The Ideological Seeds of the Occuparty by Waris Husain

As the Occupy Wall Street protests slowly creep into every major city in the U.S., some have pointed to the futility of protesting, especially when the group is lacking a cohesive ideology. However, we know through the Tea Party that the energy generated from opposition protests can manifest into a new political force that can affect the American landscape. The entrance of the Tea Party has polarized the country’s decision-makers to a conservative angle, and it will take a focused effort by activists, lawyers, and writers alike as part of the OccuParty to challenge their effect. The formation of such a new party would require not only an attack on corporate domination, but also to force change in the government and require them to serve the interests of the “99%”, instead of the “1%”.

In this early stage it is dificult to surmise the ideology of Wall Street protesters, who range from labor union members to unemployed hipsters. However, there is a shared ideological message underlying demands by protestors for the government to increase taxes on corporations. This message controverts the Tea Party mantra, “Government can do no good” as the protestors are calling for more government to take more control over private actors. Such a demand is based on the belief that the government can indeed do “good”, but only when it is free from undue influences through lobbyists and corporate agents.

If one were only to focus on the financial institutions that have muted the voice of the 99%, this movement would have little effect on the decision-making in this country. It was democratic institutions, not companies, who passed laws that allowed for corporations to control the American landscape. It was the Supreme Court of this nation who created a legal fiction that gave corporations the same rights as an average citizen.  And thus, even if corporations are fostering corruption and buying favors, it is our democratic officials that are selling those favors.

While Tea Partiers point to this behavior as evidence that governments are inherently corrupt and can’t be trusted, their observation falls short. The central feature of a truly democratic government is that all decisions are based on the informed consent of the people. However, if there is a secret veil of corporate and lobbyist control over WashingtonD.C., then the public is no longer voting based on informed consent and is thus no longer engaged in a democratic process.

The secretive influence of corporations has further been set into law by the U.S. Supreme Court with the Citizen’s United decision that affirmed corporate personhood. This gives the same rights of political affiliation and free speech to corporations as average citizens receive under the Constitution. This means that Nike or McDonalds, worth billions of dollars, is considered a citizen just like you or I when it comes to campaign donations. Soon it will be impossible to run for elections without a corporate sponsor, and thus, it will also be impossible to serve the interests of voters when officials have corporate overlords.

Attacking these principles will serve the interests of the OccuParty by giving them a central unifying purpose: to restore our constitutional democracy by re-equipping citizens with informed consent. Such an action may be viewed as revolutionary by some, but is founded on the basic principle of the U.S. Constitution that requires the government to be subservient only to the people, not to secret interests. One should remember that eliminating corporate personhood would not violate the Constitution considering the document gave no rights or protections to corporations over common citizens.

Along with attacking the government for fostering corporate domination, the OccuParty will need to adopt an ideology concerning the rights of citizens. The protestors have by and large asserted that wealth must be redistributed, with greater access to social services like education and health care. The demands of theOccupy Wall Street protesters are diametrically opposed to the conservative world view that individual rights are supreme above all others. While some may assert that the demands are merely a fools hope, there is a political ideology that lies under the surface.

Germany’s constitution embodies a principle that may resonate with most of the protestors: as the State must respect the rights of the individual, but the individual must respect the rights of their community. From this basic idea, one can call for a redistribution of wealth because while one has the right to accumulate wealth, one does not have the right to do so without assisting their community. Under this perspective, one could advocate for individual rights like gay marriage because they do not negatively effect the rights of the community.

Though Tea Partiers tout Thomas Jefferson as a guardian for individual rights, they forget that Jefferson didn’t believe that the wealthy could accumulate wealth without owing a duty to assist their community. Rather, he purported that while the government cannot interfere with individual rights, people owe a duty to help their local communities. This means that the 1% elites should be required to assist their community by paying for programs like student loan forgiveness or universal health care, for example.

Liberals in America have long-complained about the lack of a viable leftist party that embodied the interests of Democrats and Independents alike, though the Green Party and Libertarians have tried in the past. In order to do this, the OccuParty should take actions both on the street and in court to challenge undue influence by elites on our democracy, and the subsequent lack of informed consent by the people. Further, the party should advocate for a hybrid individual-community rights system as an overarching ideology. Though politics in America has taken a conservative turn with the influence of the Tea Party, the OccuParty could serve as a bastion for liberal philosophy and restore democratic order to this nation at a critical time.

