dishonesty – is on the rise almost everywhere. Not surprisingly, “politics” was declared the most corrupt institution in 51 of the countries surveyed, but it has serious competition.

Banking is a major industry infected by corruption. Banks in Ireland, Greece, Spain, Portugal and some other countries, were caught up in the crisis of 2008.

The Irish bank bailouts were the first to hit a European country. Leaked audio tapes and phone conversations of top officials at Anglo Irish Bank revealed that they lied to the government about their bank’s financial condition as the real estate bubble was about to burst. This made it more difficult for the government to respond effectively. The Irish bank bailout has cost Irish taxpayers and the European Union tens of billions of dollars, and Ireland is still in the throes of a severe recession. A similar crisis occurred in the United States, only on a much larger scale.

Without fully understanding the scope and nature of the problem, the U.S. government felt compelled to bailout Wall Street banks, which were deemed too big to fail. The bank bailout probably prevented the U.S. economy, and possibly the world economy, from collapsing into a second Great Depression. Our economy remains weak, and unemployment is too high.

It appears that a culture of greed and a lack of ethics are still alive on Wall Street. Recently, a prominent New York law firm took a survey of 250 Wall Street professionals from dozens of financial companies. The survey revealed that 23 percent of responders “had observed or had firsthand knowledge of wrongdoing in the workplace.” Nearly 25 percent said that they would “engage in (unethical) insider trading to make $10 million if they could get away with it.” One-fourth of respondents also said that pay and bonus structures encourage employees to compromise ethical standards or break the law.

More worrisome, 17 percent of those surveyed expected “their leaders were likely to look the other way if they suspected a top performer engaged in (illegal) insider trading,” and “15 percent doubted that their leadership, upon learning of a top performer’s crime, would report it to authorities.” Overall, “28 percent of respondents felt that the financial services industry does not put the interests of clients first.” Despite these faults, Wall Street banks are getting bigger, and their profits are increasing.

The New York financial industry is operating the same way it did before the crisis of 2008. This shows that reform still is needed.

In order to avoid another bank crisis, Congress should pass a new Glass-Steagall Act, which separates traditional commercial banking from high-risk investment banking.

Most importantly, high moral values and accountability must be restored throughout our society; all of us should examine our conscience and rededicate ourselves to being honest in our dealings with others – especially those of us who are the leaders in politics and finance.

Anthony J. DiStefano spent 29 years in state and federal government, including working with the Ohio General Assembly, the U.S. House of Representatives and two executive agencies of the federal government.

via Column: Expunge corruption with ethics reform | Aiken Standard.

Where the Hell Is the Outrage?


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From the first breath of life to the last, our lives are being stolen out from under us. From infant care and early education to Social Security and Medicare, the dominant economic ideology is demanding more lifelong sacrifices from the vulnerable to appease the gods of wealth.

Middle-class wages are stagnant. Unemployment is stalled at record levels. College education is leading to debt servitude and job insecurity. Millions of unemployed Americans have essentially been abandoned by their government.  Poverty is soaring. Bankers break the law with impunity, are bailed out, and go on breaking the law, richer than they were before.

And yet, bizarrely, the only Americans who seem to be seething with anger are the beneficiaries of this economic injustice — the wealthiest and most privileged among us. But those who are suffering seem strangely passive.

Why?

Wealth inequity and other economic injustices are the product of deliberate policy choices — in taxation, Social Security, health care, financial regulation, education, and a number of other policy areas.  So why aren’t Americans taking action?

The “change” theories Krugman mentioned don’t tell the whole story. For one thing, it’s not true that the lives of the majority are frozen in an ugly stasis. Conditions continue to become objectively worse for the great majority of Americans. But these ongoing changes — in actual wages, in employment, in social mobility and wealth equity — have received very little media attention or meaningful political debate.

It’s not that things aren’t changing. It’s that people don’t know they’re changing. And without that knowledge the public becomes a canary in a coalmine, only aware of its declining oxygen supply when it keels over and dies.

It’s an almost classic state of alienation, in which people may be acutely aware of their own increasing difficulties (although sometimes they can be numb to that as well) but experience them in a state of isolation. That turns the anger inward, leading to crippling reactions like guilt and despair. And repeated individual failures — failures made increasingly likely in a skewed system — lead to a sense of learned helplessness.

The Radical Rich

As long as they stay that way, there will be no movement to repair these injustices. And the more these injustices are allowed to persist, the harder it will be to end them.

Where the hell is the outrage? And how can we start some?

Interestingly, the “change = political pressure” theory helps explain the rage of the “radical rich” who — despite their almost unprecedented lives of wealth and privilege — are articulating an anger which seems at first to be inexplicable. But they, unlike the vast majority, are experiencing perceptible (if minor) changes.

No current policy proposals would substantially affect their historic levels of wealth and privilege. But some Democratic policies would slightly discommode the ultra-wealthy, and conservative forces have been shrewd enough to trumpet that fact far and wide in a tone of barely suppressed hysteria.

The wealthy have already seen a cultural change, as the Occupy movement led to previously-unheard public criticisms of their riches and political influence. That helps explain today’s seemingly paradoxical political situation, in which the beleaguered majority accepts the injustices heaped upon them while coddled and ultra-wealthy Americans erupt in fury.

The Alienators

The media has failed to tell the story of our broken economy. The two-party system is failing, too, as corporate forces complete their corruption of the GOP and seize an ever-increasing chunk of the Democratic Party.

That’s one of the reasons why voter turnout may not be the best indicator of political awareness. Even pronounced financial hardship won’t result in increased turnout or participation in electoral politics if neither party is clearly articulating the majority’s needs or actively fighting for its interests.

Many politicians and pundits have also embraced the “structural unemployment” argument which says people have the wrong skills for the economy of today and tomorrow. But they told us the same thing in the 1960s, the 1970s ”

In fact, they’ve said it for the last 50 years.

And yet technology jobs were down in last week’s jobs report. “Structural unemployment” is another way of telling you it’s your fault if you don’t have a job. It’s a lie.

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The Exploiters Within

Even worse, decades of “Pimp My Ride”/”Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” acculturation have idealized the wealthy and have left the majority with a subliminal message: If you’re struggling economically, it’s your fault.

