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On the News With Thom Hartmann: Celebrating MLK Day, and More

In today's On the News segment: a million Americans gathered to watch the inauguration of President Barack Obama; we honored Dr. Martin Luther King; Republicans announced they will approve a short-term increase in the debt limit; the city of Chicago is taking important step to protect workers, and more.

TRANSCRIPT

Thom Hartmann here – on the news…

You need to know this. As many as a million Americans gathered on our National Mall today, to watch Barack Obama be publicly sworn in to serve his second term as President of the United States. And he rides into his second term with a mandate – as the only President since Dwight Eisenhower to be elected twice with 51% of the vote. But if there’s one thing the President learned from his first term, it’s that Republicans will at all costs destroy whatever mandate he’s earned. In fact, on this day, four years ago, Republicans gathered at a fancy steakhouse in Washington, DC, just as President Obama was attending the inaugural balls. The likes of Newt Gingrich, Paul Ryan, and Frank Luntz all attended this meeting. And the purpose of the meeting was simple: How to destroy the Obama Presidency and retake the White House in four years. That night – Republicans committed themselves to four years of obstruction and economic sabotage. And that’s exactly what they did – even though it didn’t work out for them in the end. Today, the question is – what are Republicans plotting now? How will they sabotage the President’s second term? Let’s hope the President has learned lessons from the first term, and accepts that he’s facing a loyal opposition in the Republican Party. He’s facing economic terrorists – and the only way he can succeed is by taking the debate to the American people, using his bully pulpit, and shaming the fossils on the Right who serve the Billionaire Class.

Today – we also honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  – a fitting tribute, as the nation’s first African American president is sworn in for the second time.  And while President Obama’s ascendance to the highest office in the land is, without a doubt, a consequence of King’s legacy, the nation would be better served if both President Obama, and the rest of our Democratic leaders, acted a little more like Dr. King. Today we should remember that Dr. King was radical revolutionary, who marched and spoke out against war, against wealth inequality, and against the evils of unfettered capitalism. He was also a strong defender of organized labor. In fact, he was gunned down while supporting the striking public sanitation workers in Memphis. Dr. King wasn’t just focused on racial justice – but economic justice as well. And in a nation plagued by wealth inequality, mired in endless war abroad, and an increasingly hostile war against organized workers at home – the nation desperately needs a voice like Dr. King again.

In the best of the rest of the news…

Are Republicans actually coming to their senses, and caving in on the debt ceiling? Yes and no. House Republicans announced they would approve a short-term increase in the debt-limit next week – giving Congress an extra three months to pass a budget before we bump up against the debt-limit and, again, flirt with economic catastrophe. This is the definition of kicking the can down the road – but it’s an admission on the part of Republicans that their brinksmanship with the debt-limit was not helping them politically. So they’ll push it back three months, and see which way the wind blows. As ThinkProgress blog notes, this is “crisis politics” – and it’s no way a government should be managed. It’s also a direct result of Citizens United. It’s no coincidence that this House Republican majority was largely elected in 2010. That was the first election after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which was three years ago today. And they are now part of he most unpopular Congress in history. Consider the House Republican majority Exhibit A in why money in politics is a bad idea.  This year we need to get active and organized, to fight for a constitutional amendment that says corporations are not people and money is not speech. Go to MoveToAmend.org.

The city of Chicago is taking important steps to protect workers from wage theft. Wage theft complaints around the nation have increased more than 400% over the last decade – as businesses force workers into overtime and don’t compensate them. A study out of the city of Chicago found that over 60% of its workers were underpaid by more than one-dollar an hour. And two-thirds of Chicago workers were not paid the overtime they were entitled to. But now, Chicago is saying enough is enough. The city council approved a measure that will revoke the charter of any business found to be guilty of wage theft. Essentially giving that business the corporate death penalty. This is a positive step forward for workers in that city. But workers all across America need help. The real wage theft that’s taken place over the last thirty years is that workers are no longer being paid for their increased productivity. Over the last thirty years, CEOs have pocketed all the gains from their workers’ increased productivity – so that today corporate profits, as a percentage of GDP, are higher than they’ve ever been – yet working wages, as a percent of GDP, are lower than they’ve ever been. To turn the tide, we have to empower labor unions – and get rid of the Reagan tax cuts, which have incentivized the Billionaire Class to steal more and more of their workers wages.

And finally...Democratic Congressman Ed Markey has declared war on Wall Street’s robots! By robots, I mean high-frequency trading machines that run on complex algorithms, and buy and sell stocks by the millions every single second. High-frequency trading is so prevalent now, that it makes up more than half of the entire stock market’s volume. It’s also extremely dangerous, which is why Congressman Markey is calling on the Securities and Exchange Commission to regulate the robots. He argues that the SEC has the power to do this under legislation he cosponsored in 1989 – and he wants the SEC to immediately come up with new rules, to “restrict or eliminate the practice” of high frequency trading. Let’s hope this happens soon, because as bad as the banksters are – their robots are even worse.

And that’s the way it is today – Monday, January 21st, 2013. I’m Thom Hartmann – on the news.

A Second Inaugural, A Second Conspiracy

As soon as the Second Inaugural of Barack Obama was finished, the newly re-elected President walked back into the U.S. Capitol and sat down behind an ornate, oak (at least it looked like oak) desk to sign some papers. It was mostly a photo-op, but there was some rather substantive legislative business to attend to, namely, the nominations to four cabinet posts, which the President had to officially sign his name to.

To his right, he was flanked by Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer. And to his left, Nancy Pelosi and a stiff, awkwardly smiling John Boehner.

The cameras flashed, the papers were signed, and the president rose to embrace his fellow leaders in government. It was a message to the country, “Everything is just fine. Look, we're all cooperating and governing together. See?”

But, Eric Cantor was also in attendance.

And one of the most important things we’ve learned over the last four years watching Eric Cantor lead the insurgent Republican Party is that things aren’t just fine.

Four years ago Inaugural Day, as the new president, Barack Obama, was making the rounds of the inaugural balls, Eric Cantor had gathered powerful members of the Republican Party at an upscale steakhouse in Washington, DC’s Penn Quarter, a private room in a restaurant called the Caucus Room. Their agenda was straightforward.  Sabotage the American economy, blame it on the young President, and then retake the White House in four years.

Paul Ryan, who, four years later, would be chosen to replace the Vice President and, thus, fulfill this agenda, was also in attendance that night. As was Newt Gingrich. And over a dozen prominent Republicans including Kevin McCarthy, Jim DeMint, and John Kyl.

As Robert Draper discloses in his book, “Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives,” Republicans at that meeting committed themselves to what some would call political treason: an unwavering opposition to the coming Obama Presidency. Every single legislative priority coming out of the White House would be vetoed, obstructed, filibustered, or sabotaged.

This also meant a forcing the American middle class into a suicide pact. Our economy was hemorrhaging 750,000 jobs a month, and was in desperate need of prolonged government intervention and stimulus. By vowing to block these federal lifelines, Republicans knew they were condemning millions of Americans to joblessness, poverty, homelessness, and suicide.

But, the prospect of stopping the “Obama Revolution” in its tracks and reclaiming government on behalf of Reagan's Billionaire Class was worth whatever means were needed to achieve it.

Congressman Kevin McCarthy reportedly told fellow Republicans at the meeting that they must, “Show united unyielding opposition to the president’s economic policies.” Pete Session said that Republicans should take on an “insurgency mindset.” On The Thom Hartmann program, Newt Gingrich confirmed he was at the meeting and justified this insurgent mentality. 

We know the Republican lawmakers followed through on their plot. House Republicans unanimously voted against every noteworthy piece of Democratic legislation. And Senators DeMint, Kyl, Coburn, Ensign, and Corker, combined together to filibuster over 300 bills in the Senate.

Together, these men crippled the economic recovery, and thus won big victories in the House in 2010. But, ultimately, they failed at their number one goal: making Barack Obama a one-term president.

And so, here’s Eric Cantor, four years after plotting the first conspiracy against the President, at another Inaugural Ceremony, and again on the receiving end of an exaggerated handshake from Barack Obama who was still the President.

We know the President has a busy night ahead of him attending inaugural balls and such. But what’s Eric Cantor up to tonight? Which Republican operatives are gathering right now in smoke-filled private dining rooms at upscale DC steakhouses plotting the destruction of the President’s second term?

Who knows?

But we do know that despite the Republican shellacking last November, something is afoot on the Right. Their commitment to achieving one-party rule for the Billionaire Class remains unshaken.

And though President Obama may no longer be the sole target, the American Middle Class still is.


You can see it on a state-level.

There’s Michigan’s shocking descent into becoming a right-to-work-for-less state, which will break up the unionized political base of the Democratic Party.

There’s the attempt of Pennsylvania Republicans to change how their state doles out Electoral College votes, so Republicans presidential candidates will have a huge advantage in future national elections even when the majority of the people of Pennsylvania vote against them.


And, of course, as a result of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, the likes of Karl Rove, Sheldon Adelson, and the Koch brothers are learning from their mistakes last November, and will continue their efforts to steal future elections.

The Billionaire Class and its front men in the Republican Party are hard at work again, just as they were four years ago.

Today we saw the second Democratic President since FDR to have a Second Inaugural. But just underneath the revelry, conspiracies abound. And the Billionaire Class won’t rest until they’re assured that what happened today never happens again.

We, The People

President Obama's 2nd inaugural speech is one for the ages. Jonathan Alter asked via Twitter shortly after what lines from it will be engraved in granite one day.

My answer: "We, the people."

President Obama used the pronoun "we" 88 times in his speech. He spoke of climate change, of health care, of poverty, and of history, and did so in the context of our shared citizenship.

It was as much a call to citizenship as it was a call to unity. Two sections stand out for me. The first is his call to action:

That is our generation’s task -- to make these words, these rights, these values of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness real for every American. Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life. It does not mean we all define liberty in exactly the same way or follow the same precise path to happiness. Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time, but it does require us to act in our time.

I don't think he could have made clearer the need for Congress to stop obstructing and start acting. But he didn't limit that call to Congress alone. He concluded his speech with a clarion call for every citizen to engage, to act, and to fulfill their duties as citizens, too:

My fellow Americans, the oath I have sworn before you today, like the one recited by others who serve in this Capitol, was an oath to God and country, not party or faction. And we must faithfully execute that pledge during the duration of our service. But the words I spoke today are not so different from the oath that is taken each time a soldier signs up for duty or an immigrant realizes her dream. My oath is not so different from the pledge we all make to the flag that waves above and that fills our hearts with pride.

They are the words of citizens and they represent our greatest hope. You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course. You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time -- not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals. (Applause.)

Let us, each of us, now embrace with solemn duty and awesome joy what is our lasting birthright. With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.

There has been so much punditry about what the President has to do and say in his second term, but very little said devoted to what citizens do. This is a real failure on the part of the pundits, in my opinion. They leave viewers thinking that the work of government is something which should take place among elected officials with no real engagement by the citizens.

This is how we failed in 2010. There was a sense that we elected this gifted politician to office and then most people checked out. President Barack Obama has called for that to end, and end now. By tying his own oath of office to the military's oath of duty, the immigrant's oath upon being conferred citizenship, and our own pledge of allegiance which is said at everything from sporting events to elementary schools, he called for us all to look at it as more than mere words, but our own duty to participate in democracy and raise our voices.

I can't think of a better way for him to have begun his second term. It was a speech of unity and tolerance, but also one intended to remind everyone that citizenship carries responsibility with it. While I'm sure there are some exploding wingnut heads, I do think reasonable people should hear what he said for what it is: A reminder that it's not just about Barack Obama, but every one of us.

If Right-Wing Violence is Up 400%, Why is the FBI Targeting Environmentalists?

Between 2007 and 2011, there was a sharp increase in the number of victims of right wing violence, according to the study, to the highest levels documented so far. On a broader timeline, the increase is even more dramatic.

House Votes On Debt Ceiling Suspension Wednesday As Pelosi Calls It “Gimmick Unworthy Of...

While it is not news that the GOP has proposed a temporary debt ceiling extension that would suspend the provisions of the debt ceiling target until May 19, as was reported last week, however which would demand that the Senate do something unthinkable, and something it has not done for 4 years, namely pass a budget by April 15, it is news that as The Hill reports, the vote to suspend the debt ceiling in the House will take place "as soon as Wednesday."

From The Hill: "While past measures to address the debt limit have simply increased the borrowing cap, the House bill would actually suspend the debt limit for three months. Then, on May 19, the debt limit would be automatically increased from $16.4 trillion to accommodate whatever additional borrowing the Treasury had done during that time frame. The House Rules Committee posted the text of legislation as Washington prepared for President Obama’s second inauguration. In addition to preventing default, the bill would withhold members' pay if Congress fails to pass a budget by April 15."

As we explained last week, this is merely a plan to shift fiscal (ir)responsibility into the Democrat camp, as it is virtually impossible that America can have a budget now or ever again. After all with $1 trillion deficits as far as the eye can see, the possibility to bluster and claim one is fiscally responsible while demanding $4 trillion in debt until 2016, will hardly fool the majority of the people any more of the time. Sure enough, Pelosi's response has made it quite clear this entire plan is DOA: "the proposed three-month debt- limit increase does not relieve the uncertainty faced by small businesses, the markets and the middle class. This is a gimmick unworthy of the challenges we face.

That clears it up.

More from The Hill:

House Republican leaders are using the bill to put pressure on Senate Democrats to pass a budget, which they have failed to do for over four years.

“Before there is any long-term debt limit increase, a budget should be passed that cuts spending,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told the Republican conference Friday in remarks to close the party’s three-day retreat in Williamsburg. “The Democratic-controlled Senate has failed to pass a budget for four years. That is a shameful run that needs to end, this year.”

Leading Senate Democrats have said they will produce a budget resolution that will included increased revenues, and will consider the debt limit boost set to come from the House.

House Republican leaders have billed their measure as "no budget, no pay." But the bill would not actually eliminate pay for members of Congress if there is no budget in place by April 15. Rather, if a chamber of Congress, such as the Senate, fails to pass a budget by April 15, all income earned by members of that chamber would be set aside. Members would receive that pay in full once a budget is passed, or on the final day of the 113th Congress at the end of 2014.

This arrangement was struck as a way to avoid running afoul of the 27th Amendment of the Constitution, which states that no law varying the compensation of members of Congress can take effect until a new Congress is in place — members cannot vote to give themselves raises or pay cuts.

Needless to say, the word "budget" to the democratically-controlled senate is like garlic stew to a graveyard of vampires:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s spokesman, Adam Jentleson, said in a statement that the House must pass a “clean” debt-limit increase. He didn’t address Cantor’s statement about requiring members of Congress to forfeit their pay if a budget isn’t adopted.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi’s spokesman, Drew Hammill, said in a statement that the proposed three-month debt- limit increase “does not relieve the uncertainty faced by small businesses, the markets and the middle class. This is a gimmick unworthy of the challenges we face.”

Political divisions in Congress pose limits to the ability of Republicans to achieve their long-term goals of deep cuts in spending, Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin told reporters at the retreat two days ago.

Ryan said Republicans want “a two-way discussion between Democrats and Republicans and out of that hopefully some progress being made on getting this deficit and debt under control.”

The last time the Democratic-led Senate adopted a budget was in April 2009. The Senate and House are supposed to pass budget resolutions early each year to set a spending framework, though there is no enforcement mechanism. Without a budget resolution, appropriations bills allocate money for the federal government.

Leaders said the tactic of short-term debt-limit increases was used in the 1980s during the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush as a prelude to broader agreements on spending cuts.

“No one is talking about default, no one wants to default,” South Carolina Republican Mick Mulvaney, who voted against the 2011 debt-ceiling deal, said in an interview yesterday with Bloomberg Television’s “Capitol Gains” program airing tomorrow. There is a “lot of support growing” among the rank and file for a short-term debt limit, he said.

Finally, Obama has been quite clear on the issue:

Obama has said he won’t negotiate the terms of a debt-limit legislation the way he did in 2011, and he is demanding more tax revenue to accompany further spending cuts. House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, has said that any increase in the debt ceiling would have to be accompanied by commensurate spending cuts.

At the end of the day, the debt ceiling will naturally pass, as otherwise the market's ascent to new all time highs may be hindered.

Recall the sequence of events:

  1. Fed monetizes deficit, issues trillions in debt as collateral for reserves
  2. Banks use reserves, transformed under shadow banking, to boost risk assets, and otherwise invest in the capital markets
  3. The stock markets grinds higher, as the economy does not grow, generating even more deficits
  4. Even more deficits mean even more debt has to be monetized by the Fed, going back to step 1.
  5. Sometimes the market has to plunge just to remind Congress who is in charge and that without a debt ceiling hike, there will be no more under the table pennies on a dollar kickbacks from Wall Street to D.C.

And that, in a nutshell, is the game.

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MLK’s Vehement Condemnations of US Militarism are More Relevant Than Ever

Martin Luther King at Washington DC's Lincoln Memorial in 1968. Barack Obama used the day before his inauguration to honour the spirit of King. (Photograph: Francis Miller/Getty)The civil right achievements of Martin Luther King are quite justly the f...

Glenn Greenwald: MLK’s Vehement Condemnation of American Militarism

By King's own description, his work against US violence and militarism, not only in Vietnam but generally, was central - indispensable - to his worldview and activism, yet it has been almost completely erased from how he is remembered.

Martin Luther King Was a Radical, Not a Saint

Today Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is viewed as something of an American saint. His birthday is a national holiday. His name adorns schools and street signs. Americans from across the political spectrum invoke King's name to justify their beliefs and actions, as President Barack Obama will no doubt do in his second Inaugural speech and as gun fanatic Larry Ward recently did in outrageously claiming that King would have opposed proposals to restrict access to guns.

So it is easy to forget that  in his day, in his own country, King was considered a dangerous troublemaker. He was harassed by the FBI and vilified in the media.

In fact, King was a radical. He believed that America needed a "radical redistribution of economic and political power." He challenged America's class system and its racial caste system.  He was a strong ally of the nation's labor union movement.  He was assassinated in April 1968 in Memphis, where he had gone to support a sanitation workers' strike.  He opposed U.S. militarism and imperialism, especially the country's misadventure in Vietnam.

In his critique of American society and his strategy for changing it,  King pushed the country toward more democracy and social justice. 

If he were alive today, he would certainly be standing with Walmart employees and other workers fighting for a living wage and the right to unionize. He would be in the forefront of the battle for strong gun controls and to thwart the influence of the National Rifle Association. He would be calling for dramatic cuts in the military budget in order to reinvest public dollars in jobs, education, and health care.  He would surely be marching with immigrants and their allies in support of the Dream Act and comprehensive reform. Like most Americans in his day, King was homophobic, even though one of his closest advisors, Bayard Rustin, was gay. But today King would undoubtedly stand with advocates of LGBT rights and same-sex marriage.

Indeed, King's views evolved over time. He entered the public stage with some hesitation, reluctantly becoming the spokesperson for the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 at the age of 26.  King began his activism in Montgomery as a crusader against the nation's racial caste system, but the struggle for civil rights radicalized him into a fighter for broader economic and social justice and peace. Still, in reviewing King's life, we can see that the seeds of his later radicalism were planted early. 

King was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1929, the son of a prominent black minister. Despite growing up in a solidly middle-class family, King saw the widespread human suffering caused by the Depression, particularly in the black community. In 1950, while in graduate school, he wrote an essay describing the "anti-capitalistic feelings" he experienced as a result of seeing unemployed people standing in breadlines.

During King's first year at Morehouse College, civil rights and labor activist A. Philip Randolph spoke on campus. Randolph predicted that the near future would witness a global struggle that would end white supremacy and capitalism. He urged the students to link up with "the people in the shacks and the hovels," who, although "poor in property," were "rich in spirit."

After graduating from Morehouse in 1948, King studied theology at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania (where he read both Mohandas Gandhi and Karl Marx), planning to follow in his father's footsteps and join the ministry. In 1955 he earned his doctorate from Boston University, where he studied the works of Reinhold Niebuhr, the influential liberal theologian. While in Boston, he told his girlfriend (and future wife), Coretta Scott, that "a society based on making all the money you can and ignoring people's needs is wrong."

When King moved to Montgomery to take his first pulpit at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, he was full of ideas but had no practical experience in politics or activism. But history sneaked up on him. On Thursday, December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a seamstress and veteran activist with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), decided to resist the city's segregation law by refusing to move to the back of the bus on her way home from work. She was arrested. Two other long-term activists -- E. D. Nixon (leader of the NAACP and of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters) and Jo Ann Robinson (a professor at the all-black Alabama State College and a leader of Montgomery's Women's Political Council) -- determined that Parks' arrest was a ripe opportunity for a one-day boycott of the much-despised segregated bus system. Nixon and Robinson asked black ministers to use their Sunday sermons to spread the word. Some refused, but many others, including King, agreed.

The boycott was very effective. Most black residents stayed off the buses. Within days, the boycott leaders formed a new group, the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). At Nixon's urging, they elected a hesitant King as president, in large part because he was new in town and not embroiled in the competition for congregants and visibility among black ministers. He was also well educated and already a brilliant orator, and thus would be a good public face for the protest movement. The ministers differed over whether to call off the boycott after one day but agreed to put the question up to a vote at a mass meeting.

That night, 7,000 blacks crowded into (and stood outside) the Holt Street Baptist Church. Inspired by King's words --"There comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression"-- they voted unanimously to continue the boycott. It lasted for 381 days and resulted in the desegregation of the city's buses. During that time, King honed his leadership skills, aided by advice from two veteran pacifist organizers, Bayard Rustin and Rev. Glenn Smiley, who had been sent to Montgomery by the pacifist group, Fellowship of Reconciliation. During the boycott, King was arrested, his home was bombed, and he was subjected to personal abuse. But -- with the assistance of the new medium of television -- he emerged as a national figure.

In 1957 King launched the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to help spread the civil rights crusade to other cities. He helped lead local campaigns in different cities, including Selma and Birmingham, Alabama, where thousands marched to demand an end to segregation in defiance of court injunctions forbidding any protests. While participating in these protests, King also sought to keep the fractious civil rights movement together, despite the rivalries among the NAACP, the Urban League, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and SCLC. Between 1957 and 1968 King traveled over six million miles, spoke over 2,500 times, and was arrested at least 20 times, always preaching the gospel of nonviolence. King attended workshops at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, which connected him to a network of radicals, pacifists, and union activists from around the country whose ideas helped widen his political horizons.

It is often forgotten that the August 1963 protest rally at the Lincoln Memorial, where King delivered his famous  "I Have a Dream" speech, was called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. King was proud of the civil rights movement's success in winning the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act the following year. But he realized that neither law did much to provide better jobs or housing for the masses of black poor in either the urban cities or the rural South. "What good is having the right to sit at a lunch counter," he asked, "if you can't afford to buy a hamburger?"

King had hoped that the bus boycott, sit-ins, and other forms of civil disobedience would stir white southern moderates, led by his fellow clergy, to see the immorality of segregation and racism. His famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," written in 1963, outlines King's strategy of using nonviolent civil disobedience to force a response from the southern white establishment and to generate sympathy and support among white liberals and moderates. "The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation," he wrote, and added, "We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."

King eventually realized that many white Americans had at least a psychological stake in perpetuating racism. He began to recognize that racial segregation was devised not only to oppress African Americans but also to keep working-class whites from challenging their own oppression by letting them feel superior to blacks. "The Southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow," King said from the Capitol steps in Montgomery, following the 1965 march from Selma. "And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than a black man."

When King launched a civil rights campaign in Chicago in 1965, he was shocked by the hatred and violence expressed by working-class whites as he and his followers marched through the streets of segregated neighborhoods in Chicago and its suburbs. He saw that the problem in Chicago's ghetto was not legal segregation but "economic exploitation" -- slum housing, overpriced food, and low-wage jobs -- "because someone profits from its existence."

These experiences led King to develop a more radical outlook. King supported President Lyndon B. Johnson's declaration of the War on Poverty in 1964, but, like his friend and ally Walter Reuther, the president of the United Auto Workers,  King thought that it did not go nearly far enough. As early as October 1964, he called for a "gigantic Marshall Plan" for the poor -- black and white. Two months later, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, he observed that the United States could learn much from Scandinavian "democratic socialism." He began talking openly about the need to confront "class issues," which he described as "the gulf between the haves and the have nots."

In 1966 King confided to his staff:

“You can't talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can't talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You're really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains of industry. Now this means that we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong with capitalism. There must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism."

Given this view, King was dismayed when Malcolm X, SNCC's Stokely Carmichael, and others began advocating "black power," which he warned would alienate white allies and undermine a genuine interracial movement for economic justice.

King became increasingly committed to building bridges between the civil rights and labor movements. Invited to address the AFL-CIO's annual convention in 1961, King observed, "The labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it. By raising the living standards of millions, labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed of levels of production. Those who today attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them." In a 1961 speech to the Negro American Labor Council, King proclaimed, "Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all God's children." Speaking to a meeting of Teamsters union shop stewards in 1967, King said, "Negroes are not the only poor in the nation. There are nearly twice as many white poor as Negro, and therefore the struggle against poverty is not involved solely with color or racial discrimination but with elementary economic justice."

King's growing critique of capitalism coincided with his views about American imperialism. By 1965 he had turned against the Vietnam War, viewing it as an economic as well as a moral tragedy. But he was initially reluctant to speak out against the war. He understood that his fragile working alliance with LBJ would be undone if he challenged the president's leadership on the war. Although some of his close advisers tried to discourage him, he nevertheless made the break in April 1967, in a bold and prophetic speech at the Riverside Church in New York City, entitled "Beyond Vietnam--A Time to Break Silence." King called America the "greatest purveyor of violence in the world today" and linked the struggle for social justice with the struggle against militarism. King argued that Vietnam was stealing precious resources from domestic programs and that the Vietnam War was "an enemy of the poor." In his last book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (1967), King wrote, "The bombs in Vietnam explode at home; they destroy the hopes and possibilities for a decent America."

In early 1968, King told journalist David Halberstam, "For years I labored with the idea of reforming the existing institutions of society, a little change here, a little change there. Now I feel quite differently. I think you've got to have a reconstruction of the entire society, a revolution of values."

King kept trying to build a broad movement for economic justice that went beyond civil rights. In January 1968 he announced plans for a Poor People's Campaign, a series of protests to be led by an interracial coalition of poor people and their allies among the middle-class liberals, unions, religious organizations, and other progressive groups, to pressure the White House and Congress to expand the War on Poverty. At King's request, socialist activist Michael Harrington (author of The Other America, which helped inspire Presidents Kennedy and Johnson to declare a war on poverty) drafted a Poor People's Manifesto that outlined the campaign's goals. In April King was in Memphis, Tennessee, to help lend support to striking African American garbage workers and to gain recognition for their union. There he was assassinated at age 39 on April 4, a few months before the first protest action of the Poor People's Campaign in Washington, DC.

President Johnson utilized this national tragedy to urge Congress to quickly enact the Fair Housing Act, legislation to ban racial discrimination in housing that King had strongly supported for two years. He signed the bill a week after King's assassination.

The campaign for a federal holiday in King's honor, spearheaded by Detroit Congressman John Conyers, began soon after his murder, but it did not come up for a vote in Congress until 1979, when it fell five votes short of the number needed for passage. In 1981, with the help of singer Stevie Wonder and other celebrities, supporters collected six million signatures on a petition to Congress on behalf of a King holiday.  Congress finally passed legislation enacting the holiday in 1983, fifteen years after King's death. But even then, 90 members of the House (including then-Congressmen John McCain of Arizona and Richard Shelby of Alabama, both now in the Senate) voted against it. Senator Jesse Helms, a North Carolina Republican, led an unsuccessful effort -- supported by 21 other senators, including current Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) --  to block its passage in the Senate.

The holiday was first observed on January 20, 1986. In 1987 Arizona governor Evan Mecham rescinded King Day as his first act in office, setting off a national boycott of the state. Some states (including New Hampshire, which called it "Civil Rights Day" from 1991 to 1999) insisted on calling the holiday by other names.   In 2000 South Carolina became the last state to make King Day a paid holiday for all state employees.

In his final speech in Memphis the night before he was killed, King told the crowd about a bomb threat on his plane from Atlanta that morning, saying he knew that his life was constantly in danger because of his political activism.

"I would like to live a long life," he said. "Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And he's allowed me to go up to the mountain, and I've looked over, and I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land."

We haven't gotten there yet. But Dr. King is still with us in spirit. The best way to honor his memory is to continue the struggle for human dignity, workers' rights, racial equality, peace, and social justice.

Peter Dreier

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. 

The Real Reasons Why Germany Is Demanding that the U.S. Return Its Gold

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The German’s are demanding that the U.S. return all of the 374 tons of gold held by the Bank of France, and 300 tons of the 1500 tons of bullion held by the New York Federal Reserve.

Some say that Germany is only demanding repatriation of its gold due to internal political pressures, and that no other countries will do so.

But Pimco co-CEO El Erian says:

In the first instance, it could translate into pressures on other countries to also repatriate part of their gold holdings. After all, if you can safely store your gold at home — a big if for some countries — no government would wish to be seen as one of the last to outsource all of this activity to foreign central banks.

As we noted last November:

Romania has demanded for many years that Russia return its gold.

Last year, Venezuela demanded the return of 90 tons of gold from the Bank of England.

***

As Zero Hedge notes (quoting Bloomberg):

Ecuador’s government wants the nation’s banks to repatriate about one third of their foreign holdings to support national growth, the head of the country’s tax agency said.

Carlos Carrasco, director of the tax agency known as the SRI, said today that Ecuador’s lenders could repatriate about $1.7 billion and still fulfill obligations to international clients. Carrasco spoke at a congressional hearing in Quito on a government proposal to raise taxes on banks to finance cash subsidies to the South American nation’s poor.

Four members of the Swiss Parliament want Switzerland to reclaim its gold.

Some people in the Netherlands want their gold back as well.

(Forbes notes that Iran and Libya have recently repatriated their gold as well).

The Telegraph’s lead economics writer – Ambrose Evans Pritchard – argues that the German repatriation demand shows that we’re switching to a de facto gold standard:

Central banks around the world bought more bullion last year in terms of tonnage than at any time in almost half a century.

They added a net 536 tonnes in 2012 as they diversified fresh reserves away from the four fiat suspects: dollar, euro, sterling, and yen.

The Washington Accord, where Britain, Spain, Holland, South Africa, Switzerland, and others sold a chunk of their gold each year, already seems another era – the Gordon Brown era, you might call it.

That was the illusionary period when investors thought the euro would take its place as the twin pillar of a new G2 condominium alongside the dollar. That hope has faded. Central bank holdings of euro bonds have fallen back to 26pc, where they were almost a decade ago.

Neither the euro nor the dollar can inspire full confidence, although for different reasons. EMU is a dysfunctional construct, covering two incompatible economies, prone to lurching from crisis to crisis, without a unified treasury to back it up. The dollar stands on a pyramid of debt. We all know that this debt will be inflated away over time – for better or worse. The only real disagreement is over the speed.

***

My guess is that any new Gold Standard will be sui generis, and better for it. Let gold will take its place as a third reserve currency, one that cannot be devalued, and one that holds the others to account, but not so dominant that it hitches our collective destinies to the inflationary ups (yes, gold was highly inflationary after the Conquista) and the deflationary downs of global mine supply.

***

A third reserve currency is just what America needs. As Prof Micheal Pettis from Beijing University has argued, holding the world’s reserve currency is an “exorbitant burden” that the US could do without.

The Triffin Dilemma – advanced by the Belgian economist Robert Triffin in the 1960s – suggests that the holder of the paramount currency faces an inherent contradiction. It must run a structural trade deficit over time to keep the system afloat, but this will undermine its own economy. The system self-destructs.

A partial Gold Standard – created by the global market, and beholden to nobody – is the best of all worlds. It offers a store of value (though no yield). It acts a balancing force. It is not dominant enough to smother the system.

Let us have three world currencies, a tripod with a golden leg. It might even be stable.

How Much Gold Is There?

It’s not confidence-inspiring that CNBC’s senior editor John Carney argues that it doesn’t matter whether or not the U.S. has the physical gold it claims to hold.

In fact, many allege that the gold is gone:

Cheviot Asset Management’s Ned Naylor-Leyland says that the Fed and Bank of England will never return gold to its foreign owners.

Jim Willie says that the gold is gone.

***

Others allege that the gold has not been sold outright, but has been leased or encumbered, so that the U.S. does not own it outright.

$10 billion dollar fund manager Eric Sprott writes – in an article entitled “Do Western Central Banks Have Any Gold Left???“:

If the Western central banks are indeed leasing out their physical reserves, they would not actually have to disclose the specific amounts of gold that leave their respective vaults. According to a document on the European Central Bank’s (ECB) website regarding the statistical treatment of the Eurosystem’s International Reserves, current reporting guidelines do not require central banks to differentiate between gold owned outright versus gold lent out or swapped with another party. The document states that, “reversible transactions in gold do not have any effect on the level of monetary gold regardless of the type of transaction (i.e. gold swaps, repos, deposits or loans), in line with the recommendations contained in the IMF guidelines.”6 (Emphasis theirs). Under current reporting guidelines, therefore, central banks are permitted to continue carrying the entry of physical gold on their balance sheet even if they’ve swapped it or lent it out entirely. You can see this in the way Western central banks refer to their gold reserves.

Indeed, it is now well-documented that the Fed has leased out a large chunk of its gold reserves, and that big banks borrow gold from central banks and then to multiple parties.

As such, it might not entirely surprising that the Fed needs 7 years to give Germany back its 300 tons of gold … even though the Fed claims to hold 6,720 tons at the New York Federal Reserve Bank alone:

Even Pimco co-CEO Bill Gross says:

When the Fed now writes $85 billion of checks to buy Treasuries and mortgages every month, they really have nothing in the “bank” to back them. Supposedly they own a few billion dollars of “gold certificates” that represent a fairy-tale claim on Ft. Knox’s secret stash, but there’s essentially nothing there but trust..  When a primary dealer such as J.P. Morgan or Bank of America sells its Treasuries to the Fed, it gets a “credit” in its account with the Fed, known as “reserves.” It can spend those reserves for something else, but then another bank gets a credit for its reserves and so on and so on. The Fed has told its member banks “Trust me, we will always honor your reserves,” and so the banks do, and corporations and ordinary citizens trust the banks, and “the beat goes on,” as Sonny and Cher sang. $54 trillion of credit in the U.S. financial system based upon trusting a central bank with nothing in the vault to back it up. Amazing!

And given that gold-plated tungsten has turned up all over the world, and that a top German gold expert found fake gold bars imprinted with official U.S. markings, Germans may have lost confidence in the trustworthiness of the Fed.  See this, this, this and this.

This may especially be true since the Fed refused to allow Germans to inspect their own gold stored at the Fed.

Currency War?

The gold repatriation is – without doubt- related to currency.

As Forbes notes:

Officials at the Bundesbank … acknowledged the move is “preemptive” in case a “currency crisis” hits the European Monetary Union.

***

“No, we have no intention to sell gold,” a Bundesbank spokesman said on the phone Wednesday, “[the relocation] is in case of a currency crisis.”

Reggie Middleton thinks that Germany’s demand for its gold is part of a currency war.

Jim Rickards has previously said that the Fed had plans to grab Germany gold:

Jim Rickards has outlined possible plans by the Federal Reserve to commandeer Germany’s and all foreign depositors of sovereign gold at the New York Federal Reserve in the event of a dollar and monetary crisis leading to intensified “currency wars” and the ‘nuclear option’ of a drastic upward revision of the price of gold and a return to a quasi gold standard is contemplated by embattled central banks to prevent debt deflation.

Is that one reason that Germany is demanding its gold back now?

China is quietly becoming a gold superpower, and China has long been rumored to be converting the Yuan to a gold-backed currency.

The Telegraph’s James Delingpole points out:

Back in the mid-1920s, the head of the German Central Bank, Herr Hjalmar Schacht, went to New York to see Germany’s gold. However the NY Fed officials were unable to find the palette of Germany’s gold bullion. The Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Benjamin Strong was mortified, but to put him at ease Herr Schacht turned to him and said ‘Never mind, I believe you when you when you say the gold is there. Even if it weren’t you are good for its replacement.’ (H/T The Real Asset Company)

But that was then and this is now. In the eyes of the Germans – and who can blame them? – America has lost its mojo to such a degree that it can no longer be trusted honour its debts, even in the unlikely event that it were financially capable of doing so. Which is why, following in the footsteps of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez (who may be an idiot but is definitely no fool), Germany is repatriatriating its gold from the US federal reserve.  It will now be stored in Frankfurt.

***

[Things] may look calm on the surface, but this latest move by the Bundesbank gives us a pretty good indication that beneath the surface that serene-seeming swan is paddling for dear life.

If you want a full analysis I recommend this excellent summary by Jan Skoyles. The scary part is this bit:

Every few months there is a discussion regarding what China are planning on doing with the gold they both mine and import every year, with many believing they are hoarding the metal as an insurance against the billions of US Treasury bonds, notes and bills they hold. Many believe they will issue some kind of gold-backed currency in the short-term and dump its one trillion dollars’ worth of US Treasury securities. Whilst, at the moment the US seem to take their monopoly currency for granted, should the Chinese or anyone else behave in such a manner, the US will need to respond – most likely with gold, which on its own it does not have enough of.

Anyone who thinks this isn’t going to happen eventually should read Peter Schiff’s parable How An Economy Grows And Why It Crashes. If something can’t go on forever, it won’t.

In other words, Rickards and Skoyles appear to argue that Germany may be repatriating gold in the first round of musical chairs in which China is preparing to roll out a gold-backed Yuan.   Under this theory, the rest of the world’s currencies will sink unless their nations’ can scramble to get their hands on enough gold to lend credibility to their paper.

Postscript: Michael Rivero thinks that the war in Mali is connected:

Mali is one of the world’s largest gold producers. Together with neighboring Ghana they account for 7-8% of world gold output. That makes them a rich prize for nations desperate for real physical gold. So, even as Germany started demanding their gold back from the Bank of France and the New York Federal Reserve, France (aided by the US) decided to invade Mali to fight “Islamists” working for “Al Qaeda.” Of course, “Islamists” has become the catch-all label for people that need to be killed to get them out of the way of the path to riches, and the people being bombed by France (aided by the US) are not “Al Qaeda” but Tawariqs, who have been fighting for their independence for 150 years, long before the CIA created “Al Qaeda”. Left to themselves, the Tawariqs could sell gold to whoever they want for whatever they want, and right now China can outbid the US and France.

The Black Elite and the Legacy of Martin Luther King

Context: As yet there are no context links for this item.

Bio

Glen Ford is a distinguished radio-show host and commentator. In 1977, Ford co-launched, produced and hosted America's Black Forum, the first nationally syndicated Black news interview program on commercial television. In 1987, Ford launched Rap It Up, the first nationally syndicated Hip Hop music show, broadcast on 65 radio stations. Ford co-founded the Black Commentator in 2002 and in 2006 he launched the Black Agenda Report. Ford is also the author of The Big Lie: An Analysis of U.S. Media Coverage of the Grenada Invasion.

Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore.

Martin Luther King, when he was alive, was a representative and leader of African Americans, but of the working class, the black working class in particular. Now he seems to have become an icon, a symbol for the elite in general, some symbol of giving service to your community, but also of the black elite in particular.Now joining us to talk about Martin Luther King and his significance today and how his memory is dealt with is Glen Ford. He's the cofounder and current executive editor of Black Agenda Report. He also colaunched, produced, and hosted America's Black Forum, the first nationally syndicated black news interview program on commercial TV.Thanks for joining us, Glen.GLEN FORD, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, BLACKAGENDAREPORT.COM: Thanks for having me, Paul.JAY: So what do you make of what's been done with the memory of Martin Luther King, but particularly the role of the black elite in this?FORD: You seem to be talking about the emergence of what we call the black misleadership class. And I think we have to go back to 1968, the year that Martin was assassinated.By '68, almost all of the civil rights legal—narrow legal victories had been won. And in fact there was only one more major civil rights bill to pass, the Fair Housing Act, which would pass shortly after Martin's death. This demolition of legal Jim Crow was very useful to a class of black folks who could make use of this new mobility, that had certain educational and money resources, etc. They were equipped to use the civil rights revolution as a kind of launching board for their own careers and aspirations. And they did.And although the civil rights movement or the broad black movement was certainly damaged by federal repression, the COINTEL program, and at state and local levels, in a sense the movement was also shut down from within by these elements of the upper classes of black folks who decided that it was their time, it was their time to enter the corporate world, it was their time to run for political office, it was their time to cash in on the death of legalized Jim Crow. And they didn't want the continuation of a mass movement, the stirring up of stuff in the streets. Those who were going to run for political office, we know that the last thing that a mayor or an aspiring mayor wants is a people's movement in his city. The only kind of movement that a local public official wants is people moving towards the ballot box once every two or four years, and they want them quiet the rest of the time. So it was in the interest—or they saw it in the interests of this upwardly mobile, very acquisitive class, to shut down the movement and to preach a kind of gospel of sophisticated politics, which basically ruled out the kind of mass political activity that Dr. King had led.JAY: So talk a bit about the message of King, especially during the sort of last few years of his life, and the sort of things we're hearing from this sort of what you're calling black misleadership or black elite.FORD: Well, if we're going to describe King, I think he's aptly described as a left social democrat. Some people, like Dr. Tony Monteiro, who I know you've had on your show recently, calls Dr. King a revolutionary Democrat. He was—he did not think of himself as a nationalist. But he did refer to himself as a socialist. His staff always discouraged him from using that word.He differed from the social democrats that we know today in that he opposed U.S. imperialism, because he was a man of peace.~~~MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle upon Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy and the secure while we create a hell for the poor.~~~FORD: So he was an antiwar activist before 1967, when he made the formal break with his speech at Riverside Church and broke with the president, with whom the movement that Dr. King was a leader in had made a kind of alliance, the president who had introduced and then signed these civil rights bills. Martin Luther King felt that he had to break with this sometimes ally because of the Vietnam War, and not just because of the immorality of the war, but because of the way militarism affects domestic policy as well.So, yeah, he was a left social democrat, a person who believed that politics should not be confined to the ballot box. He resisted all the entreaties from folks on the left who wanted him to run for office, because he saw politics as setting people in motion, and a ballot box is only one destination.JAY: And the way they're going to celebrate Martin Luther King is to—you know, you should do service, I think, for one—particularly on the Saturday, you should do a day's service for your community, or if you want to do more, that's the way to remember Martin Luther King, sort of doing this volunteer work. But you mentioned that King considered himself a socialist. And there was quite an anticapitalist character to his speeches in the last while of his life.FORD: Well, he talked about the triple evils of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism.~~~KING: I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.~~~FORD: And by extreme materialism, I think he was talking about the rule of the rich. And he got pretty explicit in terms of the rule of the masses of people by one moneyed class of people. He advocated back in 1967 a guaranteed national minimum income. He certainly preached a kind ofsocial gospel. And I also believe that politically we should call him a socialist, yes. He called himself that.JAY: So we've talked many times before about President Obama, and sort of some people have tried to give him the mantel of King. And I know you've been very critical of that. You wrote something recently about that. Do you think that's still going on? And if so, what do you make of it?FORD: It's insane. And what we wrote in our current article was that if King were alive, he would be celebrating his birthday week by organizing a massive disruption of the inauguration. And we didn't say that in fun. I really believe that would be the case. He would be appalled at this president, who has at one time bombed simultaneously five countries, has a kill list, and every Tuesday decides who's going to be on it, introduced and shepherded through our legislature a bill for preventive detention. This is a warmonger who surpasses in his militarism even George Bush. So how could anyone imagine that our prince of peace, as some folks refer to him, would not be dedicating all of his organizing efforts to disrupting this administration's warlike strategies in the world?FORD: In terms of people trying to say that there is some seamless line, a straight line between Dr. King and Barack Obama, that somehow Dr. King would think that his dream had truly been fulfilled if he could see this family in the White House today, it is so dishonest, especially for people who are public intellectuals, to encourage that kind of thinking.Dr. King, of all of our great leaders—I'm talking about great black leaders—was probably the leader who explained to the people all the facets of his thinking. He wrote books. He gave speeches not just as a movement leader, but as a public intellectual and as a statesman. He was a public figure who was as well known in his day as Mandela is today. He also knew the art of speaking to the corporate media. He knew how to speak in soundbites as well. So the workings of King's mind through his writings and his speeches and his interviews is no secret. And nowhere is there any evidence in these hundreds of thousands, millions of words, that Dr. King would be anything other than an opponent of this regime, this president, in terms of his domestic policies and his foreign policies.JAY: Alright. Thanks for joining us, Glen.FORD: Thank you.JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End

DISCLAIMER: 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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Frontrunning: January 21

With array of challenges, Obama kicks off second term at public inauguration (Reuters) Uneasy in the Political Climate, Mickelson Talks Like Someone Ready to Step Away (NYT) BOJ Should Slow Easing If Yen Weakens Too Much, Hamada Says (BBG) Spain Reces...

The Extremist Cult of Capitalism

A 'cult,' according to Merriam-Webster, can be defined as "Great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work..(and)..a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion."Capitalism has been defined by adherents and detractors: Mil...

US Markets Closed On Fifth Anniversary Of Jerome Kerviel Day

To some, today is Martin Luther King day and as a result the US markets are closed, especially since today is also the day when Obama celebrates his second inauguration with Beyonce, Kelly Clarkson and James Taylor at his side (hopefully not on the taxpayers' dime). To others, January 21 is nothing more than the anniversary of the real beginning of the end, when five years ago a little known SocGen trader named Jerome Kerviel could no longer hide his massive futures positions and was forced to unwind them, sending global indices plunging resulting in the biggest single day drop in the Dax (-7.2%), and punking the Fed into an unannounced 75 bps cut. Luckily, today such cataclysmic unwinds are impossible as the market is priced perfectly efficiently, without central bank intervention, price transparency is ubiquitous and the Volcker rule has made prop trading by banks, funded by Fed reserves (which are nothing more than the monetization of excess budget deficits) and excess deposits, impossible.

Sarcasm aside, and hoping nobody will blow up forcing the Fed to cut rates by another 75 bps as a precaution to keeping markets float, as Deustche Bank summarizes we can expect a rather eventful calendar ahead for global macro despite the shortened trading week in the US. In Asia the much anticipated Bank of Japan 2-day meeting will conclude tomorrow where markets are expecting the central bank to embark on a more aggressive easing programme that could include inflation targeting. These hopes are somewhat dampened by the weekend comments from the government’s economic advisor Mr Hamada who said that the BoJ may need to slow the pace of easing if the effect on inflation and Yen “goes too far”. Overnight the Nikkei is about 1% lower while the JPY is off its 2.5 year low at 89.53 against the USD as we type.

In Europe, we have the Eurogroup/ECOFIN meetings on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday sees the start of the five-day World Economic Forum in Davos where global leaders from Ms Merkel to Mr Dimon are set to speak/interact under the official theme of “Resilient Dynamism”. The same day will also see the IMF publish its updated outlook on the global economy. The Washington based group slashed its 2013 global GDP forecast to 3.6% from 3.9% in October so it’ll be interesting to see where they go from there. On the data front, flash PMIs from Europe, China and the US on Thursday will be the week’s highlights. The US earnings season shifts up a gear with 84 S&P 500 companies expected to report this week. Apple’s results on Wednesday will be a prime focus as market consensus is looking for its first year-on-year earnings decline since 2003. On that note, we also include our oft-updated earnings beat/miss tracker below as well as a recap of the stats for previous reporting season. The current earnings season is tracking rather well relative to the previous one.

Before we get to all that let’s recap the Asian session overnight. Equities are mixed despite the stronger finish to the US session on Friday. Gains in equities are being paced by the Hang Seng (+0.05%) and Shanghai Comp (+0.16%), while the KOSPI (-0.1%) is lagging but there aren’t too many catalysts in what has been a light session in terms of data. In credit markets, Asian bonds are quoted slightly tighter amidst better new issue performance and the Australian and Asian IG indices are marked flat to 1bp tighter.

It was a rather quiet weekend in terms of news flow, but one of the more interesting developments was the outcome of state elections in Lower Saxony on Sunday where the centre-left coalition scored what was described by the Spiegel as an “upset” victory. Early exit polls suggested that Angela Merkel’s CDU and its allies, the FDP, would manage to cling on to a one-seat majority, but that turned later in the evening after preliminary results gave the “red-green” alliance of the opposition SPD and Greens Party a total of 69 seats in the state parliament, against 68 for the CDU-FDP. Perhaps the silver lining for Merkel is that her allies, the FDP, polled much stronger than expected, after previously being in danger of falling below the 5% support threshold needed to retain seats in the state parliament.

The FDP ended up winning almost 10% of votes, however most of the gains came at the expense of Merkel’s CDU.

In other headlines, Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann reiterated his opposition to the ECB’s OMT program. Weidmann added that it was “wrong and dangerous” to think of the ECB as the only able “crisis manager”. The IMF warned that the EU will need to come up with an additional EU10bn in funds for Greece even if the current programme stays on track, in a 260 page report issued on Friday (FT). In the UK, PM David Cameron’s office is expected to announce a date for his highly anticipated speech on the future of the UK’s relations with  the EU this week.

Briefly recapping the US session on Friday, the S&P500 rallied from the early lows to close moderately higher (+0.34%). Gains were broad-based with nine out of 10 industry sectors posting gains. The sole laggard was the tech sector (-0.36%) which was weighed by a  mixed result from Intel (-6.3%) which reported weak sales in the PC market and disappointed with its Q1 outlook. On the earnings front we had encouraging news as Morgan Stanley and GE both beat top and bottom line expectations. More broadly, the catalyst for the  midday turnaround in risk sentiment was a report that House Republicans are considering extending the US debt ceiling by three months in a bill to be considered next week. According to the Washington Post, the move is a retreat from earlier GOP demand that a debt  ceiling increase is matched by spending cuts. However in exchange for the concession, Republicans are expected to demand that a longer-term budget is passed by both houses of Congress by April 15th. The move was described as a means of forcing the Democrat-controlled Senate to pass a budget, which it hasn’t done in about four years. Over the weekend, Democrat Senator Charles Schumer responded that the Senate was working on a budget anyway which will include an overhaul to the tax code that is intended to raise  significant revenue over the next decade (NY Times).