All Power to the 99%.

The Dehumanization of the Judiciary (via Wichaar.com)

By David Matthew and Waris Husain

The execution of Troy Davis this week was met with national uproar and protests in Washington D.C. Mr. Davis was to be executed for a crime he allegedly committed, even though most of the witnesses in the case recanted their testimony, indicating his potential innocence. The Supreme Court of the nation refused to stay the execution based on legal formalities that were not satisfied in this case. Instead of humanizing Troy Davis as a man about to lose his life to an unjust system, our courts employ a rigidly technical jurisprudence.

In America, the legal community has focused so greatly on upholding legal technicalities that judges and lawyers disregard the human impact of their decisions.  An undue reliance on legal formalism has pervaded in the Supreme Court, resulting in a mechanical application of the law that favors the law’s logical form over its ability to promote social well-being to the people it serves. A more pragmatic and humanistic approach to jurisprudence is needed to interpret law in its proper context, not as merely an end in itself but as a means to fulfill human needs and values.

The demand by the public for the judiciary to act even in the absence of precedent stems from two ideas: (1) the public’s discomfort with allowing a potentially biased system to take the lives of citizens, and (2) the lack of respect for human dignity implicit in the death penalty.  Either way, such contentions can only be addressed by a court that recognizes and upholds the principles of wisdom as much as it applies the rigid technicality of legal formalities, so as to value the human impact of the decisions made by the Courts.

I. THE CAPITAL PUNISHMENT

            The continual use of the death penalty in the U.S. seems draconian when compared to the rest of the developed world who has banned the practice. But fundamentally, the continuation of the death penalty relates to the technical nature of legal analysis amongst lawyers and judges in the U.S. With a technical perspective, the courts have worked to uphold their own decisions, and since executions were commonly upheld throughout America’s history, the status quo has remained etched in stone.  Indeed, a vital function of the Court is to adhere to precedent – and Justice after Justice has largely done so in mechanical fashion.

The Supreme Court’s legitimization of capital punishment has created a particular culture surrounding the state-sponsored murder of citizens. Not only does a technical upholding of a barbaric practice allow for its continued use, it also has inspired a blood-lust amongst the people. This was especially apparent when a crowd at a Republican Primary Debate cheered Rick Perry for announcing that he has presided over more executions as governor of Texas than any other American governor in the past decade.  It is ironic that the same crowd of people who distrust the government from competently delivering health care or education, can trust that same State entity with determining the fate of someone’s life.

 

III. INJUSTICE IN ADMINSTRATION

Some were angered by the Troy Davis case because there were suspicions of racial discrimination, as Mr. Davis was African American. This classification alone exposed Mr. Davis to the death penalty more likely than a white counterpart, as 89% of defendants subject to capital punishment in the U.S. are either African American or Mexican-American. Several advocates have presented cases before the Supreme Court that used social science data to explain that capital punishment was being used discriminatorily against the nation’s minorities. In such cases, the court relied on its legal formalism to reject social science data, and maintained the practice of capital punishment despite the existence of information suggesting that innocent people were being executed by the State.

However, legal formalists would argue that despite discrimination that might exist in society, we can trust the courts enough to adequately determine a person’s guilt and subject them to death as a penalty. The South African Supreme Court rejected this very idea, stating that no court in the world should be able to put a person to death when inequality or discrimination existed in that society. They stated that,

“the outcome (of a capital punishment case) may be dependent upon factors such

as the way the case is investigated by the police, the way the case is presented by

the prosecutor, how effectively the accused is defended, the personality and

particular attitude to capital punishment of the trial judge and, if the matter goes

on appeal, the particular judges who are selected to hear the case. Race and

poverty are also alleged to be factors. – S v. Makwanyane

Even though Europeans had slaughtered thousands of innocent black citizens using the death penalty in South Africa, the new Supreme Court chose not to exact revenge on their colonial masters. The Constitutional Court correctly raised concern over the very real possibility that circumstantial factors of societal inequality may lead to incorrect judicial rulings.Understanding the inherent fallibility and imperfections of the legal system, South Africa refused to accept capital punishment as being an appropriate solution that imperfect courts of law are capable of responsibly administering. The U.S. shares a similar history of discriminatory behavior towards certain minority groups, yet formalists argue that the U.S. system can somehow fairly administer the death penalty. Unlike South Africa, where the judges had the wisdom to understand the potential human cost of allowing the death penalty to continue in a discriminatory society, American judges have dehumanized our judiciary with their undying allegiance to formalism.