The leftist Brazilian educator Paolo Freire spoke of “internalizing the oppressor consciousness”: internalizing the values of those who colonize, rule, and exploit you, accepting their distorted, Matrix-like view of the world as an objective reality.

This can lead to agony, as well as continued exploitation. When I first began writing about illegal foreclosures in 2009 and 2010 — before bank fraud became common knowledge — I began receiving dozens of emails from bank victims saying, in essence, “I thought it was my fault” and “I thought I was the only one.” Some of them had contemplated suicide, which is the tragic end point of an “oppressor consciousness” within.

(I published some of those emails, with permission, in a piece called “Letters From Foreclosure Hell.”)

Books and films like The Pursuit of Happyness have delivered the message that anyone who’s struggling economically hasn’t been brave enough, bold enough, or smart enough, while movements like the Tea Party have mocked underwater homeowners and other victims of Wall Street fraud and predation.

(That movement was born in a “spontaneous” demonstration at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange led by financial snake-oil salesman Rick Santelli, in which pampered and taxpayer-rescued traders mocked Wall Street homeowner/victims as “Losers! Losers!”)

The last two Democratic Presidents have tried to have it both ways, exalting, deregulating, and pampering the wealthy while speaking the language of justice. That has weakened the Democratic “brand” and undermined public confidence in government, while failing to resolve our underlying economic problems. The rhetoric of “consensus” and “compromise” contributed to the decades-long rise in inequality.

As Paolo Friere said:  “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.”

Action Plan

So what do we do?

1. Expand our avenues of political expression: First, we need to remind ourselves that electoral politics is not the only productive avenue for political activism — that we need strong and independent voices and movements.

2. Refuse to let politicians use social issues to exploit us economically: We also need to reject the exploitation and manipulation of progressive values by corporatist politicians who use social issues like gay marriage and reproductive rights exactly the way Republicans do — to manipulate their own base into ignoring their own economic interests. Politicians who don’t take a stand on economic issues should be rejected, up and down the ticket.

3. Explain what is changing — and contrast what is with what should be: We need to do a better job of explaining what’s happening, so that we can make people aware of the harmful changes taking place all around them.

And it’s not just about “change”: It’s also about contrast — between economic conditions as they are, and conditions as they should be and could be, if we can find the political will.

4. Expand the vocabulary of the possible: The “learned helplessness” outlook says “the rich and powerful always win; we don’t stand a chance.” History tells us otherwise.  From the American Revolution to the breaking up of the railroads, from Teddy Roosevelt’s trust-busting to FDR’s New Deal, from Ike’s Social Security and labor union expansion to LBJ’s Great Society victories, we need to remind ourselves of what we’ve accomplished under similar conditions.

5. Tell stories: And we need to tell stories — human stories. That’s why Tuesday night’s Bill Moyers special on PBS is so important. “Two American Families” tells the story of a white family and an African-American family in Milwaukee over two decades. Their stories bring home, in a personal way, the agony that has accompanied the destruction of middle-class jobs — a destruction that only happened because politicians made conscious policy decisions.

To explain, to provoke, to inspire, to tell stories is to begin the process of political change. As Paolo Friere said, “To speak a true word is to transform the world.”

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via OpEdNews – Article: Where the Hell Is the Outrage?.

Snowden seeks asylum in place immune from US prosecution – WALL STREET


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In a desperate bid to evade the international reach of US authorities Snowden has applies for asylum to Wall Street. “Where else can I go?”, says Snowden. Pointing out that Wall Street ripped off 10 trillion dollars in 2008 and no one went to jail Snowden thinks this is the only place on Earth that is beyond the reach of the Justice Department. “If they can get away with that,” says Snowden, this must be the best place in the world to hide!”

via Dvorak News Blog.

Stop World Bank’s Support for Corporate Land Grabs


The World Bank‘s policies for land privatization and concentration, have paved the way for corporations from Wall Street to Singapore to take upwards of 80 million hectares of land from rural communities across the world in the past few years, according to a press release from National Family Farm Coalition.

Giulia Franchi from the Italian-based Campaign for the Reform of the World Bank (Campagna per la Riforma della Banca Mondiale) said during a teleconference with reporters that the principles the bank is promoting, (RAI),  is an attempt to justify and support transnational corporations’ attempts to grab farmland.

“It’s an attempt to make it look like a responsible deal, as something that can be done in a transparent way with the support of the local community, and something that will improve local communities. But there’s no way the expropriation of people’s land, however it’s done, can be a responsible deal.”

Franchi said corporations are using diversified financial vehicles such as pension funds, commercial banks, and investment banks,  as well as foreign governments, to acquire millions of hectares of land worldwide for producing food and agrifuels for international export.

“This is all being done with the backing of international financial institutions, and most of all, of the World Bank.”

Franchi said the World Bank for decades has been promoting land concentration and privatization policies.

“It has been promoting land titling programs in many countries in the world, which has  transformed customary and traditional land rights into titles which can be marketed, traded, and sold.”

As the World Bank presents the global takeover of farmland as the promotion of responsible agriculture,  Via Campesina and its international allies are calling upon the bank to comply with the Extra Territorial Human Rights Obligations of States.

“The bank cannot continue to act in full impunity as it has up to now,” Franchi said.

Bob St. Peter directs Food For Maine’s Future and is a board member of the National Family Farm Coalition.  He describes himself as a small-scale family farmer. He said he and his family rent, borrow, and lease about 4 acres of land for largely subsistence and small, direct-market production.

“Coming at this as a new farmer in the United States, and looking out to what’s about to happen over the next 20 years, there is set to be a very large transfer of productive farm land in this country. The older generation of farmers are set to retire and we have not been developing the farmers that are going to be able to replace them.”

St. Peter said many farmers are in debt and likely will sell their land and equipment to have some money as they retire and some money to leave to their children.

“We’re in the position now of having to stave off what is likely to be a very significant rush for farm land in this country. Those of us who would like to farm the land”are not in the position to purchase it at the prices that the older generation is going to need to get themselves out of debt to secure their retirement. There aren’t enough land trust or philanthropic dollars to make up the difference. So, what is likely to happen is there will be investment groups–and we’re starting to see this already—speculators as well as corporations purchasing these farm lands.”

