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Spying on Journalists: House Hearing Whitewashes US Government Seizure of Associated Press Phone Records
The Militarization of Domestic Law Enforcement: Pentagon Unilaterally Grants Itself Authority Over ‘Civil Disturbances’
Over the last several years I have watched the rise of an important new intellect on the American scene. Ron Unz, publisher of The American Conservative, has demonstrated time and again the extraordinary ability to reexamine settled issues and show that the accepted conclusion was incorrect. One of his early achievements was to dispose of…
The post How Elites and Media Minimize Dissent and Bury Truth — Paul Craig Roberts appeared first on PaulCraigRoberts.org.
Multibillion Dollar War Budgets: Proponents of ‘First Strike’ Nuclear War against Iran Rob billions...
In today's On the News segment: After yesterday's landmark challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the pro-equality crowd is hopeful; corporations rake in record profits and pay half as much in taxes as they did just a few decades ago; the Senate will begin voting on gun-control legislation next month; at least 6.2 million children have at least one unemployed parent; and more.
Thom Hartmann here – on the news…
You need to know this. After yesterday's landmark challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the pro-equality crowd is hopeful that the Supreme Court will strike down the discriminatory law. During the oral arguments, the majority of the Justices seemed ready to strike down DOMAs key provision, which denies same-sex couples the right to all the federal benefits of marriage. The liberal justices expressed obvious concerns over DOMA's impact on same-sex couples, and the usual swing vote, Justice Anthony Kennedy, seemed to conclude that the law infringed on state's rights to define gay marriage. The Court's most conservative justice, Antonin Scalia, expressed frustration at the President and the Attorney General for refusing to defend the law. The most notable moment of yesterday's arguments came from Chief Justice John Roberts, when he attempted to make the case that the “gay lobby” was too politically powerful to warrant constitutional protection. Roberts suggested that lawmakers are “falling all over themselves” to legalize gay marriage, as if to imply the LGBT community doesn't meet the “heightened scrutiny” requirement to be considered a protected class. But the fact is, more than 30 states in our nation have laws on the books barring same-sex marriage. LGBT families still have a long fight ahead to achieve full equality. The Supreme Court is expected to issue their ruling on DOMA, and Tuesday's Prop 8 case, later this year. Let's hope they strike down both discriminatory laws, and pave the way for same-sex couples to marry in every state in our nation.
In screwed news... As corporations rake in record profits, they're paying half as much in corporate taxes as they did just a few decades ago. A recent analysis by the Washington Post found that in the 1960's and 1970's, federal taxes of major U.S. corporations represented 25 to 50 percent of worldwide profits. However, today 22 of the 30 companies in Dow Jones Industrial Average are benefiting from effective tax rates that are 10 points lower. Despite the Republican talking point that the United States has the highest corporate tax rate in the world, most of these major corporations utilize off-shore tax havens to stash away huge profits. These corporations use our roads, waterways, electric girds, and environmental resources to generate their historic profits, yet we're letting them get away with paying virtually nothing for that privilege. It's time to end the tax breaks for companies that ship jobs – and profits – overseas.
In the best of the rest of the news...
Next month, the Senate will begin voting on gun-control legislation, and advocates of stricter gun laws are out reminding legislators that it's time for real reform. Today, gun-control groups are staging a “National Day to Demand Action,” which will include more than 140 public events in 29 different states throughout our country. Mayors Against Illegal Guns will also be running a $12 million television ad campaign this week, to target senators in 13 states who have yet to voice their support for new gun control regulations. The Washington Post reports that today, President Obama held a press conference with mothers who support gun restrictions, and yesterday, Vice President Biden took part in a conference call with gun-control activists. On that call, the Vice President said “I think we're on the verge of getting a serious, thorough, universal background check system in place, and it will save lives.” It appears the gun-lobby may finally be losing it's grip on Congress, and we may finally see some real gun-control reform. It's about time.
Even before Republican austerity measures took effect, one out six children in our nation were already impacted by unemployment. According to a new study from First Focus and the Urban Institute, at least 6.2 million children have at least one unemployed parent, and a staggering 12.1 million kids live in homes with a parent who is underemployed. In 2012, the average weekly unemployment benefit was only $299, and the sequester cuts that amount by almost 10%. So, families struggling to survive now find life even more difficult to afford. As The Think Progress Blog points out, the effect of an unemployed parent can have long-term consequences for children. These kids will likely have lower math scores and poor attendance records, and they will be more likely to fall into poverty later in life. Children our are future – and that's more than a cliché. It's the truth. They are the people who will be running our country someday. There are many reasons we need to put a stop to the Republican austerity, and the devastating effect it has on our children should be reason number one.
And finally… Video game lovers have a new reason to attend minor-league baseball games in Pennsylvania. That's because the men's urinals at the Lehigh Valley IronPigs' Coca-Cola Park will soon feature the world's only, truly hands-free video game. Video screens mounted above the urinals in the park bathrooms challenge players to “steer” along a snowmobile course, and try to hit cartoon penguins along the way. The game is aimed at increasing men's awareness of prostate health, and features messages throughout the game reminding men to get a prostate exam. The new games will be available for use when the IronPigs' season starts next week. The team spokesman, Jon Schaffer, said they bought the restroom entertainment from a UK company, called Captive Media. He said, “They told us with certainty that it's not in any other sports venue in the world.” The games are already in use in bars in the United Kingdom, but the IronPigs will be the first to offer “p-controlled” video games in the U.S. The games will likely be a hit with men in the ball park, and it wouldn't be surprising to see them in more venues before long. Soon, men everywhere will have a new excuse for why they spend extra time in the bathroom.
And that’s the way it is today – Thursday, March 28, 2013. I’m Thom Hartmann – on the news.
WASHINGTON - March 28 - Americans United for Separation of Church and State has told federal courts now considering the constitutionality of the Obama administration’s birth-control mandate that employers do not have a religious liberty right to deny their employees access to contraceptives.
Americans United said the mandate, which requires most businesses to provide workers with health insurance that includes no-cost birth control, should be upheld. If a “conscience” exemption is approved for corporations, the church-state watchdog group says, thousands of Americans will be denied birth-control coverage.
“Conservative religious interest groups are waging an all-out legal war on Americans’ access to birth control,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “We cannot let them win this battle. No corporation should ever be able to tell its employees that they can’t have access to contraceptive coverage simply because it offends the boss’ religious preference.
“This is clearly one of the most important church-state conflicts now before our courts,” Lynn added. “The Constitution and common sense tell us that Americans should not be denied basic health coverage because of the bogus ‘conscience’ claims of business interests.”
Americans United filed four friend-of-the-court briefs dealing with this issue in the past week. They concerned the following cases:
* Autocam Corporation, et al. v. Sebelius – A Michigan-based for-profit business that manufactures fuel systems, power-steering systems and medical devices seeks an exemption from the mandate due to the objections of its Roman Catholic owners. (6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals)
* Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., et al. v. Sebelius – The evangelical Christian owners of this Oklahoma-based chain of for-profit craft stores and for-profit bookstores say they should be exempt from the mandate on religious liberty grounds. (10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals)
* Grote Industries, LLC, et al. v. Sebelius – The Indiana-based corporation’s Catholic owners say their business, which is a for-profit, secular corporation that manufactures vehicle safety systems, should not have to provide health insurance that includes free contraceptives because it violates their religious conscience. (7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals)
* Legatus, et al. v. Sebelius – Weingartz Supply Company is a Michigan-based for-profit corporation that provides outdoor power equipment. Its Catholic owner objects to the contraceptive mandate on religious grounds. (6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals)
In addition to amicus briefs in these four cases, Americans United has previously filed friend-of-the-court briefs in three other contraceptive-access cases pending at federal appeals courts.
The broad legal attack on birth-control coverage is being waged by Religious Right legal groups such as the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, TV preacher Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice and the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal outfit founded by TV and radio preachers.
"If secular, for-profit corporations win the right to impose their owners' religious beliefs on employees, the consequences will be felt well beyond the issue of contraception,” said Gregory M. Lipper, senior litigation counsel for Americans United and a primary author of the briefs. “Corporations with owners who object to blood transfusions, psychiatric treatment or even gelatin-covered pills would be able to micromanage their employees' medical care.
“Decades-old laws that protect employees, consumers and tenants from religious-based discrimination,” Lipper continued, “would also be on thin ice if the plaintiffs prevail here. For a nation with increasing religious diversity, that would be a giant step in the wrong direction."
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.
Using (and Reforming) the System
Posted on Mar 28, 2013
|Flickr / wallyg|
WASHINGTON—If you are tired of seeing the debate on guns dominated by the National Rifle Association and yearn for sensible weapons laws, you have to love New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. When most politicians were caving in or falling silent, there was Bloomberg, wielding his fortune to keep hope alive that we could move against the violence that blights our nation.
But imagine that you also believe the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision was a disaster for representative government because a narrow majority broke with long precedent and tore down the barriers to corporate money in politics. The decision also encouraged the super rich to drop any inhibitions about using their wealth to push their own political agendas.
When it comes to policy, I fall into both of these camps—pro-Bloomberg on guns, but anti-Citizens United. And so I have been pondering the issue of consistency or, as some would see it, hypocrisy.
Put aside that the hypocrisy question is rarely raised against those who defend unlimited contributions except when the big bucks are wielded against them. Can I be grateful for what Bloomberg is doing and still loathe Citizens United? I say: yes.
Are opponents of Citizens United and the new super PAC world required to disown those who use their wealth to fight for causes we believe in? I say: no.To begin with, even before Citizens United, the regulations on “issue advertising”—most of what Bloomberg is doing now—were quite permissive for activities outside the period shortly before elections. The Supreme Court’s 1976 Buckley decision had already given wealthy individuals such as Bloomberg a great deal of leeway.
And unlike those who donate large amounts anonymously, Bloomberg is entirely open about what he’s up to. He is simply offsetting the political might of the arms manufacturers.
Supporters of universal background checks along with bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines simply cannot be asked to repudiate the help they need to face down the power of the gun lobby.
To put it in an unvarnished way, I’m glad some members of Congress will have to think about whether enraging Bloomberg is more dangerous than angering the NRA. And his advertising serves to remind politicians inclined to yield to the gun lobby that their constituents support universal background checks by margins of around 9-to-1.
The Supreme Court has stuck us with an unsavory choice. If the only moneyed people giving to politics are pushing for policies that favor the wealthy, we really will become an oligarchy. For now, their pile of dough needs to be answered by progressive rich people who think oligarchy is a bad idea.
But playing the game as it’s now set up should not blind anyone to how flawed its rules are. Politics should not be reduced to a contest between liberal rich people and conservative rich people. A donor derby tilts politics away from the interests and concerns of the vast majority of Americans who aren’t wealthy and can’t write checks of a size that gets their phone calls returned automatically. A Citizens United world makes government less responsive, less representative and more open to corruption.
That’s why many who welcome the continued political engagement of President Obama’s campaign organization are nonetheless concerned about its dependence on big-dollar givers. This creates a troubling model that other politicians are certain to follow. It would be far better if Obama concentrated primarily on building off the pioneering work his campaigns did in rallying small donors.
This points to the larger danger for those who tout their tough-mindedness about using the current system for progressive purposes while still claiming to be reformers: Politicians are growing so comfortable with the status quo that they have largely given up on trying to change it.
Two who haven’t are Reps. David Price, D-N.C., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., sponsors of the Empowering Citizens Act. It would provide a 5-to-1 match from public funds for contributions of $250 or less, thus establishing strong incentives for politicians to rely on smaller donors while offering the rest of us a fighting chance against the billionaires. Harnessed to new technologies, this approach could vastly expand the number of citizens who are regular contributors. Until Citizens United is overturned, as it should be, the best way out of our dilemma is to democratize the money game.
So, yes, let’s cheer for Mike Bloomberg. But let’s also insist on creating a system in which we will no longer need his money.
E.J. Dionne’s e-mail address is ejdionne(at)washpost.com.
© 2013, Washington Post Writers Group
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Guantanamo inmates complain of not being given drinking water and having to cope with extremely low temperatures, their lawyers have said. As the Gitmo hunger strike enters its 51st day, the White House has made its first comment on the protest.
Guantanamo detainees who have been refusing food for weeks now complain of being denied drinking water, according to Yemeni prisoner Musaab al-Madhwani, who spoke with his attorney by phone on Monday. He also claimed that temperatures at the camp were being kept extremely low.
Following the call, a group of human rights lawyers filed an emergency motion with a federal court in Washington, describing the alleged mistreatment: “The reality is that these men are slowly withering away and we as a country need to take immediate action,” Denver-based human rights lawyer Mari Newman said, according to AP.
The allegations of mistreatment were denied by the prison’s spokesperson, Navy Capt. Robert Durand, who said the inmates were getting “the same water I make my coffee with and that they make lunch with.”
While this motion has not yet received a response from the U.S. government, the White House has finally broken its silence over the seven-week-long hunger strike at Gitmo. “I can tell you that the White House and the president’s team is closely monitoring the hunger strikers at Guantanamo Bay,” President Obama’s spokesperson Joshua Earnest said, according to AFP. “I can tell you that the administration remains committed to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.”
President Obama vowed to close down Guantanamo at the beginning of his first term in office in 2009; he was blocked from fulfilling that promise by legislation passed by the US Congress.
Speaking to RT, former US Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs under Barack Obama, P.J. Crowley, explained that Obama’s hands have been tied by lawmakers, who put a ban on transferring detainees to the mainland US. “It clearly is the United States Congress that's basically frozen the situation in place,” Crowley said.
The legal deadlock Gitmo inmates find themselves victims of is seen as major reason behind their hunger strike. The official number of protesters has recently grown to 31, with at least 10 being force-fed and 3 hospitalized. Lawyers of the detainees keep on insisting officials are underreporting the scale of the hunger strike. They claim more than a hundred of Guantanamo prisoners have been refusing food since early February, with some putting their health at considerable risk.
One of protesters’ poor health conditions were recently witnessed by an attorney, US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Barry Wingard, who shared his impressions with RT.
“I’ve never seen him thinner in all of my five years of coming to Guantanamo Bay… I mean, he’s forgetful and he’s in a bad physical condition. He’s hard to focus, he complains of headaches, he’s weak. He went from 147 pounds down to 107 pounds,” Wingard said.
Fears for the health and safety of the prisoners on hunger strike have prompted the Red Cross to send a delegation to inspect the facility earlier than planned.
While the organization has a policy of not publicly commenting on such visits, in an interview with RT the spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross in North America, Simon Schorno, gave his opinion on the general situation at Gitmo.
“What I can tell you is that from our observations those tensions and this anguish that the detainees are experiencing are clearly related to the lack of a clear legal framework in Guantanamo. This has now been having a real impact for detainees for some time – on their mental health, on their emotional health,” he explained.
Guantanamo’s biggest-in-years hunger strike started on February 6, and was reportedly caused by mistreatment on the part of the guards, including searches, confiscation of personal items and the desecration of Korans.
President Obama’s pick to become the nation’s next secretary of energy is drawing criticism for his deep ties to the fossil fuel, fracking and nuclear industries. MIT nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz has served on advisory boards for oil giant BP and General Electric, and was a trustee of the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center, a Saudi Aramco-backed nonprofit organization. In 2011, Moniz was the chief author of an influential study for MIT on the future of natural gas. According to a new report by the Public Accountability Initiative, Moniz failed to disclose that he had taken a lucrative position at a pro-drilling firm called ICF International just days before a key natural gas "fracking" study was released. Reaction to his nomination has split the environmental community. Advocacy groups such as Public Citizen and Food & Water Watch are campaigning against Moniz’s nomination, but the Natural Resources Defense Council has praised his work on advancing clean energy based on efficiency and renewable power. We speak to Kevin Connor of the Public Accountability Initiative and ProPublica reporter Justin Elliott, who have both authored investigations into Moniz’s ties to industry.
AMY GOODMAN: President Obama’s pick to become the nation’s next energy secretary is drawing criticism for his deep ties to the fossil fuel, fracking and nuclear industry. Obama nominated MIT Professor Ernest Moniz last month to replace outgoing Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I could not be more grateful to Steve for the incredible contribution that he’s made to this country. And now that he’s decided to leave Washington for sunny California, I’m proud to nominate another brilliant scientist to take his place, Mr. Ernie Moniz. So, there’s Ernie right there.
Now, the good news is that Ernie already knows his way around the Department of Energy. He is a physicist by training, but he also served as undersecretary of energy under President Clinton. Since then, he has directed MIT’s Energy Initiative, which brings together prominent thinkers and energy companies to develop the technologies that can lead us to more energy independence and also to new jobs. Most importantly, Ernie knows that we can produce more energy and grow our economy while still taking care of our air, our water and our climate.
AMY GOODMAN: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on Ernest Moniz’s nomination as energy secretary on April 9th. Reactions to his nomination has split the environmental community. Advocacy groups such as Public Citizen and Food & Water Watch are campaigning against his nomination, but the Natural Resources Defense Council has praised his work on advancing clean energy based on efficiency and renewable power.
Much of the criticism of Moniz centers on his extensive ties to industry. He has served on advisory boards for oil giant BP and General Electric and was a trustee of the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center, a Saudi Aramco-backed nonprofit organization. In 2011, Moniz was the chief author of an influential study for MIT on the future of natural gas. According to a new report by the Public Accountability Initiative, Moniz failed to disclose that he had taken a lucrative position at a pro-drilling firm called ICF International just days before the study was released.
We’re joined now by two guests. In New York, Justin Elliott, a reporter at ProPublica, he recently wrote a piece called "Drilling Deeper: The Wealth of Business Connections for Obama’s Energy Pick." And in Los Angeles, we’re joined by Kevin Connor, director of the Public Accountability Initiative, a nonprofit watchdog group which recently published a report called "Industry Partner or Industry Puppet? How MIT’s Influential Study of Fracking Was Authored, Funded, and Released by Oil and Gas Industry Insiders." We invited MIT to join us on the show or send a comment to read on air, but we did not receive a response.
Kevin Connor, Justin Elliott, we welcome you to Democracy Now! Justin, let’s begin with you. Talk about Ernest Moniz’ record.
JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Right, well, I mean, and to some extent, this is kind of the classic revolving door situation. As President Obama mentioned when he nominated him to be energy secretary earlier this month, Moniz was an undersecretary in the department in President Clinton’s second term. After, he went back to MIT, but he also took a number of positions on boards of large energy companies or advisory councils, as you mentioned, that includes BP. It included a uranium enrichment company called USEC.
And I think there’s sort of two reasons why this is important. One is, some of these companies do business with the Energy Department and seek contracts and loan guarantees from the department. The other is, people in the environmental community think that this may inform how Ernest Moniz sets research priorities, so people are concerned that he’s—that he’s going to call for research on fossil fuels to the detriment of research on renewables, for example.
AMY GOODMAN: BP. Talk about his relationship with BP.
JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Well, there’s kind of two prongs on that front. One is, personally, Moniz did a six-year stint—paid, although BP won’t tell me how much—on BP’s science advisory council. It’s not really clear what he did. They don’t—BP doesn’t have to reveal much about it in their public SEC filings. At the same time, BP is one of the main funders of the MIT Energy Initiative. I think they have given—given or pledged a total of $50 million over the past few years. So he’s clearly—he’s clearly close to that company.
AMY GOODMAN: And how typical is this for a university professor?
JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Well, I think, in the science—in sciences and, in particular, in sort of the energy secretary, it’s increasingly—it’s increasingly common. I mean, Steven Chu, the outgoing energy secretary, who’s also an academic, actually also had close ties to BP. BP had given a bunch of money to Steven Chu’s lab at the University of California, Berkeley, and Chu picked a BP executive to be one of his undersecretaries. And Chu was later involved in the government’s response to the Gulf oil spill. So, I mean, I think this is—this is certainly common if you’re going to be picking an academic who’s involved in energy, and particularly fossil fuel research.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to comments of the executive director the Natural Resources Defense Council, or NRDC. Earlier this month, Peter Lehner posted on the NRDC blog a "To-Do List for the New Energy Secretary." In it, he wrote, quote, "As a scientist, Moniz is obviously a firm believer in the power of clean energy technology. [MIT’s Energy Initiative] projects under his tenure included windows that generate electricity, batteries built by viruses, and a biofuel made from yeast. But he also believes that technology must be complemented by policy in order to effect real change. As he said at the Aspen Ideas Festival in 2006, in order to address global warming, we must 'have the will to take more than baby steps.'" NRDC is supporting Moniz’s nomination.
JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Right, Amy, and it’s completely true. Moniz has spoken in favor of renewable energy. I mean, I think the best way to sort of interpret his nomination is that he fits in with what Obama has called his "all-of-the-above" energy policy, which is to embrace things like fracking, continued use of oil, nuclear energy, but also develop wind and solar. And I think that that’s where Ernest Moniz is on energy policy.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to our guest in Los Angeles, Kevin Connor, and what you found in your report. Talk about the report that you did that looks at—well, the title of the report is "Industry Partner or Industry Puppet? How MIT’s Influential Study of Fracking Was Authored, Funded, and Released by Oil and Gas Industry Insiders."
KEVIN CONNOR: Sure. Moniz’s nomination prompted us at the Public Accountability Initiative to take a closer look at an influential study that MIT did on "The Future of Natural Gas," as it was called, in 2011. It was issued by the Energy Initiative, which Moniz was the director of. And it gave a very pro-gas—put a very pro-gas spin on fracking and shale gas extraction, said that natural gas was a bridge or will be a bridge to a low-carbon future, said that the environmental impacts related to fracking are challenging but manageable, and also endorsed natural gas exports, which is a very industry-friendly position to take.
It immediately, you know, prompted some criticism from people who pointed to the fact that the report was actually industry-funded, much like the initiative itself. But it was extremely influential. It was designed to influence policymakers. Moniz testified before Congress on the report. It had immediate impact, as well. And it came at a critical time for the industry, which was facing significant questions about the safety of fracking, the relative environmental impacts of fracking. And we took a closer look at the study and found that beyond just the industry funding of the study, there were significant conflicts of interest that went undisclosed in the report itself and in presentations of the report, and those involved Moniz and several other key authors of the study. So, as it turns out, it was not only just funded by industry, it was also authored by industry representatives.
AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Connor, I wanted to turn to a 2011 press conference at the MIT Energy Initiative, where Ernest Moniz introduced the study now under contention, "The Future of Natural Gas." In his opening remarks, Professor Moniz emphasized the report’s independent of its sponsors and advisers.
ERNEST MONIZ: I do want to emphasize a disclaimer, if you like, that while their advice was absolutely critical, they are not responsible for the recommendations and the findings. We have not asked for endorsement. We asked for their advice; we received it. But the results, then, are our responsibility.
AMY GOODMAN: Later in the presentation, co-chair Anthony Meggs introduces the MIT report’s findings, saying environmental impacts associated with fracking are, quote, "challenging but manageable." However, Meggs failed to disclose he had joined the gas company Talisman Energy prior to the release of the study.
ANTHONY MEGGS: ... messages are very simple. First of all, there’s a lot of gas in the world, at very modest cost. As you will see, gas is still, globally speaking, a very young industry with a bright future ahead of it. Secondly, and perhaps obviously at this stage, although not so obvious when we started three years ago, shale gas is transformative for the economy of the United States, North America, for the gas industry, in particular, and potentially on a global scale. Thirdly, the environmental impacts of shale development, widely discussed and hotly debated, are—and we use these words carefully—challenging but manageable.
AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Connor, your response?
KEVIN CONNOR: It’s absolutely outrageous for the Energy Initiative, for Moniz and MIT to pretend this is independent of industry, well, first of all, given the fact that the sponsors of the report are all, you know, industry organizations and companies like Chesapeake Energy. Moniz was attempting to say that it was somehow insulated from the influence of these gas companies, when in fact authors of the study, such as Moniz and Meggs, were—had industry positions at the time.
Meggs’s quote there is particularly insidious, the fact that he is saying that fracking is safe for the environment, when he had actually joined Talisman Energy, a gas company, one of the most active frackers in the Marcellus Shale, a month before the study was released. So he is speaking to a roomful of journalists there, presenting a report designed to influence policy, and not disclosing that he is on the industry payroll. That is perhaps the last person in that room who should be presenting that finding or having anything to do with authoring that kind of report. And yet MIT and Moniz thought it was appropriate to put that spokesperson forward. So, it just goes to the fact that MIT was really sort of presenting an industry brochure here with a lot of pro-gas, industry advocacy talking points, and not revealing that there were significant conflicts of interest here.
AMY GOODMAN: Justin Elliott, would you like to weigh in?
JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Yeah, I mean, one thing to note is, Ernest Moniz is getting a confirmation hearing next month, and as part of that, he has to release a personal financial disclosure, and also, at some point later, he’ll have to—an ethics agreement will become public. So we should actually learn more about his current and recent involvement in these companies and possibly also stock holdings and that sort of thing, so it should be interesting. I think this story isn’t over yet.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and come back to this discussion. Our guests are Justin Elliott—he’s a reporter with ProPublica—and Kevin Connor, who has put out a report on—from the Public Accountability Project called "Industry Partner or Industry Puppet? How MIT’s Influential Study of Fracking Was Authored, Funded, and Released by Oil and Gas Industry Insiders." This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: In October of 2009, Obama’s energy secretary nominee, Ernest Moniz, introduced Tony Hayward, CEO of BP, before he delivered a speech at the MIT Energy Initiative. This took place six months before the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
ERNEST MONIZ: Tony, I think it’s fair to say, without getting into great details, faced a significant number of challenges at that time of transition and is, these days, getting quite good press, I might say, in terms of having the company operating well, producing and maintaining, I think, its stance, taken quite early, in terms of recognizing the need and acting on the need to address climate risk mitigation, for example, with its diversified portfolio. We are very pleased to have BP here as a member of the Energy Initiative—in fact, the founding—founding member of the MIT Energy Initiative. And in fact, as President Hockfield said just a few minutes ago to Tony, that that confidence shown in where we were going here at MIT, in terms of our focus on energy and environment, was very, very important, and we really appreciate that early support and the continuing relationship. In fact, many of you may know that besides the Energy Initiative, BP has a major presence in terms of a Projects Academy and Operations Academy with the Sloan School of Engineering. And in fact, I just heard, again, in the discussion a few moments ago, that 300 of BP’s 500 senior executives have, one way or another, interacted with MIT, so it’s really quite a substantial relationship.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s energy secretary nominee Ernest Moniz speaking in October 2009, praising BP CEO Tony Hayward six months before the BP oil spill. Justin Elliott of ProPublica?
JUSTIN ELLIOTT: I mean, one of the things that surprised me, actually, as I was researching this story, is the extent to which the MIT Energy Initiative is working with industry. I mean, it’s well known that they and other energy research projects get industry funding. But if you look at their annual reports and even their website, they say, if you give us money as a company, we will help you achieve specific business goals. So, I mean, in a lot of the coverage of Moniz, he has been presented as an academic, which he is, but in some ways I think the traditional categories are sort of failing us—sort of academic versus business executive. I mean, this really is a part of—I mean, it’s not formally part of BP, but they’re working as essentially a subcontractor for BP. So I think that’s really—and again, I mean, President Obama specifically praised Ernest Moniz’s ties with business when he introduced him. So, I mean, it’s up for interpretation whether or not these ties are a good thing, but I think that’s really the proper way to see his background and who he is.
AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Connor, I wanted to ask you about the broader issue of what some call
"frackademia," gas-industry-funded academic research. In February of 2012, a year ago, University of Texas Professor Charles Groat published a study that suggested fracking did not lead to groundwater contamination. However, the study did not disclose Groat’s seat on the board of major Texas fracker Plains Exploration and Production Company, for which he was reportedly given $400,000 in 2011. That’s more than double his university salary. I want to go to a clip of Professor Groat explaining his study’s finding.
CHARLES GROAT: The immediate concern with shale gas development and hydraulic fracturing was that fracturing at several thousand feet below the surface would put chemicals into groundwater that people drank that would be very bad for your health, and so people were very much opposed to hydraulic fracturing from that point of view. So, an important part of our study was to determine whether or not there is any direct, verified evidence that hydraulic fracturing itself was producing contaminated waters that ended up in that process in groundwater. Our preliminary finding is we have found no demonstrated evidence that that—demonstration that that has happened.
AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Connor, your response?
KEVIN CONNOR: Well, as you noted, Groat, when he was saying this, had a serious stake in a gas company called PXP, $1.6 million stake, made several hundred thousand dollars a year, over $400,000 a year in 2011, and was going before the public and saying fracking is safe, without disclosing any of these related interests. I mean, there’s some question as to whether someone with that sort of stake in the industry should be working on this at all, but at the very least it should be disclosed to the public, to journalists.
And because Groat didn’t disclose it, it resulted in a lot of blowback in Texas. The journalists were very concerned that Groat had not highlighted this for them when the report was released, and it resulted in quite a bit of media coverage. The University of Texas ended up commissioning an external review of the study, which concluded that the study should actually be retracted and noted that Groat’s conflict of interest was quite serious and should have been disclosed. So, the sorts of transgressions that we see at MIT have actually resulted in real accountability at other universities. Groat actually retired as a result of this episode. And the director of the Energy Institute at Texas, which is sort of an analog to MIT’s Energy Initiative—the director actually resigned in the wake of this external review. So there have been real consequences. There has been real pushback against this trend at other universities. And there’s some question as to whether that will happen with MIT.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, going back to Moniz, because you’re talking about Groat here, not to be confused with the energy secretary nominee of President Obama, talk about what he makes at MIT, both as a university professor but also his outside funding.
KEVIN CONNOR: I’m actually not sure of his salary at MIT. I don’t believe it’s publicly disclosed there, though it will be released in his financial disclosures. But as a board member at ICF International, which is an oil and gas—well, it’s a consulting firm with a significant energy practice and significant oil and gas ties—he’s made over $300,000 in the past two years since joining the board. This is a position where he attends several meetings a year. It’s certainly not a full-time position, and yet he’s making over $150,000 a year in stock and cash compensation. So these are not insignificant financial ties he has.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Justin Elliott, Ernest Moniz is a nuclear physicist. Can you talk about the significance of that for energy policy, if he were to become the next energy secretary?
JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Sure. I mean, actually, the Department of Energy, the majority of its budget goes to maintaining the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile, and also they’re in charge of cleanup of old nuclear waste. He’s been a strong and public supporter of nuclear power. And that’s actually the area where some of these business ties get into areas of potential conflicts. As I mentioned earlier, he was previously on an advisory council of a uranium enrichment company called USEC, one of the—one of the largest, and they’ve been seeking a $2 billion loan guarantee from the Energy Department to build a centrifuge plant in Ohio. That’s been on hold for a few years while they look into it further. So, it will be interesting to see whether Moniz has to recuse himself from that or whether it gets mentioned in any of the congressional hearings, but that’s certainly one of the big areas the Energy Department is active in.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Moniz wrote in Foreign Affairs in 2011, "It would be a mistake, however, to let Fukushima cause governments to abandon nuclear power and its benefits." He wrote, "Electricity generation emits more carbon dioxide in the United States than does transportation or industry, and nuclear power is the largest source of carbon-free electricity in the country."
JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Right. And again, I mean, I think this is in keeping with President Obama’s, quote, "all-of-the-above," unquote, energy policy. I mean, this is—this is Obama nominating someone as energy secretary who is in keeping with the administration’s stated policy.
AMY GOODMAN: President Obama has long been pro-nuclear power—in fact, is the one who is restarting nuclear power plants after, what, some 40 years of the last one being built.
JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Right. And I think the only reason that effort has stalled is the price of natural gas, because of fracking, going down so low that nuclear power plants have become less economically feasible than they were five years ago.
AMY GOODMAN: Final comments, Kevin Connor, as you release your report, director of Public Accountability Initiative, the report that you did called "Industry Partner or Industry Puppet?" has MIT responded? And were you able to speak with Professor Moniz?
KEVIN CONNOR: I did call the Energy Initiative but was not able to speak with Dr. Moniz. And the Energy Initiative did actually respond, through a spokesperson, with a statement that didn’t really speak to questions I had raised about how the conflicts of interest surrounding the report were managed and disclosed. One critical conflict of interest I didn’t note earlier was that one of the study authors, John Deutch, was on the board of Cheniere Energy, a liquefied natural gas company, LNG export company. That wasn’t disclosed in the study. The study actually endorsed natural gas exports. He has a $1.6 million stake in that company. MIT Energy Initiative—
AMY GOODMAN: Central Intelligence Agency?
KEVIN CONNOR: —basically had no response, just said that the authors aren’t biased, which is hard to believe, given these connections.
AMY GOODMAN: Kevin, John Deutch, the former head of the Central Intelligence Agency?
KEVIN CONNOR: Exactly. Former director of the CIA was actually a study author here and is on the board of the only company in the U.S. to receive permits to export LNG from the lower 48 states. And again, this study endorsed LNG exports on fairly—a fairly thin basis of evidence and didn’t disclose this connection, which is really, again, quite outrageous.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to leave it there; of course, we’ll continue to follow the nominee. The confirmation hearings will take place on April 9th. Justin Elliott, ProPublica reporter, and Kevin Connor, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Justin wrote "Drilling Deeper," looking at "The Wealth of Business Connections for Obama’s Energy Pick." And Kevin Connor wrote the study, "Industry Partner or Industry Puppet? How MIT’s Influential Study of Fracking Was Authored, Funded, and Released by Oil and Gas Industry Insiders." We will link to it at democracynow.org.
This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. And when we come back, we’ll be joined by a well-known anchor here in New York, Cheryl Wills, who in this month of Women’s History Month—and we’ve just come out of African-American History Month—we’ll talk about what she found about her family. She wrote the book, Die Free: A Heroic Family Tale. Stay with us.
As Washington lawmakers pushes new austerity measures, economist Richard Wolff calls for a radical restructuring of the U.S. economic and financial systems. We talk about the $85 billion budget cuts as part of the sequester, banks too big to fail, Congress’ failure to learn the lessons of the 2008 economic collapse, and his new book, "Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism." Wolff also gives Fox News host Bill O’Reilly a lesson in economics 101.
AMY GOODMAN: "Anda," music by the pianist, arranger and composer Bebo Valdés. He died Friday at the age of 94. The son of a cigar factory worker and grandson of a slave, he studied classical music at the Conservatorio Municipal in Havana and became a favorite collaborator with the great Cuban singers of his era, including Beny Moré and Pío Leyva and Orlando Cascarita Guerra, along with Americans such as Woody Herman and Nat King Cole, was considered a giant during the golden age of Cuban music. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report.
Our guest is Richard Wolff, a professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, now at New School University, author of a number of books, including Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism.
I want to talk about austerity here at home. This is House Speaker John Boehner speaking last month defending the $85 billion budget sequester cuts that took effect on March 1st.
HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER: The American people know, the president gets more money, they’re just going to spend it. And the fact is, is that he’s gotten his tax hikes. It’s time to focus on the real problem here in Washington, and that is spending.
AMY GOODMAN: House Speaker John Boehner. Professor Richard Wolff, your response? And also, that the Obama administration was warning catastrophe if sequestration took place. It took place.
RICHARD WOLFF: Well, it’s a stunning comment on our dysfunctional government built on top of a dysfunctional economy. Here we are in the middle of a crisis. We have millions of people without work, millions of people losing their homes, an economy that doesn’t work for the vast majority. The United States government is one of the major customers for goods and services in America. Sequestration is simply a cutback in government spending. It doesn’t take rocket science to understand that if the government, as the largest single buyer of goods and services, cuts back on the goods and services it buys, that means companies across America will sell less, and they’ll have less need of workers, and they will lay off workers. So, this is an act that worsens an unemployment that is already severe.
If you put that together with the tax increase on January 1st—and let me say a word about that. We heard a lot of public debate about taxing rich people, not taxing rich people, Republicans and Democrats, but the tax on the wealthy is small compared to the tax on the middle and lower incomes that went up on January 1st. When we raised the payroll tax here in America from 4.2 to 6.2 percent, we raised over $125 billion—huge amount of money, much more than was raised by taxing the rich—and we savaged the middle- and lower-income groups in America, those that in the presidential election both candidates had sworn to save and support. We attacked them, thereby limiting their capacity to buy goods and services because we taxed them more.
You put together the taxing of the middle and lower incomes with the cutbacks of government spending, and you’re going to do what every European country that has imposed austerity has already discovered: You’re making the problem worse. So with all the homilies that Mr. Boehner can put out there about how spending is a problem, this abstract idea doesn’t change the fact you’re making the economic conditions of the mass of people worse by these austerity steps, not better. And that ought to be put as the fire burning at the feet of politicians, so they stop talking these abstractions and deal with the reality of what they’re doing.
AMY GOODMAN: So what do you think needs to be done?
RICHARD WOLFF: A radical change in the policies. And I think it has to go far beyond simply reversing this austerity program, which, again, just for a word about history, back in the 1930s, the last time we had a breakdown of our capitalist system like this, we didn’t have austerity, we didn’t have cutbacks. We had the opposite. Roosevelt, in the middle of the '30s, created the Social Security system, went to everybody over 65 and said, "I'm going to give you a check for the rest of your life." He created the unemployment compensation system, giving all the unemployed for the first time checks every week for a year or two. And he created a public employment program and hired millions of workers. It’s the opposite of austerity. So any politician who says, "We must do this, because there’s no option," has forgotten even the American history of not that long ago.
So, the first thing I would do is go in that direction—not austerity, but its opposite. But I want to go further, because I think our problem is deeper. This crisis wasn’t supposed to happen. When it happened, it wasn’t supposed to last a long time. All of that has been proven false. The problems run deep. And I think what we have to do, and what that book tries to do, is to talk about reorganizing our economy so that for the first time we can say we’re not only going to get out of this crisis, we’re taking the kinds of steps that can prevent us from having them over and over again as our unstable business-cycle-ridden economy keeps imposing on us. So, for me, it’s the more profound change that we finally have to face, painful as it is. After 50 years of a country unwilling to face these questions, I think we need basic change. And that’s what I spend most of my time stressing.
AMY GOODMAN: Before we talk about the basic change, "democracy at work," as you put it—
RICHARD WOLFF: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —what could Obama do without congressional support right now?
RICHARD WOLFF: Well, I think, in many ways, he could initiate a public employment program. I think it’s long overdue that he find all the ways available to him to say what Roosevelt said—and not that Roosevelt did everything correctly, and not that he’s a genius or any of that, but to take some lessons from those people in our country before who took steps that were successful.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, Roosevelt didn’t plan on doing this when he first took office.
RICHARD WOLFF: Absolutely. He had pressure from below. The CIO, the biggest union-organizing drive in American history, never had anything that successful before.
AMY GOODMAN: As in AFL-CIO.
RICHARD WOLFF: That’s right. And with the socialist and communist parties, who were strong at that time, working with them, they organized millions of Americans into unions who had never joined a union before, and they pushed from below in a very powerful way. And they changed Mr. Roosevelt, showing that politicians, if subject to pressure from below, can change—same lesson that Cyprus has just taught us yet again. So, my response is: Learn from that. Roosevelt went on the radio to the American people and said, basically, "If the private sector either cannot or will not provide work for the millions of Americans that need and want to work, then it’s my job as president to do it." And he did it.
And I think Mr. Obama could and should overcome whatever has made him hesitate. We in this country not only don’t have a federal employment program, the Republicans and Democrats haven’t even put it on the floor to debate it as an important issue, even though it comes out of our own history. So I would say, put us—put our people to work. They want to work. The Federal Reserve says 20 percent of our tools, equipment, factory and office space is sitting idle, unused. So we have the people who want to work; we have the tools, equipment and raw materials for them to work with. And lord knows we need the wealth they could produce. Put them to work, and make it a national issue that that happen.
AMY GOODMAN: Where does the money come from?
RICHARD WOLFF: Well, Roosevelt went to the wealthy, and he went to the corporations, and he said to them, "You must give me the money to take care of the mass of people, because if you don’t, we’re going to have a catastrophe in this country. We’re going to have a social revolution." My argument is, let’s go back to the same tax rates that Roosevelt imposed, or at least in that neighborhood, which is much higher on wealthy people and much higher on corporations than we have today. That’s what he did. That’s how he funded it.
And in case our politicians are worried, let’s remind them: Mr. Roosevelt, who took those daring steps, was re-elected to be president four consecutive times, the most popular president in American history. It’s not a dead-end political decision. It’s the best decision a president could make to leave his legacy in history, that, we are told, our presidents care so much about.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Richard Wolff, author of Democracy at Work. Again, before we talk about "democracy at work," I wanted to go to a recent hearing in Washington. Executives with the banking giant JPMorgan Chase appeared before a Senate panel earlier this month to answer questions around so-called "London Whale trades" that cost the bank more than $6 billion and derailed financial markets worldwide. This is Arizona Republican Senator John McCain criticizing JPMorgan’s actions.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: JPMorgan completely disregarded risk limits and stonewalled federal regulators. It is unsettling that a group of traders made reckless decisions with federally insured money and that all of this was done with the full awareness of top officials at JPMorgan. This bank appears to have entertained—indeed, embraced—the idea that it was, quote, "too big to fail."
AMY GOODMAN: Ashley Bacon, JPMorgan’s interim chief risk officer, testified at the same hearing.
ASHLEY BACON: I don’t think it is too big to fail. I think there’s further work that needs to be done to demonstrate and document that, and it’s in process. I’m not leading that process or deeply involved in it, but I think it is—it’s something that needs to be demonstrated to everybody’s satisfaction.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Ashley Bacon, JPMorgan’s interim chief risk officer. Can you explain what took place here and what is happening?
RICHARD WOLFF: Yes. On the question of "too big to fail," there really isn’t much to say. In 2008, our banks failed—all of them—the way the Cyprus banks failed and for very similar reasons. They took in a lot of depositors’ money, and they made risky bets they shouldn’t have made, and they failed, and so they didn’t have the money to honor their obligations, and they turned to the government for a bailout. And when the government hesitated, because it’s public money to bail out a privately failed bank, they were told, in another kind of blackmail, "We’re too big to fail. If you don’t bail us out, we will collapse and take the entire economy with us." And that was a persuasive argument. Particularly after they allowed Lehman Brothers to fail and that nearly did take the economy with it, that was a convincing argument.
You would have thought they had then learned the lesson about the problem of a too-big-to-fail financial institution. If you thought that, you would have been wrong, because the same banks that were too big to fail in 2008 are, all of them, bigger today. So we didn’t learn the lesson. We didn’t break up the banks. We didn’t limit, control their growth. They’re bigger now than they were then. And in a sense, maybe shame on them the first time, but having allowed this to happen, it’s shame on us.
Number two, we seem to need, as a nation, to believe that we have the power to control, limit or regulate, whether it’s the Glass-Steagall Act that came out of our disaster of the 1930s or the Dodd-Frank Act, which came out of the disaster that started in 2008. We seem to want to believe we can leave in place private banks, no matter how big they are, and hedge them about with regulations. The proof of the Whale trades in London, the proof of everything we know, is that these banks have the money, the staff, the resources to work their way around the regulations at least as fast as we impose them on them. That’s what these hearings fundamentally show. They can make trades that are too risky. They can lose wild amounts of money. They can turn to the government and demand to be helped and bailed out each time. And they get it. We are telling them, in a classic example, "Look, do whatever you want. You don’t have any risk of fundamental failure and punishment." Regulation doesn’t work, because we believe in place an entity, a large corporation, with the money and the incentives to get around it.
AMY GOODMAN: Interestingly, Jamie Dimon, the head of JPMorgan Chase, did not testify. He was brought before the Senate, what, about last June, where the senators were asking him for advice. And then, when you looked at the senators on the Senate committee and how much money JPMorgan Chase had given each of them, we’re talking about millions of dollars went to many of them.
RICHARD WOLFF: When I say that the big corporations, particularly the banks, have the resources and the incentives, I’m being polite. Yeah, part of the resources are going into literally making sure that the political regulator is a good friend and understands the complexities. In simple English, they are buying their way into the situation we watch, which is: "We will pretend to be regretful. You will pretend to be protecting the public. You will make regulations that we help you write so that we can get around them." It is something that ought not to be allowed to continue, because we’re living the economic crisis that comes from that way of doing business.
AMY GOODMAN: What lessons have been learned since 2008? And today, could the U.S. see the same situation as Cyprus?
RICHARD WOLFF: Absolutely. We have banks that are literally telling us, because we know from our controls that they are trying, even, to regenerate it. They’re trying to get people to borrow more money again. We’re not changing the wage structure of America, which means that Americans are required to go into debt to supplement their wages. You know, the irony is, we are trying, in the language of some of these folks, to kickstart our economy, to get it going again. But the problem is, our economy was a train heading into a stone wall in the first years of this century, and if we get our economy going again, without fundamental changes, what we’re doing is putting that same train back on the track heading towards the same wall. Cyprus shows us what’s happening.
But we don’t have to take just small countries. Take Great Britain, our classic ally. Their economy is now in the second or, in some people’s minds, the third recession within the crisis since 2007. They are following an austerity problem—process exactly like that supported by Mr. Boehner, and the economic downturn in Great Britain is catastrophic for that society. And so, we have this image of a future for us, if we don’t make fundamental change, but everyone wants to put it away and pretend that we can let it go by itself or a few regulations will solve the problem. They haven’t. They’re not doing it now elsewhere. That’s not a strategy we should pursue in this country, either.
AMY GOODMAN: When we come back, we’ll talk to Professor Richard Wolff about the alternatives, about, well, what he’s put forward, Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back with Professor Wolff in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We continue with Richard Wolff, professor emeritus of economics at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, visiting professor at New School University here in New York, does a weekly program on WBAI in New York called Economic Update every Saturday at noon. His latest book is Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism. So what exactly do you mean by this?
RICHARD WOLFF: What I mean is a change in the enterprises that produce the goods and services we all depend on and provide the jobs we all need and want. I think those have to be, in a fundamental way, democratized. So let me begin in that way.
We live in a country that says it goes to war around the world to bring democracy and that its central, most important political value is democracy. If you believe that—and I am a fervent supporter of democracy, and obviously you are—you’ve named your program that way—then we ought to have democracy in the place where we as adults spend most of our time. Five out of seven days we go to work. We walk into a place where we use our brains and our muscles eight or more hours, five out of seven days. If democracy is an important value, it ought to be right there, first and foremost. But we don’t. We basically have a situation where, for most of us, we go to work in a place where the decisions that are made are made by a tiny group of people. The major shareholders who own the block of shares in our system select a board of directors, 15 to 20 people, and they make the basic decisions: what to produce, how to produce it, where to produce it, and what to do with the profits. The rest of us must live with the results of that decision.
So if that tiny group of people make a decision to close the factory in Cincinnati or the office in Atlanta and move to Shanghai, the chips fall where they may. If they decide to use a toxic technology that’s not good for the air and water but is good for the profits, they do, we live with the results. And when they decide to take the profits of their business and to give enormous pay packages to a handful of top executives and big dividend payouts to their shareholders, which of course they do, since they’re in a position to do it, and the rest of us suddenly have to take out absurd debts to get our kids through college, then that’s the inequality of income and wealth that we have in America.
So, I look at this decision-making apparatus, I say, "Why are we surprised that they make the decisions the way we do—they do?" We all live with the results, and we have no say in how those decisions are made. It’s not democratic. That’s the first thing. But the second thing is, we’re now in five years of economic crisis that indicate that way of organizing the decisions doesn’t work for the mass of people. It works for them. The stock market’s back. The profits of big corporations are back—surprise, surprise—given who makes the decisions. But we are left.
And so, for me, the solution is, let’s face this. Let’s build an option, a real choice for Americans, between working in a non-democratic, top-down-organized capitalist enterprise or in what, for lack of a better term, we can call "cooperatives," workplaces that are organized democratically. I think we’ll have less inequality of income, we will have less pollution of our environment, and we’ll have less loss of jobs out of the country, if those decisions were made by the people, as they should have been from the beginning, who will not make the kinds of decisions that got us into the mess of economic crisis that we’re in now.
AMY GOODMAN: In June, you wrote a piece, Richard Wolff, in The Guardian called "Yes, There is an Alternative to Capitalism: Mondragon Shows the Way." Mondragon, Spain’s renowned co-op where all enterprise is owned and directed by co-op members. At the Green Party’s convention last year, the keynote speaker, Gar Alperovitz, said the Mondragon model is being replicated here in the United States. I want to just turn to a clip of what Gar Alperovitz said, the professor of political economy at the University of Maryland.
GAR ALPEROVITZ: So, in Ohio, the idea of worker ownership is a bigger idea. Lots of people understand it. And in Cleveland, building on the Mondragon model—some of you know about the Mondragon model—and other ideas, there are a series of worker-owned, integrated co-ops in Cleveland in a neighborhood where the average income is $18,000 per family. And they have got these co-ops, not just standing alone, but linked together with a nonprofit corporation and a revolving fund. The idea is to build the community and worker ownership, not just make a couple workers richer, to say the least, not rich, but to build a whole community, and to use the purchasing power of hospitals and universities—tax money in there—Medicare, Medicaid, education money, buy from these guys, and build the community. That model—and it’s the greenest for—one of the things is the greenest laundry in that part of the country, that uses about a third of the heat and about a third of the electricity and about a third of the water. They’re on track now to put in more solar capacity that exists—one of the other worker-owned companies—that exists in the entire state of Ohio. These are not little, dinky co-ops.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Gar Alperovitz talking about the Mondragon model here. And when we were in Spain, Democracy Now! went to Mondragon and interviewed one of the cooperative members, and we’ll link to that at democracynow.org [ Click here to watch the interview with Mikel Lezamiz, director of Cooperative Dissemination at the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation in Spain’s Basque Country. ] But, Richard Wolff, talk about that model and what’s happening here.
RICHARD WOLFF: Well, the model of Mondragon is so interesting, not only because it’s a real co-op, where the workers make the decisions—what to produce, how, where, what to do with the profits. And just to mention one of their achievements, they have a rule that the highest-paid worker cannot get more than a maximum of eight times the lowest. In our society, it’s typical in our large corporations that the CEO gets 300 to 400 times what the lowest worker. So, for those of us that are interested in a less unequal society than what we have here in America, the lesson is, if you cooperatize your enterprise, that’s a sure route to get there. And we haven’t found any other route that is just as effective.
So, the importance of Mondragon is, they start in the middle of the 1950s with a Catholic priest, Father Arizmendi—I always have to remember it—with six workers in the north of Spain, desperately trying to overcome the unemployment there. And here we are over a half a century later. Having to compete with countless capitalist enterprises, they won that competition. Trying to grow, they have a growth record that would be the envy of any capitalist corporation. They went from six workers in 1956 to 120,000 workers today in Spain.
AMY GOODMAN: And they are making?
RICHARD WOLFF: And they are making everything. They make dishwashers. They make clothes washers. They raise rabbits on farms. They do high-tech research, together with General Motors and Microsoft as some of their partners there. They do an immense array. They’re really a family of 200 to 300 co-ops that are united within the Mondragon cooperative corporation. So they’ve shown the ability to grow. They’ve shown the ability to adapt. They’ve shown their competitive power. They have—excuse me, they’ve shown all the different ways that a corporation can develop without a top-down hierarchical, undemocratic structure. So we don’t have to choose between effectiveness, growth, job, security, and a cooperative structure. The cooperative structure can be a way to get there.
Here in the United States, we have lots of such co-ops developing. There’s one even named after Father Arizmendi in California in the Bay Area. There are six Arizmendi bakeries and coffee shops that were set up on that model. They started with one; they’re now six. Hint: They’ve grown. And you can do this. And all over the United States, there are these efforts, often done by people who want a different kind of life. They want to be in charge of their own job. They want to have a sense of control and a sense that they’re not just a drone doing the work, but they’re part of the folks who design and direct. It brings out new capacities. It makes you more happier to go to work. It’s a more satisfying job life than you would otherwise have. So I think it recommends itself on all kinds of levels.
One other example, we can learn something from a country called Italy that we admire for its cuisine and its lovely countryside. They have a law there, passed in 1985, called the Marcora Law after the name of the legislator. Here’s what it does. It offers a choice to unemployed workers. You can take a dole every week, an unemployment check, the way we do in this country, or you have an option, an option B that we don’t have. If you get at least nine other workers to make the—unemployed workers, like yourself, to make the following choice, here’s what you can get. As a lump sum, you can get your entire unemployment program of two years of checks in your hands right at the beginning; you have to have nine other workers or more, and you have to use that money as the start-up capital for a cooperative enterprise. The idea of the Italian government was, if we give workers this to set up a job and an enterprise, they will be much more committed to it than they would if they didn’t have that role.
AMY GOODMAN: How do they know they’ll do it?
RICHARD WOLFF: They don’t. But they know those workers have an incentive, because if they don’t make that work, they can’t go back and collect unemployment. That’s what they got. The government doesn’t spend much more money than it would have anyway, but it creates jobs, and it creates workers committed, because it’s their enterprise, to make that work as their personal solution and as a way not only for them to survive, but for the whole of the Italian society for the first time to see what it’s like to have an enterprise where you run the affair.
You know, here in America, we want to believe in freedom of choice. Let’s give our people freedom of choice. They can have the choice to go work in a top-down, capitalist enterprise—what we’re used to—but if we develop the alternative, really a program of co-ops around the country, then American young people and older people could say, "What would it be like to work there? Let’s see what that’s like." And then we would have the choice we do not have in this country now.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Wolff, before we end, I want to turn back to the crisis in Cyprus and relate it to what’s happening here. Bill O’Reilly of Fox News warned his audience last week that Cyprus and other European countries are facing economic hardships because they’re so-called "nanny states."
BILL O’REILLY: Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, now Cyprus, all broke. And other European nations are close. Why? Because they’re nanny states, and there are not enough workers to support all the entitlements these progressive paradises are handing out.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Bill O’Reilly of Fox News. Richard?
RICHARD WOLFF: You know, he gets away with saying things which no undergraduate in the United States with a responsible economic professor could ever get away with. If you want to refer to things as nanny states, then the place you go in Europe is not the southern tier—Portugal, Spain and Italy; the place you go are Germany and Scandinavia, because they provide more social services to their people than anybody else. And guess what: Not only are they not in trouble economically, they are the winners of the current situation. The unemployment rate in Germany is now below 5 percent. Ours is pushing between 7 and 8 percent. So, please, get your facts right, Mr. O’Reilly. The nanny state, you call it, the program of countries like Germany and Scandinavia, who tax their people heavily, by all means, but who provide them with social services that would be the envy of the United States—a national health program that takes care of you, whether you’re employed or not, and gives you proper healthcare. In France, for example, the law says when you go to work, you get five weeks’ paid vacation. That’s not an option; that’s the law. You get support when you’re a new parent for your child care and so forth. They provide services. And they are successful in Germany and Scandinavia, much more than we are in the United States and much more than those countries in the south.
So they’re not broken, the south, because they’re nanny states, since the nanny states, par excellence, are doing better than everyone. The actual truth of Mr. O’Reilly is the opposite of what he says. The more you do nanny state, the better off you are during a crisis and to minimize the cost of the crisis. That’s what the European economic situation actually teaches. He’s just making it up as he goes along to conform to an ideological position that is harder and harder for folks like him to sustain, so he has to reach further and further into fantasy.
AMY GOODMAN: In our last minute, other cures for capitalism, as you put it?
RICHARD WOLFF: Well, I think that there’s a set of fundamental reorganizations. When you have a private banking system in the United States, the way we did up until, say, the 1970s and '80s, you had it in a position relative to the economy that made a certain sense. But over the last 30 and 40 years, for a whole host of reasons, we have made debt a central part of the economy. Today it is not unusual for a person who goes into a grocery store to get a bottle of water to use a credit card, basically to make a loan in order to buy that bottle of water. Everything that consumers do is now mediated by debt. Everything corporations do, and as we look around the world, the governments are in debt. Debt is everywhere. It has become the water we swim in, the air we breathe. That puts the banks in an unbelievably powerful position, because they're the repository of the means to borrow. If we’re going to make an economy dependent on debt, we can’t leave the power to control that—
AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.
RICHARD WOLFF: —in the private hands of banks. Either we don’t become a debt-ridden country, or we make borrowing and lending a social program. We can’t allow private banking. It doesn’t work. It needs to be changed.
AMY GOODMAN: Richard Wolff, I want to thank you for being with us. If you’d like a copy of today’s show, you can go to our website at democracynow.org. Richard Wolff is professor emeritus at University of Massachusetts, teaches at New School University.
Paul Krugman makes a point in this post about Cyprus that I’d like use to make a broader and more important point. His point is that Cyprus is already off the euro and has created its own currency, the Cyprus Euro, which at the moment is pegged to the other euro at 1:1. Why is a euro in a Cyprus bank different from other euros? Because you can’t move it freely, so it has less real value. (Read here to see why he thinks that; also here.)
My point, though, is a little different. My point is about unrestricted free trade and capital flow in general and why understanding both is crucial to understanding:
▪ The neoliberal free-trade project, and
▪ Wealth inequality in America
But don’t let your eyes glaze over; this is not hard to understand. It just has a few odd terms in it. Please stick with me.
There’s a straight line between “free-trade” — a prime tenet of both right-wing Milton Friedman thinking and left-wing Bill Clinton–Robert Rubin neoliberalism — and wealth inequality in America. In fact, if the billionaires didn’t have the one (a global free-trade regime) they couldn’t have the other (your money in their pocket). And the whole global “all your money are belong to us” process has only three moving parts. Read on to see them. Once you “get it,” you’ll get it for a long time.
What does “free trade” mean?
In its simplest terms, “free trade” means one thing only — the ability of people with capital to move that capital freely, anywhere in the world, seeking the highest profit. It’s been said of Bush II, for example, that “when Bush talks of ‘freedom’, he doesn’t mean human freedom, he means freedom to move money.” (Sorry, can’t find a link.)
At its heart, free trade doesn’t mean the ability to trade freely per se; that’s just a byproduct. It means the ability to invest freely without governmental constraint. Free trade is why factories in China have American investors and partners — because you can’t bring down manufacturing wages in Michigan and Alabama if you can’t set up slave factories somewhere else and get your government to make that capital move cost-free, or even tax-incentivized, out of your supposed home country and into a place ripe for predation.
Can you see why both right-wing kings (Koch Bros, Walmart-heir dukes and earls, Reagan I, Bush I and II) and left-wing honchos (Bill Clinton, Robert Rubin, Barack Obama) make “free trade” the cornerstone of each of their economic policies? It’s the song of the rich, and they all sing it.
I’ve shown this video before, but it bears repeating. When you think about “free trade,” you probably think of the Walmart heirs (or Apple owners) wallowing in wealth from the world’s slave factories. But it’s a joint project by all of our owners (sorry, major left- and right-wing campaign contributors and job creators).
This is Barack Obama making his case for campaign funding to Robert (Hi “Bob”) Rubin and others in 2006:
Brand-New Senator Barack Obama, 2006
The opening of Robert Rubin’s Hamilton Project Thinktank
At 1:20: “The forces of globalization have changed the rules of the game,” and at 5:52: “Most of us are strong free-traders.” (His “yes-but” to Rubin in that second segment is an appeal to actually do the worthless retraining for non-existent jobs that Clinton earlier supported but never did. See? Pushback. Independence.)
Three things to note:
1. The “forces of globalization” he refers to are not acts of god, whether Yahweh, Juno or Joxer. They were created by the Clinton- and Rubin-crafted CAFTA and NAFTA treaties. If a god did it, that god also caused a certain blue dress to need a dry-cleaning it never got.
2. If Obama doesn’t say what he just said in that room, he doesn’t get a Rubinite dime for his next political campaign. Period. This is his application speech.
3. Never forget that if Oklahoma knuckle-dragger Sam Walton were in that room, or not-America-first Steve Jobs, Obama would say those same words. “Most of us are strong free-traders.” It’s the tie that binds the left and the right. Bind yourself to Obama economically, and you’re tied to the Waltons. Period.