III. HUMAN DIGNITY AND THE DEATH PENALTY

There is another group of people who wish to repeal the death penalty based on the idea that executions violate the modern concept of “human dignity,” even if administered perfectly by the courts. This principle is acknowledged in several constitutions around the world and is a basic right in most international human rights treaties. In Germany, Article II of the Basic Law states that “every person shall have the right to life and physical integrity. Freedom of the person shall be inviolable.” This has been interpreted to prohibit the use of capital punishment against any citizen.

Germany’s constitution and courts draw on their scarred history of the Holocaust and World War 2 as inspiration for the abolishment of the death penalty.  During the reign of Nazi dictatorship an estimated 40,000 death sentences were handed down.  In response to this atrocious abuse of power, in 1949 German’s Parliamentary Council emphatically articulated its commitment to abolishing the death penalty:

“As the extent of Nazi atrocities and abuse of the death penalty became clear,

everyone was horrified, and the founders of the Federal Republic of Germany

decided the State could never again be allowed the power to kill.”

This acknowledgement of past atrocity empowered a modern Germany to learn from its grave mistakes and seek to never repeat them. They understood the real human impact of the loss of life, which is completely disregarded in the United States with its rigid maintenance of the death penalty. If one looks through the history books of the U.S., the nation was built on the genocide of a native population as well as the enslavement and abuse of African Americans. Yet, unlike the Germans, the American legal community had no such self-realization allowing the society to progress forward with the changing times. This is partially the reason why the execution of Troy Davis was so disheartening to so many across the world.  Once again, it reminded us of America’s arrogant refusal to correct past wrongs, and once again our poisoned judiciary shrunk at the opportunity to stand up to its moral obligations.

Predictably, few in the Supreme Court have acknowledged the importance of human dignity in their legal analysis.  Justice Brennan explained how the death penalty relates to the newly developing ideals of “human dignity”, when he stated “the country has debated whether a society for which the dignity of the individual is the supreme value can, without a fundamental inconsistency, follow the practice of deliberately putting some of its members to death…the struggle about this punishment has been one between ancient and deeply rooted beliefs in retribution…. on the one hand, and, on the other, beliefs in the personal value and dignity of the common man.”

IV. WISDOM IN THE COURT

            Thus, we can now come back to the situation of Troy Davis, whose appeal to the Supreme Court was denied even though many of the witnesses in his case recanted their story. The reasoning behind the court’s decision was lauded by some legal formalists, as the court upheld the prior decisions allowing for capital punishment in the face of abject discrimination. While legal formalists rely on case law, the ultimate law of any nation is its constitution and the basic feature of all constitutions, we argue, is that they protect human dignity and equality.

            In Furman v. Georgia, Justice Brennan argued that all capital punishment should be banned in the U.S. because the society no longer accepts it as an acceptable form of punishment (which is true today as 60% of Americans want to ban the death penalty). However, he explained through the Constitution, that the Eighth Amendment banned the use of cruel and unusual punishment, and that the definition of “cruel and unusual” would change over time.  Justice Brennan stated that Constitutional protections “must draw [their] meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.” Therefore, the judges are tasked with the job of monitoring the “evolving standards of decency,” which cannot be done purely through a scientific legal rigidity and upholding past decisions.

            This requires that a judge display one characteristic: wisdom. A judge embodies wisdom when he/she recognizes the human impact of the decisions they make and understands the spirit of the laws. It is an obvious contention that laws and constitutions, at least nominally, were created to maximize human happiness and ensure equality, but a focus on legally formalistic arguments lends to decisions that result in injustice and misery.