St. Peter said this is going to exacerbate problems related to industrialized agriculture. He calls for not only low interest loans,  but a transfer of wealth of some kind so new farmers have access to land without repeating the cycle of chronic debt where they have to depend on corporations just to stay in business.

“We don’t have a plan for that yet, but if we don’t stave off the farmland grab that is happening in other parts of the world, we’re likely to see that happen here.”

St. Peter calls for local food enthusiasts to look into the systemic issues involved with their cause.

“There’s been this change in the food industry. There’s been this political economy established to favor corporate agribusiness and that model has been replicated around the world. So the small-scale farmer —in Maine I am literally competing in my local community with cheap imported food from all over the world, produced in conditions we don’t generally support.”

He said people who are only focused on their local food system would be well served by looking deeper and wider.

“(They should look at) how the global food industry manipulates markets and uses international financial institutions and trade organizations to basically pit us against each other and undercut and undermine all of us. There’s a situation in Mexico, for example, of people being displaced from their land because of dumping. It also happens in our country, in our local communities. That’s why we have a local food movement in the first place. It’s because that’s been taken from us and we need to put it back. But we can’t do that without understanding both the solidarity aspects and the way the political economy works.”

Rafael Alegria, coordinator for Via Campesina for Central America said during the tele-press-conference that in Honduras and other countries in the region the re-concentration of the control of land under the auspices of the government, the transnational corporations, and the World Bank, has displaced small producers and family farmers.

“The situation in the countryside in Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador is similar. It’s very grave poverty in the countryside but this does not only affect the countryside but also the urban areas.”

Alegria said the US used free trade agreements to dump many tons of rice on the Honduran market, making it impossible for local producers to sell at a reasonable price. (See Oxfam briefing paper,   A Raw Deal For Rice Under DR-CAFTA)

He said this is causing serious agrarian and rural conflicts in Honduras.

“In the region of Bajo Aguan on the Atlantic coast of Honduras, large numbers of campesinos have been hurt and killed in conflicts with a large land owner named Miguel Facusse, who owns agribusiness firm Quimicas Dinant. This company has been in the sites of the World Bank. The World Bank has been trying to give them $30 million in loans. He and Reynaldo Canales—these two men in private industry—have taken over almost all of the arable land. They have displaced thousands of small producers and family farmers and replaced their diverse cultivation methods with monocultures of African palm for export.”

Facusse makes his fortunes by producing palm oil used for snack foods.

Alegria said, “We’ve been able to document that Mexican corporations and private interests from other neighboring countries, as well as the United States, have taken over large tracts of land in Honduras. That’s why on the April 17th Via Campesina decided to do an international struggle to highlight the problem of land grabbing.”

He said that on that date campesinos and small family farmers in Honduras decided to do a land reclamation.

“They reclaimed 12,500 hectares of publicly own land that is now being taken over by private corporations and private interests. But the government and private interests have been actively evicting farmers and farm workers from these land reclamations, and today (April 23) there was a predawn attack by private guards from the sugar company.”

As a result of the attack, the leader of  Movimiento Campesino de San Manuel (MOCSAN) is hanging between life in death in a hospital in San Pedro Sula , said Alegria.

“The minister of agrarian reform and the minister of security and the Honduran president    Porfirio Lobo Sosa refused to talk with Via Campesina and the Honduran campesino movement. So, we declare that those government representatives are responsible for all of the bloodshed.”

Alegria said Via Campesina in Central America denounces the  media campaign to defame his leadership and the leadership of all of the local and regional campesino movements in Honduras.

“We demand the World Bank stop promoting land grabbing being done by private interest. We call on the World Bank to support comprehensive land reform strategies like the one we put forward before the legislature of Honduras in October 2011.”

Alegria said there has been no legislative progress. He asked that food sovereignty activists around the world increase their solidarity with campesinos in Central America and all those who are struggling in Honduras. He said in the 1970s the Catholic Church was in solidarity with peasants fighting for land reform, but that more recently they have not received any kind of support from the official churches, either the Catholic, the Evangelical, or Protestant.

“We’ve only received support from the very small community-based churches from the Protestant and Evangelical side.”

Alegria said the land reclamations threaten monopoly capitalist’s interests in the northern areas of Honduras. He said  powerful people in the banking industry and large landowners on the northern coast of Honduras have ties to the  owners of the country’s newspapers , such as Diario del Tiempo.

“Those high level business interests and the owners of the main newspapers, Diario La Prensa and The Herald and Tiempo, they all work together. Their interests are entwined. This media campaign is one where they attempt to defame my character, painting me as if I were a terrorist. This is try to undermine my credibility with the people. They are very conservative business leaders who are really only interested in making profits and increasing their wealth but they don’t see the dire poverty of the family farmers, the campesinos, and farm workers in Honduras.”

He said large corporations want to control not only their land but also their forests,  mining industry, and water.

“It’s really grave for our country. The large-scale foreign investment interests are pressuring the government and the government’s response is to put up for public auction all of our natural resources for sale to the highest bidder in order to cover both our internal and external debt. The external debt for a small country like Honduras is already is more than $4 billion and the internal debt is $50 billion.”

via OpEdNews – Article: Food Sovereignty Activists: Stop World Bank’s Support for Corporate Land Grabs.

A ‘sitting man’ at Goldman Sachs – Waging Nonviolence


(WNV/Max Zahn)

Max Zahn, founder of the new website Buddha on Strike, is currently on strike in front of Goldman Sachs. I asked him a few questions about what he’s up to.

So what is it that you’re doing, and why?

Over the past seven business days, I’ve been meditating for 3 to 4 hours directly outside the entrance of Goldman Sachs headquarters. And I intend to continue sitting silently at Goldman HQ every single business day for the coming weeks and months. Soon this effort will grow beyond me, however. Starting yesterday, we’re holding hour-long group meditations three days per week.

The reason for my meditating at Goldman is that I seek to extend compassion to its employees and demand that they do the same for the worldwide billions affected by the bank’s practices. By meditating, I’m quite literally modeling a technique that cultivates the capacity for emotional states like compassion and empathy. On another level, I’m trying to communicate that I come in peace; I understand that Goldman Sachs bankers are people just like you and me. There’s nothing inherently evil or malicious about them. Like all people, they are the beautifully complicated products of a personal and social history.