Bonus points for noting that the push to roll back social insurance is part of the NeoLiberal agenda, for example at 1:30 and elsewhere. It’s why we have the Obama Grand Betrayal, the Catfood Snack That Won’t Go Away (do click; there’s a kitty inside).
Finally, listen again to his opening praise of “Bob” Rubin and the others in the first 30 seconds or so. When Obama says that the men he’s praising have “put us on a pathway of prosperity,” what he means is that they’ve put themselves on a path to prosperity. This is wealth inequality in action, wealth inequality on the hoof. Those slave-wage jobs in China (or Indonesia or the Philippines) replace the unionized, high-paying wages you don’t have and will never get back; the men in that room, including Obama, are the reason; and “free trade” is both the cover story and the tool (more on that duality below).
Never forget — “Free trade” is a bipartisan, hands-across-the-aisle screwage of American incomes and wealth. It’s the necessary cornerstone of both left-wing and right-wing economic policy. Period.
The three tools of wealth extraction
Free trade is a primary tool of wealth extraction. What are the others?
Recall that corporations aren’t actors per se, they are machines by which wealth is vacuumed from workers and consumers into the hands and pockets of the corps’ true owners, the CEO and capital class. As we’ve said before:
(1) Corporations are not people, and they don’t have ideas or will. They are empty vessels. If you took a neutron bomb to the home office of MegaCorp.com and let it rip, the building, filled to the brim with inventory and IP, would be empty of humans and a dead thing. You could wait for weeks for the offices to act; they wouldn’t.
(2) This is especially true today, since the corporation now serves a different function than it was designed for. At first, a corporation served to make its stockholders moderately wealthy — or at least wealthier.
Modern corporations serve one function only — to make the CEO class obscenely rich.
The looting of global wealth into the hands of the capital and CEO class is a simple two-step process: Corps use free trade to loot the world. CEOs then loot the corps and live higher and better than the kings and presidents they control.
Yes, “kings and presidents they control.” The only thing needed to make the looting worldwide is government protection. If the capital class doesn’t control government, they can’t institute … global free trade regimes. And there you have it. So what are the three tools needed by the capital-controlling class?
- CEO capture of corporations
- Wealth capture of government
- A global free-trade regime
And that’s all it takes. With those three tools in your pocket, you can loot and own the world, literally.
Hmm, we have all three now. “Mission accomplished,” as they say in private jet circles.
Free trade keeps the rest of the world in crisis
And now we come back to Krugman. A direct consequence of a world in which capital flow is completely unrestricted is constant economic crisis. The Professor explains that well in the context of the Cyprus problem (my emphasis and some reparagraphing):
Whatever the final outcome in the Cyprus crisis … one thing seems certain: for the time being, and probably for years to come, the island nation will have to maintain fairly draconian controls on the movement of capital in and out of the country. …
That’s quite a remarkable development. It will mark the end of an era for Cyprus, which has in effect spent the past decade advertising itself as a place where wealthy individuals who want to avoid taxes and scrutiny can safely park their money, no questions asked. But it may also mark at least the beginning of the end for something much bigger: the era when unrestricted movement of capital was taken as a desirable norm around the world. …
Then he compares the era of capital control to the era of capital freedom:
It wasn’t always thus. In the first couple of decades after World War II, limits on cross-border money flows were widely considered good policy; they were more or less universal in poorer nations, and present in a majority of richer countries too. Britain, for example, limited overseas investments by its residents until 1979; other advanced countries maintained restrictions into the 1980s. Even the United States briefly limited capital outflows during the 1960s.
But like all good things, that changed:
Over time, however, these restrictions fell out of fashion. To some extent this reflected the fact that capital controls have potential costs: they impose extra burdens of paperwork, they make business operations more difficult, and conventional economic analysis says that they should have a negative impact on growth (although this effect is hard to find in the numbers). But it also reflected the rise of free-market ideology, the assumption that if financial markets want to move money across borders, there must be a good reason, and bureaucrats shouldn’t stand in their way.
What marks the difference between those two eras, the era of capital control and our current free-trade era? Near-constant economic crisis:
[U]unrestricted movement of capital is looking more and more like a failed experiment. It’s hard to imagine now, but for more than three decades after World War II financial crises of the kind we’ve lately become so familiar with hardly ever happened.
Since 1980, however, the roster has been impressive: Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Chile in 1982. Sweden and Finland in 1991. Mexico again in 1995. Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Korea in 1998. Argentina again in 2002. And, of course, the more recent run of disasters: Iceland, Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Cyprus.
Notice the date of change? “Since 1980, however…” Him again. This is not just a coincidence. The Reagan era didn’t just initiate national looting, but international looting as well. Krugman ties these crises, here and elsewhere, to large and unrestricted inflows of capital, followed by large and unrestricted outflows that create economic bubbles, then leave them thoroughly deflated:
[T]he best predictor of crisis is large inflows of foreign money: in all but a couple of the cases I just mentioned, the foundation for crisis was laid by a rush of foreign investors into a country, followed by a sudden rush out.
The rest of the piece shows that this idea doesn’t originate just with The Professor; it’s widely held by many not paid by Money to represent it in the court of public opinion.
There’s an opportunity in Spain, let’s say, to take advantage of cheap labor and prices. Money flows in, builds huge capacity, then flows out as soon as it finds better opportunity elsewhere. What’s left behind? The Spanish in a crashed economy, and in a world in which the holders of their debt (German bankers et al) are using the EU (remember, capture of government) to make sure that creditors are made whole at the expense of whole populations.
Kind of like how Walmart comes into a town, builds a huge store, drives all the other retailers out of business, then leaves as soon as the low-wage-earners in that town can’t keep the store more profitable than other stores in the state.
What’s left? The wreck of an economy. Where’s the money? In the pockets of the Walton family, ‘natch. Win-win for someone (but not for you).
Your “economic crisis” is just their “cost of doing business”
Keep in mind, the purpose of unrestricted “free trade” is to advantage the holders of capital over everyone else on the planet. Great wealth insulates these men and women from crises, so even global economic crisis is just the externalized price (that we pay) for their wealth extraction enterprise — just like a burdened health care system is the externalized price (that we pay) for wealth extraction by billionaire owners of tobacco companies from the constant stream of lung cancer patients.
What’s “a world in constant crisis” to them? Just the cost of doing business. Nothing personal. It’s just business.
Is free trade an ideology or a tool?
One last point. Framing free trade as an ideology may be technically correct in a few cases — there are true believers in almost anything (I believe in kittehs) — but if “free trade” weren’t a money machine for the wealthy, you’d never hear of it. Crickets, as the kids say.
Put simply, the reason you heard Barack Obama tout “strong free trade” with Robert Rubin in the room, is that bankers like Robert Rubin grow obscenely wealthy by financing billionaire store-owner Billy-Bob Walton’s slave factories in Asia.
And non-millionaire Barack Obama wants millionaire Bill Clinton’s post-presidential money — $80 million and counting. (Click the link for a stunning connection between public policy — in this case, the repeal of Glass-Steagal — and a post-presidential payday.)
Obama may not say he wants “Clinton money.” He might even know it, in that self-blind sense of “know.” But I’ve met lots of drunks who’ve explained themselves so long, they really do “know” they’re just “prone to be ill in the morning.” Right. Occam’s Switchblade, Upton Sinclair edition:
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
“I’m doing it for the kids,” Obama edition.
The bottom line is simple: A “free trade” system is a regime in which capital always wins, everywhere. It’s the tool by which global wealth is extracted. It’s supported by both parties. The Democratic Party version is called NeoLiberalism. “NeoLiberal” means not-FDR-liberal in the same way that Tony Blair’s “New Labour” means not-Clement Attlee-Labour. Because, framing counts on CNN, and it’s always opposite day there.
And Barack Obama, Bringer and Betrayer of Hope and Change, is the lead NeoLiberal warrior, the point of the spear until 2016, at which point he’ll pass the torch to another testosterone-branded neoliberal, retire into the sunset of global acclaim, create his Foundation for NeoLiberal Love and Global Kittens, and collect his checks. (Or not.)
My suggestion, given the above — don’t help him. You have enough on your conscience, if you’re at all like the rest of us. Unless, of course, you like your economic crises served always on tap. In which case, do sign up.
Baris Karaagac is a lecturer in International Development Studies at Trent University, in Ontario. He is also the editor of the book Accumulations, Crises and Struggles: Capital and Labour in Contemporary Capitalism, which will be published in 2013.
EndDISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.
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Two years ago this week, the 100th anniversary of the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist fire, the issue of workplace safety got a lot of attention. Two years later things haven’t changed much except now the dangers are world-wide. Last September nearly 300 workers died when trapped behind locked doors in a Pakistani textile factory fire. Last November, 120 people died and about 100 others were injured in a fire at an eight-story textile factory Bangladesh. And in the two years since America memorialized the Triangle Fire victims with conferences, speeches, and an HBO special – Republicans in Congress have made sure nothing has been done to improve the situation in the United States, such as expanding the budget for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and giving OSHA stronger regulatory teeth.Relatives mourn the death of a garment worker after a fire swept through the Tazreen Fashion factory in Bangladesh's capital last year killing more than 100 people. (Photo: Andrew Biraj/REUTERS )
A century ago, on March 25, 1911, 146 garment workers, most of them Jewish and Italian immigrant girls in their teens and twenties, perished after a fire broke out at the Triangle Waist Company in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Even after the fire, the city’s businesses continued to insist they could regulate themselves, but the deaths clearly demonstrated that companies like Triangle, if left to their own devices, would not concern themselves with their workers’ safety. Despite this business opposition, the public’s response to the fire and to the 146 deaths led to landmark state regulations.
Businesses today, and their allies in Congress and the statehouses, are making the same arguments against government regulation that New York’s business leaders made a century ago. The current hue and cry about “burdensome government regulations” that stifle job growth shows that the lesson of the Triangle has been forgotten. Here, to refresh our fading memories, is what happened.
One hundred years ago, New York was a city of enormous wealth and wide disparities between rich and poor. New industries were booming—none more so than women’s and men’s clothing. The new age had created a demand for off-the-rack, mass-produced clothing that could be sold in department stores. The Triangle company made blouses, which were called shirtwaists.
Few of those who bought the new ready-to-wear clothing gave much thought to the people who made them. The blouses, skirts, and sweaters were sewn in miserable factories, often by girls as young as 15 who worked seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. with a half-hour lunch break, and often longer during the busy season. They were paid about $6 per week, and were often required to use their own needles, thread, irons, and even sewing machines. The factories were overcrowded (they often occupied a room in a tenement apartment) and lacked ventilation. Many were poorly lit fire traps without sprinklers or fire escapes.
In November 1909, over 20,000 shirtwaist makers from more than 500 factories, led by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), walked off their jobs. They demanded a 20 percent pay raise, a 52-hour workweek, and extra pay for overtime. They also called for adequate fire escapes and open doors from the factories to the street. Within 48 hours, more than 70 of the smaller factories agreed to the union’s demands, but many of the largest manufacturers refused to compromise. The New York City police soon began arresting strikers—labeling some of them “street walkers,” which was literally true, since they were carrying picket signs up and down the sidewalks. Judges fined them and sentenced some of the activists to labor camps.
But the strikers held out and by February 1910, most of the small and midsized factories, and some of the larger employers, had negotiated a settlement for higher pay and shorter hours. One of the companies that refused to settle was the Triangle Waist Company, one of New York’s largest garment makers.
That July, another group of garment workers—over 60,000 cloakmakers, mostly men this time—went on strike. As the tensions escalated, both union and business leaders invited prominent Boston attorney (and later Supreme Court Justice) Louis Brandeis to New York to help mediate the conflict. With Brandeis’s nudging, the two sides signed the “Protocol of Peace” agreement that set minimum industry standards on wages, hours, piece-rates, and workplace safety and health. But the Protocol’s weakness was that it was a voluntary agreement, not a government regulation, and not all manufacturers signed on. Once again, one of the holdouts was the Triangle Waist Company.
Owned by Isaac Harris and Max Blanck, who were known as the “the shirtwaist kings," Triangle was one of the most rabidly anti-union firms. On March 25, 1911, on a Saturday at 4:45 p.m., close to quitting time, a fire broke out on the eighth and ninth floors of its ten-story building. Factory foremen had locked the exit doors to keep out union organizers and to keep workers from taking breaks and stealing scraps of fabric. Other doors only opened inward and were blocked by the stampede of workers struggling to escape. The ladders of the city’s fire engines could not reach high enough to save the employees. As a result, workers burned or they jumped to their deaths. Experts later concluded that the fire was likely caused by a cigarette dropped on a pile of “cut aways” or scraps of cloth that had been accumulating for almost three months.
News of the fire spread quickly, catalyzing public opinion, and energizing a broad coalition of unlikely allies. It included immigrants, muckraking journalists, clergy, unionists, socialites, and socialists. Rose Schneiderman, an immigrant worker, socialist, and fiery union organizer, found common cause with Anne Morgan, the daughter of Wall Street chieftain J.P. Morgan. Frances Perkins, a former settlement house worker who was at the time a researcher and lobbyist for the Consumers League (and who later became Franklin Roosevelt’s trailblazing secretary of labor) joined hands with Rabbi Stephen S. Wise to demand reform.
On April 6, 30,000 New Yorkers marched—and hundreds of thousands more lined the march’s route—behind empty hearses to memorialize the fire’s victims. Numerous rallies, broadsides and editorials called for legislative action—ranging from fire safety codes to restrictions on child labor. In response to the outcry, New York Governor John Alden Dix created the Factory Investigating Commission, a pioneering body with broad subpoena powers and teams of investigators, led by two savvy Democratic politicians, state Assemblyman Al Smith and state Senator Robert F. Wagner.
Smith, Wagner, and the Commission members traveled up and down the state holding hearings and visiting factories. Over two years, the commissioners interviewed almost 500 witnesses and visited over 3,000 factories in 20 industries. They found buildings without fire escapes, bakeries in poorly ventilated cellars with rat droppings. Only 21 percent of the bakeries even had bathrooms, and most of them were unsanitary. Children—some as young as five years old—were toiling in dangerous canning factories. Women and girls were working 18-hour days.
After the fire, many city officials acknowledged there was a problem. Edward F. Croker, New York City’s retired fire chief, told the Commission that employers “pay absolutely no attention to the fire hazard or to the protection of the employees in these buildings. That is their last consideration.” His department had cited the Triangle building for lack of fire escapes just one week before the fire.
But the garment manufacturers, the Real Estate Board, and the bakery and cannery industry groups sought to stymie the Commission. The real-estate interests opposed city fire codes. After the Fire Department ordered warehouses to install sprinklers, the Protective League of Property Owners held a meeting to denounce the mandate, angrily charging the city with forcing owners to use “cumbersome and costly” equipment.
As representative of the Associated Industries of New York insisted that regulations would mean “the wiping out of industry in this state.” Mabel Clark, vice president of the W.N. Clark Company, a canning corporation, opposed any restrictions on child labor. “I have seen children working in factories, and I have seen them working at home, and they were perfectly happy,” she declared.
Terence McGuire, president of the Real Estate Board, summed up the business argument against regulation. “To my mind this is all wrong,” he declared. “The experience of the past proves conclusively that the best government is the least possible government.” The board warned that new laws would drive “manufacturers out of the City and State of New York.”
Smith, Wagner, and the political leaders of the time, fortified by a vibrant progressive movement, ignored these opponents of business regulation. In the first year, the Commission proposed and the legislature quickly passed a package of laws requiring mandatory fire drills, automatic sprinklers, and unlocked doors during work hours that were required to swing outward. They also created rules on the storage and disposal of flammable waste, and they banned smoking from the shop floor.
In the second year, the legislature passed additional reforms. They set the maximum numbers of workers per floor. They established codes requiring new buildings to include fireproof stairways and fire escapes. They required employers to provide clean drinking water, washrooms and toilets for their employees. They gave labor commission inspectors the power to shut down unsanitary tenement sweatshops. And they ruled that women could work no more than 54 hours a week and that children under 18 could not work in dangerous situations.
These pathbreaking state regulations, provoked by the Triangle fire, proved that government could play a powerful role in the lives of ordinary people. Other states followed suit, and ultimately President Franklin Roosevelt, prodded by Perkins, Wagner, and other veterans of New York’s progressive movement, introduced New Deal reforms ending child labor, establishing a federal minimum wage and a 40-hour week, and creating a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that would establish the right of workers to form a union that would bargain collectively with employers.
The Triangle company’s owners were indicted and went on trial for manslaughter, but they were found innocent when the judge told the jury that in order to return a guilty verdict, they had to find that the two defendants knew or should have known that the doors were locked. Harris and Blanck also continued to refuse to recognize the union. But the company never recovered from the fire and the controversy surrounding it, and in 1918, it closed its doors.
That didn’t happen to other city businesses. Contrary to the business leaders’ dire predictions, they did not suffer from the new regulations. The New York Times reported in July 1914, that, “[n]otwithstanding all the talk of a probable exodus of manufacturing interests, the commission has not found a single case of a manufacturer intending to leave the State because of the enforcement of the factory laws.” New York’s Seventh Avenue remained the headquarters of the nation’s garment industry for decades until production gradually moved south and overseas after World War II.
Ironically, 100 years after the Triangle fire, we still hear much of the same rhetoric whenever reformers seek to use government to businesses act more responsibly and protect consumers, workers, and the environment. For example, the disasters last year that killed 29 miners at Upper Big Branch and eleven oil rig workers in the Gulf could have been avoided had lawmakers resisted lobbying by mine owners and BP to weaken safety regulations.
Today, the leading foe of reform is the United States Chamber of Commerce, which is on a crusade against the Obama administration’s plans to set new rules on unsafe workplaces, industrial hazards and threats to public health. The Chamber labels every effort at reform a “job killer.” The Chamber’s most vocal proponent is Darrell Issa, the conservative California Republican who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. At the request of the Chamber and other industry lobbies, Issa recently launched a congressional assault on safeguards in workplaces and communities.
In January, Issa sent letters to more than 170 companies and business lobby groups—including Duke Energy, FMC Corp., Toyota, Bayer, the American Petroleum Institute, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Association of American Railroads, the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association, and lobbies representing health care, banking, and telecommunication providers—asking them to identify "burdensome government regulations" that they want eliminated.
The business groups responded with a long wish list, including rules to control “combustible dust” that has resulted in explosions killing workers; rules to track musculoskelal disorders, such as tendonitis, carpal tunnel, or back injuries, that impact millions of workers at keyboards, in construction, or in meat processing; and rules to address workplace noise that leads to hearing loss. And Republicans listened. They are proposing to cut OSHA’s budget by 20 percent, which, coming on top of decades of cuts, would cripple an agency that has been effective at significantly reducing workplace injuries and deaths.
The Republican leadership is trying to drive home the message, in Speaker John Boehner’s words, that “excessive regulation costs jobs” and that the “path to prosperity” is by “getting government out of the way.” Americans of earlier generations—who enjoyed the benefits of the Progressive Era and the New Deal reforms, and the political clout of a vibrant labor movement—understood this was nonsense, but it seems like the lessons of the past have to be relearned again. That’s why it is important to recall the sordid circumstances in which 146 young women lost their lives at the Triangle Waist Company a century ago.
Peter Dreier is E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics, and director of the Urban & Environmental Policy program, at Occidental College. His most recent book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (2012, Nation Books). Other books include: Place Matters: Metropolitics for the 21st Century and The Next Los Angeles: The Struggle for a Livable City. He writes regularly for the Los Angeles Times, The Nation, and American Prospect.
Donald Cohen is currently the Director of the Cry Wolf Project and the Chair of In the Public Interest, a resource center on privatization and responsible contracting. A co-founder and former president of the Center on Policy Initiatives, a San Diego-based research, and policy center, Cohen has over 25 years of experience in campaigns and organizations dedicated to economic justice, healthcare reform, education reform, environmental protection, and international human rights. He is also on the board of Green For All.
On February 21st, 69 organizations submitted a letter to President Barack Obama in support of continued funding for Public Law 480 (also known as Food for Peace) and Food for Progress international food aid programs in the FY 2014 budget, and opposing rumored proposals to shift resources to local and regional commodity procurement. The signatory organizations were comprised almost exclusively by the iron triangle of US food aid spending recipients (the US agribusiness, shipping, and international development industries). Funding, which is attached to the Farm Bill, has been reauthorized by President Obama under Title VII of the fiscal cliff legislation through this September. However, these food aid programs depend on congressional appropriations, which have only been approved through March 27th. Big changes, or more of the same, could be in store for food aid legislation in the near future.
Currently, US food aid is dominated by in-kind donations (direct gifts of food)—an infamously inefficient system—and monetization, a system in which US agricultural commodities are donated to development organizations so that they can sell them to fund projects. This approach to food aid has been widely criticized for decades, including by the Congress’ Government Accountability Office. The NGO Oxfam, once a beneficiary of PL 480, has been calling for food aid reform for years, putting an emphasis on the need for local commodity procurement. CARE, one of the three major NGO distributors of US food aid across the world, recently followed suit. Canada and Europe have shifted nearly all food aid resources away from in-kind distribution in favor of local procurement. The US, sticking to its M.O., is the loner; in 2007, 99.3% of US food aid was in-kind.
The letter to President Obama notes that "food aid programs have enjoyed strong bipartisan support for nearly 60 years because they work." The question is, for whom? By law, 75% of food aid from the US must be purchased, processed, transported, and distributed by US companies. In 2002, just two US companies—ADM and Cargill—controlled 75% of the global grain trade, with US government contracts to manage and distribute 30% of food aid grains. Only four companies control 84% of the transport and delivery of food aid worldwide.
The letter continues by stating: "Food for Progress expands business and income opportunities along the agricultural value chain." This has certainly been the case for the US food, maritime shipping, and international development industries. For recipient countries, however, food aid has a long history of displacing local production. According to a 2005 Oxfam report, “There is strong historical evidence that the use of food aid tends to correlate with long-term dependence on food imports.” Due to foreign exchange difficulties during the 1990s, the Philippines was unable to sustain imports of soybean meal. PL 480 food aid was used to finance the purchase of US exports. By the early 2000s, the Philippines was the largest market for US soybean meal worldwide and 90% of total imports came from the US. This points to another use of food aid: the explicit expansion of markets abroad for US products. USAID states, “Of the 50 largest customers for US agricultural goods, 43 — including Egypt, Indonesia, Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand — formerly received food assistance. In short, aid leads to trade, from which Americans stand to benefit directly.”
The effects of food aid are not limited only to local food production, processing, and distribution. It has also outcompeted national exporters, as in the case of Guyana and Jamaica. When US food aid rice poured in to Jamaica, Guyanese producers were unable to maintain a hold in the Jamaican rice market. This process shifts poverty from one country to another, effectively defeating the public premise of food aid.
Food aid is perhaps most infamous for the practice of dumping, or disposing of surplus food commodities in vulnerable national markets. In this case, food aid functions as just another US agricultural subsidy. In 2007, despite growing hunger, food aid fell globally by 15%, the lowest level since 1961. This reflects the tendency of food aid to respond to international grain prices—and not to the food needs of the poor. When the price of cereals is low, Northern countries and transnational grain companies sell their commodities through food aid programs. When prices are high, they sell their grains on the global market. So, when people are less able to buy food, less food aid arrives.
In contrast, local and regional procurement of food aid, along with cash vouchers, could decrease US food aid costs by 50%, bolster the development of local food markets and long-term economies, and allow US food aid recipient countries to build their own assistance programs. Timi Gerson of the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) told IPS that a switch to local procurement “would be able to reach 17 million more people – so we’re only getting to about two-thirds of the people we could be.” An anti-hunger coalition led by AJWS, Oxfam America, and Bread for the World Institute issued a joint statement saying: “Current regulations on the food aid program in the Farm Bill protect special interests,” aka the iron triangle of food aid, “at the expense of the hungry, and [that means] that more than a quarter of every dollar the U.S. spends on food aid goes to waste.”
The 2008 Farm Bill authorized a Local and Regional Food Aid Procurement pilot program, which funds cash food aid projects through grants and uses cooperative agreements for local procurement during food crises. Detailed results of the 2009 to 2011 pilot projects were reported to the USDA by grantees. A Cornell study of the results indicated that the pilot projects achieved greater efficiency and effectiveness of food aid delivery, while avoiding the negative impacts, such as displacement of local production and import dependencies that in-kind food aid has caused historically. When sourced locally versus when sourced in the US and shipped across oceans, cereals cost on average 54% less and pulses 24% less. Average delivery time was also reduced by 62% or about 14 weeks. For victims of natural disasters, this time window could be the difference between life and death.
The letter in question makes several accurate statements yet omits the true impacts of food aid on recipient countries. It does, however, contain one lie, stating that PL 480 facilitates “developmental programs to end the cycle of hunger,” when in fact it propagates it. Hunger is big business. Food for Peace ends up looking a lot more like Food for Profit. The letter ends with one final truth, declaring that food aid programs are "some of our most effective, lowest-cost national security tools." By handicapping local food markets across the world, food aid keeps poor countries poor and compliant, and provides US-based companies with dependable markets for the dumping of surplus food commodities when global grain prices are low. Rice and wheat cost a lot less than bombs.
Brock Hicks is a Research Intern at Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy in Oakland, CA.
The US Military admitted that 31 Guantanamo inmates are refusing food, as the prison’s biggest-in-years hunger strike enters its 50th day. The Red Cross is urgently sending delegates to Gitmo as the detainees’ lawyers warn the strike may turn deadly.
Three more Guantanamo inmates are now officially recognized as being on hunger strike, bringing the overall number to 31.
Lawyers who recently met or spoke with their clients still languishing in the island prison said that more than 100 men are participating in a hunger strike, and many have lost between 30 and 40 pounds.
Those accounts are in addition to previous reports of hunger strikers coughing up blood and losing consciousness. Three protesters have been hospitalized so far; 10 of the hunger strikers are reportedly shackled to restraining chairs and being force-fed through tubes.
The deteriorating situation at the detention center has prompted the International Committee of the Red Cross to send a doctor and another delegate to Guantanamo, a week earlier than its regular visit, scheduled for April 1.
"Because of the current tensions and hunger strike we decided to send a couple of delegates to the island starting this week. One is a medical doctor whose job is to follow more specifically the hunger strike," Reuters quoted ICRC spokesperson Simon Schorno as saying.
‘Respect us or kill us’
One defense lawyer who had spoken to his client at Guantanamo told RT he was shocked by the state of his client’s health.
“He was a man who was down more than 30 pounds less than a month ago. He refused all nourishment. His cheeks were sunk in. He was exhausted, weak, he could not stand. It was a scary, scary meeting for me,” said federal public defender Carlos Warner.
He also presented a statement by his client Faiz al-Kandari, who called on the Obama administration to either “respect or kill” Guantanamo inmates.
“I scare myself when I look in the mirror. Let them kill us as we have nothing to lose. We died when Obama indefinitely detained us. Respect us or kill us. It is your choice. The US must take off its mask and kill us,” the statement reads.
There is little hope that the author of the statement will be released as his name is not on the list of the 86 detainees who have been cleared by a court to be transferred out of the facility. At the moment, all prisoners at Guantanamo are being indefinitely detained, as the facility continues functioning despite Barack Obama’s pledge at the beginning of his first term as president to shut the facility down.
Guantanamo inmates’ indefinite imprisonment has long been a source of despair and frustration for the prisoners. Human rights organizations have reported hundreds of suicide attempts, at least seven of which were successful. Last September, a Yemeni detainee took his life after spending more than a decade at Guantanamo. Adnan Latif had been cleared for transfer by both the Bush and Obama administrations, but was never released.
On Sunday, activists around the world launched a week-long fast to raise awareness of the hunger strike and protest the existence of the Guantanamo prison and America's use of indefinite detention.
According to the Center for Constitutional rights, the hunger strike began on around February 6, when prisoners decided to protest the alleged confiscation of their personal items and the alleged sacrilegious handling of their Korans. Officials denied that the Korans of the inmates had been mishandled in any way.
WASHINGTON - March 26 - Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released an extensive survey reporting that more than half of our nation’s stream and river miles are severely polluted, or listed as “impaired” or in “poor condition.” This is the most dire in a string of water assessments over the last 20 years that have reported high percentages of water impairment and pollution in the United States.
The following are the numbers reported in the last several stream and river assessments:
- 1994: 36% of our streams and rivers were reported partially impaired or fully impaired.
- 1996: 36% of waters assessed did not meet water quality standards. Very few rivers were assessed (approximately 19%), so the reality could have been worse than reported.
- 1998: 40% of waters assessed did not meet water quality standards.
- 2000: 44% of waters assessed did not meet water quality standards.
- 2002: 45% of assessed rivers and streams were listed as impaired.
According to assessment released today:
- 55% of our river and stream miles are in poor condition.
- 27% of the nation’s rivers and streams have excessive levels of nitrogen, and 40% have high levels of phosphorus. These nutrient pollutants cause toxic green slime outbreaks that are harmful to public health.
- 24% of the rivers and streams monitored were rated poor due to the loss of healthy habitat surrounding them.
- 9% of assessed river and stream miles were found unsafe for swimming and recreation due to high bacteria levels.
- More than 13,000 miles of rivers have fish with mercury levels that may be unsafe for human consumption.
The following is a statement from Earthjustice attorney Jennifer Chavez:
“The EPA and our nation’s leaders have known for years that we have a very serious dirty water problem in the United States. The more we assess, the worse the picture gets for our nation’s waterways. If you look at this grim report against several other similarly grave reports over the last 20 years, you will see that we can’t afford inaction any longer. When more than half of our nation’s waters are listed in ‘poor condition’—and these are the same waters that our families rely on for drinking water and the same streams and rivers that we enjoy for recreation—it is time for serious action.
“Until our nation’s leaders commit to cleaning up our waters, our communities and families will pay the price with our health. And until we get a handle on actually regulating water pollution from the biggest industrial polluters, such as the agriculture and mining industries, every two years we will see this dreadful picture of 50 percent or more of our nation’s water grievously polluted.