Thus, a judge espousing higher law principles of wisdom possesses the ability to apply the law in a manner contextually related to the human experience.  A judge shouldn’t apply the law as if it is an infallible science, but rather should acknowledge imperfections in the law that have led to inequalities and socially manufactured economic and ethnic divisions. More generally, lawyers must possess the courage to pragmatically address such inequalities and divisions in restorative fashion, in an attempt to make society whole again by reconciling the past, not ignoring it.

V. CONCLUSION

While we train our lawyers and judges to be skilled in the technical facets of the law, we do not value an independently developed internal wisdom that a judge possesses by way of experience and inner-reflection, as opposed to external study and recitation of doctrine. This doctrinal formalism has dominated our Courts – and trickled down into our lower courts and judicial methodology in general. Thus, courts will continue to exact injustice and take the lives of innocent people if it does not adjust its decisions to the environment / characteristics of each specific case and value human dignity and life above all else.

If a wise judge were given the chance to examine capital punishment with regards to the gross racial disparity in execution rates, they would immediately work to ban the punishment all together. Alternatively, a wise judge could also assess the development of society’s values, which have redefined human dignity to include a protection against state-sponsored murder. The American legal system must catch up to progressive constitutional mandates that prohibit the death penalty.

BBC: ICC prosecutor seeking warant to arrest Gaddafi, his son, and his Security Minister for Crimes Against Humanity

The International Criminal Court chief prosecutor is seeking the arrest of Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi and two others for crimes against humanity.  Luis Moreno-Ocampo said Col Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam, and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Sanussi bore the greatest responsibility for “widespread and systematic attacks” on civilians.

ICC judges must still decide whether or not to issue warrants for their arrest. The Libyan government has already said it will ignore the announcement.  Deputy Foreign Minister Khalid Kaim said the court was a “baby of the European Union designed for African politicians and leaders” and its practices were “questionable“.  Libya did not recognise its jurisdiction, like a few other African countries and the United States, he added.

‘Inner circle’

Luis Moreno-Ocampo’s call for the arrest of Col Gaddafi on war crimes charges is his second for a sitting head of state. But as with his indictment of Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, this could be just as hard to enforce. Some fear this will only complicate efforts to bring the violence to an end, making it harder to negotiate a settlement – if potential interlocutors fear they will face future prosecution.

The Libyan authorities have already dismissed the International Criminal court as irrelevant. But the prosecutor’s office says it has been getting calls from some unnamed Libyan officials offering evidence, which if true suggests some at least take the prosecutor’s investigations very seriously. And the Libyan leader, his son and his intelligence chief are now looking even more isolated.

Mr Moreno-Ocampo said that after reviewing more than 1,200 documents and 50 interviews with key insiders and witnesses, his office had evidence showing that Col Gaddafi had “personally ordered attacks on unarmed Libyan civilians”.  “His forces attacked Libyan civilians in their homes and in public spaces, shot demonstrators with live ammunition, used heavy weaponry against participants in funeral processions, and placed snipers to kill those leaving mosques after prayers,” he told a news conference in The Hague.

“The evidence shows that such persecution is still ongoing as I speak today in the areas under Gaddafi control. Gaddafi forces have prepared a list with names of alleged dissidents, and they are being arrested, put into prisons in Tripoli, tortured and made to disappear,” he added. Mr Moreno-Ocampo continued: “His [Col Gaddafi’s] second-oldest son, Saif al-Islam, is the de facto prime minister and Sanussi, Gaddafi’s brother-in-law, is his right-hand man – the executioner, the head of military intelligence. He commanded personally some of the attacks.”

The prosecutor insisted he was “almost ready” for a trial, based on the testimony, particularly of those who had escaped from Libya. Libya’s opposition National Transitional Council praised the ICC move. But its vice-president, Abdel Hafez Ghoga, said: “We would like him [Col Gaddafi] to be tried in Libya first before being put on trial in an international court.

Selective justice?

Earlier, Mr Moreno-Ocampo said the three men were suspected of committing crimes against humanity in two categories – murder and persecution – under the Rome Statute, which established the court.  The charges cover the days following the start of anti-government protests on 15 February. Between 500 and 700 people are believed to have been killed in that month alone.