Last but not least previewing the data calendar for the week we’ll have the German ZEW survey on Tuesday, Japanese trade data on Thursday, German IFO and Japanese inflation both on Friday. US existing and new home sales are out this Tuesday and Friday,  respectively. BoE minutes are out on Wednesday followed by the UK's advance Q4 GDP estimate on Friday.

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CIA’s free reign on targeted killing: Pakistan exempted from agency’s drone ‘playbook’

A new CIA manual that limits the agency’s ability to use drones and creates strict guidelines for targeted killings is being finalized. Pakistan was exempted from these restrictions in a compromise between the CIA, State Department and the Pentagon.

The Washington Post has revealed that John Brennan, the counter-terrorism adviser nominated by President Obama to be the next head of the CIA, has agreed to temporarily exempt the spy agency from the new manual's guidelines, which attempt to codify the use of drones to kill Al-Qaeda members, other terrorist organizations and even US citizens.

The manual sets out stricter standards and rigid rules for the use of US drones. Some of the guidelines include requirements for White House approval of drone strikes and the involvement of multiple agencies, such as the State Department, in adding new names to kill lists.

However, none of these stringent rules apply to US drone attacks in Pakistan, which started under President George W. Bush.

The CIA is currently required to give advance warning to the US ambassador to Pakistan on upcoming strikes, but that rule is rarely followed, the Washington Post reported; the agency effectively has total control over both the drone strikes and what names are added to assassination lists.

This exemption would allow the US to continue its most controversial drone strikes in Pakistan without oversight for over a year, or longer.

According to reports, the completed 'playbook,' work on which began last summer, will be submitted to Obama for final approval within weeks, and will guide Washington’s targeted killing program during Obama’s second term.

This would be the first document of its kind to legalize and institutionalize targeted killings. It includes a process for adding names to kill lists, sets out rules for when US citizens can be targeted overseas, and specifies procedures for when the CIA or US military can carry out drone strikes outside war zones.

The exemption for Pakistan was the result of a disagreement between the State Department, CIA and the Pentagon on the criteria for lethal strikes. The argument threatened to disrupt the competion of the drone playbook, according to the Washington Post. Eventually, the CIA was granted the temporary exemption for its operations in Pakistan as a compromise.

The director of the American Civil Liberty Union’s National Security Project told the Washington Post that the playbook is “a step in exactly the wrong direction, a further bureaucratization of the CIA’s paramilitary killing program.”

US intensifies its drone war in Pakistan

The US has stepped up the use of targeted killings in Pakistan in the past few years. Since 2004, an estimated 310 out of 362 drone strikes in the country were launched under Obama, according to the UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The strikes have killed up to 3,461 people, 891 of whom were identified as civilians.

The Pakistani government has criticized the Obama administration for the drone strikes, arguing the attacks are a violation of their sovereignty.

The CIA has escalated its use of drones in Pakistan in the first weeks of 2013, launching seven deadly strikes during the first 10 days of the new year, which killed at least 40 people, 11 of whom may have been civilians.

This has raised speculation that the Obama administration is accelerating attacks in the run-up to the planned 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan, over fears of losing the capacity to carry them out.

These strikes “may be a signal to groups that include not just Al-Qaeda that the US will still present a threat” after most American forces have left, counterterrorism expert Seth Jones of Rand Corp. told the Washington Post. “With the drawdown in US forces, the drone may be, over time, the most important weapon against militant groups.”

With less than 6,000 troops planned to remain in Afghanistan after 2014, the CIA’s network of bases will be reduced from more than 15 to five, due in large part to a lack of security for its outposts.

The White House has defended the killing of civilians in its drone strikes overseas, even as the number of casualties continues to soar. The United Nations said in October 2012 that it would soon launch an investigation into the US drone program.

Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur on counter-terror operations, told an audience at Harvard law school this week that a sub-section of the international organization will begin focusing next year on the Obama administration’s extrajudicial assassination of suspected insurgents, and the innocent civilians all too often killed in the process.

‘US drone strikes amounts to war crime’

Financial editor for Veterans Today, Mike Harris.

US assassination drone attacks amount to “war crime” against innocent civilians by a government that claims moral leadership of the world, a political analyst tells Press TV.

In an interview with Press TV, Mike Harris, financial editor of Veterans Today, said that the US drone attacks, which have killed thousands of innocent people in various countries should be considered a war crime.

“These drone attacks are a war crime. It is murder. There is no other word for it. It is plain and simple murder. And it should not be allowed,” said Harris.

While Washington claims the drone attacks target al-Qaeda militants, witnesses and local officials maintain that civilians are the main victims of the assaults.

“This is murder. It is plain and simple murder of innocent civilians. And even if they are military adversaries, it is indiscriminate, it is not the way you fight a war. There is too much collateral damage on this. It is not worth it. I mean it is heartbreaking,” said Harris.


Targets are chosen from Obama’s so called “kill list”, a list of individuals who the US suspects are terrorists, named to be assassinated after final approval by the president.

“This is [an] extremely dangerous situation. The NDAA (The National Defense Authorization Act) needs to be repealed. The Patriot Act needs to be repealed. This ‘kill list’ needs to be stopped. Anyone who puts together a kill list to assassinate, and this includes American citizens who are being deprived of due process, this is absolutely illegal against the US Constitution,” said Harris.

He concluded by saying, “We need to bring these people to justice. They need to be tried and if convicted, they need to be punished accordingly but this needs to stop. This is absolutely illegal.”

CAH/SZH

These Should be on Your Radar Screen

The US dollar begins the week mostly firmer.  The notable exception is the Japanese yen, which has seen some position adjustment ahead of the outcome of the BOJ meeting tomorrow.  In Asia, and Europe thus far, the dollar has found support near its five day moving average and the 38.2% retracement of its latest leg up (from Jan 16), both of which come in near JPY89.30.  The recovery of the yen took a toll on Japanese stocks.  The Nikkei lost 1.5% and posted an outside down day (trading on both sides of Friday's ranges and finishing below Friday's low).

The euro has been confined to an exception narrow range of about 15 ticks on either side of $1.3315.  A break of support in the $1.3260-80 area would lend credence to our argument that a top of some import is being carved out, with a potential double top at $1.34.   Sterling saw follow through selling on top of the pre-weekend losses.  The euro traded at 10-month highs against sterling above GBP0.8400, but is reversing lower near midday in London.  A modest bounce in cable seen in the European morning ran out of steam near $1.5900, which likely now marks the upper end of the new range.

Equity markets are mixed, with the MSCI Asia-Pacific seeing a 0.2% decline, dragged down by Japanese shares, and to a lesser extent Taiwan, Korea and Malaysia.  European bourses are higher with the Dow Jones Stoxx 600 advancing almost 0.5%, led by utilities, basic materials and technology.  While the US market is closed today, before the weekend the three main gauges, Dow, NASDAQ, and S&P 500 closed at 5-year highs.  This week's earnings feature technology giants Apple, Google, IBM, and United Technologies.

There was a potentially important development in the US fiscal drama.  Some Republicans in the House of Representatives are proposing a three-month extension on the debt ceiling to give more time to negotiate a long-term deal.  It is not yet immediately clear if the measure has sufficient Republican support--remember Bohener's Plan B?--or if Obama will agree to it, after having the lack of interest in a short-term fix.  Still it shows some fluidity of the situation and should ease what little concern that had really been that the US would default.

In a very tight election in Lower Saxony, the real winner, regardless of the formation of the new state government is the Free Democrat Party, and by extension German Chancellor Merkel.  Merkel's CDU party depends on a coalition with the FDP, but over the past year, the FDP has been trounced in most state elections.  The conventional view that the national election later with year would result in another grand coalition was predicated on the inability of the FDP to deliver.  Some feared it would not even meet the 5% threshold to secure parliamentary membership.  In Lower Saxony, the FDP defied expectations and received almost 10% of the vote, more than twice what the opinion polls suggested.  Yet, FDP party head and Economics Minister Roesler offered to resign and threw his support toward Bruederle, the head of the party's parliament caucus, who is regarded as more dynamic and with some hope he can revive the party's fortunes.  A formal leadership decision in May.    The SPD and Greens eked out a surprise victory, but  Steinbrueck, the SPD candidate for Chancellor,  apologized for his gaffes in the national campaign, which may have cost the SPD votes in the local contest.     

The most anticipated event of the week is tomorrow's conclusion of the BOJ meeting.  The pressure on the BOJ from the new Abe government is widely recognized and with its recent economy assessment, in which most regions were downgraded, the BOJ cannot be content either.  There is, therefore, little doubt the BOJ will take action.  However, the impact of some of the measures that have been discussed like open-ended QE or a 2% inflation goal is questionable.  What does open-ended QE mean when the BOJ has increased the amount of assets it is buying repeatedly ?  How is a 2% inflation goal credible when it has failed to achieve its 1% goal?    Similarly, a cut in the interest paid on reserves is possible, but it is not clear how that would be inflationary or stimulative.   Our fundamental and technical analysis warns that the market is vulnerable to disappointment or a "sell the rumor buy the fact" type of activity. There has been some position adjustment today as the dollar still has not been able to sustain a move above JPY90. In terms of intent, the imagery we still think apropos is blowing (hot) air underneath the (yen's) parachute to increase the likelihood of a soft landing and reduce the antagonism that its strategy engenders.  

There are two aspects of the technical condition of that are worth underscoring.  First, we think there was significant deterioration of the major foreign currencies, with sterling convincingly violating a 7-month uptrend line, the dramatic weakness of the Swiss franc, and new multi-week lows for the Australian and Canadian dollars.  The euro has fared best, but technically appears vulnerable.  Second, we note that implied volatility in the currency markets has trended higher in recent weeks. Before the weekend, 3-month euro vol reached its highest level since Oct.  It reached a low in late Nov near 6.4% and now is near 8.6%.  3-month yen vol is at its highest level since Sept 2011 near 11.2%.  On the eve of the election announcement in mid-Nov, it was near 7%, having bottomed a month earlier near 6.55%.  Sterling vol is at its highest level in four months near 7.3%.  It bottomed in middle of last month near 5.25%.

The euro area finance minister meet today.  Cyprus aid package is not ready and it won't be for at least a couple more months.  Greece is progressing towards another tranche amid fresh call from the IMF than even if the country stays on track, it will need another 9 bln euros of assistance (perhaps in the form of further official sector concessions, Merkel has hinted in the latter years of its current program).  There may also be some discussion of Spain.  Perhaps the one notable action from the Eurogroup is that Juncker who has been the leader, with mixed reviews, including last week's gaffe about the euro, is stepping down.  His likely replacement, the new Dutch Finance Minister Dijsselbloem, has been widely tipped.  

A more pressing issue for investors is the implication of the repayment of LTRO funds by the banks starting next week.  Speculation that it would tighten financial conditions saw euribor yields rise sharply.    ECB's Coeure tried to calm market anxiety by indicating that he did not expect an impact on Eonia from the settlement.    The implied yield of the  March 13 Euribor futures contract has been trending higher since early December. The backing up in money market rates in Europe did not coincide with a stronger euro. We anticipate some stabilization in euribor in the days ahead, awaiting indications of the size of the repayments.  Forecasts generally seem to range between 100-200 bln euros of the roughly trillion euros outstanding.

In addition, we draw your attention to the following events and data:  Australia's Q4 CPI on Tuesday could sway expectations for the RBA meeting in early February.  Presently there is about a 40% chance of a 25 bp rate cut discounted.  Although the headline pace of inflation likely accelerated, the core rate appears stable and has not been an obstacle to easier RBA policy.  The release of the BOE minutes will likely reaffirm market expectations that a resumption of QE is not imminent, even though the economy appears to have contracted in Q4 (first estimate released on Friday, Jan 25).  Europe reports the flash PMI readings in Thurs.   A critical issue is if Germany, which appears to have contracted in Q4, is in a recession (as defined by two consecutive quarters of contracting GDP (though note that technically, a recession in the US is determined by National Bureau of Economic Research and it uses a broader definition).   I

In emerging markets, we note that the tone of Mexico's central bank statement was more dovish than expected before the weekend.    It effectively removed any lingering threat of a hike, though we do not expect a rate cut either.  Israel goes to the polls and barring a significant surprise, we do not expect much of a market reaction, though note that the dollar has found bids ahead of 1-year lows near ILS3.70.   Three emerging market central banks meet this week, Turkey, the Philippines and South Africa.   The only action we expect is a 25 bp rate cut by South Africa.  The rand has been the weakest since the start of the year, losing 4.5% against the dollar, but many have their sights on the ZAR9.0, the high from October and again in November.

Your rating: None

‘Rogue CIA elements killed Swartz’

An American analyst says the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is responsible for the recent murder of the American dissident blogger Aaron Swartz, Press TV reports.

“There is no coverage in the mainstream media at all and we have found no possible excuse to this death…. We believe rogue elements within the Central Intelligence Agency are responsible,” Gordon Duff said in an interview with Press TV on Saturday.

Swartz, who was an outspoken critic of Obama’s policies, was found dead in his apartment in Brooklyn, New York City, on January 11.

Swartz was critical of Obama’s “kill list,” a list of individuals who are suspected of terrorism by the US and are listed for targeted killing after final approval by the US president himself.

He was also critical of the monopoly of information by corporate cartels and believed that information should be shared and available for the benefit of the society.

“There is no other possibility and that is a place that I go very reluctantly but I can think of no other responsible party. It has to be them [the CIA elements]. No one has this kind of power. No one would do something so obvious. There is no question that this was a murder,” Duff noted.


He further pointed out that the United States government has made the mainstream media turn a blind eye to Swartz’s death to cover up the issues which have caused dissent in the American society.

“The Swartz's issue has been pushed off the newspapers. Our government is very good at burying new stories. And this is what they have done with this one. They are not allowing us to have any voice in this controversy,” the analyst added.

Duff concluded that 90 percent of the Americans are not aware of the issue linked to Swartz’s death as “it has not been reported on mainstream news, newspapers, television and not one word has come to the American public.”

TNP/SS

Fox Pretends Romney’s Jeeps-In-China ‘Lie Of The Year’ Was True

It’s déjà vu all over again at Fox News. Just a few hours before President Obama was sworn in for his second term, Fox took the same news that formed the basis for PolitiFact’s “Lie of the Year” – Mitt Romney’s false claim that Chrysler’s decision to build Jeeps in China would cost U.S. jobs – re-distorted the facts, declared Romney a truth teller and suggested President Obama had won re-election based on a lie. Oh, and while they were at it, attacked PolitiFact as leftist liars.

In case you’ve forgotten, Romney’s big lie was based on a truth – that Chrysler planned to produce Jeeps in China – but twisted to give the misimpression that the company would outsource American jobs there. Now that Chrysler has announced specific plans to do what it said it was going to do in the first place, Fox crowed that Romney was right all along.

As Karoli pointed out last month, Fox News and Karl Rove were equally responsible for spreading that lie and giving it so much traction. Here they go again.

In a Fox & Friends Weekend segment so laden with distortions and disingenuousness I can't name them all, Steve Doocy began with a false description of what made Romney’s lie a lie, saying that Romney’s campaign ad claimed Chrysler was “going to build Jeeps in China.” Doocy added, “But now it seems the joke is on them. Chrysler just announced that a hundred thousand Jeeps will actually be made in China starting next year. Just like Mitt Romney said.”

Um, not really.

In its original article rating Romney’s ad a “pants on fire” lie, PolitiFact wrote:

The ad ignores the return of American jobs to Chrysler Jeep plants in the United States, and it presents the manufacture of Jeeps in China as a threat, rather than an opportunity to sell cars made in China to Chinese consumers. It strings together facts in a way that presents an wholly inaccurate picture.

Furthermore, Romney originally said outright that Jeep planned to move all production to China. Rather than correct the lie, he doubled down with his campaign ad. As Jon Perr noted, this was all part of Romney's strategy to attack the auto bailout. The backfire was considered at least partially responsible for Romney's loss in November. Meanwhile, Chrysler has added 1,100 workers on a Jeep assembly line in Michigan in October and will add another 1,100 in Ohio in the fall. Not that any of that inconvenient truth came out during this segment.

To pile on to Fox’s lie about Romney's lie, Doocy introduced Seton Motley who, among other roles, is a columnist for Breitbart.com – which has its own issues with the truth. Not that Doocy mentioned that, either.

Instead, Doocy opened the discussion by saying Romney “knows a lot about the car companies” and that when he said, “Chrysler, they’re gonna wind up making Jeeps in China, the left-wing media just exploded, didn’t they?”

Seton came out of the gate with a falsehood, saying it was The Washington Post (instead of Tampa Bay Times’ PolitiFact) that had ruled this the Lie of the Year – as Doocy nodded in agreement.

Doocy feigned puzzlement as he “asked,” “So, you’ve got this fact-checking organization came in and said that that’s the ‘Lie of the Year.’ Why would a fact-checking organization say something like that? You, you would think that they would be non-political but in fact, sometimes they are a little political, aren’t they?” As if he didn’t know what Motley would say.

And sure enough, Motley said it: “I think the fact-checking movement is the latest in the ‘unbiased journalists’ movement which, prior to 1965 didn’t really exist… We created unbiased journalism to say, ‘Let’s pretend to be unbiased when we’re actually promoting leftism.’ I think the fact checkers is another advancement of that cause. And at the end of the day, they’re just leftists as they always have been.”

Now that Fox viewers had been warned that facts have a stinkin’ liberal bias, Doocy, more than three minutes into the segment, got around to reading a January 14 statement from Chrysler’s CEO that included these sentences: "We will keep the pillar cars of Jeep in the U.S. …Wrangler is one, The Grand Cherokee is another.”

Still, they ignored the significance. Fox posted a banner reading, “Chrysler backpedals.” And Motley made the completely unsubstantiated claim that $26.5 billion of the bailout was “a direct check written to the United Auto Workers union.”

Doocy closed the segment by saying, “Mitt Romney was right. Ironically, we find that out today, on the day the president’s sworn in for a second term.”

By the way, there’s reason to suspect Fox knows this was a bunch of baloney. Despite banners saying “PANTS ON FIRE” and “WHOOPS” (about PolitiFact) during the segment, FoxNews.com casts doubt on that by making the title of its video of the segment a question: PolitiFact's 'Lie of the Year' actually true?

Fox News: The network where lying liars lie about true lies.

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: A ‘Jinxed’ Speech

The ten things you need to know on Monday 21 January 2013...

1) A 'JINXED' SPEECH

So, it seems the long-awaited, much-delayed, 'tantric' speech from the prime minister on Britain and Europe will be delivered on... drum roll... Wednesday! Or will it? As the Times points out, the speech seems to be "jinxed':

"It was delayed by the Algerian hostage crisis. It clashed with a celebration of Franco-German friendship. But David Cameron’s speech on the EU will finally be delivered this week — snow permitting.

"William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, said yesterday that it would go ahead 'in the coming week', with details released today.

"The most likely day is Wednesday, before the Prime Minister leaves for the World Economic Forum in Davos.

"Downing Street had hoped that the speech, which is expected to propose the repatriation of powers from Brussels followed by a referendum on Britain’s membership, could be made on the Continent. Given the weather, it will probably settle for Britain.

"It can hardly be blamed for such pessimism. “The Speech” seems jinxed."

There is, however, a bit of 'good' news for the Tory leader on the Europe front: arch-Eurosceptic Liam Fox has given the speech his seal of approval. From the Guardian:

"Liam Fox, the former defence secretary and one of the party's most vocal critics of Brussels, said he had been briefed on the contents of the speech and was 'broadly satisfied' with what Cameron was intending to say. 'If that is the speech that is finally delivered, a great many of us will think that it's a speech that we've been waiting a long time for any prime minister to deliver,' Fox said."

2) THE SNOW ATE MY GROWTH

If we do enter an unprecedented 'triple-dip' recession later this year, Gideon now has a(nother) ready-made excuse.

From the Financial Times:

"Economists have warned that heavy snowfall sweeping across the country could increase the chances that the UK enters a triple-dip recession, as commuters brace for another week of bad weather.

"High-street spending is expected to be badly affected by the snow, which has caused widespread disruption across the transport system.

"... The warnings come as figures due out on Friday are expected to show that the economy shrunk in the fourth quarter of last year... Peter Spencer, chief economic adviser to the Ernst & Young ITEM club, an economic forecasting group, said the snow increased the probability of a negative number in the first quarter and the prospect of two consecutive quarters of negative growth, a widely used measure of recession."

3) WAR ON TERROR - THE SEQUEL

Both the EU and the state of the economy take a backseat on the front pages of most broadsheets this morning. They're more worried about David Cameron's comments yesterday about the (new) war against al Qaeda, in the wake of the horrific massacre in Algeria:

"New front opens in war against al-Qaeda," proclaims the Times.

"West faces 'decades' of conflict in N Africa," says the FT.

"North Africa terror could last decades - PM," reports the Guardian.

"War against al-Qaeda in Africa could last decades," declares the Telegraph.

The paper reports:

"Britain faces a battle against Islamic extremism in North Africa and the Sahara that could last for decades, David Cameron warned on Sunday.

"The Prime Minister said that countering the rise of al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in the Sahel region will require an 'iron resolve' and greater military, diplomatic and economic engagement with the region.

"He spoke as it was confirmed that six British citizens had died after extremists took scores of hostages at a gas plant in eastern Algeria.

"... Speaking at Chequers on Sunday, Mr Cameron acknowledged that the terrorist threat in North Africa had grown and he predicted a prolonged struggle to meet it.

“'It will require a response that is about years, even decades, rather than months and it requires a response that is patient, that is painstaking, that is tough but also intelligent, but above all has an absolutely iron resolve; and that is what we will deliver over these coming years,' he said.

"William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, signalled that could mean directing more of Britain’s growing aid budget to countries in the region.

"There is 'no all-military solution' to the problem, he said."

Hague is 100% correct. Violence, as they say, begets violence. The past 12 years of the so-called 'war on terror' should have taught us that..

4) 'I DID IT'

From the Guardian:

"Barack Obama was officially sworn in at noon yesterday as president for a second term, in which he has mapped out a programme of economic, social and cultural change that includes new gun control legislation and immigration reform.

"Obama, smiling throughout, delivered the oath in the Blue Room with first lady Michelle holding her family bible and their two daughters, Sasha and Malia, watching.

"Afterwards, he kissed his wife and daughters, telling them: "I did it."

The paper adds:

"The main public events will be held today, with Obama being sworn in again on the steps of Congress, in front of a crowd expected to be between 500,000 to 800,000."

Will we see a more aggressive, more confident president in the second term? A leader less likely to back away from confrontation with irreconcilable Republicans? The Huffington Post in the US is running a series of specially-commissioned articles on 'The Road Forward: Obama's Second-Term Challenges' which you can read here.

I've done a piece on how both Conservative and Labour parties here in the UK are keeping a close eye on the path that Obama is trying to chart between austerity and stimulus, in the hope of proving that their own fiscal policies will be vindicated by the public as the right ones: "To be economically credible in Westminster, it seems, is to be aligned with Barack Obama."

5) PLEBGATE, PART 118

From the Guardian:

"David Cameron and his most senior civil servant, Sir Jeremy Heywood, have been criticised by an all-party committee of MPs over the way they handled the Andrew Mitchell "plebgate" controversy.

"The public administration committee said Heywood, the cabinet secretary, should have challenged the claim in a leaked police log that Mitchell called officers at the gates of No 10 "plebs" after Cameron asked Heywood to investigate what happened.

But, in a report published on Monday, the committee also said Cameron himself should have ordered a much more thorough investigation. Heywood was 'not the appropriate person to investigate allegations of ministerial misconduct', they said, and instead Cameron should have involved Sir Alex Allan, the independent adviser on ministers' interests."

And so it goes on.

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a dad making a ponytail for his daughter in five seconds (hint: it involves a vacuum cleaner!).


6) TARGETING TAX DODGERS

The FT splashes on a tax evasion story:

"Middle-class professionals are to be targeted in a crackdown on tax evasion promised by the chief prosecutor of England and Wales.

"The Crown Prosecution Service will dramatically ramp up the number of tax evasion cases it takes on - with a view to prosecution - in the next two years, Keir Starmer, director of public prosecutions, has told the Financial Times. The CPS will increase fivefold the number of tax files it handles to 1,500 a year by 2014-15.

"... The CPS's tougher stance matches that of HM Revenue & Customs, which investigates cases before referring criminal files to the CPS. Both organisations are trying to rein in the £14bn a year the UK economy loses from tax evasion. HMRC's prosecution office was merged into the CPS in 2010."

7) HEY PENSIONERS, HOSPITALS ARE BAD FOR YOUR HEALTH

Some pretty dire warnings about the NHS from a couple of pretty influential figures.

From the Independent:

"Hospitals are 'very bad places" to care for frail, elderly patients and new ways must be found to treat them in the community, the new independent head of the NHS has warned. In his first newspaper interview since being appointed head of the NHS Commissioning Board, Sir David Nicholson told The Independent that a revolution was needed in the way the health service cared for Britain's ageing population."

And from the Guardian:

"The kind of neglect that disgraced Stafford hospital, where patients were left in soiled sheets, sitting on commodes for hours at a time and often denied pain relief, exists across the NHS, the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has said."

8) MILLIONS STARVE, GOLDMAN PROFITS

A new angle on bank-bashing - from the front of the Independent:

"Goldman Sachs made more than a quarter of a billion pounds last year by speculating on food staples, reigniting the controversy over banks profiting from the global food crisis.

"Less than a week after the Bank of England Governor, Sir Mervyn King, slapped Goldman Sachs on the wrist for attempting to save its UK employees millions of pounds in tax by delaying bonus payments, the investment bank faces fresh accusations that it is contributing to rising food prices."

9) DON'T BLAME US FOR FUEL POVERTY

From the Times:

"More than 100 energy companies, charities and businesses have joined forces to warn David Cameron that Britain is heading for a fuel poverty crisis owing to a failure of government policy.

"In a letter to the Prime Minister, seen by The Times, they argue that ministers are not doing enough to tackle soaring gas and electricity bills that leave a growing number of people unable to heat their homes.

"An unprecedented alliance, including Npower, the Co-operative, Age UK and Barnardo’s, urges Mr Cameron to use money raised from the “carbon tax” to be levied from April to tackle the 'national disgrace' of cold homes."

So let me get this straight: the same 'profiteering' energy companies that are responsible for much of the fuel poverty in Britain are attacking the government for no tdoing enough to...tackle fuel poverty. Really?

10) PRIVACY FOR KIDS? DON'T. BE. SILLY.

The Daily Mail splashes on a rather interesting 'snooping' story:

"Parents should insist on seeing their children’s texts and internet exchanges, David Cameron’s new adviser on childhood urged last night.

"Claire Perry said that in a world where youngsters are surrounded by online dangers, parents should challenge the ‘bizarre’ idea that their children have the right to keep their messages private.

"... The Tory MP for Devizes added that parents had to take clearer responsibility for internet access on their children’s laptops and mobile phones.

"‘So many people say “I have got children on their laptop at 2am – what do I do?” Well, turn the router off when you go to bed,’ she said."

As the father of two young children myself, I'm with Perry.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From yesterday's Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 42
Conservatives 33
Lib Dems 11
Ukip 7

That would give Labour a majority of 96.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@BarackObama President Obama has been sworn in for a second term as President of the United States.

@samhaqitv PM to chair a final session of COBRA this morning on the Algerian hostage sit. This time, the priority is bringing British nationals home

‏@sturdyAlex I can never hear William Hague's monotone without thinking of a Rotherham auctioneer "going once... anyone? going twice..."

900 WORDS OR MORE

Paul Collier, writing in the Financial Times, says: "The west has let negligence in the Sahel turn into a nightmare."

Tim Montgomerie, writing in the Times, says: "Devastation in Syria, Islamist terror in North Africa — there is a bloody cost to when the US fails to intervene."

David Owen, writing in the Guardian, says: "[EU] Treaty amendment should not wait until 2015 – and Labour should co-operate, in the spirit of one-nation politics."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan ([email protected]) or Ned Simons ([email protected]). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Martin Luther King Jr. Was a Radical, Not a Saint

It is easy to forget that in his day King was considered a dangerous troublemaker. He was harassed by the FBI and vilified in the media.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

January 20, 2013  |  

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Today Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is viewed as something of an American saint. His birthday is a national holiday. His name adorns schools and street signs. Americans from across the political spectrum invoke King's name to justify their beliefs and actions, as President Barack Obama will no doubt do in his second Inaugural speech and as gun fanatic Larry Ward recently did in outrageously claiming that King would have opposed proposals to restrict access to guns.

So it is easy to forget that  in his day, in his own country, King was considered a dangerous troublemaker. He was harassed by the FBI and vilified in the media.

In fact, King was a radical. He believed that America needed a "radical redistribution of economic and political power." He challenged America's class system and its racial caste system.  He was a strong ally of the nation's labor union movement.  He was assassinated in April 1968 in Memphis, where he had gone to support a sanitation workers' strike.  He opposed U.S. militarism and imperialism, especially the country's misadventure in Vietnam.

In his critique of American society and his strategy for changing it,  King pushed the country toward more democracy and social justice. 

If  he were alive today, he would certainly be standing with Walmart employees and other workers fighting for a living wage and the right to unionize. He would be in the forefront of the battle for strong gun controls and to thwart the influence of the National Rifle Association. He would be calling for dramatic cuts in the military budget in order to reinvest public dollars in jobs, education, and health care.  He would surely be marching with immigrants and their allies in support of the Dream Act and comprehensive reform. Like most Americans in his day, King was homophobic, even though one of his closest advisors, Bayard Rustin, was gay. But today King would undoubtedly stand with advocates of LGBT rights and same-sex marriage.

Indeed, King's views evolved over time. He entered the public stage with some hesitation, reluctantly becoming the spokesperson for the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 at the age of 26.  King began his activism in Montgomery as a crusader against the nation's racial caste system, but the struggle for civil rights radicalized him into a fighter for broader economic and social justice and peace. Still, in reviewing King's life, we can see that the seeds of his later radicalism were planted early. 

King was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1929, the son of a prominent black minister. Despite growing up in a solidly middle-class family, King saw the widespread human suffering caused by the Depression, particularly in the black community. In 1950, while in graduate school, he wrote an essay describing the "anti-capitalistic feelings" he experienced as a result of seeing unemployed people standing in breadlines.

During King's first year at Morehouse College, civil rights and labor activist A. Philip Randolph spoke on campus. Randolph predicted that the near future would witness a global struggle that would end white supremacy and capitalism. He urged the students to link up with "the people in the shacks and the hovels," who, although "poor in property," were "rich in spirit."

After graduating from Morehouse in 1948, King studied theology at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania (where he read both Mohandas Gandhi and Karl Marx), planning to follow in his father's footsteps and join the ministry. In 1955 he earned his doctorate from Boston University, where he studied the works of Reinhold Niebuhr, the influential liberal theologian. While in Boston, he told his girlfriend (and future wife), Coretta Scott, that "a society based on making all the money you can and ignoring people's needs is wrong."

The Radicalization of Martin Luther King

Context: As yet there are no context links for this item.

Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore.

The revolutionary leader the governing elites would render harmless they name streets after. The number of streets named after Martin Luther King is increasing every year, and about 70 percent of those streets are in southern states. King's home state of Georgia has the most, with over 105 streets. At least 730 cities have named streets after Martin Luther King—only 11 states in the country without a street named after him. Now joining us from Philadelphia to talk about the radical Martin Luther King and the real significance of his life is professor of African-American studies Anthony Monteiro. He's at Temple University in Philadelphia.Thanks for joining us, Anthony.MONTEIRO: Thank you, Paul, for having me.JAY: So talk about the memory of Martin Luther King. When I go on the internet and I look at Martin Luther King Day, the first thing I see is you should volunteer on that day, do some service for your community for the day. MONTEIRO: Yeah. Well, that seems to be the way a lot of people think that you celebrate the life of King, by having a day——and the emphasis being on a day of service, rather than a week of service and a month of service, and maybe a year or a lifetime of service, to the causes of peace, antiwar, the fight against racism, and the overcoming of this deepening poverty in our society.JAY: Now, Martin Lutherc King, certainly near the end of his life, and perhaps earlier, but he was not shy about using words like imperialism and capitalism, and his language became increasingly radical as he became older. What was this process of the radicalization of King?MONTEIRO: Well, you know, Paul, I contend that King's radicalization goes back to his time at Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia. And, you know, this was right after World War II and Christian theologians and public intellectuals in general were asking questions about the German churches, Protestant and Lutheran, and their going along with Hitler except for a few people. And one of those people was a pastor, Lutheran pastor, by the name of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who along with others set up an underground church called the anti-Nazi church of Germany. And King encounters Bonhoeffer through his studies at Crozer. And I am of the opinion that when we look at King's writings, in particular let us say the Letter from a Birmingham Jail and his last really great speech, which was the one at Riverside Church on the war in Vietnam, we hear him using phrases like "the fierce urgency of Now," "procrastination is still the thief of time." In the Letter from Birmingham Jail he talks about "the tragic misconception of time." So he's always talking about this urgent need for Christians to act. And I think he comes to that position after examining, among other things, the situation in Germany, where Christians espouse their beliefs, but when it came to action, they were either intimidated or felt that time would resolve all of these problems. So I think King begins a radical trajectory pretty much in his years at Crozer Theological Seminary. And, of course, we see the same thing when he goes to Boston University and he studies systematic theology, which is really a radical turn for that day in the study of theology, where reason is not seen as the opposite and a competitor with faith. But he was trying—as others were doing—synthesize reason with faith, the world with Christian belief, and that the Christians, as King would conclude, are defined not by what they say, but ultimately by what they do in the struggles for justice.JAY: And this trajectory takes him to a place where he doesn't—if you look at the language of his, you know, last speeches, he doesn't define the struggle as one between good and evil, really, and he certainly doesn't define it as one between white and black. He talks about imperialism as a system. He talks about U.S. imperialism. And he talks about capitalism. He talks about class.MONTEIRO: Yeah. Well, he never defined the struggle as a struggle between white and black. And good and evil were metaphors, ultimately, for social forces in the society. And he would become more concrete in defining good and evil. Well, evil, of course, was the system of segregation, of the oppression of black people that went back, of course, to slavery. But then, of course, evil ultimately became the system that produces war and produces and reproduces poverty and the exploitation of working people. So you're absolutely right. That kind of moral framing of the issue was not disconnected from a deep political and economic understanding of, as you put it, the capitalist system. And that's precisely where he was going.His life is ended in Memphis, Tennessee, where he is organizing workers. Now, we have to take a step back, perhaps, to really understand the significance of that. First of all, the South was even viewed by most trade unionists as unorganizable because of the existence of racism and because of the fact that the political and economic establishments of the South not only oppressed black people but prevented workers from organizing. But even deeper than that, if we go back to W. E. B. Du Bois's great work, Black Reconstruction in America, Du Bois begins that work—the first chapter is entitled "The Black Worker". And Du Bois is talking about the southern black worker. So it seems to me that King ends his life in this great campaign to organize the unorganized and to organize the poor. And to me that is a great legacy. And it is a 21st-century legacy. And that is the legacy that we have to celebrate. But more than celebrate, we have to defend it.JAY: So if you look at how Martin Luther King Day is celebrated now, Michelle Obama, you know, calling on people to volunteer for the day, people get the day off in governments and banks—I don't know about other workplaces; I guess some do—the reason for doing this is because the man had such impact that they have to do something with his historical memory. Speak a bit about that.MONTEIRO: Oh, yeah. Yeah. That legacy is too powerful for the elites. They have to minimize it. They have to distort it. They have to eviscerate it. They have to cheapen it. Besides, you know, First Lady Obama calling for people to do service, I am particularly offended by the fact that the president will be sworn in using Martin Luther King's Bible. To me it's a cheap PR trick. This president has nothing in common with King the man, and his presidency is the opposite of the great legacy of Martin Luther King. You know, King's legacy is a gift not only to black Americans or to America but to humanity. And here we have a president who in many ways is George Bush on steroids—wars in every part of the world, preparation for war, economic wars against nations like Iran, actual wars in Africa, and so on and so forth. This is the very opposite of what Martin Luther King represents. And therefore, you know, we've got to defend that legacy. And that's part of the battle of ideas that we're involved in at this time.JAY: Now, Martin Luther King led a civil rights movement. He didn't call it, I don't think, a black civil rights movement. It may have been majority African Americans that were in it, African Americans may have led it, but it was a people's movement. In a lot of cities—and I have to talk a bit about my experience here in Baltimore—there's a great divide between the white left and the black left. You see, you hear young black militants talking about, well, you know, blacks need to just organize blacks first, and there's a kind of unease about working or allying with whites. I mean, what's the lesson for King in terms of dealing with this kind of a question?MONTEIRO: Well, of course, you're hitting on the current realities that grow out of the great and evil legacy that is the United States of America and slavery and the wounds and the fact that too often—you mention the white left—has been less than effective in the mobilization and organization of white working people to join in solidarity with black working people. So, you know, while we can point to black nationalism as a problem—.JAY: Can I just jump in for one sec on this?MONTEIRO: Go ahead. Yes.JAY: Do you not think that what you're describing is post-Cold War? Like, in the 1930s, '20s, do you not think there was far more mobilization of white workers in solidarity with black workers? But when they kind of cleanse the trade unions of militants and the left and communists and such, they also got rid of those people that would do such things.MONTEIRO: Well, there's no question about that. I mean, you know, when you have a communist party of over 100,000 members who are activists and who are committed to the fight against racism, that can make a profound difference.Now, at the same time, even while that was going on in these great campaigns of the CIO and the Scottsboro case and, you know, the Southern Negro Youth Congress and the National Negro Congress and all of these things going on and headway was being made against racism and there were campaigns to get anti-lynching laws, a federal anti-lynching law, the fact of the matter is the job was only partially completed. And you're absolutely right. After World War II, as we enter the Cold War, we have a frontal attack, beginning with the Truman administration, with, ultimately, the collaboration of George Meany and that leadership of the AFL-CIO, which said that even the fight against racism was an act promoted by subversives and communists.So I don't know whether I'm making myself perfectly clear, but I would agree with you that these 60-some, almost 70 years of the Cold War and Cold War ideology has severely damaged the struggle for unity of blacks and whites in the country. And you're absolutely right about the fact that, you know, there's damage on both sides of the color line. But the overarching problem remains the problem of racism and white supremacy and its influence upon vast numbers of white Americans, and the lack of leadership, either coming from the trade union movement or other progressive civil society organizations, or for that matter from the left, that can effectively reverse that tide.JAY: So in terms of the kind of momentum and such mass mobilization that took place under King, why do we see so little of it now?MONTEIRO: Oh, boy. That is—. Well, you know, I would say that, as you mentioned, the assassination of Martin Luther King could be considered a Cold War imperative. King threatened not just the domestic arrangements of race and class, but King's leadership threatened the capacity of the United States government to impose its will and to become, as King said, the policemen of the whole world, and thus impose its empire, its military, upon the rest of the world. And so I consider the assassination of King to have been a Cold War imperative.JAY: Well, this is just the beginning of a discussion. And we won't wait for another Martin Luther King Day to come around, because we believe in voluntary service more than one day a year. Thanks very much for joining us.MONTEIRO: Thank you, Paul.JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End

DISCLAIMER: 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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US AFRICOM Operation Underway in Mali. “Keeping China out of Africa”.

africa

As we predicted this past week, the theatrical upheaval in Mali was merely a nudging exercise to move forward the stated objectives laid down in US AFRICOM policy.

With no debate or questioning in foreign policy circles, and with Obama’s coronation and ceremonial pop concert in Washington DC keeping American eyes and ears glued to the corporate media punditry, NATO allies, led by the US, are carefully carving out a comprehensive military footprint in Africa in order to further evict Chinese influence from the continent.

A convenient excuse in the short-term will be to ‘stop the spread of Islamic extremist, but as history has witnessed, this is merely a superficial justification for a comprehensive military and economic colonization of the region over the next two decades. Ironic that it would be America’s first ‘black’ President who would reside over the takeover of Africa. Expect more US bases to come in the near future, as well as more violent civil wars popping up regularly in the region.

Cameron’s Tantric Europe Speech To Come ‘This Week’

David Cameron will deliver his long-awaited speech on Britain's relations with the European Union later this week, Foreign Secretary William Hague has confirmed, insisting there is a 'strong case' for a referendum.

The Prime Minister had been due to make the speech in the Netherlands on Friday but it was postponed due to the Algeria hostage crisis.

"It will happen this week," Mr Hague told BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show. "We will make an announcement on when and where tomorrow."

william hague

Hague has said there is a strong case for a referendum

Cameron has been under pressure from eurosceptic Tories to set out his position on whether he will promise a referendum on EU membership after the next election.

The PM's reticence on the subject has been a source of frustration to many, with the emotive policy threatening to tear a divide in the coalition.

Hague said on Sunday there was a 'strong case' for holding a vote, telling the BBC "fresh consent" would be needed to make Britain's EU Membership a success.

"We want to succeed in the European Union - we want an outward-looking EU to succeed in the world, and for the United Kingdom to succeed in that," he said.

"But we have to recognise that the European Union has changed a lot since the referendum of 1975 and that there have been not only great achievements to the EU's name but some things that have gone badly wrong, such as the euro."

farage

Nigel Farage, of Ukip, has been revelling in increased support for an independent Britain

Extracts from Mr Cameron's Netherlands speech showed the Prime Minister intended to make clear that he wanted the UK to play a "committed and active" part in the EU in future.

But he was also planning to warn that, if changes are not made to address the three key challenges of eurozone crisis, economic competitiveness and dramatically declining public support, "the danger is that Europe will fail and the British people will drift towards the exit".

The extracts released by Downing Street did not reveal whether the Prime Minister intended to commit himself to an in/out referendum on British membership of the EU following the renegotiation of its terms which he has already said he plans to undertake after the 2015 general election.

The US ambassador to London, Louis Susman, became the latest senior figure to make clear that the Obama administration did not want the UK to break away.

"We believe in a strong EU. We cannot imagine a strong EU without a vibrant partner in the UK," he told Sky News's Murnaghan programme.

"That is what we hope will come about but it is up to the British people to decide what they want."

obama

The Obama administration have added their voices to the debate

In December the PM poked fun at himself for delaying the speech, saying "This is a tantric approach to policy-making. It'll be even better when it does eventually come."

Michello Portillo, who served as the Conservative Defence Secretary under John Major and was notoriously eurosceptic during his time in power, said the PM must tread carefully over whether he offers an in or out vote.

“To commit himself to an in-out referendum in the mid term of his next government seems to me to be extraordinarily dangerous,” Mr Portillo told Sky's Murnaghan programme.

“People like to kick their government in the teeth."


James Kirkup
So far today William Hague attacked on #marr as pro-European and Michael Portillo on #murnaghan opposed EU referendum. How times change.

Vince Cable has sided with Labour leader Ed Miliband in warning David Cameron that any pledge to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership on the EU would damage the British economy.

Cable’s intervention signals a ratcheting up up of the Lib Dem attack on Cameron’s increasingly eurosceptic position.

Former defence secretary Liam Fox said he would prefer to have a renegotiated relationship with Europe and that ultimately he would like to leave the union.

Dr Fox told BBC One's Sunday Politics programme: "I think ultimately there has to be an in-out referendum because otherwise we're going to have our politics in Britain constantly undermined by this debate and I think it's very important that we settle one way or another the European argument for a generation."

liam fox

Liam Fox said his personal preference was to leave

He added that if the choice was between going in the current direction with an ultimately greater and greater loss of British sovereignty, "my personal preference would be to leave".

He said: "I don't want to have ever closer union, I don't want to be a European first and British second."

Eurosceptic Dr Fox added he had been "broadly satisfied" with what he saw that Mr Cameron was intending to say on Europe.

Asked if he was going to return to the Cabinet, he replied: "No I wouldn't say that was true, I've got a lot of things that I'm doing at the moment, but most of us, if asked would you like to be in the Cabinet, would say yes of course we would."

Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander told the same programme Mr Cameron's speech had "more to do with the politics of the Conservative Party...than actually to do with the national interest."

He said: "Why has the speech been delayed for more than a year? David Cameron I would suggest was actually rendered speechless because of the gap between what his backbenchers will tolerate and what European partners will give him."

An alliance between the Conservatives and Ukip is "virtually impossible to even contemplate" with David Cameron as Prime Minister, Nigel Farage said on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday.

Mr Farage claimed pressure from Ukip and its supporters had contributed to a shift in public attitude towards the Europe Union.

He said: "The first thing to say is that 10 years ago you couldn't even discuss the question of leaving the EU in polite society, it was considered completely beyond the pale to even talk about.

"So the very fact that the Prime Minister is making a speech on this issue is actually a tribute to the thousands of people that have worked and helped get Ukip established as a political party."

Mehdi’s ‘Sunday Lunchtime’ Memo: ‘A Vicious and Cowardly Attack’

The ten things you need to know on Sunday 20 January 2013...

1) 'A VICIOUS AND COWARDLY ATTACK'

From the Press Association:

"David Cameron has confirmed that three British nationals have been killed in Algeria, a further three are believed to be dead and a British resident has also died.

"The remaining 22 British survivors have returned to the UK and been reunited with their loved-ones, the Foreign Secretary has confirmed.

"Mr Cameron said: 'I know the whole country will want to join me in sending our sympathies and condolences to the families who have undergone an absolutely dreadful ordeal and who now face life without these very precious loved ones.'

"Speaking from Chequers, the PM echoed President Barack Obama and blamed the terrorists for the deaths, saying 'of course people will ask questions about the Algerian response to these events, but I would just say that the responsibility for these deaths lies squarely with the terrorists who launched a vicious and cowardly attack.'"

NOTE: For reasons I won't bore you with, this Memo was delayed today, hence it's 'Sunday Lunchtime', rather than 'Morning', title. Normal service will resume tomorrow morning. Fingers crossed.

2) 'RED MEAT'

Forget the horse meat, it's all about red meat when it comes to the PM and Europe.

From the Observer:

"David Cameron will deliver a 'redmeat announcement' on Britain's future in the EU, which he believes will satisfy all but a hard core of Conservative MPs, when he makes his much-delayed keynote speech on Europe in the next few days.

"Amid uncertainty over the exact timing of the jinxed address, senior government sources told the Observer that the prime minister intends to make the speech this week - possibly tomorrow - if a resolution has been found to the Algerian hostage crisis.

"'He wants to go ahead as soon as possible. There will be something in it which will pacify all but the hard core,' said the source. 'But he could deliver the same kind of speech that Margaret Thatcher gave in Bruges in 1988 and around 25 MPs would not be happy. It is not possible to please everyone.'"

Speaking on the Andrew Marr programme, foreign secretary William Hague confirmed that the PM's 'tantric' speech on Europe would take place in the coming week.

Hague told stand-in presenter Jeremy Vine that an announcement on the location and timing of the speech would happen tomorrow, and said the British public "need their say" on the UK's relationship with Brussels - suggesting that was what his boss, the prime minister, would offer. Watch this space.

3) COUP AGAINST CAMERON?

Remember the letters to Graham Brady and the 1922 Committee? The ones from Tory backbenchers that could trigger a vote of no-confidence in Dave's leadership of the Conservative Party? There's now 17 of them, apparently.

From the Sunday Times:

"An increasing number of backbenchers are privately discussing the possibility of attempting to unseat the prime minister before the poll in 2015 if the party continues to trail in the polls.

"While there is no immediate threat to his position, a well-placed source said that up to 17 MPs had now written letters of 'no confidence', and there are rumours that at least one list of MPs willing to back a coup is being gathered.

"For the first time, discussions about ousting Cameron before 2015 appear to be spreading beyond the so-called 'usual suspects' — a hard core of about 20 backbenchers who are hostile to his leadership."

Oh dear.

On a side note, Nigel Farage still isn't happy with the Ukip-abusing Tory leader. This morning, on the Andrew Marr programme, Ukip leader Nigel Farage ruled out a post-2015 "deal" with a Cameron-led Conservative Party:

“I think with David Cameron as leader, that is virtually impossible to even contemplate."

4) PLEBGATE, PART 99

Uh-oh. It's not looking so good for Sir Jeremy Heywood. From the Mail on Sunday:

"Britain’s most powerful mandarin faces public humiliation after MPs claimed his bungled investigation cost ‘plebgate’ ex-Tory Minister Andrew Mitchell his job.

"A report by a powerful Commons committee will tomorrow accuse Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood of failing to give the former Chief Whip a chance to prove he was the victim of a police conspiracy.

"A copy of an explosive report by the Commons Public Administration Select Committee, obtained by The Mail on Sunday, shows that MPs lambast Sir Jeremy’s handling of a Downing Street investigation into Mr Mitchell."

5) TAXING TIMES

Last Sunday, this Memo noted how the two Eds had were keen to position the Labour Party behind an anti-tax-avoidance campaign; this Sunday, it's the turn of the Liberal Democrats.

From the Sunday Telegraph:

"Senior Liberal Democrats are drawing up plans for a new levy on Starbucks, Amazon and other global businesses that pay low levels of tax on their British operations.

"As part of preparation for this year’s Budget negotiations, Lib Dems are looking to introduce a minimum tax charge on multinationals based on their global profits.

"Tim Farron, the party’s president, said the charge would address the 'natural outrage' many British people have felt at how little some multinationals contribute to the public finances."

I guess dealing with the 'national outrage' over tax avoidance helps the Lib Dems deal with some of the 'national outrage' over... the Lib Dems themselves.

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

In honour of yesterday's 'National Gun Appreciation Day' in the United States, watch this amusing video of US gun owners making idiots of themselves.

6) 'WAR ON BENEFIT CHEATS' ANNOUNCED. UGH.

Remember how Iain Duncan Smith, saviour of the poor, claimed in a recent Today programme interview that he and his department never demonised people on benefits? Remember that?

Well, check out some of today's headlines and news reports. The Sun on Sunday ("£5bn benefiddle") says:

"Ministers will this week step up the war on benefit cheats after false claims hit a record £5.3billion.

Hit squads will be sent into welfare hot spots to target suspect claimants."

The Sunday Express quotes IDS as saying: “The welfare state has over the years become so complex and confusing that fraudsters basically have been given the green light to pick the pockets of hard working taxpayers.

Green light? Hit squads? 'Benefiddle'? I wonder how many papers IDS/the DWP briefed about illegal tax evasion, which is estimated to cost the exchequer tens of billions of pounds compared to illegal benefit fraud which costs just over £1bn (or around 0.7% of the benefits bill).