Does that mean that we allow them to acquire huge amounts of money, while exacerbating global inequality and its effects? Absolutely not. But we intervene in the way that a family might intervene when their son has a drug addiction. That’s how I think of Goldman Sachs: addiction to greed. And greed, in its various forms, is something that everyone struggles with. The difference with Goldman Sachs is that greed on this scale is causing atrocious human suffering. So we need to put the harmful practices to an end, but with the love and goodwill of a global family.

What drove you to commit to doing this?

The large scale human suffering that is taking place, and the sense that our global trajectory is moving toward even greater amounts of suffering. That, coupled with the realization that our global and national systems of governance are simply not up to the task of preventing such harm. I’ve come to believe that a dramatic shift on inequity issues — like regulating Wall Street — will only result from a mass nonviolent social movement. I see myself as a small, sustained part of that effort.

It’s kind of like the “Standing Man” in Turkey. Has anyone joined you, like people joined him? Do you expect them to?

Yes, exactly. I draw a lot of encouragement from the Standing Man’s passive resistance. He exuded such dignity in his commitment to bearing witness. He seemed to say, “I may not be able to forcibly remove your tear gas cannisters, but I will not gratify you with the act of turning away.”

No one has joined me in the spontaneous way that they joined the Standing Man. However, people did reach out to me after I posted some photos to Facebook and Twitter. Also, from day one I’ve envisioned this Goldman Sachs meditation presence growing beyond me. As a former community organizer, I know that power is in numbers. In this case, we’re seeking to dramatically reign in one of the most powerful institutions in the world, so we must have lots of people as a counterweight. 

(WNV/Max Zahn)

(WNV/Max Zahn)

What kinds of reactions are you getting from Goldman Sachs employees? What about other people? 

To be honest, it is very difficult for me to tell how Goldman Sachs employees have reacted. I meditate with my eyes looking down at a 45-degree angle, so I do not know what their facial expressions have been like. No Goldman employees have spoken to me yet, either — well, that’s not entirely true. After the first couple days, the security guards became more and more chummy. Now, when I arrive, they ask me how my day has been. Recently, when my friend came to take a bunch of pictures, they stopped him to make sure it was all right with me.

Most other people have been supportive. They ask me what I’m doing or why, and they respectfully engage with my response. The meanest thing that happened so far was a man yelling, “Get a job!” Little does he know that I work full-time at a Mexican restaurant in Crown Heights. But millions of Americans do not have a job. Does that disqualify them from speaking out — or, in my case, sitting out — against injustice? I think not.

What would be your ideal outcome when you’re done?

The ideal outcome is the formation of a massive meditation protest that helps create political space for the dramatic reform and regulation of the finance industry — especially the megabanks like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. I know this is a lofty goal, but it’s so terribly important. I envision a perimeter of meditators around the entirety of the gigantic Goldman Sachs headquarters. How incredible would that be?

Are you doing any support work to make your action part of a broader campaign, to make it more effective? Or are you focused on this act of witness?

Yes, I’m most definitely doing support work. As I said, I come from a community organizing background; so I know the importance of coalition building, outreach and trusting relationships. I also know that this kind of organizing is a slow process.

Your sign says “Begin Anew With Compassion.” Why that? Do you really think what Goldman Sachs lacks is compassion? Is meaningful compassion even possible in these institutions of hyper-capitalism?

The sign “Begin Anew With Compassion” is directed toward the employees of Goldman Sachs, not the bank itself. I’m not naïve enough to think that compassion can overcome the structural forces and financial incentives that dictate Goldman’s practices. In that sense, I think it’s absolutely valid for you to speculate about whether “meaningful compassion is even possible” within the constraints of a megabank like Goldman.

However, what I would say is that Goldman’s policies — as with all policies at all institutions — are enacted by people. And those people make a choice about whether or not to extend ethical consideration to those affected by their choices. That’s what we saw with Goldman Sachs Vice President Greg Smith in 2012. He realized that his actions were unethical, and he chose to resign from the firm.

What has the quality of your meditation been like, so to speak? Better or worse than at home?

To answer this, I need to describe my meditation a bit. My meditation practice is following the breath, which means that I focus on the sensations of a single body part — usually the belly — as air comes in and out. The challenge is that when thoughts arise, you simply notice that you’re thinking and immediately return your attention to the breath.

At Goldman, it has been a lot more difficult to sustain continuous attention on the breath. The noise of the street corner — combined with the personal and political significance of the location — makes for an extremely distracting environment. So, if we think of meditation as the practice of focus, then I would say the meditations are worse. But another crucial component of meditation is the practice of acceptance. The more and more I’ve meditated over the years, the more I’ve been willing to be nice to myself when I get distracted. And I think for that practice of compassion — for myself as a struggling meditator and for bankers as human beings — I think my meditations have been significantly better.

via A ‘sitting man’ at Goldman Sachs – Waging Nonviolence.

Letter #4 to Goldman Sachs’s Lloyd Blankfein


Letter #4 to Goldman Sachs‘s Lloyd Blankfein

Posted: 25 Jun 2013 07:18 AM PDT

In this book of letters written by ordinary people affected by the fallout from the financial crisis is a chapter devoted to Goldman Sachs starting on page 91.

The fourth letter is from page 95 in The Trouble is the Banks:  Letters to Wall Street, edited by Mark Greif, Dayna Tortorici, Kathleen French, Emma Janaskie and Nick Werle, printed in paperback edition by n +1 Research Branch Small Books Series #4, 2012, New York, NY.

Here is letter #4:

An Opportunity

To:  Lloyd C. Blankfein, Goldman Sachs

Dear Mr. Blankfein,

We are writing to you to interest you in a fantastic new opportunity for you and your loved ones.  We are offering you the once in a lifetime opportunity to refinance all of your many homes and/or jets for the wealth–oops, did I say wealth–equity that you are holding in them.

Did you know that the property you bought for millions is actually worth gazillions of dollars under this plan?  Yes!  Gazillions!  With our excellent and trustworthy panel of advisors we can help you truly capitalize on your investments and really make the most of what life has to offer.

What we do is:  take the money you “earned” during those fantastic boom years, and invest it in schools, hospitals, housing and jobs for the poor, educate feed and clothe people before their brief yet worthy lives extinguish.