ICC prosecutors are also studying evidence about the alleged commission of war crimes once the situation developed into an armed conflict.  This includes allegations of rape and attacks against sub-Saharan Africans wrongly perceived to be mercenaries. An inquiry set up by the UN Human Rights Council is expected to submit its report on the alleged war crimes to the UN Security Council on 7 June.

 The charges cover the days following the start of anti-government protests on 15 February. Mr Moreno-Ocampo said he was acting in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 1970, which referred the situation in Libya to the ICC. The Pre-Trial Chamber’s judges may decide to accept the prosecutor’s application, reject it, or ask him for more information.

If a warrant for Col Gaddafi is issued, it would only be the second time the ICC has sought a warrant for a sitting head of state. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has been indicted for genocide in Darfur. Amnesty International said the international community must not allow justice to appear selective, because what was happening in Syria was “equal to if not worse than the situation in Libya”.

Overnight, Libyan state television reported Nato aircraft had bombed an oil terminal in the eastern port of Ras Lanuf. The alleged raid came after insurgents said they had taken full control of the western city of Misrata. The rebels also said they had defeated two brigades of troops loyal to Col Gaddafi in the city of Zintan, south-east of Tripoli, over the weekend.

Nigeria’s New Vote “Will Change Country”

Published in BBC

Preliminary parliamentary poll results revealing big losses for the ruling party show Nigeria “has changed”, an analyst has told the BBC.  “It tells a story to every politician: You can no longer take Nigerians for granted,” Victor Burubo said. High-profile PDP casualties include speaker of the lower house Dimeji Bankole and ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo’s daughter in the senate.

Despite some violence, observers said Saturday’s poll was well-conducted. The initial vote had to be postponed from 2 April after voting material failed to reach many areas. Previous elections since the return to civilian rule in 1999 have been marred by widespread fraud and intimidation.  Elections for the presidency and state governorships were also delayed and are now to be held on 16 and 26 April respectively.

With more than 70% of preliminary results announced at a state level, President Goodluck Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has suffered significant losses.  The party that has dominated politics since the military returned to barracks has so far taken 59 seats in the 109-member senate and 140 seats in the 360-member House of Representatives.

Correspondents say it is not clear whether the PDP will lose its absolute majority in both houses as voting in some 13-14% of parliamentary constituencies – where polling had begun on 2 April – has been delayed until 26 April.  The party has lost out to two newly formed parties, the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in the south-west and to the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in parts of the north.

There was another embarrassing loss for the PDP in the northern state of Katsina where Maryam Yar’Adua, daughter of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, failed in her bid get into the House of Representatives. But Mr Burubo, who leads the National Ijaw Council in the southern oil-rich Niger Delta, said the PDP’s bad showing on a parliamentary level would not affect the presidential vote.  “I have a feeling that a good number of areas where the PDP has been beaten will still revert to the PDP candidates, Dr Goodluck Jonathan and his running mate Sambo because of who they are are – not just because of the party,” he told the BBC’s Network Africa programme.

Waris Husain Editorial: The Freedom to Offend

 

This week, the provincial assemblies of Pakistan and its President have expressed anger at the United States for allowing the burning of a Koran by Pastor Terry Jones in Florida. I have previously written about the common immoral perspective shared by Mr. Jones and Muslim extremists across the world, both irresponsibly seething hate and intolerance to the public. And while I condemn the Pastor, the U.S. Constitution defends his right to burn this sacred Islamic text without punishment from the state. The right wing in Pakistan has traditionally prosecuted and attacked those exercising free speech challenging their beliefs, and ask for the U.S. to do the same with Terry Jones. However, the U.S. system has been able to protect freedom and advance intellectually only by allowing an individual the right to offend others just as others have a right to offend him or her without government intrusion.