7) HERE COMES THE TRIPLE DIP?

From the Observer:

"The Office for National Statistics will publish its first estimate of GDP growth for the final quarter of 2012 on Friday and many experts, including at the Bank, expect it to show that the economy contracted. A second negative quarter, from January to March, would mark the onset of Britain's third recession in five years."

The paper says the "Ernst and Young Item Club forecasting group joins those calling on the government to abandon the 2% inflation target, forcing the Bank of England to take more drastic action to lift the economy out of its slump".

No pressure then on Mark Carney, the new bank governor from Canada who takes over Sir Mervyn King in the summer...

8) LIVING WAGE 'ZONES'

Triple-dip or no triple-dip, wages will continue to stagnate over the next few years - and have been in decline since around 2003. Would a living wage help? Ed Miliband thinks so - from the Observer:

"The first detailed blueprint for boosting the wages of millions of low-paid private and public sector workers, while saving the Treasury billions of pounds a year, is released today by two leading thinktanks as support for the living wage grows at Westminster.

"Labour welcomed the radical ideas from the independent Resolution Foundation and the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) as an "extremely valuable contribution" to the living wage debate, amid signs they could be taken up by Ed Miliband's party for inclusion in its next general election manifesto."

9) KENNETH BAKER VS MICHAEL GOVE

My former New Statesman colleague George Eaton has done a rather interesting interview with former Thatcher cabinet minister and Tory grandee Kenneth Baker - 'the most transformative education secretary in recent history' - which Michael Gove won't be too pleased with.

The top lines:

1) He describes Gove's English Baccalaureate (EBacc), which will replace GCSEs from 2015, as "a throwback", comparing it to the School Certificate he sat as a 16-year-old in 1951.
2) He says the "jury's out" on free schools and says he doesn't think "allowing them to be run for profit would necessarily change very much, quite frankly. I really don’t think it would".
3) He says "the jump [in tuition fees] to £9,000 was just too much, quite frankly".

10) OBAMA 2.0

It's time for the second term. From the BBC:

"Barack Obama is due to be officially sworn in for his second term as US president in a small ceremony at the White House.

Although the US Constitution requires the oath of office to be taken by noon on 20 January, as that falls on a Sunday the public inauguration will take place on Monday."

The president wants the Almighty on his side. From the Huffington Post:

"When President Obama rests his hand on two historic Bibles to take his second-term oath of office Monday (Jan. 21), he'll add a phrase not mentioned in the Constitution: 'So help me God.'

"... Although the phrase was used in federal courtrooms since 1789, the first proof it was used in a presidential oath of office came with Chester Arthur's inauguration in September 1881.

"Every president since, including Obama, has followed suit."

The Huffington Post has commissioned a series of special pieces on 'Obama's second-term challenges' which you can read here.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 42
Conservatives 33
Ukip 11
Lib Dems 7

That would give Labour a majority of 96.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

‏@TimMontgomerie Never seen Cameron looking so tired, making his Algeria statement. Doesn't look like he's been to bed. Must have been v challenging few days

@OllyGrender Prob remains if PM does go for "in/out referendum" I know precisely where my party stands on that but his party will be chronically divided

@campbellclaret Success of Borgen (currently trending) and West Wing (which I have not seen) a sign of gap in market for essentially pro politics TV?

900 WORDS OR MORE

Liam Fox, writing in the Mail on Sunday, says: "Lethal force, not rational argument, must be our response to these violent fanatics."

Andrew Rawnsley, writing in the Observer, says: "Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg's relationship is starting to thaw."

Lord Wolfson, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, says: "I back the single market – but not at any cost."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan ([email protected]) or Ned Simons ([email protected]). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Dear Whole Foods CEO, This Is What a Fascist Looks Like

John Mackey of Whole Foods had a major media gaffe, but it’s about time someone injected the word fascism back into our political debate.

Spanish dictator General Francisco Franco gives a speech in Bilbao in 1939. A top judge, Baltasar Garzon, is charged with exceeding his powers on the grounds that the alleged crimes committted by the Franco regime were covered by an amnesty agreed in 1977 as Spain moved towards democracy two years after Franco's death.

January 19, 2013  |  

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Whole Foods CEO, John Mackey, doesn’t know what a fascist is.

Speaking with NPR this week, multimillionaire Mackey  tried to express how much he hates Obamacare. Back in 2009, he hated Obamacare so much that he called it “socialism.” But now, in 2013, Mackey thinks Obamacare is “fascism.”

“Technically speaking, [Obamacare] is more like fascism,” he said. “Socialism is where the government owns the means of production. In fascism, the government doesn’t own the means of production, but they do control it, and that’s what’s happening with our healthcare programs and these reforms.”

Mackey has since  walked back this description saying he “regrets using that word now” because there’s “so much baggage attached to it.”

But, whether Mackey meant to or not, it’s about time someone injected the word fascism back into our political debate. Especially now that corporations wield more power today than they have in America since the Robber Baron Era.

First, let’s take on Mackey’s definitions of socialism and fascism, which he likely procured from the Google machine after typing in, “What are the differences between socialism and fascism?”

Yes, socialism encourages more democratic control of the economy. Or, if Mackey insists, more government ownership of the economy – in particular, ownership of the commons and natural resources.   

Fascism, on the other hand, is something completely different. Reporter Sy Mukherjee, who blogged about this story over at  ThinkProgress.org notes, “Although fascist nations do often control their ‘means of production,’ Mackey seems to have forgotten that they usually utilize warfare, forced mass mobilization of the public, and politically-motivated violence against their own peoples to achieve their ends.”

The 1983 American Heritage Dictionary defined fascism as: "A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism." Fascism originated in Italy, and Mussolini claims to have invented the word itself. It was actually his ghostwriter, Giovanni Gentile, who invented it and defined it in the Encyclopedia Italiana in this way: "Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power."

In other words, fascism is corporate government – a Libertarian’s wet dream. It’s a government in which the Atlas’s of industry are given free rein to control the economy, just how they’re regulated, how much they pay in taxes, how much they pay their workers. It should be noted here that, ironically, John Mackey describes himself as a Libertarian.  

In 1938, Mussolini finally got his chance to bring fascism to fruition. He dissolved Parliament and replaced it with the "Camera dei Fasci e delle Corporazioni" - the Chamber of the Fascist Corporations. Members of the Chamber were not selected to represent particular regional constituencies, but instead to represent various aspects of Italian industry and trade. They were the corporate leaders of Italy.

Imagine if the House of Representatives was dissolved and replaced by a Council of America’s most powerful CEOs – the Kochs, the Waltons, the Blankfeins, the Dimons, the Mackeys, you get the picture.

Actually, that’s not too difficult to imagine, huh? But, that’d be similar to what Mussolini defined as fascism.

As we know, fascism was eventually defeated in World War 2. But just before the end of the war, with the fascists on the ropes, the Vice President of the United States at the time, Henry Wallace,  penned an op-ed for the New York Times warning Americans about the creeping dangers of fascism – or corporate government.

He defined a fascist as, “those who, paying lip service to democracy and the common welfare, in their insatiable greed for money and the power which money gives, do not hesitate surreptitiously to evade the laws designed to safeguard the public from monopolistic extortion.”

NRA Ad Dead Wrong, Thanks to Breitbart False Report


[h/t Scarce]

By now everyone has seen this propaganda piece put out by the NRA claiming that the Obama girls have armed guards at their school. There's only one problem: That claim isn't true. Shame, shame, NRA, for living in such a deep silo you actually relied on a Breitbart.com report without any fact checking.

Buzzfeed:

"[The] school Obama's daughters attend has 11 armed guards," the longer ad's narrator says, citing an article from Breitbart.com.

But a fact-check by the Washington Post found that not to be the case. The Postcalled the school, Sidwell Friends, where Obama's daughters attend and asked if the school had armed guards. The school responded that none of their 11 security members carry any firearms.

But where did the myth of armed guards at Obama's school come from?

A quick search found that the first post about it came from the Weekly Standard's blog. A post by Daniel Halper said that the school — attended by both Obama's and David Gregory's children — had 11 armed guards on staff, citing the 11 members of the security team. The error by the site presuming the security at the Quaker school was armed led to the NRA's two incorrect ads.

Well, yes, it led to them. But the NRA cited an article at Breitbart.com in their longer propaganda piece. Here's the screenshot:

nra-screenshot.jpg

J.K. Trotter at The Atlantic picked this up late Friday:

You can see what's going on here. An erroneous report on Breitbart.com, the conservative activist news website, led NRA officials to believe that Sidwell Friends employs armed guards. (Breitbartseems to have misread a job posting for a security officer.) The NRA even appropriated Breitbart's argument: that the existence of such guards at an elite private school reveals Obama as an out-of-touch elitist, unaware of his own hypocrisy. From Breitbart reporter A.W.R. Hawkins:

Shame on President Obama for seeking more gun control and for trying to prevent the parents of other school children from doing what he has clearly done for his own. His children sit under the protection guns afford, while the children of regular Americans are sacrificed.

Hawkins adds:

If you dismiss this by saying, "Of course they have armed guards — they get Secret Service protection," then you've missed the larger point [...] that this is standard operating procedure for [Sidwell Friends], period.

It's worth noting here that Breitbart is not an underground website, and the report the NRA ads refer to is not obscure: it currently boasts over a thousand comments, and was shared on Facebook or Twitter by over 143,000 people.

Color me shocked -- SHOCKED -- that Breitbart News advanced a false story in order to feed the NRA's paranoia. Why, I'm sure they've never done anything like that before, have they?

Sanctions: Weapons of Mass Death and Destruction

eagle

Iran hasn’t been in the headlines in recent months, but there’s a lot of talk that 2013 will be the year of decision on Iran—whether a deal will be struck between the U.S. and its allies and Iran on ending or restricting Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, or whether the U.S., Israel and other big powers will attack Iran.

The debate about confirming former Sen. Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, revolves around whether he’s “tough enough” on Iran, while leading think-tank strategists are calling for overt preparations for attacking Iran, tougher economic sanctions and “more explicit threats to destroy its nuclear programme by military means.” (Jim Lobe, January 16)

“In 2013, perhaps in the next few months, President Obama will face a crisis on Iran. He has categorically ruled out living with a nuclear-armed Iran under a Cold War—style policy of containment,” Fareed Zakaria writes. “That means either Iran will capitulate to U.S. demands or the U.S. will go to war with Iran. Since the first option is extremely unlikely and the second extremely unattractive, the Obama administration needs to find a negotiated solution. That means using sticks and carrots—or what is often called coercive diplomacy—to get a deal that Washington and Tehran can live with….Otherwise, 2013 will be the year that we accepted a nuclear Iran or went to war.” (“The Year We Reckon With Iran,” January 21, Time)

In short, tough sanctions are being promoted as a kinder, gentler alternative to war. And perhaps some people voted for Obama in part because they perceived him as less likely to start a war with Iran than Romney.

But let’s get clear: Stiffening sanctions is a form of war against an entire population—a real weapon of mass destruction that is already imposing enormous suffering and death on the Iranian population. The U.S. is literally murdering babies and other vulnerable sections of the populations, but this fact is rarely mentioned by the cheerleaders of empire—aka the U.S. media—and there is no debate about it within the U.S. ruling class.

“Targeted” Sanctions Target the Iranian People

The U.S. claims that its sanctions are “smart” or “targeted” and only aimed at Iran’s government—the Islamic Republic—and its top leaders. But because the U.S. and its big power allies (Germany, France, Britain and other European countries) are sanctioning and embargoing Iranian banks, they have crippled Iran’s ability to pay for urgently needed imports—including medicines—and halted many shipments. In addition, many drugs and needed chemicals aren’t getting into Iran thanks to the banning under the sanctions of “dual-use” chemicals with possible military applications.

Here are some of the impacts being felt, just in terms of drugs and medicines:

“Hundreds of thousands of Iranians with serious illnesses have been put at imminent risk by the unintended consequences of international sanctions, which have led to dire shortages of life-saving medicines such as chemotherapy drugs for cancer and blood-clotting agents for haemophiliacs,” Guardian UK reports.

Iran produces most of its medicines internally, but sanctions have crippled domestic production making many Iranian-made drugs unavailable or very costly. This past October, two pharmaceutical companies closed and others are facing closure or bankruptcy.

The director general of Iran’s largest biggest pharmaceutical firm told the Guardian, “There are patients for whom a medicine is the different between life and death. What is the world doing about this? Are Britain, Germany, and France thinking about what they are doing? If you have cancer and you can’t find your chemotherapy drug, your death will come soon. It is as simple as that.”

His firm can no longer buy medical equipment including sterilizing machines essential for making many drugs, and some of the biggest western pharmaceutical companies refuse to have anything to do with Iran. “The west lies when it says it hasn’t imposed sanctions on our medical sector. Many medical firms have sanctioned us,” he said.

According to the Guardian, there’s a “looming” health crisis in Iran. Each year 85,000 new cancer patients are diagnosed who need chemotherapy and radiotherapy, now in short supply.

“Iranian health experts say that annual figure has nearly doubled in five years, referring to a ‘cancer tsunami’ most likely caused by air, water and soil pollution and possibly cheap low-quality imported food and other products….An estimated 23,000 Iranians with HIV/Aids have had their access to the drugs they need to keep them alive severely restricted. The society representing the 8,000 Iranians suffering from thalassaemia, an inherited blood disorder, has said its members are beginning to die because of a lack of an essential drug, deferoxamine, used to control the iron content in the blood.”

Iran’s over 8,000 hemophiliacs are in grave peril. It’s more and more difficult for them to get blood clotting agents, and operations on hemophiliacs “have been virtually suspended because of the risks created by the shortages,” the Guardian reports. At the end of October 2012, a 15-year-old child died for lack of coagulant medication. The head of Iran’s Hemophilia Society said, “This is a blatant hostage-taking of the most vulnerable people by countries which claim they care about human rights. Even a few days of delay can have serious consequences like haemorrhage and disability.” (See, Mehrnaz Shahabi, “The unfolding humanitarian catastrophe of economic sanctions on the people of Iran.”)

Last year, Iran’s Hemophilia Society told the World Federation of Hemophilia that tens of thousands of children’s lives were being threatened by shortages of medicines.

Again, this is just the sanctions’ impact on Iran’s healthcare—it is also devastating the population in a hundred other ways big and small.

They Know…And They’re Killing Babies Anyway

The Obama administration and its allies know full well how sanctions are impacting the people of Iran—including helpless babies. In fact, they’ve admitted in rare moments of truth-telling (mainly within their own ranks in discussions of strategy and tactics) that the whole point of sanctions is to cause suffering and discontent among Iran’s population, in order to pressure or collapse the Islamic Republic. An article last year in an article titled, “Public ire one goal of Iran sanctions, U.S. official says, the Washington Post reported, “The Obama administration sees economic sanctions against Iran as building public discontent that will help compel the government to abandon an alleged nuclear weapons program, according to a senior U.S. intelligence official.”

A column in the rightwing Wall Street Journal – “What Iran Sanctions Can and Can’t Do,” — was more explicit:  sanctions were a “tool to precipitate the regime’s collapse.”

Too many people see sanctions as a thoughtful, peaceful, or diplomatic alternative to war. Bullshit.

It’s nonsensical as well as criminal because sanctions are already in effect killing people, but it’s also because sanctions can be part of the preparations or strategy for war. This is what the U.S. did to Iraq before the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. Between these two wars and the intervening 13 years of sanctions, well over a million—probably over 2 million—Iraqis were killed. And did those sanctions prevent war? No. Because one goal of imperialist sanctions is to win political support for war if that’s deemed necessary: “We tried sanctions and had to resort to war,” they’ll claim.

Another goal is to soften an enemy up so waging war will prove easier—again, if the imperialists deem it necessary.

Sanctions or War = Imperialist Aggression

Neither imperialist war, nor imperialist sanctions, nor imperialist “diplomacy” are anything other than different forms of imperialist aggression. None of them are moral, or just. All must be opposed. It’s unconscionable for people in the U.S. to sit passively and silently by as these crimes are being carried out in our names, resulting in the suffering and deaths of thousands of people, thousands of miles away.

We can’t accept the terms that it’s either sanctions or war – either slow death or fast death. The U.S. is killing Iranian civilians in the interests of an unjust empire, and this is something that everyone with a conscience and a basic sense of right and wrong should oppose and protest.

Larry Everest is a correspondent for Revolution newspaper (revcom.us), where this article first appeared, and author of Oil, Power & Empire: Iraq and the U.S. Global Agenda (Common Courage 2004).  In 1991 he traveled to Iraq and documented the impact of the Persian Gulf War and sanctions in his film: Iraq: War Against the People.  He can be reached at [email protected]

Three Popular Delusions for 2013

Three popular delusions to be aware of for 2013:

Popular Delusion #1: The investment world believes China will engage in another massive round of stimulus.

This will not be the case. China’s new ruling party has stated point blank that the country will not be engaging in rampant stimulus (for the obvious reasons of rising inflation):

This may sound like an oxymoron, but China‘s new Communist government is turning away from financial stimulus to help its slow-­?moving economy.

During the party’s two-­?day Central Economic Work Conference this weekend, party leader Xi Jinping said the country would essentially not be pursuing high growth rates through stimulus. That doesn’t mean that Beijing has turned sour on fixed asset investments on things like roads, bridges and subways. They’re still going through with major urbanization projects. But whenever the economy is slowing, the new leaders say they will be less likely to prime the pump.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2012/12/17/reform-­?minded-­?chi...? shuns-­?stimulus/

China’s market has rallied over 16% in the last month on the belief that China will engage in another large-­?scale stimulus plan... despite China’s leaders stating they will not. This has the makings of a very nasty correction. We’ll be on the lookout for when it hits and will issue a trade alert when it’s time to go short.

Popular Delusion #2: Japan’s new leadership will be able to kick of even more aggressive monetary intervention.

Truth be told, Japan is on the cusp of the mother of all debt implosions. Case in point, Japan’s Yen is thought to be a safe haven. With that in mind, it’s critical to note that when the EU Crisis hit in mid-­?2012, the Yen fell.

Popular Delusion #3: The US bond bubble will not burst in 2013.

It’s become increasingly common to see calls for the US bond bubble and economy to implode this year. To be clear, the US’s financial situation is terrible. But it is nothing compared to the financial situation in Europe, Japan, and China.

Europe has not recapitalized its banks. Many of its countries’ entire banking systems are insolvent. The EU banking system as a whole is leveraged at 26 to 1 (Lehman was at 30 to 1 when it went bust). Even Germany’s banking system is in worse shape than the US’s (the US recapitalized its banks following the 2008 crisis. Europe. including Germany, has not).

China’s true Debt to GDP is over 200%. Already in a hard landing, the country is now facing several major problems, namely looming water and agriculture crises, food inflation and accompanying civil unrest, and the potential of armed conflict with Japan.

Moreover, the belief that China will shift over to a consumer economy is misguided. Consumption has increased by 9% per year in China for 30 years now. The China consumer is not somehow dormant. And as more and more manufacturing firms leave China for more stable markets (Apple, Ford, GE, Bridgestone, have all announced they are moving facilities back to the US), China will be facing rising unemployment.

Finally, and most critically, financial institutions are desperate for high-­?grade collateral in the form of quality sovereign bonds. Say what you will about the US, it remains the most liquid market for debt in the world. And if you had a choice between lending money to the US, Japanese, any European, or the Chinese Government, the US is the obvious answer.

This is not to say the US is in great shape. Instead, we would argue that the US is the least ugly of the major debt markets. The US bond bubble will burst at some point. But it will likely not do so in 2013.

Buckle up, 2013 is going to be an “interesting” year.

With that in mind, smart investors are taking advantage of the market rally to position themselves for what’s coming… much as they did in late 2007.

We offer several FREE Special Reports designed to help them do this. They include:

Preparing Your Portfolio For Obama’s Economic Nightmare

What Europe’s Crisis Means For You and Your Savings

How to Protect Yourself From Inflation

And last but not least…

Bullion 101: Everything You Need to Know About Investing in Gold and Silver Bullion…

You can pick up FREE copies of all of the above at:

http://gainspainscapital.com/

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Phoenix Capital Research

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The World Is In Trouble

Via Mark J. Grant, author of Out of the Box,

The United States is in Trouble
 
We make more than we’ve ever made, we owe more than we’ve ever owed, and we have less than we've had in decades which is distributed to those that did not earn the money. This is a working definition of Trouble. The stock market is at an all-time high while the financial condition of the country has seriously deteriorated. We are printing $90 billion a month of little green pieces of paper while the Democrats yell at the Republicans to up the debt ceiling as they want to spend even more money to promote social welfare programs. We cannot afford the bills that we have now and we are being asked to add more to them. This is a recipe for disaster and I am reminded of those months right before the financial crisis of 2008/2009 where no documentation loans for Real Estate flourished and easy money was the normal course of things.

Perhaps the landscape has shifted from “money for nothing” for property to “money for nothing” for our national debt. Fiscal responsibility has evaporated in a grand scheme to get voters and Obama has put the Chavez Plan in place which appeals to the poorest of citizens, hands them money and expects their support at the polls. Hard work and earning a living are the ethics of past generations that are slowly being ground to dust in the flurry to socialize America and re-distribute wealth and having succeeded and having money is now thought of as a crime not far behind rape and arson. The White Knight is walking backwards and the Red Queen has lost her head and the Mad Hatter is in charge of the tea party.
 
“The trouble with practical jokes is that they very often get elected.”
 
                        -Will Rogers
 
Europe is in Trouble
 
The sovereign debt accounting is a fraud. Liabilities are not counted, contingent liabilities are not recognized and the balance sheet of the ECB is worse than America’s. Collateral considerations are a joke and loans are disguised, hidden and placed in various locked drawers and central bank vaults. The economies of Spain, Italy, Portugal, Cyprus, Greece, Ireland continue to deteriorate as their sovereign yields fall due to the Draghi put and the creation of their little pieces of blue paper which must be used somewhere for something. There is, once again, easy money in the United States but easier money in Europe and so the game continues as anyone with any common sense begins to wonder how it all will blow up and when. Is it to be Inflation or Valuation and will Gold be the next currency or are there going to be other answers.
 
Asia is in Trouble
 
Japan, once thought to be an ascending power, has drifted into a nightmare of insolvency and no growth where Deflation rules and the debts of the country now exceed the ability of their citizens and institutions to own them. The push is on for Inflation as the only way out as they argue with China over some islands that might have some oil reserves. In China growth is slowing, their one party system will not allow outside investment past a certain point, their banks are a shadow of the demands of the country and in disarray as political/economic scapegoats and the numbers that China provides for growth make no sense and so are discounted as maybe-maybe statistics. The central banks of both nations follow the tendrils of the American and European ones and the entire globe is encased in a soap bubble of our own making as some may see the fire but no one knows how to get safely out of the theatre.
 
Find two elephants, two zebras and two giraffes and start building the boat.
 
The World is in Trouble
 
The scheme has worked because there is no place to go, no place to run; no place to hide. The collusion is past anything we have ever seen in history. The central banks of the world are supporting intervention and massive protection of the State and we are witnessing the results while all of the newly created paper must be put somewhere and so bonds rise in price, absolute yields on sovereign debt will fall more, compression will continue and the equity markets will rise. All of this is not the result of fundamentals or of economics but solely the result of little pieces of paper being printed, distributed and having to find a home.
 
“God didn't make the little green apples, and it don't rain in Indianapolis in the summer time. And there's no such thing as Dr. Seuss or Disneyland and Mother Goose, no nursery rhymes.”
 
                -Roger Williams, Little Green Apples
 
Pricked
 
The world is in a gigantic bubble and it is going to get pricked. Now it takes certain magical incantations and special spells to determine all of this but we learned a few things from our last go round so the crystal ball is less cloudy and my wand is at hand. Our last fiasco whacked the banks on the backside as the valuation of their holdings, most noticeably their ownership of subprime mortgages and of mortgage securitizations raised the specter of default and of systemic carnage. This time it will be certain sovereign nations that will be the catalyst. It may be the mundane running out of cash that will cause the torrent to flow as Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Italy, Ireland or Portugal that lines up for more money and is refused by various governments on the Continent. It may be a refusal by a sovereign nation to accede to the demands of the IMF/EU/ECB for funding or it may be social unrest in the spring that unseats some government as nationalism overcomes the grand European experiment. The giant central bank slosh of money has lowered yields but it has not improved the financial condition of any nation on the Continent and so push will come to shove once again. It may be that Germany refuses to waste anymore of their citizen’s money or that Britain will have had enough of being run out of Berlin or it could even be a refusal to fund America’s debt which comes from China and other Asian countries as our creditworthiness deteriorates. There are many pressure points pressing against the Bubble and one of them will give just as the subprime mess was where the prick took place last time. It was all the cause of “money for nothing and chicks for free” and while I am unsure about the chicks I am quite sure that the incredible amount of easy money will take its toll once again. Money, you know, ceases to be money when all that anyone sees is paper and not the guarantee that is imprinted on it. It could be Inflation on a grand scale or worse, Valuation that determines the charade and calls it for what it is and neither result will be pleasant.
 
You cannot keep printing money without consequences and when absolute and intrinsic valuations replace relative valuations then the game is afoot. Lower and lower yields also eventually have a serious impact on the people of a nation, pension funds, insurance companies and backlashes are certainly possible as the lives of people and institutions are put at financial risk. When the survival of the State puts its people in dire straits then, eventually, the citizens will rebel as the nation has forgotten just who composes its constituents. The people and institutions that have the capital will only go along quietly for so long when nations try to take what they have earned and dispossess it for others. The rich will become poorer and the poor will become poorer and when those with the capital have been deprived of it so that everyone is worse off then the Lords of Chaos will be in control once again. Look for securities that float, States that have no debt in Municipals, the few countries in the world that are still fiscally responsible and get ready to hold on to your hat. The charade goes on a little longer but it will not go on indefinitely and the time for preparation is now. When one plus one no longer equals two then something will give. Make sure you are not the one crying “Uncle.”
 
The trouble with going with the flow is that you might be the one that is sucked down the drain!

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Corporate Party Favors at the Inaugural Shindig

President Obama's 2013 Inauguration store website. (Image: Whitehouse.gov)President Obama's 2013 Inauguration store website. (Image: Whitehouse.gov)If you’re one of those who equate the worlds of Washington and Hollywood — the standard joke: “Politics is show business for ugly people” — then a presidential inauguration is the Oscars, Golden Globes and Emmy Awards combined, right down to the parties, balls, extravagant wardrobes and goody bags stuffed with swag.

Just check out the online “57th Presidential Inauguration Store“, peddling more tchotchkes than the vendors outside a Justin Bieber concert — from shot glasses, T-shirts and tube socks to an Obama portrait by the artist Chuck Close and a $7500 set of official medallions.

The company behind this marketing behemoth — as it was during the 2012 campaign, when at times it appeared the Obama team was running a big box store rather than a presidential race — is Financial Innovations, Inc., which also happens to be one of a handful of corporations donating money to underwrite this year’s inaugural celebration. Its owner, Democratic fundraiser Mark Weiner, was an Obama bundler, raising as much as half a million dollars for the president’s re-election. According to Matea Gold at the Los Angeles Times, analyzing data from the Federal Election Commission, Financial Innovations “was paid more than $15.7 million by two Obama campaign committees to produce and mail campaign merchandise.”

Four years ago, the committee for President Obama’s first swearing-in proudly announced that no corporate cash would be accepted for the festivities, presenting the decision as “a commitment to change business as usual in Washington.” Nor was money taken from registered lobbyists and foreign agents, non-U.S. citizens or political action committees. What’s more, individual contributions were capped at $50,000.

This year, there’s a new attitude and a new push for dollars — the goal is set at $50 million. The rules against lobbyists, PACs and non-citizens are still in effect, but now, contributions of as much as a million are being solicited from individuals as well as businesses (although you’re banned from giving if you received taxpayer bailout money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program – TARP — and haven’t paid it back!).

“Sources close to the planning said the decision was born out of pragmatism,” Politico reported in December. There were just a few weeks post-election “to raise tens of millions of dollars to celebrate a victory that Democratic supporters already spent hundreds of millions of dollars to win thanks to the rise of unlimited outside money in campaigns this year.” Nonetheless, as the Associated Press noted, “The changes are part of a continuing erosion of Obama’s pledge to keep donors and special interests at arm’s length of his presidency.”

According to records released by the official Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC), so far, fewer than a thousand individuals and only eight corporations have contributed money for the long weekend of parties, balls and ceremonies (On January 17, ExxonMobil announced that it, too, was chipping in, to the tune of $250,000.)

Most of these companies have ties to the federal government. Restrictions on government contractors giving money to politicians don’t apply to the inaugural. They should.

Fredreka Schouten at USA Today writes that among them are:

Telecom giant AT&T, which spent more than $14 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies during the first nine months of 2012, [and] has been awarded more than $101 million in federal contracts in the current fiscal year, federal contracting data show. Microsoft, which spent nearly $5.7 million on lobbying, has been awarded nearly $4.6 million in technology contracts with Homeland Security, the White House and several other agencies so far during this fiscal year…

“Another corporate donor, Centene Corporation, manages health insurance programs for more than a dozen states. Those programs include Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance system for the poor, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The Congressional Budget Office estimates insurance coverage will be expanded to 7 million more Americans in both programs next year as the new federal health care law takes effect.”

The other five businesses on PIC’s official list are the aforementioned Financial Innovations, the electric utility Southern Company Services, biotech companies Genentech and United Therapeutics, and Stream Line Circle, which the Los Angeles Times said was “an entity tied to philanthropist and gay rights activist Jon Stryker.”

Southern Company Services, described by the watchdog Sunlight Foundation as “a major lobbying powerhouse,” received stimulus money under the Obama administration’s Recovery Act –a $165 million Smart Grid Investment Grant to modernize electrical infrastructure.

Genentech is an active health care lobbyist in Washington and regularly seeks Food and Drug Administration approval of drugs (just last month the FDA okayed the use of Genentech’s Tamiflu influenza medication for the treatment of infants.)

United Therapeutics seeks FDA approval for an oral version of an injectable drug used to treat pulmonary arterial hypertension, a lung disorder. Sunlight’s Keenan Steiner reported, “The company faced a setback in October when the FDA did not approve the new drug. Its CEO vowed at the time to continue seeking approval ‘within the next four years.’”

The next four years? What a coincidence. All the more reason to seize every opportunity to glad hand at inaugural events where there might be a moment or two to slip in a good word as the price for your generosity. United Therapeutics covers its bases. Steiner continued: “The company does not have a political action committee but emerged as a surprising major donor to the Democratic National Convention in September, when it gave $600,000 to the effort, the fifth-biggest donor behind the likes of Bank of America and AT&T.”

But for all this, we only know the names of donors and nothing else — not their location or, most important, how much they’ve given (although Southern Company did tell the Sunlight Foundation that its donation was $100,000). In another departure from four years ago, the committee won’t reveal that information until reports are filed with the Federal Election Commission in late April.

This secrecy had led to speculation as to what the Presidential Inaugural Committee plans to do with any money left over after all the confetti is thrown and the last dance danced. The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call reports , “Theories range from the claim that Obama is getting a jump-start on funding his presidential library to conjecture that leftover campaign cash will prop up his grass-roots organizing operation, reportedly to be renamed Organizing for Action. Some say that it may even line the pockets of loyal campaign consultants.”

In a recent op-ed, Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, wrote of inaugural fundraising, “Obama’s policy in 2009 bested those of all recent occupants of the Oval Office and went way beyond the law’s requirements. It appeared he’d set a new precedent for higher standards in transparency. That makes the backsliding this year especially disheartening. In fact, by comparison, this year’s process feels like a snub.”

But those with money to buy nice things — or exclusive government access — won’t feel snubbed at the inauguration. Despite reports of corporate and other high rollers offended at alleged aloofness and a lack of perks from the White House during the first term, this time, they’ll be welcomed with open arms. The president said it himself — he likes a good party.

Exposed! How the Billionaires Class Is Destroying Democracy

Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, center, arrives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Dec. 4, 2012. (Photo: Stephen Crowley / The New York Times)Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, center, arrives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Dec. 4, 2012. (Photo: Stephen Crowley / The New York Times)Out of the guts of the internet, we find an endless stream of misattributed quotes and made-up stories that end up in chain emails that you eventually receive from your loopy uncle in Texas who's trying to justify right-wing economics or anti-Obama conspiracy theories.

It's just one of the headaches of the Internet Age.

But, there's one quote in particular that's always attributed to an obscure Scottish historian, Sir Alexander Frasier Tytler (as if that gave it great credibility), and it seemed to both make sense and prophecy the end of the American Republic.

Tytler was supposed to have said: "A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess of the public treasury. From that time on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the results that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship."

Tyltler goes on to talk about the process by which democracies fail as a result of this "voter selfishness."

The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been two hundred years," he was rumored to have said. "These nations have progressed through this sequence: from bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from great courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependence; from dependency back again to bondage."

Now, here's the reality: Tytler never said any of these words. They can all be tracked back to right-wing American businessmen in the early decades of the twentieth century. And why would right-wing businessmen say such things? Because, in actual point of fact, the thing that corrupts democracies is not "the voters" demanding "free stuff" (to paraphrase Romney), but, instead, its businessmen buying off politicians.

It's not the powerless who corrupt democracies, as that viral right-wing quote would suggest; it's the powerful who corrupt democracies. And money is the source of that power.

Yes, over the last hundred years, average American people have voted themselves benefits like Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid. But at the same time, they've also supported tax increases to pay for all of these things. Remember, the Social Security tax only applies to the first $113,000 of wages - earned income. People like Paris Hilton and Mitt Romney, when they get all their money from capital gains, dividends, and carried interest, don't pay a penny of Social Security taxes on their millions of income. And the average top CEO in America, with an income of $13.7 million a year, over a million a month, only pays Social Security taxes on his first few days of income every year - every other day is Social Security tax-free. Quite literally, as Leona Helmsley famously said, only the "little people" pay such taxes. The safety net program for working class people is exclusively paid for by working class people.

On the other hand, when the Billionaire Class extracts benefits from the government for themselves, the generally don't pay higher taxes. The billions in taxpayer subsidies for Big Oil, trillions in bailouts and bonuses for Wall Street banksters, and hundreds of billions for war profiteers are always accompanied by demands for more tax cuts at the top.

And, truth be told, billionaires aren't even receiving these benefits by voting for them. Instead, they always get them through the simple process of buying politicians. For example, Sheldon Adelson spent $150 million in the last election. That's more than any American spent in any election in American history. And he spent all that money to give himself the "benefits" of derailing an Obama Justice Department investigation into his casino in China and to get his taxes cut even further.

Billionaires also corrupt democracy to get their benefits through billionaire-funded think tanks, like the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council that writes legislation to benefit Corporate America, and then has Republicans state lawmakers introduce and pass laws in state after state, across the nation.

But despite this very clear reality of who is demanding largesse from our government, it's still working people and average voters who are targeted by right-wingers and their viral emails as the selfish "takers." That's the reason why the Business Roundtable is saying the best way to fix insurance programs like Social Security and Medicare is to raise the retirement age to 70 and voucherize Medicare.

Of course, the average CEO for an S&P 500 company doesn't need Social Security. But they know that by raising the retirement age, they're shielding themselves from any tax increases that may come with raising that payroll tax cap, so even billionaires pay into Social Security, which will quickly and easily make that insurance program solvent forever.

America's fiscal problems have nothing to do with voters. In fact, the Billionaire Class is trying to make it harder and harder for people to vote by pushing for voter suppression ID laws and restrictions on early voting.

America's fiscal problems are a direct result of the Billionaire Class working behind the scenes of our democracy and syphoning off massive amounts of wealth for themselves while paying lower taxes than they've paid in a half-century. As Senator Bernie Sanders points out, a quarter of all profitable corporations in America pay zero federal taxes. And Mitt Romney and Paris Hilton's income tax rates top out at 20 percent.

Tytler didn't really say those words that the Billionaire Class think-tanks and email shills attribute to him. But, had he said them, he probably would have something more along the lines of this: "A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the billionaires discover that they can steal for themselves largess of the public treasury through buying politicians. From that time on the billionaires will always buy candidates promising them the most benefits from the public treasury, with the results that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship."

If we are concerned about the future of our American democratic republic, the way to preserve it isn't to protect it from greedy Social Security recipients by pushing the retirement age back to 70. It's to get money out of government, thus neutering the political power of the Billionaire Class. And that means reversing two core doctrines that the US Supreme Court has created out of thin air (at the request of big business and billionaires): that corporations are people, and that money is speech.

The best way to do that is through a constitutional amendment that says corporations are not people, and money is property and not speech.

Go to MoveToAmend.org to join the fight for the survival of our democratic republic.

In Reversal, House GOP Agrees to Lift Debt Limit

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) walks to the House floor on the first day of the 113th Congress in Washington, Jan. 3, 2013. (Photo: Luke Sharrett / The New York Times)House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) walks to the House floor on the first day of the 113th Congress in Washington, Jan. 3, 2013. (Photo: Luke Sharrett / The New York Times)Washington - Backing down from their hard-line stance, House Republicans said Friday that they would agree to lift the federal government’s statutory borrowing limit for three months, with a requirement that both chambers of Congress pass a budget in that time to clear the way for negotiations on long-term deficit reduction.

The new proposal, which came out of closed-door party negotiations at a retreat in Williamsburg, Va., seemed to significantly reduce the threat of a default by the federal government in coming weeks. The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said he was encouraged by the offer; Senate Democrats, while bristling at the demand for a budget, were also reassured and viewed it as a de-escalation of the debt fight.

The change in tack represented a retreat for House Republicans, who were increasingly isolated in their refusal to lift the debt ceiling. Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio had previously said he would raise it only if it were paired with immediate spending cuts of equivalent value. The new strategy is designed to start a more orderly negotiation with President Obama and Senate Democrats on ways to shrink the trillion-dollar deficit.

To add muscle to their efforts to bring Senate Democrats to the table, House Republicans will include a provision in the debt ceiling legislation that says lawmakers will not be paid if they do not pass a budget blueprint, though questions have been raised whether that provision is constitutional.

That “no budget, no pay” provision offered Republicans a face-saving way out of a corner they had painted themselves into — and an effort to shift blame for any default onto the Senate if it balks. The House Republicans’ campaign arm quickly moved from taunting Democrats about raising the government’s borrowing limit to demanding that they sacrifice their paychecks if they fail to pass a budget.

“The Democratic-controlled Senate has failed to pass a budget for four years. That is a shameful run that needs to end, this year,” Mr. Boehner said in a statement from Williamsburg. “We are going to pursue strategies that will obligate the Senate to finally join the House in confronting the government’s spending problem.”

House Democrats met the deal with scorn, indicating they would inflict maximum political pain by making Republicans either break a campaign promise to carry it to passage or defy their leaders. But other Democrats were more sanguine. The president had said he would not sign a short-term debt ceiling increase, but a senior administration official said that as long as there were no surprises, the White House was likely to accept the House’s offer. Most important, the official said, Republicans had broken from the “Boehner rule” imposed in 2011: any debt ceiling increase was to include a dollar-for-dollar spending reduction.

The decision represents a victory — at least for now — for Mr. Obama, who has said for months that he will not negotiate budget cuts under the threat of a debt default. By punting that threat into the spring, budget negotiations instead will center on two earlier points of leverage: March 1, when $1 trillion in across-the-board military and domestic cuts are set to begin, and March 27, when a stopgap law financing the government will expire.

Reordering the sequences of those hurdles was central to the delicate Republican deliberations that resulted in the new plan. In the days leading to the Williamsburg retreat, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the House Budget Committee chairman and former vice-presidential nominee, had been meeting with the leader and three past chairmen of the conservative House Republican Study Committee to discuss a way through the debt ceiling morass.

Those conversations led into Thursday morning, when Mr. Boehner and Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the No. 2 House Republican, opened the retreat by going through the timeline for the coming budget fights, according to aides who were there.

They turned the floor over to Representative Dave Camp of Michigan, the House Ways and Means chairman, who delivered a blow-by-blow description of the economic disaster that could be wrought by a government default. Mr. Camp also talked through the notion held by some Republicans that the Treasury Department could manage a debt ceiling breach by channeling the daily in-flow of tax dollars to the most pressing needs, paying government creditors, sending out Social Security checks and financing the military. His message was that it would not work, the aides said.

Then Mr. Ryan stood to talk over the options he had developed with the House conservative leaders. They could do a longer-term debt ceiling extension with specific demands, like converting Medicare into a voucherlike program. Or they could lower expectations, reorder the budget hurdles with a three-month punt, and add the “no budget, no pay” provision.

Persuading Republicans who adamantly oppose raising the debt ceiling took some time, and the ensuing discussion stretched on and on, breaking at noon for lunch on Thursday, resuming at 2:30, until 4 p.m., then concluding Friday.

Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House majority whip, met with freshmen early Friday to make sure they were on board. Mr. Boehner and Mr. Cantor joined Mr. Ryan for one last meeting with conservative leaders — Representatives Steve Scalise of Louisiana, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Jeb Hensarling of Texas and Tom Price of Georgia — to make sure they were on board. Then the top four leaders sealed the agreement midmorning.

Mr. Obama will unveil his own 10-year budget plan in February, laying out his tax and spending plans for his second term. But Senate Democrats, for the past four years, have refused to move a budget blueprint to the Senate floor, in violation of the Budget Act of 1974, which laid out new rules for controlling deficits.

For the past two years, House Republicans have approved sweeping budget plans that would fundamentally remake Medicare and Medicaid, sharply reduce domestic spending, increase military spending and order a wholesale rewriting of the federal tax code. But without Senate negotiating partners, those plans, written by Mr. Ryan, have been more political statement than legislative program.

“This is the first step to get on the right track, reduce our deficit and get focused on creating better living conditions for our families and children,” Mr. Cantor said. “It’s time to come together and get to work.”

Ashley Parker contributed reporting from Williamsburg, Va.

‘Kindergarten terrorist’: 5-year-old girl suspended over bubble-gun ‘threat’

A 5-year-old girl was suspended from a Pennsylvania kindergarten after telling another girl that she was going to shoot her. The weapon she was going to use was a pink toy gun that blows soapy bubbles.

Mount Carmel Area School District officials questioned the student without her parents present, deemed the girl a “terrorist threat” and suspended her for 10 days, according to attorney Robin Ficker, who was hired by the family to fight the suspension.

The incident happened on January 10 as the preschoolers were waiting in line for a schoolbus, Ficker told news website PennLive.com.

The girl, who has not been identified, said something like “I’m going to shoot you and I will shoot myself,” referring to the toy. She did not have the bubble gun on her person at the time.

School officials learned of the conversation and questioned the girl for over 30 minutes the next day, Ficker said. After the talk, she was suspended for 10 days, branded a threat and required to be evaluated by a psychologist, he added.

"This little girl is the least terroristic person in Pennsylvania,” he said.

The punishment has since been reduced to two-day suspension, the attorney said. He also argued that the girl’s permanent record should be expunged, and that she should be offered an apology.

Ficker said he was hired because the girl’s mother read that he had handled a similar case in Maryland. In that case, he represented a 6-year-old boy who was suspended by an elementary school for pointing at another student with his fingers folded like a gun and saying “pow.”

School authorities called it a “serious incident,” and said the boy “threatened to shoot” the other student.

Gun-related violence at schools is a painful issue in the US after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The shooting claimed 26 lives, including 20 children, shocking the nation and triggering a heated debate over tighter gun control.

The Currency Wars: Now US Automakers Are Squealing

Wolf Richter   www.testosteronepit.com   www.amazon.com/author/wolfrichter

Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party went all out late last year to re-grab the power it had held for 50 years before getting booted out in 2009. Its platform: print and borrow with utter abandon to create asset bubbles and inflation, and to weaken the yen. It even threatened to wrest control over the printing press away from the Bank of Japan. That verbiage has been phenomenally successful: the stock market is surging, and the yen is crashing from historic—under normal circumstances, inexplicable—highs.

But now, US automakers are squealing. They want the government to fight back in the currency war. The American Automotive Policy Council (AAPC), a lobbying organization that represents only Ford, GM, and Chrysler, sent President Obama a letter, demanding retaliation against Japan’s NO EXIT strategy. Then it went public with it grievances.

“Here we go again,” said Matt Blunt, AAPC president and former Republican governor of Missouri. “Japan’s Liberal Democratic party is back in power and determined to repeat the ‘beggar thy neighbor’ policies that distort trade by cheapening the value of the yen to promote economic growth in Japan at the expense of its trading partners.”

He claimed that “these types of policies” had “inflicted tremendous harm” on manufacturing in the US. “We urge the Obama Administration to make it clear to Japan that such policies are unacceptable and will be met by reciprocal measures.”

The AAPC has been lambasting Japan, and rightfully so, for having “the most closed auto market in the developed world,” protected by “non-tariff barriers” that keep US automotive products out. But now it accused Japan of manipulating its currency “to boost its own exports at the expense of other nations, especially the United States.”

Alas, the biggest currency manipulator in the world is the Fed, not only with its verbiage but also with its endless and escalating waves of quantitative easing, to the point where it currently prints $85 billion a month to debase and demolish the dollar, or what is left of it, which isn’t much. It makes US wages more competitive with those in Mexico and China. It also makes imports more expensive for American consumers and exports cheaper for consumers elsewhere. Meanwhile, Japan’s infamous trade surplus has given way to a ballooning trade deficit (graph).

The automakers were whining to President Obama, ironically, as another announcement was made and received with hoopla: GM would invest $1.5 billion in plants in North America in 2013. While no further details emerged, hopes were swirling that this manna would rain down on Michigan.

Yet North America, in addition to Michigan, also includes among other places Canada and Mexico, and how much of this money will land in the US is uncertain. Embarrassingly, the $1.5 billion was just a fraction of GM’s planned investments of $8 billion for 2013, of which $6.5 billion will be sent to countries outside North America—not Europe where GM is bleeding to death, but Asia.

That has been the paradigm in manufacturing for decades. US corporations have invested prodigiously in China and other countries where labor is cheap and have thus contributed to their enormous economic growth, while only crumbs have fallen on US soil. In this manner, much of the US auto component industry has moved offshore.

Exhibit A: Delphi, formerly GM’s component division. GM spun it off in 1999. Two years later, Delphi axed 11,500 workers. In 2004, it got into hot water over its accounting practices. In 2005, it went bankrupt and closed 45 plants in the US, with much of the production moving to China. In 2009, it sold its chassis division to state-owned BeijingWest Industries, which now develops and manufactures brake and chassis components for US and European automakers.

Exhibit B: Visteon, formerly Ford’s component division. Always the laggard, Ford spun it off in 2000. In 2009, it went bankrupt, shuttered all but one of its 33 plants in the US, let go 25,000 workers, and shifted its center of gravity to Shanghai. It now has 171 plants and facilities in other countries. Its headquarters building in Van Buren Township, Michigan, was sold last year, though its headquarters is still officially located there.

Visteon is still “a US company at this point,” CEO Tim Leuliette said at the Automotive News World Congress on Wednesday. Yet globally, he added, only “about 4%, 5% of our employees are in the United States,” most of them supporting customers in North America. So, if the headquarters shifted to Asia, he said, it wouldn’t change much, jobs-wise.

Bitter irony: American automakers, after having sent their investments and manufacturing overseas, are using a Republican ex-governor to pressure the Obama administration to stop the Japanese from defending themselves in the currency war that the Fed has been waging relentlessly for years.

Meanwhile, Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher is waging his own war—against TBTF banks. “Repression” is what he calls “the injustice of being held hostage to large financial institutions,” whose investors, executives, counterparties, and customers “believe themselves to be exempt from the processes of bankruptcy and creative destruction.” These banks “capture the financial upside” of their bets but are bailed out when things go wrong, he says, “in violation of one of the basic tenets of market capitalism.” Read.... How Big Is ”BIG”?

And for an easy, fun guy read, if you like cars and the rambunctious process of selling them, check out TESTOSTERONE PIT, the novel.

Your rating: None

House Republicans Caving On Debt Ceiling?

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I'm still a little skeptical, but whether it's three months, or three years, a House Republican cave on the debt ceiling bodes well for our economy and dealings with Congress, wingnuts or no wingnuts.

According to The Hill, House Republicans are going to propose a three-month raise to the debt ceiling with some contingencies attached:

House Republican leaders on Friday announced a plan to condition a three-month increase in the debt limit on the Senate committing to pass a budget by the April 15 statutory deadline.

“Before there is any long-term debt limit increase, a budget should be passed that cuts spending,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told the Republican conference in remarks to close the party’s three-day retreat in Williamsburg. “The Democratic-controlled Senate has failed to pass a budget for four years. That is a shameful run that needs to end, this year.”

The House will also seek to prevent members of Congress from being paid if the two chambers do not pass a budget resolution.“We are going to pursue strategies that will obligate the Senate to finally join the House in confronting the government’s spending problem,” Boehner said. “The principle is simple: no budget, no pay.”

The "no budget, no pay" piece of their proposal appears to be unconstitutional, according to ThinkProgress, but that's a small thing compared to the fact that it looks as though they're prepared to release the hostage, and once they do that, there's no turning back.

Steve Benen points out that releasing the debt ceiling hostage simply exchanges one for another:

That said, it also appears the congressional GOP hopes to trade one hostage for another.

Even if Republicans now seem to realize they can't follow through on their debt-ceiling threats -- they really should have thought this through beforehand -- GOP policymakers still appear committed to aggressive confrontations on automatic sequestration cuts and funding levels for the government itself.

To be sure, these threats carry a punch. The sequester includes deep cuts that neither side wants and a fight over spending levels may very well lead to a government shutdown, but neither pose the catastrophic dangers associated with a genuine debt-ceiling crisis -- and even House Republicans seem aware of this, which is why they have no intention of shooting this hostage.

There's apparently growing GOP support for a clean, short-term extension of the debt ceiling -- which, as we discussed yesterday, doesn't seem to make any sense at all -- which would presumably set the stage for additional talks. This will play out soon enough, but at a certain level its impact is limited. Once everyone in Washington -- Democrats and Republicans, the White House and Congress -- realizes that GOP leaders aren't prepared to allow a default on our obligations, the game is effectively over.