There really is nothing to lose from your side:  just take the money backed by the assets of the houses, jets, boats and jewelry, sign your name, and we can provide you with short-term aspirations!  It really is that simple.  And don’t take our word for it, talk to many of our other customers in the 1% base range.  Plenty of satisfaction all round!

With Such Sincerely Tepid Regards,

OWS Refinancing

 

Letter #3 to Goldman Sachs’s Edith W. Cooper


In this book of letters written by ordinary people affected by the fallout from the financial crisis is a chapter devoted to Goldman Sachs starting on page 91.

The third letter is from page 94 in The Trouble is the Banks:  Letters to Wall Street, edited by Mark Greif, Dayna Tortorici, Kathleen French, Emma Janaskie and Nick Werle, printed in paperback edition by n +1 Research Branch Small Books Series #4, 2012, New York, NY.

Here is letter #3

Hello Edith–Wow, Now I Know a 1 Percenter!

To:  Edith W. Cooper*, Goldman Sachs

Greetings Edith,

I hope this message finds you well.  Gosh, I am thrilled to meet you, even though we haven’t met face-to-face…yet!

I mean, wow, I actually know a 1 percenter now!  How cool is this?

Of course, you probably don’t have much to worry about even if you’re not feeling well, because I trust that you have great health insurance–thanks to me helping pay for it.

Wow, Edith, how great is that! 🙂

Since I hope we get to know one another better, here’s a little bit of info about me:  I have a degree in journalism and my hubby has a double Master’s in music, but since we’re over 50 years old, our premiums climbed, so we were faced with a slippery slope choice…Do we eat, or do we pay for health insurance?  It was a toss-up, but we decided that food was more important.

Oh wait–you haven’t heard about our foreclosure?  Law enforcement came to our door and gave us one hour to vacate!  Oh, that morning was so much fun–I wish you could have been there!  Yes, we were in that first wave in ’08, after putting down a down payment of…wait for it…$300,000.

We totally qualified, you see…hubby had a great business, until his clients could no longer pay him…Our lender told us “don’t worry, we want to work with you!  We can see you have never been in trouble before!”–and well, it’s a long story.

I’ll save the rest of this story for next time, because I am so looking forward to writing back again..very, very soon.

Your new pen pal,

Hilary Grant

Los Osos, CA 93402

P.S.  I can’t wait to hear about the beautiful clothes you must wear.  I buy all of my clothes these days at thrift stores, but maybe we can compare notes?

*Edith W. Cooper is Executive Vice President and Global Head of Human Capital Management for Goldman Sachs

via Goldman Sachs: Information, Comments, Opinions and Facts: Letter #3 to Goldman Sachs’s Edith W. Cooper.

Financial Sector Thinks It’s About Ready To Ruin World Again


“It’s been about five or six years since we last crippled every major market on the planet, so it seems like the time is right for us to get back out there and start ruining the lives of billions of people again,” said Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein.

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The nation’s major banks and investment firms say they are ready to give utterly decimating the world’s                       economies “another go.”

NEW YORK—Claiming that enough time had surely passed since they last caused a global economic meltdown, top executives from the U.S. financial sector told reporters Monday that they are just about ready to completely destroy the world again.

Representatives from all major banking and investment institutions cited recent increases in consumer spending, rebounding home prices, and a stabilizing unemployment rate as confirmation that the time had once again come to inflict another round of catastrophic financial losses on individuals and businesses worldwide.

“It’s been about five or six years since we last crippled every major market on the planet, so it seems like the time is right for us to get back out there and start ruining the lives of billions of people again,” said Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein. “We gave it some time and let everyone get a little comfortable, and now we’re looking to get back on the old horse, shatter some consumer confidence, and flat-out kill any optimism for a stable global economy for years to come.”

“People are beginning to feel at ease spending money and investing in their futures again,” Blankfein continued. “That’s the perfect time to step in and do what we do best: rip the heart right out of the world’s economy.”

According to sources, the overwhelming majority of investment bankers are “ready to get the ball rolling” by approving a host of complex and poorly understood debt-backed securities that are doomed to quickly default, as well as issuing startlingly high-risk loans certain to drive thousands of companies into insolvency.

Top-level executives also told reporters that when it comes to depleting the life savings of millions of people and sending every major national economy into a tailspin, they feel “refreshed and raring to go.”

“The other day I actually overheard someone on the sidewalk utter the words ‘I’m saving up for retirement,’ and right away I thought to myself, ‘Well, time to get down to work,’” said Morgan Stanley chairman James P. Gorman, adding that the increasing number of individuals entertaining ideas of starting their own businesses or buying houses was the financial sector’s cue to set off another devastating global recession. “We’re definitely thinking on a huge scale again, because we all really enjoy toying with the livelihoods of millions of people overseas and forcing them to wonder why reckless, split-second decisions made thousands of miles away dictate their whole country’s socioeconomic future.”

“Plus, it’ll be nice to finally wipe out the Euro once and for all this time,” Gorman added.

While most private equity firms, investment banks, and hedge funds are reportedly still undecided on the precise route to take in order to torpedo the job market and crash all international stock exchanges, sources confirmed they are nearly in position to resume gambling away trillions of dollars belonging to the American populace.

“We’ve got a lot of options on the table; it’s just a matter of picking which one we want to use to paralyze every single sector of the world economy,” said Capital One executive vice president Peter Schnall. “We already burst the dot-com and housing bubbles, so this time we can maybe mix it up by popping the education bubble and shattering the lives of everyone with outstanding student loans. Or maybe we’ll artificially inflate prices of stocks in social media companies and then pull the rug out, bankrupting every investor tied to companies like Facebook and Twitter. Or do both.”

“On second thought, maybe we’ll wipe out the housing market again too, just for the hell of it,” Schnall quickly added. “Might as well, right?”

According to a recent survey of Wall Street officials, 82 percent said they were “excited to shake off the rust” and send the Dow and NASDAQ into another freefall. Additionally, 75 percent of respondents admitted they have been “champing at the bit” for months to wholly undermine the nation’s local banks and money market accounts, leaving Americans too terrified to leave their savings anywhere.