“Right now, there are smart, common-sense policies that will clean up our waterways and keep us safe from harmful pollution just sitting at the White House waiting for final approval. We need the Obama administration to finalize its guidance to restore Clean Water Act protections to all waters the United States, because as this survey shows, we simply can’t afford to lose any more of our crucial waters to pollution and contamination.”
In today's On the News segment: County District Judge in Wyoming ruled against environmental groups fighting to make public the list of toxic ingredients used in hydraulic fracking fluid public; Minnesota Representative Michelle Bachmann is under investigation; IRS spent 60,000 tax payer dollars to produce a "Star Trek" video parody under the guise of employee training; and more.
Thom Hartmann here – on the news...
You need to know this. Today, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the landmark Proposition 8 case, Hollingsworth v. Perry. The case concerns California's discriminatory law, which bars same-sex couples from being married in that state. Already, both the California District Court and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have concluded that Prop 8 violates the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution. However, Dennis Hollingsworth – of the anti-gay-marriage group ProtectMarriage.com – is pressing on with the fight to uphold Prop 8. The law was passed in 2008 by a slim majority of California voters, and it has been tied up in the courts for years. During that time, a stay has been issued, blocking additional same-sex couples in California from marrying. The Supreme Court must consider two questions in today's case – whether the law is unconstitutional, and whether the anti-gay group even has standing to argue the case. If the justices decide to uphold the lower courts' rulings, it would represent a huge victory in the fight for full LGBT equality, but there's no telling how this court will rule. Tomorrow, the justices will hear arguments in another landmark equality case, United States v. Windsor, which challenges the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and rulings on both are expected later this year. Hopefully, the conservative-leaning court will recognize that gay rights are civil rights, and that everyone in our nation should have the right to marry the person that they love.
In screwed news... You don't have the right to know you're being poisoned. At least, not in Wyoming. Yesterday, County District Judge Catherine Wilking ruled against environmental groups fighting to make public the list of toxic ingredients used in hydraulic fraking fluid. According to Judge Wilking, Wyoming's state oil and gas supervisor was authorized to withhold the information, because the list of chemicals is considered a trade secret. Halliburton, one of the companies involved in the 2010 BP Gulf Disaster, argued that if they disclosed the makeup of their fracking fluids, competing companies would be able to reverse engineer the toxic sludge. So, not only does Halliburton get to control the controversial hydraulic fracturing industry in Wyoming, but this ruling allows them to socialize all external costs. Without knowing what chemicals are used in the process, people can't blame Halliburton when they get sick, or when their groundwater becomes contaminated. And it will be John Q Taxpayer picking up the tab when people can't cover healthcare or clean up related costs. Corporate power in our nation is out of control. It's even worse that Judges like Caterine Wilking are making that power even stronger.
In the best of the rest of the news...
Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe took a stand to protect voters. On Monday, the democratic governor vetoed a voter ID bill, which he said could disenfranchise voters. Beebe said, "I cannot approve such an unnecessary measure that would negatively impact one of our most precious rights as citizens." The Republican-dominated state legislature plans to override the veto, as they have with two recent anti-abortion bills. If they again succeed in obtaining a veto-proof majority, the new law will require county clerks to provide photo ID's to any registered voter that does not currently have one, and it will cost the sate an estimated $300,000. Similar laws are being challenged in other states, and legal battles are expected if Arkansas enacts the measure. Even if state Republicans press on with their efforts to disenfranchise voters, it's great to see that Governor Beebe is fighting to protect the democratic process in his state.
Walmart is getting what they pay for. The mega-retailer's bottom-of-the-barrel wages are leading to disorganized stores, long-lines, and empty shelves. And customers are choosing to shop at other retailers to avoid the chaos. Mr. Ton, an associate professor at MIT Sloan School of Management, studied the problem, and said "[customers] are mad about they way they were treated or how much time they wasted looking for items that aren't there." He explained that retailers think wages are an easy cost-cutting target, but that history shows the resulting deterioration of customer satisfaction often leads to a decline in sales-growth. In other words, people get frustrated by the lack of adequate staff and merchandise, and they go to other stores instead. So, it looks like Walmart's low-wage strategy may be backfiring. We can only hope that as more customers flee from the low-cost retailer, that management will catch on, and start paying workers a living wage.
Minnesota Representative Michelle Bachmann is under investigation. The Office of Congressional Ethics is looking to allegations of misusing campaign funds during her 2012 presidential run. According to the Washington Post, Peter Waldron, who worked as Bachmann's national field coordinator, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission accusing the lawmaker of using PAC funds to pay her campaign staff. Her attorney, William McGinley, says they "are confident at the end of their review, the OCE Board will conclude that Congresswoman Bachmann did not do anything inappropriate." The review is expected to last 30 days, during which four board members will decide whether to refer the matter to the full Ethics Committee. After the Congresswoman's numerous attempts to repeal Obamacare, and her anti-muslim witch-hunt of Hilary Clinton's top staffer, it's nice to see Michelle Bachmann spending some time in the hot seat.
And finally... The Internal Revenue Service doesn't top the list as American's favorite government agency. So, people are especially angry over the IRS spending 60,000 tax payer dollars to produce a "Star Trek" video parody under the guise of employee training. The public learned of the space parody after Charles Boustany, chairman of the House Ways and Means committee, demanded the IRS hand over information about it's video production budget. The IRS released a statement saying, "the space parody video from 2010 is not reflective of overall IRS video efforts." The agency did, however, defend a separate video parody of "Gilligan's Island," saying it provided valuable employee training. Seriously...they really did.
And that's the way it is today – Tuesday, March 26, 2013. I'm Thom Hartmann – on the news.
What the heck is going on in Tennessee?
The Associated Press reported yesterday that several Tennessee state lawmakers were worried that a new floor-level sink in a men’s bathroom at the state capitol was there for Muslims to wash their feet in before prayer.
After talking to the state capitol’s facility administrator, the lawmakers were assured that the sink was in fact for janitors to use to rinse out their mops, and not for Muslims to wash their feet in.
This stunning display of ignorance and intolerance in the Tennessee legislature is just the beginning.
Like a scene straight out of “The Hunger Games,” Tennessee holds “health care lotteries” to ration Medicaid health insurance to the nearly 200,000 uninsured residents of Tennessee who can’t afford health coverage.
Twice a year, Tennessee holds their health care lottery, when Tennessee Republican Governor Bill Haslan and the rest of his Republican colleagues turn the idea of “dialing for dollars” into “dialing for your life”.
Tennesseans who meet various requirements – like falling below a specific income threshold, and being elderly, blind, disabled, or a caretaker of a child who qualifies for Medicaid – can call the lottery line to request an application for the state’s public health insurance program known as TennCare.
But getting the application doesn’t give you coverage – it just lets you play in the state's healthcare lottery.
So if you live in Tennessee and are low income and want to get into this Medicare program, you can all a state phone line and request an application.
The catch is that the window for getting one of those applications is very tight – the phone lines shut down after just 2,500 calls come in – and with hundreds of thousands of people who may qualify, the demand is so high that it’s nearly impossible to get through in time.
Russell Overby, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society in Nashville, speaking about the lottery, told The New York Times that, “we encourage people to use multiple phones and to dial and dial and dial.”
While those remarks sound an awful lot like instructions for winning a radio contest, they’re not.
Instead of calling in to win sports tickets, vacations, or a new car, hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans are frantically calling in to win one of the 2500 slots that will give them the right to survive. The right to life.
The “dial for your life” phone lines opened up last Thursday for the first time in six months, and as usual, the system was flooded with application requests.
Those who were lucky enough to get through now have an application, and, thus, the chance to get the healthcare they need to survive.
But those who got a busy signal or called after the few minutes the system was taking calls are screwed, forced to play a game of “beat the grim reaper,” and hope to be alive six months from now, the next time the lottery window opens up.
And what's particularly outrageous about this is that it doesn’t have to be this way at all.
Tennesseans don’t have to be playing life or death games with their healthcare coverage, and don’t need to be dialing for their lives twice a year.
As The New York Times notes, if Gov. Bill Haslan was to just accept free Medicare money – something Republican governors don't like to do because then their citizens discover that Obamacare has something in it for them, those 180,000 Tennesseans who are forced to compete in the healthcare lottery for 2500 slots would simply be added to the TennCare program.
Haslan has yet to say if he will take Obamacare’s Medicaid money, which the Supreme Court ruled states can turn down.
This is likely because he’s still on board with the “repeal Obamacare at all costs” notion that argues that Obamacare is the worst thing in the history of the world, and that our healthcare system is just fine the way it is now.
Crazed Republicans playing politics with healthcare, combined with a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling, have turned something as vital and basic as healthcare coverage into something being decided in Tennessee by something as insane and twisted as a lottery system.
We fought the Revolutionary War for the rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
It's time for Republicans to stop denying people the right to life just because they can't dial the phone fast enough.
Having access to healthcare shouldn’t be based on how fast you can dial the phone or compete with your neighbors.
If you live in Tennessee – or any other state with a Republican governor – tell him to stop playing politics with healthcare for poor and working class people.
Efforts to counter drone warfare at home and abroad are growing everywhere you look, from the United Nations to the courts to places of worship.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com
March 26, 2013 |
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Rand Paul’s marathon 13-hour filibuster was not the end of the conversation on drones. Suddenly, drones are everywhere, and so is the backlash. Efforts to counter drones at home and abroad are growing in the courts, at places of worship, outside air force bases, inside the UN, at state legislatures, inside Congress--and having an effect on policy.
1. April marks the national month of uprising against drone warfare. Activists in upstate New York are converging on the Hancock Air National Guard Base where Predator drones are operated. In San Diego, they will take on Predator-maker General Atomics at both its headquarters and the home of the CEO. In D.C., a coalition of national and local organizations are coming together to say no to drones at the White House. And all across the nation—including New York City, New Paltz, Chicago, Tucson and Dayton—activists are planning picket lines, workshops and sit-ins to protest the covert wars. The word has even spread to Islamabad, Pakistan, where activists are planning a vigil to honor victims.
2. There has been an unprecedented surge of activity in cities, counties and state legislatures across the country aimed at regulating domestic surveillance drones. After a raucous city council hearing in Seattle in February, the Mayor agreed to terminate its drones program and return the city’s two drones to the manufacturer. Also in February, the city of Charlottesville, VA passed a 2-year moratorium and other restrictions on drone use, and other local bills are pending in cities from Buffalo to Ft. Wayne. Simultaneously, bills have been proliferating on the state level. In Florida, a pending bill will require the police to get a warrant to use drones in an investigation; a Virginia statewide moratorium on drones passed both houses and awaits the governor’s signature, and similar legislation in pending in at least 13 other state legislatures.
3. Responding to the international outcry against drone warfare, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, Ben Emmerson, is conducting an in-depth investigation of 25 drone attacks and will release his report in the Spring. Meanwhile, on March 15, having returned from a visit to Pakistan to meet drone victims and government officials, Emmerson condemned the U.S. drone program in Pakistan, as “it involves the use of force on the territory of another State without its consent and is therefore a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty.”
4. Leaders in the faith-based community broke their silence and began mobilizing against the nomination of John Brennan, with over 100 leaders urging the Senate to reject Brennan. And in an astounding development, The National Black Church Initiative (NBCI), a faith-based coalition of 34,000 churches comprised of 15 denominations and 15.7 million African Americans, issued a scathing statement about Obama’s drone policy, calling it “evil”, “monstrous” and “immoral.” The group’s president, Rev. Anthony Evans, exhorted other black leaders to speak out, saying “If the church does not speak against this immoral policy we will lose our moral voice, our soul, and our right to represent and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
5. In the past four years the Congressional committees that are supposed to exercise oversight over the drones have been mum. Finally, in February and March, the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee held their first public hearings, and the Constitution Subcommittee will hold a hearing on April 16 on the “constitutional and statutory authority for targeted killings, the scope of the battlefield and who can be targeted as a combatant.” Too little, too late, but at least Congress is feeling some pressure to exercise its authority.
WASHINGTON - March 26 - On Sunday, March 24 human rights activists throughout the United States began a seven day fast and series of actions in solidarity with the men currently on hunger strike at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Dozens of men, according to detainee lawyers, are entering their seventh week of a hunger strike to protest their indefinite detention and a new wave of alleged abuses. The U.S. Navy now reports that three hunger strikers have been hospitalized and that ten are being force fed — a practice condemned by human rights organizations and used in efforts to “break” prior hunger strikes at Guantanamo. Attorneys also report that some hunger strikers have lost consciousness and are experiencing severe drops in body weight.
Already, Witness Against Torture (WAT) has demonstrated in locations large and small —from New York City, to Chicago, to Perrysburg, Ohio. At least 80 people nationwide are participating in the fast, with more joining each day. Activists are also writing letters to the detainees and reaching out to the White House, U.S. Southern Command and the Department of Defense with newly urgent calls that the notorious prison close.
In New York City on Sunday, Witness Against Torture created dramatic images in front of the Times Square military recruiting station, juxtaposing the iconic orange clad, black hooded figures with the advertisements for the Navy and Marines.
“It is tragic,” says New York City WAT organizer Jeremy Varon, “that the men at Guantanamo should have to risk death through hunger to protest the denial of their basic rights. The hunger strike signals the colossal failure of the Obama administration, which promised to close Guantanamo, and of Congress, which has placed enormous barriers to ever shuttering the prison. If the hunger strikers start dying, we know where the blame for their deaths lies.”
In Chicago, protestors gathered on Sunday in front of President Obama's private home, reading the names of all 166 men still held at Guantanamo. Pat Bronte, an attorney for several detainees in Guantanamo, told the protesters how much it means to them to know that Americans are standing with them in their pursuit of justice.
Chicago’s Jerica Arents, a teacher at DePaul University, says, “Participating in the fast serves as a physical reminder to me that there are men languishing in Guantanamo, refusing food because it is the only means they have to protest their indefinite detention.”
“More than four years after President Obama promised to close Guantanamo,” says WAT organizer Frida Berrigan, “the U.S. government is investing tens of millions of new dollars in the prison facility. I can understand why the detained men feel so helpless about ever leaving Guantanamo and being reunited with their families. We have not forgotten them, and continue our struggle to close the prison.”
Actions in New York, Illinois, California, Connecticut, Ohio, and other locations will continue throughout the week and can be viewed at www.witnesstorture.org/events/
166 men remain imprisoned at Guantanamo. 86 have been cleared for release. All are subject to indefinite detention and held at a cost to U.S taxpayers of $800,000 per year per man.
Last year, when the state of Illinois attempted to follow New Jersey by making it difficult and more expensive to acquire ammunition, we warned that new government initiatives would be used to try and circumvent the Second Amendment. Rather than targeting firearms directly, lawmakers and government security officials began looking to ammunition as a sure-fire way to disarm Americans.
While it may have been hard to believe then, given the current shortages of ammunition throughout the United States, one can’t ignore the fact that the Department of Homeland Security has been actively pursuing such a strategy.
“The Department of Homeland Security’s huge ammo purchases were an attempt to dry up supplies as part of an end run around the second amendment,” writes Paul Joseph Watson of the 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition purchased by the Department of Homeland Security.
A US-based weapons manufacturer and defense contractor recently confirmed that this is, in fact, part of a broader gun control plan when he shared his insider knowledge with well known talk radio show host Michael Savage:
What Homeland Security is doing here is they’re issuing a contract to buy up to that amount of ammo if they want it…
It’s a way to control the amount of market that’s available on the commercial market at any time.
If they go to the ammo manufacturers and say give me 50 million rounds, give me another 30 million rounds… if they periodically do this in increments, they’re going to control how much ammo is available on the commercial market.
As part of their contract it stipulates in there that when the government calls and says give us another quantity, that everything they make has to go to the government priority one before any of it goes to the commercial market.
So, if they get nervous, all they have to do is use that contract that they have in place… and they just say ‘give us some more.’
In the contracting world it’s called an IDIQ contract… Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity… By issuing these contracts the government gets priority. All they have to do is call up…
Video: Michael Savage interviews weapons manufacturer (via Infowars):
High demand for firearms (and thus ammunition) resulting from threats of a nationwide Congressional gun grab, coupled with tens of millions of rounds ordered every month by non-military domestic security agencies has driven prices for some types of ammunition up over 100% in just the last six months.
But it doesn’t stop there, as the government is also reportedly trying to restrict access in other ways:
In fact, the ATF and the State Department, they’re kind of jerking around with the importation of it too, so they’re making it difficult for it to come in from overseas.
Right now, all the domestic manufacturers are running at full speed. They’re running three shifts, they’re cranking it out as fast as they can.
Supply cannot keep up with demand.
For the time being, demand is making it difficult to acquire ammunition at a reasonable price, but it is still available if you’re willing to pay for it.
Should DHS and other Federal Agencies continue to pursue this strategy, however, they could very well monopolize all domestically produced ammunition.
With budgets in the hundreds of billions of dollars, the government can easily utilize taxpayer funds to continue purchasing ammunition in an effort to keep it out of the hands of the American people.
And if that doesn’t work, any domestic emergency, temporary or long-term, would give government agencies confiscatory powers over this industry altogether, as authorized by the Doomsday Executive Order recently signed by President Obama.
Perhaps it’s time ammunition manufacturers follow the lead of firearms producers and simply refuse to sell to government agencies.
Prisoners indefinitely detained at Guantanamo Bay have again been denied direct access to their lawyers. The US Navy has canceled commercial flights to the detention facility, where over 100 captives are reportedly continuing a 49-day-long hunger strike
Inmates' defense lawyers may have no way to reach Cuba's Guantanamo Bay prison after the Navy decided to discontinue commercial flights to the military base, allegedly because of an old regulation that had been 'overlooked.' The order came shortly after the lawyers sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel urging him to take action to end the mass protest at Guantanamo.
More prisoners have allegedly joined the hunger strike this week; three were reportedly hospitalized, and 10 are being force-fed.
The inmates' lawyers have claimed that over 100 prisoners are taking part in the life-threatening hunger strike; according to the Center for Constitutional Rights, 130 inmates are taking part in the mass protest over their treatment and conditions at the prison. Many of them have reportedly lost a substantial amount of weight.
Pardiss Kebriaei an attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights who represents a Yemeni Gitmo detainee, told RT there were “serious health repercussions” to the hunger strike, now in its eighth week, such as “loss of hearing, potential blindness.”
“There is potential for death as well if the hunger strike continues for weeks,” the lawyer warned. Her client has allegedly lost 20lbs (9kg) since the beginning of the strike.
The collective protest was reportedly triggered by the prison staff’s seizure of inmates' personal belongings. The hunger strike began on February 6, with the prisoners protesting against the confiscation of their personal letters, photographs and mail, as well as the allegedly sacrilegious handling of their Korans during searches of their cells.
While US officials have downplayed the hunger strike, the case has drawn severe criticism from the international community. Although half of Guantanamo detainees have received papers from the US government clearing them to be transferred out of the prison, they are still being held at the camp.
“Indefinite detention without charge at Guantanamo and Bagram and unfair military commission trials are a damaging blight on the human rights record of the United States. We urge the US government to bring an end to these illegal practices by either prosecuting these detainees in civilian courts or releasing them,” the UN said in a statement.
Amnesty International has called Guantanamo an “American gulag.”
“Instead of justice for the 9/11 attacks, Guantanamo has brought us torture, indefinite detention, unfair trials and hunger strikes,” Amnesty International’s head of the Security with Human Rights Campaign said.
A few months ago, the US State Department shut down the legal office working to close the prison. The detention camp in eastern Cuba reportedly holds 166 men seized in counterterrorism operations, most of whom have been held without charge for a decade.
Human rights organizations have reported hundreds of suicide attempts, at least seven of which were successful. Last September, a Yemeni detainee took his life after spending more than a decade at Guantanamo. Adnan Latif had been cleared for transfer by both the Bush and Obama administrations, but was never released.
Although Barack Obama pledged to shut down the facility at the beginning of his first term as president, the facility remains open.
Last week, the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) requested $49 million to build a new prison building at Guantanamo Bay to give shelter to “special detainees,” as well as to carry out other “necessary” renovations.
The proposed facility was conceived as replacement for Camp 7, which was constructed to hold 14 “high-value” detainees – including the self-described 9/11 attack architect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – who had been in CIA custody, but were handed over to the military in 2006.
Can 147 people perpetuate economic injustice – and make it even worse? Can they subvert the workings of democracy, both abroad and here in the United States? Can 147 people hijack the global economy, plunder the environment, build a world for themselves that serves the few and deprives the many?
There must be some explanation for last week’s economic madness. Take a look:
Cyprus: The European Union acted destructively – and self-destructively – when it tried to seize a portion of the insured savings accounts of the citizens of Cyprus. They were telling anyone with a savings account in the financially troubled nations of the Eurozone: Forget your guaranteed deposits. If we need your money in order to bail out the big banks – banks which have already gambled recklessly with it – we’ll take it.
That didn’t just create a political firestorm in Cyprus. It threatened the European Union’s banking system, and perhaps the Union itself. The fact that the tax on deposits has been partially retracted doesn’t change the basic question: What were they thinking?
The Grand Bargain: The President and Congressional Republicans reportedly moved closer to a deal that would cut Social Security and Medicare while raising taxes – mostly on the middle class – without doing more to create jobs. A “Grand Bargain” like that would run counter to both public opinion and informed economic judgement.
Who would impose more economy-killing austerity when there’s so much evidence of the harm it does? Why would the White House want to become the face of a deal to cut Social Security, killing its own party’s political prospects for a generation?
Him again: Washington reporters once again sought the opinion of Ex-Wyoming senator Alan Simpson, a vitriolic blowhard with no discernible knowledge of either economics or social insurance, and then wrote up his opinions on those topics in flattering pieces like this one.
Derivatives, the Sequel: Four short years after too-big-to-fail banks nearly destroyed the world economy, as the nation continues to suffer the after-effects of the crisis they created, a Congressional committee moved to undo the already-insufficient safeguards in the Dodd/Frank law.
Within days of a Senate Report which outlined the mendacity, extreme risk, and potentiality criminality surrounding JPMorgan Chase’s “London Whale” fiasco, the House Agriculture Committee approved new bills that would legalize trades like the “London Whale.”
Above the Law: The Attorney General of the United States remained silent as the controversy continued over his recent admission that banks like Dimon’s were too big to face prosecution. And yet there were no moves to change either Holder’s policy or the size of these institutions. Politico, the Washington insiders’ tip sheet, ran a piece entitled “Why Washington won’t break up the big banks.”
Dimon Unbound: The Senate report also provided evidence that JPMorgan Chase’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, failed to manage his bank’s risk and concealed information about its losses from regulators. We learned last week that regulators lowered their rating of Dimon’s bank after chastising the bank’s leadership for management failures that included inadequate safeguards against money-laundering, poor risk management, and failure to separate the banks’ own investments from those of its customers.
Illegalities during Dimon’s tenure as CEO have cost his shareholders billions in settlements and fines. Poor risk management (and additional potential illegalities) cost it another $6.2 billion in Whale-related losses. And yet last week Dimon’s own Board “strongly endorsed” his dual role as CEO and Board Chair, an unusual concentration of power at what is (by some measurements) the world’s largest bank, and commended itself in a proxy filing for the “strength and independence” of its oversight, adding: “The Firm has had strong performance through the cycle since Mr. Dimon became Chairman and CEO.”
All this, in just seven days. Has the world gone insane? What is everybody thinking?
That’s where the number “147″ comes in.
Anthropologist Robin Dunbar tried to find out how many people the typical person “really knows.” He compared primate brains to social groups and published his findings in papers with titles like “Neocortex size as a constraint on group size in primates.”
Dunbar concluded that the optimum number for a network of human acquaintances was 147.5, a figure which was then rounded up to 150 and became known as “Dunbar’s Number.” He found groups of 150-200 in all sorts of places: Hutterite settlements. Roman army units. Academic sub-specialties. Dunbar concluded that “there is a cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships.”
Around 150 or 200 people form a human being’s social universe. They shape his or her world view, his or her world.
That means that 147 people can change the course of history. Not necessarily the same 147 people, of course. But the small social groups which surround our world’s leaders have extraordinary power.
Economist Simon Johnson mentioned Dunbar’s Number last week in a column about incoming Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and the new SEC chair, Mary Jo White. “The issue is not so much their track record,” Johnson wrote, “because neither has worked directly on financial-sector policy issues; it is much more about whom they know.”
“If most financial experts you know work at, for example, Citigroup,” added Johnson, “then you are more likely to see the financial world through their eyes.”
Lew is a former Citigroup executive. That mismanaged megabank is also the former corporate home of ex-Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, and the current home of Peter Orszag, formerly President Obama’s OMB Director. For her part, White went from prosecuting criminals to defending Wall Street bankers. That was also Attorney General Eric Holder’s profession before he was appointed to his current position.
These are the people who surround our President, our Senators, our Representatives. They talk to them every day. They say, This is how the world works. They say, Everybody knows these things.
Their European counterparts saw the effects of austerity on the economies of their Union: Unemployment up. Gross domestic product down. Even the deficits, which austerity was meant to reduce, have been rising as the result of these unwise cuts.
But, they say, we know Angela Merkel. We know George Osborne and Christine Lagarde. We trust their judgement. How did the predictably disastrous plan to tax guaranteed savings accounts in Cyprus get approved? It’s not hard to imagine: “Everybody we know” thought it was a great idea.
That’s how it works here in the US, too. Larry Summers, Alan Greenspan and Robert Rubin were spectacularly wrong about everything: deregulation, the housing bubble, government spending, everything. But we know them.
Nobel Prize-winning economists like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz keep explaining why more stimulus spending is needed. But we don’t know them – not the way we know Larry, Alan, and Bob. Same for Simon Johnson, or William K. Black Jr., or Robert Johnson, or any of the other economists we don’t know very well.
And when we don’t know someone very well, their criticisms make us uncomfortable.
Bill Clinton’s “Third Way” triangulation led to welfare “reform” that’s proven disastrous. His Wall Street deregulation ruined the economy, and his brand of old-fashioned pseudo-centrism is out of touch with today’s political and economic realities. But we know him.
Bill Clinton doesn’t make us uncomfortable at all.
Investigate Jamie Dimon, or Lloyd Blankfein, or Robert Rubin? But they were our clients, and will be again once we leave government. Investigate them? We know them.
Dimon’s Board of Directors is a case study in Dunbar’s Number. It includes Honeywell CEO David Cote, who was a member of the Simpson Bowles Commission. There’s a retired senior executive with another big defense contractor, Boeing. Together with Dimon, that makes three CEOs who earn their money from government largesse.
The CEO of Comcast is on Dimon’s Board, too. (The media’s leaders are always among the 147.) One seat belongs to the head of one of the accounting groups that overlooked massive bank fraud when signing off on their annual statements. Another belongs to the former CEO of Exxon Mobil.
The “147″ run companies. They also hold fundraisers for politicians – in both parties.
When Senator Obama became President Obama, during the gravest unemployment crisis since the Great Depression, one of his first acts was to create a “Deficit Commission” instead of a “Jobs Commission.” Why? Because “147 people” thought that was the right priority. Then he appointed the dyspeptic, unlikable, and uninformed Sen. Simpson to co-chair it.
You see, the “147 people” in Washington’s political and media circles like Alan Simpson. To them he’s not an embarrassment to his President, a paid pitchman for billionaire Pete Peterson’s anti-Social Security jihad. (We know Pete!) To them Simpson’s not an ill-informed and misogynistic bully who taunts women with comments about “310 million tits.” To them he’s Al. They know him. They say he’s a lot of fun when you get to know him.
They really say that.
Then there are the news anchors and journalists who say things like this: Everybody knows that we need to cut Social Security. Everybody knows the deficit is our most urgent problem.
Everybody knew that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, too.
Everybody understands that the right-wing, anti-government Simpson Bowles plan represents the “political center,” although it’s far to the right of public opinion – even of Republican or Tea Party voters’ opinion – on issues that range from job creation to increasing Social Security benefits.
You can’t fit millions of frustrated voters into a social group of 147 people.
When Teddy Roosevelt became President, J.P. Morgan (the person, not the bank) suggested he “send your man to my man and they can fix it up.” He was shocked that the new President chose instead to operate outside the Circle in order to create real change. And when Franklin D. Roosevelt became President he brought in new faces, new voices, new ideas. He broke the social circle that had paralyzed government and the economy.
But the circle of right-wing Republicans and corporatist Clintonite Democrats is still intact. That means Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders will keep on promoting the right-wing agenda known as Simpson Bowles until their party loses all its political power at the polls.
It also means that Republican extremism will still be reported with straight-faced gravity.Congressional committees will keep deregulating big banks, the Justice Department will avoid prosecuting them, and their Boards of Directors will keep rewarding their executives. They’ll all keep doing exactly what they’re doing – until the economy blows up again, perhaps with far worse consequences than the last time.
And when the next crisis comes, “147 people” will react to it exactly the same way they reacted to the last one. You can almost hear them now, can’t you? You can’t blame us, they’ll say. Nobody could’ve seen this coming. How do we know that?
Because we asked everybody we know.
© 2013 Campaign for America's Future
Richard (RJ) Eskow is a well-known blogger and writer, a former Wall Street executive, an experienced consultant, and a former musician. He has experience in health insurance and economics, occupational health, benefits, risk management, finance, and information technology. Richard has consulting experience in the US and over 20 countries.
Social media crazes in the Israeli military have seen a number of soldiers behaving in ways “unbecoming of the spirit of the IDF" – videos of soldiers dancing to Internet fads like the Harlem Shake could damage the IDF's image, officials said.
It is believed that viral videos run against the government's attempts to use social media as an effective propaganda tool. Although the IDF boasts its own official Facebook page and Twitter feed, there are fears that 'unauthorized’ materials could harm the image of the military where most young Israeli men and women aged 18 to 21 are required to serve.