Greg Sargent:

Here’s why this matters: This increases the debt ceiling to authorize borrowing to pay the country’s bills well into April. That punts the debt limit deadline until after the deadline for funding for the government to run out, which is on March 27th. In other words, Republicans will now use the threat of a government shutdown along with the coming expiration of the sequester to extract the spending cuts it wants. Presuming this all gets resolved by then, or soon after, it means the threat of default is no longer a factor. This will all but certainly get resolved in advance of this three month deadline, and a long term debt limit hike will get attached to that agreement.

It's that last bit that has me skeptical, though Krauthammer was pretty specific in his column about what the GOP will not get while this President is in office and while the Senate majority is a Democratic one. In that column, he's blunt:

The party establishment is coming around to the view that if you try to govern from one house — e.g., force spending cuts with cliffhanging brinkmanship — you lose. You not only don’t get the cuts. You get the blame for rattled markets and economic uncertainty. You get humiliated by having to cave in the end. And you get opinion polls ranking you below head lice and colonoscopies in popularity.

There is history here. The Gingrich Revolution ran aground when it tried to govern from Congress, losing badly to President Clinton over government shutdowns. Nor did the modern insurgents do any better in the 2011 debt-ceiling and 2012 fiscal-cliff showdowns with Obama.

Obama’s postelection arrogance and intransigence can put you in a fighting mood. I sympathize. But I’m tending toward the realist view: Don’t force the issue when you don’t have the power.

Releasing the hostage is good, but it isn't the end of the line by any means. It does, however, allow some breathing room to actually work through some kind of deal that ends the standoff over budget cuts and if Krauthammer's words carry any weight, it seems that he's signaling to Republicans that they take on more modest challenges and win smaller battles rather than trying to take on unwinnable large battles.

Jonathan Chait argues that a short-term debt ceiling increase seems somewhat pointless, and has similar concerns to mine:

Will it work? You have to ask yourself what the point is. If Republicans can’t threaten to shoot the hostage, what do they gain by holding new debt ceiling votes every few months? It’s either leverage or it isn’t. If it isn’t, then a new vote every few months won’t do anything for the GOP. Indeed, it will annoy Republicans, who will be forced to take more and more “he voted to increase the debt ceiling fourteen times!” votes.

Still. I don't trust Republicans enough to call this a win. At best, it's a stabilizing move, assuming it can pass the House without some Democrats tossing in their votes too. Or maybe they have come to the conclusion that holding the debt ceiling hostage is simply a losing strategy that would undo any hope of getting anything passed that is on their agenda, in which case they'd be better off doing one clean, long-term raise of the ceiling and moving on to the budget battles.

Stay tuned. They still have to vote on it.

Counterpoint: After writing this, I've seen more people weigh in. Nancy Pelosi will not accept a debt ceiling bill with contingencies, according to Greg Sargent. Jason Easley at PoliticusUSA weighs in with a warning that this is just an Eric Cantor bait and switch to force the Senate to pass the House budget without any changes.

Eric Cantor’s offer is totally bogus. Rep. Cantor was proposing that as long as the Senate will agree with the House on budget, the House will raise the debt ceiling for 90 days. Cantor expects the Senate to trade three months of debt ceiling for one year of spending cuts. Look carefully at what Cantor proposed. He didn’t propose that the Senate has to pass a budget. He said that the House and Senate both have to pass a budget. Rep. Cantor was referring to a budget that both the House and Senate agree to, not just a Senate budget.

It's unclear right now whether the actual bill would be a clean raise for three months, or one with contingencies attached. If the latter, then yes, it's simply a bait-and-switch.

Week in Review: Scramble for Africa

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Mali Conflict Could Refuel Algeria’s Civil WarAbayomi Azikiwe, January 18, 2013

Interview with Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of Pan-African News Wire

In regard to the situation in Algeria, there has been over the last two decades insurgencies led by Islamist forces there and it appeared as if these difficulties and conflicts had…

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2013 and the New Scramble for AfricaChris Marsden, January 17, 2013

France’s military aggression in Mali is only the latest expression of a renewed Scramble for Africa being undertaken by all of the continent’s former imperialist overlords. This involves not only those powers that directly ruled Africa from the late nineteenth…

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By Design: French Mali Invasion Spills into AlgeriaTony Cartalucci, January 17, 2013

Al Qaeda is both a casus belli and mercenary force, deployed by the West against targeted nations. French operations seek to trigger armed conflict in Algeria as well as a possible Western military intervention there as well, with the Mali conflict serving as a pretense.

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Congo’s M23 Conflict: Rebellion or Resource War?Nile Bowie, January 16, 2013

M23 rebels in DR Congo have threatened to march to the capital and depose the government. UN reports confirm that rebels receive support from key US allies in the region, and Washington’s role in the conflict has become difficult to…

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The Geopolitical Reordering of Africa: US Covert Support to Al Qaeda in Northern Mali, France “Comes to the Rescue”Tony Cartalucci, January 15, 2013

NATO is funding, arming, while simultaneously fighting Al Qaeda from Mali to Syria. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is allied to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) supported by France during NATO’s 2011 proxy-invasion of Libya

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The War on Mali. What you Should Know: An Eldorado of Uranium, Gold, Petroleum, Strategic Minerals …R. Teichman, January 15, 2013

Whatever is announced by France or the US, reported by the mainstream media, the goal of this new war is no other than stripping yet another country of its natural resources

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Obama in Africa: Somalia, Mali and the War Powers Resolution, Steve Breyman, January 15, 2013

Critics of President Obama’s 2011 aerial intervention in Libya may recall one of that conflict’s most striking features: the administration’s failure to invoke the 1973 War Powers Resolution(WPR). The War Powers Resolution is that tasteless congressional fruit of the late…

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Mali and the Scramble for Africa, Ben Schreiner, January 14, 2013

The French military intervention into Mali on Friday — France’s second in as many years into a former African colony — was reportedly “seconded” by the United States. This ought to come as no great surprise, given the Pentagon’s deepening…

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Military Intervention in Mali: Special Operation to Recolonize Africa, Alexander Mezyaev, January 14, 2013

The military operation in Mali launched on January 11 is another vivid example of special activities aimed at recolonization of the African continent. It’s an orderly and consistent capture of new African territories by Western powers. They have got hold…

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Mali's Tuareg-Uranium Conspiracy

Mali’s Tuareg-Uranium Conspiracy, Moeen Raoof, January 13, 2013

Global Research Editor’s Note In the light of recent events in Northern Mali, we bring the following April 2012 Global Research article to the attention of our readers.

The recent Coup in Mali by a Army Officer Captain while all…

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Jon Stewart Takes Wingnuts Apart for Cries of Tyranny Over Gun Control

Jon Stewart took the hypocrites over at Fox apart again for their cries of tyranny over President Obama's executive orders on gun violence in America -- which, as Stewart pointed out, somehow the likes of Sean Hannity or Dana Perino had absolutely n...

American CEOs want to raise retirement age to 70

Gary Loveman, CEO of Caesars Entertainment. (Reuters / Brian Snyder)

Gary Loveman, CEO of Caesars Entertainment. (Reuters / Brian Snyder)

A group of CEOs is attempting to push the official US retirement age to 70, thereby making fewer Americans eligible to receive benefits such as Social Security and Medicare.

The Business Roundtable (BRT), a group of influential CEOs, on Wednesday unveiled its plan to partially privatize the health insurance program for older Americans and gradually reduce the benefits they currently receive by cutting entitlements. The plan calls for smaller annual Social Security increases, as well as reduced benefits for wealthy retirees.

“America can preserve the health and retirement safety net and rein in long-term spending growth by modernizing Medicare and Social Security in a way that addresses America’s new fiscal and demographic realities,” Gary Loveman, chairman, president and chief executive of Caesars Entertainment, told CBS News. Loveman is head of the Business Roundtable, which came up with the plan. The millionaire businessman hopes to convince Congress to enact the new measures in an attempt to cut US spending.

The BRT believes the eligibility age for both Medicare and Social Security should increase to 70. Some legislators have already proposed raising it to 67, but congressional Democrats have fought hard to prevent such an increase. Retirees can currently get reduced Social Security benefits starting at age 62, full Social Security benefits at age 66, and Medicare at age 65.

While the proposed changes would impact the younger generations, anyone who is currently over 55 would not be affected by those measures and could continue to receive their government benefits, regardless of the outcome of the decision.

The BRT believes that raising the age would help reduce the deficit. Its members also believe that the changes would cause traditional Medicare programs to compete with private insurance plans – something that Rep. Paul Ryan, chair of the House Budget Committee, has long advocated for.

But while raising the eligibility age would save the federal government money, it would also cause Americans’ expenses to increase dramatically, which would particularly devastate low-income individuals dependent on government assistance. CNNMoney reports that medical expenses would increase by $11.4 billion, even though federal spending would only drop by $5.7 billion.

“Raising the age doesn’t address the larger concern of reducing health care spending overall,” said Juliette Cubanski, associate director of Kaiser’s Program on Medicare Policy. “It just shifts costs from the federal government to other payers in the system.

As Democrats and Republicans attempt to come up with a budget plan to avoid causing the country to fall into default, Medicare reform continues to be heavily debated. Although President Obama said he would support minor changes to Medicare, he would not support a plan as radical as that proposed by the BRT.

Increasing the eligibility age to 68 would put 435,000 seniors at risk of being uninsured – a number that would be higher if the eligibility age was set at 70.

“These ideas were soundly rejected in the last election only a few months ago,” said Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

But the US could soon be struggling to pay its bills, and the CEOS of the BRT believe their proposal could gain congressional support among those most adamant about cutting spending.

Guest Post: Fiscal Farce, Failure, Fantasy, & Fornication

Submitted by Jim Quinn of The Burning Platform blog,

I’ve put off writing an article about what is likely to happen in 2013 so I could peruse the thousands of other articles by reputable bloggers, paid pundits, Wall Street shills and captured charlatans to gather their wisdom. It’s essential that I make predictions for 2013 so I can write another article in December rationalizing why 90% of my predictions failed to materialize. Reading all of these 2013 prediction articles made things much clearer for me. I now know for sure:

  • The stock market will reach an all-time high.
  • The stock market will fall 42%.
  • The economy will strengthen as the year progresses.
  • The economy will descend into a depression.
  • The USD will strengthen.
  • The USD will collapse.
  • Gas prices will set new highs.
  • Gas prices will fall below 2012 levels.
  • Gold will rise to $10,000 per ounce.
  • Gold will drop below $1,000 per ounce.
  • We will experience hyperinflation.
  • We will experience horrific deflation.
  • Obama will compromise with the Republicans and put the country on a path to prosperity.
  • Obama will create a debt ceiling crisis and assume dictatorial powers as a result.
  • Snooki will be a better mother than Kim Kardashian.
  • Honey Boo Boo will beat I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant in the Neilson ratings.

The majority of 2013 prediction articles are written to support the agenda of the writer. Many are trying to sell newsletter subscriptions or investment services. Their predictions will match the theme of their newsletter. Others are Wall Street paid shills who will predict what they are paid to predict by their owners. Then there are the political hacks who tow the party line with their predictions. But no one can top the predictive powers of the CBO. They just put out their ten year updated forecast reflecting the fabulous fiscal cliff deal that saved the country. According to the CBO, the “compromise” to reduce our deficits will add a mere $4 trillion to the national debt over the next ten years. I’m sure this will prove to be accurate. Just take a look at their 2002 projection, after passage of the Bush tax cuts:

The CBO predicted the FY2012 surplus would be $641 billion, the national debt would total $3.5 trillion, the debt held by the public would total $1.273 trillion, and GDP would total $17.2 trillion. They missed by that much.

 

The actual FY12 results were:

  • The true deficit was $1.37 trillion (amount national debt increased – not the phony deficit number reported by the mainstream media).
  • The national debt was $16.1 trillion.
  • The debt held by the public was $11.3 trillion.
  • GDP was $15.8 trillion.

Based on these results, I won’t be asking the CBO for help with my Super Bowl bet. Making ten year predictions is beyond worthless, but public policy in Washington DC is based on these useless CBO projections. The entire fiscal cliff kabuki theater fictitious crisis reveals the politicians and mainstream media pundits to be liars, fools and frauds. The tax the rich to cut the deficit storyline was sold to the public and won the day. Of course, the highly accurate CBO immediately revealed that the Orwellian named American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 adds $4 trillion to the national debt over the next ten years. Based on the accuracy of their previous predictions, it’s a guarantee the national debt goes up by $8 trillion, as the rich take advantage of the thousands of loopholes in the IRS code they paid for to avoid paying the taxes expected by the CBO.

Hypocrisy abounds on both sides of the aisle in Washington DC and on the media company propaganda channels. As the national debt soared from $10.6 trillion on the day Obama took office to $16.4 trillion today, I heard shrieking liberal talking heads on MSNBC, CNN, and the rest of the liberal media blame the debt on the Bush tax cuts and the Bush wars. If the Bush tax cuts were so horrific, why did Obama and his minions just make 98% of these tax cuts permanent? Liberals held protest marches across the country against Bush’s wars and burned him in effigy. Obama’s defense budgets have been larger than Bush’s and he doubled down on our miserable failure in Afghanistan. You don’t hear a peep from the liberals about the warmongering Barack Obama who has kill lists and unleashes predator drones, killing women and children across the globe. Liberals pretend to be concerned about the welfare of the citizens, but continue to support a President that uses executive orders to imprison citizens indefinitely without charges, has expanded surveillance on citizens, has kept Guantanamo open, signs the continuation of the Patriot Act, and proposes overturning the Second Amendment by executive order. Liberals shriek about the evils of an unregulated Wall Street, while remaining silent as Obama hasn’t prosecuted a single banker for the greatest financial fraud in world history. You don’t hear a peep about Jon Corzine, who stole $1.2 billion from the accounts of farmers and ranchers. Liberals talk about regulation and then stand idly by while Wall Street lobbyists wrote the Dodd Frank law and insurance and drug company lobbyists wrote the Obamacare law. Liberal hypocrisy knows no bounds and is only matched by Neo-Con hypocrisy.

The Neo-Con controlled Republican Party is a pathetic joke. They have the guts to declare themselves the party of fiscal responsibility, after Bush’s eight year reign of error. He and his fiscally responsible party were handed a budget in surplus and managed to add $4.9 trillion to the national debt by waging undeclared wars, encouraging Wall Street to create the biggest fraudulent financial bubble in history, creating a new $16 trillion unfunded entitlement (Medicare Part D), cutting taxes without paying for them, and creating a massive new government agency (DHS) to take away our liberties and freedom. Federal government spending grew from $1.9 trillion to $3.0 trillion under Bush and the Republicans. Does that sound fiscally responsible?

Does anyone believe the Republican Party is serious about cutting anything? Tough guy Republicans like Big Chris Christie preach fiscal responsibility when going to war with teachers’ unions, but he squeals  like a stuck pig when a $60 billion pork filled, unpaid for, Sandy Relief bill is held up in Congress. The courageous fiscally responsible Congress critters passed the entire pork filled, unfunded, bloated, vote buying joke. It included $28 billion to mitigate future disasters, $3 billion to repair or replace Federal assets, and $6 billion for transportation projects completely unrelated to Sandy damage.   The hypocrisy of politicians who proclaim the $50 billion of 2013 fiscal cliff tax revenue as deficit cutting, and then immediately piss it away by paying people to rebuild their houses yards from the Atlantic Ocean while funding billions of non-disaster related projects is disgusting to behold. There is nothing like compromise to add another $60 billion to the national debt.

Our entire economic and political system is a farce. The American people are being played by the powerful interests that provide them with an illusion of choice. Both parties serve the interests of their masters and the fiscal cliff show and debt ceiling show are a form of reality TV to keep the masses alarmed, fearful, and believing there is actually a difference between the policies of the ruling class. The charade has played out in its full glory in the last few weeks with Obama convincing the masses he had stuck it to the rich, while in reality the working middle class got it good and hard when they got their January paychecks. This chart details the tax changes that went into effect on January 1.          

 taxbill

The funniest part this fiscal fiasco farce is watching the reaction of the sheep who believed Obama and the mainstream media storyline. Obama was able to raise the published top rate on people making over $400,000. The newly defined “rich” laughed heartily as they know only fools pay anywhere near the top rate. The rich just call their tax advisor and instruct them to use one of the thousands of tax loopholes in the 75,000 page IRS tax code to “legally” avoid the new Obama rates. Meanwhile, both parties and their mainstream media mouthpieces downplayed the 2% payroll tax increase on every working American. This tax increase has been a complete surprise to the reality TV zombies and Facebook aficionados. Even college educated professionals in my office had no idea their next monthly paycheck was going to be $150 to $200 lighter. This will wipe out most, or all, of the annual raise they received. The tax will fall heavily on the 75% of households that make less than the $113,700 Social Security cutoff. For a struggling family of four earning the median income of $50,000, the $1,000 less in their paychecks will mean less food, putting off trips to the doctor, driving on bald tires, or not taking the family on a vacation to the Jersey shore. The $2,274 increase in taxes (.57%) for the Wall Street banker making $400,000 probably won’t put too much of a crimp in his Hamptons lifestyle.

The joke is on the American people as the rich will ante up maybe $50 billion of taxes in 2013, while the working middle class will be skewered for $125 billion. How’s that “Tax the Rich” slogan working out for you?     

 

Only in the Orwellian capital of Washington DC would a bill that was supposed to provide tax relief to the middle class and spending cuts to reduce the deficit, actually increase the tax burden of a median household by $1,000 and perpetuate the pork spending payoffs to campaign contributors and friends of the slimy politicians that slither through the halls of Congress. The list of pork and bribes should be nauseating to hard working Americans across the country:

$30 billion extension of the 99 weeks of unemployment benefits, even though we are supposedly in the 3rd year of economic recovery. Continuing to pay people to not work for two years will surely boost employment.

$14.3 billion for a two-year extension of the corporate research credit benefiting large technology companies like IBM and Hewlett Packard.

$12.2 billion one-year extension of the production tax credit for wind power.

$11.2 billion two- year extension of the active financing exception, which lets GE, Caterpillar Inc. (CAT) and Citigroup Inc. (C), among others, defer taxes on financing income they earn outside the U.S.

$1.9 billion extension of the Work Opportunity Tax Credit for hiring workers from disadvantaged groups, benefitting mega-restaurant chains like McDonalds.

$1.8 billion extension of the New Markets Tax Credit for investments in low- income areas, benefitting JP Morgan and other Wall Street shyster banks.

$650 million tax credit for manufacturing energy-efficient appliances, benefitting mega-corps like Whirlpool.

$430 million for Hollywood through “special expensing rules” to encourage TV and film production in the United States. Producers can expense up to $15 million of costs for their projects. NBC thanks you.

$331 million for railroads by allowing short-line and regional operators to claim a tax credit up to 50% of the cost to maintain tracks that they own or lease.

$248 million in special expensing rules for films and television programs.

$222 million for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands through returned excise taxes collected by the federal government on rum produced in the islands and imported to the mainland.

$78 million for NASCAR by extending a “7-year cost recovery period for certain motorsports racing track facilities.”

$59 million for algae growers through tax credits to encourage production of “cellulosic biofuel” at up to $1.01 per gallon.

$4 million for electric motorcycle makers by expanding an existing green-energy tax credit for buyers of plug-in vehicles to include electric motorbikes.

So when you see the cut in your take home pay, just comfort yourself knowing that JP Morgan, Citigroup, GE and hundreds of mega-corporations were able to retain their tax breaks. As they have done for decades, Congress and the President agreed to address spending cuts at a future date. Of course, a government spending cut isn’t actually a cut. It’s a lower increase than their previous projection. Nothing is ever cut in Washington DC. The austerity storyline is a lie. Not a dime has been cut from the Federal budget. Intellectually dishonest ideologues try to peddle the wind down of the Obama $800 billion porkulus program as a cut in Federal spending. They sold this Keynesian “shovel ready” crap to a gullible public as stimulus to jumpstart the economy. Federal spending was $3.0 trillion before the Obama stimulus. After the two year stimulus was pissed away without helping the economy one iota, the baseline should have been back in the $3.2 trillion range. Instead, FY13 Federal spending will be $3.8 trillion. This hasn’t kept liberal ideologues like Krugman and his minions in the mainstream media from blaming crazy Tea Party Republicans for inflicting horrendous austerity measures on the poor and disadvantaged.

 

The chart above reveals a few truths:

  • The country has been blessed with two of the worst presidents in U.S. history over the last twelve years.
  • When Federal spending as a percentage of GDP is beyond two standard deviations over the normal range during the last sixty years, your problem is not lack of tax revenue.
  • Obama and the current Congress are spending at a level of 24% of GDP versus the 18% of GDP when Clinton left office. This amounts to a nose bleed altitude $950 billion higher than the level Clinton was spending in his final year in office.

The Op-eds in liberal rags across the land decry the lack of civility in Washington DC and plead for politicians on both sides of the aisle to come together and compromise for the good of the country. This line of bullshit would be laughable if it wasn’t so wretched in its falsity. Compromise is what has left this country with a $16.4 trillion national debt, $200 trillion of unfunded liabilities, and $1 trillion deficits as far as the eye can see. Democrats have compromised and let the Republicans create a warfare state. Republicans have compromised and let Democrats create a welfare state. The two headed monster living in the swamps of Washington DC just voted to increase taxes on all Americans. They voted to hand criminal Wall Street banks $700 billion. They voted to pass the Patriot Act. They voted to pass the NDAA. They’ve allowed the President to wage undeclared wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and now Iran. They voted for a $663 billion Defense bill that includes tens of billions the Secretary of Defense doesn’t even want. They will vote to raise the debt ceiling in the next two months. The last thing this country needs is more compromise. We can’t afford any more compromise. The chart above proves what can happen when gridlock ensues, spending restrictions are enforced, and confrontation displaces compromise. After the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress, gridlock ensued for the next six years. PAYGO restrictions in the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990 didn’t allow unfettered spending increases. The result was Federal spending falling from 22% of GDP to 18% of GDP and a budget surplus. The Pay-Go restrictions expired in 2002 and Democrats and Republicans have compromised to the tune of a $10.2 trillion increase in the national debt in ten years. The hypocrisy of pandering deceitful politicians is boundless and shows utter contempt for the intelligence of the American populace.  

“Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize more spending. It simply allows the country to pay for spending that Congress has already committed to. If congressional Republicans refuse to pay America’s bills on time, Social Security checks, and veterans benefits will be delayed. We might not be able to pay our troops, or honor our contracts with small business owners. Food inspectors, air traffic controllers, specialist who track down loose nuclear materials wouldn’t get their paychecks. Investors around the world will ask if the United States of America is in fact a safe bet. Markets could go haywire, interest rates would spike for anybody who borrows money – Every homeowner with a mortgage, every student with a college loan, every small business owner who wants to grow and hire. We are not a deadbeat nation.

It would be a self-inflicted wound on the economy. It would slow down our growth, might tip us into recession. And ironically it would probably increase our deficit. So to even entertain the idea of this happening, of the United States of America not paying its bills, is irresponsible. It’s absurd. Republicans in Congress have two choices here. They can act responsibly, and pay America’s bills, or they can act irresponsibly and put America through another economic crisis. But they will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy.” – President Barack Obama – January 14, 2013

“The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies. The Senate continues to reject a return to the common sense Pay-go rules that used to apply. Previously, Pay-go rules applied both to increases in mandatory spending and to tax cuts.

The Senate had to abide by the common sense budgeting principle of balancing expenses and revenues. But we must remember that the more we depend on foreign nations to lend us money, the more our economic security is tied to the whims of foreign leaders whose interests might not be aligned with ours. Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘‘the buck stops here.’’ Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better. I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America’s debt limit.” – Senator Barack Obama – March 16, 2006

I could have shown quotes from George W. Bush during the 2000 Presidential campaign talking about a non-interventionist foreign policy and no need for the U.S. to get involved in nation building and then proceeding to pre-emptively attack sovereign countries while wasting trillions and impoverishing unborn generations trying to create “democracy” in the Middle East at the point of a gun as a cover to protect “our” oil. The point is that we are being given the illusion of choice. Everyone knows the debt ceiling will be raised after another episode of Washington DC Kabuki Theater, presented by the corporate mainstream media in breathtaking detail, because the politicians are beholden to their owners and those owners want more of our money. That is why spending will never be willingly cut by the spineless puppet congressmen, as their strings are pulled by the corporate puppet masters and they dance to the tune of the banking oligarchs that own this country.

After witnessing the fighting of undeclared never ending wars, passage of freedom destroying legislation like the Patriot Act & NDAA, approval of pork barrel spending to the tune of hundreds of billions, rule by Executive Order, using ZIRP to extract hundreds of billions from senior citizen savers and give it to criminal Wall Street banks, forcing the American people at gunpoint to replenish the Wall Street banks with $700 billion after they had committed the greatest financial fraud in history, and a continuing trampling of the U.S. Constitution, the American people continue to remain willfully ignorant of the truth. The American Dream is dead. We’ve allowed a rich, privileged, elite few to achieve hegemony over our economic and political system with their control of the media and manipulation of our financial markets. They will collapse the country because they will never be satisfied with the amount of wealth and power they’ve accumulated. Their voracious greed will be their downfall. The sooner we can channel the anger of George Carlin, the sooner we can put an end to this corporate fascist reign of terror.         

“Politicians are put there to give you that idea that you have freedom of choice. You don’t. You have no choice. You have owners. They own you. They own everything. They own all the important land, they own and control the corporations, and they’ve long since bought and paid for the Senate, the Congress, the State Houses, and the City Halls. They’ve got the judges in their back pockets. And they own all the big media companies so they control just about all the news and information you get to hear. They’ve got you by the balls.

They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying to get what they want. Well, we know what they want; they want more for themselves and less for everybody else. But I’ll tell you what they don’t want—they don’t want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don’t want well informed, well educated people capable of critical thinking. They’re not interested in that. That doesn’t help them. That’s against their interest. You know something, they don’t want people that are smart enough to sit around their kitchen table and figure out how badly they’re getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard 30 fucking years ago.

It’s a big club and you ain’t in it! You and I are not in the Big Club. By the way, it’s the same big club they use to beat you in the head with all day long when they tell you what to believe. All day long beating you over the head with their media telling you what to believe, what to think and what to buy. The table is tilted folks, the game is rigged. And nobody seems to notice, nobody seems to care. That’s what the owners count on, the fact that Americans are and will probably remain willfully ignorant of the big red, white, and blue dick that’s being jammed up their assholes every day. Because the owners of this country know the truth, it’s called the American Dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it.” George Carlin

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New Proposal Will Force Gun Owners to Store Assault Weapons At Government Authorized Storage...

Mac Slavo
January 18th, 2013
SHTFplan.com

Read by 19,913 people

Because you can never have too many laws, regulations and mandates, Massachusetts State Representative David Linsky has filed a new bill that would, among other things, force gun owners to undergo mental health background checks, acquire liability insurance, pay an additional 25% tax on all forms of ammunition, and require firearms categorized as “assault weapons” to be stored outside of their homes and only at government approved storage depots.

“This bill is a comprehensive effort to reduce all types of gun violence – murders, intentional shootings, accidental shootings and suicides.  There is not one solution to reducing gun violence – we can’t eliminate it – but there are a lot of common-sense steps that we can take to significantly reduce the everyday tragedy of gun violence and deaths,” said Linsky.

“I have spoken with hundreds of people over the past few weeks in developing this legislation – victims, police officers, criminologists, physicians, and yes – gun owners and sportsmen,” stated Linsky. “There are a lot of good ideas out there. We should all have one goal – reducing gun violence and trying to keep more tragedies from happening.”

Provisions in the bill include:

  • Having one standard of the issuance of all gun licenses, giving local police chiefs the ability to evaluate all aspects of an application for a gun license.
  • Requires proof of liability insurance for possession of a firearm, rifle or shotgun.
  • Requires that all large capacity weapons and grandfathered assault weapons must be stored at gun clubs or target ranges.
  • Requires live shooting as part of the curriculum for a basic firearms safety course; this is not a current requirement.
  • Requires all applicants for gun licenses and FID cards to sign a waiver of mental health records for review to be destroyed after decision.
  • Imposes 25% sales tax on ammunition, firearms, shotguns, and rifles; dedicates funds towards firearms licensing, police training, mental health services, and victim’s services.
  •  Brings Massachusetts into compliance with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
  • Limits gun buyers to one firearm purchase per month.

Source: Natick Patch

Bills such as this one are being filed by irrationally driven anti-gunners all over the country.

They are targeting every aspect of firearms in an effort to first reduce ownership, and then to ultimately ban it altogether.

They’ll expand the definitions for mental health to include basic forms of stress and normal human mood fluctuations and designate these as mental health conditions that would disqualify you from owning a gun.

They’ll tax gun purchases and ammunition like they’ve done with cigarettes (tripling the cost over a decade) and require huge insurance premiums, making ownership unaffordable for most Americans.

They’ll track the sale and transfer of all firearms through registration, with unjust punishments for anyone engaging in black-market trading.

And, eventually, another crisis – likely one that purports to threaten the very security and stability of the government of the United States – will be used in an attempt institute a complete roundup of the majority of modern firearms.

A full out assault on the Second Amendment is underway.

Author: Mac Slavo
Views: Read by 19,913 people
Date: January 18th, 2013
Website: www.SHTFplan.com

Copyright Information: Copyright SHTFplan and Mac Slavo. This content may be freely reproduced in full or in part in digital form with full attribution to the author and a link to www.shtfplan.com. Please contact us for permission to reproduce this content in other media formats.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

New Proposal Will Force Gun Owners to Store Assault Weapons At Government Authorized Storage...

Mac Slavo
January 18th, 2013
SHTFplan.com

Read by 12,941 people

Because you can never have too many laws, regulations and mandates, Massachusetts State Representative David Linsky has filed a new bill that would, among other things, force gun owners to undergo mental health background checks, acquire liability insurance, pay an additional 25% tax on all forms of ammunition, and require firearms categorized as “assault weapons” to be stored outside of their homes and only at government approved storage depots.

“This bill is a comprehensive effort to reduce all types of gun violence – murders, intentional shootings, accidental shootings and suicides.  There is not one solution to reducing gun violence – we can’t eliminate it – but there are a lot of common-sense steps that we can take to significantly reduce the everyday tragedy of gun violence and deaths,” said Linsky.

“I have spoken with hundreds of people over the past few weeks in developing this legislation – victims, police officers, criminologists, physicians, and yes – gun owners and sportsmen,” stated Linsky. “There are a lot of good ideas out there. We should all have one goal – reducing gun violence and trying to keep more tragedies from happening.”

Provisions in the bill include:

  • Having one standard of the issuance of all gun licenses, giving local police chiefs the ability to evaluate all aspects of an application for a gun license.
  • Requires proof of liability insurance for possession of a firearm, rifle or shotgun.
  • Requires that all large capacity weapons and grandfathered assault weapons must be stored at gun clubs or target ranges.
  • Requires live shooting as part of the curriculum for a basic firearms safety course; this is not a current requirement.
  • Requires all applicants for gun licenses and FID cards to sign a waiver of mental health records for review to be destroyed after decision.
  • Imposes 25% sales tax on ammunition, firearms, shotguns, and rifles; dedicates funds towards firearms licensing, police training, mental health services, and victim’s services.
  •  Brings Massachusetts into compliance with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
  • Limits gun buyers to one firearm purchase per month.

Source: Natick Patch

Bills such as this one are being filed by irrationally driven anti-gunners all over the country.

They are targeting every aspect of firearms in an effort to first reduce ownership, and then to ultimately ban it altogether.

They’ll expand the definitions for mental health to include basic forms of stress and normal human mood fluctuations and designate these as mental health conditions that would disqualify you from owning a gun.

They’ll tax gun purchases and ammunition like they’ve done with cigarettes (tripling the cost over a decade) and require huge insurance premiums, making ownership unaffordable for most Americans.

They’ll track the sale and transfer of all firearms through registration, with unjust punishments for anyone engaging in black-market trading.

And, eventually, another crisis – likely one that purports to threaten the very security and stability of the government of the United States – will be used in an attempt institute a complete roundup of the majority of modern firearms.

A full out assault on the Second Amendment is underway.

Author: Mac Slavo
Views: Read by 12,941 people
Date: January 18th, 2013
Website: www.SHTFplan.com

Copyright Information: Copyright SHTFplan and Mac Slavo. This content may be freely reproduced in full or in part in digital form with full attribution to the author and a link to www.shtfplan.com. Please contact us for permission to reproduce this content in other media formats.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Malkin: ACA Has Deputized Gun-Grabbing Doctors to Pursue ‘Nanny State’ Agenda

As expected, as soon as the Obama administration released their list of executive orders to help curb gun violence, the right wing went into full blown hissy fit mode. It seems Michelle Malkin took a page straight out of Limbaugh and Drudge's book on Fox this Thursday afternoon during this interview with Megyn Kelly.

Drudge And Limbaugh Misrepresent What Obama And The Affordable Care Act Say About Doctors And Guns:

As soon as President Obama's new recommendations for gun violence prevention became public, right-wing media immediately claimed the president was issuing an executive action requiring doctors to ask patients about their guns. This is false. The president's released proposals only clarify that nothing in the Affordable Care Act changes longstanding law: doctors are still free (but not required) to discuss with their patients any health hazards, including a lack of gun safety at home or elsewhere.

Among the White House proposals for gun violence reduction, the president announced that the administration will "[c]larify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes." Nowhere in his proposal did he instead require doctors to ask about guns. The Drudge Report, however, immediately splashed across its website this graphic:

drudge ACA gun.jpg

Rush Limbaugh picked up on this flatly inaccurate claim that the president required doctors to ask their patients about "gun ownership." Rather than explain the president's executive action only indicated future orders, regulations, or guidance will clarify that no law - including the ACA - prohibits them from discussing gun safety with their patients, Limbaugh reported it as a new directive that "deputizes gun-snitch doctors": [...]

Limbaugh concedes that the executive action doesn't literally say that doctors are required to ask about gun safety, but rather, in his interpretation, "the executive action today is almost essentially requiring it." The president's proposal was likely a direct response to these types of wildly erroneous interpretations of the health care reform law and executive orders that were already floating around the right-wing blogosphere, before Limbaugh added his analysis.

Go read the rest for more on how the right is lying about the language in the law. Malkin did the exact same thing during the interview above with Megyn Kelly and in a post at her blog the previous day. (Warning, link goes to Malkin's site.)

The anti-gun doctors’ lobby has a friend in Obama:

Anyone with kids knows that the invasive, anti-gun doctors’ lobby has been around a long time.

Flashback October 2007: Is your pediatrician using your kid to spy on you?

Flashback July 2008: More nosy doctors who don’t like guns

The liberal leadership of the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have long been filled with notorious gun-grabbers — and they’ve promoted years of junk science to pursue their Nanny State agenda.

Now comes President Obama, who has deputized doctors to “help” snoop on law-abiding, gun-owning patients even further. Moreover, the White House has now lent federal support to doctors’ groups trying to fight state efforts to protect gun owners’ privacy: [...]

Political malpractice plus medical malpractice in the name of saving the children is a recipe for authoritarianism. The Hippocratic Oath has been turned on its head.

Malkin seems to have a little trouble understanding the difference between "does not prohibit" and mandates. Who knew we had all of those evil liberal doctors out there who are more worried about taking away everyone's guns than doing their job and providing health care to their patients. Be afraid... be very afraid!

Mali: Fragile Democracy and Clumsy US Policy

The Algeria hostage siege debacle, coming hard on the heels of France's intervention in neighbouring Mali, has heightened fears that a "third generation" of al-Qaida-affiliated jihadis is creating a new front in the war against US and western interests in the vast, ungoverned spaces of the Sahel and Saharan regions of north and west Africa.'Captain Amadou Sanogo used the skills he was taught by the US to wreck years of careful American and European nurturing of Mali’s fragile democracy.' (Photograph: Reuters)

But the crisis has also focused attention on unsuccessful and at times shambolic American efforts to counter the growing Islamist challenge there, and on the danger that military intervention will only make matters worse. Fearful of more Algeria-style attacks, US and European officials hold differing views about what to do next, ranging from direct engagement via special forces and drone strikes to enhanced regional diplomacy and alliance building.

Recent experience is chastening. US attempts to build up Mali's military as a bulwark against the extremists, by training army officers and providing equipment including brand-new Land Cruisers and expensive communications equipment, backfired spectacularly last year after a rebellion in the north provoked a coup that unseated the elected government in Bamako.

When push came to shove, a senior officer said the Tuareg commanders of three of the four Malian units fighting in the north defected to the insurrection "at the crucial moment", taking fighters, weapons and equipment with them. They were joined by about 1,600 other defectors from the Malian army, shattering the government's hope of crushing the uprising.

"The aid of the Americans turned out not to be useful," another officer said. "They made the wrong choice," by relying on commanders from a group that had been conducting a 50-year rebellion against the Malian state.

The coup was a particular embarrassment to Washington as it was led by an army officer, Captain Amadou Sanogo, on whom it had lavished special favour. "Sanogo represents something of a US failure," said veteran commentator Walter Pincus.

"He [Sanogo] had participated in the Pentagon's international military education and training programmes, with basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia; English-language training at Lackland air force base, Texas; an intelligence course at Fort Huachuca, Arizona; and study at Quantico, Virginia, with the Marine Corps," Pincus reported. The ungrateful Sanogo used his new skills to wreck years of careful American and European nurturing of Mali's fragile democracy.

The multimillion dollar pre-coup assistance to Mali was part of an ambitious but flawed US regional policy embracing Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and several west African states, intended to strengthen defences against al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and like-minded groups. In 2002, the state department unveiled the so-called Pan-Sahel Initiative "to protect borders ... combat terrorism, and enhance regional cooperation and stability". This was replaced in 2005 by the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership, overseen by the grandly named but ineffectual US Africa Command.

In recent years the Pentagon and other US agencies have run annual joint military exercises called Operation Flintlock involving Mali, Algeria, Chad, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Tunisia, Burkina Faso, Morocco and Nigeria. Imaginary war scenarios involved a terrorist group being chased across national borders from Mauritania all the way east to Chad. The war games proved to be prescient, except now it is the terrorists who are doing the chasing, and in the other direction.

If Americans are confirmed among the Algeria casualties, pressure will grow on the Obama administration to get more directly involved. The Joint Special Operations Command is already operating covert, region-wide surveillance flights under a classified programme know as Creek Sand. Analysts say the next step may be to use existing bases in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and elsewhere to launch drone strikes and targeted assassinations, as in Somalia and Yemen. Since the Mali coup, the US has also upped military assistance to Niger and Mauritania.

Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt reported for the New York Times: "Some Pentagon officials have long taken a more hawkish stance, and they cite intelligence reports that fighters with ties to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb ... played a role in the deadly attack in September on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. They have pushed for targeted strikes against Islamist leaders in northern Mali, arguing that killing the leadership could permanently cripple the strength of the militants."

At the same time there is a clear danger that an expanding war in Mali could start a wave of new attacks on "soft" western targets similar to that in southern Algeria, and that increased western intervention in the region will transform extremist groups that had only local importance into potent trans-national threats.

"While Pentagon lawyers claim al-Qaida is tipping into defeat, in fact we are seeing the emergence of the third generation of the terrorist movement," said analyst Bruce Riedel. "Under siege by drones in Pakistan and Yemen, al-Qaida 3.0 has exploited the 'Arab Awakening' to create its largest safe havens and operational bases in more than a decade across the Arab world. This may prove to be the most deadly al-Qaida yet."

Mali: Fragile Democracy and Clumsy US Policy

The Algeria hostage siege debacle, coming hard on the heels of France's intervention in neighbouring Mali, has heightened fears that a "third generation" of al-Qaida-affiliated jihadis is creating a new front in the war against US and western interests in the vast, ungoverned spaces of the Sahel and Saharan regions of north and west Africa.'Captain Amadou Sanogo used the skills he was taught by the US to wreck years of careful American and European nurturing of Mali’s fragile democracy.' (Photograph: Reuters)

But the crisis has also focused attention on unsuccessful and at times shambolic American efforts to counter the growing Islamist challenge there, and on the danger that military intervention will only make matters worse. Fearful of more Algeria-style attacks, US and European officials hold differing views about what to do next, ranging from direct engagement via special forces and drone strikes to enhanced regional diplomacy and alliance building.

Recent experience is chastening. US attempts to build up Mali's military as a bulwark against the extremists, by training army officers and providing equipment including brand-new Land Cruisers and expensive communications equipment, backfired spectacularly last year after a rebellion in the north provoked a coup that unseated the elected government in Bamako.

When push came to shove, a senior officer said the Tuareg commanders of three of the four Malian units fighting in the north defected to the insurrection "at the crucial moment", taking fighters, weapons and equipment with them. They were joined by about 1,600 other defectors from the Malian army, shattering the government's hope of crushing the uprising.

"The aid of the Americans turned out not to be useful," another officer said. "They made the wrong choice," by relying on commanders from a group that had been conducting a 50-year rebellion against the Malian state.

The coup was a particular embarrassment to Washington as it was led by an army officer, Captain Amadou Sanogo, on whom it had lavished special favour. "Sanogo represents something of a US failure," said veteran commentator Walter Pincus.

"He [Sanogo] had participated in the Pentagon's international military education and training programmes, with basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia; English-language training at Lackland air force base, Texas; an intelligence course at Fort Huachuca, Arizona; and study at Quantico, Virginia, with the Marine Corps," Pincus reported. The ungrateful Sanogo used his new skills to wreck years of careful American and European nurturing of Mali's fragile democracy.

The multimillion dollar pre-coup assistance to Mali was part of an ambitious but flawed US regional policy embracing Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and several west African states, intended to strengthen defences against al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and like-minded groups. In 2002, the state department unveiled the so-called Pan-Sahel Initiative "to protect borders ... combat terrorism, and enhance regional cooperation and stability". This was replaced in 2005 by the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership, overseen by the grandly named but ineffectual US Africa Command.

In recent years the Pentagon and other US agencies have run annual joint military exercises called Operation Flintlock involving Mali, Algeria, Chad, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Tunisia, Burkina Faso, Morocco and Nigeria. Imaginary war scenarios involved a terrorist group being chased across national borders from Mauritania all the way east to Chad. The war games proved to be prescient, except now it is the terrorists who are doing the chasing, and in the other direction.

If Americans are confirmed among the Algeria casualties, pressure will grow on the Obama administration to get more directly involved. The Joint Special Operations Command is already operating covert, region-wide surveillance flights under a classified programme know as Creek Sand. Analysts say the next step may be to use existing bases in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and elsewhere to launch drone strikes and targeted assassinations, as in Somalia and Yemen. Since the Mali coup, the US has also upped military assistance to Niger and Mauritania.

Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt reported for the New York Times: "Some Pentagon officials have long taken a more hawkish stance, and they cite intelligence reports that fighters with ties to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb ... played a role in the deadly attack in September on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. They have pushed for targeted strikes against Islamist leaders in northern Mali, arguing that killing the leadership could permanently cripple the strength of the militants."

At the same time there is a clear danger that an expanding war in Mali could start a wave of new attacks on "soft" western targets similar to that in southern Algeria, and that increased western intervention in the region will transform extremist groups that had only local importance into potent trans-national threats.

"While Pentagon lawyers claim al-Qaida is tipping into defeat, in fact we are seeing the emergence of the third generation of the terrorist movement," said analyst Bruce Riedel. "Under siege by drones in Pakistan and Yemen, al-Qaida 3.0 has exploited the 'Arab Awakening' to create its largest safe havens and operational bases in more than a decade across the Arab world. This may prove to be the most deadly al-Qaida yet."

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Missoula, MT - January 18 - Montana medical marijuana patient, cultivator and former University of Montana Grizzlies quarterback Jason Washington was convicted yesterday in federal court of two felonies, "conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marij...

A Modest Proposal for Jacob Lew: Acknowledge Three Simple Facts about U.S. Fiscal Reality

In a reasonable world, in which we recognized the culpability of big-time D.C. politicians and bureaucrats who allowed Wall Street hyper-speculation to run wild and eventually cause the 2008-09 crash and Great Recession, Jacob Lew would be understood as a terrible choice as President Obama’s second-term Treasury Secretary, replacing Timothy Geithner. The outstanding journalist Robert Sheer gives us the basic background in a recent Nation article. Sheer writes:

I suppose that he can’t be much worse than Timothy Geithner, but that should be scant cause for cheer over the news that the president has nominated Jack Lew as Treasury secretary. Both championed the financial deregulation craze of the Clinton administration, and both are acolytes of Robert Rubin, the former Clinton Treasury secretary who unfettered Wall Street greed and then took his own considerable cut of the action.

But because we are not living in a reasonable world, at least in terms of D.C.-insider debates on economic policy, Lew’s nomination apparently faces opposition from Republicans because he appears insufficiently committed to an austerity budget that could push the economy back into recession while also devastating spending for Social Security, education, health care, family support, and unemployment insurance.

It is clear that debate over the fiscal deficit and austerity will dominate Lew’s confirmation hearings and at least his initial period in office, if he ends up getting confirmed. But without pursuing any deep explorations about who should be taxed more or less, or whether 47 percent of U.S. citizens are indeed freeloaders, I would just propose that Lew be willing to recognize three sets of very simple, irrefutable facts about the current U.S. fiscal condition. Here they are:

Fact #1: The U.S. government is not facing a fiscal crisis.

In any common sense meaning of the term “fiscal crisis,” we would be referring to the government’s inability to make its forthcoming payments to its creditors. By that common sense definition, the U.S. federal government is in just about the best shape it has ever been. Figure 1 below tells the story.

According to the most recent data from the third quarter of 2012 (which we term “2012.3”), the federal government spent 7.7 percent of its total expenditures on interest to its creditors. As the figure shows, that figure is less than half of the average figure under the full 12 years of Republican Presidents Reagan and Bush, when the government paid, on average, 16.8 percent of the total budget to cover interest payments. Right now, as we see, government interest payments are at near historic lows, not highs. As Treasury Secretary-designate, Lew needs to just state this obvious, and highly relevant point. To my knowledge, it has been heretofore completely left out of the insider-D.C. fiscal cliff debates, by Lew, Obama, and Geithner, to say nothing of the Republicans.

Fact #2: Interest rates on government bonds are at historic lows.

Figure 2 tells this story, which is well-known, but is not being given proper recognition in the deficit debates. As the figure shows, at the end of 2012, the U.S. government was borrowing at 0.7 percent on its 5-year Treasury Bonds.

It is precisely because the federal government can borrow so cheaply that our interest payments are corresponding low. Deficit hawks—economists and politicians alike—have been insisting for years that the rates are about to spike back up. Of course, interest rates will rise back up, at some point. We need to be vigilant about that. But this hasn’t happened over the full four year period since the onset of the Great Recession. This enables the U.S. government to maintain stimulus levels of spending, to get the economy onto a healthy growth trajectory. In other words, we have no reason to submit to an austerity agenda now. We should expect Jacob Lew to at least state the obvious here: that the deficit hawks have been wrong about an impending interest rate spike for four years running.

Fact #3: Current large government deficits are due to the recession, not out-of-control spending.

This is so obvious it should be barely worth mentioning. But simple facts are ignored repeatedly in the fiscal deficit debates. No doubt during the Lew hearings, there will be more discussion about the current crisis being due to the 47 percent freeloading population who, as Mitt Romney put it after his defeat, “want stuff” from the government. As we see in Figure 3, the government’s fiscal deficit spiked at 10.1 percent of GDP in 2009, immediately after the onset of the recession.

But does anybody want to seriously claim that the pattern of fiscal deficits that we see in Figure 3 is due to the fact that people didn’t want too much stuff as of 2007 or 2008, then all of the sudden, that demand for stuff soared in 2009, which was just coincidentally exactly when the Wall Street crash brought the economy to its knees?

The deficit has fallen modestly since 2009, to 8.5 percent of GDP in 2012. But the single most important thing we can do to lower the fiscal deficit further is to push unemployment down. This will generate increased government revenues with people paying more in income and sales taxes, and it will reduce government payments on unemployment insurance and supplemental aid for health care and family support. The U.S. has the capacity to pursue a stimulus agenda now quite easily, precisely because interest rates and interest payments to creditors remain historically low.

It shouldn’t be any stretch at all for Jacob Lew to acknowledge these three simple, irrefutable points. But will he do it? My guess is that he will not. If I am right in this guess, it will provide only further evidence as to the dismal state of the economic policy debate in official Washington, including Democrats like Lew here as well as Republicans.

© 2013 Political Economy Research Institute (PERI)

Robert Pollin, a professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, is co-author of Green Recovery: A Program to Create Good Jobs and Start Building a Low-Carbon Economy.

A Modest Proposal for Jacob Lew: Acknowledge Three Simple Facts about U.S. Fiscal Reality

In a reasonable world, in which we recognized the culpability of big-time D.C. politicians and bureaucrats who allowed Wall Street hyper-speculation to run wild and eventually cause the 2008-09 crash and Great Recession, Jacob Lew would be understood as a terrible choice as President Obama’s second-term Treasury Secretary, replacing Timothy Geithner. The outstanding journalist Robert Sheer gives us the basic background in a recent Nation article. Sheer writes:

I suppose that he can’t be much worse than Timothy Geithner, but that should be scant cause for cheer over the news that the president has nominated Jack Lew as Treasury secretary. Both championed the financial deregulation craze of the Clinton administration, and both are acolytes of Robert Rubin, the former Clinton Treasury secretary who unfettered Wall Street greed and then took his own considerable cut of the action.

But because we are not living in a reasonable world, at least in terms of D.C.-insider debates on economic policy, Lew’s nomination apparently faces opposition from Republicans because he appears insufficiently committed to an austerity budget that could push the economy back into recession while also devastating spending for Social Security, education, health care, family support, and unemployment insurance.

It is clear that debate over the fiscal deficit and austerity will dominate Lew’s confirmation hearings and at least his initial period in office, if he ends up getting confirmed. But without pursuing any deep explorations about who should be taxed more or less, or whether 47 percent of U.S. citizens are indeed freeloaders, I would just propose that Lew be willing to recognize three sets of very simple, irrefutable facts about the current U.S. fiscal condition. Here they are:

Fact #1: The U.S. government is not facing a fiscal crisis.

In any common sense meaning of the term “fiscal crisis,” we would be referring to the government’s inability to make its forthcoming payments to its creditors. By that common sense definition, the U.S. federal government is in just about the best shape it has ever been. Figure 1 below tells the story.