The development of America’s near-absolute protection of freedom of speech came from a presumption about human nature: that people would not value tolerance of others if it was handed down to them by the government. Rather, by prohibiting any government intrusion on peoples’ right to speak, the founders wished to create a marketplace of ideas where the public could pick and chose which ideas it adhered to. This meant that the government would not be in the business of indoctrinating the public by selecting which speech was permitted, but that the people themselves would determine the range and topic of their rhetoric and discussions

This concept is at the heart of American free speech and applies to Terry Jones in several ways. First, one should note that no major American news networks have given any coverage to this incident, and certainly none would risk losing their advertisement dollars by airing the disgusting images of Jones burning the Koran. This is not due to some ban by the U.S. government or courts, but is rather a choice made individually by each news corporation not to cover the story. Indeed, the right to free speech also carries with it the right to not speak, or to not give a hateful extremist any time on one’s private broadcast to offend viewers. It is more likely that if the U.S. government had tried to take legal action to stop Pastor Jones, the story would have been more heavily discussed in the media- but without such action, not many heard that the Pastor did such a hateful act.

Secondly, it is important to remember that Terry Jones is an outlier in the American society and not the average citizen, and his one voice of hate can be drowned out by the millions who disagree with his message and have the right to speak openly. Muslims have an equal legal right to protest Pastor Jones and even to burn the Bible (although such an act would violate the tenants of Islam and would be completely immoral).

Such a back and forth would certainly not produce any positive outcome, but is part of the open process that eventually strengthens a society and the citizens themselves. The society is buttressed by the simple fact that while you have the right to offend others, you have no right to use violence against them if they disagree. Criminal statutes apply regardless of the situation that led up to a violent action, therefore citizens grow by engaging in conversations with their opponents and learning from the experience rather than reverting to violence. This creates a marketplace of ideas where the best idea is the one that gains most support in the public, rather “might being right.”

The “might is right” doctrine applies in places like Pakistan especially through the hateful actions and rhetoric of right-wing political parties. The same parties that are petitioning the United States to prosecute Terry Jones supported not only a blasphemy law limiting free speech but advocated for the illegal murder of those who challenged the law like Salman Tasseer. The right wing doesn’t just advocate for violence, but continually instigates prosecutions against politicians, artists, and minorities for expressing their views. Thus, by creating an aura of fear and intimidation, the right wing parties of Pakistan and their terrorist allies hijacked the public discourse from the people, which has created a deficit in discussions and debates that can address Pakistan’s real issues.

As such, liberals have all but been silenced in the nation as they face death sentences against from political rivals if they merely engage in a debate with them. This is certainly a good sign for the religious right wingers but is an ominous sign indicating a breakdown in Pakistan’s “marketplace of ideas.” Thus, before Pakistan’s right wing advises the U.S. to follow its example and prohibit certain speech, they should understand the long-term benefits of protecting the freedom of speech with regards to creating innovative ideas that move the nation forward.

While such government inaction could leave a great deal in the hands of the majority, it also trains the majority to express their own opinions rather than relying on the government to learn about tolerance or interfaith harmony. Thus, rather than focusing on government censorship to quiet trouble-makers like Pastor Jones, the founders of the U.S. believed that people themselves should utilize their freedom of speech to challenge the intolerant opinion of Jones. This does not mean that one can use force against their rivals, but means that the louder majority can drown out hateful speech of Jones, with their own messages of harmony, tolerance, and love.

Paul Krugman: Another Inside Job

Published in NY Times.

Count me among those who were glad to see the documentary “Inside Job” win an Oscar. The film reminded us that the financial crisis of 2008, whose aftereffects are still blighting the lives of millions of Americans, didn’t just happen — it was made possible by bad behavior on the part of bankers, regulators and, yes, economists.

What the film didn’t point out, however, is that the crisis has spawned a whole new set of abuses, many of them illegal as well as immoral. And leading political figures are, at long last, showing some outrage. Unfortunately, this outrage is directed, not at banking abuses, but at those trying to hold banks accountable for these abuses.

The immediate flashpoint is a proposed settlement between state attorneys general and the mortgage servicing industry. That settlement is a “shakedown,” says Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama. The money banks would be required to allot to mortgage modification would be “extorted,” declares The Wall Street Journal. And the bankers themselves warn that any action against them would place economic recovery at risk.

All of which goes to confirm that the rich are different from you and me: when they break the law, it’s the prosecutors who find themselves on trial.

 To get an idea of what we’re talking about here, look at the complaint filed by Nevada’s attorney general against Bank of America. The complaint charges the bank with luring families into its loan-modification program — supposedly to help them keep their homes — under false pretenses; with giving false information about the program’s requirements (for example, telling them that they had to default on their mortgages before receiving a modification); with stringing families along with promises of action, then “sending foreclosure notices, scheduling auction dates, and even selling consumers’ homes while they waited for decisions”; and, in general, with exploiting the program to enrich itself at those families’ expense.