“Just as the government uses social media for explaining, for campaigning, for propaganda or for spinning, it also has to deal with private soldiers using new media. Every soldier is a broadcast station,” Israel’s Center for the Protection of Democracy Executive Director Yizhar Be’er told RT.
Israeli military commanders have been recently told to prevent soldiers from uploading material “not appropriate” to the IDF’s “spirit.”
“It’s the problem of free speech… I don't see how you can control it,” said Dr. Yuval Dror, head of digital media studies at the Middle East college of management-academic studies.
The punishment for such behavior “unbecoming of the spirit of the IDF" can be strict. Earlier this year, two soldiers were sent to military prison for several weeks for posting a clip of their artillery battalion performing a version of the Harlem Shake.
“Under the military code of justice, there is an offense... I think it is sergeant and above... which says in effect any conduct which is unbecoming an IDF soldier would therefore potentially at least expose you to criminal liability. Could actually find yourself in jail if you made an offense under that,” former IDF legal advisor David Benjamin told RT.
IDF officials were also incensed when a group of soldiers turned their patrol in Hebron into a dance number: A video titled 'Battalion 50 Rock the Hebron Casbah' featured six armed soldiers in bulletproof vests who start a Macarena-like dance after a Muslim call to prayer is heard.
“You have to remember that soldiers are 18-year-old kids,” Gil Yogev, who was once an officer with the paratroopers' unit, told RT. Yogev said he would brief his soldiers regularly about what they could and could not post online, but many were careless or childishly unaware of the impact such material could have.
“It is not misuse of power, for them it is just fun,” Yogev added.
“I don't think that the dancing is abusing power, I do think that putting your sniper aim on an innocent person is an abuse of power and I think that this is the distinction that the army should make,” Yuval Dror said.
“You have to remember that soldiers are 18-year-old kids,” Gil Yogev, who was once an officer with the paratroopers' unit, told RT. Yogev said he would brief his soldiers regularly about what they could and could not post online, but many were careless or childishly unaware of the impact such material could have.
“It is not misuse of power, for them it is just fun,” Yogev added.
“I don't think that the dancing is abusing power, I do think that putting your sniper aim on an innocent person is an abuse of power and I think that this is the distinction that the army should make,” Yuval Dror said.
Sacha Dratwa, the head of the IDF’s social media unit, sparked controversy when he uploaded a Facebook photo with dark mud from the Dead Sea smeared on his face, and a caption reading “Obama style.” The picture provoked mixed reactions, with some accusing the 26-year-old of racism. Dratwa claimed he had been misinterpreted.
Amazon Sells Sex Toys as Wellness Products
Posted on Mar 25, 2013
Amazon and other companies have rebranded once taboo sex paraphernalia, thus starting another sexual revolution; public libraries aren’t free, per se, but they’re an absolutely important investment; meanwhile, is the fact that college athletic directors get paid more than $1 million a year justifiable? These discoveries and more below.
On a regular basis, Truthdig brings you the news items and odds and ends that have found their way to Larry Gross, director of the USC Annenberg School for Communication. A specialist in media and culture, art and communication, visual communication and media portrayals of minorities, Gross helped found the field of gay and lesbian studies.
Amazon Sells 60,000 Sex Toys and Related Products? Welcome to Sex 4.0
When was the last time you used a sex toy?
How We Got to the Supreme Court
Twenty years ago this July, Michelangelo Signorile went to Hawaii to cover the lawsuit that launched the first salvo in the current war over marriage equality, ultimately leading to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Proposition 8 and, this week, arguments before the Supreme Court: Several gay and lesbian couples took the then-extraordinary step of suing the state of Hawaii, claiming gender discrimination because they were denied marriage licenses.
Winning and Whining, or How to Get Your Just Desserts in America
The phrase “American Exceptionalism” has a long, convoluted, and too often tortured track record.
Obama Ignores the Ugly, Brutal Reality of Occupation and Colonization on His Israel Trip
Round after round of tear gas was shot by a group of Israeli soldiers on a hill overlooking a protest of about 100 Palestinians in support of a hunger striking prisoner.
There Are No Free Libraries
Over the past few months, an image has been making its way around social media to underscore the value of libraries.
Religion Without God
The familiar stark divide between people of religion and without religion is too crude.
Why is Science So Obsessed with Beauty?
Scientists have been musing about beauty, order and natural symmetry since Pythagoras.
Science-fiction Turns Real: Genetically Engineering Animals for War
Scientific advances have us on the verge of being able to control and manipulate animals. Should we use that power?
Mistakes, Excuses, and Painful Lessons from the Iraq War
Ezra Klein has admitted he made a mistake in supporting the Iraq War. And he’s sorry.
The ‘Canonical’ Image of a Drone Is a Rendering Dressed Up in Photoshop
The media of the drone war is not like the media of World War II or Vietnam.
Introducing Brics From Above, And Brics-From-Below
In Durban, South Africa, five heads of state meet on March 26-27 2013 at the International Convention Centre, to assure the rest of Africa that their countries’ corporations are better investors in infrastructure, mining, oil and agriculture than the traditional European and US multinationals.
College Athletic Directors—Why is the Pay So High?
We’ve just learned that nine athletic directors of major college-sports programs make more than $1 million annually, with an average salary of about $515,000.
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File photo shows an illegal Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank.
Palestinian Authority (PA) chief negotiator Saeb Erekat says that his government will not accept a “partial” Israeli settlement freeze as a conciliatory move to restart peace talks.
"Absolutely not. It is rejected," Saeb Erekat said on Sunday when asked if PA Chief Mahmoud Abbas would accept a partial freeze on Israel's settlement activity.
"First of all, 90 percent of the building in settlements is going on in the blocs," he said. "If we accepted that, we would be committing two crimes. The first is legalizing what is illegal, which is settlement construction, and the second is accepting the Israeli policy (of) dictation," he added.
Direct talks between Tel Aviv and the Palestinian Authority were stalled around three weeks after they had resumed in the US in September 2010 due to Tel Aviv's refusal to extend a partial freeze on its illegal settlement construction in the occupied Palestinian territories.
On Thursday, Abbas told visiting US President Barack Obama that there could be no talks with Israel without a freeze on settlement construction.
He also described Israeli settlement activities as a major obstacle to peace between the two sides, saying that "we do not consider continued settlement activity to be constructive, to be appropriate, and to be something that can advance the cause of peace".
During his visit, Obama said the Tel Aviv regime’s occupation of the West Bank must end and that he is “deeply committed” to the creation of a state of Palestine.
The US president however, called on Palestinians to drop their demands for a freeze in Israeli settlement activities in occupied territories as a precondition for resumption of the talks.
The Israeli settlements are considered illegal by much of the international community. However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the settlement construction is part of Tel Aviv’s policy and will not stop.
The US Senate passed its first budget in four years early Saturday morning. The Democratic-controlled chamber passed a $3.7 billion budget plan for fiscal year 2014, which includes close to a trillion dollars in spending cuts, as well a modest proposal to raise revenue, mostly by closing tax “loopholes.”
Senate Budget chairwoman Patty Murray commented, “I am proud of the work we did in the budget committee and on the Senate floor to write, debate, and pass a responsible budget plan that puts economic growth and the middle class first.” In reality, the proposal contains $975 billion in spending cuts, including $275 billion in new cuts to the Medicare and Medicaid programs that spell hardship for millions of working people.
Murray and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Democrat of Nevada) had to work to convince a number of Senate Democrats to support the budget, which passed by only a one-vote margin. Four Senate Democrats up for reelection in 2014 voted against the bill, fearing they would appear too pro-tax and soft on deficit reduction in their home constituencies.
The White House commented in a statement, “Like the president’s plan, the Senate budget cuts wasteful spending, makes tough choices to strengthen entitlements, and eliminates special tax breaks and loopholes for the wealthiest Americans to reduce the deficit.” Following a well-worn script, deep cuts to Medicare and Medicaid are described as a prescription to save them, and spending on social programs targeted for cuts is characterized as “wasteful.”
The Senate budget stands virtually no chance of being reconciled with the budget proposal passed last week by the Republican-controlled House. Majority Leader Reid said he saw little reason to bother with a conference committee, in which the House and Senate are supposed to iron out their differences and come up with a compromise proposal.
Democrats say the $975 billion in new tax revenue in their proposal generated by overhauling the tax code would go largely to turning off $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts triggered by the sequester over nine years. But the rescinding of these cuts appears to be nearly cancelled out by the $975 billion in new spending reductions contained in the budget.
The budget also reportedly includes $100 billion in upfront infrastructure spending. The proposal is estimated to leave the government with a $566 billion annual deficit over a decade and add $5.2 trillion to the national debt over this period.
Predictably, Republicans were quick to denounce the Democrats’ plan and demand even more right-wing measures. Senator Jeff Session of Alabama, ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, commented, “Honest people can disagree on policy, but there can be no honest disagreement in the need to change our nation’s debt course.”
Only the financial elite and its political front men (and women) are consumed by the drive to slash social spending to reduce the budget deficit. The great majority of the American people are overwhelmingly opposed to any cuts to Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security. The budget debate in Washington leaves their concerns and interests completely out of the equation.
The House budget resolution passed in a 221-207 vote last Thursday. Authored by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (Republican of Wisconsin), it calls for changing the tax code to dramatically reduce taxes, repealing President Obama’s health care law, and deeper spending cuts than those recently triggered by the so-called sequester. It also revives Ryan’s proposal to privatize Medicare by turning it into a voucher program.
The differences between the Senate budget for 2014—which aims to cut the deficit by $1.8 trillion—and the House budget—which proposes to reduce it by $4.8 trillion—are described by the players involved and the media as illustrating a sharp ideological divide. In fact, both the Democrats and Republicans are committed to making deep cuts to social spending, particularly to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Armed with their respective budget proposals, lawmakers of both big business parties will hammer out the details of funding appropriations on Senate and House committees, with cuts to social spending—including to so-called entitlement programs—falling somewhere between those proposed in the two budgets.
Last week, both houses of Congress passed a continuing resolution (CR) funding the government that makes permanent the vast majority of the $85 billion in sequester cuts for fiscal year 2013, through September 30. Passage cleared the way for the implementation of furloughs for about 1 million federal government employees as well as a pay freeze.
The Senate’s version of the CR went further than an earlier House version, finalizing cuts to the departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, Justice, Commerce, Agriculture and Homeland Security, as well as to the Food and Drug Administration, National Science Foundation and NASA. The House passed the legislation on Thursday, avoiding a potential government shutdown on March 28.
Today’s unmanned aerial vehicles, most famously Predator and Reaper drones, have been celebrated as the culmination of the longtime dreams of airpower enthusiasts, offering the possibility of victory through quick, clean, and selective destruction. Those drones, so the (very old) story goes, assure the U.S. military of command of the high ground, and so provide the royal road to a speedy and decisive triumph over helpless enemies below.
Fantasies about the certain success of air power in transforming, even ending, war as we know it arose with the plane itself. But when it comes to killing people from the skies, again and again air power has proven neither cheap nor surgical nor decisive nor in itself triumphant. Seductive and tenacious as the dreams of air supremacy continue to be, much as they automatically attach themselves to the latest machine to take to the skies, air power has not fundamentally softened the brutal face of war, nor has it made war less dirty or chaotic.
Indeed, by emboldening politicians to seek seemingly low-cost, Olympian solutions to complex human problems -- like Zeus hurling thunderbolts from the sky to skewer puny mortals -- it has fostered fantasies of illimitable power emboldened by contempt for human life. However, just like Zeus’s obdurate and rebellious subjects, the mortals on the receiving end of death from on high have shown surprising strength in frustrating the designs of the air power gods, whether past or present. Yet the Olympian fantasy persists, a fact that requires explanation.
The Rise of Air Power
It did not take long after the Wright Brothers first put a machine in the air for a few exhilarating moments above the sandy beaches of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in December of 1903, for the militaries of industrialized countries to express interest in buying and testing airplanes. Previously balloons had been used for reconnaissance, as in the Napoleonic wars and the U.S. Civil War, and so initially fledgling air branches focused on surveillance and intelligence-gathering. As early as 1911, however, Italian aircraft began dropping small bombs from open-air cockpits on the enemy -- we might today call them “insurgents” -- in Libya.
World War I encouraged the development of specialized aircraft, most famously the dancing bi- and tri-winged fighter planes of the dashing “knights of the air,” as well as the more ponderous, but for the future far more important, bombers. By the close of World War I in 1918, each side had developed multi-engine bombers like the German Gotha, which superseded the more vulnerable zeppelins. Their mission was to fly over the trenches where the opposing armies were stalemated and take the war to the enemy’s homeland, striking fear in his heart and compelling him to surrender. Fortunately for civilians a century ago, those bombers were too few in number, and their payloads too limited, to inflict widespread destruction, although German air attacks on England in 1917 did spread confusion and, in a few cases, panic.
Pondering the hecatombs of dead from trench warfare, air power enthusiasts of the 1920s and 1930s not surprisingly argued strongly, and sometimes insubordinately, for the decisive importance of bombing campaigns launched by independent air forces. A leading enthusiast was Italy’s Giulio Douhet. In his 1921 work Il dominio dell’aria (Command of the Air), he argued that in future wars strategic bombing attacks by heavily armed “battle-planes” (bombers) would produce rapid and decisive victories. Driven by a fascist-inspired logic of victory through preemptive attack, Douhet called for all-out air strikes to destroy the enemy’s air force and its bases, followed by hammer blows against industry and civilians using high-explosive, incendiary, and poison-gas bombs. Such blows, he predicted, would produce psychological uproar and social chaos (“shock and awe,” in modern parlance), fatally weakening the enemy’s will to resist.
As treacherous and immoral as his ideas may sound, Douhet’s intent was to shorten wars and lessen casualties -- at least for his side. Better to subdue the enemy by pressing hard on select pressure points (even if the “pressing” was via high explosives and poison gas, and the “points” included concentrations of innocent civilians), rather than forcing your own army to bog down in bloody, protracted land wars.
That air power was inherently offensive and uniquely efficacious in winning cheap victories was a conclusion that found a receptive audience in Great Britain and the United States. In England, Hugh Trenchard, founding father of the Royal Air Force (RAF), embraced strategic bombing as the most direct way to degrade the enemy’s will; he boldly asserted that “the moral effect of bombing stands undoubtedly to the material effect in a proportion of twenty to one.”
Even bolder was his American counterpart, William “Billy” Mitchell, famously court-martialed and romanticized as a “martyr” to air power. (In his honor, cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy still eat in Mitchell Hall.) At the Air Corps Tactical School in the 1930s, U.S. airmen refined Mitchell’s tenets, developing a “vital centers” theory of bombing -- the idea that one could compel an enemy to surrender by identifying and destroying his vulnerable economic nodes. It therefore came as no accident that the U.S. entered World War II with the world’s best heavy bomber, the B-17 Flying Fortress, and a fervid belief that “precision bombing” would be the most direct path to victory.
World War II and After: Dehousing, Scorching, Boiling, and Baking the Enemy
In World War II, “strategic” air forces that focused on winning the war by heavy bombing reached young adulthood, with all the swagger associated with that stage of maturity. The moral outrage of Western democracies that accompanied the German bombing of civilian populations in Guernica, Spain, in 1937 or Rotterdam in 1940 was quickly forgotten once the Allies sought to open a “second front” against Hitler through the air. Four-engine strategic bombers like the B-17 and the British Lancaster flew for thousands of miles carrying bomb loads measured in tons. From 1942 to 1945 they rained two million tons of ordnance on Axis targets in Europe, but accuracy in bombing remained elusive.
While the U.S. attempted and failed at precision daylight bombing against Germany’s “vital centers,” Britain’s RAF Bomber Command began employing what was bloodlessly termed “area bombing” at night in a “dehousing” campaign led by Arthur “Bomber” Harris. What became an American/British combined bomber offensive killed 600,000 German civilians, including 120,000 children, reducing cities like Cologne (1942), Hamburg (1943), Berlin (1944-45), and Dresden (1945) to rubble.
Yet, contrary to the dreams of air power advocates, Germany’s will to resist remained unbroken. The vaunted second front of aerial battle became yet another bloody attritional brawl, with hundreds of thousands of civilians joining scores of thousands of aircrews in death.
Similarly mauled but unbroken by bombing was Japan, despite an air campaign of relentless intensity that killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians. Planned and directed by Major General Curtis LeMay, new B-29 bombers loaded with incendiaries struck Tokyo, a city made largely of wood, in March 1945, creating a firestorm that in his words “scorched and boiled and baked [the Japanese] to death.” As many as 100,000 Japanese died in this attack.
Subsequently, 60 more cities were firebombed until the apotheosis of destruction came that August as atomic bombs incinerated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing another 200,000 people. It quickly became an article of faith among American air power enthusiasts that these bombs had driven Japan to surrender; together with this, the “decisive” air campaign against Germany became reason enough to justify an independent U.S. Air Force, which was created by the National Security Act of 1947.
In the total war against Nazi and Japanese terror, moral concerns, when expressed, came privately. General Ira Eaker worried that future generations might condemn the Allied bombing campaign against Germany for its targeting of “the man in the street.” Even LeMay, not known for introspective doubts, worried in 1945 that he and his team would likely be tried as war criminals if the U.S. failed to defeat Japan. (So Robert McNamara, then an Army Air Force officer working for LeMay, recalled in the documentary The Fog of War.)
But moral qualms were put aside in the post-war glow of victory and as the fear rose of future battles with communism. The Korean War (1950-1953) may have ushered in the jet age, as symbolized by the dogfights of American Sabre Jets and Soviet MiGs over the Yalu River, but it also witnessed the devastation by bombing of North Korea, even as the enemy took cover underground and refused to do what air power strategists had always assumed they would: give up.
Still, for the U.S. Air Force, the real action of that era lay largely in the realm of dystopian fantasies as it created the Strategic Air Command (SAC), which coordinated two legs of the nuclear triad, land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles in silos and nuclear-armed long-range bombers. (The third was nuclear-missile-armed submarines.) SAC kept some of those bombers carrying thermonuclear weapons in the air 24/7 as a “deterrent” to a Soviet nuclear first strike (and as a constant first strike threat of our own). “Thinking about the unthinkable” -- that is, nuclear Armageddon -- became all the rage, with “massive retaliation” serving as the byword for air power enthusiasts. In this way, dreams of clean victories morphed into nightmares of global thermonuclear annihilation, leaving the 1930s air power ideal of “clean” and “surgical” strikes in the dust -- for the time being.
Reaping What We Sow
Despite an unimaginably powerful nuclear deterrent that essentially couldn’t be used, the U.S. Air Force had to relearn the hard way that there remained limits to the efficacy of air power, especially when applied to low-intensity, counterinsurgency wars. As in Korea in the 1950s, air power in the 1960s and 1970s failed to provide the winning edge in the Vietnam War, even as it spread wanton destruction throughout the Vietnamese countryside. But it was the arrival of “smart” bombs near that war’s end that marked the revival of the fantasies of air power enthusiasts about “precision bombing” as the path to future victory.
By the 1990s, laser- and GPS-guided bombs (known collectively as PGMs, forprecision guided munitions) were relegating unguided, “dumb” bombs largely to the past. Yet like their predecessors, PGMs proved no panacea. In the opening stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, for example, 50 precision “decapitation strikes” targeting dictator Saddam Hussein’s top leadership failed to hit any of their intended targets, while causing “dozens” of civilian deaths. That same year, air power’s inability to produce decisive results on the ground after Iraq’s descent into chaos, insurrection, and civil war served as a reminder that the vaunted success of the U.S. air campaign in the First Gulf War (1991) was a fluke, not a flowering of air power’s maturity. (Saddam Hussein made his traditionally organized military, defenseless against air power, occupy static positions after his invasion of Kuwait.)
The recent marriage of PGMs to drones, hailed as the newest “perfect weapon” in the air arsenal, has once again led to the usual fantasies about the arrival -- finally, almost 100 years late -- of clean, precise, and decisive war. Using drones, a military need not risk even a pilot’s life in its attacks. Yet the nature of war -- its horrors, its unpredictability, its tendency to outlive its original causes -- remains fundamentally unaltered by “precision” drone strikes. War’s inherent fog and friction persist. In the case of drones, that fog is often generated by faulty intelligence, the friction by malfunctioning weaponry orinnocent civilians appearing just as the Hellfire missiles are unleashed. Rather than clean wars of decision, drone strikes decide nothing. Instead, they produce their share of “collateral damage” that only spawns new enemies seeking revenge.
The fantasy of air war as a realm of technical decision, as an exercise in decisively finding, fixing, and dispatching the enemy, appeals to a country like the United States that idolizes technology as a way to quick fixes. As a result, it’s hardly surprising that two administrations in Washington have ever more zealously pursued drone wars and aerial global assassination campaigns, already killing 4,700 “terrorists” and bystanders. And this has been just part of our Nobel Peace Prize-winning president’s campaign of 20,000 air strikes(only 10% of which were drone strikes) in his first term of office. Yet despite -- or perhaps because of -- these attacks, our global war against al-Qaeda, its affiliates, and other groups like the Taliban appears no closer to ending.
And that is, in part, because the dream of air power remains just that: a fantasy, a capricious and destructive will-o’-the-wisp. It’s a fantasy because it denies agency to enemies (and others) who invariably find ways to react, adapt, and strike back. It’s a fantasy because, however much such attacks seem both alluringly low-risk and high-reward to the U.S. military, they become a rallying cause for those on the other end of the bombs and missiles.
A much-quoted line from the movie Apocalypse Now captured the insanity of the American air war in Vietnam. “I love the smell of napalm in the morning,”says an Air Cav commander played by Robert Duvall. “Smelled like... victory.” Updated for drone warfare, this line might read: “I love the sound of drones in the morning. Sounds like... victory.” But will we say the same when armed drones are hovering, not only above our enemies’ heads but above ours, too, in fortress America, enforcing security and conformity while smiting citizens judged to be rebellious?
Something tells me this is not the dream that airpower enthusiasts had in mind.
The mass hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay has gathered momentum, entering Day 48 with reportedly over 100 inmates refusing food. While human rights groups worry about their failing health, the US mainstream media continues to turn a blind eye.
Prison officials have been downplaying the protest for weeks. The unpopular Gitmo topic has remained off the radar of mainstream news, hidden from the American public even after the Pentagon’s acknowledgement of the growing number of Gitmo detainees on hunger strike.
Reports first begin to emerge about a hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay around February 23, about two weeks after it began.
Inmates’ lawyers said over a hundred people have been taking part in it, while according to the Center for Constitutional Rights, 130 inmates began their life-threatening hunger strike to protest treatment and conditions at the prison. Many of them had lost a substantial amount of weight. The desperate move was triggered by their frustration with the US government's failure to shut down the controversial facility.
US officials initially denied that a strike was taking place at all.
"As you recall, they started off by saying, ‘no one is on hunger strike, just five or six people who have been on the hunger strike for many years’. Then that figure was revised up to 14 and now we are seeing the figure steadily increasing, but to nowhere near the extent that the prisoners' lawyers are talking about,” investigative journalist and author of ‘The Guantanamo Files’ Andy Worthington told RT.
Currently the officially-acknowledged number of Gitmo detainees on hunger strike has reached 26 people, according to the US Defense Department. Eight of them are being force-fed, which means they are administered food in the form of a nutritional supplement through a hose snaked into their nose while they are restrained in a chair.
Attorneys representing the prisoners are saying that the situation there is far worse than military officials are ready to admit.
“Hearing about how the lawyers are not being allowed to visit, plus this big gulf between what the lawyers are saying and the administration is saying is indicative of the administration still trying to clamp down on it. They don’t want this story out. And I think that that there’s a big story going on," Worthington stated.
The nature of the mass protest at the Guantanamo Bay has been summed up with a statement sent to military officials by the Center for Constitutional Rights. They wrote that “since approximately February 6, 2013, camp authorities have been confiscating detainees’ personal items, including blankets, sheets, towels, mats, razors, toothbrushes, books, family photos, religious CDs, and letters, including legal mail; and restricting their exercise, seemingly without provocation or cause.” Moreover, “Arabic interpreters employed by the prison have been searching the men’s Korans in ways that constitute desecration according to their religious beliefs, and that guards have been disrespectful during prayer times.”
"Nobody else is talking about this subject. If this were happening in Russia, if people disappeared into an illegal black hole in Russia and were facing indefinite incarceration, without trial, without charge and without access of attorneys, we'd never hear the end of it. The Western media would be full of it. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, they'd be screaming from the rooftops of Westminster,” British MP George Galloway told RT.
“But because this is an American crime, they're allowed to get away with it. Because the people that control the so-called mainstream media are fully on side with the agenda of the Obama administration,” he added.
RT asked people on the streets of New York whether they actually knew that more than half of the detainees at Guantanamo have been cleared for release. Nearly all replied that they had no idea, noting that because the Gitmo inmates are being kept in prison by the US, it's only fair that they get their views expressed on local media.
The detention camp in eastern Cuba reportedly holds 166 men seized in counterterrorism operations, most of whom have been held without charge for a decade. Although Barack Obama promised to shut down the facility at the beginning of his first term as president, the facility remains open.
(Photo: Witness Against Torture)Activists across the country began a week-long fast on Sunday in solidarity with the hunger striking detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison in a mass action meant to remind the prisoners and their families that "we have not forgotten their suffering."
Organized by the Guantanamo prisoner rights group Witness Against Torture (WAT), the protest is scheduled to last through Saturday, March 30. Throughout the week, vigils and rallies are scheduled in cities nationwide including New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., Des Moise, Los Angeles, and Northampton, Mass.
"We will gather [...] to denounce the barbaric practice of torture and indefinite detention and to demand justice for the men at Guantanamo," the group writes in a call to action. "We will continue to organize, agitate and witness in defense of human rights and the U.S. Constitution."
According to the group, some demonstrators will continue to fast every Friday "until President Barack Obama’s promise to close Guantanamo is fulfilled."
Many hunger strikers at the prison have not eaten since February. Attorneys for the detainees estimate that over 100 prisoners are taking part in the protest—though prison officials have only acknowledged about twenty of the men. Representatives and supporters of the detainees at Guantanamo have become increasingly concerned over the health of the strikers and worsening conditions for those being held at the prison.
Speaking with RT on Sunday, Lt. Col Barry Wingard, a US military attorney who advocates for the detainees, describes the men living 'in animal cages.' The interview continues:
Wingard: The last time I saw my clients was between the February 25 and March 8. I visited with them multiple times. I was shocked at the condition they were in. In fact, we were the first people who broke the story that the hunger strike had begun around February 6 or 7 and had continued on. My client at that point had lost 26 pounds (12kg) and at this point it’s official that he’s lost almost 40 pounds (18kg) – one third of his body weight from 147 pounds (67kg).
RT: How long can they go on like that?
Wingard: I can imagine we’re getting near to the end when something serious is going to happen. The administration down in Guantanamo Bay initially denied the report that the hunger strike was occurring. They then said it was seven, then 14, then 21 people. They then said it wasn’t the largest hunger strike in history. Then they came out and said it’s 24, 25, and today 26 people. So the story is getting more accurate as we go, but we’re running out of time.
RT has also published a timeline cataloging the details of the ongoing prisoner hunger strike.
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US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) arrives to meet with Iraqi Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi (R) in Baghdad on March 24, 2013 (AFP Photo / Pool)
Iraq shouldn't allow Iran to use its airspace to provide aid to the Syrian government, US Secretary of State, John Kerry, warned during his unannounced visit to Baghdad.
"I made it very clear that for those of us, who are engaged in an effort to see President Assad step down... anything that supports President Assad is problematic," Kerry said after holding private talks with Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
The Secretary of State added that the silent approval of the Iranian overflights by the Iraqi authorities has left the American people "wondering how it is a partner".
Washington believes that, despite claims that it’s only humanitarian aid, Iran is sending arms and fighters to help Assad in his war against the US-backed National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.
AP is citing an unnamed US official, who said that such flights occur "close to daily", undermining American efforts to support the rebels.
The flights have long been an issue in the relationship between Washington and Baghdad. In 2012, previous Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, received a promise from Iraq to check the Iranian flights last year, but since then only two aircraft have been inspected.
Kerry’s comments came after a group of senators sent a letter to President Barack Obama last week, urging him to step up US military efforts in Syria, including destroying Assad's aircraft using precision airstrikes.
Editor of Politics First magazine, Marcus Papadopolous, told RT that it’s “very difficult to tell” whether Iran is providing military support to Assad or not.
But he finds Kerry’s criticism of Iraq’s negligence towards overflights “hypocritical” as there are some other US partners, who made a lot greater contribution to fueling the Syrian conflict.
“It’s ironic given that Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who are America’s strategic allies, have been the ones responsible for the bloodshed in Syria through their support for Syrian militants in the form of weapons, cash and Islamist fighters.. And they are the ones, who have blood on their hands and they should be in the International Criminal Court,” Papadopolous stressed.
The civil war has been raging in Syria for over two years, with 70,000 already killed according to UN figures, as Assad and the opposition refuse to sit together at the negotiation table.
WASHINGTON - After a week of retrospectives on the tenth anniversary of Washington’s ill-fated invasion of Iraq, the most compelling consisted of a retrospective of the retrospectives.
(Photo: AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images) It came from Marc Lynch, an expert on Arab public opinion at George Washington University and prominent blogger on the foreignpolicy.com website. The flood of retrospectives that materialised over the week, he wrote, has “almost exclusively been written by Americans, talking about Americans, for Americans.”
Lynch even did a tally. The New Republic, an important liberal publication, ran commentaries by eight writers, none Iraqi. Foreign Affairs, the country’s most influential foreign-affairs journal, featured 25 contributors, none Iraqi. The New York Times did slightly better: one Iraqi out of six commentators.
Foreign Policy itself, in cooperation with the Rand Corporation, featured 20 participants in a lengthy discussion on lessons learned from Iraq. Not a single one was Iraqi.
Most major newspapers – and cable news channels — ran a scattering of stories from Iraq in which officials and citizens voiced their satisfaction or, more often, their disillusionment with the results of the invasion and subsequent eight-year occupation, as well as their hopes and fears for the future. But these were largely overshadowed on the international news front by the growing drumbeat for U.S. intervention in Syria and President Barack Obama’s trip to Israel.