According to the most recent data from the third quarter of 2012 (which we term “2012.3”), the federal government spent 7.7 percent of its total expenditures on interest to its creditors. As the figure shows, that figure is less than half of the average figure under the full 12 years of Republican Presidents Reagan and Bush, when the government paid, on average, 16.8 percent of the total budget to cover interest payments. Right now, as we see, government interest payments are at near historic lows, not highs. As Treasury Secretary-designate, Lew needs to just state this obvious, and highly relevant point. To my knowledge, it has been heretofore completely left out of the insider-D.C. fiscal cliff debates, by Lew, Obama, and Geithner, to say nothing of the Republicans.

Fact #2: Interest rates on government bonds are at historic lows.

Figure 2 tells this story, which is well-known, but is not being given proper recognition in the deficit debates. As the figure shows, at the end of 2012, the U.S. government was borrowing at 0.7 percent on its 5-year Treasury Bonds.

It is precisely because the federal government can borrow so cheaply that our interest payments are corresponding low. Deficit hawks—economists and politicians alike—have been insisting for years that the rates are about to spike back up. Of course, interest rates will rise back up, at some point. We need to be vigilant about that. But this hasn’t happened over the full four year period since the onset of the Great Recession. This enables the U.S. government to maintain stimulus levels of spending, to get the economy onto a healthy growth trajectory. In other words, we have no reason to submit to an austerity agenda now. We should expect Jacob Lew to at least state the obvious here: that the deficit hawks have been wrong about an impending interest rate spike for four years running.

Fact #3: Current large government deficits are due to the recession, not out-of-control spending.

This is so obvious it should be barely worth mentioning. But simple facts are ignored repeatedly in the fiscal deficit debates. No doubt during the Lew hearings, there will be more discussion about the current crisis being due to the 47 percent freeloading population who, as Mitt Romney put it after his defeat, “want stuff” from the government. As we see in Figure 3, the government’s fiscal deficit spiked at 10.1 percent of GDP in 2009, immediately after the onset of the recession.

But does anybody want to seriously claim that the pattern of fiscal deficits that we see in Figure 3 is due to the fact that people didn’t want too much stuff as of 2007 or 2008, then all of the sudden, that demand for stuff soared in 2009, which was just coincidentally exactly when the Wall Street crash brought the economy to its knees?

The deficit has fallen modestly since 2009, to 8.5 percent of GDP in 2012. But the single most important thing we can do to lower the fiscal deficit further is to push unemployment down. This will generate increased government revenues with people paying more in income and sales taxes, and it will reduce government payments on unemployment insurance and supplemental aid for health care and family support. The U.S. has the capacity to pursue a stimulus agenda now quite easily, precisely because interest rates and interest payments to creditors remain historically low.

It shouldn’t be any stretch at all for Jacob Lew to acknowledge these three simple, irrefutable points. But will he do it? My guess is that he will not. If I am right in this guess, it will provide only further evidence as to the dismal state of the economic policy debate in official Washington, including Democrats like Lew here as well as Republicans.

© 2013 Political Economy Research Institute (PERI)

Robert Pollin

Robert Pollin, a professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, is co-author of Green Recovery: A Program to Create Good Jobs and Start Building a Low-Carbon Economy.

Stewart vs Krugman and the Religion of Austerity

Context: As yet there are no context links for this item.

Bio

William K. Black, author of THE BEST WAY TO ROB A BANK IS TO OWN ONE, teaches economics and law at the University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC). He was the Executive Director of the Institute for Fraud Prevention from 2005-2007. He has taught previously at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and at Santa Clara University, where he was also the distinguished scholar in residence for insurance law and a visiting scholar at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Black was litigation director of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, deputy director of the FSLIC, SVP and general counsel of the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco, and senior deputy chief counsel, Office of Thrift Supervision. He was deputy director of the National Commission on Financial Institution Reform, Recovery and Enforcement. Black developed the concept of "control fraud" frauds in which the CEO or head of state uses the entity as a "weapon." Control frauds cause greater financial losses than all other forms of property crime combined. He recently helped the World Bank develop anti-corruption initiatives and served as an expert for OFHEO in its enforcement action against Fannie Mae's former senior management.

Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore. And welcome to this week's edition of The Black Financial and Fraud Report with Bill Black, who now joins us from Kansas City.

Bill is an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri–Kansas City. He's a white-collar criminologist, a former financial regulator, and author of the book The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One. Thanks for joining us, Bill.BILL BLACK, ASSOC. PROF. ECONOMICS AND LAW, UMKC: Thank you.JAY: So you've been talking in many of our interviews and you've been writing about what you thought was the likelihood of a coming grand betrayal, in other words, President Obama making deals for cuts to the social safety net and various other kinds of austerity measures, as part of a deal dealing to get the fiscal cliff done, and then to get the debt ceiling deal done. But President Obama recently has been saying he's not going to, he says, negotiate under the gun of the debt ceiling. So isn't that what you want to hear?BLACK: Well, it may be. I certainly agree that you certainly shouldn't make concessions to people who engage in extortion, 'cause if you do, they'll simply extend the debt limit for only a very short time period, and they'll keep coming back, and it'll be the death of 1,000 cuts. So Obama, if he has any competence as a negotiator, should be refusing to give in to the extortion.Problem is that he's been engaged in unilateral disarmament as a negotiator leading up to these talks. He had a couple of ways, clear ways, that he could have completely defused what Donald Trump called his "nuclear weapon" of threatening to use the debt limit to extort concessions from Obama. One is the requirement under the Fourteenth Amendment to pay U.S. debt, and the second was the idea of minting this $1 trillion platinum coin.JAY: Okay. Let me just ask you about the coin thing, 'cause John Stewart on The Daily Show went after Paul Krugman—~~~JOHN STEWART, HOST, THE DAILY SHOW: If somebody's ruining their brand with a $1 trillion coin idea, I don't think it's the non-economist. [snip] So I stand by our research on the topic, the due diligence, and my ignorant conclusion that a $1 trillion coin minted to allow the president to circumvent the debt ceiling, however arbitrary that may be, is a stupid [bleep] idea.~~~JAY: —'cause Krugman apparently in one of his articles took this as a serious idea that he could do this, and Stewart was kind of ridiculing him about it. I mean, this is a serious thing he could do. I mean, do you think it's a legitimate policy alternative? And let's explain to everybody this is the idea the Treasury mints a $1 trillion coin, deposit it—the Fed mints it, is that it? Who mints this coin, anyway?BLACK: The Mint mints the coin.JAY: The Mint mints the coin. Under whose direction? Treasury Department.BLACK: Under the Treasury, and which is to say the president's direction. And they could—and the law expressly says you can make it in whatever denomination you want. So if people are trying to extort you using the debt limit, make it a $1 trillion coin, or $2 trillion, $4 trillion. It doesn't matter. And then you deposit it at the Federal reserve, and, poof!, all of the leverage goes away by the House Republicans and the Tea Party in particular that's trying to use this nuclear weapon of extortion where they hold hostage the U.S. economy. So it was actually a very good idea. And, you know, it would have required all of about $0.80 worth of platinum—that's literally how much platinum would have been required, because you just make it a clad, you know, coin. And for reasons that, you know, make perfect sense as a humorist, you know, John Stewart's had a lot of fun with this. And then Paul Krugman, I think, made the tactical mistake of playing in John Stewart's garden by saying, hey, this is, you know, a serious idea, and you didn't research it at all; it just sounded funny to you, so you made fun of it. And, you know, John Stewart says, yes, that's what we do; we make fun of ideas. But then Stewart added: and obviously it's a stupid idea. Well, no, obviously it isn't a stupid idea. And if Stewart knew more about economics, he wouldn't think it was a silly idea. But, you know, he is a humorist.JAY: But that being said, President Obama, I think, has said he won't do it.BLACK: Well, Obama has said he won't do either of these things that would remove the leverage of the Tea Party to extort America and threaten to destroy our economy. So that's really completely imprudent on Obama's part. When you have somebody like the Tea Party threatening the U.S. economy and you have the ready ability to defuse that nuclear weapon, you should use that authority. And so this is at best an irresponsible action.JAY: Now, is this partly because Obama knows that the corporate backers of the Tea Party, for example, the Koch brothers, don't want this to happen, in the sense they don't want another paralyzed economy, they don't want the debt ceiling legislation not to be enacted, and so that Obama's kind of calling their bluff?BLACK: I wish that were true. I mean, you can certainly see a much harder politician saying this is just going to hurt the Republican brand, that they're going to threaten to ruin the U.S. economy, and if they ever did it, in fact it would cause such economic devastation that it might destroy the Republican Party. So that, of course, is a possibility, that Obama is that, you know, strategic and trying to bait the Republicans into doing their worst, with the idea that it will hurt the Republican brand.Another possibility, though, of course, is that he wants the excuse to give in. And remember, we just had him propose to make concessions to the Republicans in which he was going to make very sharp cuts in social spending, and sharp cuts in the safety net as well. And we were saved only by Harry Reid, who took the Obama instrument of surrender and literally threw it in the fireplace and burned it up rather than to make that proposal. And before that, in the broader discussions in the fiscal cliff, Obama was very much in favor of an austerity package—back in July 2011 and November 2011, Obama was very much in terms of an austerity package. And even now, Obama is saying, once we get past this extension of the debt limit, we're open to doing the grand betrayal. So I think all he's saying is, I'm going to fight you on the debt extension, but then I'll give you the deal anyway. The Republicans, of course, are saying that they are going to demand austerity as the price of doing anything on the debt limit.And so the column I just did today looked at what were the—you know, how did we get here? How did this austerity idea that has repeatedly caused recessions and depressions, where did it come from in recent times? And it turns out it's the Pete Peterson Institute. And Pete Peterson, of course, is the Republican billionaire who's said that he's going to spend his fortune trying to unwind the safety net in America, that he wants a combination of lower taxes and dramatically reduced social spending, and then, you know, to really go after—his ultimately goal, he has said, is to privatize Social Security. And, of course, this is the great dream of Wall Street in terms of their fees.So I look back, and the Pete Peterson Institute is the place—and it still employs the senior fellow, an economist named John Williamson, a Brit, at least originally, who proposed the Washington consensus. So I went and looked at the original document, which he published in 1990—it was a speech he actually gave in 1989—in which he coined the phrase Washington consensus, 'cause, of course, there'd been a lot of reinventing history in his writing since. The original piece is entirely in the context of the Latin American debt crisis, and it starts out right at the first paragraph and says, hey, here's the deal: we're going to give some delay in the South American debt, Latin American debt, and in return we're going to require them to agree to strong conditionality, which is code for whatever we tell them to do, right? And the very first thing on his list—and he called it central to the whole idea of the Washington consensus was austerity.So austerity, deregulation, privatization, the whole neoliberal agenda—although he objects to that term—is there in the first document as a way of forcing Latin American nations to agree to a completely new governance structure imposed by Washington, D.C., for the benefit of American banks and the IMF to collect debts from Latin America.Now, that of course was a terrible experience in much of Latin America and accounts for why we have so many Latin American leaders elected over the last ten years on a platform of rejecting the Washington consensus—in other words, elect me 'cause I am going to fight against the Washington consensus. Go forward in time and this is the same mindset that caused Europe to adopt austerity. And I have another recent column about, you know, Germany has just announced that in the fourth quarter, growth went sharply negative, probably by 0.5 percent, which is a lot. That would be, like, the equivalent, if you straight-lined it out, of -2 percent growth for a year. And the Eurozone has been as a whole forced into recession. This news on Germany means that that recession is getting far worse in the Eurozone. And as I've stressed before, places like Spain, Italy, and Greece have Great Depression levels of unemployment. And so we have an idea, a terrible idea, austerity, that makes recessions worse, that creates Great Depression levels of unemployment in many countries, that will not die, no matter how much damage it causes to the world. And, of course, when really bad ideas refuse to die, even though they're proven to be bad ideas time after time, then you know you're dealing with dogma, not with science. So that which is called neoliberal economics is one of the only areas that I know of that purports to be a science in which we have gone dramatically downhill in the science content over the last 50 years, such that it isn't a science at all anymore, it's a weird religion of austerity that actually takes pleasure in causing suffering in other nations.JAY: Alright. Thanks a lot for joining us, Bill.BLACK: Thank you.JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End

DISCLAIMER: 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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An Antipoverty Contract for 2013?

This past year I’ve had the opportunity to cover the antipoverty movement—and I do believe it’s a movement—it’s just a little too much of a well-kept secret right now. (Photo via equityblog.org)

But I think in 2013, the people and groups at the forefront of antipoverty thinking and action are poised to reach a much wider audience, and gain far greater popular support.

That’s in part because the movement is led by organizations and individuals who have been fighting poverty for decades, and they offer solutions that are grounded in empirical data and the every day experiences of millions of working Americans and families.

In contrast, the opposition to antipoverty reform relies largely on tired stereotypes, myths, and prejudices—that low-income people are lazy and don’t want to work; that they only want handouts, or to live off of welfare; that antipoverty policies have failed; and, most recently, that we can’t afford these investments. 

But an economy that is short on opportunity and concentrates wealth in the hands of a few is coming into focus. The interests of low-income people and a shrinking middle-class are converging—everyone wants fair pay, a shot at a good education, and an economy defined by opportunity and upward mobility.

People are beginning to recognize that we have a proliferation of low wage work— over 25 percent of the jobs in the nation pay less than the poverty line for a family of four, and 50 percent pay less than $34,000 a year.  It’s no wonder that 28 percent of all workers last year earned wages below the poverty line, and that more than 70 percent of low-income families and half of all families in poverty were working in 2011.  (Low-income defined as living on less than 200 percent of the poverty line, or less than approximately $36,000 annually for a family of three—which now constitutes 106 million people, more than 1 in 3 Americans; poverty defined as living on less than $18,000 annually for a family of three, which now describes more than 46 million Americans.)  People are looking for answers.

Currently, the antipoverty movement is largely in sync as it tries to protect programs that are vital to basic human needs during the fiscal debate.  But I think there are things it can do in 2013—after the budget debate—to reach a wider audience and bring more people into its fold.

One possible change—or more like a tweak: many seem to focus on the lack of will in our political leadership to fight poverty; instead the primary focus might be on what the movement itself is doing to create political will. 

What is it doing to make itself more visible?  How is it creating new relationships between low-income and higher-income people? At any given conference on poverty-related issues, are the people who know poverty first hand presenting, leading, educating, and organizing?  At a Congressional or local hearing on food stamps, TANF, SSI, or childcare—is the movement doing whatever it can to ensure that the people who have actually experienced the system are testifying?  Are the more “white collar” organizations in the movement going into low-income communities to join people and groups who are organizing on the ground?  Are these organizations showing up and also providing resources to protect homes, strengthen schools and neighborhoods, and stand with low-wage workers for better jobs?  How are we coming together—rich, poor, and in between—and how are we working in silos?  How are we speaking—or failing to speak—with a unified voice? 

I also believe if the movement can coalesce around a simple, clear and concise antipoverty agenda—an Antipoverty Contract for 2013—it can engage new audiences and grow significantly.  Choose four or five key policies that are easily grasped and in sync with most people’s values, and forge new alliances around them.  Whether or not the contract includes a group’s particular issue, hopefully groups will take a leap of faith and help push it forward, knowing that it might lead to a stronger movement and broader and deeper reforms down the road.

Below is one possible Antipoverty Contract for 2013.  I have no idea if these are the right choices—and there are some notable absences—on full employment, housing and education, to name a few.

But I hope this draft serves as a conversation starter among organizations, community groups, and people at the forefront of these fights—and that a core might emerge to coalesce and organize around a clear, focused antipoverty contract this year that might serve as a compelling organizing tool.

Raise the Minimum Wage

Americans generally believe that people who work hard should be able to pay for the basics, including food, housing, healthcare, and education.

As Peter Edelman notes in his book, So Rich, So Poor, for most of the 1960s and 70s the minimum wage paid enough to lift a family of three above the poverty line, about $18,000 today.  Not so anymore.   It has been raised only three times in the past thirty years and now stands at $7.25 per hour, which results in sub-poverty earnings of approximately $15,000 for a year-round, full-time employee.

The minimum wage for tipped workers is even worse—a stunning $2.13 per hour, and it’s been locked there since 1991.  As a result, food industry servers in the US are three times more likely than the general workforce to be paid sub-poverty wages and twice as likely to need food stamps.

If Congress had indexed the minimum wage to inflation—as they did for, say, individual campaign contribution limits or the new estate tax threshold—it would be $10.58 per hour today. 

Of course, any attempt to raise the wage floor is met with claims from opponents that it will result in massive job losses.  This has been shown repeatedly to be complete bunk.  Further, a recent report by the National Employment Law Project found that 66 percent of low-wage employees work for large companies, not small businesses, and that more than 70 percent of the biggest low-wage employers have fully recovered from the recession and are enjoying strong profits.

The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2012, introduced by Senator Tom Harkin and Representative George Miller, would raise the federal minimum wage to $9.80 by 2014, index it to inflation, and boost annual earnings to $19,600—above the poverty line for a family of three. It would also raise the tipped minimum wage to $6.85 over five years, and it would be fixed to 70 percent of the full minimum wage.

The Economic Policy Institute estimates the Harkin-Miller proposal would generate more than $25 billion in new consumer spending, which would lead to the creation of more than 100,000 new full-time jobs. It would also increase wages for nearly 30 million Americans—roughly one-fifth of the workforce—because raising the wage floor improves pay for workers who earn at or just above the minimum wage.

Paid sick and family leave for all workers

Americans know that someone should not have to choose between their own health—or caring for a sick child or relative—and a job.  They believe that paid sick days are “a basic worker’s right.”

More than 40 percent of people in the private sector workforce—including 81 percent of low-wage workers—don’t receive a single paid sick day.  Millions more lack paid leave to care for a sick child or family member. Nearly 25 percent of workers polled said that they have lost a job or were told they would lose a job for taking time off to deal with a personal or family illness.

The US is virtually alone among other high-income countries in not setting a minimal standard for paid sick days, and is in the minority in not providing paid leave to care for a family member. For families in or near poverty, this is especially critical, since a few days’ lost pay makes the struggle to provide the basics—like food—that much harder.

Across demographic and political backgrounds, 75 percent of Americans favor a law providing a “minimum number” of paid sick days for all workers, including 69 percent who strongly favor providing workers with 7 paid sick days per year.

The Healthy Families Act would allow workers in businesses with 15 or more employees to earn up to seven job-protected paid sick days each year—to recover from their own illnesses, access preventative care, or provide care for a sick family member. 

This would be a significant leap forward in protecting all workers and their families.

Affordable Child Care for Working Families

Americans believe that parents should be able to work without spending exorbitant amounts on childcare. 

Half in Ten recently reported that the average cost of full-time child care ranges from $3,600 to $18,200 annually per child.  Since there are 7.8 million families with children under age 6 that live below 200 percent of the poverty line—on less than about $36,000 annually for a family of three—that’s just unacceptable (and it’s unacceptable for the middle-class too). 

Edelman reports that federal child care assistance currently reaches about one in seven children who qualify for it, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) puts the number at one in six—either way it’s bleak.  Last year, only 1.7 million children received a federal child care subsidy, and Helen Blank, director of Childcare and Early Learning at NWLC, predicted that the number would fall to 1.5 million—the fewest children served since 1998.

The economy can’t afford this lack of investment in working people and children.

“Child care plays two critical roles that support our economy,” said Blank.  “It helps children access the high-quality early learning environments they need to succeed, and it helps parents work.”

In fact, in 2010 poverty rates for families headed by a single mother dropped from 40.7 percent to 14 percent when the mother had full-time, year-round employment—and child care is key to that equation.   Research shows that low-income mothers who receive childcare subsidies are more likely to be employed, work more hours, and work standard schedules compared to mothers without subsidies.

But instead of bolstering childcare assistance we are moving in the opposite direction.  It’s funded primarily through the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBC)—a fixed federal block grant so funding hasn’t risen with increased demand—and it now faces serious cuts.  Blank points to growing waiting lists—75,000 children in Florida, over 20,000 in Maryland, and 36,000 in Massachusetts.  She said that in North Carolina, about one out of four families on the state’s waiting list had lost or needed to quit their jobs while waiting for child care assistance.

Blank said child care needs a reauthorization with “significant new funds” so that children are in the kind of early-learning settings they need and deserve, and parents are able to work.  Peer countries are able to provide affordable childcare, why can’t we?  

End Childhood Hunger

Americans intuitively recognize that there is no excuse for any child to go hungry in the wealthiest nation in the history of forever.

In a 2011 poll commissioned by Tyson Foods and the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), 80 percent of respondents said they “strongly agree” with the statement that “in the United States of America, no one should go hungry.”

And yet it is our most vulnerable population—children— that are particularly suffering from hunger.  More than 16 million live in food insecure households, including nearly 25 percent of all children under age 6, despite the fact that the parents of hungry children typically have full-time jobs. Hunger has a tremendous impact on young children’s health, future potential, and cognitive, social and emotional development.

“There are lifelong implications,” says Dr. Mariana Chilton, associate professor at Drexel University School of Public Health and co-principal investigator for Children’s HealthWatch.  “Children in food insecure households have more health problems, are more likely to be hospitalized, and have developmental delays.  Young kids who are food insecure may arrive at kindergarten unprepared and never catch up with their peers.”

In 2009, FRAC laid out seven steps to ending childhood hunger by 2015 that are still relevant today.  They include a range of measures such as: raising the minimum wage; creating jobs with better wages for lower-income workers; improving the SNAP benefit (which averaged $4.30 per person per day in 2010); increasing participation in the school lunch, breakfast, after school and summer meal programs; improving WIC; engaging all federal agencies that interact with low-income children—whether it’s the DOJ which funds afterschool programs, Treasury which does outreach to families regarding the Earned Income Tax Credit, or others; and creating a national stream of grants and loans to make sure there are decent grocery stores in low-income communities. 

TANF: a path to good jobs for those who can work, assistance for those who can’t

Americans are told TANF is a program that leads to self-sufficiency.  It isn’t.

The Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program created in 1996 was touted as assistance that would help families on a path towards self-sufficiency.  It’s tough to overstate what a bill of goods the American people are being sold when both parties claim it has been a success.

If success means reducing the number of families with children in poverty that receive cash assistance—from 68 for every 100 families in poverty, to 27 for every 100 over the past 16 years—then, yeah it was successful.  But then why not just throw everyone off?

If it means not indexing TANF assistance to inflation, so that the benefit is now less than 30 percent of the poverty level in most states (less than $6000 annually for a family of three)… then it was successful. 

If it means keeping TANF recipients in any kind of job in order to receive this meager TANF benefit and no actual wage—whether it’s cleaning toilets, working in a cemetery, sweeping a county garage, or filing folders at an office—rather than helping people acquire the education and skills needed to secure family-supporting wages… then it was successful.

If it means cutting people with significant barriers to employment off of assistance because they reached an arbitrary, state-determined time limit or failed to meet a work requirement (no matter their individual circumstances)—then indeed the program has been successful.  It has directly contributed to the fact that 20.4 million people are now living in deep poverty—at less than half of the poverty line, or less than $9,000 for a family of three—up from 12.6 million people in 2000.  This number includes over 15 million women and children (nearly 10 percent of all children). 

If success means virtually 50 different welfare systems—for the purpose of “state flexibility”—so that Wyoming provides assistance to just 4 families for every 100 with children in poverty, Mississippi reaches 10, and California 66… then it was successful.

The antipoverty community should fight for a TANF that meets some basic standards regarding who should receive it; supports people in work or education programs that lead to family-supporting rather than dead-end jobs (including through a vehicle like the TANF Emergency Fund that placed 260,000 unemployed low-income parents and young adults in subsidized jobs during the recession and enjoyed bipartisan support from governors); and that addresses the needs of families living in deep poverty—which are usually headed by people with the most significant barriers to employment, including mental and physical health challenges, lack of a high school diploma, caring for a child with special needs, or living with domestic violence—rather than simply throwing families off of assistance.

One possible piece of legislation to rally around is Wisconsin Congresswoman Gwen Moore’s RISE Act.  Among the changes it calls for are adjusting each state’s block grant for inflation so it’s no longer frozen at 1996 funding levels; allowing education to count towards work requirements; providing childcare for all work-eligible parents; and prohibiting time limits of less than 60 months. 

Even if the antipoverty community were to win on subsidized jobs alone that would be a significant victory.

Conclusion

An Antipoverty Contract for 2013 wouldn’t guarantee a win on one or any of these five issues this year.  But it could engage people who currently aren’t being reached by the antipoverty movement; demonstrate why the movement’s policies are good for the entire nation; and offer an opportunity for people to work together for these and deeper reforms moving forward.  I would be interested in constructive comments below, as well as in emails to [email protected].

© 2012 The Nation

Greg Kaufmann
Greg Kaufmann is a Nation contributor covering poverty in America.  He has been a guest on NPR, including Here & Now and Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane, and various local radio programs including the Matthew Filipowicz Show.  His work has also appeared on Common Dreams, Alternet, Tikkun.org, NPR.org, CBSNews.com, and MichaelMoore.com.  He previously worked as a staffer for the Kerry campaign, a copywriter and speechwriter for various Democrats in national and local politics, and as a screenwriter.  He serves as an advisor for the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

‘Unintended Consequences of Military Intervention’: Roots of Mali, Algeria Crisis Tied to US-Led War...

(Photograph by Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty)In Algeria, at least 22 foreign hostages remained unaccounted for in what has been described as one of the biggest international hostage crises in decades. Islamist militants opposed to the French air strikes in neighboring Mali seized a gas facility near the Libyan border. It remains unclear how many people died on Thursday when Algerian forces stormed the desert gas complex to free the workers. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has acknowledged it is now directly aiding France’s military operation in Mali.

In the interview below, Democracy Now! speaks with Emira Woods, co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, for insight and perspective:

© 2012 Democracy Now!

No, Actually, This Is What a Fascist Looks Like

(Image: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/truthout/4664344949/sizes/l/in/photostream/" target="_blank">Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: Thomas Hawk, Rob Shenk / flickr</a>)(Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: Thomas Hawk, Rob Shenk / flickr)Whole Foods CEO, John Mackey, doesn’t know what a fascist is.

Speaking with NPR this week, multimillionaire Mackey tried to express how much he hates Obamacare. Back in 2009, he hated Obamacare so much that he called it “socialism.” But now, in 2013, Mackey thinks Obamacare is “fascism.”

“Technically speaking, [Obamacare] is more like fascism,” he said. “Socialism is where the government owns the means of production. In fascism, the government doesn’t own the means of production, but they do control it, and that’s what’s happening with our healthcare programs and these reforms.”

Mackey has since walked back this description saying he “regrets using that word now” because there’s “so much baggage attached to it.”

But, whether Mackey meant to or not, it’s about time someone injected the word fascism back into our political debate. Especially now that corporations wield more power today than they have in America since the Robber Baron Era.

First, let’s take on Mackey’s definitions of socialism and fascism, which he likely procured from the Google machine after typing in, “What are the differences between socialism and fascism?”

Yes, socialism encourages more democratic control of the economy. Or, if Mackey insists, more government ownership of the economy – in particular, ownership of the commons and natural resources.   

Fascism, on the other hand, is something completely different. Reporter Sy Mukherjee, who blogged about this story over at ThinkProgress.org notes, “Although fascist nations do often control their ‘means of production,’ Mackey seems to have forgotten that they usually utilize warfare, forced mass mobilization of the public, and politically-motivated violence against their own peoples to achieve their ends.”

The 1983 American Heritage Dictionary defined fascism as: "A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism."
Fascism originated in Italy, and Mussolini claims to have invented the word itself. It was actually his ghostwriter, Giovanni Gentile, who invented it and defined it in the Encyclopedia Italiana in this way: "Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power."

In other words, fascism is corporate government – a Libertarian’s wet dream. It’s a government in which the Atlas’s of industry are given free rein to control the economy, just how they’re regulated, how much they pay in taxes, how much they pay their workers. It should be noted here that, ironically, John Mackey describes himself as a Libertarian.  

In 1938, Mussolini finally got his chance to bring fascism to fruition. He dissolved Parliament and replaced it with the "Camera dei Fasci e delle Corporazioni" - the Chamber of the Fascist Corporations. Members of the Chamber were not selected to represent particular regional constituencies, but instead to represent various aspects of Italian industry and trade. They were the corporate leaders of Italy.

Imagine if the House of Representatives was dissolved and replaced by a Council of America’s most powerful CEOs – the Kochs, the Waltons, the Blankfeins, the Dimons, the Mackeys, you get the picture.

Actually, that’s not too difficult to imagine, huh? But, that’d be similar to what Mussolini defined as fascism.

As we know, fascism was eventually defeated in World War 2. But just before the end of the war, with the fascists on the ropes, the Vice President of the United States at the time, Henry Wallace, penned an op-ed for the New York Times warning Americans about the creeping dangers of fascism – or corporate government.

He defined a fascist as, “those who, paying lip service to democracy and the common welfare, in their insatiable greed for money and the power which money gives, do not hesitate surreptitiously to evade the laws designed to safeguard the public from monopolistic extortion.”

Under that definition we can throw those CEOs who’ve decided to evade Obamacare’s mandate to provide health insurance to their employees, like New York City Applebee’s franchise owner Zane Terkel, Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter, and executives at Darden Restaurants.

Or, perhaps, Wallace is referring to the banksters at Goldman Sachs who knowingly evaded laws and sold investors “shitty deals” or scammed entire cities into bankruptcy or illegally foreclosed on thousands of Americans through fraudulently robo-signing all in the name of short term profits and all in the name of preserving their monopolistic, too-big-to-fail status.

Either way, evading laws meant to protect the public in order to pad your own pockets has become the name of the game in Corporate America today.

Wallace goes on to write, “The American fascists are most easily recognized by their deliberate perversion of truth and fact. Their newspapers and propaganda carefully cultivate every fissure of disunity, every crack in the common front against fascism.”

Can anyone say Fox News, or the rest of the Conservative media complex? Or, those on the Right who divide working people and turn them against each other: makers versus takes, public sector workers versus private sector workers, and white people versus brown people.  

“They use every opportunity to impugn democracy,” wrote Wallace. Does that sound familiar after months of Republican efforts to disenfranchise large swaths of the electorate with voter suppression ID laws, as well as restrictions on early voting and voter registration in largely Democratic areas?

Or what about what Republicans in Pennsylvania are doing right now to rig the next Presidential election by changing how Electoral votes are counted in the state?

Wallace continues, “They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.”

We often hear of free enterprise from the likes of Wall Street, Big Oil, and the defense industry. Yet these are the same corporations that also lobby to keep generous taxpayer subsidies, bailouts, and no-bid contracts in place that allow them to reign supreme over the markets and crush their smaller, more independent competition.

And the common man suffers as a result. Wages as a percentage of GDP are lower than they’ve ever been. Unionization rates are lower than they’ve ever been in more than a half-century. And yet, corporate profits as a percent of GDP are higher than they’ve ever been in American history.

At the time Wallace was writing this op-ed, he was confident that the fascists had been adequately held in check in America by the Roosevelt Administration. As he wrote, “Happily, it can be said that as yet fascism has not captured a predominant place in the outlook of any American section, class or religion.”

But, he went on to warn that in the future, “[Fascism] may be encountered in Wall Street, Main Street or Tobacco Road. Some even suspect that they can detect incipient traces of it along the Potomac.”

Sure enough, the bastions of fascism can be found on Wall Street. Main Street, which used to be lined with local independent businesses, is now lined with predatory, transnational giants. And along the Potomac, we find politicians who are more than happy to do the bidding of their corporate overlords.

Today in America, we are dangerously close to seeing Wallace’s fascistic, dystopic America come into fruition. We see the traces of it everywhere.

Unfortunately, too many Americans just didn’t have a word to define what’s happening. But, thanks to John Mackey, and thanks to the foresight of Vice President Henry Wallace, we do have the right word now: Fascism.

America’s “Lili-Pads” in Afghanistan and Central Asia: Pentagon to Increase the Number of “Small...

by  J. Nasibova

US have many small military bases in Central Asia and can add to them more, Professor of Anthropology, Central Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Indiana University, USA, Nazif M. Shahrani, told Trend.

“Since the first Gulf War of the 1990′s US security policy has been one described as the “Lily-Pad” policy of keeping small military presence in very large numbers of places around the world, but no large military bases in any particular area. The land based Lily-Pads are complemented by the US navy on the high Seas. Yes, US already has many small military contingents in Central Asia and may add to them, but will not ask for establishing long-term military bases in the region including in Afghanistan. With the widespread use of drones, long-range missiles and extremely mobile US military force, establishing large military bases are not cost effective, so small lily pads-i.e., a military foothold in various places in Central Asia will suffice”, Shahrani said.

Expert: US may extend number of small military bases in Central Asia after 2014

As he mentioned, most but not all of US troops will leave Afghanistan by 2014 for a number of reasons. First of all, the cost of keeping every American service men in Afghanistan is very high-estimated now at $1.2 million a year per soldier – and President Obama is searching for ways to reduce the cost to the US tax payers who are getting tired of the longest US war, especially in light of very unpromising accomplishment in Afghanistan during the last eleven years. More importantly the country is facing trillions of dollars budget deficit in the midst of economic crises.

According to Shahrani, the second reason is increasing cost of the Afghan war in blood-over 3000 dead so far in battle and some are killed by the so called “Blue on Green” (Afghan soldiers killing their US trainers). More importantly it is reported today that in 2012 suicide among US military personnel in Afghanistan has surged to the record number with some 349 US army personnel taking their own lives in Afghanistan. This number far exceeds American combat deaths according to Associated Press in Afghanistan during last year.

“The numbers of seriously injured, both physically and mentally, among the Afghan war casualties are also very high and they require long term care and there are estimates that the long-term cost of US-Afghan war may run more than two trillion dollars in decades to come,” the professor said.

“The third reason is that US want to Afghanize the war and that is why they have established security force of more than 350,000.00 for the Kabul regime. Now they have to take over from the US. Some Afghans, especially President Karzai wants reduction in the US troops because he will not be the President after 2014. If the conditions should deteriorate under his successor, he could then argue that his role as leader of the country was and is indispensable. He has always thought of himself and hardly ever of the country or the nation,” the professor mentioned.

According to Shahrani, in Afghanistan there are a range of reactions to the talk about US ending combat role for the US-ISAF/NATO forces and pulling out by the end of 2014. The range includes-denial by some that US will never completely leave the country or the region because of her own interest in CA; extreme anxiety by many that after US withdrawal Afghanistan government will fold and another round of regional proxy wars may return to Afghanistan and the region.

As he mentioned, these include women and the non-Pashtun ethnic groups in western central and northern parts of the country.

“However, the US and Europeans are unlikely to allow such a disaster from happening; and great many in Afghanistan whose expectation of the international community bringing better and more effective governance and economic reconstruction have been thoroughly crushed, they are disappointed and no longer see the presence of US and European armies and promises of any consequence to them,” Shahrani mentioned.

Currently, there are 50,000 U.S. servicemen in Afghanistan. In early May of last year, U.S. President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed a long-term strategic partnership between the two countries. The document provides for the signing of an agreement on safety, better known in diplomatic circles as the “protocol on troops.” It is this agreement that will govern the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after 2014.

The author can be contacted at [email protected]

What’s the Cure for Shorter Lives and Poorer Health in America? Can You Say...

Harold Myerson, over at the Washington Post, points out a new report by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine contains some bad news about about the America’s health. The title pretty much says it all: “U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health.”  The summary of the report goes into more detail. 

The United States is among the wealthiest nations in the world, but it is far from the healthiest. Although life expectancy and survival rates in the United States have improved dramatically over the past century, Americans live shorter lives and experience more injuries and illnesses than people in other high-income countries. A growing body of research is call- ing attention to this problem, with a 2011 report by the National Research Council confirming a large and rising international “mortality gap” among adults age 50 and older. The U.S. health disadvantage cannot be attributed solely to the adverse health status of racial or ethnic minorities or poor people, since recent studies suggest that even highly advantaged Americans may be in worse health than their counterparts in other countries.

Either Billy Joel was onto something when he sang “Only the good die young,” or America’s health care system still has some serious problems. 

Compared to 16 other high-income “peer” countries America is almost always dead last (no pun intended). Every single one of these countries —  Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom — get more bang for their health care bucks than we do. We’re only tops in how much we spend on health care. (Well, that and violent deaths. We’re number one in that category too.)

What gives? Meyerson hones in on a likely factor.

But a funny thing happens to Americans’ life expectancy when they age. The U.S. mortality rate is the highest of the 17 nations until Americans hit 50 and the second-highest until they hit 70. Then our mortality ranking precipitously shifts: By the time American seniors hit 80, they have some of the longest life expectancies in the world.

 

What gives? Have seniors discovered the Fountain of Youth? Do U.S. geriatricians outpace all our other physicians?

 

Part of the answer is Darwinian: Those Americans who have been less able to access reliable medical care, maintain good diets and live in neighborhoods that are not prey to gun violence have disproportionately died off before age 80. That isn’t natural selection but social selection — the survival of the economically fittest in a nation that rations longevity by wealth.

 

But the larger part of the answer is that at age 65, Americans enter a health-care system that ceases to be exceptional when compared with the systems in the other 16 nations studied. They leave behind the private provision of medical coverage, forsake the genius of the market and avail themselves of universal medical insurance. For the first time, they are beneficiaries of the same kind of social policy that their counterparts in other lands enjoy. And presto, change-o: Their life expectancy catches up with and eventually surpasses those of the French, Germans, Britons and Canadians.

 That, as Meyerson points out, puts the defenders of private health insurance in a bit of a bind. That bind may get even tighter. Thanks to a bill introduced by Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the “public option” is back in the mix.

 A group of House Democrats are surfacing the health care public option as a way of reducing the deficit, revisiting an approach suggested by President Obama’s debt commission in 2010.

 

According to a Tuesday statement from Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s (D-Ill.) office, Schakowsky, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), and 43 other House members have introduced the Public Option Deficit Reduction Act, which would “would offer the choice of a publicly-run health insurance plan, an option that would save more than $100 billion over 10 years.”

 

“As Congress looks to reduce the deficit, it is important to remember the one policy that could save billions of dollars is the public option. I hope that my colleagues will take a fresh look at this in the months ahead,” Waxman said in the statement.

 

The public option, hotly debated during negotiations over Obama’s health care reform law, was left out of the legislation after it repeatedly failed to gain enough traction in Congress.

The statement from Shakowsky’s office points out that a public option would cut the country’s health care spending by more than $100 million, and lower health care costs for families by putting pressure on private insurers to lower their rates in order to compete. Not only would it save money, but according to this report, it would also save lives.

Let’s face it, we weren’t really done with health care after the Affordable Care Act, and this report tells us that we’ve still got a long way to go. 

Nixon Went to China, Who Will Go to Iran?

Iranians are now beginning to die for lack of medicines kept out by U.S.-imposed sanctions.  I recently questioned (and videoed) former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright about her notorious defense of sanctions that killed over a half million young Iraqi children.  She said she'd been wrong to say what she'd said.  She did not comment on the appropriateness of what she'd done.  I asked her if what we were doing to Iran was also wrong, and she replied, "No, absolutely not."

So, somehow it is good and proper for us to be killing Iranian children -- although perhaps not to be talking about it.

I suspect that some of the reasons why we imagine there is a greater good being served by such actions are the same reasons no U.S. president will go to Iran in the manner in which Nixon went to China.  Of course, the common political wisdom in the United States holds that the president who went to China had to be a Republican.  By the same logic, the president who goes to Iran must be a militarist power-mad servant of the corporate oligarchy from the Republican party and not a militarist power-mad servant of the corporate oligarchy from the Democratic party.  That wouldn't do at all.  And yet, U.S. conduct toward Iran has varied little from Bush to Clinton to Bush Jr. to Obama/Clinton, H.  A hopeless spiral of delusional counter-productive approaches toward the Islamic Republic of Iran needs to be broken by a 180 degree turn, and it won't make much substantive difference who does it, as long as it doesn't come too late.

Whether the authors intended exactly that or not, the above is the lesson I take away from an excellent new book by Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett called "Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran."

It has been U.S. policy for decades not to engage with Iran, and -- misleading rhetoric notwithstanding -- it still is.  "More than any of his predecessors, in fact, Obama has given engagement a bad name, by claiming to have reached out to Tehran and failed when the truth is he never really tried." 

The Leveretts trace official U.S. policy on Iran to a trio of myths: the myths of irrationality, illegitimacy, and isolation. 

IRRATIONALITY:

The evidence of irrationality on the part of the Iranian people or the Iranian government is very slim.  I can find much more irrationality in the U.S. public and government.  Iranians, in fact, are better at distinguishing between our people and our government than we seem to be at making that distinction on their side.  Iran has funded Hizballah and HAMAS, and we call those groups terrorists.  But we call any militants opposing Pentagon interests terrorists.  Iranian leaders have made comments verging on anti-Semitic (and routinely distorted into outrageous anti-Semitism), but nothing approaching the things Anwar Sadat or Mahmoud Abbas said or wrote before they were deemed rational actors with whom the U.S. and Israel could (and did) work. 

Iran's policies have been defensive, not aggressive.  Iran has not threatened to attack or attacked others.  Iran has refused to retaliate against chemical weapons attacks or terrorism or our shooting down a commercial jet or our funding efforts within Iran to manipulate its elections or our training of militants seeking to overthrow Iran's government.  Iran has refused to develop chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons.  Unlike Britain, Russia, or the United States, when provoked Iran has refused to invade Afghanistan, choosing wise reflection over hot-tempered anger.  Look at the polling across the Middle East: people fear the United States and Israel, not Iran. 

Iran's approach to the United States over the years has been rational and forbearant.  In 1995 the Islamic Republic of Iran offered its first foreign oil development contract to the United States, which turned it down.  Iran aided President Clinton by shipping arms to Bosnia, which Clinton turned around and condemned Iran for when the story became public.  In 2001, the President of Iran requested permission to pray for 911 victims at the site of the World Trade Center and offered to assist in counterterrorism plans, but was turned down.  Iran assisted the United States with its invasion of Afghanistan and was labeled "evil" in return.  The current president of Iran wrote long friendly letters to President Bush and President Obama, both of whom ignored them except to allow their staffs to publicly mock them.  The Iranian government repeatedly proposed substantive dialogue, offering to put everything on the table, including its nuclear energy program, and was turned down.  The Obama administration gave Turkey and Brazil terms it was sure Iran wouldn't agree to; Iran agreed to them; and the White House rejected them, choosing instead to grow outraged at Brazil and Turkey.

Iran tried to believe in the change in Obama's (no doubt domestically intended) rhetoric, but never encountered any substance, only fraud and hostility.  That Iran attempts civil relations with a nation surrounding and threatening it, imposing deadly sanctions on it, funding terrorism within its borders, and publicly mocking its sincere approaches is indication of either rationality or something almost Christ-like (I'm inclined to go with rationality).

ILLEGITIMACY:

War is immoral, illegal, and counter-productive.  That doesn't change if the people bombed are living or suffering under an illegitimate government.  Here in the United States an unaccountable Supreme Court rewrites our basic laws, unverifiable privately owned and operated machines count our votes, candidates are chosen by wealth, media coverage is dolled out by a corporate cartel, presidents disregard the legislature, and high crimes and misdemeanors are not prosecuted.  And yet, nonetheless -- amazing to tell -- we'd rather not be bombed.  I don't give a damn whether this scholar or that scholar believes the Iranian government is legitimate or not; I don't want any human beings killed in my name with my money.

That being said, common claims of illegitimacy for Iran's government are myths.  Western experts have predicted its imminent collapse (as well as its imminent development of nukes) for decades.  Iranian elections are far more credible than U.S. ones.  A government need not be secular to be legitimate.  I might favor secular governments, but I'm not an Iranian.  I'm a citizen of a government that has been seeking to control Iran's government for over a half century since overthrowing it in 1953; I don't get to have a voice.  Iranians are gaining in rights, in education, in health, in life expectancy (the opposite in many ways of the course we are on in the United States).  Iranian women used to be permitted to dress as they liked but not to pursue the education and career they liked.  Now that has largely been reversed.  Iranian women are guaranteed paid maternity leave that outstrips our standards.  Iran's approach to drugs is more rational than our own, its approach to homosexuality more mixed than we suspect, its investment in science cutting edge. 

All of that being said, the Iranian government abuses its people in ways that need to be addressed by its people and should have been directly addressed by the Leveretts' book.

I also want to quibble with the Leveretts' account of the 1979 revolution in light of the views of some who were there at the time.  I'm not convinced that Khomeini led and directed the revolution from the start.  I'm willing to believe that secular pro-democracy activists did not represent the views of all Iranians.  There's no question that significant support swung to Khomeini and the mullahs who claimed power.  But Khomeini's supposed leadership was news in the West before it was ever heard of in Tehran.  The Shah was not opposed for his secularism, but for his surveillance, imprisonment, torture, murder, greed, expropriation of wealth, and subservience to foreigners.  The Leveretts admit that Khomeini originally proposed a government with less power for himself and then revised his plans, but they claim that he only did so in response to secularists' insistence that he hold no power at all.  Not the strongest defense of tyranny I've ever encountered. 

The authors then cite a public referendum of December 2-3, 1979, in which, they say, "the new constitution was approved by 98 percent of participating voters."  Sounds impressive, right?  Guess what choices the voters were offered: an Islamic republic or the Shah!  Of course they chose the Islamic republic! But to turn around and claim that 98% voted against a secular republic is misleading.  During the 2003-2013 U.S. war on Iraq, a U.S. Democratic-Party group called MoveOn.org polled its membership.  Did they support House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's plan for more war or President George W. Bush's?  Of course, they overwhelmingly chose Pelosi's.  MoveOn then turned around and claimed that their people opposed Congresswoman Barbara Lee's proposal to end the war.  Such votes should be given no more dignity than they deserve.

How the government of the 1980s came to be does not tell us everything we should know about today's government, but nothing you could tell me about today's government would have any relevance to the morality of bombing the people of Iran.

ISOLATION:

The United States has sought to isolate Iran and failed dramatically, with Iran now chairing the Nonaligned Movement.  It has sought to use economic and other pressures to overthrow the government, and instead strengthened it.  In 2011, Obama opened a "virtual embassy" to propagandize the Iranian people for "regime change."  In 2012 it removed the terrorist designation for an opposition terrorist group called the MEK.  Imagine if Iran did such things to us, rather than just being Muslim or whatever it is that it's actually done to us.  The Leveretts present a long and unrelenting history of incompetence and irrationality . . . from the U.S. side.  They have been reduced, reasonably enough, to something that sounds ridiculous: longing for Richard Nixon.

Matalin: President Needs to be Less ‘Self-Reverential’ to Make Progress With Republicans

What is it with these Republicans who just can't stop themselves from coming just a hair shy of calling the President of the United States "uppity?" Last week, Bill-O was calling him "cocky" during his Talking Points Memo segment on Fox. Now we've got Lady McCheney Mary Matalin on Mrs. Greenspan's show calling him too "self-reverential" and "self-righteous" and that he wants Republicans to go along with him and pretend they care about doing their jobs and legislating, he'd better start acting nicer to them.

Andrea Mitchell reminded her that he didn't exactly have much good will from the other side, what with them immediately plotting on how to obstruct everything he tried to do from the day he got elected --during that now-famous meeting with Frank Luntz and Newt Gingrich. We also had Mitch McConnell out there just stating openly that his "single most important" goal was to make Barack Obama a one-term president. Matalin feigned ignorance and pretended she had no idea what Mitchell was talking about. She said the GOP leadership didn't attend meetings and the last time she checked, neither Luntz nor Gingrich were in office at the time of that meeting.

Thankfully, Mitchell did remind her that a good deal of the leadership was there, but that didn't stop her from going right back after President Obama and complaining that he wasn't talking nicely enough to those poor sensitive Republicans.

Here's a little reminder of just what went on during that meeting from James Wolcott: The Conspiracy to Commit Legislative Constipation:

In a scene reminiscent of the summit meeting of mob bosses in The Godfather, Republican House leaders were summoned by evil marshmallow and message-crafter Frank Luntz to hash out a strategy to cope with the defeat of their party in 2008 and the election of the newly inaugurated President Obama, according to Robert Draper's just published book Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives.

From a report on Draper's revelation by Ewen MacAskill in the Guardian UK (the bolding is mine):

During a lengthy discussion, the senior GOP members worked out a plan to repeatedly block Obama over the coming four years to try to ensure he would not be re-elected.

In his book, Draper opens with the heady atmosphere in Washington on the days running up to the inauguration and the day itself, which attracted 1.8 million to the mall to witness Obama being sworn in as America's first black president.

Those numbers contributed to a growing sense of unease among Republicans as much the defeat in the White House race the previous November. The 15 Republicans were in a sombre mood as they gathered at the Caucus Room in Washington, an upscale restaurant where a New York strip steak costs $51.

Attending the dinner were House members Eric Cantor, Jeb Hensarling, Pete Hoekstra, Dan Lungren, Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan and Pete Sessions. From the Senate were Tom Coburn, Bob Corker, Jim DeMint, John Ensign and Jon Kyl. Others present were former House Speaker and future – and failed – presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and the Republican strategist Frank Luntz, who organised the dinner and sent out the invitations.

The dinner table was set in a square at Luntz's request so everyone could see one another and talk freely. The session lasted four hours and by the end the sombre mood had lifted: they had conceived a plan. They would take back the House in November 2010, which they did, and use it as a spear to mortally wound Obama in 2011 and take back the Senate and White House in 2012, Draper writes.

"If you act like you're the minority, you're going to stay in the minority," said Keven McCarthy, quoted by Draper. "We've gotta challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign."

The Republicans have done that, bringing Washington to a near standstill several times during Obama's first term over debt and other issues.

Their locked-shut buttocks will unclench of course should Mitt Romney be elected, at which point they'll be passing legislation like street hawkers handing out strip-club flyers. Every bill will be named after Reagan or some other sentimental favorite.

I don't know about anyone else, but I've about had it up to here with these Republicans and their supposed hurt feelings as an excuse for obstruction when they've disrespected President Obama and called him every name in the book for years. Matalin's pearl clutching is growing tiresome --to put it mildly.