Moreover, the chief financial officers from Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo unanimously told reporters that it has been “way too long” since they last saw the utterly dejected faces of American families whose homes had just been foreclosed on due to circumstances totally beyond their control.

“Now that the public’s efforts to curtail questionable Wall Street trading practices have all but ceased, it’s time for us to bring the world to its knees again,” said AIG CEO Robert Benmosche. “There are still plenty of opaque financial derivatives, high-frequency trading operations, and off-balance sheet transactions out there, all with virtually no federal regulation. Trust me, we can definitely work with that. And if anything, we can always just lobby for further concessions and deregulation in Washington—which, by the way, is so, so easy to do—and then we can cause as much damage as we want.”

Added Benmosche, “And while we’re at it, we’ll make sure we once again come away from this whole thing scot-free and far wealthier.”

via Financial Sector Thinks It’s About Ready To Ruin World Again | The Onion – America’s Finest News Source.

Ireland and the Basque Country: Massive Flight (Emigration) or General Strike?


Introduction

Many billions of Euros are being extracted from Europe’s vassal-debtor nations – Spain, Greece, Portugal and Ireland – and transferred to the creditor banks, financial speculators and swindlers located in the City of London, Wall Street, Geneva and Frankfort. Under what have been termed ‘austerity’ programs, vast tributary payments are amassed by ruling Conservative and Social Democratic regimes via unprecedented and savage budget cuts in salaries, public investment, social programs and employment. The result has been catastrophic growth in unemployment, under-employment and casual labor reaching over 50% among workers under age 25, and between 15% and 32% of the total labor force. Wages, salaries and pensions have been slashed between 25% and 40%. The age of retirement has been postponed by 3 to 5 years. Labor contracts (dubbed ‘reforms’) concentrate power exclusively in the hands of the bosses and labor contractors who now impose work conditions reminiscent of the early 19th century.

o learn first-hand about the capitalist crisis and the workers’ responses, I spent the better part of May in Ireland and the Basque country meeting with labor leaders, rank and file militants, unemployed workers, political activists, academics and journalists. Numerous interviews, observations, publications, visits to job sites and households – in cities and villages – provide the basis for this essay.

Ireland and the Basque Country: Common Crises and Divergence Responses

The Irish and Spanish states, societies and economies (which presently includes the Basque country, pending a referendum) – have been victims of a prolonged, deep capitalist depression devastating the living standards of millions. Unemployment and underemployment in Ireland reach 35% and in the Basque country exceeds 40%, with youth unemployment reaching 50%. Both economies have contracted over 20% and show no signs of recovery. The governing parties have slashed public spending from 15% to 30% in a range of social services. By bailing out banks, paying overseas creditors and complying with the dictates of the autocratic ‘troika’ (International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Commission), the capitalist ruling class in Ireland and the Basque region have undermined any possible investments for recovery. The so-called ‘austerity’ program is imposed only on the workers, employees and small businesspeople, never on the elite. The Brussels-based ‘troika’ and its local collaborators have lowered or eliminated corporate taxes and provided subsidies and other monetary incentives to attract multi-national corporations and foreign finance capital.

The incumbent bourgeois political parties, in power at the beginning of the crash, have been replaced by new regimes that are signing additional agreements with the ‘troika’ and bankers. These agreements impose even deeper and more savage cuts in public employment and a further weakening of workers’ rights and protection. The employers now have arbitrary power to hire and fire workers at a moment’s notice, without severance pay, or worse. Some contracts in Ireland allow employers to demand partial repayment of wages if workers are forced to leave their jobs before the end of their contract because of employer abuse. The Spanish economy – including in the Basque country – is subject to a modern form of ‘tributary payments’ dictated by the ruling imperial oligarchy in Brussels. This oligarchy is not elected and does not represent the people it taxes and exploits. It is accountable only to the international bankers. In other words, the European Union has become a de facto empire – ruled by and for the bankers based in the City of London, Geneva, Frankfort and Wall Street. Ireland and the Basque country are ruled by collaborator vassal regimes which implement the economic pillage of the electorate and enforce the dictates of the EU oligarchy – including the criminalization of mass political protests.

The similarity in socio-economic conditions between Ireland and the Basque country in the face of crisis, austerity and imperial domination, however, contrasts with the sharply divergent responses among the workers in the two regions due to profoundly different political, social and economic structures, histories and practices.

Facing the Crisis: Basque Fight, Irish Flight

In the face of the long-term, large-scale crisis, Ireland has become the ‘model’ vassal state for the creditor imperial states. The leading Irish trade union federation and the dominant political parties – including the Labor Party currently in coalition with the ruling Fine Gael Party – have signed off on a series of agreements with the Brussels oligarchs to slash public employment and spending. In contrast, the militant pro-independence Basque Workers Commission, or LAB, has led seven successful general strikes with over 60% worker participation in the Basque country – including the latest on May 30, 2013.

The class collaborationist policies of the Irish trade unions have led to a sharp generational break – with older workers signing deals with the bosses to ‘preserve’ their jobs at the expense of job security for younger workers. Left without any organized means for mass struggle, young Irish workers have been leaving the country on a scale not seen since the Great Famine of the mid-19th century. Over 300,000 have emigrated in the past 4 years, with another 75,000 expected to leave in 2013, out of a working population of 2.16 million. In the face of this 21st century catastrophe, the bitterness and ‘generational break’ of the emigrating workers is expressed in the very low level of remittances sent back ‘home’. One reason the Irish unemployment rate remains at 14% instead of 20-25% is because of the astounding overseas flight of young workers.

In contrast, there is no such mass emigration of young workers from the Basque country. Instead of flight, the class fight has intensified. The struggle for national liberation has gained support among the middle class and small business owners faced with the complete failure of the right-wing regime in Madrid (ruled by the self-styled ‘Popular Party’) to stem the downward spiral. The fusion of class and national struggle in the Basque country has militated against any sell-out agreements signed by the ‘moderate’ trade unions, Workers Commissions (CCOO) and the General Union of Workers (UGT). LAB, the militant Basque Workers Commission, has vastly more influence than their number of formally affiliated unionized workers would suggest. LAB’s capacity to mobilize is rooted in their influence among factory delegates, who are elected in all workplaces, far exceeding all trade union membership. Through the delegates meeting in assemblies, workers discuss and vote on the general strike – frequently bypassing orders from central headquarters in Madrid. Direct democracy and grass roots militancy frees the militant Basque workers from the centralized bureaucratic trade union structure which, in Ireland, has imposed retrograde ‘give backs’ to the multi-national corporations.