The end result, the complaint charges, was that “many Nevada consumers continued to make mortgage payments they could not afford, running through their savings, their retirement funds, or their children’s education funds. Additionally, due to Bank of America’s misleading assurances, consumers deferred short-sales and passed on other attempts to mitigate their losses. And they waited anxiously, month after month, calling Bank of America and submitting their paperwork again and again, not knowing whether or when they would lose their homes.”

Still, things like this only happen to losers who can’t keep up their mortgage payments, right? Wrong. Recently Dana Milbank, the Washington Post columnist, wrote about his own experience: a routine mortgage refinance with Citibank somehow turned into a nightmare of misquoted rates, improper interest charges, and frozen bank accounts. And all the evidence suggests that Mr. Milbank’s experience wasn’t unusual.

Notice, by the way, that we’re not talking about the business practices of fly-by-night operators; we’re talking about two of our three largest financial companies, with roughly $2 trillion each in assets. Yet politicians would have you believe that any attempt to get these abusive banking giants to make modest restitution is a “shakedown.” The only real question is whether the proposed settlement lets them off far too lightly.

What about the argument that placing any demand on the banks would endanger the recovery? There’s a lot to be said about that argument, none of it good. But let me emphasize two points.

First, the proposed settlement only calls for loan modifications that would produce a greater “net present value” than foreclosure — that is, for offering deals that are in the interest of both homeowners and investors. The outrageous truth is that in many cases banks are blocking such mutually beneficial deals, so that they can continue to extract fees. How could ending this highway robbery be bad for the economy?

Second, the biggest obstacle to recovery isn’t the financial condition of major banks, which were bailed out once and are now profiting from the widespread perception that they’ll be bailed out again if anything goes wrong. It is, instead, the overhang of household debt combined with paralysis in the housing market. Getting banks to clear up mortgage debts — instead of stringing families along to extract a few more dollars — would help, not hurt, the economy.

In the days and weeks ahead, we’ll see pro-banker politicians denounce the proposed settlement, asserting that it’s all about defending the rule of law. But what they’re actually defending is the exact opposite — a system in which only the little people have to obey the law, while the rich, and bankers especially, can cheat and defraud without consequences.

The Guardian: Tunisian Prime Minister and former lackey of Ben Ali Has Resigned

Tunisia was thrown into turmoil once more after Mohamed Ghannouchi resigned as prime minister of the post-revolution government amid further clashes between police and protestors. The interim president, Fouad Mebazaa, named the former government minister Beji Caid-Essebsi as Ghannouchi’s replacement.

Ghannouchi said he felt forced to stand down “because I am not willing to be a person that takes decisions that would end up causing casualties”. He made the announcement after three people died on Saturday and nine others were injured during outbreaks of violence on the streets of the capital, Tunis.

Tunisia’s interim coalition has struggled to assert its authority since a wave of protests that started in December sparked what was called the “jasmine revolution”, leading to the overthrow in January of president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, who had ruled for 23 years.Protestors have targeted Ghannouchi, accusing him of being too close to the former government. They have also become frustrated over the slow pace of change since the revolution despite the interim government’s pledge to hold a general election by 15 July this year.

Ghannouchi, 69, who since 1989 had held various ministerial posts under the old regime, told a news conference he had thought carefully about the decision. “I am not running away from responsibility,” he said. “This is to open the way for a new prime minister.” He added: “This resignation will serve Tunisia, and the revolution and the future of Tunisia.”

On a third day of clashes, police fired tear gas and warning shots in an effort to disperse stone-throwing youths and protesters shouting anti-government slogans around Habib Bourguiba avenue in central Tunis. More than 100 people were arrested and accused of “acts of destruction and burning”, according to a statement by the Tunisian interior ministry put out by the state-run news agency Tunis Afrique Presse.

Demonstrators want the interim government disbanded along with the current parliament. They also seek the suspension of the constitution and the formation of an elected assembly that can write another, organise elections and oversee the transition to democracy.