Paul Krugman Explains the Keys to Our Recovery

Bill Moyers: Welcome. Just before the holidays, we asked you, our viewers, to recommend the one book you thought President Obama should read as he prepares himself for his second term in office. As ever, your suggestions were thoughtful, provocative and eclectic – from books by authors who have appeared as guests on this broadcast, to works by the late John Steinbeck and A. A. Milne, the creator of Winnie-the-Pooh. You can see a list at our website, BillMoyers.com.

Many of you asked for my choice, too. This is it – Paul Krugman's End This Depression Now! It's both prescription and warning: our current obsession with slashing the deficit and avoiding that well-known and worn fiscal cliff is killing us, Krugman writes, getting in the way of what really needs to be done – which is dedicating government to creating jobs and getting us back to full employment. He blames not only Congress but the White House.

Paul Krugman is professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton University. Since 1999, he's been an op-ed columnist at The New York Times and now also writes a blog for the paper titled "The Conscience of a Liberal." According to the search engine Technorati, it's the most popular blog by an individual on the internet. Author or editor of some twenty books and more than 200 professional papers, Krugman is a thinker so esteemed and widely known in his field he's become an icon. Not only has he won the Nobel Prize in Economics, he's also the subject of this song by the balladeer Loudon Wainwright III...

Loudon Wainwright III: I read the New York Times that's where I get my news Paul Krugman's on the op-ed page that's where I get the blues 'Cause Paul always tells it like it is we get it blow by blow...

Bill Moyers: As if being immortalized by the blues isn't enough, there was even an unofficial campaign and petition in the last few days urging President Obama to make Paul Krugman the next Secretary of the Treasury. It was an honor, as Shakespeare would say, that Mr. Krugman dreams not of.

Paul Krugman, welcome.

Paul Krugman: Hi there.

Bill Moyers: So, like William Tecumseh Sherman you refuse to be drafted.

Paul Krugman: Well, you know, fortunately it hasn't come to that point. But I think I probably would.

Bill Moyers: But you remember what General Sherman said when there was a movement to run him for president. "I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected." That was the Sherman like statement you issued.

Paul Krugman: That's, well, I'm not quite up to Sherman's standards and I don't think I'm quite ready to lay waste to Georgia either. But a good, good man I admire actually.

Bill Moyers: But the grassroots campaign in your behalf, unofficial, was serious. I mean, over 235,000 people signed on. You broke their hearts. Any regrets?

Paul Krugman: No, because I probably have more influence than I, doing what I do now than I would if I were inside trying to, you know, do the court power games that come with any White House, even the best, which I don't think I'd be any good at. So no, this is fine. And what the president needs right now is he needs a hardnosed negotiator. And rumor has it that's what he's got, so.

Bill Moyers: In Jack Lew?

Paul Krugman: That's right. The president can't pass major new legislation. He can't formulate major new programs right now. What he has to do now is bargain down or ride over these crazy people in the Republican Party. And we what we need now is not deep thinking from the treasury secretary. If the president wants deep thinkers, he can call Joe Stiglitz, he can call other people. What he needs from the Treasury secretary is somebody who's going to be very effective at dealing with these wild men and making sure that nothing terrible happens.

Bill Moyers: I understand that Jack Lew has Depression art on his, the wall of his office, art done by the Works Progress Administration. Which would be a good sign for someone like you who believes the Depression is back.

Paul Krugman: That's, I have to say, the most reassuring thing I've heard about him. WPA, you know, they produced a lot of art, which I think it's almost inconceivable now. But also the WPA was one of the really good moments in American policy. In a time of economic disaster, hiring people, giving them jobs to do things that are good, much of which survives and is an important part of our physical planet today. This is great. And the fact that he thinks well of and admires what the WPA did, that's a very hopeful sign.

Bill Moyers: What could Jack Lew do as Treasury secretary that would make you think he's a kindred spirit?

Paul Krugman: Campaign against this austerity obsession. We're not going to get a big new stimulus package, much as I would like to see it. No, we're not going to get it this year, anyway. But I'd like to see him saying when somebody says, "Well, we need to slash here, we need to slash there." And he would say "Why would we want to be doing that now? That's actually going to hurt the economy."

Bill Moyers: But hasn't our economy changed so much since Franklin Roosevelt simply put people on the government payroll?

Paul Krugman: It's, economics, the underlying rules change a lot more slowly than people imagine. People look and they say, "Oh, you know, back then they were taking ocean liners and now we fly jet airplanes." Or, "Back then we didn't have a global economy." Actually, we did. It's a little bit fancier now. But the basic rules are not are not much changed. It takes hundreds of years for those to change a whole lot. And this is, I can pretty easily assemble a bunch of headlines from the 1930s and they will sound like they're right out of today's headlines. This is the same kind of animal that we confronted in the '30s. This is depression economics. And the nature of the solution is not really very different now from what it was then.

Bill Moyers: What do you mean, depression economics?

Paul Krugman: Well, two things really. One is, a recession is when the economy's going down. A depression is when the economy is down. So, you know, the U.S. economy was actually expanding through most of the 1930s, after a terrible big slump at the beginning and another slump later in the '30s. And then it was expanding in between. But we call that whole episode the Great Depression because it was all a period of high unemployment and a lot of suffering.

And, of course, we're in that now. It's not as bad as the Great Depression. You know, it's a great recommendation. Not as bad as the Great Depression. It's terrible. We have a persistently depressed economy, persistent lack of jobs. So in that sense, it's a depression. And there's also a more technical meaning. Depression economics is when the normal things you do to boost the economy, have the Federal Reserve cut interest rates a little bit, are no longer available or effective. It's a situation where the normal rules of what you-- of economic policy, have to be put on hold, and you really need to do extraordinary stuff.

Bill Moyers: Well, the Fed has kept the interest late very low. And it has made a big difference, has it?

Paul Krugman: I think it actually has. If they hadn't kept the interest rate low, things would be much, much worse. Meaning--

Bill Moyers: More people out to work.

Paul Krugman: That's right. We, you know, this is not as bad as the Great Depression. Again, our famous last words. But part of the reason is that the Fed did learn something from the 1930s. It's learned that raising interest rates to stabilize the price of gold is a really bad idea in times like this. But the trouble is that zero, which is as low as it can get, is not low enough. And we actually know pretty well what you need to do.

Bill Moyers: The other side of it is that people have been told so long, "Save money. Save money. Americans were not saving." Now if they save money, they make no money from their savings.

Paul Krugman: That's right. And, actually the truth is right now saving hurts us. It's because what, another way, yet another way to think about depression economics, depression economics is a situation where the total amount that people want to save is less than the amount that businesses are willing to invest. You can think of that as being the result, a lot of it is because of this overhang of personal household debt from the past.

We had a housing bubble that burst, leaving us with too much construction. We have a financial system that's disrupted. But all of that leads to the fact that there's, the amount that businesses are willing to invest is less than the amount that collectively we all want to save, including corporations that are trying to retain earnings.

Which means that we're awash in excess savings. And if you decide to save more, it's not actually going to help society. I mean, things add up. If there's a crucial, one crucial thing to understand about all this it is that the global economy, money moves around in a circle. And my spending is your income, and your spending is my income. And if all of us try to spend less because we want to save more, we don't succeed. All we end up doing is creating a global depression.

Bill Moyers: So your prescription in this book, and the book is an argument for the prescription, is that the government should spend more so that people can buy more. In other words, creating demand that will drive the economy. That's the chief argument in here.

Paul Krugman: That's right. There are some other things you can do. Debt relief, where you can do it, will help because it will make people able to spend more. There're some things that the, maybe the Federal Reserve can do, even though interest rates are zero. But the core thing, the thing that we know works, the thing that all the evidence of history says works in a situation like this is the private sector won't spend, government can step in and provide the spending that we need in order to keep this economy afloat.

Bill Moyers: As you know, there is an argument on the other side that says that Roosevelt, in spending in the '30s, did not really bring us out of the Depression. It was, and you acknowledge this in the book, the war, in which so much money was spent, you couldn't help but put people to work.

Paul Krugman: That's right. But the fact that it was a war that finally got the U.S. government to spend enough is not an argument against spending. It's an argument about politics. It's saying that then, as now, lots of people were saying, "Oh, it would be irresponsible to spend," and it wasn't until something external came along that the political restraints were released.

And then, we didn't, we actually were, we had recovered from the Great Depression before Pearl Harbor, because the U.S. economy really went to war in 1940. And presto. I mean, lots of people said, "Oh, spending more can't produce recovery." And then we started our military buildup because war had broken out in Europe. And suddenly, we had recovery.

I made it as a joke, but if we discovered a threat from space aliens and decided that to deal with that threat, we needed to actually, somehow or other we needed to do a lot of infrastructure spending. We needed to build roads and high-speed rail. We would have full employment.

Bill Moyers: By full employment, you mean?

Paul Krugman: Something like 5 percent unemployment.

Bill Moyers: There essentially will always be a certain number of people who are not working for one reason or another.

Paul Krugman: Yeah. It's a dynamic economy. There's always going to be companies failing. There's always going to be people quitting a job and taking some time to find a new one. There's a lot of friction in the economy. So the fact of the matter is that normal, a normally pretty full employment economy is still going to have 5 percent measured unemployment. That's okay. But there's a world of difference between that and right now the official number is in the high sevens. But a lot of measures suggest it's a lot worse than that. I mean, and most important, we have four million who've been out of work for more than a year, which is unprecedented since the 1930s.

Bill Moyers: Yeah, you write that we are in a depression that is essentially gratuitous. We don't need to be suffering so much pain and destroying so many lives.

Paul Krugman: Gratuitous in the sense that there's nothing, the only obstacles to putting people to work, to having those lives restored, to producing hundreds of billions, probably 900 billion a year or so of extra valuable stuff in our economy, is in our minds.

If I could somehow convince the members of Congress and the usual suspects that deficit spending, for the time being, is okay, and that what we really need is a big job creation program. And let's worry about the deficit after we've had a solid recovery, it would all be over. It would be no problem at all, which is what, that's the lesson of 1940, 1941.

Bill Moyers: Which is?

Paul Krugman: You can find all kinds of people explaining what was fundamentally wrong with the U.S. economy in 1940, that technology makes it impossible, workers don't have the right skill. Then along came a war in Europe and we started spending. Actually, at that point, spending a lot on infrastructure because we were getting ready for a war. And all of a sudden--

Bill Moyers: Building harbors, building all kinds of--

Paul Krugman: And camps, training camps, there are a lot--

Bill Moyers: --training--

Paul Krugman: The first thing that happened actually was a lot of construction spending on the giant new camps that the Army was going need. And all of a sudden, all of those unemployable workers turned out to be extremely productive, if you gave them a job. All of those, you know, total inability to get the economy moving turned out to be totally easy to get the economy moving. And we're basically in that situation right now. All the productive capacity is there. All that's lacking is the intellectual clarity and the political will.

Bill Moyers: You make this so clear in the book, that's why I recommended that President Obama read this book as the one book I would like to see him read before the inauguration next week. If he read it, what would you hope he would fasten on?

Paul Krugman: I would hope that he would fasten on the notion, you know, he faces real political constraint. So we understand, he can't just pass legislation. But that the most important thing, his policy priority right now should be doing whatever he can to at least move in the direction of the kinds of policies that we want for full employment, that we need for full employment. And that the obsessions of Washington about a grand bargain on the deficit are really pretty much beside the point right now. That, if given a choice between doing something that will help the economy in the next two years, and something that will allegedly settle our budget problems for all, you know, for all time, which is wouldn't, that he should go for the stuff that will help the economy now. That he should not bend on that point.

Bill Moyers: I can imagine that if you were sitting across the table with him, he might reply, "Look, Krugman, we've got a recovery coming on. Jobs are being created more steadily than ever. Measured unemployment is falling. Households are shaking off their burden of debt. I can see light at the end of the tunnel. I don't think this is the time to do what you're saying."

Paul Krugman: I think he might have said that two, three years ago. I don't think that president, you know, we happen to have a very intelligent man as president. He's for real. And he does understand. You can have real discussions with him. And I think he understands that, although things have improved some. We actually have had some progress on the economy in the past year. It's a glacial pace, compared with the way we should be. You can do this various ways. But if you think about the plunge that we took and you look at measures like the labor force, a fraction of prime age workers employed, whatever, we have maybe made up a quarter of the ground we lost in that great plunge in 2008, 2009. And it'll take years and years to get back to anything that looks like prosperity at this rate.

Bill Moyers: What makes this a depression? You know, my generation remembers the photographs of those long lines of people looking for jobs, men and women both. Remembers the sad eyes, the hungry stomachs. Remembers that men were becoming so desperate they were becoming militant. But today, even though you say the situation, in terms of joblessness, is like the 1930s, you can't obviously, you can't transparently look around and see the evidence of a depression.

Paul Krugman: That's right. It's, and partly that it's not as bad. So by modern concepts the Great Depression had unemployment rates that were as high as 20something percent by modern measures. And even in 1937, when things had improved, before we went into the second leg of the Great Depression, it was still probably about a nine percent unemployment rate by modern standards. And we've got a seven point something, eight percent, whatever. So things are not as bad. But I think a lot of it is just that the optics have changed.

Bill Moyers: Optics?

Paul Krugman: The optic, the misery is there. I mean, is there anybody, I guess if you live in very rarified circles you don't know people who are desperate right now. But I live in pretty rarified circles and I do. I know, I have relatives, friends people I know who have, men my age who've lost jobs and see no prospect of getting another job and are just desperately trying to hang in there until they can collect their social security and get on Medicare. There are young people whose lives have collapsed. You know, they graduate and there's nothing there.

Bill Moyers: Yeah, you make a very powerful point in here of the impact of being out of work now on the lifetime career of a young person who has no job at the moment.

Paul Krugman: We have pretty good evidence on, you know, how long does it take to make up for the fact that you happen to graduate from college into a bad labor market. And the answer is forever. You will never recover.

Bill Moyers: How so, what do you mean?

Paul Krugman: You will never get, you'll miss years getting onto the career ladder. By the time you get a chance to get a job that makes any sense, you know, that makes any use of your skills, you will already be tarred as somebody, "Well, you're 28 years old and you haven't held a responsible position?" "Well, yeah, I couldn't because there were no jobs." It just shadows your whole life. And it's very clear in the evidence from past recessions, which have been nowhere near as bad as this one.

The other thing I think I want to say here is that we have, in some ways, made things more civilized but also more invisible. Somebody said that food stamps are the soup kitchens of the modern depression. That there're a lot of people who would be standing in line to get that soup, who are instead, and it's a good thing, who are instead getting, I guess it's now called SNAP, Supplementary Nutritional Assistance Program, but who are getting those debit cards, and are getting essential food stuffs. And they're at the grocery store and they look like anybody else. But the fact of the matter is they are still as desperate, they're getting by day to day with the aid of a trickle of government aid, just like the people who were on, standing in line at the soup kitchens in the '30s, but they're not visible. They, we don't have guys selling apples in street corners partly because, you know, the city licensing wouldn't allow that anymore.

But we do have, again, we've got four million people who've been out of work for more than a year. The U.S. social system is not designed to take care of somebody who's been out of work. We have unemployment insurance that's intended to deal with short spells of unemployment. So there's an enormous amount of misery, but it is mostly hidden.

Bill Moyers: So that's why you refer to it, even though the optics have changed, as a quote "Vast, unnecessary catastrophe"?

Paul Krugman: Yeah. The amount of damage that's being done is enormous. The amount of suffering of people is enormous. And if it isn't out there, visible on the streets, if it's dispersed across a suburban you know, if you see a house with a for sale sign that's been sitting there for a while, you may not know the story about the family that was driven from its house because they, one or both spouses lost jobs and couldn't find others. Or, and they were foreclosed on. But it's a real story, all the same. And there's lots of that going around. And none of this needs to be happening.

Bill Moyers: And you argue that this could actually be solved in two years?

Paul Krugman: That's right. And that's not a number plucked out of thin air. That's a guess at how long it would take to get a serious spending program going. And we could actually make a lot of difference in it even quicker than that because the fact of the matter is, far from having effective job creation program, we've actually been pulling back. We've seen state and local governments lay off hundreds of thousands of school teachers. We've seen public investment in basic stuff like road repair cut way back. If we just went back to normal rates of filling potholes and normal rates of employment of school teachers, that could be done in months.

Bill Moyers: You wonder why, given the suffering, Congress and the White House haven't acted.

Paul Krugman: Well, there are I think two, two levels of opposition. And one of them is just raw politics. We have a powerful political movement in this country that has a longstanding goal of rolling back all of the social programs, all the safety net that we've created. They want smaller government. They want reduced public services. Even the idea of public schools is very much under attack. They want it all to be switched to a system of vouchers. And they see this, you and I see a disaster, they see an opportunity. Here we have cash strapped state and local government. Good. Forced to cut back in government. They don't want to do anything that will make it easier for them to, for government as we know it to continue. That movement controls one political party. And that political party controls one house of Congress. And that is enough to stand in the way of a lot of things we ought to be doing. Then there's the second level, which is this odd coalescence of, I picked up the phrase from other people. Actually, from the blogger Duncan Black. "Very Serious People," capital V, capital S, capital P.

Bill Moyers: You're always writing that these Very Serious People. Who are they?

Paul Krugman: Yeah. The notion that someone, well, you can look are your random set of, you know Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson would be the quintessential Very Serious People. The editorial, practically the whole op-ed page, not all of them, but most of "The Washington Post." People for whom this, it's axiomatic that the budget deficit is the most important problem. And that what we really, really need to do right now at a time of mass unemployment is worry about the debt to GDP ratio ten years from now. And it's a very hard thing to crack, partly because it's not actually a rational argument. You very rarely, very rarely see on the Sunday talk shows, people asking, "Why exactly are you so concerned about the deficit right now?" That's sort of a given. That's a starting point. Everybody serious understands that, except that if you ask them why exactly, they can't give you a very good answer.

Bill Moyers: What is the answer?

Paul Krugman: It's partly that this is, it sounds serious. Never you know, never underestimate the importance of just plain what comes across. Start so it's partly just it sounds serious, it's the kind of thing that people who wear good suits are likely to talk about. Partly it is actually, of course, a deliberate pressure campaign.

Bill Moyers: For example, Pete Peterson, Nixon's Secretary of the Commerce, billionaire several times over has set up this Fix the Debt campaign and is said to be putting half a billion dollars into trying to influence the public.

Paul Krugman: Yeah, actually it's not just Fix the Debt, that's just the latest incarnation. There's also the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, there's the newspaper "The Fiscal Times," there's several others. It's a whole portfolio. They all are Peterson Foundation money at the roots, but they're all out there. And yeah, serious attempts to influence public debate are not, by and large, a very lavishly funded enterprise.

Bill Moyers: But in this case?

Paul Krugman: But in this case, you've got so half a billion dollars, $500 million of spending with one agenda is going to have a huge impact. You know, policy intellectuals, by and large come cheap. A few hundred thousand in consulting contracts could do a lot there.

Bill Moyers: Do you think some of them are serious about the debt leading to a loss of confidence on the part of investors in foreign governments? I mean, even three years ago Barack Obama expressed concern about the long term debt and the confidence of people in the U.S. government. Take a listen.

Barack Obama: There may be some tax provisions that can encourage businesses to hire sooner rather than sitting on the sidelines. So we're taking a look at those. I think it is important, though, to recognize that if we keep on adding to the debt, even in the midst of this recovery, that at some point, people could lose confidence in the US economy in a way that could actually lead to a double-dip recession.

Paul Krugman: I remember that well. And at the time it was going on, I do occasionally find myself in meetings with Very Serious People myself. I guess I am personally one now and then. There was this widespread view among people, and not all of it venal, not all of it self-interested, that somehow things were hanging by a thread. That any day now we could have a run on U.S. government debt, which was wrong.

But, okay, I can see how people could for a while have believed that. But a lot of time has gone by since then. And I hope that at least some people have learned better. But it's amazing how little the continued failure of these warnings to actually be vindicated by anything has...how little of that's actually affected the debate.

And there's a special issue here, which I've actually tried to get across now, and I find that I get resistance even from people who are, I would've hoped were more flexible. It's even very hard to tell the story about how this loss of confidence is supposed to work. I mean, it's the United States is not like a European country that doesn't have its own currency.

The U.S. government cannot run out of cash unless Congress prevents it, you know creates an entirely self-inflicted shortage through the debt ceiling. How is it exactly that we're supposed to have this crisis that leads to a double dip recession? It really doesn't even make sense as a story. And yet it is one of those things that people say and by and large, are not contradicted on.

Bill Moyers: We keep hearing from the right that we're here on the path to becoming Greece, and you say that that's impossible?

Paul Krugman: Yeah. We, even if, suppose that people decided, investors decided they don't like U.S. government debt, it can't cause a funding crisis because the U.S. government prints money. It's even hard to see how it can drive up interest rates because the Fed sets interest rates at the short end, and why exactly would the long run rates go up if you don't expect the Fed to raise rates? It could lead to a weakening of the U.S. dollar against other currencies.

But that's actually a good thing. That would make U.S. exports more competitive. That would actually boost our economy. So it's, actually impossible to tell that story, as far as I can tell. And yet, it's not, again we're mostly not in the realm of rational discourse here. It's one of those things where people say it, they hear other people saying it. And they don't actually try to work it through.

And it plays a big role, I'm sorry, in influencing our public discussion. Interestingly, people who actually have money on the line, that is people who are buying bonds, just keep on driving U.S. interest rates ever lower. So actual investors don't care about this stuff. But our political class does.

Bill Moyers: Why don't they care?

Paul Krugman: Because first of all, because I think at some level investors understand what I'm saying. That it's very difficult to see any reason why the Fed would raise short term rates, which is controls for years to come. And in that case, long term debt even at a pretty low interest rate is a reasonable investment. Hard to see how a financial crisis actually develops against the United States, U.S. government, which is in this you know, has all the luxury of printing its own currency.

And investments are always about compared to what, right? If you if you say, "Well, the U.S. is a dangerous place to invest," I don't think it is, but particularly where is the safe place that people are going to invest? You know, what is this other asset that they're going to buy? And it doesn't really exist.

Bill Moyers: You say we're in a liquidity trap. I don't understand that.

Paul Krugman: Basically, a liquidity trap is we're, back up for a second. How do we normally deal with a recession? How do we deal with a garden variety recession like the 2001 after the dot com bubble burst, or 1991? The answer is that basically the Fed, the Federal Reserve goes out there and prints money.

Or strictly speaking credits banks, you know, credit banks with that extra reserves and buys treasury bills. And that normally starts a chain of events where, okay, the banks have got extra reserves, they lend them out. They, that drives down interest rates, leads to a whole series of events, which ends up with the economy picking up some steam. And what the Fed is doing in that case, it's supplying extra liquidity to the system.

Paul Krugman: But now we're in a situation, we're awash in liquidity. We've already got, I mean, interest rates are zero. And so anybody you say, "Well, we're going to give you some more cash and you're going to go lend it out," and banks, everybody's going to say, "Well, why would I want to do that? I mean, interest rates are zero. It's, there's no particular incentive for me not to just sit on this cash."

So you pour this extra liquidity into the economy and it just sits there. And that's the liquidity trap. It's a situation in which the ordinary monetary policy thing doesn't work.

A side consequence of that is it also means that if the government goes out and borrows more, it's not going to drive up interest rates because there's all this cash sitting out there looking for a place to go.

So the rules change. And liquidity traps are really rare. I mean, we had one in the 1930s and we've had another one since 2008. And aside from that, we had one in Japan in the 1990s, and that's about it. But when they happen, boy, they change all the rules. You find yourself in a different universe for economics.

Bill Moyers: And they're not putting people to work.

Paul Krugman: That's right. A liquidity trap is a situation where the economy can stay depressed and there's no natural, certainly no fast natural route to recovery.

Bill Moyers: So why would you be calling for more spending, given that reality?

Paul Krugman: Oh, but that's the point, then the equation, what we're looking for always, the problem...Basically all recessions are a problem of not enough spending in the economy. There are a few exceptions, basically, what we call a recession is, a case where there's not enough spending, and so there's not enough jobs. Normally, however, you can deal with that in a very narrow technocratic fashion, which is that the Federal Reserve cuts interest rates and stuff happens.

Now that doesn't work because we're in a liquidity trap. And so, this is where you say, "Okay, we need something else that's going to work, and it's very hard to come up with anything that is clearly effective, other than having the government go out and spend the money that the private sector won't." And this is why it, you know, this is, monetary policy is the aspirin of economic ailments. Take a couple whenever you're feeling that you have a headache. Now we had the over the counter remedy doesn't work and we need the, the heavy duty prescription medicine, and that's what I'm arguing for.

Bill Moyers: Interesting you say that because I tried to condense to one sentence the message and argument of your book. And I wrote down, "The answer is simple. Increase spending and boost consumption because the fundamental problem at the root of this crisis is a lack of demand."

Paul Krugman: That's it. Now you can say that all crises', or most crises' anyway, most recessions are a lack of demand. But this is an intractable lack of demand. And so, we, we need we need government action of a type that most, at any point during the past 70 years, except this one, I would have said, "No, let's leave it up to my former colleague, Ben Bernanke." But he can't do the job right now. And so, we need the government.

Bill Moyers: And if the president were sitting across the table from you and asking, "Where would you spend this money, Paul?" What would your answer be?

Paul Krugman: Right now it's easy because right now we can do it very quickly simply by restoring the spending cuts that have already happened. If you gave me unlimited carte blanche in terms of spending, I would want to go beyond that. I'd want to talk about and pretty straightforward things, even so. We have you know, fix the sewer lines. I mean, we have, we have a lot of, a lot of basic infrastructure needs that are worth doing in any case.

But right now you can get a quick boost just by rehiring those school teachers and filling those potholes. We are something like $300 billion a year short of the spending that we should be undertaking just for the normal business of government. And that extra $300 billion a year would be a really big deal for the economy if we could do it right now.

Bill Moyers: Would it bring us to what you call full employment?

Paul Krugman: Probably not. Probably bring us down to an unemployment rate that was more in the 6 to 6.5 percent.

Bill Moyers: How much would it add to the long term deficit?

Paul Krugman: Actually, nothing to the long term deficit, or almost nothing because this would not be a permanent set of measures. This would be something we'd do now. It would add headline suppose we spend $300 billion a year right now, additional. That's not $300 billion a year in extra debt because it's, the economy will be stronger, which means more revenue, which means less spending on unemployment benefits.

So it's probably under $200 billion a year in immediate borrowing. And there's a lot of reason to think that would actually, having a stronger economy now would actually strengthen the economy in the long run as well. Or put it this way, the other way, that having a really weak economy now is damaging our future and not just our present. Think about all college graduates who will never get the job they all should get.

That's not just harm for them, that's a future economy that is weaker than it should've been because it's wasting a lot of our talent. And there's a pretty good case, actually a pretty strong case, that if you think about the long run fiscal impact, spending more right now is actually positive even in terms of the long run budget situation because a stronger future economy will mean stronger revenue down the pike.

And the debt we incur right now, well, you know, the interest rate on U.S. long term debt is under 2 percent. Inflation protected U.S. long term debt has a negative interest rate. There's almost no, there's even, on purely fiscal terms, it's arguable that we should be spending more just to strengthen our long run budget position.

Bill Moyers: Is there a limit to how much we can keep borrowing?

Paul Krugman: There may be, although all that we know, all of the evidence says it's a lot further away than conventional wisdom has it. I mean, like a lot of people, including Ben Bernanke, I got into all of these things by looking at Japan in the '90s. And Japan famously has run deficits year after year. And it has a level of debt that is about twice what we've got as a share of GDP.

And people have been predicting financial catastrophe for Japan year after year for ten years or more. They've had downgrades. Their debt was downgraded in 2002 by the major rating agencies. And everybody who believed those warnings and everybody -- has lost a lot of money. So it turns out that if you're an advanced country with its own currency and a reasonably stable government, you have a lot of running room on these things.

So am I worried? Yeah, I mean, I am worried about the U.S. fiscal situation 20 years from now. We do have a problem of health care costs and so on. But, you know, I'm worried about a lot of other things 20 years as well. I'm not sure that even if you take that long term perspective, that the budget should be at the top of your list of things to be afraid of.

I'm a lot more afraid, actually, of the great -- the entire southwest of the United States turning into a dustbowl because of climate change, right? So sure, by all means, let's think about it. But it should not be dominating our policy discussion now.

Bill Moyers: As you know, we're heading toward another knockdown, drag out, shoot it out at the O.K. Corral fight over raising the debt ceiling in a few weeks. President Obama has already said he will not negotiate on raising the debt ceiling. Here's what he said.

Barack Obama: I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills that they've already racked up through the laws that they passed. Let me repeat. We can't not pay bills that we've already incurred.

Bill Moyers: And here's the response he got the next day from Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

Pat Toomey: Our opportunity here is on the debt ceiling. The president's made it very clear; he doesn't even want to have a discussion about it, because he knows this is where we have leverage. We Republicans need to be willing to tolerate a temporary partial government shutdown, which is what that could mean, and insist that we get off the road to Greece, because that's the road we're on right now. We only can solve this problem by getting spending under control and restructuring the entitlement programs. There is no tax solution to this; it's a spending solution. And if this president doesn't want to go there, we're going to have to force it and we're going to have to force it over the debt ceiling.

Paul Krugman: This is a guy walking into a crowded room and saying, "I have a bomb strapped to my chest, and if you don't give me what I want, I'm going to blow up everybody, including myself." And is that a credible threat? Well, there're some pretty crazy people there. And it might be that they're willing to do it.

But by the same token, Obama cannot get into this because then you have government in the hands of -- never mind the Constitution, the government is run by whoever is most willing to wreak havoc with our whole system of -- with the nation. We cannot allow ourselves to be blackmailed into spending cuts, partly because blackmail should not be part of how the U.S. operates, and partly because spending cuts would be disastrous right now. So Obama's right to say he doesn't negotiate. I'd like to know exactly what he will do if it turns out that there is not a quorum of sane people in the Republican party.

Bill Moyers: If you were Secretary of the Treasury, what would you recommend he do?

Paul Krugman: I'm for whatever gimmick works. So the most dignified is to say, "Look, this is ridiculous. You are giving the president -- effectively Congress is giving the president inconsistent instructions. It's passed bills mandating spending. It's passed bills that give us inadequate revenue to cover that spending which requires that we borrow. And then you're saying, 'I can't borrow.' Well, you know.

And my reading of the Constitution is I have to obey the due legislative process and go ahead and do this borrowing to meet the bills that we've already incurred, as the president said." That's sort of what people are calling the Fourteenth Amendment solution, that basically it's unconstitutional to give into this debt limit thing. I guess that's your best solution. They don't think that that's workable then you go for anything at hand. And there is this wonderful bit about the platinum coin.

Bill Moyers: I don't understand that.

Paul Krugman: In a 1997 act amended in 2000 which covers issuance of coins and stuff like that. There's one clause that says that the Secretary of the Treasury shall have the right to mint and issue platinum coins in any denomination that he so chooses. Clearly, the intent was commemorative coins. You're going to strike a coin to commemorate whatever, Mother's Day.

But it doesn't say that. And as far as legal scholars have been able to make out, there's no reason why the Secretary of the Treasury can't order the minting of a coin that says this coin is worth $1 trillion, which need bear no relationship to the actual value of the platinum in it. It has to be platinum, however. And walk that coin over to the Federal Reserve.

Deposit it in and have the Federal Reserve create a bank account for the federal government based on that coin of whatever. It could be one coin for $1 trillion, it could be a thousand coins of a billion each, whatever. And then the government can pay its bills by drawing on that bank account. And it's crazy, it's an accounting gimmick, but then this whole thing is crazy. And if that lets you bypass this nonsense about the debt limit, fine.

There are other routes. I mean, it's possible the government could issue coupons that look like debt and function like debt, but says, "No, they're not debt." They could say, "This -- we have no legal obligation to pay this. We are, in fact, going to pay it, but we have no legal obligation to pay it." That's another alternative. They could--

Bill Moyers: This is what you'd call--

Paul Krugman: I'd call it moral obligation coupons.

Bill Moyers: Moral obligation because the government is morally obligated to pay that at some point, right? That's what--

Paul Krugman: That's right.

Bill Moyers: --you mean by that?

Paul Krugman: Yeah. So, but it's a moral obligation. We can say it's not a legal obligation so that -- you know, all of this is of course, this is all word games. But then that's not to play games would be irresponsible at this point.

Bill Moyers: So you would encourage, if you were Secretary of the Treasury, the president to call the Republican bluff?

Paul Krugman: Yes. I think, now, I think you probably don't commit to doing that until we actually hit the limit. You say what the president is now saying. There is no alternative but for Congress to do the responsible thing and raise this debt limit.

But you don't rule out these alternatives and you make sure that the Republicans know you haven't ruled it out so that it stands ready, and in fact it's what you do. Hostage negotiations, you have to -- you have to have some credible alternative to giving into the hostage takers demands, and that's where we are right now.

Bill Moyers: You've confessed before to an occasional sinking feeling that you can count on President Obama to wimp out. And that's your term, "to wimp out" when it matters.

Paul Krugman: Yeah. The 2011 debt ceiling fight was deeply disheartening because he should not have negotiated on the debt ceiling at all. Same argument as now. This is not how you do it. It is not a legitimate tactic of politics to threaten to destroy the country if you don't get what you want. And people who make that demand have no standing. You should not give them anything.

But he did. He actually did, in fact, make some significant concessions on spending, in order to get a rise in the debt limit. He blinked a little bit on the fiscal cliff. Not as badly as some of us feared, but he did not, in fact, hold out for the full revenue package. And so, some of us are worried. Now, I have to say, I mean, I'm reading my own stage directions here.

People like me are, in part, going after him, warning about the wimping out thing in order to turn that into a self-denying prophesy. That the idea is to make a situation where the president will be aware what people will say about him if he does give in here so it doesn't happen.

Bill Moyers: More than many economists I read, you keep politics at center stage in writing about the economy. Those are two different narratives in one sense. And yet, you intertwine them as you keep writing and analyzing our situation today. Why is that?

Paul Krugman: I think we've reached a moment in our history where the extreme nature of our politics and the extreme nature of the economic situation has converged. You know, here we are, on one side we have a once-in-three-generations economic crisis. Right, this is -- starting in 2008, we've been experiencing the crisis that has haunted the nightmares of macro economists since the 1930s. And here it is again.

And this is as dramatic as it gets. It's a situation where you really have to throw out the business as usual. And on the other side, you have this extreme political situation, where a radical movement has taken over one of our two great political parties. And does not-- does not practice politics as usual. Anyone who talks about, "Well, we should make deals the way we used to. What about the Tax Reform of 1986? Why can't we do that again?" And the answer is, well, that might make sense to you if you've been in a Buddhist monastery for the past 20 years.

But that's not today's Republican party. You can't make that kind of deal with them. And so, how can you write about the economics? If you write about economics right now and implicitly adopt the perspective, "Well, let's get reasonable people together in Washington and reach a solution here," you know, you're paying no attention to reality. And, of course, if you talk about the politics without talking about the economics, you're also missing everything. So how could I not be writing about both?

Bill Moyers: You begin one chapter of your book with a quote from your intellectual mentor, John Maynard Keynes, who writes in his masterpiece The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, "The outstanding faults of the economic society in which we live--" and this was the '20s and '30s, "are its failure to provide for full employment. And its arbitrary and inequitable distribution of wealth and incomes." Well, we don't have full employment today and we have gross inequality in income. So which is failing us, capitalism or democracy or both?

Paul Krugman: I guess I have a -- here's where I guess I am an optimist, which is that I believe that you can fix both capitalism and democracy. Not to produce a utopia, but to produce a workable solution. And the reason I believe that is we did that for a pretty long stretch.

Western economies in 1933 and western societies in 1933 were in a pretty horrible state. Mass unemployment, gross inequality, collapse of democracy in a number of places. And in the end, by the time 1950 had rolled around, we had managed to create a more equitable, not totally equal, but a more equitable society, with reasonably full employment.

And that solution lasted for half a century, which is all you can ever expect in human affairs. Nothing is permanent. So I do believe that we can do that again. So it's not that we have to ditch capitalism. I think a market economy is -- this is probably Churchill, right, it's the worst solution except for all the others. And democracy is the worst system, except for all the others.

But it's going to take some work. It's not -- the idea that you can just let markets rip and that you don't need to worry about the state of your democracy, that's wrong. But I'm actually, in a way, a conservative on these things. But a conservative, not -- what we now call conservatives are actually radicals who want to tear down the structure that we built, starting with FDR. And I want to rebuild something like that, a modernized, a twenty-first century version of that system. But it's not out of reach. It's not something that can't be done.

Bill Moyers: Paul Krugman, "End This Depression Now." Thank you very much for this conversation.

Paul Krugman: Thank you.

Money Out… Voters In

It’s time to stop moneyed conservative interests from trying to buy or steal our democracy. We know the problem—let’s get to the solutions.

Since the 1880s we’ve seen how money shouts, and since the 1980s we’ve watched regressives seek to restrict the freedom to vote, culminating last year in the explosion of Super PAC spending and voting rights restrictions. This time, the efforts of the Adelsons, Kochs and Roves largely failed (at the federal level). But the economic elites will be back to attempt their hostile takeover of our democracy with even more money and sophistication.

Hence MoneyOut/VotersIn Day in some sixty cities on January 19. That’s when a large coalition of public interest, labor, voting rights and faith groups are aspiring to a “more perfect union” on the confluence of the third anniversary of Citizens United, the weekend celebration of MLK and the Presidential Inauguration.

Generations of traditional campaign finance groups have worked against a democracy-for-sale. And heroic voting rights groups have long sought to fulfill Dr. King’s plea at the Washington Monument in 1957: “Give us the ballot! Give us the ballot!” But rarely have these two communities worked together to stop the rigging of the political system. Until we ensure that popular majorities become public law, it will be hard to accomplish so much of what is urgent—a more progressive tax code, immigration reform, climate change legislation, a living wage, labor reform and gun violence reduction.

So on January 19, scores of groups and thousands of people around the country will organize around a three-part Democracy-for-All program: a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United; public funding of public elections, in Washington and state capitols; and guaranteed voting rights so potentially 50 million more Americans can vote before or on a National Holiday in November.

First, reverse Citizens United. A momentary five-justice majority in this case tried to assure that a plutocracy of donors supplant a democracy of voters. As for the view that, well, both capital and labor will now be able to spend without limit in elections, the reality is that capital has 3,000 times more wealth than labor, the Koch brothers alone with a net worth more than all unions in America. Senator John McCain is right when he calls the decision the worst in a century. How can “originalists” like Justices Scalia and Thomas ignore the historical reality that the founders intended the First Amendment apply to actual people, not corporations, which never appear in the Constitution? How can Justice Kennedy make believe that “the appearance of influence or access…will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy” if Sheldon Adelson spends, say, $40 million on someone’s behalf and then calls the winning candidate with his ideas on lowered capital gains rates? How can big interests and their apologists hide behind the First Amendment when money is literally property, not speech?

But then, like segregationists who hid behind “property rights” and “states rights,” today’s powerbrokers pretend that they are merely the modern equivalent of silenced minorities. Walmart is not Tom Paine or Fannie Lou Hamer.

It’s one thing for money to buy companies in a system of capitalism based on the private pursuit of profit—but quite another for money to buy congressmen with trillions in shareholder wealth collected for commercial, not political, purposes.

There is an almost comical irony in the law creating corporate charters to raise private capital for business purposes…and then allowing these creations to use that privilege to privatize democracy itself. Surely the Supreme Court can figure out how to condition a privilege, so that corporations can contract and enjoy police protection, but not vote, marry or drown out other voices with an ocean of paid political commercials.

By lopsided margins, the public opposes the current system of purchased politicians and supports overturning Citizens United by amendment or a new Court decision. (Eighty percent favor one and 70 percent would make Super PACs illegal.) While the exact language of an amendment might vary, one version could simply state that money isn’t speech and can, in the electoral context, be regulated like excessive decibels and pollution are by sound/place/manner laws and environmental rules.

There are currently 125 members of Congress, eleven states and 350 cities and towns that have called for a constitutional amendment. Obviously, no state resolution can force a constitutional conclusion, but together they can help create a climate for change, the way hundreds of local referenda for a nuclear freeze in the early 1980s spurred nuclear arms reductions in later Reagan-Gorbachev summits.

True, it’s not feasible today to get a two-thirds majority of each chamber and three-fourths of state legislatures to vote for an amendment—which has happened seventeen times since the Bill of Rights—but a growing movement has taken the idea from pipe dream to mainstream. President Obama told one of the authors in the spring that it was something he wanted to consider in a second term. In his Reddit AMA in October, Obama said, “Even if the amendment process falls short, it can shine a spotlight of the super-PAC phenomenon and help apply pressure for change.”

Next, enact “Democracy Funding.” There are successful versions in New York City, Maine and Arizona. Essentially, either a critical mass of small donations generate a multiple of public matching funding (in New York City, donations from city voters of $175 or under are matched six to one) or candidates can voluntarily opt in to a system where, if they reach a minimum threshold of donors, they receive a fixed amount of public funds to run for office.

Compare the New York City system with matching “democracy funding” and the New York State system without it. Small donations (under $250) account for 55 percent of campaign funds raised in City races but only six percent of State races. Forget 1 percent vs. 99 percent. Given the ethic that you don’t bite the hand that funds you, who is in charge when .5 percent of eligible voters comprise 100 percent of all campaign treasuries in NYS? That’s why a Fair Elections Act creating publicly financed state elections is about to be debated in Albany.

Yes, public funds are involved. But either we have a system of the private funding of public elections—with the hundreds of billions in corporate welfare that result—or we have the public funding for public elections just as we now pay for voting machines and election personnel to administer that Tuesday. New York State has learned that two dollars a voter would pay for a program covering statewide races. Is not our democracy more valuable than one aircraft carrier?

Then there’s Universal Voter Registration. Voter fraud is essentially nonexistent. Meanwhile, some state laws have seven-hour lines for people to exercise their right to vote. As used successfully in many Western European countries and as prominently advocated by the Brennan Center for Legal Justice at NYU, a system of universal registration based on various data bases, like Social Security at birth, could automatically enroll people at 18, creating some 50 million more voters.

Many states—led by Oregon and Washington—have shown that a mix of voting-by-mail, early voting, and same day registration can boost participation by 20 percent points or more. As part of a federal Voter Empowerment Act, it would be also ideal if Congress could create a National Democracy Day on a Saturday in November rather than a working day.

* * *

There are many important steps to save our democracy, from filibuster and gerrymander reforms to the DISCLOSE Act, from the IRS finally investigating tax-deductible groups spending massively in political campaigns, to requiring shareholder resolutions before a company politically spends over a certain amount. But if the three essential elements of a Democracy-for-All Act were enacted, they would fundamentally forever alter who runs, who wins and whom they respond to once in office.

But the only way any or all of this can occur is for candidates to fear and hear from voters more than donors. That’s precisely what happened right after the Watergate scandal, when Congress enacted strong new laws limiting spending and corruption. Now is another opportune moment. After the recent backlash to secret Super PACs and to voter suppression laws—and the election of Obama, who denounced Citizens United to the justices at this 2010 State of the Union and who election night 2012 said of long lines of voters, “We have to fix that”—we demand democracy! If not January 19, then when…and if not us, then who?"

Learn more about MoneyOut/VotersIn Day here.

© 2012 The Nation

Robert Weissman

Robert Weissman is the president of Public Citizen.

Mark Green

Mark Green is the former Public Advocate for New York City and author/editor of a couple dozen books, including Who Runs Congress and Losing Our Democracy. He's the host of the nationally syndicated radio show, Both Sides Now.

Frontrunning: January 18

  • Foreign Hostages Die in Algeria’s Battle With Terrorists (Bloomberg)
  • The latest bank to soon join the currency wars: McCafferty Says BOE Must Keep Open Mind on New Policy Tools (Bloomberg)
  • US debt talks complicated by timing (FT)
  • BOJ eyes open-ended asset buying, agrees new inflation goal (Reuters)
  • AmEx Says U.S. Card Income Fell 42% as Loss Provisions Increased (BBG)
  • Call to raise age for US’s Medicare (FT)
  • Obama Promise to Raise Middle Class Living Already Seen in Peril (BBG)
  • China Exits Slowdown as Quarterly Growth Tops Forecasts (BBG) - actually, as new Politburo says to make it appear that way
  • Britain to drift out of European Union without reforms (Reuters)
  • Republicans weigh interim debt-limit hike (FT)
  • Abe's aide says Japan shouldn't fret if yen falls to 100 vs dlr (Reuters) ... and it was 90 just a few days ago
  • PBOC May Seek More Liquidity Operations (Dow Jones)

Overnight Media Digest

WSJ

* Former professional cyclist Lance Armstrong told the world Thursday
evening that he used performance-enhancing drugs to win seven Tour de
France titles.

* Algeria's military launched a raid on Thursday
to free about 40 foreigners held by militants at a remote natural-gas
complex, leaving some hostages dead, surprising and angering several
governments and putting leaders across the world at a loss to determine
the fate of their citizens.

* In his final days as U.S. Treasury
secretary, Timothy Geithner reflected on the financial crisis and the
response he helped craft, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.
Among other things, he said the government's rescue of the financial
system was doomed to be unpopular.

* In approving Boeing Co's
787 Deamliner to start carrying passengers in 2011, the Federal Aviation
Administration relied extensively on data generated by Boeing that
indicated the plane's advanced lithium-ion battery systems -- never used
before on a big jetliner -- featured redundant safeguards that were
essentially foolproof.

* Rio Tinto Chief Executive Tom Albanese
agreed to step down on Thursday, the latest in a string of leaders
toppled by shifting fortunes at the world's biggest mining companies.

*
Quarterly earnings reports released on Thursday underscore the
lingering illnesses afflicting some of the largest, best-known U.S.
banks and the comparatively ruddy health of some smaller regional
lenders.

* Sony Corp has reached a deal to sell its U.S.
headquarters at 550 Madison Avenue for $1.1 billion, the company said on
Thursday, a strong price that shows how investors are bidding
aggressively for top Manhattan properties.

* Toyota Motor Corp
has settled what was to be the first in a group of hundreds of pending
wrongful death and injury lawsuits involving sudden, unintended
acceleration by Toyota vehicles.

FT

In a drive for transparency, authorities in the Cayman Islands are planning on creating a public database of funds domiciled in the British territory for the first time.

Videogames seller Game Group is interested in acquiring stores from collapsed music retailer HMV, the CEO said.
 
As their mega-merger continues to go through regulatory clearance, Glencore and Xstrata are set to extend the deadline for the deal for a third time.

The British banking industry wants a deadline of May 2014 to be imposed for claims from customers who say they were mis-sold payment protection insurance, says one senior executive.

Barclays is considering whether it should recoup some or all of the 290 million pounds it was fined for Libor-rate rigging from the bonuses it is due to pay investment bankers in 2012.

NYT

* Hours after Algerian forces raided a gas facility, there was still no official word on the number of hostages freed, killed or still held by their Islamist kidnappers.

* In a televised interview with Oprah Winfrey, Lance Armstrong admitted to using banned substances but did not say how he did it or who helped him.

Thomas Weisel, who bankrolled Lance Armstrong through seven Tour de France wins, said in his first public comment on the matter that he never personally saw an instance of doping on the team.

* Most banks have recovered from the recent financial collapse, but two companies, Bank of America and Citigroup have reported continuing effects on earnings.

* AT&T warned that it would take a fourth-quarter charge of about $10 billion because of bigger-than-expected pension obligations.

* The Chinese economy picked up steam during the last few months of 2012, closely watched data from Beijing on Friday confirmed. But at the same time the figures underlined the view that the pace of future growth is likely to remain well below that seen in recent years.

* E*Trade Financial named Paul Idzik, a former executive at Barclays, as its new chief, ending a five-month search for a new leader.

* Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings has sold shares in itself at $19 apiece, a person briefed on the matter said, reaping about $446.5 million in proceeds.

Canada

CHINA SECURITIES JOURNAL

--The State Electricity Regulatory Commission of China (SERC) said China's power consumption could reach above 9 percent in 2013 from 5.5 percent in 2012.

CHINA DAILY (www.chinadaily.com.cn)

--Fears over intellectual property lawsuits by foreign train technology companies will not derail exports of Chinese bullet trains, Vice Minister of Science and Technology Cao Jianlin said in an interview, dismissing copycat claims by Japan's Kawasaki as "nonsense."

--A former Japanese leader visited a memorial site to victims of Japanese wartime aggression, but analysts were quick to reject ay suggestion that Tokyo will change its policies toward China.

PEOPLE'S DAILY

--China's Railway Ministry said investment in railway could hit 650 billion yuan and that it will set a National Railway Development Fund as soon as possible.

China

THE GLOBE AND MAIL

* Two class action lawsuits were filed against the federal government in Canada after the human resources and skills development department lost a portable hard drive containing personal information about more than half a million people who took out student loans.

The department said last week the device contained data on 583,000 Canada Student Loans Program borrowers from 2000 to 2006.

* The federal ethics commissioner wants to talk to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty about his letter to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) after it was revealed that he wrote to the arm's-length broadcast regulator in support of a constituent's bid for a radio licence.

Reports in the business section:

* More Canadians went online to do their Christmas shopping this year, according to a new report by MasterCard Advisors.

Canadian consumers spent C$2.8 billion ($2.84 billion) shopping online in December, up 26 percent over the previous year and representing about 6.6 per cent of the month's total retail sales.

NATIONAL POST

* Three Quebec City teens have been arrested over charges of planning a shootout at their high school.

The three teens, two boys aged 14 and 15 and a 16 year old girl, who have pleaded not guilty, face charges of conspiracy to commit murder and will remain detained until a bail hearing on Monday.

FINANCIAL POST

* The blowout in price between Alberta's heavy oil and the North American benchmark price is a "longer term issue" with no quick fix, Alberta Investment Management Corp (AIMCo) CEO Leo de Bever said.