In the Basque country, there is a powerful tradition of co-operatives, especially the Mondragon industrial complex, which has created worker solidarity in the urban-rural communities absent among Irish workers. The leading Irish politicians and economic advisers have groveled before the multi-national corporations, offering them the lowest tax rates, biggest and longest-term tax exemptions, and the most submissive labor regulations of any country in the European Union.

In the Basque country, the nationalist-socialist EH Bildu-Sortu political party, the daily newspaper Gara, and the LAB provide mutual political and ideological support during strikes, electoral contests and mass mobilizations based on class struggle. Together, they confront the ‘austerity’ programs as a united force.

In Ireland, the Labor Party – supposedly linked to the trade unions – has joined the current governing coalition. They have agreed to a new wave of cuts in social spending, layoffs of public employees, and wage and salary reductions of 20%. The trade union leadership may be divided on these draconian cuts, yet most still support the Labor Party. The more militant retail workers’ union rejects the cuts, but has no political alternative. Apart from support from the republican-nationalist Sein Fein and smaller leftist parties, the political class offers no clear progressive political program or strategy. [The Sein Fein has made the ‘transition’ from armed to electoral struggle.] According to the latest (May 2013) polls, it has doubled its voter approval rating from under 10% to 20% due to the crisis. However, Sein Fein is internally divided: the ‘left’ pro-socialist wing looks to intensify the ‘anti-austerity’ struggle while the ‘republican’ parliamentary leaders focus on unification and downplay class struggle. As a result of its collaboration with the ‘troika’ and the new regressive tax laws, the Labor Party is losing support and the traditional right-wing party, Fianne Fail, which presided over the massive swindles, speculative boom and corporate giveaways, is making an electoral comeback – and may even return to power. This helps to explain why Irish workers have lost hope in any positive political change and are fleeing in droves from the perpetual job insecurity imposed by their elite: ‘Better a plane ticket to Australia than a lifetime of debt peonage, regressive bankruptcy laws and boss-dictated contracts approved by trade union chiefs who draw six digit salaries’.

The Basque country’s revolt against centralized rule from Madrid is partly based on the fact that it is one of Spain’s most productive, technologically advanced and socially progressive regions. Basque unemployment is less then that of the rest of Spain. Higher levels of education, a comprehensive regional health system, especially in rural areas and a widespread network of local elected assembles, combined with the unique linguistic and cultural heritages, has advanced the Basque Nation toward greater political autonomy. For many this marks the Basques as a political ‘vanguard’ in the struggle to break with the neo-liberal dictates of the EU and the decrepit regime in Madrid.

Conclusion: Political Perspectives

If current austerity policies and emigration trends continue, Ireland will become a ‘hollowed out country’ of historical monuments, tourist-filled bars and ancient churches, devoid of its most ambitious, best trained and innovative workers: a de-industrialized tax-haven, the Cayman Island of the North Atlantic. No country of its size and dimensions can remain a viable state faced with the current and continuing levels of out-migration of its young workers. Ireland will be remembered for its postcards and tax holidays. Yet there is hope as the left republicans of the Sein Fein, socialists, communists and anti-imperialist activists, join the unemployed and underpaid workers in forming new grassroots networks. At some point the revolving doors of Irish politicos in and out of office may finally come to a halt. Unemployed and educated angry young people may decide to stay home, stand their ground and turn their energies toward a popular rebellion. One consequential socialist leader summed it up: “Deep pessimism and the influence of bankrupt social democracy and imperialist ideology within the labor movement are very strong. As you know we can’t start a journey other than from where we are”. The determination and conviction of Irish trade union militants is indeed a reason to hope and believe that current flight will turn into a future fight.

In the case of the Basque country, the rising class and national mass struggle, linked to the legacy of powerful co-operatives and solidarity based worker assemblies, provides hope that the current reactionary regime in Madrid can be defeated. The ruling neo-fascist junta (the ruling party still honors the Franco dictatorship and military) is increasingly discredited and has to resort to greater repression. With regard to the militant Basque movements, the regime has taken violent provocative measures: criminalizing legal mass protests, arresting independence fighters on trumped up charges and forcefully banning the public display of the photos of political prisoners (called ‘terrorists’ by Madrid). It is clear the government is increasingly worried by the strength of the general strikes, the rising electoral power of the pro-independence left and has been trying to provoke a ‘violent response’ as a pretext to ban the press, party and program of the EH Bildu-Sortu and LAB.

My sense is that Madrid will not succeed. Spain as a centralized state is disintegrating: the neo-liberal policies have destroyed the economic links, shattered the social bond and opened the door for the advance of mass social movements. The bi-party system is crumbling and the class-collaborationist policies of the traditional trade union confederations are being challenged by a new generation of autonomous movements.

READ THE BIO AND MORE ARTICLES 
BY JAMES PETRAS ON AXIS OF LOGIC

© Copyright 2013 by AxisofLogic.com

This material is available for republication as long as reprints include verbatim copy of the article in its entirety, respecting its integrity. Reprints must cite the author and Axis of Logic as the original source including a “live link” to the article. Thank you!

via Ireland and the Basque Country: Massive Flight (Emigration) or General Strike? | Featured |Axisoflogic.com.

Letter #2 to Goldman Sachs’s Lloyd Blankfein


Letter #2 to Goldman Sachs‘s Lloyd Blankfein In this book of letters written by ordinary people affected by the fallout from the financial crisis is a chapter devoted to Goldman Sachs starting on page 91. The second letter is from page 93 in The Trouble is the Banks:  Letters to Wall Street, edited by Mark Greif, Dayna Tortorici, Kathleen French, Emma Janaskie and Nick Werle, printed in paperback edition by n +1 Research Branch Small Books Series #4, 2012, New York, NY.

download (5)

Here is letter #2: $9,165 an hour–Wow Lloyd, You’re a Big Earner To:  Lloyd C. Blankfein, Goldman Sachs

Hi Lloyd,

So I just read online that your salary in 2010–including all of those delightful perks that just put a smile on one’s face–is $19.06 million. And your hourly wage is $9,165.  That’s great!  Do you even collect that much when you take lunch? Do you realize that by working a mere two hours you earn as much as someone who works full-time at minimum wage earns in a year? Wondering  if I could have your job for say, three hours a week.  Would that be too much to ask? You can leave the stuff that you don’t like about your job to me:  talking to the press about Occupy Wall Street, testifying at hearings about board members who are charged with insider trading.  You know, all that icky stuff. You can still wheel-and-deal and be your macho master-of-the-universe self.  I’ll just do the three hours of grunt work you don’t like each week. What do you say, Lloyd?  Deal?