This self-absorbed world view also assumes that the United States can always control any events if it just chooses the right tools and puts the right people in charge.
"Strategic narcissism,” as Lynch called it, is neither new in U.S. relations with the rest of the world, nor is it something that the still-reigning global superpower has by any means shed as a result of the Iraq debacle. “The notion that what the United Sates does is the most important aspect of every development pervades American foreign-policy punditry, whether about Iraq or Egypt, Syria and the Arab uprisings,” he wrote.
Indeed, strategic narcissism, combined with a remarkable lack of interest in foreign peoples for an imperial power that has long been insulated by exceptionally weak neighbours and two great oceans, was in many ways responsible for the last great foreign-policy debacle of the post-World War II era: the Vietnam War.
According to Robert McNamara, that war’s defence secretary and later World Bank president, the U.S. foreign-policy elite saw Ho Chi Minh primarily as a puppet of an aggressive and expanding Soviet-Chinese Communist empire rather than as a Vietnamese nationalist.
“The basic lesson is: understand your opponent,” McNamara ruefully told the New York Times in 1997. “We don’t understand the Bosnians, we don’t understand the Chinese and we don’t really understand the Iranians.”
Of course, in the case of Iraq, the key policy-makers – and the commentariat that supported them – claimed to understand the locals quite well, primarily through long-time exiles; most importantly, Ahmad Chalabi, a wealthy banker and confidence man who helped persuade them that invading U.S. troops would be greeted with “flowers and sweets” by a grateful population, and whose ideas about de-Baathification – or “de-Sunnification”, as one military participant in the Rand seminar called it – would set the stage for the bloody sectarian conflict that followed the invasion.
They were also reassured by the neo-conservative views about Arabs of the eminent Islamic historian and ardent Zionist, Bernard Lewis, who, however, in an academic career spanning six decades, had never actually set foot in Iraq.
The ouster of Saddam Hussein by the U.S., they told their credulous – and highly narcissistic — interlocutors would not only put an end to a particularly ruthless and reckless dictator. It would also liberate the Iraqi people, serve as an example (and a first democratic domino) for the rest of the region, intimidate Iran and Syria, and ensure that the U.S. would have a reliable ally in the heart of the Middle East for generations.
Of course, it was not as if the government knew nothing about Iraq or how Iraqis might react to a U.S. invasion. Decades of federal support for Middle East Studies centres at major universities, as well as the accumulation of experience with the region built up in key bureaucracies, notably the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), had produced high levels of expertise, much greater than those on Indochina in the build-up to the war there.
In fact, a few weeks after the 9/11 attacks, the State Department organised an ambitious “Future of Iraq” project that, in addition to U.S. experts, involved dozens of Iraqi professionals. At the same time, the intelligence community, using its own contacts and expertise, produced a series of reports that sharply questioned the confident predictions of the war hawks both in and outside the administration.
They warned, among other things, that de-Baathification would lead to the sectarian violence that followed, that a successor government could be more a boon for Iran than the U.S., let alone Israel, and that Washington’s ability to shape the consequences of the invasion was far more limited than the White House believed.
The studies, however, were ignored or discarded by the policy-makers and their mainly neo-conservative advisers who believed that the experts involved in these studies were “Arabists” and hence too sympathetic toward the subjects of their study – in this case, Iraqis – to be trusted.
In a recent Foreign Policy article, neo-conservative Elliott Abrams, who served under Ronald Reagan as a top Latin America aide and then as George W. Bush’s senior Middle East adviser (with little Spanish and no Arabic skills, respectively) stressed that every administration should establish a “shadow government of presidential loyalists” to ensure that experts in the relevant bureaucracies do not wrest control of policy.
That approach was vividly described some years ago by Col. Pat Lang (ret.), a former Green Beret and the top Middle East analyst in the Defence Intelligence Agency who had spent most oif his career in the region and who had been recommended to head the Pentagon office of special operations under Bush.
Asked by Undersecretary for Policy Douglas Feith, a neo-conservative close to Abrams, whether it was true he knew Arabs well and that he spoke Arabic fluently, Lang replied affirmatively. “That’s too bad,” Lang quoted Feith as telling him. “And that was the end of the interview.”
Thus, it was not only Iraqis who were not listened to; also ignored were those in and outside the government who were most knowledgeable about Iraqis and understood that the Chalabi-fuelled dreams of the policy-makers on top were in fact delusions designed to appeal to the imperial narcissists at the top.
While this week’s retrospectives partially rectified the latter problem by including many of those experts, Iraqis, who, like the Vietnamese a generation ago, suffered far more from the decisions taken in Washington, remained almost entirely absent, as stressed by Lynch.
“Lynch is right on the money when he chastises Americans for neglecting Iraqi perceptions of the war,” Stephen Walt, who teaches international relations at Harvard University, told IPS.
“This self-absorbed world view also assumes that the United States can always control any events if it just chooses the right tools and puts the right people in charge. In fact, there are many situations that are beyond our control, and failure to appreciate that fact could sow the seeds of similar debacles in the future.”
“Myopia has consequences,” Lynch wrote. “Failing to listen to those Iraqi voices meant getting important things badly wrong. …The habit of treating Iraqis as objects to be manipulated rather than as fully equal human beings – with their own identities and interests – isn’t just ethically problematic, it’s strategically problematic.”
© 2013 IPS North America
Tea Party Activists Absurdly Boycott Fox News for Being ‘Too Liberal’
Posted on Mar 24, 2013
|Flickr / Susan E Adams (CC-BY-SA)|
The tea party is under the delusion—the latest in a series of a many—that Fox News, the right-wing’s treasured network for all things skewed and biased toward conservatives, is making a hard turn to the left (spoiler: It’s not). As a result, a number of tea partyers have begun boycotting the Republican-leaning news network.
They’ve also issued a list of demands that reads like a report from the satirical publication The Onion, including that Fox News “be the right-wing CBS News: to break stories, to break information, and to do what news organizations have always done with such stories: break politicians.” They also want the network to devote at least one segment to discussing last year’s deadly Benghazi attack on two of its prime-time shows every night and allot sufficient resources to investigating President Obama’s birth certificate.
“We need Fox to turn right,” boycott participant Stan Hjerlied explained to The Daily Beast. “We think this is a coverup and Fox is aiding and abetting it. This is the way Hitler started taking over Germany, by managing and manipulating the news media.”
The group also demanded that the network cease striving to be “fair and balanced,” but failed to note that it actually accomplished that feat a while ago.
The Daily Beast:
The three-day boycott lasted Thursday morning through Sunday morning, and is the second time this group of activists have gone Fox-free in an effort to steer the coverage. Organizers say a two-day boycott earlier this month knocked 20 percent off of the network’s regular viewership. (A Daily Beast analysis of the same data showed that the boycott had little effect.)
…A leader of the boycott, Kathy Amidon, of Nashville, declined an interview, instead directing The Daily Beast to a website, Benghazi-Truth. The website, a single-page, 23,000-word manifesto complete with multicolored fonts, supposedly incriminating videos of Fox News’s complicity in a coverup, and communist propaganda photographs, is kept by someone who identifies himself online as “Proe Graphique,” and who other members of boycott described as someone who works “in New York media.”
By way of explanation, the website reports: “People ask why not all mainstream media? Why just Boycott FOX? The answer, again, is that FOX needs the Tea Party/conservatives more than the conservatives need FOX after FOX turned left, basically selling out the people who made FOX successful in an attempt to earn an extra buck. FOX is extremely vulnerable to these boycotts while the rest of the MSM doesn’t need us at all, to speak of.”
—Posted by Tracy Bloom.
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An Interview With AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka
Posted on Mar 24, 2013
|Flickr/Fighting For Our Health|
By Joe Conason
Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, recently spoke with The National Memo about the sequester’s automatic budget cuts, the danger of cuts to Social Security, the Keystone XL pipeline, immigration reform, President Obama and how to defend labor in an era of attacks on the right to organize.
The 64 year-old Trumka worked his way through college and law school in Pennsylvania’s coalfields. Fourteen years later, he became the youngest elected president in United Mine Workers history—and went on to election as secretary-treasurer and then, in 2009, as president of America’s largest labor federation.
Tough, outspoken and progressive, he didn’t hesitate to criticize President Obama—or the labor movement itself. And he offered surprising remarks about climate change, the possibility of a carbon tax and his hope for dramatic changes in the house of labor.
On the federal budget sequester, which is harming millions of union workers in and out of government, Trumka said that unions will continue “to educate people that the Republicans are trying to hold the economy hostage. They manufacture crisis after crisis after crisis ... Disarming the hostage takers—and I’ll call them that—means repealing and not replacing sequestration.”
Moreover, he bluntly rejects any budgetary “Grand Bargain—or at least the Washington version of such a deal.
“If the Grand Bargain includes cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, then we would be very, very worried about that—not just worried, we will oppose that. Let me just give you one example—the ‘Chained CPI (consumer price index, used to calculate increases in Social Security). That’s another example of how Washington creates fancy sounding phrases to mask stupid policies that only work for the rich. “
Instead, the union leader—who led two successful strikes against major coal companies—prefers to see the federal government use its enormous bargaining power to reduce the cost of health care, which is the biggest driver of federal deficits.
“Every other country in the world does that ... I met with the head of a pharmaceutical company, and do you know what he told me? He said the reason Americans pay too much for drugs is because the rest of the world pays too little. (Other nations) negotiate down to a fair price, and we don’t do that. We gave that away in the debate—the president did—and got nothing in return for it.”
He also notes that the effective corporate tax is so low that some firms pay no taxes at all. He urges a surtax on millionaires, a “tiny tax on Wall Street speculation” and closing “loopholes” that favor Wall Street hedge fund managers and derivative traders.
Yet even as he slaps corporate America for evading its “fair share,” Trumka is negotiating with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over immigration reform—specifically, how to treat “guest workers.” Optimistic about a “reasonable path to citizenship” for all 11.5 million undocumented workers, Trumka wants to be sure that any new program won’t allow renewed exploitation of Latino immigrants. New guest workers must be treated fairly—and allowed to bring their families along.
For Trumka, this debate is deeply personal: His grandfather emigrated from Poland; his mother, from Italy.
“My grandfather came to this country, landed at Ellis Island, and was immediately shipped to the coalfields in southwestern Pennsylvania. He worked two years before he could send for my grandmother; he worked even longer before he could send for his daughters. ... That shouldn’t happen to any family.”
Unlike many raised in coal country, however, Trumka acknowledges global warming. “Do I believe there’s global climate change out there? Yes, I do. I think the facts support that, and I think that we as a nation and as a world have to address the problem and correct it—so that our grandkids and our great-grandkids and their great-grandkids can have a quality of life that’s sustainable. “
But that doesn’t mean he opposes the Keystone XL oil pipeline, current bete noir of environmental movement. Although the AFL-CIO hasn’t directly backed Keystone, it has endorsed “pipelines in general,” says Trumka, who argues that the pipeline will have “a smaller carbon footprint” than other methods of transporting those petroleum products.
The nation would be better served, he says, by reducing “seeps and leaks” from existing oil facilities, “which represent a bigger hazard to the environment.” Would that create jobs? “Far more than the pipeline itself—about 125,000 jobs a year. But it would also be a win-win. The environmentalists agree with us on that, we should clean up the leaks and the seeps.”
How about a carbon tax that would raise revenue and confront the true costs of fossil fuel consumption?
“I would not exclude consideration of that,” replies Trumka, “but it would have to be evenly administered and fairly applied. So it would have to apply across the board in many different ways, and not so much that it would eliminate an industry. (The energy industry) would need time to be able to adjust to that, so it would depend on the timing of it as well. But would I exclude it out of hand? No.”
The coal industry once warned that the Clean Water Act and the Mine Reclamation Act would put them out of business, he recalls. “I said we live with this water, it poisons us and maybe—maybe—if you can’t do better, you (SET ITAL) should (END ITAL) go out of business.” Both laws passed, and of course the coal companies have hardly ceased operating. The same would be true, he implies, of efforts to stem climate change.
As for his stewardship of labor—under withering attack across the country from the far right—Trumka promises nothing less than sweeping change as he prepares for the AFL-CIO convention next September.
“In the past we would pull together committees two or three days before, and draft up some nice resolutions, and then we’d have 10 speeches and a resolution, 10 speeches and a resolution, 10 speeches and a resolution, and then on the last day we’d all go home—and nothing changed.”
This year, he’s naming committees to create a new convention agenda now—and they will include not only labor leaders but “our progressive partners, our allies” from the environmental movement, the civil rights and women’s movements, academia, as well as rank-and-file workers.
With those allies, the AFL-CIO toiled passionately to re-elect President Obama. Trumka is gratified that the president is pushing hard for immigration reform and appreciated the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which he calls “exciting because we got something done.”
Yet “every time (Obama) talks about the deficit instead of job creation, we find that disappointing. We think it’s a strategic mistake because the country doesn’t have a short-term deficit problem, it has a short-term jobs crisis that needs to be fixed. Every time he talks about chained CPI that’s a very, very big disappointment because it’s the wrong (policy) at the wrong time.”
So on Obama, “the jury is still out,” Trumka concludes. “We’re going to push him for four years and hopefully he will live up to the ideals that he has espoused to us on numerous occasions—and that I quite frankly believe that he believes.
“So we’ve got to make them a reality. And some of that is up to us. And if we don’t—if we expect them to just magically appear from this president or any other president—we will be disappointed.”
© 2013 CREATORS.COM
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Protesters demand the resignation of the government in Reykjavík, Iceland, on November 15, 2008. (Wikimedia Commons/OddurBen)When the banks of the Sweden, Norway and Iceland went out of control, the people refused to bail them out, and the economies of all three countries were the better for it. Instead of allowing themselves to be bullied by international investors represented by the IMF and the European Union, the Cypriots who are facing a similar crisis today might want to learn from the Viking example.
The Cyprus banking sector went rogue to the point that it became eight times larger than the rest of the country’s economy. Perhaps the bankers thought they would become too big to fail, requiring the country to rescue them. But why should citizens rescue bankers?
There is a better way, which is what the Scandinavians insisted on.
When it comes to a financial crisis, what’s needed is the combination of popular will and the existence of an alternative. The Vikings combined smart economics with the organizing muscle to make it happen. As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama said he knew that the Swedes handled their banking crisis in the correct way, but he also acknowledged that the United States wouldn’t follow the Swedish path. Why? Obama believed that we wouldn’t back him with a mass direct action movement in a confrontation with Wall Street.
So, what is the alternative to bailouts for rogue banks? And what can a movement do when the party in power is in bed with the 1 percent?
What democracy looks like when banks go out of control
In the 1980s, Norway and Sweden set aside what had been working for them — democratic socialism — and flirted with neo-liberalism. They deregulated, setting free the financial sectors. The private banks speculated, creating housing bubbles. By the early ’90s, the bubbles burst. Both nations headed into crisis.
In Sweden, 90 percent of the banking sector experienced massive losses. Fortunately, the Social Democrats, the party of the working class, was in power and decided against bailouts. The government nationalized two of the banks, sheltered some that looked like they could survive, and allowed the rest to go bankrupt. Stockholders were left empty-handed.
As it turned out, three of the other large banks were able to raise necessary capital privately. Regulation was re-imposed and Sweden came back strong.
This Swedish version of “tough love” put the economy in such a strong position that when the 2008 financial crisis hit most of Europe, Sweden could use a series of flexible measures that minimized disruption. Its banks had already been cleaned up. Its famous social safety net kept Swedes accessing unemployment insurance, health care, education and job training.
The result: By 2011 the Washington Post was calling Sweden the “rock star of the recovery,” with a growth rate twice that of the United States, lower unemployment and a robust currency.
When Norway’s banks went out of control, the Labor government seized the three biggest banks of Norway, fired the senior management and made sure the shareholders didn’t get a krone.
The now publicly owned banks were given new, accountable management and time to clean up. The government told the rest of the private banking sector that it were on its own: If bankers had money in their mattresses with which they could re-capitalize, fine; if not, they could go bankrupt. There was no way Norwegian citizens would bail them out.
The lesson for Norway’s entire financial sector was unmistakable. No more moral hazard: Risk your own money, not other people’s. Failing banks will be allowed to fail, no matter what their size.
The government gradually sold its shares in the banks it had seized and made a net profit. It kept a majority stake in the largest bank, probably as a safeguard to prevent the bank from being sold to foreign owners.
The St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank’s vice president, Richard G. Anderson, studied the responses of Sweden and Norway to their parallel financial crises: “The Nordic bank resolution is widely regarded as among the most successful in history,” he concluded. By bouncing back through effective governmental intervention, Norway and Sweden avoided the “lost decade” syndrome that dogged Japan after its crash in the early 1990s and that is now the reality for the United States and much of Europe.
For activists in the many countries now confronting austerity programs, these examples can serve as a concrete alternative with a track record of success.
But what if your government is in the hands of the 1 percent?
For decades, Iceland followed the “Nordic model,” with high standards of living, free university education, universal health care, full employment and a robust labor movement. The government owned the major banks.
Then, in the late ’90s, Iceland’s political leadership shifted. It began to privatize banks and joined the international trend initiated by the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in the United States, a law that separates investment banking from ordinary banking. Now the banks were free to take ownership stakes in their customers’ companies.
Building on Iceland’s economic credibility, the largest banks opened branches abroad and bought foreign financial institutions. They made the Norwegian and Swedish banks’ mistake of creating a real estate bubble, and then went beyond that by making high-risk loans to holding companies. Like Cyprus, Iceland’s banks blew themselves up like balloons, becoming several times the size of Iceland’s gross national product.
In 2008, Iceland suffered one of the worst banking collapses in history. Unemployment and inflation shot up. By September the Icelandic economy was in free fall.
Activists formed a grassroots nonviolent movement to demand resignation of the government. They massed outside the parliament building, banging pots and pans to disrupt the meetings inside — the “Kitchenware Revolution,” they called it.
The crowds grew to 10,000 — out of a total population of 320,000 — and the increasing turbulence forced Prime Minister Geir H. Haarde to announce that he and his cabinet would resign and new elections would be held. Although the politicians responsible for Iceland’s financial life were resigning, the campaigners didn’t stop there; they demanded — and won — the resignation of the governing board of the Central Bank.
The party representing the working class stepped in and pledged that there would be no bailouts, and the three largest banks therefore failed. The government made sure that Icelandic depositors got their money back and gave debt relief to struggling homeowners. For businesses facing bankruptcy but experiencing a positive cash flow, debts were forgiven. The government devaluated its currency in order to support Iceland’s important export market.
The next part will be especially interesting to Cypriot activists who want to fight back: Iceland then repudiated the billions of dollars of debt owed to U.K. and Dutch citizens who had taken loans through online subsidiaries of Icelandic banks. The move sent shudders through the international financial world, but still ordinary Icelanders refused to accept responsibility for the frenzied behavior of their bankers. The question was twice put before voters in referenda, and twice Icelanders said “No.”
Instead of trying to pacify international investors, Iceland created controls on the movement of capital. Instead of demanding austerity, the government expanded its social safety net. The result? Iceland is recovering. By July 2012 unemployment was hovering at 6 percent and falling. The economy was expected to grow by 2. 8 percent.
As The Independent’s Ben Chu has pointed out, ever since the 2008 international crisis both European politicians and ratings agencies “have demanded that national governments honor the debts of their banking sectors, protect their exchange rates, eschew capital movement restrictions, and impose massive austerity to earn back the confidence of bond markets.”
Iceland largely ignored those demands. Did the investors punish Iceland for being so smart and self-respecting? No. In June 2011, the government issued $1 billion in sovereign debt at 6 percent interest, an offering that was twice oversubscribed by investors.
It may be time for Cyprus to join Iceland in treating the bullies like, well, bullies. It may be the little countries that need to act like grown-ups and enforce accountability: Those who make the mess should clean it up. But it will take people’s movements to make sure that happens, movements that have an idea what the alternative is.
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George Lakey is Visiting Professor at Swarthmore College and a Quaker. He has led 1,500 workshops on five continents and led activist projects on local, national, and international levels. Among many other books and articles, he is author of “Strategizing for a Living Revolution” in David Solnit’s book Globalize Liberation (City Lights, 2004). His first arrest was for a civil rights sit-in and most recent was with Earth Quaker Action Team while protesting mountain top removal coal mining. E-mail: [email protected]
Perched on the bleachers erected for President Barack Obama’s second inauguration, members of Witness Against Torture hold signs in the iconic orange jumpsuits. (WNV/Justin Norman)We went to Chicago to strategize, to reflect, to look at our structure and internal workings (and unworkings). The plan was to hole up in a convent on the West End, do a lot of exercises like “Allies Spectrum” and “Story Meme” and “Pillars of the Problem.” I think I sort of made up the names of all those exercises just now, but anyone who has been to a strategic planning workshop or a nonprofit retreat knows what I am talking about.
In the course of the weekend, the plan was to use a lot of butcher paper, inhale a lot of marker fumes, drink a lot of beer and plan and strategize and envision a way to shut down Guantánamo, end torture and indefinite detention and ensure accountability for the architects of this illegal and immoral morass.
But, instead of stepping back, we had to step forward.
Turning on the radio the day before we all headed to the Witness Against Torture strategy retreat in the Windy City, many of us heard Democracy Now! reporting that more than 100 men at Guantánamo were entering the fifth week of a new hunger strike. Pardiss Kebriaei was one of the retreat’s guests. A senior staff attorney for Center for Constitutional Rights, Pardiss is a tireless advocate for justice and human rights, and she represents a number of men at Guantánamo. After 11 years of detention and with conditions deteriorating, she said that some of them have lost hope and see no other way to protest their detention and treatment than a hunger strike. CCR has received reports of men coughing up blood, being hospitalized, losing consciousness, and becoming weak and fatigued. Soon, the men on hunger strike will be risking permanent physical injury and even death.
I tried to assimilate this new tragedy. There are 166 men still detained at Guantánamo (more than four years after President Barack Obama pledged to shut down Guantánamo within a year), 86 of whom have been “Cleared for Release” by U.S. authorities. Not charged with any crime of terrorism or violence, they linger in the prison because of the Obama administration’s and Congress’s callous disregard for their basic legal and human rights.
All of the men at Guantánamo — subjected to routine indignities and abuses — are waiting for real justice: their release and resettlement if innocent or the chance to plead their case in a legitimate court of law. These basic rights have been denied them for far too long. In fact, more men have died at Guantánamo (nine) than have had trial and judgment (seven). While President Obama has failed to close the Guantánamo prison in the last four years, he has closed something: in January he shut down the office within the State Department that was tasked with shutting down Guantánamo and repatriating and resettling released detainees.
One of the detainees cleared for release, a Yemeni named Adnan Latif, died in September 2012 at Guantánamo. He described the place that was his home for nearly 10 years as a “piece of hell that kills everything.”
With those words ringing in my ears, I packed my bags and headed for our meetings. We established Witness Against Torture in 2005 with a brazen act — 25 of us flew to Cuba, walked more than 60 miles over five or six days with the hope of gaining access to the U.S. Naval Base where more than 700 men were then detained. The Naval Base authorities denied our requests for entry and so we fasted and vigiled for five days, before returning home to organize a movement to shut down Guantánamo, end torture and indefinite detention. Since that time we have organized actions and demonstrations every January 11, the date in 2002 when the first “unlawful enemy combatants” arrived at Guantánamo. The American people have since learned the truth — the vast majority of these men were not the “worst of the worst,” as Bush administration officials claimed. They were chicken farmers, illiterate tribesmen and well-traveled, well-meaning students: 93 percent of the men at Guantánamo were captured by bounty hunters or allied governments such as Pakistan and handed over to U.S. forces, according to a study by Mark Denbeaux, a professor at Seton Hall Law School.
Each year after January 11, we say goodbye and tell each other that we hope not to have to organize again the next year. And each year, we come together again — happy to see one another, angry and outraged that we have to protest something so inhumane and abhorrent as torture and indefinite detention.
In Chicago, we did not form a board or write our mission statement or develop a strategic plan for the next four years, but we did come up with a plan to fast and demonstrate throughout the week before Easter — Holy Week in the Christian tradition. We’re calling it Hungering for Justice, and we hope you will join us.
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Guatemala has put its U.S.-backed genocidal maniac on trial, but Washington continues to protect its agents of mass murder in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “There is no auditorium big enough to hold the all the living Americans who should justly be charged with genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.”
“The genocide would have been impossible without the United States.”
The man who unleashed a genocide against the Maya Indians of Guatemala, former dictator and general Efrain Rios Montt, went on trial for his crimes against humanity in Guatemala City, this week. By all rights, the 86 year-old Montt should be joined in the dock by scores of still-living United States officials, including former President George Bush the First.
Back in 1954, the CIA overthrew the reformist government of President Jacobo Arbenz, whose land reform measures had angered the United Fruit Company. The U.S. termination with extreme prejudice of Guatemalan democracy ultimately led to a 36-year rebellion and civil war, with the Americans backing a succession of dictators. General Montt was the most monstrous. In the 1980s, his regime declared total war on the Mayan people of the country’s highlands. Whole villages were massacred and entire regions laid waste as the military attempted to drain the human sea in which the guerilla movement swam. Army documents show clearly that the native Maya were targeted for extermination because of their ethnicity; that all Maya – a majority of Guatemala’s population – were considered enemies of the state. Rios Montt is the first Latin American former head of state to be charged with genocide in his own country.
However, this crime is not Rios Montt’s, alone. The genocide would have been impossible without the United States, which had run the show in Guatemala since 1954 and had armed the general to the teeth. The U.S. corporate media like to call President Ronald Reagan the “Great Communicator” but, in Guatemala, he was the Great Exterminator, encouraging and financing General Rios Montt’s orgy of mass murder. Reagan described the racist butcher as “a man of great personal integrity and commitment” who was “getting a bum rap.” All told, a quarter million or more Guatemalans died in the 40 years since the CIA robbed them of their democracy and independence.
“The Maya were targeted for extermination because of their ethnicity.”
In 1999, when the civil war was over, President Bill Clinton apologized for the harm done to Guatemala by the United States. But by then, Clinton had already set in motion a far larger genocide in the Democratic Republic of Congo – a U.S.-sponsored holocaust that has so far claimed 6 million lives. In a just world, Slick Willie would join an auditorium full of Obama, Bush and Clinton administration operatives who, over the space of 16 years, made eastern Congo the charnel house of the planet. Susan Rice would have a place of prominence in this vast assemblage of criminals, as among the most culpable for the worst bloodbath since World War Two.
In fact, there is no auditorium big enough to hold the all the living Americans who should justly be charged with genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. There are too many – great crowds of them from each administration, especially in the last ten years, since the invasion of Iraq. Imperialism in its last stages maintains an ever-lengthening Kill List.
Guatemala is coming to grips with its past, in a trial that will probably last a few months. The United States has an infinity of crimes to answer for.
For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to BlackAgendaReport.com.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected]
One very common tactic for enforcing political orthodoxies is to malign the character, "style" and even mental health of those who challenge them. The most extreme version of this was an old Soviet favorite: to declare political dissidents mentally ill and put them in hospitals. In the US, those who take even the tiniest steps outside of political convention are instantly decreed "crazy", as happened to the 2002 anti-war version of Howard Dean and the current iteration of Ron Paul (in most cases, what is actually "crazy" are the political orthodoxies this tactic seeks to shield from challenge).Noam Chomsky, delivering the Edward W. Said lecture in London on 18 March 2013. (Photograph: guardian.co.uk)
This method is applied with particular aggression to those who engage in any meaningful dissent against the society's most powerful factions and their institutions. Nixon White House officials sought to steal the files from Daniel Ellsberg's psychoanalyst's office precisely because they knew they could best discredit his disclosures with irrelevant attacks on his psyche. Identically, the New York Times and partisan Obama supporters have led the way in depicting both Bradley Manning and Julian Assange as mentally unstable outcasts with serious personality deficiencies. The lesson is clear: only someone plagued by mental afflictions would take such extreme steps to subvert the power of the US government.
A subtler version of this technique is to attack the so-called "style" of the critic as a means of impugning, really avoiding, the substance of the critique. Although Paul Krugman is comfortably within mainstream political thought as a loyal Democrat and a New York Times columnist, his relentless attacks against the austerity mindset is threatening to many. As a result, he is barraged with endless, substance-free complaints about his "tone": he is too abrasive, he does not treat opponents with respect, he demonizes those who disagree with him, etc. The complaints are usually devoid of specifics to prevent meaningful refutation: one typical example: "[Krugman] often cloaks his claims in professional authority, overstates them, omits arguments that undermine his case, and is a bit of a bully"). All of that enables the substance of the critique to be avoided in lieu of alleged personality flaws.
Nobody has been subjected to these vapid discrediting techniques more than Noam Chomsky. The book on which I'm currently working explores how establishment media systems restrict the range of acceptable debate in US political discourse, and I'm using Chomsky's treatment by (and ultimate exclusion from) establishment US media outlets as a window for understanding how that works. As a result, I've read a huge quantity of media discussions about Chomsky over the past year. And what is so striking is that virtually every mainstream profile or discussion of him at some point inevitably recites the same set of personality and stylistic attacks designed to malign his advocacy without having to do the work to engage the substance of his claims. Notably, these attacks come most frequently and viciously from establishment liberal venues, such as when the American Prospect's 2005 foreign policy issue compared him to Dick Cheney on its cover (a cover he had framed and now proudly hangs on his office wall).
Last week, Chomsky was in London to give the annual Edward W. Said lecture, and as always happens when he speaks, the large auditorium was filled to the brim, having sold out shortly after it was announced. The Guardian's Aida Edemariam interviewed him in London and produced an article, published Saturday morning, that features virtually all of those standard stylistic and personality critiques:
"When he starts speaking, it is in a monotone that makes no particular rhetorical claim on the audience's attention; in fact, it's almost soporific . . . . Within five minutes many of the hallmarks of Chomsky's political writing, and speaking, are displayed: his anger, his extraordinary range of reference and experience . . . . . Fact upon fact upon fact, but also a withering, sweeping sarcasm – the atrocities are 'tolerated politely by Europe as usual'. Harsh, vivid phrases – the 'hideously charred corpses of murdered infants'; bodies 'writhing in agony' – unspool until they become almost a form of punctuation.