Fly On The Wall 7:00 Market Snapshot

ANALYST RESEARCH

Upgrades

Amazon.com (AMZN) upgraded to Outperform from Sector Perform at Pacific Crest
Cornerstone OnDemand (CSOD) upgraded to Buy from Neutral at Goldman
Credit Suisse (CS) upgraded to Overweight from Equal Weight at Morgan Stanley
Expeditors (EXPD) upgraded to Outperform from Neutral at Credit Suisse
Fabrinet (FN) upgraded to Overweight from Neutral at JPMorgan
Las Vegas Sands (LVS) upgraded to Outperform from Market Perform at Wells Fargo
Movado (MOV) upgraded to Buy from Neutral at Citigroup
Netflix (NFLX) upgraded to Buy from Neutral at Janney Capital
Qlik Technologies (QLIK) upgraded to Buy from Neutral at Goldman
Research in Motion (RIMM) upgraded to Buy from Hold at Jefferies
Tyson Foods (TSN) upgraded to Outperform from Market Perform at BMO Capital
Wynn Resorts (WYNN) upgraded to Outperform from Market Perform at Wells Fargo

Downgrades

Alterra Capital (ALTE) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Sterne Agee
Ball Corp. (BLL) downgraded to Hold from Buy at Jefferies
CSX (CSX) downgraded to Neutral from Outperform at Credit Suisse
Capital One (COF) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Janney Capital
Carrizo Oil & Gas (CRZO) downgraded to Underperform from Neutral at Credit Suisse
Clarcor (CLC) downgraded to Market Perform from Outperform at William Blair
Finisar (FNSR) downgraded to Underperform from Hold at Jefferies
MGM Resorts (MGM) downgraded to Market Perform from Outperform at Wells Fargo
NetSuite (N) downgraded to Neutral from Conviction Buy at Goldman
Ultimate Software (ULTI) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Goldman
Visa (V) downgraded to Neutral from Outperform at RW Baird
Westamerica (WABC) downgraded to Underperform from Market Perform at BMO Capital

Initiations

Geron (GERN) initiated with an Overweight at Piper Jaffray
Halcon Resources (HK) initiated with a Hold at Stifel Nicolaus
Harry Winston (HWD) initiated with a Buy at Nomura
Inovio Pharma (INO) initiated with an Overweight at Piper Jaffray
Intuitive Surgical (ISRG) initiated with a Buy at Janney Capital
Marathon Oil (MRO) initiated with a Buy at Stifel Nicolaus
Oncothyreon (ONTY) initiated with an Underweight at Piper Jaffray
Threshold Pharmaceuticals (THLD) initiated with a Neutral at Piper Jaffray
Tronox (TROX) initiated with a Buy at B. Riley Caris
Ziopharm (ZIOP) initiated with a Neutral at Piper Jaffray

HOT STOCKS

GE (GE) on target to achieve dougle-digit earnings growth in 2013
Said outlook for developed markets remain uncertain
Sees growth in China, resource rich countries
Weiss family raised American Greetings (AM) offer to $17.50 from $17.18 per share
Moody's changed Rite Aid (RAD) outlook to positive from stable
Schlumberger (SLB) said global macroeconomic environment remains uncertain
Sees 2013 global oil demand similar to 2012
Liberty Media (LMCA) bought 50M shares of Sirius XM (SIRI), control above 50%
Intel (INTC) ”excited about strong pipeline of products coming to market”
Sees little growth in wireless in 2013
Capital One (COF) sees average quarterly revenue levels in 2013 like Q412
Sees reduction in loan balances in 2013
Sony Corporation of America (SNE) sold 550 Madison Avenue building for $1.1B
AZZ Inc. (AZZ) sees FY14 margins remaining strong
ONEOK Partners (OKS) announced $465M-$500M project investments through 2015
NuPathe's (PATH) Zecuity approved by FDA

EARNINGS

Companies that beat consensus earnings expectations last night and today include:
General Electric (GE), Schlumberger (SLB), Xilinx (XLNX), Bank Mutual (BKMU), Intel (INTC), Wintrust Financial (WTFC)

Companies that missed consensus earnings expectations include:
Matthews (MATW), People's United (PBCT), Capital One (COF)

Companies that matched consensus earnings expectations include:
Wipro (WIT), Associated Banc-Corp (ASBC), American Express (AXP)

NEWSPAPERS/WEBSITES

GE (GE) is the world's top producer of aircraft engines and medical-imaging equipment, but as far as its profits are concerned, it’s very much a bank. GE Capital is expected to account for nearly half the company's 2012 profit, the Wall Street Journal reports
Dell’s (DELL) potential $23B leveraged buyout could also be the deal that finally gets the leveraged-buyout machine going again, showering financiers in fees and potentially yielding big returns for investors, the Wall Street Journal reports
Americans are more confident in the future and are increasingly striking out to set up their own homes, a move that is helping propel the housing recovery, Reuters reports
When U.S. natural gas producers release their 2012 annual reports, many companies may have to significantly reduce a key indicator of their financial health: reserves. The SEC
requires companies to calculate and report year-end oil and gas reserves using 12-month average prices, Reuters reports
With the worst flu outbreak since 2009 gripping the U.S., vaccine makers (GSK, AZN) are determined to do better next season. They’re developing powerful vaccines that hold the promise of cutting incidences of flu by the thousands, Bloomberg reports
Franklin Templeton Investments (BEN) reduced its holdings of Apple (AAPL) last year to 4.2% from 7% in 2011 on concern the maker of the iPhone lacks a strategy to sell cheaper smartphones in emerging markets such as China and India, Bloomberg reports

SYNDICATE

CyrusOne (CONE) 16.5M share IPO priced at $19.00
Northern Tier (NTI) Energy 10.7M share Secondary priced at $24.46
Norwegian Cruise Line (NCLH) 23.529M share IPO priced at $19.00
SunCoke Energy (SXCP) 13.5M share IPO priced at $19.00
Trius Therapeutics (TSRX) files to sell common stock

Your rating: None

Can National Grassroots Push Depose the ‘Billion Dollar Democracy’?

A new report released Thursday puts an exclamation point on the outlandish and outweighed influence that wealthy individuals and corporations have in a post-Citizens United world by showing that a mere 32 wealthy donors—with an average gift of almost $10 million each—gave as much money to largely unregulated Super PACs in 2012 than all the country's individual small donors gave to the Obama and Romney campaigns combined.

And though the 2012 election is behind us, many activists—now equipped with the experience of what a modern democracy controlled by millionaires and billionaires looks like—are hoping that fundamental changes can be made to correct the corrosive impact of shadow money and undue influence.

As the new report by U.S. PIRG and Demos, “Billion-Dollar Democracy,” shows, those 32 multi-million dollar gifts, in essence, outweighed the collective voice of 3.7 million individuals who gave individual and transparent campaign contributions to the candidate of their choice. Moreover, most did so under a veil of secrecy using shadow non-profit groups and shell corporations created specifically to launder political giving by masking the identities of financial sources.

“Americans who are wondering why it seems tougher to get ahead or even get a fair shake in today’s economy should look to big money politics for answers,” said Adam Lioz, report co-author and Counsel for Demos. “When a tiny group of wealthy donors fuels political campaigns, they get to set the agenda in Washington, and the rest of us are left to argue over that agenda.”

And U.S. PIRG's Blair Bowie, the report's other co-author adds: “The first post-Citizens United presidential election confirmed our fears that the new unlimited-money regime allows well-heeled special interests and secret spenders to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens.”

Thanks in large part to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v FEC, the 2012 election was the most expensive in the history of the world.

But now, the reality of this new world of campaign giving, coupled with nationwide attempts in 2012 making it hard for many poor and vulnerable people to vote, has prompted many to demand an end to such preferential treatment of the wealthiest in a democracy engulfed in cash and renewed calls for broader and more equitable poll access.

“At the same time we’ve seen record amounts of unaccountable corporate money spent on elections, we’ve also seen a deliberate attack on the rights of voters to participate in our democracy,” said Aquene Freechild, senior organizer for Public Citizen, which is hosting nationwide events this weekend for its ongoing Democracy Is For People campaign.

According to the group, concerned citizens and voters will gather across the country in the coming week to demand an end to the combined threat of unlimited corporate spending and resurgent voter suppression tactics found in many states.

To voice their outrage and demand fundamental change, progressive groups—including Public Citizen, NAACP, U.S. PIRG, Common Cause, MoveOn, Organic Consumers Association, League of United Latin American Citizens, Hip Hop Caucus and others—have planned nationwide days of action called Money Out/Voters In taking place this coming weekend.

As Public Citizen's president Robert Weissman, along with advocate Mark Green, wrote regarding the events that will bring "public interest, labor, voting rights and faith groups" together under one banner and cause:

Generations of traditional campaign finance groups have worked against a democracy-for-sale. And heroic voting rights groups have long sought to fulfill Dr. King’s plea at the Washington Monument in 1957: “Give us the ballot! Give us the ballot!” But rarely have these two communities worked together to stop the rigging of the political system. Until we ensure that popular majorities become public law, it will be hard to accomplish so much of what is urgent—a more progressive tax code, immigration reform, climate change legislation, a living wage, labor reform and gun violence reduction.

So on January 19, scores of groups and thousands of people around the country will organize around a three-part Democracy-for-All program: a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United; public funding of public elections, in Washington and state capitols; and guaranteed voting rights so potentially 50 million more Americans can vote [in the next election].

Such events seem prove what the authors of the 'Billion Dollar Democracy' concluded as well.

In an op-ed published alongside their new report, Lioz and Bowie write: "The outsized role of money in our elections is a dark cloud over our democracy—but there is a silver lining. Not since Watergate has there been so much energy behind finally building a democracy in which the strength of a citizen’s voice does not depend upon the size of her wallet."

Russia extends blacklist of American citizens

No longer limited to US citizens suspected of human rights abuses at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, the updated list of Americans prohibited from entering Russia now includes new categories of individuals.

­In December, the number of US citizens declared persona non grata in Russia stood at 11; now this number has been increased by 49 more people as new categories of individuals are added to the list, Aleksey Pushkov, the chairman of the State Duma Committee on Foreign Affairs, told reporters on Friday.

The new names, which contain both government officials and ordinary Americans, can be divided into three categories, Pushkov said.

The first category is comprised of “judges, investigators, secret service agents and Justice Department members” who are believed to be connected with the criminal prosecution and sentencing of Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko, Russian nationals who were arrested by US officials, tried on American soil, and are now serving their prison sentences in the US.

Bout, a former Soviet officer who became the owner of an air transport company, was arrested in 2008 by US agents in Thailand. In November 2011, he was convicted by a jury in a New York federal court of intending to provide military weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC), which the United States ranks as a terrorist organization, and conspiracy to kill US citizens. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Bout has pleaded his innocent to all charges.

Yaroshenko was arrested in May 2010 in an undercover operation in Liberia. He was taken to the United States and sentenced to 20 years in prison for alleged drug trafficking.

 The second category of individuals prohibited from entering the Russian Federation include US Senators who were responsible for initiating the so-called Magnitsky Act, which was signed into law by US President Barack Obama in December.

The new US legislation attempts to punish Russian nationals who Washington believes are responsible for the death of Sergey Magnitsky, who died in a detention facility in Moscow in 2009 awaiting a tax evasion investigation. 

The final category of persona non grata individuals include American adoptive parents who were found guilty of abusing their adopted Russian children or guilty of their deaths. 

On December 28, 2012, President Putin signed the Dima Yakovlev bill, named after a Russian orphan who died of heat stroke after being left in a car for an extended period by his American adoptive parents. 

Judges who delivered “inadequate” verdicts on such cases, as well as psychiatrists who claimed that those children allegedly had congenital deficiencies that supposedly caused their deaths are also prohibited from entering Russia.

Robert Bridge, RT

Guns and Mental Illness: A Second Look

On the day of the mass murder in Newtown I wrote a column, too quickly. That’s how I deal with overwhelming, unbearable feelings. Some people cry. Some call their friends. Some go to vigils. I write, fast. To get at least a tiny illusion of closure, I had to finish the piece and post it right away.

I did have an important point to make: “Mental health reform is as important as gun reform.” And I came up with what I thought was a clever slogan to reinforce the point: Guns, all by themselves, don’t kill people. Mentally or emotionally disturbed people with guns kill people.

But after the piece was posted I had time to think more carefully. And the more I thought the more I regretted such a hasty, sweeping generalization. A few of the commenters on my piece pointed out the error, and the danger, of linking mental/emotional disturbance to violence in such a simplistic way. I thank them for that.

Now I can say more precisely what I should have said then: A gun, all by itself, doesn’t walk into a public place and start shooting at strangers. There’s a high likelihood -- though no certainty -- that it’s a mentally ill or emotionally disturbed person with a gun who has killed those people.

Although even one such event is one too many, it’s important to recognize that mass murders are a tiny, almost infinitesimal portion of all the incidents of gun violence in America. The large majority of gun violence is perpetrated by people that the professionals would deem sane.

Those are just two of the points made in a fine article by Dr. Richard Friedman, who took his time and did his homework before he wrote. He cites the research to show that “only about 4 percent of violence in the United States can be attributed to people with mental illness.”

That’s because “the vast majority of people with psychiatric disorders do not commit violent acts.” Though young psychotic male who are intoxicated with alcohol are at a high risk of doing violence, “most individuals who fit this profile are harmless.” Even those who are harmful are driven mostly by drink: “Alcohol and drug abuse are far more likely to result in violent behavior than mental illness by itself.”

 So my earlier column was an unintended example of a huge problem facing those with mental/emotional disturbance. Even among those of us trying to improve public behavioral health services, it’s too easy to fall prey to false stereotypes that create fear and misunderstanding.

That’s one big reason we, as a society, are failing so badly in helping those with  mental/emotional disturbance. The old-fashioned impulse to isolate them, to keep them away from the rest of us who are deemed “normal,” is still far too common. We don’t isolate them physically as much as we used to (though physical isolation is still a problem). But emotionally and culturally the distancing may be as great as ever. It happens, in a word, by stigmatizing.

Huge amounts of money flow to research on cancer, heart disease, and many other physical illnesses because they do not carry any stigma. But there is still enormous stigma attached to mental and emotional conditions, because they are met with so much unnecessary, unjustified fear. So we still know far too little about those conditions. More knowledge would dispel some of the fear. Yet it’s hard to get adequate funding for the urgently needed research.

In fact it’s hard to get much public attention at all for the ongoing social crisis in mental/emotional health. Only an act of unimaginable violence, it seems, can get the nation thinking about taking some action. If that’s the only way to get public attention to the issue, it’s better than not raising the issue at all. I’ve been glad to see the public spotlight begin to shine, at least a bit, on this problem. Hopefully the president’s call for public dialogue will be taken seriously and make that light shine brighter.

But if we pay attention to the behavioral health crisis only in the context of violence, it’s far too easy to reinforce the stereotype that the mentally ill and emotionally disturbed are all potentially violent or dangerous.

That prejudice is, unfortunately, driving the newly energized public debate about mental illness and legal access to guns. There’s a growing clamor for tighter restrictions. Many people simply say that anyone with a history of mental illness should be barred from having a gun. Perhaps they don’t stop to think how that would carve irrational stigma into the stone of law.

Perhaps they don’t know that it’s already carved into the laws of many states -- and of the federal government, which prohibits selling or giving a gun to anyone who “has been adjudicated as a mental defective [whatever that means!] or has been committed to any mental institution.”   

In the wake of the Aurora shooting, the head of the National Alliance on Mental Illness made a more reasonable suggestion: “Change the law -- thoughtfully and carefully -- in a way that is not only overly broad, but also avoids unfair, damaging discrimination.” One good example is a report just released by a panel in Maryland, advising that a judge should have to find clear evidence that someone with behavioral health problems is dangerous before they can be barred from getting a gun. 

Of course we need tighter restrictions on legal gun access for everyone. But no one should be singled out merely because they’ve had, or perhaps still have, mental or emotional health problems. Discrimination is just as wrong in gun laws as it is in jobs, housing, or anywhere else.

Discrimination is especially dangerous in gun laws because it reinforces the prejudice that anyone who has mental or emotional difficulties is inherently dangerous and ought to be avoided. As long as that prejudice prevails, we are likely to go on ignoring this enormous social problem. 

If we ever have a truly humane, comprehensive, well-funded public program for helping everyone with mental/emotional problems, we probably will reduce mass killings and, to a lesser degree, all forms of violence. But that will be a very small piece of the much larger gain for our whole society. When the most seriously troubled people among us have their troubles eased, we all benefit.

Ira Chernus

Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of Mythic America: Essays and American Nonviolence: The History of an Idea. He blogs at MythicAmerica.us.

Guns and Mental Illness: A Second Look

On the day of the mass murder in Newtown I wrote a column, too quickly. That’s how I deal with overwhelming, unbearable feelings. Some people cry. Some call their friends. Some go to vigils. I write, fast. To get at least a tiny illusion of closure, I had to finish the piece and post it right away.

I did have an important point to make: “Mental health reform is as important as gun reform.” And I came up with what I thought was a clever slogan to reinforce the point: Guns, all by themselves, don’t kill people. Mentally or emotionally disturbed people with guns kill people.

But after the piece was posted I had time to think more carefully. And the more I thought the more I regretted such a hasty, sweeping generalization. A few of the commenters on my piece pointed out the error, and the danger, of linking mental/emotional disturbance to violence in such a simplistic way. I thank them for that.

Now I can say more precisely what I should have said then: A gun, all by itself, doesn’t walk into a public place and start shooting at strangers. There’s a high likelihood -- though no certainty -- that it’s a mentally ill or emotionally disturbed person with a gun who has killed those people.

Although even one such event is one too many, it’s important to recognize that mass murders are a tiny, almost infinitesimal portion of all the incidents of gun violence in America. The large majority of gun violence is perpetrated by people that the professionals would deem sane.

Those are just two of the points made in a fine article by Dr. Richard Friedman, who took his time and did his homework before he wrote. He cites the research to show that “only about 4 percent of violence in the United States can be attributed to people with mental illness.”

That’s because “the vast majority of people with psychiatric disorders do not commit violent acts.” Though young psychotic male who are intoxicated with alcohol are at a high risk of doing violence, “most individuals who fit this profile are harmless.” Even those who are harmful are driven mostly by drink: “Alcohol and drug abuse are far more likely to result in violent behavior than mental illness by itself.”

 So my earlier column was an unintended example of a huge problem facing those with mental/emotional disturbance. Even among those of us trying to improve public behavioral health services, it’s too easy to fall prey to false stereotypes that create fear and misunderstanding.

That’s one big reason we, as a society, are failing so badly in helping those with  mental/emotional disturbance. The old-fashioned impulse to isolate them, to keep them away from the rest of us who are deemed “normal,” is still far too common. We don’t isolate them physically as much as we used to (though physical isolation is still a problem). But emotionally and culturally the distancing may be as great as ever. It happens, in a word, by stigmatizing.

Huge amounts of money flow to research on cancer, heart disease, and many other physical illnesses because they do not carry any stigma. But there is still enormous stigma attached to mental and emotional conditions, because they are met with so much unnecessary, unjustified fear. So we still know far too little about those conditions. More knowledge would dispel some of the fear. Yet it’s hard to get adequate funding for the urgently needed research.

In fact it’s hard to get much public attention at all for the ongoing social crisis in mental/emotional health. Only an act of unimaginable violence, it seems, can get the nation thinking about taking some action. If that’s the only way to get public attention to the issue, it’s better than not raising the issue at all. I’ve been glad to see the public spotlight begin to shine, at least a bit, on this problem. Hopefully the president’s call for public dialogue will be taken seriously and make that light shine brighter.

But if we pay attention to the behavioral health crisis only in the context of violence, it’s far too easy to reinforce the stereotype that the mentally ill and emotionally disturbed are all potentially violent or dangerous.

That prejudice is, unfortunately, driving the newly energized public debate about mental illness and legal access to guns. There’s a growing clamor for tighter restrictions. Many people simply say that anyone with a history of mental illness should be barred from having a gun. Perhaps they don’t stop to think how that would carve irrational stigma into the stone of law.

Perhaps they don’t know that it’s already carved into the laws of many states -- and of the federal government, which prohibits selling or giving a gun to anyone who “has been adjudicated as a mental defective [whatever that means!] or has been committed to any mental institution.”   

In the wake of the Aurora shooting, the head of the National Alliance on Mental Illness made a more reasonable suggestion: “Change the law -- thoughtfully and carefully -- in a way that is not only overly broad, but also avoids unfair, damaging discrimination.” One good example is a report just released by a panel in Maryland, advising that a judge should have to find clear evidence that someone with behavioral health problems is dangerous before they can be barred from getting a gun. 

Of course we need tighter restrictions on legal gun access for everyone. But no one should be singled out merely because they’ve had, or perhaps still have, mental or emotional health problems. Discrimination is just as wrong in gun laws as it is in jobs, housing, or anywhere else.

Discrimination is especially dangerous in gun laws because it reinforces the prejudice that anyone who has mental or emotional difficulties is inherently dangerous and ought to be avoided. As long as that prejudice prevails, we are likely to go on ignoring this enormous social problem. 

If we ever have a truly humane, comprehensive, well-funded public program for helping everyone with mental/emotional problems, we probably will reduce mass killings and, to a lesser degree, all forms of violence. But that will be a very small piece of the much larger gain for our whole society. When the most seriously troubled people among us have their troubles eased, we all benefit.

Ira Chernus

Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of Mythic America: Essays and American Nonviolence: The History of an Idea. He blogs at MythicAmerica.us.

Guns and Mental Illness: A Second Look

On the day of the mass murder in Newtown I wrote a column, too quickly. That’s how I deal with overwhelming, unbearable feelings. Some people cry. Some call their friends. Some go to vigils. I write, fast. To get at least a tiny illusion of closure, I had to finish the piece and post it right away.

I did have an important point to make: “Mental health reform is as important as gun reform.” And I came up with what I thought was a clever slogan to reinforce the point: Guns, all by themselves, don’t kill people. Mentally or emotionally disturbed people with guns kill people.

But after the piece was posted I had time to think more carefully. And the more I thought the more I regretted such a hasty, sweeping generalization. A few of the commenters on my piece pointed out the error, and the danger, of linking mental/emotional disturbance to violence in such a simplistic way. I thank them for that.

Now I can say more precisely what I should have said then: A gun, all by itself, doesn’t walk into a public place and start shooting at strangers. There’s a high likelihood -- though no certainty -- that it’s a mentally ill or emotionally disturbed person with a gun who has killed those people.

Although even one such event is one too many, it’s important to recognize that mass murders are a tiny, almost infinitesimal portion of all the incidents of gun violence in America. The large majority of gun violence is perpetrated by people that the professionals would deem sane.

Those are just two of the points made in a fine article by Dr. Richard Friedman, who took his time and did his homework before he wrote. He cites the research to show that “only about 4 percent of violence in the United States can be attributed to people with mental illness.”

That’s because “the vast majority of people with psychiatric disorders do not commit violent acts.” Though young psychotic male who are intoxicated with alcohol are at a high risk of doing violence, “most individuals who fit this profile are harmless.” Even those who are harmful are driven mostly by drink: “Alcohol and drug abuse are far more likely to result in violent behavior than mental illness by itself.”

 So my earlier column was an unintended example of a huge problem facing those with mental/emotional disturbance. Even among those of us trying to improve public behavioral health services, it’s too easy to fall prey to false stereotypes that create fear and misunderstanding.

That’s one big reason we, as a society, are failing so badly in helping those with  mental/emotional disturbance. The old-fashioned impulse to isolate them, to keep them away from the rest of us who are deemed “normal,” is still far too common. We don’t isolate them physically as much as we used to (though physical isolation is still a problem). But emotionally and culturally the distancing may be as great as ever. It happens, in a word, by stigmatizing.

Huge amounts of money flow to research on cancer, heart disease, and many other physical illnesses because they do not carry any stigma. But there is still enormous stigma attached to mental and emotional conditions, because they are met with so much unnecessary, unjustified fear. So we still know far too little about those conditions. More knowledge would dispel some of the fear. Yet it’s hard to get adequate funding for the urgently needed research.

In fact it’s hard to get much public attention at all for the ongoing social crisis in mental/emotional health. Only an act of unimaginable violence, it seems, can get the nation thinking about taking some action. If that’s the only way to get public attention to the issue, it’s better than not raising the issue at all. I’ve been glad to see the public spotlight begin to shine, at least a bit, on this problem. Hopefully the president’s call for public dialogue will be taken seriously and make that light shine brighter.

But if we pay attention to the behavioral health crisis only in the context of violence, it’s far too easy to reinforce the stereotype that the mentally ill and emotionally disturbed are all potentially violent or dangerous.

That prejudice is, unfortunately, driving the newly energized public debate about mental illness and legal access to guns. There’s a growing clamor for tighter restrictions. Many people simply say that anyone with a history of mental illness should be barred from having a gun. Perhaps they don’t stop to think how that would carve irrational stigma into the stone of law.

Perhaps they don’t know that it’s already carved into the laws of many states -- and of the federal government, which prohibits selling or giving a gun to anyone who “has been adjudicated as a mental defective [whatever that means!] or has been committed to any mental institution.”   

In the wake of the Aurora shooting, the head of the National Alliance on Mental Illness made a more reasonable suggestion: “Change the law -- thoughtfully and carefully -- in a way that is not only overly broad, but also avoids unfair, damaging discrimination.” One good example is a report just released by a panel in Maryland, advising that a judge should have to find clear evidence that someone with behavioral health problems is dangerous before they can be barred from getting a gun. 

Of course we need tighter restrictions on legal gun access for everyone. But no one should be singled out merely because they’ve had, or perhaps still have, mental or emotional health problems. Discrimination is just as wrong in gun laws as it is in jobs, housing, or anywhere else.

Discrimination is especially dangerous in gun laws because it reinforces the prejudice that anyone who has mental or emotional difficulties is inherently dangerous and ought to be avoided. As long as that prejudice prevails, we are likely to go on ignoring this enormous social problem. 

If we ever have a truly humane, comprehensive, well-funded public program for helping everyone with mental/emotional problems, we probably will reduce mass killings and, to a lesser degree, all forms of violence. But that will be a very small piece of the much larger gain for our whole society. When the most seriously troubled people among us have their troubles eased, we all benefit.

Ira Chernus

Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of Mythic America: Essays and American Nonviolence: The History of an Idea. He blogs at MythicAmerica.us.

1,000 shot in US since school carnage

US President Barack Obama signing 23 executive orders on gun-control in a Wednesday event.

More than 1,000 Americans have been killed in gun-related violence since last month’s elementary school shooting carnage in Connecticut that killed 20 young pupils and six staff members, new data show.

According to the new data, collected through an interactive project conducted by Slate.com, the tally of those killed in gun violence across the US since the Connecticut massacre has surpassed the 1,000 mark, showing that as of 5 a.m. GMT on January 18, the figure has reached 1013.

The Connecticut school massacre was carried out by a lone 20-year-old gunman on December 14, 2012, using a semi-automatic assault rifle. The incident was reportedly the deadliest carnage at an elementary school in the US history.

Amid growing calls across the US for meaningful government and legislative action to control the free access to guns, especially assault weapons, US President Barack Obama finally delivered on his vow to offer a far-reaching gun-control plan on Wednesday.

While calling on the US Congress to do its part in legislating better gun-control laws, Obama also signed 23 executive orders to facilitate better measures to control purchase and tracking of firearms.

The move, however, has angered pro-gun conservative and Republican politicians and activists, led by the powerful gun lobby, the National Rifle Association (NRA), prompting some to call for Obama’s impeachment and other describing the newly reelected president as an “elitist hypocrite.”


A group called the “Project of Policy Issues Institute” manages a website that urges for Obama’s impeachment, asking visitors to sign a petition to impeach the US president and to receive updates on the campaign to remove him from office.

Although a real effort to impeach Obama appears highly unlikely, the emerging movement supporting the bid stems from a surge of public attention to the US gun debate following the Connecticut school carnage and the persisting divide in the nation’s Congress on enacting any gun-control legislations.

This is while US Vice President Joseph Biden vowed in a Thursday address to the United States Conference of Mayors in Washington that the Obama administration would vigorously press its bid to enact more gun-control legislations.

“We’re going to take it to the American people,” he said. “We’re going to go around the country making our case, and we’re going to let the voices, the voices of the American people be heard.”

MFB/MFB

David Cameron: UK Could ‘Drift Towards’ EU Exit

David Cameron served notice today that Britain could leave the European Union if its concerns about its membership are not resolved. Extracts from a speech that Cameron was planning to make this morning show that the Prime Minister intended to make cl...

Gun found in 7-year-old schoolboy’s backpack in NYC

A ..22 caliber handgun, its magazine and a flare gun seized by police from a seven-year-old boy at Wave Preparatory Elementary School in New York are pictured in this handout photo released by the NYPD January 17, 2013.(Reuters / Handout)

A ..22 caliber handgun, its magazine and a flare gun seized by police from a seven-year-old boy at Wave Preparatory Elementary School in New York are pictured in this handout photo released by the NYPD January 17, 2013.(Reuters / Handout)

A handgun was discovered in the backpack of a second grade student at a public elementary school in New York City, just two days after state Governor Andrew Cuomo signed post-Newton gun restrictions into law.

­The .22-caliber weapon was unearthed from the 7-year-old boy’s bag on Thursday morning at Wave Preparatory Elementary School in the Queens borough of New York City. The school was then placed on lockdown, just after 10:00am local time.

Alongside the semiautomatic pistol, police also seized ammunition and a flare gun from the young boy’s satchel. The horrifying incident took place amid heightened concern regarding gun violence in US schools, following the December tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in which 20 children and six educators were massacred.

Two hours after the boy arrived at Wave Preparatory, his mother learned that he had the gun and attempted to apprehend him at the school, telling administrators that he had a dentist appointment. The boy told his mother that he had given the gun to a second grade classmate, leading her to alert the principal.

Students were then instructed to remain in their classrooms after the principal announced the school was in ‘lockdown’ status. Javier Ferrufino, an 11-year-old in fifth grade, told the New York Times, “I thought we were going to get killed… we went to the back of the classroom. I hid with my friend behind some computers.”

It remains unknown how a boy so young came to be in possession of the handgun. However, he reportedly has two older brothers aged 21 and 27 – the question of whether the young boy was aware of the weapon’s presence in his bag is under investigation.

Heightened fears following the Sandy Hook shooting massacre have led to intense discussions regarding gun control measures in the US. On Wednesday, President Barack Obama urged Congress to approve a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and institute thorough background checks on all gun buyers. However, on Thursday, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) derided the President’s attempts to exert power in this arena, comparing his actions to those of a monarch.

Obama’s skepticism over placing armed guards in schools was criticized as hypocritical by the NRA on Tuesday, on the grounds that his children have secret service protection. A Reuters poll on Thursday found that 72 percent of Americans favored the proposal to station armed guards in the nation’s schools.

 However, the same Reuters poll found that 74 percent of Americans are in favor of a ban on assault weapons, and 86 percent approve of expanded background checks on all gun buyers.

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: The Waiting Game

The ten things you need to know on Friday 18 January 2013...

1) THE WAITING GAME

What on earth were the Algerians thinking?

From the BBC:

"The fate of a number of British hostages held in a desert gas complex remains unknown in the wake of an Algerian military attempt to free them.

"They were among foreign nationals held near In Amenas who the Algerian forces attempted to free from militants.

"... David Cameron has warned of further possible "bad news".

"The prime minister postponed a major speech on Europe scheduled for Friday, and Foreign Secretary William Hague has cut short a trip to Australia to return to the UK.

"The BBC's Nick Robinson said sources had told him officials were prepared for 'multiple' British casualties."

The Guardian reports:

"The British government complained it had not been informed before the military operation was launched. Cameron was only told once it was under way and immediately demanded an explanation from Algiers. Washington and Paris indicated they too had been left in the dark."

According to the Beeb:

"Another meeting of the government's emergency response committee, Cobra, will be held later, chaired by Mr Cameron. Ministers are also planning to make a statement to Parliament.

"Mr Cameron said on Thursday night that the country faced 'a very bad situation'.

"'A number of British citizens have been taken hostage. Already we know of one who has died,' Mr Cameron said.

"'It is a very dangerous... a very fluid situation and I think we have to prepare ourselves for the possibility of bad news ahead.'"

2) WHO IS 'MR MARLBORO'?

The papers are full of profiles of Mokhtar Belmokhtar, head of the al-Qaeda-affiliated brigade that claims to have captured the Western hostages in Algeria.

He is, as the Times notes, a "jihadist straight out of central casting. Trained in Afghanistan, he has a long record of smuggling arms, kidnapping and violence, a death sentence passed in absentia, premature reports of his demise and a string of nicknames including One-Eyed, The Uncatchable and Mr Marlboro".

The latter nickname was acquired, says the Guardian, "for his involvement in cigarette smuggling".

The Telegraph calls Belmokhtar a "veteran, one-eyed jihadist-cum-gangster" who has "been reported dead at least twice": "Like other warlords in the region, he operates under the umbrella of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, a group descended from the radical Islamists that waged war against the Algerian state in the 1990s. Belmokhtar was a key member of the most violent group, the GSPC."

So what's driving him this time? What's his goal? According to the Guardian:

"The reality is the operation is probably as much about his own credentials as a jihadi warlord as it is about the French military operation in Mali, and a reminder to those who sidelined him in AQIM [Al Qaeda in the Maghreb] that he remains a well connected and powerful figure to be reckoned with."

3) 'AMSTERDOOM'

That's the headline in the Sun which, like other papers, goes quite big on extracts from the PM's postponed Europe speech that were briefed out last night - before the decision was taken to delay it at 6:30pm:

"The EU 'will fail' in a doomsday meltdown and Britain will LEAVE unless its deep problems are tackled, David Cameron is set to declare.

"... [I]t emerged the landmark speech will represent the strongest attack on the EU yet made by a serving British Prime Minister.

"When it comes — probably next week — Mr Cameron will claim the EU faces a perfect storm of the eurozone crisis, a lack of competitiveness and a collapse in public support.

"He will say: 'If we don’t address these challenges, the danger is Europe will fail and the British people will drift towards the exit.'"

The Telegraph says the postponement of the speech "represents another setback for Mr Cameron involving the speech, which has been expected since last summer" but it also reports:

"The Prime Minister was backed last night by Boris Johnson, the London Mayor, who said Mr Cameron had to 'put a renegotiated membership to the British people'. In a speech to London government leaders, Mr Johnson said it was 'inevitable' that there would be a referendum and that an exit from the EU was 'neither particularly necessary, nor particularly desirable, nor particularly likely'."

However, the Americans have yet again reiterated their fears about a British exit from the EU, or 'Brexit, with President Obama using a phone call to Cameron to tell our PM, according to a White House spokesman, that "the United States values a strong UK in a strong European Union, which makes critical contributions to peace, prosperity, and security in Europe and around the world".

Meanwhile, writing exclusively for the Huffington Post UK, the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, has warned Cameron that his attempt to negotiate a new relationship with the Europe could lead "to the break-up of the EU". Also writing for HuffPost UK, the former Belgian PM and now MEP, Guy Verhofstadt, says: "If Cameron fails to show leadership now and allows Britain to drift away from continental Europe, he will guarantee his place in the history books - but for all the wrong reasons."

4) DIVERSE DAVE

Nick's about to get a telling off from Dave, it seems. As my colleague Ned Simons reports:

"David Cameron has said Nick Clegg needs increase the number of female Lib Dem MPs, as he promised to appoint more women to his cabinet.

"In an interview with the parliamentary House magazine published today, the prime minister said he was committed to honouring a pledge to make at least one third of Conservative ministers women.

"But he noted that he could not speak on behalf of his Lib Dem colleagues in government. 'Obviously I can’t apply my pledge to the Lib Dems and obviously they need to improve their diversity and I’ll be having a word with the deputy prime minister about that,' he said."

All of the Lib Dems' five cabinet ministers are men, just seven out of 57 Lib Dem MPs are women and none of them are from an ethnic minority background. Liberalism in the 21st century, eh?

5) 'GETTING OUT OF THE CAGE'

The Telegraph has some other details from the House magazine interview with the PM:

"Recalling the couple's most recent 'date night', he said: 'Last night, we went out for supper, dinner, quite early actually, I was tucked up in bed nice and early last night. But we try and get out of the cage on a regular basis.'

"... Mr Cameron credited his wife with improving the flat. 'It's lovely living here, it's a wonderful flat that she's created, the children are very happy. And she's very happy and family life is good.' Mr Cameron said his wife had given him a DVD of the last season of the Danish crime thriller The Killing for Christmas, which the couple had watched.

"... The Prime Minister said he was reading A Short History of England by Sir Simon Jenkins, which he bought for himself while Christmas shopping. 'I'm on Vikings at the moment,' he added."

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this amusing video of an epic spider-slaying mission going wrong.

6) 200,000 EXTRA POOR KIDS?

From the Independent:

"On Monday, MPs will vote on measures contained in the Welfare Benefits Uprating Bill. The Coalition has previously avoided predicting its impact on poverty, but in a parliamentary answer it let slip that 200,000 children would be affected...

"Ministers seem to be in denial that, under current policies, their legacy threatens to be the worst poverty record of any government for a generation," said the Child Poverty Action Group.

The government's evasive response - via work and pensions minister Esther McVey - was to point that "people will still see benefits go up year on year" and to question the official poverty measure: "Looking at relative income in isolation is not a helpful measure to track progress towards our target of eradicating child poverty."

But back in 2006, David Cameron used a major speech to concede: "We need to think of poverty in relative terms... I want this message to go out loud and clear: the Conservative Party recognises, will measure and will act on relative poverty."

How times change, I guess.

7) 'POTTY' PAY

From the Sun:

"Nick Clegg has slammed 'potty' MPs who demanded a huge pay rise — even though his own Lib Dem backbenchers want a 20 per cent hike.

"The Deputy PM hit out after a survey revealed MPs wanted wages raised from £65,738 to more than £86,000 — a staggering 32 PER CENT increase.

"... Despite his MPs' call, Mr Clegg told LBC radio: 'I think it's potty and it's not going to happen.'"

8) BORIS HIRES BFF

Astonishing - from the Guardian:

"Boris Johnson has triggered a new row over alleged cronyism after it emerged that he has offered the post of cycling adviser to Andrew Gilligan, the journalist who did more than any other to topple the London mayor's main rival, Ken Livingstone.

"Gilligan is expected to take up the post part-time while retaining his current staff position at the Daily Telegraph, but will curtail his coverage of London issues. It is understood he will be paid the normal adviser rate on a pro-rata basis. Most of the mayor's advisers are paid more than £90,000."

Can you imagine what Gilligan's hysterical reaction would have been like if the situation had been reversed and it was Livingstone who had made such an appointment?

9) TWEETS AND TWITS

The perils of Twitter. From the BBC:

"Lib Dem MEP Sir Graham Watson has been reprimanded by his own party for responding to the PM's decision to postpone a speech on Europe with the tweet: 'Al Qaeda 1, @David_Cameron 0'."

Oh dear.

10) SERVANTGATE

Forget Plebgate, welcome to Servantgate. From the HuffPost UK:

"Tory MP Christopher Chope has sparked a minor class war by referring to catering staff in the House of Commons as 'servants' and suggesting MPs should get cheaper meals.

"Speaking in the Commons on Thursday morning, the Christchurch MP said he had eaten in Commons restaurants for three nights last week but 'almost nobody else was present'.

"'The service was absolutely fantastic because there was three-to-one service - three servants for each person sitting down,' he said."

You couldn't make it up. Watch the video of his comments in the Commons here.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the latest Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 44
Conservatives 34
Lib Dems 9
Ukip 8

That would give Labour a majority of 118.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@LiamFoxMP PM has made entirely the right decision to postpone speech in light of Algerian hostage crisis.

@joeyjonessky Right decision to postpone speech in such circumstances. More immediate priorities, but the euro headache will return, magnified

@paulwaugh I asked PM if he watched Borgen: “God, no! It’s just whether Morgen Shmorgen is Health Minister or is Education..it’s too much like work!”

900 WORDS OR MORE

Ed Balls, writing in the Guardian, says: "Britain needs reform in Europe, not an exit."

Philip Collins, writing in the Times, says: "The Labour leader should seize his chance to appeal to British business and voters. He must offer an in-out vote now."

Fraser Nelson, writing in the Telegraph, says: "It’s too early for the Tories to assume defeat is inevitable in 2015."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan ([email protected]) or Ned Simons ([email protected]). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Hard-Hitting Gun Violence Ads Go After NRA-Loving Democrats

I was on Mark Thompson's "Make It Plain" on Sirius XM last night (I'm on every Wednesday night), and we were talking about how urban people and rural people have such different opinions on guns because they have different experiences of guns. Urban gun violence is so random, and so interwoven with the drug trade (that's a whole other discussion), that city dwellers just want to make it stop. (Although the only time I've had a loaded gun pointed at me was in the suburbs, by an Iraqi vet having a PTSD episode. A little unnerving!)

So no, it's not that we want to take away your guns. We just want gun violence against other human beings to stop. We want better odds against being a victim, and against our children being victims. We love living in the city, but we don't want to be so afraid of guns.

I lived in this one apartment on a main city artery, with an iron gate across the front entrance, and I don't know that I would have moved in without it. Shortly after I moved in, a neighborhood woman was shot in the head from a stray bullet -- while she was asleep in her bed. (This was a few blocks from me.) I said to myself, "Well, my bedroom is in the back of the building, so I'm less likely to get hit." Because that's how you think when you live in the city.

Because I live in the city, there's part of me that still can't believe we even have to call our representatives and push for such a "controversial" idea as protecting children from gun violence. That the discussion in our country is so very slanted toward fear and paranoia, keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and the severely mentally ill is what passes for radical.

That's why I'm happy that we have these outside groups to turn up the political heat. Check out this hard-hitting ad from the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. They're now going after conservative Dems who support the NRA in opposing gun controls, and they're linking Rep. John Barrow's stance to the recent slaughter at Newtown:

One week ago, Barrow declared that “no new [gun] laws will have a big chance of passing in the House.” Yesterday, he commented on President Obama’s reform package, saying, “We need to find practical solutions to gun violence that are consistent with the Second Amendment, rather than having another political debate in Washington that divides Americans."

According to CSGV executive director Josh Horwitz, “Representative John Barrow has decided to put his love of the NRA above his concern for his fellow Americans. That is not acceptable.”

Noting that Barrow has received $27,250 in NRA campaign contributions over his eight-year congressional career, Horwitz added, “Rep. Barrow has been bought for the price of a new truck. It would be laughable if his lack of regard for our families’ safety wasn’t so dangerous.”

[...] The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence is encouraging concerned citizens to call Representative Barrow at (202) 225-2823 to tell him to support the President’s gun policy proposals.

The CSGV also went after the newly-elected Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) for calling the White House's effort to reform our gun laws "extreme."

The Heitkamp ads, signed by four parents who lost their children in mass shootings, stated "SHAME ON YOU." They urged Americans to call Senator Heitkamp to express their disgust, and enough of them did that Heitkamp changed her position, saying, "We have a responsibility to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill."

My point is, we can stop gun violence. Finally, the tide of public opinion is overwhelmingly with us. Call your reps, call your senators, write letters to the editor. Call talk radio. Get involved.

The time is now.

PA GOP Introduces Bill To Rig 2016 Electoral Votes

Pennsylvania_state_seal.jpeg
Just like clockwork, it begins. Via ThinkProgress:

On Monday, seven Pennsylvania Republican state representatives introduced a bill to make this vote-rigging scheme a reality in their state. Under their bill, the winner of Pennsylvania as a whole will receive only 2 of the state’s 20 electoral votes, while “[e]ach of the remaining presidential electors shall be elected in the presidential elector’s congressional district.”

Pennsylvania is a blue state that voted for the Democratic presidential candidate in every single presidential race for the last two decades, so implementing the GOP election-rigging plan in Pennsylvania would make it much harder for a Democrat to be elected to the White House. Moreover, because of gerrymandering, it is overwhelmingly likely that the Republican candidate will win a majority of Pennsylvania’s electoral votes even if the Democrat wins the state by a very comfortable margin. Despite the fact that President Obama won Pennsylvania by more than 5 points last November, Democrats carried only 5 of the state’s 18 congressional seats. Accordingly, Obama would have likely won only 7 of the state’s 20 electoral votes if the GOP vote rigging plan had been in effect last year.

ThinkProgress notes that the bill has fewer sponsors this time than last, which might indicate that they're not going to prioritize it. I think it's just a case of political cover. The less fingerprints on the effort to subvert the will of the people, the better.

More folks are starting to get shrill. Good. The more voices the better. Republicans should not be allowed to steal what they cannot win.

Citizens Rally This Week to Demand End to Dual Threat of Money in Politics...

WASHINGTON - January 17 - Citizens will gather across the country this week to demand an end to the combined threat to our democracy of unlimited corporate spending in elections and voter suppression.

These events are part of a nationwide day of action called Money Out/Voters In taking place on and around the weekend of Jan. 19. Activists in more than 75 towns and cities will rally to demand that lawmakers pass measures that limit the corrosive influence of money in politics and expand democratic participation at the polls. Money Out/Voters In is made up of a broad coalition of groups including Public Citizen, NAACP, U.S. PIRG, Common Cause, MoveOn, Organic Consumers Association, League of United Latin American Citizens, Hip Hop Caucus and many more.

“At the same time we’ve seen record amounts of unaccountable corporate money spent on elections, we’ve also seen a deliberate attack on the rights of voters to participate in our democracy,” said Aquene Freechild, senior organizer for Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People campaign. “Having so many diverse groups involved in this week’s events shows how crucial this fight is.”

In addition to being on the eve of the presidential inauguration, the weekend of Jan. 19 precedes the third anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision and Martin Luther King Jr. Day – both on Jan. 21.

Events include:

- Annapolis, Md. – U.S. Reps. John Sarbanes and Chris Van Hollen will attend a rally and address local advocates who worked to make Maryland one of the first states to call for a constitutional amendment.

- Richmond, Calif. – Community members will hold a rally with speakers and entertainment outside the Chevron refinery, and will make a human billboard. The rally is to protest more than $3.5 million in political spending by Chevron, including $1 million injected into the local city council race.

- Chicago, Ill. – Elected officials will join members of the labor, democracy and civil rights communities at a rally to call for transparency and limits on spending in elections and voting rights for all citizens. Illinois PIRG also will release a report on spending in the last election.

- New York City – Mark Green, former New York City public advocate, will speak at a rally with the Rev. James Forbes; Jeff Clements, author of “Corporations Are Not People”; and Shirley Adelbo, executive vice president of SEIU 32BJ Hospital Workers Union at NYU’s Kimmel Center. The rally will be followed by a “holy matrimony” ceremony between a person and a corporation.

- Austin, Texas – Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office, will join leaders from the NAACP, AFL-CIO, Common Cause and Occupy at a rally on the south steps of the Capitol.

These actions come as the country is witnessing a groundswell of grassroots support for improving our democracy. On Election Day, voters in Montana, Colorado, Chicago, San Francisco and dozens of towns in Massachusetts overwhelmingly backed initiatives that called on Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. So far, 11 states and more than 350 communities have formally called for an amendment. In addition, nearly 100 current members of Congress have expressed support for an amendment, as has President Barack Obama.

“The 2012 election – only the second post-Citizens United election – was the most expensive ever, saw more outside money spent than ever, had more secret, Dark Money spent than ever, and subjected voters to unprecedented negative, attack advertising. We can’t keep going in this direction and maintain a functioning democracy,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “As this week’s actions demonstrate, the good news is the American people are in an uproar, and demanding fundamental reform, including a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and related decisions.”

“We are facing a dual attack on our democracy – everyday voters are being disenfranchised while corporations are being hyper-enfranchised,” stated NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “We need to fix the fundamentals of our political system if we want to get down to solving our long-term problems.”

“Since the Citizens United decision three years ago, voters have been clear in their disdain for this decision,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. “The big question is whether our elected representatives will listen to those voices. Our goal is to build a wave of grassroots support so strong that they cannot ignore it.”

Added Marge Baker, executive vice president for People For the American Way, “Voter suppression and unlimited corporate and special interest money in politics serve as barriers to full civic participation, transparency, and accountability. We are excited to come together with our allies on this important weekend to signal our intentions to confront the multi-faceted assault on the voices of everyday Americans in our political system.”

Since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, super PACs and other independent groups – many of which can hide the identities of their donors – have spent huge amounts, in some cases outspending individual campaigns by a ratio of 2-to-1. Citizens United-enabled outside group spending is devoted overwhelmingly to negative attack ads.

Information about the nationwide action can be found at www.moneyout-votersin.org.

Follow this issue on Twitter at #MoneyOutVotersIn.

Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.

Citizens Rally This Week to Demand End to Dual Threat of Money in Politics...

WASHINGTON - January 17 - Citizens will gather across the country this week to demand an end to the combined threat to our democracy of unlimited corporate spending in elections and voter suppression.

These events are part of a nationwide day of action called Money Out/Voters In taking place on and around the weekend of Jan. 19. Activists in more than 75 towns and cities will rally to demand that lawmakers pass measures that limit the corrosive influence of money in politics and expand democratic participation at the polls. Money Out/Voters In is made up of a broad coalition of groups including Public Citizen, NAACP, U.S. PIRG, Common Cause, MoveOn, Organic Consumers Association, League of United Latin American Citizens, Hip Hop Caucus and many more.

“At the same time we’ve seen record amounts of unaccountable corporate money spent on elections, we’ve also seen a deliberate attack on the rights of voters to participate in our democracy,” said Aquene Freechild, senior organizer for Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People campaign. “Having so many diverse groups involved in this week’s events shows how crucial this fight is.”

In addition to being on the eve of the presidential inauguration, the weekend of Jan. 19 precedes the third anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision and Martin Luther King Jr. Day – both on Jan. 21.

Events include:

- Annapolis, Md. – U.S. Reps. John Sarbanes and Chris Van Hollen will attend a rally and address local advocates who worked to make Maryland one of the first states to call for a constitutional amendment.

- Richmond, Calif. – Community members will hold a rally with speakers and entertainment outside the Chevron refinery, and will make a human billboard. The rally is to protest more than $3.5 million in political spending by Chevron, including $1 million injected into the local city council race.

- Chicago, Ill. – Elected officials will join members of the labor, democracy and civil rights communities at a rally to call for transparency and limits on spending in elections and voting rights for all citizens. Illinois PIRG also will release a report on spending in the last election.

- New York City – Mark Green, former New York City public advocate, will speak at a rally with the Rev. James Forbes; Jeff Clements, author of “Corporations Are Not People”; and Shirley Adelbo, executive vice president of SEIU 32BJ Hospital Workers Union at NYU’s Kimmel Center. The rally will be followed by a “holy matrimony” ceremony between a person and a corporation.