Susie Meriden, CT

via Goldman Sachs: Information, Comments, Opinions and Facts: Letter #2 to Goldman Sachs’s Lloyd Blankfein.

A Letter to Goldman Sachs’s Lloyd Blankfein


A Letter to Goldman Sachs‘s Lloyd Blankfein

An Open Letter to Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein

To:  Lloyd C. Blankfein, Goldman Sachs

Mr. Blankfein,

So, I’ve been writing these letters to bank CEOs where I gently rib them about stuff like “being abysmally terrible at their jobs” and “openly stealing from the general populace” and “having the morality of a supervillain” and stuff like that.  You know.  The usual.  And so I was writing one to you about what a terrible businessman you are, and how you had to get your old boss to give you $64 billion because of how badly you suck at being a CEO.  Ha, ha.  It was going to be funny.

So I was doing research to find more things to make fun of you about.  But I kept reading more and more about what a hive of scum and villainy your company actually is, and the more I read the less I felt like being funny.  Because, you know, whatever.  Any jackass can illegally accept naked short sales or underwrite bonds and encourage people to short those bonds or help Greece hide the true nature of its debt in order to make some extra cash, causing long-term damage to not just Greece but the whole Eurozone and therefore the world economy–which is at risk of going under (again!) partially because of your nefarious deeds (again!  I guess you can fool people twice!).  Hell, I could do that.

But really it was in finding out that your company’s creation of the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index helped literally starve millions of people that I stopped feeling jokey and started actually feeling pity for you.*  That’s the worst thing to feel for somebody, Lloyd, because it means I consider you less than me.  You know what?  I do!

I’m asking this honestly:  How do you sleep at night?  I know that sounds all melodramatic, but when I’ve, you know, inadvertently hurt somebody‘s feelings, I have trouble getting any rest at all.  I can’t imagine ever getting a bit of shut-eye again if I found out I helped artificially drive up the price of wheat in the greatest year of plenty the world had ever known, pushing 250,000,000 more people to the breaking point and causing food riots in thirty countries.

You must either have a really comfortable bed or a metric boatload of Ambien.  Or no conscience whatsoever, and such broken morality that you don’t realize what damage your little money games are causing the planet

.

No, I’m just playing, I’m sure you’re a great guy.  Ha, ha.

Dave

New York, NY 10039

*  See Frederick Kaufman, “The Food Bubble:  How Wall Street Starved Millions and Got Away with It, Harper’s, July 2010.

via Goldman Sachs: Information, Comments, Opinions and Facts: A Letter to Goldman Sachs’s Lloyd Blankfein.

Irish parliamentarian calls Obama hypocrite of century


Many people have rallied in support of controversial Independent TD Clare Daly after her extraordinary attack on the visiting U.S. president Barack Obama and his family

Daly didn’t miss any punches on Wednesday morning in the Dail when she hit out at Obama, describing him as the “hypocrite of the century,” and “a war criminal.”

She pointed out while he was in Northern Ireland talking the merits of peace to teenagers there, his administration had increased drone attacks by 200%.

Daly said the Irish government was “prostituting” itself by falling all over the Obamas. She also hit out at the media for “slobbering” over Michelle Obama and children Sasha and Malia.

Daly said she was surprised Taoiseach Enda Kenny hadn’t asked his ministers to wear leprechaun hats and carry stars and stripes flags. She said Ireland’s government is “the lapdog of US imperialism.”

Six out of nine posters on The Independent’s forum page devoted to the outburst drew support for Clare.

“I never thought I’d see the day when I agreed with Clare Daly,” ‘Ewan’ wrote.

‘John B. Reid’ posted, “Fair play to Clare Daly for saying the unsayable regarding Ireland’s political and media prostitution of itself in the face of the Obamas. Not to mention the considerable amount of Irish taxpayer money spent (on An Garda Siochana, etc) chaperoning the Obamas’ ostentatious and grotesquely-sized entourage around Dublin and Wicklow.”

“I don’t believe that we should be discourteous to any well-known guests, but we need to maintain some self-respect,” he added.

‘Nuthatch 222’ said “she’s was right. spot on. i want to shake clare daly’s hand. stay in politics, clare, puhleeze.”

Stewie Griffin‘ provided the most extensive post. “It’s a sunny day in Ireland when a politician is telling the unvarnished truth in public about Ireland’s relationship with the United States,” he wrote. “It’s interesting to see how posters here criticize Clare Daly for being a “mouth”, ‘negative’ and ‘moaning’ because she refers to the fact that Barack Obama is a war criminal and the fact that he is a mammoth hypocrite.”

“Make no mistake: these are facts. Every Tuesday, Obama reviews and approves a list of names of people whom the US war machine has designated as a target for elimination,” wrote Griffin. “Those people, along with anyone in the immediate vicinity, are then destroyed by drones. Obama is therefore directly responsible for the slaughter of innocents. It would come as no surprise if he had signed off on another batch of people to be annihilated whilst staying in Fermanagh.”

“What is wrong with being negative in the face of such outrages? A negative stance with regard to imperial criminality and its facilitators is a positive stance with regard to justice, freedom and peace,” Griffin continued. “The real negativity comes from the slavish halfwits in Ireland who say you should keep your mouth shut in case the tourist industry takes a dive, or in case the Foreign Investment Fairy flits away somewhere else, and from the morons who lick up to Barack Obama and his family apparently because they transmit some sort of political glamour that means you can ignore his criminality and the fact he represents the interests of Wall Street and the military-industrial complex.”

via Irish parliamentarian calls Obama hypocrite of century | Big News Network.

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