"You could argue that the latter is necessary, simply a description of atrocities that must be reported, but it is also a method that has diminishing returns. The facts speak for themselves; the adjectives and the sarcasm have the counterintuitive effect of cheapening them, of imposing on the world a disappointingly crude and simplistic argument. 'The sentences,' wrote Larissa MacFarquhar in a brilliant New Yorker profile of Chomsky 10 years ago, 'are accusations of guilt, but not from a position of innocence or hope for something better: Chomsky's sarcasm is the scowl of a fallen world, the sneer of hell's veteran to its appalled naifs' – and thus, in an odd way, static and ungenerative. . . .
"But he answers questions warmly, and seriously, if not always directly – a surprise, in a way, from someone who has earned a reputation for brutality of argument, and a need to win at all costs. 'There really is an alpha-male dominance psychology at work there,' a colleague once said of him. 'He has some of the primate dominance moves. The staring down. The withering tone of voice." Students have been known to visit him in pairs, so that one can defend the other. . . .
"Chomsky, the son of Hebrew teachers who emigrated from Ukraine and Russia at the turn of the last century, began as a Zionist – but the sort of Zionist who wanted a socialist state in which Jews and Arabs worked together as equals. Since then he has been accused of antisemitism (due to defending the right to free speech of a French professor who espoused such views, some 35 years ago), and been called, by the Nation, 'America's most prominent self-hating Jew'. These days he argues tirelessly for the rights of Palestinians. . . . . Does he think that in all these years of talking and arguing and writing, he has ever changed one specific thing?"
So to recap: Chomsky is a sarcastic, angry, soporific, scowling, sneering self-hating Jew, devoid of hope and speaking from hell, whose alpha-male brutality drives him to win at all costs, and who imposes on the world disappointingly crude and simplistic arguments to the point where he is so inconsequential that one wonders whether he has ever changed even a single thing in his 60 years of political work.
Edemariam includes several other passages more balanced and even complimentary. She notes his academic accolades ("One study of the most frequently cited academic sources of all time found that he ranked eighth, just below Plato and Freud"), his mastery of facts, his willingness to speak to hostile audiences, his touching life-long relationship with his now-deceased wife, and his remarkable commitment, even at the age of 84, to personally answering emails from people around the world whom he does not know (when I spoke at a college near Rochester two weeks ago, one of the students, a college senior studying to be a high school social studies teacher, gushed as he told me that he had emailed Chomsky and quickly received a very generous personal reply). She also includes Chomsky's answer to her question about whether he has ever changed anything: a characteristically humble explanation that no one person - not even Martin Luther King - can or ever has by themselves changed anything.
But the entire piece is infused with these standard personality caricatures that offer the reader an easy means of mocking, deriding and scorning Chomsky without having to confront a single fact he presents. And that's the point: as this 9-minute Guardian excerpt about Iran and the Middle East from Chomsky's London speech demonstrates, he rationally but aggressively debunks destructive mainstream falsehoods that huge numbers of people are taught to tacitly embrace. But all of that can be, and is, ignored in favor of hating his "style", ridiculing his personality, and smearing him with horrible slurs ("self-hating Jew").
What's particularly strange about this set of personality and style attacks is what little relationship they bear to reality. Far from being some sort of brutal, domineering, and angry "alpha-male" savage, Chomsky - no matter your views of him - is one of the most soft-spoken and unfailingly civil and polite political advocates on the planet. It's true that his critiques of those who wield power and influence can be withering - that's the central function of an effective critic or just a human being with a conscience - but one would be hard-pressed to find someone as prominent as he who is as steadfastly polite and considerate and eager to listen when it comes to interacting with those who are powerless and voiceless. His humanism is legion. And far from being devoid of hope, it's almost impossible to find an establishment critic more passionate and animated when talking about the ability of people to join together to create real social and political change.
Then there's Edemariam's statement, offered with no citation, that Chomsky has been called "America's most prominent self-hating Jew" by the left-wing Nation magazine. This claim, though often repeated and obviously very serious, is inaccurate.
The Nation article which she seems to be referencing is not available online except by subscription. But what is freely available online is a 1993 article on Chomsky from the Chicago Tribune that makes clear that this did not come from the Nation itself, but from a single writer who, more importantly, was not himself calling Chomsky a "self-hating" Jew but was simply noting that this is how he is often attacked ("one critic observed that Chomsky has 'acquired the reputation as America's most prominent self-hating Jew.'"). In 2010, the scholarly website 3 Quarks Daily noted an article on Chomsky from The Telegraph that also claimed without citation that "the Left-wing Nation magazine, meanwhile, called him 'America's most prominent self-hating Jew'". Inquiries in the comment section for the source citation for this quote prompted this reply:
"I know this is a few years old, but the citation for the 'most prominent self-hating Jew' quote is: Morton, Brian. 'Chomsky Then and Now.' Nation 246, no. 18 (May 7, 1988): 646-652.
"With access to a full-text archive of The Nation, it took me only a few minutes to locate this. The full quote in context is 'If Chomsky has acquired the reputation of being America's most prominent self-hating Jew, this is because, in the United States, discussion about the Middle East has until recently taken place within very narrow bounds.'
"As you can see the point was quite the opposite of how it was presented. The Nation often includes different perspectives so attributing one reviewer's comment to 'The Nation' as a whole would be dishonest anyway.
"Regardless of that however, the reviewer was actually making the point that Chomsky's views only seem far out because the spectrum is so limited. . . . .This is just another example of the kind of lazy, dishonest way in which Chomsky's views are generally reported."
Having myself retrieved a full copy of Morton's 1988 article, I can say with certainty that that comment is indeed 100% accurate. It is wildly inaccurate to claim that the Nation labelled Chomsky a "self-hating Jew":
The oft-repeated claim that Chomsky has "been called, by the Nation,
'America's most prominent self-hating Jew'" is simply false. If anything, that Nation article, written by someone not on the Nation staff, debunked that accusation, and certainly did not embrace it.
But the strangest attack on Chomsky is the insinuation that he has changed nothing. Aside from the metrics demonstrating that he has more reach and influence than virtually any public intellectual on the planet, some of which Edemariam cites, I'd say that there is no living political writer who has more radically changed how more people think in more parts of the world about political issues than he. If you accept the premise (as I do) that the key to political change is to convince people of pervasive injustice and the need to act, then it's virtually laughable to depict him as inconsequential. Washington power-brokers and their media courtiers do not discuss him, and he does not make frequent (or any) appearances on US cable news outlets, but outside of those narrow and insular corridors - meaning around the world - few if any political thinkers are as well-known, influential or admired (to its credit, the Guardian, like some US liberal outlets, does periodically publish Chomsky's essays).
Like any person with a significant political platform, Chomsky is fair game for all sorts of criticisms. Like anyone else, he should be subjected to intense critical and adversarial scrutiny. Even admirers should listen to his (and everyone else's) pronouncements with a critical ear. Like anyone who makes prolific political arguments over the course of many years, he's made mistakes.
But what is at play here is this destructive dynamic that the more one dissents from political orthodoxies, the more personalized, style-focused and substance-free the attacks become. That's because once someone become sufficiently critical of establishment pieties, the goal is not merely to dispute their claims but to silence them. That's accomplished by demonizing the person to the extent that huge numbers of people decide that nothing they say should even be considered, let alone accepted. It's a sorry and anti-intellectual tactic, to be sure, but a brutally effective one.
Examining the argument that “medical and other debt shouldn’t exist because debt is part of a rigged system of mafia capitalism that extracts wealth from people who are trying to meet their basic needs.”
This week the Strike Debt Rolling Jubilee, a project that arose from Occupy Wall Street, will announce its purchase of more than $1 million of medical debt as part of a weeklong national conversation about why people shouldn’t be put in debt meeting their basic needs.
(Image: Patient holding hands via Shutterstock)
The Rolling Jubilee raised funds to purchase bundles of debt for pennies on the dollar. Unlike the rapidly growing industry of collection agencies that purchase debt and then hound debtors until they repay, the Rolling Jubilee will erase their purchased debt, freeing debtors from their obligation. Rolling Jubilee members view debt as the intersection between Wall Street and people’s lives. They argue that medical and other debt shouldn’t exist because debt is part of a rigged system of mafia capitalism that extracts wealth from people who are trying to meet their basic needs.
We spoke with Thomas Gokey of Strike Debt and Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program and author of the leading studies on bankruptcy caused by medical debt, to learn more. We explored why medical debt exists in the United States, what its impacts are on health and what could be done to end medical debt completely. Woolhandler also described the impact of the 2006 Massachusetts’ health law, which was used as a blueprint for the national health law, on debt and health care costs. The solution, a national single-payer health system, described as “Expanded and Improved Medicare for All,” is already supported by the majority of Americans. Until this and other solutions to our crises are realized, Strike Debt provides a guide for organizing and resisting the culture of debt that binds us.
Living in the Land of Health Injustice
The US has used a market-based health system for so long that most people probably feel that it is normal, but in truth, the US health system is an aberration. Most industrialized nations have publicly-funded universal health care systems paid for through taxes that cover virtually 100 percent of necessary care. Their systems have been in existence for many decades, and while no system is perfect, other countries spend half what the United States does per person on health care, cover everyone and have better health outcomes.
After World War II, the United States moved toward a system of health insurance primarily accessed through employment. Then, under President Reagan in the 1980s, there was an intentional effort to create investor-owned health-care services, turn health insurance into a profit-making sector and privatize the delivery of health care in for-profit hospitals. Creating a for-profit health care system is a thirty-year experiment with clear outcomes: uncontrolled costs, growing health disparities, falling life expectancy and other indicators of poor health status, including high numbers of preventable deaths. If such an experiment were to have been conducted by a research team, ethics would have demanded that the experiment be stopped a long time ago.
The basic flaws of the US system are obvious. When health insurance is tied to employment, the healthiest segment of the population (i.e. essentially those who are working) is covered. Those who cannot work, perhaps because of a serious accident or illness, lose their coverage or struggle to afford it on the individual market where the prices are higher and the coverage is skimpier. When the bottom line is profit, not health, health insurers compete to attract those who are healthy in the first place and then find ways to restrict and deny payment for care through provider networks, authorization processes and out-of-pocket costs.
Patients and providers spend so much time and energy trying to navigate the complicated health system in the United States that it is hard to see the forest for the trees. But each time that a patient delays or avoids necessary care, that a patient is asked what kind of insurance they have before they are asked what they need, or that a family has to choose between paying for treatment and paying for basics such as food and shelter, a health injustice has occurred. These scenarios do not happen in other wealthy nations.
In fact, medical debt and bankruptcy are uniquely American experiences among wealthy nations. Some enter into medical debt because they are uninsured and need medical services, but the majority of people who end up with medical bankruptcy have health insurance. Dr. Woolhandler and her colleagues interviewed over two thousand people in bankruptcy court. They found that more than 60 percent became bankrupt because of medical illness and medical bills, and nearly 80 percent had insurance when they first became ill. Despite being insured, the out-of-pocket costs for the premiums, copays, deductibles, co-insurance and uncovered services combined to create an unsustainable financial burden.
Woolhandler’s landmark bankruptcy study was based on data from 2007, before the financial crisis of 2008. At present, over one-third of working families have no savings, and nearly two-thirds do not have enough cash on hand to withstand a $1,000 emergency. When families are living paycheck to paycheck, one serious accident or illness is enough to push them over the edge.
In addition to the obvious risk of financial ruin, we asked Woolhandler about the impact of being uninsured or underinsured on health outcomes. The consequences are well-documented. People without insurance do not receive primary or preventive care, have worse outcomes when they do seek treatment and are more likely to die. The same goes for those who have skimpy health insurance. Copays and deductibles cause people to delay or avoid necessary care
ObamaCare Will Escalate Health Injustice
There is a lot of confusion about the Affordable Care Act (ACA). At its root the ACA was an insurance company takeover of health care in the United States which included lots of ways for health corporations to profit. There has been a marketing effort to sell people on the ACA by claiming more people will have health insurance, but what is not mentioned is that the type of insurance coverage people will have is going to be skimpier. While it is true that more people will have insurance, the ACA will still leave tens of millions without insurance when fully implemented, and there will be an increase in expensive under-insurance plans.
Prior to the passage of the Obama health reform, there were efforts by some state-level insurance regulators to require insurance companies to provide more extensive coverage by spending 80 to 85 percent of premiums on health services rather than on profit and administration. The Obama law stopped those efforts by putting in place a law for the first time which said that 60-40 plans are acceptable. In a 60-40 plan, the insurance company pays 60 percent of the covered costs, while the enrollee pays 40 percent plus the full amount of uncovered costs, those not included in their policies. Enrollee costs include premiums, deductibles, copays, co-insurance and other out-of-pocket expenses. It is these out-of-pocket costs that quickly lead to health-care debt and bankruptcy.
The ACA will push coverage in the direction of under-insurance in a number of ways. One is through taxing so-called “Cadillac Plans” which are merely insurance plans that provide the kind of coverage all Americans once viewed as standard – actual health insurance. Employers are planning to avoid the Cadillac tax by lowering benefits so that their plans do not meet the Cadillac Plan criteria. Employers are also planning to drop health benefits and pay a penalty instead, which saves money, or to drop health benefits and offer subsidies to employees to purchase health insurance on their own. Other employers are changing the status of their employees to be consultants or less than full time to avoid having to provide health benefits.
The ACA will result in more people purchasing inadequate insurance plans when the state insurance exchanges open later this year. There will be four tiers of coverage from 90-10 to 60-40 plans. Most people will be forced to choose the lower tiers because premiums will rise even higher when the requirement to offer policies to people with pre-existing conditions begins.
And the Obama administration narrowly interpreted the law so that qualification for subsidies based on the cost of premiums only applies to individual, not family, plans. This means that if the cost of an individual plan is less than 9.5 percent of a person’s income, even if that person actually needs a family plan which would cost more than 9.5 percent, they do not qualify for a subsidy to buy a family plan.
One way to know how the Obama law will fare is to look at the experience of the pilot project in Massachusetts. The 2006 Massachusetts health-care law cut the number of uninsured in half, which is similar to what the ACA is expected to accomplish. Those who are still without coverage are primarily the working poor. The health insurance exchange has not brought the cost of premiums down and is not used by the majority of the public. The exchange is mainly used by those who receive a subsidy from the government because subsidized plans must be purchased from the exchange. To pay for subsidies for insurance premiums, Massachusetts cut important safety net public health programs, especially programs like those for mental health services that are not covered by insurance. The cost of health care in Massachusetts, already the highest in the nation, continues to rise. And the cost of health care continues to be a barrier for people who need health services. Medical debt and bankruptcies continue at the same levels as before the law was passed.
Based on predictions by groups like the Congressional Budget Office and the experience in Massachusetts, we can predict the result of the ACA: continued lack of insurance for at least 30 million, more people in the costly individual insurance market, more people with under-insurance, continued increases in the cost of health care, continued financial barriers to necessary health care and continued high levels of medical debt and medical bankruptcy. In other words, health injustice will continue in the United States.
How to End Health Injustice
One of the first steps required for change is awareness of the problem. The Strike Debt Rolling Jubilee “Life or Debt” campaign will help some people directly, but it will do more to highlight the ongoing problems of medical debt and the debtor system. The Rolling Jubilee has joined with single-payer health care advocates for a week of national solidarity actions to educate about the single-payer solution and to shift the broader conversation to one that questions a system that profits from people’s attempts to meet their needs.
The dominant message in the United States is one that places the blame on individuals when they are unable to meet their basic needs for health care, housing, education and food. The individual is blamed for making a bad decision to borrow money or for not being able to put money aside in a savings account. This is meant to make people feel shame. It is a form of social control that disempowers people and silences them. But Strike Debt recognizes that 76 percent of Americans are in debt and asks, “How is it possible that three-quarters of us could all have just somehow failed to figure out how to properly manage our money, all at the same time?”
This is a fundamental question because real transformation becomes possible when people stop feeling isolated and ashamed and instead join together to tell their stories, to find connections between their stories and to question the root causes of their shared situation. For us, this was a key reason for the physical occupations in the fall of 2011. In the occupations, people met others who were struggling with the same problems of homelessness, unemployment and debt. The Strike Debt campaign says it well, “You are not a loan. You are not alone.” Working in solidarity is both empowering and powerful.
For too long in the United States, politicians and the corporate media have defined the narrative. We can use single payer as a prime example. A single-payer health-care system or “improved Medicare-for-All” would ensure access to health care from birth to death for everyone in the United States. This is eminently affordable, indeed the US already spends the most per person on health care in the world; we just get the least return for our spending. It is not a question of the cost; rather it is a question of the US political system being able to put in place real solutions despite the power of the insurance and for-profit health-care industries.
The arguments for single payer are widely supported and well-known. It is the only proven path to a national health system that will provide coverage to everyone in the United States, control costs and produce excellent health outcomes. There is a solid majority of the public, including a majority of health professionals, who supports a single-payer health system despite the intentional misinformation campaign that characterizes single payer as “socialism” and “rationing.” But single-payer supporters are disempowered by being told that they are asking for too much and that what they want is not politically feasible. They are urged to be pragmatic and to accept incremental solutions.
Tens of millions of dollars have been invested in front groups such as Health Care for America Now to channel popular energy away from single payer and into Wall Street solutions such as the ACA. And it has been very effective. During the health-reform process, the groups who supported health reform were effectively split. Single-payer supporters were divided into those who held firm for a single payer plan and those who supported what was called the public option. Single-payer supporters who held firm were chastised for not being pragmatic and supporting a public option, which was mislabeled as a step toward single payer even though the evidence showed that a public option was neither a practical step nor was it intended to be included in the health law.
As the health law neared the final steps in the process, and the provisions in the bill were increasingly unacceptable, two additional methods of social control were employed. One was straight up lying. Politicians and their front groups called the health law “universal, affordable and guaranteed,” when it was none of those. And the other was to tie the success of the law to the success of the Democratic Party and to frighten the public into believing that Republicans would be much worse. This line of thinking ignored the fact that the state model for the bill was passed under a Republican administration, Governor Romney, in Massachusetts, and that the blueprint for the bill was developed in the conservative Heritage Foundation.
There are important lessons to learn from the health-reform process. First, is that advocates must have a solid understanding of what constitutes a real solution so they are not led down a path toward a false solution. Second, is that advocates must work in solidarity for real solutions with confidence rather than accepting watered-down solutions. And third, is that advocates must not tether their work to the agenda of any political party but must be willing to hold whoever is in office accountable.
Commodifying Human Needs Violates Human Rights
The human rights framework is being used more and more as a way to understand problems and their solutions and to empower people to demand that basic needs are met. The concept of human rights runs counter to the incentive of the market, which is to make everything a commodity. When human needs are treated as commodities, those who control access to them have a captive population.
Like the company towns that arose during the Industrial Revolution, Wall Street controls the currency, the jobs, and goods and services, so that many people have nowhere to go. It is estimated by author John Curl that 92 percent of the working population in the US is trapped in indentured servitude, dependent on their job for their survival. As anthropologist David Graeber points out, the earliest wage contracts were slave rentals. Today, the reality for almost all Americans is living as indebted wage slaves.
One of the tools used by dictatorships to control their populations and prevent uprisings is to impose economic sanctions. Sanctions are easy to recognize when we look at other nations, but not so easy to see at home. The United States is the wealthiest nation in the world, and total wealth is growing. But this wealth, much of which is derived from the resources and labor of the population, is flowing to the top 1 percent or above, while the wealth of the bottom 99 percent is falling. There is enough wealth in the United States to provide free education and health care to all and to create a full employment program. The US could invest in a clean energy infrastructure and affordable housing. The failure to do so is equivalent to imposing sanctions on the majority of the people.
Although some do not know it yet, all people in the United States are united by their human rights to have basic needs met. Indeed, the United States has signed onto two international treaties that delineate these human rights. One is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the other is the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. These rights, including our right to health care, are being violated. It is up to the people to realize this and to join together in demanding that our rights be honored. Human rights are the glue that binds us to each other. Debt is the shackle that enslaves us to Wall Street.
Starting at the Roots
The commodification of health care is the root cause of medical debt and bankruptcy, but we see the same pattern when it comes to other essentials such as housing, education and more. The Strike Debt campaign on medical debt is part of a broader campaign against our debt-based economy. Debt has been part of human society for thousands of years and, as David Graeber notes, there are “potentially catastrophic social consequences of debt.” In order to avoid a debt crisis:
“It soon became traditional for each new ruler to wipe the slate clean, cancel all debts, and declare a general amnesty or ‘freedom’, so that all bonded labourers could return to their families. (It is significant here that the first word for ‘freedom’ known in any human language, the Sumerian amarga, literally means ‘return to mother’.) Biblical prophets instituted a similar custom, the Jubilee, whereby after seven years all debts were similarly cancelled. This is the direct ancestor of the New Testament notion of ‘redemption.’ ”
Strike Debt seeks to “build popular resistance to all forms of debt imposed on us by the banks. Debt keeps us isolated, ashamed and afraid. We are building a movement to challenge this system while creating alternatives and supporting each other. We want an economy where our debts are to our friends, families and communities – and not to the 1%.”
This type of thinking is fundamental to achieving a society based on equality, prosperity and human rights. A culture shift away from the dominant narrative of the marketplace to one of social solidarity is essential because a population that is empowered and works together is more difficult to oppress and control.
The Strike Debt campaign prepared a Debt Resisters Organizing Manual to provide people with tools to both resist debt and build the society we want to live in. The manual is an ongoing work that is available for free on the Strike Debt website. It explains debt and how it is created. It provides specific actions that people can take to decrease their individual debt. And it provides information so that communities can understand ways that debt controls their collective lives, for example when public debt is used to justify cuts to social services and basic public infrastructure.
Debt is a global problem. It is a tool that has been used for decades to advance a neoliberal agenda of privatization of goods and services. Secretary of State John Kerry’s first trip to Egypt was to push their new government to accept an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan with the requirement that it end subsidies for fuel and food, among other structural adjustments. The United States, through the World Bank and IMF, routinely requires Structural Adjustment Programs as conditions of loans that demand decreased funding for public programs and increased foreign ownership of resources.
Indeed, rather than ending debt as wise rulers of the past have done, for the first time in the 5,000-year history of debt, Graeber writes, “we have begun to see the creation of the first effective planetary administrative system, operating through the IMF, World Bank, corporations and other financial institutions, largely in order to protect the interests of creditors.”
But more civil societies are taking a stand against debt that has been imposed upon them without their consent. In Spain, this is being done through the “No Pagamos” (We Won’t Pay) campaign. Likewise, it is happening in the UK and Greece. We have written previously about successes in Latin America such as Venezuela and Ecuador.
As neoliberal policies take root at home, more communities in the US are building Strike Debt chapters and fighting back. To find a chapter near you or to start one, visit Strike Debt. It is time for Americans to stand together, with the people of the world, and end the systemic problem of debt enslavement. For this, our solidarity is more important than ever.
Kevin Zeese JD and Margaret Flowers MD co-host ClearingtheFOGRadio.org on We Act Radio 1480 AM Washington, DC and on Economic Democracy Media, co-direct It’s Our Economy and are organizers of the Occupation of Washington, DC. Their twitters are @KBZeese and @MFlowers8.
How the Media’s Experts Became Better Than You
Posted on Mar 23, 2013
|El Bibliomata (CC BY 2.0)|
The job of corporate news pundits is to appear to say true and important things without attaching those views to themselves or their employers—to phrase every claim in the contingent form—writes Thomas Frank in the April issue of Harper’s Magazine.
Frank’s latest “Easy Chair” column begins with a comment overheard during a conversation about austerity on NPR. “[H]istory just argues incredibly strongly against it,” David Leonhardt, Washington bureau chief of The New York Times, said. Frank agrees with the point—“Austerity is a bad idea”—but why cast history as a thing that argues, he asks? That’s to turn history into a member of the commentariat, a smug class of self-described experts that appears daily on CNN, FOX and MSNBC, where it professes “bright ideas” while wearing “solid midtone ties.”
Frank was a high school debater in the early 1980s. “We talked that way all the time,” he writes. “Arguments were what allowed us to keep score,” but they were a game—“a game for teenagers. … The point wasn’t for an individual debater to believe any particular argument and win the room over with the radiance of his faith; it was for him to be able to argue anything. Insincerity was essential.”
“For the commentator class,” he says, “the usage has a similar distancing effect. It’s a kind of shortcut to objectivity, and suggests that the pundit in question doesn’t actually believe something—oh heavens no—but is merely reporting that the belief might be held by someone, somewhere. So when Nina Easton appears on Fox News and says … that ‘one could argue that Barack Obama’s smartest political move was putting Hillary Clinton in his Cabinet so that she wasn’t outside with Bill Clinton causing mischief,’ she isn’t actually asserting this as the truth. She’s only reporting that one might assert this, were one so inclined.”
Modifying “argue” with “could” or “would,” as Easton did, “distances the wise person even further from the forbidden stuff of opinion.” In law and politics, such talk strikes the contemporary listener as normal. But when taken up by a celebrated contemporary novelist, it’s a different story. Junot Diaz recently used the convention while describing a character in one of his stories: “What we’re left with is a character who, for the first time in his life, I would argue, is capable of being in a normal relationship.”
Frank is awed by this. “Here we seem to be witnessing a deliberate and extraordinary divorce of speaker from subject. After all, who knows the development and the mental state of Díaz’s character better than Díaz himself? He labored over this short-story collection for sixteen years. Surely he can indulge in a little straight talk about his own creation without carefully leaving himself a rhetorical escape hatch.”
That Diaz, an artist, would assume the pundit’s habit of muddying a statement is discouraging to those who view artists as precious defenders of truth. Some want to inform their audiences that they’re in the “presence of a professional.” And professionals “don’t simply assert things but instead argue for them,” or “contend” that they “would” argue for them “in high minded settings like legal briefs and scholarly journals.” That is how, in America, enlightened people are supposed to speak. And that is how those who wish to be well regarded by members of the prevailing legal, media and political class cultivate and maintain their superiority to the rest of us, Frank posits.
“[W]e have seen enough to understand that the goal of the pundit cliché is to define and defend the class position of the pundit, to distinguish between the exalted them and the vast, sweating world of not-them,” he writes. “One part of this specialized vocabulary points toward elitism, the other toward blaring pseudopopulism, but if examined closely, both parts give away the game. This lingo is the jittery patter of a would-be democratic aristocracy, utterly incapable of introspection and yet better than the rest of us in every way.”
—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.
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In today's On the News segment: John Boehner said the GOP will refuse to raise the debt ceiling in May, unless the president agrees to more spending cuts; Colorado is now the 18th state to legalize some form of same-sex unions; Mexico is breaking up monopolies; and more.
Thom Hartmann here – on the news...
You need to know this. Republicans are already hatching their next plot to take our nation hostage. At his weekly press conference, John Boehner said the GOP will refuse to raise the debt ceiling in May, unless the president agrees to more spending cuts. President Obama already authorized $1.5 trillion dollars in cuts over the next decade as part of the fiscal cliff deal. In addition, the sequester amounts to an additional $1.2 trillion in cuts over that same period. But, that's not enough for Republicans. The last time the GOP played political games with our debt limit, economic growth slowed in our nation, and citizens and businesses alike faced increased borrowing costs - but the Speaker of the House doesn't seem to care. According to John Boehner, Republicans plan to wage economic terrorism again, unless the President agrees to cut spending dollar-for-dollar with the debt ceiling increase. So, unless President Obama is willing to further devastate our economy with Republican austerity, Speaker Boehner and House Republicans won't let him pay the bills that they have racked up. The debt ceiling does not authorize more spending. It only allows the President to pay for spending that the House has already approved. This is simply economic terrorism... and it's no way to run a government. Call John Boehner's office and tell him to stop playing political games with our economy.
In screwed news... Republican Congressman Steve Pearce wants to treat the unemployed like criminals. The New Mexico representative filed legislation yesterday, that subject requires mandatory drug testing for people collecting federal unemployment benefits. To add insult to injury, Representative Pearce even wants people to pay for these tests out of their own pockets. In a press release about the new legislation, Pearce said "Hard-working middle class Americans are struggling to make ends meet, and should not have to pay the way for those who have drug addictions." But his argument is completely bogus. Repeated studies have shown that unemployed people are no more likely to use drugs than the rest of the population, and a similar law in Florida actually ended up costing the taxpayers over $45,000. Alternet reports that more than a dozen Republican state legislatures have pushed through similar plans, in a concerted effort to demonize people who collect federal aid. It's not a crime to be out of work, and Steve Pearce and the GOP need to stop treating the unemployed like criminals.
In the best of the rest of the news...
Colorado may become the most progressive state in our nation. In addition to recent bills legalizing marijuana and requiring background checks on gun purchases, that state has now approved same-sex unions. This new law makes Colorado the 18th state in our nation to legalize some form of same-sex unions, and comes just days before the Supreme Court hears arguments in two landmark gay marriage cases. The publisher of "Out Front Colorado", Jerry Cunningham, said, "It's kind of amazing. It's creating an awareness that we can have relationships. It validates it and legitimizes it, and says it's O.K." Regardless of how the Supreme Court rules on the up-coming DOMA and Prop 8 cases, the tide in our nation is turning in the right direction. State-after-state is recognizing that gay rights are civil rights, and that everyone should have the right to marry the person that they love.
Yesterday, the Senate Energy Committee voted in favor of President Obama's nomination for Interior Secretary. It turns out, the easiest way to get a nomination approved is to abandon plans to protect the environment. Currently the CEO of outdoor retailer REI, Sally Jewell was approved to replace Ken Salazar in a 19 to 3 committee vote. If confirmed by the full Senate, she will oversee more than 1.5 billion acres of national parks, public lands, and offshore territories. However, the approval relied on current Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's agreement to revisit a decision to block the construction of a road through an Alaskan wildlife reserve. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, the top Republican on the committee, threatened to hold up Jewell's nomination unless the Obama Administration approved the construction. And, for now, it appears Murkowski got her way. Jewell's nomination will go before the full Senate next month. Let's demand that Republicans approve her nomination without any more destructive environmental ultimatums.
Mexico is breaking up monopolies. This morning, that nation's Congress approved a final bill, which gives regulators the power to break up companies that hold more than 50% of the telecom market. Mexican Congressman Julio Cesar Moreno said, "In our country there is just one territory, and it is not the territory or property of any one telephone company." The reform was introduced March 11, and it will increase competition in the Mexican telecom industry. Currently, one company, Televisa – owned by telecom tycoon Carlos Slim – controls 60% of the broadcast market. According to Reuters. the legislation is being hailed as one of biggest planned shake-ups of the telecom industry in decades. More competition will mean lower prices and better service for the Mexican people. It's great to see that Mexico is taking on monopolies... now, if we can only start doing the same thing right here at home.
And finally... The 2012 Republican primary was a circus of self-serving candidates. And while most of us knew from the beginning that Romney was the likely nominee, two contenders had other plans. Joshua Green of Business Week reports that Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum were planning to topple Romney with a so-called "Unity Ticket" that could have consolidated conservative support. Funny enough, the two were unable to unify on a single ticket, because they couldn't agree which one would get to be president. Gingrich thought his win in the South Carolina primary gave him the right to the top of the ticket, but the Santorum team thought it was "only logical" that Rick "had earned the right to go one-on-one with Romney." Who knows how that ticket could have changed the outcome of the 2012 race, but comedians everywhere are disappointed that the "Unity Ticket" never happened.
And that's the way it is today – Friday, March 22, 2013. I'm Thom Hartmann – on the news.
Canadian radio host and journalist James Corbett believes that the group of six world powers have not ever been sincere and honest in their negotiations with Iran and constantly used the opportunity of talks to put more pressure on Iran over its nuclear program.
“At this point, the players in this drama have all but given up the pretense that this is a negotiation at all. It has become more of a venue for the west to deliver threats and ultimatums to Iran. The goalposts are constantly shifting and have become so hopelessly nebulous that they are about as realistic as it was for Bush and Blair to demand that Saddam Hussein “disarm” the WMDs he never had or face military invasion,” said Corbett in an interview with Fars News Agency.
James Corbett edits, writes and hosts the Corbett Report. James has been living and working in Japan since 2004. He started The Corbett Report website in 2007 as an outlet for independent critical analysis of politics, society, history, and economics. Corbett has interviewed several renowned authors, journalists, academicians and activists for his listener-supported show. He is also a producer for Global Research TV (GRTV).
What follows is the text of Fars News Agency’s interview with James Corbett ahead of the upcoming nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1.
Q: Iran and the P5+1 held a meeting in Kazakhstan on February 26 to talk about Iran’s nuclear program. The past meetings between Iran and the six world powers yielded few practical results as the West has persistently called on Iran to abandon its enrichment activities, while knowing that Iran’s nuclear program is purely peaceful. What’s your viewpoint in this regard?
A: In labor law there is a concept of “good faith negotiation” which stipulates that both sides in that negotiation have to recognize each other as bargaining representatives, attend and take part in meetings at reasonable times, respond in good time to proposals from other representatives, and to respond to those proposals with reasoned responses indicating a genuine attempt to consider them. On almost every point, the P5+1 powers have shown themselves to be in violation of these principles in their negotiation with Iran over the Iranian nuclear program. The attempt to force concessions and/or impose sanctions as a precondition to negotiations is a clear sign that the P5+1 are not negotiating in good faith.
Take the IAEA’s ‘revelation’ this week that Iran is installing “advanced” centrifuge technology at its Natanz plant. The leak comes conveniently right as these so-called negotiations are set to begin, and provides a convenient excuse for everyone, including, of course, the Obama administration, to deliver more hand-wringing about Iran’s “provocative” actions. The problem with this reading, of course, is that this technology is in no way inconsistent with a peaceful nuclear program, and the very same IAEA report also shows no evidence whatsoever that any of Iran’s nuclear materials are being diverted for weapons purposes. All this is conveniently ignored, however, and the entire attempt to replace Iran’s admittedly outdated 1970s centrifuge technology with more stable, modern equipment is portrayed as some type of monstrous breach of international etiquette.
The hypocrisy is self-evident. Iran cannot so much as upgrade its aging equipment without being accused of provocative action. None of its actions are in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the IAEA itself cannot demonstrate any proof that it is diverting any of its nuclear material for an offensive weapons program. Meanwhile, Israel, its avowed enemy who has repeatedly threatened military action against it for even pursuing the idea of peaceful nuclear technology, is the world’s sixth largest nuclear power and yet is not an NPT signatory and has never allowed its nuclear facilities to be inspected by anyone, least of all the IAEA. What clearer indication can there be that the P5+1 are not negotiating in good faith?
Q: Iran has always expressed its willingness for engaging in talks with the six world powers based on mutual respect and provided that its nuclear rights are recognized, but the Western powers have always imposed new sanctions against Iran before the talks and stalled clear and meaningful negotiations. Isn’t this practice a policy of carrot and stick aimed at intimidating Iran and forcing it into making concessions?
A: At this point, the players in this drama have all but given up the pretense that this is a negotiation at all. It has become more of a venue for the west to deliver threats and ultimatums to Iran. The goalposts are constantly shifting and have become so hopelessly nebulous that they are about as realistic as it was for Bush and Blair to demand that Saddam Hussein “disarm” the WMDs he never had or face military invasion. Just this week, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that “If it [Iran] fails to address the concerns of the international community, it will face more pressure and become increasingly isolated.” What does this blather mean? What are the concerns, and how does Iran go about “addressing” them? It is obvious at this point than nothing short of the government of Iran agreeing to shut down the nuclear program entirely and hand the keys to their country over to America would be enough to meet these vague demands.
A perfect case in point revolves around the sanctions that the US unilaterally imposed this month shutting down the gold-for-gas trade that had developed between Iran and Turkey. The sanctions have already had their effect: the trade is drying up. Now the major powers come along and tell Iran that they might ease up on these sanctions if Tehran scraps their Fordow uranium enrichment plan. This is not a negotiation by any stretch of the imagination, this is one step shy of all-out war. As Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast put it: “They want to take away the rights of a nation in exchange for allowing trade in gold.” No self-respecting state could possibly give in to such demands. This is no carrot here, only stick, and no negotiation, only threats.
Q: 13 American intelligence agencies reported in 2007 that Iran’s nuclear activities haven’t diverted toward producing nuclear weapons and don’t have a military dimension. However, Washington still insists that Iran is after nuclear weapons, obstructing the progress of talks between Iran and the P5+1. Why does the U.S. repeat its claims for which it has no substantial evidence or proof?
A: The claim is entirely political, and explicitly so. One of the key authors of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that came to the conclusion that Iran’s nuclear program is not offensive in nature, Dr. Tom Fingar, recently received a “Sam Adams Award” from the Oxford Student Union for integrity in intelligence work. The event received virtually no attention from any of the press and Dr. Fingar is still a complete unknown to the American public. Both the Bush and Obama administrations have done their best to cover up the findings and assessments of their own intelligence agencies, exactly as the Bush regime worked to cover up any intelligence pointing to Saddam’s lack of WMDs in the run-up to the war in Iraq. The intelligence was being manipulated then, and it is being manipulated now.
Q: It was in 2004 that a German spy stole a laptop computer from a military unit in Iran. The laptop is said to have included thousands of documents regarding Iran’s alleged underground nuclear activities. The American intelligence agencies confirmed that the data in this laptop are genuine, but so far, nothing of the information saved in the laptop have been presented and offered to the public or the inspectors of the IAEA. Can we say that the laptop issue is an intelligence hoax aimed at blemishing Iran’s reputation and putting more pressure on it?
A: How can the public possibly be asked to put their trust in the pronouncements of politicians and government officials who have been caught lying to demonize their enemies time and again? The laptop should not be assumed to exist until it is presented for inspection by independent experts in a neutral setting, and even then all possible forms of tampering and planting of evidence have to be taken into account. Perhaps the intelligence agencies have learned their lesson since the release of the Niger yellowcake documents, which were easily exposed as crude forgeries. If the evidence is never presented, it can never be exposed as a forgery.
Q: The anti-Iran sanctions have created problems for the ordinary Iranian citizens, but it seems that they cannot persuade the Iranian politicians and the people to retreat from the path of peaceful nuclear program the country has been pursuing and investing on. What’s your viewpoint about the sanctions, their humanitarian impact and the effects they have had on Iran’s nuclear program?
A: The sanctions are lunacy on every level: humanitarian, political and strategic. The effects on the Iranian population are well documented and a perfectly predictable outcome of this form of economic warfare. But this has the exact opposite effect as the one supposedly intended by the west. To whatever extent reformist sentiment exists in Iran, the sanctions only help to make the case that the country is under attack by the west and must refuse to back down from the confrontation. If anything, it only stiffens the resolve of Iranians and makes the American dream of some spontaneous uprising from within that much less likely.
Even more bafflingly, the sanctions are having devastating effects on the P5+1 allies. Europe in general and Turkey in particular are sorely in need of Iranian gas to supplement their energy imports. The sanctions put the squeeze on these countries perhaps even more so than Iran, which will always find willing buyers for its gas in Asian markets that are unfettered by western sanctions.
Of course, this is well-known by America and its allies. The reason for the sanctions is not, ultimately, to make Iran cave to their demands; no one is seriously expecting this to happen. It is instead to exacerbate the situation so that international pressure against Iran increases. Europeans and Turks, for example, now have that much more incentive to pressure Iran on its nuclear program, since it is directly effecting their own bottom line.
Q: What’s your opinion about the upcoming nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1? Given that some members of the group have shown no willingness to ease the sanctions as an indication of their goodwill to Iran, can we await the success of the talks after an almost 8-month hiatus?
A” It would be nothing short of a miracle if any sort of agreement is actually struck in Almaty. The P5+1 powers have already made it abundantly clear that they are not interested in any agreement that involves Iran maintaining its nuclear program in any capacity. Sadly, if unsurprisingly, the best possible outcome is also the least likely one: the abolition of nuclear weapons altogether. It is also the one that was suggested by Ayatollah Khamenei last week, in keeping with a long tradition of Iranian proposals for a nuclear free Middle East that have been roundly rejected by the west. Go figure.
Parents protest outside the home of Chicago's Board of Education President David Vitales house Thursday, March 21, 2013, in Chicago. Teachers say the city of Chicago has begun informing teachers, principals and local officials about which public schools it intends to close under a contentious plan that opponents say will disproportionately affect minority students in the nation's third largest school district. Chicago Public Schools hasn't said how many schools or students will be affected, but administrators identified up to 129 schools that could be shuttered, saying many serve too few students to justify remaining open. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)The mass closings of more than 50 schools in Chicago is being met with outrage by the city's teachers, parents and students and an analysis shows that the 'uncompromising' move by Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and the office of Mayor Rahm Emanuel will cost the city as much—if not more—than the plan purports to save.
The CPS and Mayor Emanuel claim the closings are necessary to stem a $1 billion budget deficit and what they call a “utilization crisis,” but an analysis of the school district's budget and closure plan documents by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) found that the plan could actually cost the city $1 billion.
In addition, says the CTU, the closings will cause "massive upheaval" and "adversely affect" more than 30,000 elementary school students across the city.
"We are the city of big shoulders and so we intend to put up a fight. We don’t know if we can win, but if you don’t fight, you will never win at all." – Karen Lewis, CTU president
“CPS is making all of these promises of how it will support these students and their schools, but once again, they’re lying just to make families sympathetic to what they’re doing,” said Karen Lewis, president of the CTU. “They’re promising students all of these things which will cost a billion dollars, which is the same amount of money they’ve claimed not to have.”
Similar mass school closings are happening in other US cities, making what's happening in Chicago only the latest--and the largest--effort by the so-called "corporate school reformers" to close down public schools they deem "failing" while actively pushing the introduction of private or partially-private charter schools to take their place.
"You're looking at communities being destroyed, ripped apart. Outrage is everywhere," Chicago community activist Jito Brown told NPR in an interview.
"This makes no sense," said Chicago native Zeus Arreola, 28, who has children at two schools slated for closure. "This city is not what it used to be."Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis speaks outside the Mahalia Jackson Elementary School in Chicago, Thursday, March 21, 2013, about the planned closing of public schools. The city of Chicago began informing teachers, principals and local officials Thursday about which public schools it intends to close under a contentious plan that opponents say will disproportionately affect minority students in the nation's third largest school district. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
As the Washington Post's Valerie Strauss writes:
School closings have become a tool of school reformers who say the action is needed either because the targeted schools have too few students or are failing academically — even while they support the opening of charter schools in the same neighborhoods. In Chicago’s case, both arguments for closing schools were made in recent years.
The Associated Press reports that with 681 schools, the CPS is the nation’s third-largest school district. And adds:
Chicago is among several major U.S. cities, including Philadelphia, Washington and Detroit, to use mass school closures to reduce costs and offset declining enrollment. Detroit has closed more than 130 schools since 2005, including more than 40 in 2010 alone.
But looking back on the trend, Strauss gives historical context for the CTU's contention that the cost-savings promised by the CPS are unlikely to be realized:
When Michelle Rhee told D.C. school residents that she, as chancellor of public schools in the nation’s capital, was closing 23 under-enrolled schools, she promised that a lot of money would be saved that could be plowed back into academic programs in remaining schools. It didn’t happen; an audit years later found that the closings actually cost the city $40 million.
Recent studies by education policy researcher Emily Dowdall, who works for the Pew Charitable Trust, found that among the key trends found when studying school closings was the growth of charter schools— which "has just been very rapid, very massive over the last decade or so"—and the outsized and negative impact closings have on the poor, mostly minority students and communities.
Reviewing Dowdall's research, NPR reports:
On the national stage, civil rights activists argue that school closings are disproportionately hurting poor, minority communities. Everywhere Dowdall looked, she says, school closings are displacing poor, black and Latino students.
"It's not isolated in one or two cities that have lost lots of population. It's actually very common even in cities that are seen as economic successes, like Washington, D.C., like Chicago," she says.
That's why school closing are getting more attention, and community activists blame the Obama administration for letting it happen. The stated goal of the administration's education agenda is to shut down failing schools and promote the expansion of publicly funded, privately run charter schools.
And "as parents, students and teachers learned the fate of their schools," the Chicago Tribune revealed, "there was mostly anger, sadness and fear about what's to come."
Citing just one example, the Tribune reports:
To parents of students with special needs, the decision to close Trumbull Elementary in the Andersonville neighborhood on the North Side is just the latest battle in their war with CPS.
On Thursday, parents paced the sidewalks outside the school, handing out fliers in English and Spanish urging neighborhood residents and other parents to join their fight to keep the school open.
"We need your help now more than ever, as we continue to fight for our school," the flier said. "There is strength in numbers and together we can make a difference."
Thirty-seven percent of Trumbull's roughly 400 students have special needs, and parents said teachers and staff have a long history of working with those children. Sending them to another school worries parents and staff.
"The loss of familiar surroundings is difficult for kids with special needs," said Jennifer Steiner, an occupational therapist at Trumbull. "It's hard for them to transition to the unknown. It sets them back when there are changes in routine and they have to adjust to entirely new faces and new staff."
Community members, however—led by teachers from the CTU, parents, and affected students—don't plan to allow the plan to pass through unchallenged.
In a statement delivered earlier this week, CTU's Lewis was defiant as she declared preparations to fight back against the closings, the CPS and Mayor Emanuel's office:
We intend to rally, united and strong, on Wednesday, March 27, to send a signal that we are sick and tired of being bullied and betrayed. Some of us are going to put our bodies on the line — because a threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. And when we declare the victory, some of us will sit back and sing the lines of one of Mahaila Jackson’s songs — ‘How I Got Over.’
Rahm Emanuel has become the ‘murder mayor.’ He is murdering public services. Murdering our ability to maintain public sector jobs and now he has set his sights on our public schools. But we have news for him: We don’t intend to die. This is not Detroit. We are the city of big shoulders and so we intend to put up a fight. We don’t know if we can win, but if you don’t fight, you will never win at all.
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Some Syrian rebel groups get training and intelligence straight from CIA officers, US officials told media. The helping hand is meant to bolster the secular opposition against both governmental troops and Islamist forces.
The CIA’s increased involvement in Syria is part America’s greater engagement in the war-torn country, according to The Wall Street Journal. The spy agency has selected some small rebel units from the Free Syrian Army to receive combat training and fresh intel they can act upon, the newspaper says, citing unnamed US officials and rebel commanders.
The training is provided by the CIA, working together with British, French and Jordanian intelligence agencies. The rebels are taught to use various kinds of arms, including anti-tank weapons. They are also schooled in urban combat tactics and counterintelligence tactics.
The experience will supposedly help them stand against the professional Syrian army, which scores victories against the armed opposition thanks to both more advanced weapons and better organization.
The rebels are also receiving fresh intelligence collected by the CIA, which they can act upon at short notice. The extent of the info provided remains in secret, but the US can potentially provide what they gather trough satellite and signal surveillance as well as intelligence coming through exchanges with Israeli and Jordanian agencies.
The CIA is said to keep this part of dealing with the rebels limited, withholding sensitive types of information, like the suspected locations of Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles.
The US spy agency was previously working in Turkey vetting rebel groups for receiving arms shipments from Gulf monarchies. The effort aimed at preventing the weapons from being funneled to Islamists had mixed results, the WSJ says. The CIA also works with Iraqi counterterrorism units to counter the flow of Islamist militants across the border to Syria.
The White House has been reluctant to send combat-worthy equipment to Syrian rebels, despite calls inside the US and from Gulf and some European countries to do so. It is concerned that those would end up in the hand of the more powerful Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist force, the Nusra Front. Unlike arms, the intelligence from CIA is operationally useful for a short period of time and would not be traded for years to come, a US official explained.
Washington’s concern over the growing influence of the Nusra Front was reiterated on Friday by President Barack Obama, as he was visiting Jordan as part of his Middle Eastern tour.
“I am very concerned about Syria becoming an enclave for extremism because extremists thrive in chaos, they thrive in failed states, they thrive in power vacuums,” Obama said after meeting Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
The Nusra Front is believed to be responsible for the bloodiest bombings in Syria over the past months. The latest such attack was the assassination of Mohammad Buti and influential Sunni preacher and supporter of the Syrian government. Buti was killed on Thursday along with some 50 others when a car bomb was detonated near a Damascus mosque.
The US is reportedly gathering intelligence on Nusra Front commanders and fighters for a possible campaign of targeted drone killing similar to those the CIA wages in Pakistan and Yemen and the Pentagon in Afghanistan.
Denying Victims a Vote
Posted on Mar 22, 2013
Shame on Harry Reid for killing any prospect of an assault weapons ban. I understand why he did it, but that doesn’t make it right.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama spoke with fiery eloquence about the cost of gun violence in shattered lives. “They deserve a vote,” the president said of the victims, challenging Congress to take a stand on reasonable legislation to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of killers.
Reid obviously disagrees. The Senate majority leader decided Tuesday to abandon a proposal by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., that would have banned the sale of some military-style firearms—weapons designed not for sport or self-defense, but for killing enemy soldiers in battle. Reid said he was dropping the measure—without a vote—because it would surely fail.
“I’m not going to try to put something on the floor that won’t succeed,” Reid said. “I want something that will succeed. I think the worst of all worlds would be to bring something to the floor and it dies there.”
He’s wrong. The worst way to respond to the shocking massacre in Newtown, Conn., would be to let political self-interest stand in the way of meaningful action. The parents of those 20 slain children deserve a vote on the assault weapons ban. The families of the 30,000 Americans who will be killed by gunfire this year deserve a vote. Bringing the measure to the floor of both the Senate and the House is the least Congress can do.We all know what’s happening here. Senate Democrats face a tough battle next year to hold on to their slim majority. Going on record in support of legislation that the gun lobby so vehemently opposes could cost some vulnerable incumbents their seats—and potentially make Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the majority leader.
Reid said he could muster barely 40 votes for Feinstein’s weapons ban. Even if all 53 members of the Democratic caucus supported it, the measure would still fall short of the 60 votes needed to break an anticipated GOP filibuster. And in the event that the measure somehow made it out of the Senate, it would be dead on arrival in the House. So why should Senate Democrats go out on a limb for something that’s so unlikely ever to become law?
The answer isn’t political, it’s moral. The answer is that this is not a moment to do the expedient thing but instead to do the right thing.
It is true that prospects are brighter for other proposals on gun violence. The most important is expanding and toughening the current system of background checks for gun buyers. Despite the National Rifle Association’s opposition, sentiment for universal background checks—covering not just dealers but also ostensibly “private” sales at gun shows—seems close to a consensus.
I don’t mean to downplay the significance of background checks, which could save lives by keeping guns out of the wrong hands. But let’s not fool ourselves: The biggest factor in gun violence is the gun. Until we begin to deal with the weapons themselves, we are working at the margins.
Despite what the NRA wants us to believe, guns do kill people. Yes, mental health is a serious issue. Yes, the violence in movies and video games is shocking. But these other factors do not begin to explain why there is so much more gun violence in the United States than in other industrialized countries.
Surely there are disturbed young men in Britain who are watching violent movies or playing violent video games at this very moment—just like their American counterparts. Yet the U.S. death rate from gun violence is 40 times higher than the British rate. Why? What could make such a huge difference?
The biggest factor has to be that British law makes it hard to buy a gun and U.S. law makes it easy. Don’t blame the Constitution; even Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in an opinion striking down the District of Columbia’s handgun ban, noted that the right to keep and bear arms is not absolute.
Blame Congress for not imposing reasonable controls on instruments of death that too often turn petty arguments into tragedies—and that allow disturbed individuals to turn their most warped fantasies into reality.
Reid and his colleagues in the Senate are experts in political arithmetic. I’d love to hear them explain their calculations to the parents of Newtown.
Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)washpost.com.
© 2013, Washington Post Writers Group
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Pentagon Whistle-Blower Karen Kwiatkowski’s Secret History of the Iraq War
Posted on Mar 22, 2013
This video image released by Iraqi state television shows Saddam Hussein’s guards wearing ski masks and placing a noose around the deposed leader’s neck moments before his execution in 2006.
This week on Truthdig Radio in association with KPFK: The Iraq whistle-blower reminds us that Bush lied. Plus: Obama in the Holy Land, antagonizing fat people and fighting to save a great work of political art.
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Rachel Maddow highlighted, in real time, what CNN and MSNBC were showing versus what Fox News decided was relevant (repealing the health care law) when President Obama makes his first trip to Israel. The results were eye-opening, surreal even. At the very moment Obama was receiving the highest honor Israel can bestow, Fox News was quite literally declaring him an enemy of the state.
Text via Egberto Willies' blog:
After that big speech that was so well received by that huge Israeli audience in Jerusalem, President Obama was honored at a state dinner. He was awarded the Israeli Medal Of Distinction which is the highest honor a civilian can receive in Israel. He is the first sitting President to ever receive this award. Israeli President Simon Peres said to President Obama quote “The people of Israel are particularly move by your unforgettable contribution to their security”. He called President Obama, Dear Barack.
So that was what was happening live in Israel. CNN and MSNBC are carrying it live showing the President of the United States receiving this medal at this big state dinner in a foreign country… Fox News channel however is pretending like it is not happening. They’re talking about repealing Obamacare…. We are all watching as the Israeli president is saying to President Obama, “I know that you would not stop striving for a better world. What was running on Fox News instead was a commercial for their new special on President Obama as an enemy of Israel…
COMMERCIAL: Obama: The State Of Israel will have no greater friend than the United States. Narrator: But with a friend like Obama are Israel’s enemies gaining strength. Sean gets expert insight on a special Hannity.
That is what Fox News was telling its audience of American Conservatives instead of showing this, happening in Israel. in real life, in the actual world at that very moment, They report, you decide.
‘Left, Right & Center’: Israel, Nukes and the GOP
Posted on Mar 22, 2013
Truthdig Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer and the other “Left, Right & Center” panelists discuss President Obama’s approach to Israel. His well-received speech there was more about process than substance but provided a framework for next steps. Will his second term bring about positive foreign policy moves? Will Israel strike Iran—with or without U.S. support—if nuclear development continues? Would a nuclear ban be enforceable?
Iraq did not turn out the way supporters of the war imagined and was far more costly in dollars and lives. History will judge whether we should have gone for containment and whether we should have quit when we did.
Also, a report shows that the Republican National Committee recognizes real problems within the GOP.
Scheer and host Matt Miller are joined this week by Rich Lowry of National Review and Robin Wright of the United States Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
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That might have been the death of the GOP.
March 22, 2013 |
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Regular readers know that I think the Republican Party is doing just fine these days, thank you very much, given its current stranglehold on Congress, the Supreme Court, and the states. But when I read that Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum seriously considered forming a unity ticket in order to defeat Mitt Romney in last year's GOP primaries, my first reaction was: wow, the results in that general election contest really would have justified a GOP "autopsy."
At least I hope so. The linked story, from Businessweek, says that Newt and Rick couldn't finalize the plan because they couldn't agree which one of them would top the ticket. I would have loved to see Gingrich on top, because of his endless self-regard and the sheer creativity of his carefully thought-out gaffes, which are remarkable for their ability to offend a broad range of Americans. (Poor schoolchildren should work as janitors?Women shouldn't be in combat "because they get infections"?) Before pollsters stopped polling this particular head-to-head, President Obama was leading Gingrich by 13.2 points, according to the Real Clear Politics poll aggregation.
But Obama's lead over Santorum, according to RCP, was only 7.8 points, and he was within shouting distance in a few surveys. My fear is that the mainstream press -- desperate as always to enable the GOP and perpetually in denial about the depths of its craziness -- would decide that, well, Santorum wasn't one of the crazies, like Cain or Trump, he was a serious, thoughtful guy who'd spent years in the Senate and had won his election victories in a swing state ... oh, and, yes, he does oppose not only gay marriage and abortion but also contraception, but really, isn't it Obama who's the radical here, with his embrace of Sandra Fluke and his insistence on forcing a contraceptive mandate down the throats of those nice Catholics?
I know, I know -- the latter didn't work for the GOP in the race we actually had (even though the mainstream media pushed the line that Obama was going too far on reproductive rights). But Santorum had that developmentally disabled daughter, whose condition he milked for all it was worth, to the delight of right-wingers, especially right-wing women (as The New York Times noted during the campaign). If he'd won the nomination under those conditions, even with Gingrich in tow as his running mate, wouldn't the members of the MSM have thoughtfully scratched their chins and said that he was clearly touching a cultural nerve, unlike that elitist Obama?
Oh, and neither Gingrich nor Santorum was an Ivy Leaguer, unlike that hoity-toity snob Obama. Who's the real American now?
I write all this and then I think: what am I talking about? It's Santorum. It's Gingrich. They're really, really unlikable. (Especially Gingrich.)
So, yeah, even though I think the press would have given Rick 'n' Newt much more credibility as candidates than they deserved, it would have been a blowout. And I hope everyone would have recognized that a party that would endorse this ticket had really serious problems.
Or perhaps it just would have been a cue for the Village to say, "None of this would have happened if Jeb Bush/Mitch Daniels/Chris Christie had run...."
As U.S. senators prepare to vote on the Senate Budget Resolution Friday the lawmakers will also be considering a slew of amendments proposed for the bill by a group of Big Oil friendly senators, including a bid for slipshod approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Kxl Pipeline (Photo: 350.org via Flickr / Creative Commons License) Senator John Hoeven has slipped into the budget resolution a proposal for an amendment that would claim Congress has the authority to approve the Keystone XL pipeline over the Executive branch.
The amendment would be largely symbolic, as it could not effectively supersede the powers of the State Department to approve or deny the pipeline, but would serve to garner support for a similar stand alone bill that was pushed by a group of oil friendly senators last week.
"I think it will get him (Obama) to approve [the pipeline] and if he doesn't, I think it will help us to get it done congressionally," Hoeven said.
"If the measure passes, it would be symbolic because the budget is a plan and will not be voted into law," Reuters reports.
However, as Danielle Droitsch at the Natural Resources Defense Council writes Friday, such an amendment, while nonbinding, "could support the approval and construction of the dirty and dangerous Keystone XL tar sands pipeline."
It does not approve the pipeline, nor does it direct the president to approve it. It is instead an attempt to rattle the cage and call for a vote count on behalf of Big Oil. Senators should stand with the American people, not Big Oil, and vote against this amendment.
"Senate about to vote on KXL: nonbinding, but a good scoreboard of who's taking orders from Big Oil."
“If you understand climate science, there’s no way you can support this pipeline,” said Jason Kowalski, policy director for 350.org. “We know that this pipeline is a boondoggle—it will spill, most of the oil is for export, and it will make climate change worse. Anyone who tells you the opposite isn’t being straight with you or doesn’t know the facts.”
The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline threatens American homes, farms, and ranches with tar sands oil spills. And it threatens all of us by driving the expansion of the giant tar sands reserve and worsening climate change. It would raise oil prices. It would provide few jobs and derail continued growth in clean energy jobs. And it would funnel money to foreign oil corporations. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is all risk and no reward and has no place on the budget resolution.
Also Friday, Oil Change International released telling new statistics on the motives behind the Big Oil senators.
According to the group, the 10 senators co-sponsoring the pro-Keystone XL pipeline amendment (Hoeven Amendment 494) have on average taken $807,517 from the fossil fuel industry.
Those numbers, based on data from DirtyEnergyMoney.org, work out to be 254% more money than the average senator not sponsoring the amendment and total over $8 million dollars.
David Turnbull, Campaigns Director of Oil Change International, issued the following statement:
This puts to rest any delusions we might have that the Keystone XL pipeline is about anything but money for the fossil fuel industry and their allies in Congress. [...]