- Austin, Texas – Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office, will join leaders from the NAACP, AFL-CIO, Common Cause and Occupy at a rally on the south steps of the Capitol.

These actions come as the country is witnessing a groundswell of grassroots support for improving our democracy. On Election Day, voters in Montana, Colorado, Chicago, San Francisco and dozens of towns in Massachusetts overwhelmingly backed initiatives that called on Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. So far, 11 states and more than 350 communities have formally called for an amendment. In addition, nearly 100 current members of Congress have expressed support for an amendment, as has President Barack Obama.

“The 2012 election – only the second post-Citizens United election – was the most expensive ever, saw more outside money spent than ever, had more secret, Dark Money spent than ever, and subjected voters to unprecedented negative, attack advertising. We can’t keep going in this direction and maintain a functioning democracy,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “As this week’s actions demonstrate, the good news is the American people are in an uproar, and demanding fundamental reform, including a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and related decisions.”

“We are facing a dual attack on our democracy – everyday voters are being disenfranchised while corporations are being hyper-enfranchised,” stated NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “We need to fix the fundamentals of our political system if we want to get down to solving our long-term problems.”

“Since the Citizens United decision three years ago, voters have been clear in their disdain for this decision,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. “The big question is whether our elected representatives will listen to those voices. Our goal is to build a wave of grassroots support so strong that they cannot ignore it.”

Added Marge Baker, executive vice president for People For the American Way, “Voter suppression and unlimited corporate and special interest money in politics serve as barriers to full civic participation, transparency, and accountability. We are excited to come together with our allies on this important weekend to signal our intentions to confront the multi-faceted assault on the voices of everyday Americans in our political system.”

Since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, super PACs and other independent groups – many of which can hide the identities of their donors – have spent huge amounts, in some cases outspending individual campaigns by a ratio of 2-to-1. Citizens United-enabled outside group spending is devoted overwhelmingly to negative attack ads.

Information about the nationwide action can be found at www.moneyout-votersin.org.

Follow this issue on Twitter at #MoneyOutVotersIn.

Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.

Floridians Stand Up for Clean Water at EPA Meetings in Tampa

WASHINGTON - January 17 - Concerned Floridians told the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today that the continued slime outbreaks in the state’s public waterways are harming Florida’s tourism business, contaminating drinking water, killing wildlife, and repeatedly threatening public health. They joined together in a public demonstration and urged the EPA to stay strong and enforce the Clean Water Act, despite pressure from polluting industries.

Protesters gathered at the Tampa Hotel, where the EPA is holding the first of two public information meetings (January 17 from 1–7 pm and January 18 from 9 am–1 pm).

"EPA officials say they are prepared to withdraw their proposed strong rules and transfer Clean Water Act authority to Florida DEP. That would be disastrous," said Frank Jackalone, Sierra Club's Florida staff director.

"Governor Scott and DEP Secretary Vinyard are neither willing nor able to stop the flow of manure, sewage, and fertilizer into Florida's springs, lakes, rivers and bays. They are crippling clean water enforcement and doing the dirty work of polluters. Theirs is the reign of red tides and green slime," Jackalone said.

“The joke that DEP stands for ‘Don’t Expect Protection’ has never been more true,” said Earthjustice attorney David Guest.

Gov. Rick Scott’s administration is firing experienced DEP staffers and replacing them with people who come from polluting industries. Records show that enforcement cases against environmental lawbreakers have plummeted at the DEP.

“This is a critical time for us to get a handle on the sewage, manure and fertilizer pollution that’s causing these repeated algae outbreaks which devastate rivers like the St. Johns,” said St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman. “The St. Johns River is at the center of the northeast Florida economy. Green slime and massive piles of dead fish along the banks hurt us all. We want EPA to stand strong and do its job enforcing the Clean Water Act.”

Andrew McElwaine, President of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, noted that Sarasota County had to remove 4.5 tons of rotting fish from its public beaches due to red tide, which is worsened by this pollution. In addition, Sanibel Island had to cancel a youth fishing tournament, green slimy algae keeps shutting down a drinking water plant for 30,000 people, and the state has banned shell fishing in some areas.

“We were encouraged in November when the EPA announced it is setting enforceable, numeric limits on the amount of pollutants allowed in our waters,” McElwaine said. “The EPA’s number limits apply to about 85 percent of Florida waters. Unfortunately, the EPA allowed Florida to impose ineffective state rules for 15 percent of streams, canals and estuaries.”

“Now EPA is signaling that it is might withdraw its proposed rules for 85 percent of Florida's waters and transfer that authority to the DEP,” McElwaine said. “That’s the wrong way to go.”

“We need EPA’s enforceable numbers for 100 percent of the state’s waters,” said Earthjustice attorney Guest. “We’ve seen that the Scott administration is far more interested in coddling polluter lobbyists than it is in cleaning up our public waterways. We know that polluted water is a job killer for everyone who relies on the tourism industry here in Florida—and that’s pretty much all of us.”

Florida Wildlife Federation President Fuller added: “The DEP rules are ineffective, convoluted and never result in enforcement. Meanwhile, pollution of Florida's waterways continues to worsen.”

The EPA began working to set pollution limits for Florida in 2009—part of a settlement in a 2008 Clean Water Act suit filed by Earthjustice in the Northern District of Florida on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, St. John’s Riverkeeper, and the Sierra Club. The suit challenged the decade-long delay by the state and federal governments in setting limits for the pollution.

The public supports the EPA pollution limits. In response to a call for action, more than 40,000 citizens wrote the White House in 2012, urging the Obama administration to stand firm on imposing effective federal standards for Florida waters.

Floridians Stand Up for Clean Water at EPA Meetings in Tampa

WASHINGTON - January 17 - Concerned Floridians told the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today that the continued slime outbreaks in the state’s public waterways are harming Florida’s tourism business, contaminating drinking water, killing wildlife, and repeatedly threatening public health. They joined together in a public demonstration and urged the EPA to stay strong and enforce the Clean Water Act, despite pressure from polluting industries.

Protesters gathered at the Tampa Hotel, where the EPA is holding the first of two public information meetings (January 17 from 1–7 pm and January 18 from 9 am–1 pm).

"EPA officials say they are prepared to withdraw their proposed strong rules and transfer Clean Water Act authority to Florida DEP. That would be disastrous," said Frank Jackalone, Sierra Club's Florida staff director.

"Governor Scott and DEP Secretary Vinyard are neither willing nor able to stop the flow of manure, sewage, and fertilizer into Florida's springs, lakes, rivers and bays. They are crippling clean water enforcement and doing the dirty work of polluters. Theirs is the reign of red tides and green slime," Jackalone said.

“The joke that DEP stands for ‘Don’t Expect Protection’ has never been more true,” said Earthjustice attorney David Guest.

Gov. Rick Scott’s administration is firing experienced DEP staffers and replacing them with people who come from polluting industries. Records show that enforcement cases against environmental lawbreakers have plummeted at the DEP.

“This is a critical time for us to get a handle on the sewage, manure and fertilizer pollution that’s causing these repeated algae outbreaks which devastate rivers like the St. Johns,” said St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman. “The St. Johns River is at the center of the northeast Florida economy. Green slime and massive piles of dead fish along the banks hurt us all. We want EPA to stand strong and do its job enforcing the Clean Water Act.”

Andrew McElwaine, President of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, noted that Sarasota County had to remove 4.5 tons of rotting fish from its public beaches due to red tide, which is worsened by this pollution. In addition, Sanibel Island had to cancel a youth fishing tournament, green slimy algae keeps shutting down a drinking water plant for 30,000 people, and the state has banned shell fishing in some areas.

“We were encouraged in November when the EPA announced it is setting enforceable, numeric limits on the amount of pollutants allowed in our waters,” McElwaine said. “The EPA’s number limits apply to about 85 percent of Florida waters. Unfortunately, the EPA allowed Florida to impose ineffective state rules for 15 percent of streams, canals and estuaries.”

“Now EPA is signaling that it is might withdraw its proposed rules for 85 percent of Florida's waters and transfer that authority to the DEP,” McElwaine said. “That’s the wrong way to go.”

“We need EPA’s enforceable numbers for 100 percent of the state’s waters,” said Earthjustice attorney Guest. “We’ve seen that the Scott administration is far more interested in coddling polluter lobbyists than it is in cleaning up our public waterways. We know that polluted water is a job killer for everyone who relies on the tourism industry here in Florida—and that’s pretty much all of us.”

Florida Wildlife Federation President Fuller added: “The DEP rules are ineffective, convoluted and never result in enforcement. Meanwhile, pollution of Florida's waterways continues to worsen.”

The EPA began working to set pollution limits for Florida in 2009—part of a settlement in a 2008 Clean Water Act suit filed by Earthjustice in the Northern District of Florida on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, St. John’s Riverkeeper, and the Sierra Club. The suit challenged the decade-long delay by the state and federal governments in setting limits for the pollution.

The public supports the EPA pollution limits. In response to a call for action, more than 40,000 citizens wrote the White House in 2012, urging the Obama administration to stand firm on imposing effective federal standards for Florida waters.

New World Order – Attack On Sovereignty

Those concerned about “The New World Order” speak as if the United States is coming under the control of an outside conspiratorial force. In fact, it is the US that is the New World Order.

New Report “Billion-Dollar Democracy” Shows Unprecedented Impact of Big Money in 2012 Elections

WASHINGTON - January 17 - It took just 32 billionaires and corporations giving Super PACs an average of $9.9 million apiece to match every single dollar given by small donors to Romney and Obama in the 2012 election cycle, according to “Billion-Dollar Democracy,” a new report by U.S. PIRG and Demos. Those small donations amounted to over $313 million from more than 3.7 million individuals.

READ Billion-Dollar Democracy

“Americans who are wondering why it seems tougher to get ahead or even get a fair shake in today’s economy should look to big money politics for answers,” said Adam Lioz, report co-author and Counsel for Demos. “When a tiny group of wealthy donors fuels political campaigns, they get to set the agenda in Washington, and the rest of us are left to argue over that agenda.”

The report provides a full and detailed analysis of all 2012 federal election spending and fundraising by campaigns and Super PACs. The data shows the undue influence of large donors, business interests and secret spenders in 2012:

  • Nearly 60% of Super PAC funding came from just 159 donors contributing at least $1 million.
  • Candidates for both House and Senate raised the majority of their funds from gifts of $1,000 or more; and 40 percent of all contributions to Senate candidates came from donors who gave at least $2,500. (Those donors are just 0.02 percent of the American population.)
  • Corporate donations accounted for a large portion of the funds of two of top ten most active Super PACs, including 18 percent of Restore Our Future’s total contributions and 52.6 percent of those of FreedomWorks for America.

“The first post-Citizens United presidential election confirmed our fears that the new unlimited-money regime allows well-heeled special interests and secret spenders to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens,” said Blair Bowie, U.S. PIRG Democracy Advocate and report co-author.

Billion-Dollar Democracy” also found that groups that do not disclose the source of their funds paid for well more than half of television advertising in the 2012 presidential race not sponsored by candidates or parties.

”These dark money groups hide key information about where they get their money from voters,” added Bowie. “Furthermore, because there’s no one to hold responsible for the content of their advertising, studies show they are far more likely to be misleading or just downright lying.”

Data in “Billion Dollar Democracy” also demonstrate to extent to which our big money system determines winners and losers, distorting our democratic process. Incumbents, for example, are big winners—outraising major challengers by 443% in the House and 316% in the Senate.

The report documents how vastly disproportionate influence by the “donor class” skews public policy, and concludes with specific solutions for every level of government to ensure that ordinary Americans can make their voices heard in financing electoral campaigns. These recommendations include amending the constitution, matching small political contributions with public funds, and requiring corporations to disclose political giving, among others.

READ “DOLLAR DEMOCRACY” HERE: http://demos.io/billions2012

GRAPHICS AVAILABLE HERE: http://demos.io/11A14wM

A multi-issue national organization, Demos combines research, policy development, and advocacy to influence public debates and catalyze change. We publish books, reports, and briefing papers that illuminate critical problems and advance innovative solutions; work at both the national and state level with advocates and policymakers to promote reforms; help to build the capacity and skills of key progressive constituencies; project our values into the media by promoting Demos Fellows and staff in print, broadcast, and Internet venues; and host public events that showcase new ideas and leading progressive voices.

New Report “Billion-Dollar Democracy” Shows Unprecedented Impact of Big Money in 2012 Elections

WASHINGTON - January 17 - It took just 32 billionaires and corporations giving Super PACs an average of $9.9 million apiece to match every single dollar given by small donors to Romney and Obama in the 2012 election cycle, according to “Billion-Dollar Democracy,” a new report by U.S. PIRG and Demos. Those small donations amounted to over $313 million from more than 3.7 million individuals.

READ Billion-Dollar Democracy

“Americans who are wondering why it seems tougher to get ahead or even get a fair shake in today’s economy should look to big money politics for answers,” said Adam Lioz, report co-author and Counsel for Demos. “When a tiny group of wealthy donors fuels political campaigns, they get to set the agenda in Washington, and the rest of us are left to argue over that agenda.”

The report provides a full and detailed analysis of all 2012 federal election spending and fundraising by campaigns and Super PACs. The data shows the undue influence of large donors, business interests and secret spenders in 2012:

  • Nearly 60% of Super PAC funding came from just 159 donors contributing at least $1 million.
  • Candidates for both House and Senate raised the majority of their funds from gifts of $1,000 or more; and 40 percent of all contributions to Senate candidates came from donors who gave at least $2,500. (Those donors are just 0.02 percent of the American population.)
  • Corporate donations accounted for a large portion of the funds of two of top ten most active Super PACs, including 18 percent of Restore Our Future’s total contributions and 52.6 percent of those of FreedomWorks for America.

“The first post-Citizens United presidential election confirmed our fears that the new unlimited-money regime allows well-heeled special interests and secret spenders to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens,” said Blair Bowie, U.S. PIRG Democracy Advocate and report co-author.

Billion-Dollar Democracy” also found that groups that do not disclose the source of their funds paid for well more than half of television advertising in the 2012 presidential race not sponsored by candidates or parties.

”These dark money groups hide key information about where they get their money from voters,” added Bowie. “Furthermore, because there’s no one to hold responsible for the content of their advertising, studies show they are far more likely to be misleading or just downright lying.”

Data in “Billion Dollar Democracy” also demonstrate to extent to which our big money system determines winners and losers, distorting our democratic process. Incumbents, for example, are big winners—outraising major challengers by 443% in the House and 316% in the Senate.

The report documents how vastly disproportionate influence by the “donor class” skews public policy, and concludes with specific solutions for every level of government to ensure that ordinary Americans can make their voices heard in financing electoral campaigns. These recommendations include amending the constitution, matching small political contributions with public funds, and requiring corporations to disclose political giving, among others.

READ “DOLLAR DEMOCRACY” HERE: http://demos.io/billions2012

GRAPHICS AVAILABLE HERE: http://demos.io/11A14wM

A multi-issue national organization, Demos combines research, policy development, and advocacy to influence public debates and catalyze change. We publish books, reports, and briefing papers that illuminate critical problems and advance innovative solutions; work at both the national and state level with advocates and policymakers to promote reforms; help to build the capacity and skills of key progressive constituencies; project our values into the media by promoting Demos Fellows and staff in print, broadcast, and Internet venues; and host public events that showcase new ideas and leading progressive voices.

Republicans Considering “Temporary” Debt-Ceiling Increase

In what is sure to be a complete non-starter with the Obama administration, WSJ reports that Paul Ryan said that "Republicans are discussing whether to support a short-term increase in the nation's borrowing authority, possibly linking the debt ceilin...

The Great Systemic Rig of 2012 is Now Ending

Europe's banking system has been on the ropes for years.

It's a little known fact that  the largest recipients of US bailouts were in fact foreign banks based in Europe. Also bear in mind that the biggest beneficiaries of QE 2 were European banks. Things got so bad in mid-2012 that the whole system lurched towards collapse. The only thing that pulled the EU back from the brink was Mario Draghi's promise of unlimited bond buying (a promise and nothing more as the EU has yet to do any of this).

However, these efforts, like all cover?ups, will not last. Indeed, by the look of things, Europe’s banking system is breaking down again....

Greece’s four largest banks need to boost their capital by 27.5 billion euros ($36.3 billion) after taking losses from the country’s debt swap earlier this year, the largest sovereign restructuring in history.

National Bank of Greece SA, the country’s biggest lender, needs to raise 9.8 billion euros, according to an e-­?mailed report by the Athens-­?based Bank of Greece (TELL) today. Eurobank Ergasias SA (EUROB) needs 5.8 billion euros, Alpha Bank (ALPHA) needs 4.6 billion euros and Piraeus Bank SA (TPEIR) needs 7.3 billion euros, according to the report. Total recapitalization needs for the country’s banking sector amount to 40.5 billion euros, the report said.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-­?12-­?27/greek-­?bank-­?capital-...? at-­?eu27-­?5-­?billion-­?bank-­?of-­?greece-­?says.html

The above articles tell us point blank that Europe’s banking crisis is neither fixed nor even close to over. However, the numbers need some perspective: sure, €27.5 billion sounds like a lot of money, but just how big is it relative to Greece’s banks.

The entire capital base of the Greek banking system is only €22 billion.

By saying that Greek banks need €27.5 billion Greece is essentially admitting that is needs to recapitalize its entire banking system. Also, you should know that Greek banks are still sitting on €46.8 billion in bad loans.

There is a word for a banking system with a capital base of €22 billion and bad loans of €46.8. It’s INSOLVENT.

We get other signs that Europe is ready to fall back into the abyss from recent revelations concerning Spain’s sovereign bonds.

In July 2012, Spain’s ten year bond yield hit 8% even though Spain had already been granted a €100 billion bailout by the EU and the ECB had also promised to provide unlimited bond buying.

As a point of reference, remember that any yield over 7% is GAME OVER as far as funding your debt.

Then, starting in August 2012, Spain’s ten-­?year bond yields magically began to fall. Since that time, they’ve plunged to just 5%.

The reason for this drop in yields?

It’s not that Spain’s finances improved (its Debt to GDP ratio hit 85% this year and is on track to reach 90% by the end of 2013). Nor is it that Spain’s economy is recovering (unemployment reached a new record in 3Q12).

It’s not also that investors are less worried about Spain and have decided to buy Spanish debt (Spain just staged a terrible bond rally in early December).

So why were Spanish yields falling?

Spain has been using up its Social Security fund to buy its own debt.

Spain has been quietly tapping the country's richest piggy bank, the Social Security Reserve Fund, as a buyer of last resort for Spanish government bonds, raising questions about the fund's role as guarantor of future pension payouts.

Now the scarcely noticed borrowing spree, carried out amid a prolonged economic crisis, is about to end, because there is little left to take. At least 90% of the €65 billion ($85.7 billion) fund has been invested in increasingly risky Spanish debt, according to official figures, and the government has begun withdrawing cash for emergency payments.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB100014241278873233745045782173840 62120520.html

This is precisely what we mean when we say the system was rigged in the second half of 2012. Spain, a country that is totally bankrupt and likely heading for its own version of the Arab Spring (things are so bad that Spaniards have begun self-­? immolating just as they did in Tunisia right before that country suffered a societal breakdown) managed to fool the world into believing that things had improved by raiding its social security fund to buy its own debt.

As we said at the beginning of this issue, the rigging that occurred in the second half of 2012 was simply staggering. But it will end. Our view is that we have perhaps another month or so left at the most before things begin to get ugly again.

With that in mind, smart investors are taking advantage of the lull in the markets to position themselves for what’s coming.

We offer several FREE Special Reports designed to help them do this. They include:

Preparing Your Portfolio For Obama’s Economic Nightmare

What Europe’s Crisis Means For You and Your Savings

How to Protect Yourself From Inflation

And last but not least…

Bullion 101: Everything You Need to Know About Investing in Gold and Silver Bullion…

You can pick up FREE copies of all of the above at:

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Behind the NRA’s Money: Gun Lobby Deepens Financial Ties to $12 Billion Firearms Industry

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We conclude today’s show with a look at the connection between the firearms industry and the National Rifle Association. Throughout its history, the NRA has portrayed itself as an advocate for individual gun owners’ Second Amendment rights. But a new investigation finds the group has come to rely on the support of the $12-billion-a-year gun industry, made up of firearms and ammunition manufacturers and sellers.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Washington, D.C. We’re joined by investigative reporter Peter Stone, who has covered money and politics and lobbying for 20 years for the National Journal , the Center for Public Integrity. His latest piece is for The Huffington Post; it’s called "NRA Gun Control Crusade Reflects Firearms Industry Financial Ties."

Peter, welcome to Democracy Now! Just what are those ties?

PETER STONE: Well, the ties have become extensive in recent years. They date back principally to 2005, when the gun industry was facing a major crisis. It had been hit by dozens of suits from cities in recent years prior to that, and they were facing significant financial costs from this litigation. Litigation was aimed at recouping healthcare and other costs from gun violence in major cities. And the gun industry turned to the NRA for its lobbying muscle, which is legendary in Congress. They needed help. And they came up with a plan to obtain a liability shield for gun manufacturers and distributors. It’s the only industry in the country that was able to secure such a shield from most litigation. The NRA pushed it very hard for a few years, and it passed Congress in 2005, providing unique protection to gun manufacturers.

At the same time, that very same year, the NRA launched a new fundraising program aimed at corporate donors, most of whom have been firearms companies, ammunitions makers. And that program has boomed since it started in 2005. There are no precise numbers, but the NRA posts data about the range of contributions from firearms industry firms. And according to a report in 2011 from the Violence Policy Center, between $14 million and $39 million came into NRA coffers in that period. This is probably a conservative estimate. Most of the NRA’s money is still from other sources, the bulk of the money, but the firearms industry has formed a kind of symbiotic relationship with the NRA in recent years—it benefits both.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Peter Stone, can you say a little about who the executives are who serve on the board of the NRA?

PETER STONE: Well, the NRA has a very large board, about 76 members, many of whom are prominent conservatives, including Grover Norquist, Ollie North, film star Chuck Norris and many others. They have a small number of industry executives, as well, who are on the board. And at least a few of these are from fairly large donors; Brownells, Barrett Firearms, their top executives are on the NRA board. Interestingly, both of these companies are distributors or makers of these high-capacity magazines, which are now facing significant criticism and legislative threats because of concerns that they have been linked to many of the mass shootings in the last couple of years. So it probably gives them a little more input and influence at the NRA as they fight these bans.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about how the NRA’s positions increased gun sales for the NRA’s patrons, the weapons manufacturers?

PETER STONE: Well, it’s anecdotal, but there’s obviously evidence in recent years that one of the major pushes of the NRA over the last decade has been to pass laws in states called "concealed carry laws," which are now existing in almost every state. The president of one of the big companies, Sturm, Ruger, in Connecticut, in a conference call with analysts back in 2011, said that they were looking for a nice uptick in sales in Wisconsin after the—that state passed a concealed carry law. These are ones that, you know, the NRA has pushed in Second Amendment grounds, self-defense grounds, but they obviously have been good for the firearms industry, too.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Peter Stone, could you say what you think the NRA’s influence will be on the gun control legislation or discussion that’s now going on?

PETER STONE: Well, the NRA still has, you know, huge influence in Congress. It tried to defeat President Obama in 2012. It spent over $10 million in that effort. It didn’t succeed. But it also has upped its contributions significantly in recent years and tilted toward the Republican Party. And in the House, it’s going to be very tough to get enough Republican votes to support some of the legislation which the administration seems likely to push: the assault weapons ban and the limits on high-capacity magazines. I think the latter may have a little more possibility. There have been some statements from—isolated statements in recent days from Republicans indicating that they seem to be—there’s some openness, in a handful of Republicans, to such a ban. It will be very interesting to see if the NRA can twist those arms and block the legislation. I think that’s more likely at this stage than the assault weapons ban. But obviously, popular sentiment and support for gun control has increased. It’s a period of great flux. More momentum seems to exist now than has existed in a long time for increased gun control measures, tougher gun laws. And I think this is a volatile situation where the NRA is facing, you know, new challenges. It may find that it can’t, you know, rely on all the members it’s relied on in the past. But it’s going to be—

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Stone, we’re going to have to leave it there, but I thank you for being with us, longtime investigative reporter. We’ll link to your piece at The Huffington Post called "NRA Gun Control Crusade Reflects Firearms Industry Financial Ties."

And I want to encourage people to tune into our inauguration special Monday from 8:00 in the morning 'til 1:00 in the afternoon. And Tuesday to Friday, we'll be at Sundance.

MUST SEE: Citizens Against Senseless Violence: “Join Us! Tell Everyone Your House Is Completely...

Mac Slavo
January 17th, 2013
SHTFplan.com

Read by 16,072 people

This is one you don’t want to miss.

Citizens Against Senseless Violence goes door-to-door and asks supporters of gun control legislation to join the movement by putting signs in front of their homes letting everyone know that they proudly live in a gun free zone.

The group visits a host of key anti-gun proponents including the publishing team at the Journal News, which recently posted a public map of homeowners with registered weapons. They also visit the home of our very own Attorney General Eric Holder who has said we need to “brainwash” people about gun ownership, yet ironically, was the lead law enforcement officer in charge of an operation that transferred (without a background check or registration, no less!) military style assault rifles with high capacity magazines to the Los Zetas Mexican drug cartel.

All have called on President Obama and Congress to disarm Americans.

While they’ve been quite vocal about ensuring that Americans give up their guns through reeducation, intimidation and policy, as you’ll see, they are not exactly receptive to the idea of letting everyone else in their neighborhood know how proud they are to be gun-free.

Since these reporters and editors did not consider it a violation of the privacy and safety of others to reveal which homes have guns and which homes don’t, we went to see which of them would be willing to put up a sign publicly declaring their homes to be gun free zones.

While we didn’t find any members of the media with the strength of their convictions, we did find quite a few guns and some good explanations for why they might be necessary.

Video by Project Veritas via Activist Post

Their hypocrisy knows no bounds.

Author: Mac Slavo
Views: Read by 16,072 people
Date: January 17th, 2013
Website: www.SHTFplan.com

Copyright Information: Copyright SHTFplan and Mac Slavo. This content may be freely reproduced in full or in part in digital form with full attribution to the author and a link to www.shtfplan.com. Please contact us for permission to reproduce this content in other media formats.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

MUST SEE: Citizens Against Senseless Violence: “Join Us! Tell Everyone Your House Is Completely...

Mac Slavo
January 17th, 2013
SHTFplan.com

Read by 13,922 people

This is one you don’t want to miss.

Citizens Against Senseless Violence goes door-to-door and asks supporters of gun control legislation to join the movement by putting signs in front of their homes letting everyone know that they proudly live in a gun free zone.

The group visits a host of key anti-gun proponents including the publishing team at the Journal News, which recently posted a public map of homeowners with registered weapons. They also visit the home of our very own Attorney General Eric Holder who has said we need to “brainwash” people about gun ownership, yet ironically, was the lead law enforcement officer in charge of an operation that transferred (without a background check or registration, no less!) military style assault rifles with high capacity magazines to the Los Zetas Mexican drug cartel.

All have called on President Obama and Congress to disarm Americans.

While they’ve been quite vocal about ensuring that Americans give up their guns through reeducation, intimidation and policy, as you’ll see, they are not exactly receptive to the idea of letting everyone else in their neighborhood know how proud they are to be gun-free.

Since these reporters and editors did not consider it a violation of the privacy and safety of others to reveal which homes have guns and which homes don’t, we went to see which of them would be willing to put up a sign publicly declaring their homes to be gun free zones.

While we didn’t find any members of the media with the strength of their convictions, we did find quite a few guns and some good explanations for why they might be necessary.

Video by Project Veritas via Activist Post

Their hypocrisy knows no bounds.

Author: Mac Slavo
Views: Read by 13,922 people
Date: January 17th, 2013
Website: www.SHTFplan.com

Copyright Information: Copyright SHTFplan and Mac Slavo. This content may be freely reproduced in full or in part in digital form with full attribution to the author and a link to www.shtfplan.com. Please contact us for permission to reproduce this content in other media formats.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

We’re Energy Workers and We Oppose the Keystone XL Pipeline

The following speech was delivered to a City University of New York forum called “Confronting the Climate Crisis: Can Labor Help Shape an Effective Strategy?” on Thursday, January 17th:

The obvious answer to the question is yes and the voice of energy workers is a particularly important one to hear while talking about labour’s role in reducing green-house gas emissions. As Canada's largest energy union, the CEP represents 35,000 members employed in oil and gas extraction, transportation, refining, and conversion in the petrochemical and plastics sectors.

CEP believes that it is necessary to transition away from fossil fuels by reducing consumption and investing in green energies while ensuring a just transition for energy workers and their communities.

My union believes we need to pause further development of Alberta’s bitumen sands. Additionally, the bevy of export pipelines being proposed need to be put on hold until we develop a national consensus around a sustainable energy strategy.

Corporations and their sycophants in the media and academia tell us that we have to choose between jobs and the environment. But we reject this dichotomy.

We oppose the proposed Keystone XL pipeline and call on President Obama to reject the project. Climate pollution from the bitumen sands industry is already considerable and will only get worse by approving Keystone XL. The Canadian government’s aggressive lobbying in the US in favor of the pipeline is an embarrassment.

I have been arrested in the fight against Keystone XL because our union understands that this pipeline is bad for both the environment and Canadian workers. The pipeline will take potential upgrading and refining jobs away from Canadians and put our country's energy security at risk.

Fighting for economic equality and climate justice are at the base of our everyday work. The CEP understands that the same government that wants to extract as much oil (should I say profits) as quickly as possible from Alberta’s bitumen sands has repeatedly legislated workers back to work and attacked unions’ political independence.

The CEP is active in numerous initiatives to fight the climate crisis. We recently supported PowerShift, a skills sharing conference that brought together 1000 youth fighting for climate justice.

When the leader of the official opposition Thomas Mulcair sparked a controversy by saying the Canadian dollar is “artificially high” because we’re “allowing [the oil companies] a bit of a free ride in using the air, the soil and the water in an unlimited way” the right wing accused him of causing regional tensions between the manufacturing-focused east of the country and the more resource dependent west. In response, CEP local 707 hosted Mulcair’s tour of the bitumen sands. This helped undercut the right wing’s attacks by showing that many of those working in Fort McMurray’s energy extraction sector are also concerned about unbridled oil expansion.

The CEP is part of Blue Green Canada, an alliance of labour, environmental and civil society organizations. A recent Blue Green report shows that six to eight times more jobs could be created by investing the $1.3 billion in federal subsidies that currently go to oil and gas subsidies into energy efficiency, renewable energy and public transit.

For science the threat of global warming is beyond sane dispute. But, capitalists whose wealth and power depends on existing enterprises deny there is a problem. Our current economic system is dependent on endless growth even though it’s clear as day that unrestrained growth is environmentally unsustainable.

Our current economic system is dependent on endless growth even though it’s clear as day that unrestrained growth is environmentally unsustainable.

Corporations and their sycophants in the media and academia tell us that we have to choose between jobs and the environment. But we reject this dichotomy.

It’s possible to build an economic system that provides people with good and fulfilling work all the while respecting Mother Earth. If we don’t seek that balance there may be no good jobs for our great grandchildren.

To deal with the unfolding ecological crisis we must jettison corporation-centric economic policies in favor of ones that actually address our world’s many social and ecological concerns.

In conclusion, the main spokesperson for the largely successful student strike that rocked Quebec last spring, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, told Powershift in October: “The problem is not [personal] consumption, it is our economy and production. Our system is broken on a systemic level. The destruction of our environment is a natural and inevitable result.

“Without radical change we will be faced with extinction. Resistance in these times is not an option. It is a duty.”

David Coles

Are School Children Taking Gun Control Into Their Own Hands?

BoNeSxxx's picture

Found on the net...

In Plain English

So Obama released his Executive Orders to Prevent Maniacs From Being Maniacs today. I’ve taken the time to translate the summaries into plain English below:

1. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system.

Tell the government to follow the law.

2. Address unnecessary legal barriers, particularly relating to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, that may prevent states from making information available to the background check system.

Tell the regulators to stop the stupid and useless regulations.

3. Improve incentives for states to share information with the background check system.

Pay the states back for the unfunded mandates that the Feds keeps making.

4. Direct the Attorney General to review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks.

Tell the Attorney General to do his job.

5. Propose rulemaking to give law enforcement the ability to run a full background check on an individual before returning a seized gun.

Start another unfunded mandate. (See #3.)

6. Publish a letter from ATF to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers.

Tell FDLs how to do something no one is ever going to bother to do.

7. Launch a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign.

Do the same thing the NRA already does, only half as well at twice the cost.

8. Review safety standards for gun locks and gun safes (Consumer Product Safety Commission).

Do what Underwriters Laboratories already does, only half as well at twice the cost.

9. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.

Tell the Feds to do their jobs.

10. Release a DOJ report analyzing information on lost and stolen guns and make it widely available to law enforcement.

Tell the DOJ to do its job.

11. Nominate an ATF director.

Tell myself to do my job.

12. Provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper training for active shooter situations.

Spend more money.

13. Maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime.

Tell everyone to do their goddamned jobs.

14. Issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.

Tell the doctors to figure out why it isn’t the feds’ fault that they aren’t doing their jobs.

15. Direct the Attorney General to issue a report on the availability and most effective use of new gun safety technologies and challenge the private sector to develop innovative technologies.

Figure out a way to push “smart guns” that don’t exist and wouldn’t be useful as guns if they did.

16. Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.

Tell everyone that Obamacare doesn’t actually mean what it says.

17. Release a letter to health care providers clarifying that no federal law prohibits them from reporting threats of violence to law enforcement authorities.

Tell everyone that, seriously, Obamacare doesn’t actually mean that. We had to pass it to find out what was in it, after all.

18. Provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers.

Tell everyone that I’ve been a partisan hack for the last month every time I said the NRA was crazy to want to post more cops in schools.

19. Develop model emergency response plans for schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher education.

Do the same thing that every police agency in the country has already done, only half as well and at ten times the cost.

20. Release a letter to state health officials clarifying the scope of mental health services that Medicaid plans must cover.

Tell doctors what they already know.

21. Finalize regulations clarifying essential health benefits and parity requirements within ACA exchanges.

Tell people what the parts of Obamacare don’t say anything.

22. Commit to finalizing mental health parity regulations.

Tell HHS to do their job.

23. Launch a national dialogue led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental health.

Hand the rest of the job of telling everyone to do their jobs off to someone else so it is no longer my job.

Aaron Swartz: Suicide or Murder?

Advocates of online openness and freedom lost a committed champion. The Economist said to call him "gifted would be to miss the point. As far as the internet was concerned, he was the gift."

Gitmo – America’s Legal Black Hole

What is of particular concern is the fact that many of these prisoners are not even charged on anything. Is not 11 years too long a period to charge them or let them go free?

Prosecutors defend charges against Aaron Swartz

Aaron Swartz (Reuters/Noah Berger)

Aaron Swartz (Reuters/Noah Berger)

US Attorney Carmen Ortiz has released a statement defending her prosecution of Aaron Swartz, calling it an appropriate handling of the case, even though it may have prompted the 26-year-old’s suicide.

Although Ortiz expressed her condolences to friends and family of Swartz, she proceeded by defending her office’s conduct and claimed she would have sought out a much lighter penalty than Swartz was expecting.

“At no time did this office ever seek – or ever tell Mr. Swartz’s attorneys that it intended to see – maximum penalties under the law,” Ortiz said. The Internet activist and Reddit co-founder was facing the possibility of more than 50 years in prison and $4 million in fines if convicted, but Ortiz claims she would have recommended that the judge offer a deal that came with six-month prison sentence in a low-security setting.

Elliot Peters, Swartz’s lawyer, told the Huffington Post that prosecutors planned to argue for a seven to eight year prison sentence if their client had rejected the six-month offer.

“This office’s conduct was appropriate in bringing and handling this case,” Ortiz said. “The career prosecutors handling this matter took on the difficult task of enforcing a law they had taken an oath to uphold, and did so reasonably.”

But Forbes writer Tim Lee believes that plea bargains are a disgrace and force defendants into pleading guilty without going to trial and having the opportunity to defend themselves. Lee also claims that Ortiz used the maximum penalty threats to force the young man into pleading guilty.

“If Ortiz thought Swartz only deserved to spend six months in jail, why did she charge him with crimes carrying a maximum penalty of 50 years? It’s a common way to gaining leverage during plea bargaining,” Lee writes. “Had Swartz chosen to plead not guilty, the offer of six months in jail would have evaporated. Upon conviction, prosecutors likely would have sought the maximum penalty available under the law. And while the judge would have been unlikely to sentence him to the full 50 years, it’s not hard to imagine him being sentenced to 10 years. “

Ortiz’s statement was the first time she publicly commented on the Swartz case since he took his own life on Jan. 11. The young man’s friends and family have blamed the government’s heavy pursuit of the young man for his death. Swartz’s father said his son was “killed by the government”.

The US attorney’s office in Boston has so far declined to discuss the controversy surrounding the prosecution and Swartz’s suicide, but opposition to the US attorney’s actions is growing. A White House petition calling for the removal of Ortiz from office has generated more than 40,000 signatures, thereby requiring an official response from the Obama administration.

Ortiz is now facing further criticism for using her statement to defend her actions, rather than apologizing for her harsh pursuit of Swartz.

“As federal prosecutors, our mission includes protecting the use of computers and the Internet by enforcing the law as fairly and responsibly as possible,” she said. “We strive to do our best to fulfill this mission every day.”

And in relaying her mission, the attorney’s condolences have done little to protect her from further scrutiny as Swartz supporters continue to blame the prosecution for their heavy pursuit.

GOP Rep. Stockman Threatens Impeachment Over Use of Executive Orders on Guns

You gotta love it. These wingnuts can't even wait to see what executive orders end up being issued on gun control before they start with the impeachment threats. I'm not quite sure what else remains on the list that Congressional Republicans can do to make themselves less popular than they are right now, but I'm pretty sure impeachment hearings would work out about as well for them as they did back in Clinton's days, which is not well at all.

GOP Rep. Threatens Impeachment If Obama Uses Executive Order On Guns:

The conservative discord in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. massacre went up another octave on Monday when Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) threatened to file articles of impeachment if President Obama uses an executive order to try to reduce gun violence.

“The White House’s recent announcement they will use executive orders and executive actions to infringe on our constitutionally-protected right to keep and bear arms is an unconstitutional and unconscionable attack on the very founding principles of this republic,” Stockman said in a statement. “I will seek to thwart this action by any means necessary, including but not limited to eliminating funding for implementation, defunding the White House, and even filing articles of impeachment.”

Stockman showed up on Greta Van Susteren's show on Fox Tuesday night and reiterated his statement about impeachment being an option on the table and he threw this stink-bomb out there: Republican freshman to Fox News host: Obama reminds me of Saddam Hussein:

Republican Rep. Steve Stockman of Texas unfavorably compared President Barack Obama to Abraham Lincoln and Saddam Hussein on Tuesday night.

The Republican freshman appeared on Fox News’ On The Record with Greta Van Susteren to discuss how he would try impeach Obama if the President attempted to use an executive order to enact new gun control laws.

“He is saying he is going to issue 19 executive orders,” Stockman explained to Greta Van Susteren. “If it breaches his authority into legislation which impedes on the Constitution, we have the right to take different steps to counter that. A lot of people are frustrated with Republicans not fighting back, and I was too when I was on the sidelines. I got involved with Congress, I said enough is enough, and we need to stand up and fight. I said these kinds of tools are available to us, and we’re going to use every tool possible to fight an administration which wants to abrogate the Constitution.” [...]

At the end of the interview, Stockman awkwardly interjected that Obama was “even using children.”

“Reminds me of Saddam Hussein, when he used kids,” he said with a laugh.

“Well, I think that is just a little bit of a stretch,” Van Susteren replied.

I think this turd just figured out how to make sure he gets himself lots of airtime on Fox. Every time we get rid of one of these flamethrowers, another one comes along and takes their place.

GOP Rep. Stockman Threatens Impeachment Over Use of Executive Orders on Guns

You gotta love it. These wingnuts can't even wait to see what executive orders end up being issued on gun control before they start with the impeachment threats. I'm not quite sure what else remains on the list that Congressional Republicans can do to make themselves less popular than they are right now, but I'm pretty sure impeachment hearings would work out about as well for them as they did back in Clinton's days, which is not well at all.

GOP Rep. Threatens Impeachment If Obama Uses Executive Order On Guns:

The conservative discord in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. massacre went up another octave on Monday when Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) threatened to file articles of impeachment if President Obama uses an executive order to try to reduce gun violence.

“The White House’s recent announcement they will use executive orders and executive actions to infringe on our constitutionally-protected right to keep and bear arms is an unconstitutional and unconscionable attack on the very founding principles of this republic,” Stockman said in a statement. “I will seek to thwart this action by any means necessary, including but not limited to eliminating funding for implementation, defunding the White House, and even filing articles of impeachment.”

Stockman showed up on Greta Van Susteren's show on Fox Tuesday night and reiterated his statement about impeachment being an option on the table and he threw this stink-bomb out there: Republican freshman to Fox News host: Obama reminds me of Saddam Hussein:

Republican Rep. Steve Stockman of Texas unfavorably compared President Barack Obama to Abraham Lincoln and Saddam Hussein on Tuesday night.

The Republican freshman appeared on Fox News’ On The Record with Greta Van Susteren to discuss how he would try impeach Obama if the President attempted to use an executive order to enact new gun control laws.

“He is saying he is going to issue 19 executive orders,” Stockman explained to Greta Van Susteren. “If it breaches his authority into legislation which impedes on the Constitution, we have the right to take different steps to counter that. A lot of people are frustrated with Republicans not fighting back, and I was too when I was on the sidelines. I got involved with Congress, I said enough is enough, and we need to stand up and fight. I said these kinds of tools are available to us, and we’re going to use every tool possible to fight an administration which wants to abrogate the Constitution.” [...]

At the end of the interview, Stockman awkwardly interjected that Obama was “even using children.”

“Reminds me of Saddam Hussein, when he used kids,” he said with a laugh.

“Well, I think that is just a little bit of a stretch,” Van Susteren replied.

I think this turd just figured out how to make sure he gets himself lots of airtime on Fox. Every time we get rid of one of these flamethrowers, another one comes along and takes their place.

Cameron Left In Dark About Algeria Rescue Mission

The Algerian government kept David Cameron in the dark about plans to launch a military rescue mission for the hostages held captive by militants, it has emerged.

Downing Street confirmed on Thursday afternoon that the prime minister had asked his Algerian counterpart to consult Britain before any military moves were made, given the presence of "several" British hostages.

However despite the request to be kept informed, Cameron was only formally told of the military action after it had begun on Thursday morning.

The PM called Abdelmalek Sellal, the Algerian prime minister, at 11.30am today to find out the latest development.

During the 10-15 minute conversation Sellal told Cameron it had been his judgment that he had needed to act "immediately".

According to the prime minister’s official spokesperson, Algeria was aware Britain would have “preferred to have been consulted in advance” but chose to ignore that request.

"The prime minister is extremely concerned. It is a very grave and serious situation," the spokesman said.

However the spokesperson refused to be drawn on whether Cameron only became aware of the military action during the phone call, or had learned of it prior to placing the call.

“We are in constant contact with them [Algeria], it’s a fast moving, ongoing situation and we are doing as much as we can to establish what is going on," he said.

The spokesperson would also not be drawn on reports that between six and 35 hostages and between eight and 15 of the rebels had been killed in the fighting.

The British government has offered to provide assistance if asked – but such as request has yet to be made by Algeria.

It is understood that Algeria did not inform other foreign governments about its decision to launch an operation.

Cameron has also had phone conversations with French president Francois Hollande and US president Obama to discuss the situation in Algeria.

The prime minister was due to chair another meeting of the emergency Cobra cabinet committee later on Thursday to assess the situation.

The prime minister has now cancelled his trip to the Netherlands, where he was due to deliver a speech on the European Union, in light of the escalating crisis.

locator map algeria

Related on HuffPost:

New Report: “Billion-Dollar Democracy” Shows Unprecedented Impact of Big Money in 2012 Elections

WASHINGTON - January 17 - It took just 32 billionaires and corporations giving Super PACs an average of $9.9 million apiece to match every single dollar given by small donors to Romney and Obama in the 2012 election cycle, according to “Billion-Dollar Democracy,” a new report by U.S. PIRG and Demos. Those small donations amounted to over $313 million from more than 3.7 million individuals.

“Americans who are wondering why it seems tougher to get ahead or even get a fair shake in today’s economy should look to big money politics for answers,” said Adam Lioz, report co-author and Counsel for Demos. “When a tiny group of wealthy donors fuels political campaigns, they get to set the agenda in Washington, and the rest of us are left to argue over that agenda.”

The report provides a full and detailed analysis of all 2012 federal election spending and fundraising by campaigns and Super PACs. The data shows the undue influence of large donors, business interests and secret spenders in 2012:

  • Nearly 60% of Super PAC funding came from just 159 donors contributing at least $1 million.
  • Candidates for both House and Senate raised the majority of their funds from gifts of $1,000 or more; and 40 percent of all contributions to Senate candidates came from donors gave at least $2,500. (Those donors are just 0.02 percent of the American population.)
  • Corporate donations accounted for a large portion of the funds of two of top ten most active Super PACs, including 18 percent of Restore Our Future’s total contributions and 52.6 percent of those of FreedomWorks for America.

“The first post-Citizens United presidential election confirmed our fears that the new unlimited-money regime allows well-heeled special interests and secret spenders to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens,” said Blair Bowie, U.S. PIRG Democracy Advocate and report co-author.

“Billion-Dollar Democracy” also found that groups that do not disclose the source of their funds paid for well more than half of television advertising in the 2012 presidential race not sponsored by candidates or parties.

”These dark money groups hide key information about where they get their money from voters,” added Bowie. “Furthermore, because there’s no one to hold responsible for the content of their advertising, studies show they are far more likely to be misleading or just downright lying.”

Data in “Billion Dollar Democracy” also demonstrates to extent to which our big money system determines winners and losers, distorting our democratic process. Incumbents, for example, are big winners—outraising major challengers by 443% in the House and 316% in the Senate.

The report documents how vastly disproportionate influence by the “donor class” skews public policy, and concludes with specific solutions for every level of government to ensure that ordinary Americans can make their voices heard in financing electoral campaigns. These recommendations including amending the constitution, matching small political contributions with public funds, and requiring corporations to disclose political giving, among others.

READ “BILLION-DOLLAR DEMOCRACY” HERE: http://bit.ly/Wah17c

U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs), stands up to powerful special interests on behalf of the American public, working to win concrete results for our health and our well-being. With a strong network of researchers, advocates, organizers and students in state capitols across the country, we take on the special interests on issues, such as product safety,political corruption, prescription drugs and voting rights,where these interests stand in the way of reform and progress.

New Research Shows Climate Emissions from Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline Much Worse Than...

WASHINGTON - January 17 - Scientists and advocates today unveiled new research showing that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would damage the climate much more than previously thought, by dramatically expanding tar sands production and because it will lead to increased combustion of a particularly dirty form of oil.

Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, experts and advocates said the new information gives the Obama Administration further evidence to reject the controversial pipeline, especially since the president has in recent months put addressing climate change on the nation’s agenda.

“With climate change chaos sweeping the nation, this new research shows why the Obama Administration should stop the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in its tracks,” said Danielle Droitsch, Canada Project Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Approving Keystone would open the gateway to dramatic new development of tar sands oil and far more harm to our climate.”

Oil Change International’s new report “Petroleum Coke: The Coal Hiding in the Tar Sands reveals that current analyses of the impacts of tar sands fail to account for a high-carbon byproduct of the refining process that is a major source of climate change causing carbon emissions: petroleum coke—known as petcoke. Because it is considered a refinery byproduct, petcoke emissions are not included in most assessments of the climate impact of tar sands. Thus, the climate impact of oil production is being consistently undercounted.

Petcoke is commonly used as a cheaper, more carbon-intensive substitute to coal—and the petcoke in tar sands is turning American refineries into coal factories. The petcoke produced from the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would fuel 5 coal plants and produce 16.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, thus emitting 13% more carbon dioxide than the U.S. State Department has previously considered.

“What we’ve uncovered is something industry doesn’t want you to hear: exploiting the tar sands and building the Keystone XL pipeline is even more damaging to the climate than has been previously reported,” said Lorne Stockman, Research Director at Oil Change International and author of the report. “Factored into the equation, petcoke puts another strong nail in the coffin of any rational argument for the further exploitation of the tar sands.”

While the new report makes clear that petcoke emissions should be included, EPA’s existing figures, which do not include petcoke-related emissions, already paint a troubling picture. They suggest that simply replacing 830,000 bpd of conventional crude with the tar sands in the Keystone XL pipeline would increase US carbon dioxide emissions by 27.6 million metric tons per year, or the equivalent of adding nearly 6 million cars on the road.

Nathan Lemphers from the Pembina Institute, a Canadian environmental think tank, explained that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would accelerate expansion of the tar sands and significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions. Keystone XL is an integral part of the industry’s plan to nearly triple tar sands production by 2030. In order to meet its expansion goals, the tar sands industry needs all proposed transportation options to move forward. As the largest of these projects, Keystone XL has the greatest independent impact on the rate of tar sands expansion. 

“Filling the Keystone XL pipeline with oilsands crude will create significant greenhouse gases regardless of whether other transport options move forward,” said Lemphers. “Because Canada does not have a credible plan for responsibly developing the oilsands, including reducing emissions so Canada can meet its climate commitments, the pipeline should not go ahead.”

The Pembina Institute’s backgrounder, “The climate implications of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline”, shows that pipelines are a key determinant of tar sands expansion, and argues that the increase in greenhouse gas emissions associated with supplying the Keystone XL pipeline with tar sands bitumen represents a significant barrier to Canada meeting its domestic and international climate commitments.  A corresponding blog titled “Climate concerns are key in Keystone XL pipeline debate” can be accessed at http://www.pembina.org/blog/682.

The decision to reject or approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will be one of the most important climate issues facing the Obama administration. The environmental review for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, anticipated any day from the State Department, will be one of the first major decisions on climate from the Obama Administration since the election.  

Keystone XL would expand dirty tar sands practices and lock the U.S. into a long-term commitment to an energy infrastructure that relies on extra-dirty oil. For example, building Keystone XL would wipe out the benefits of new standards that would have cut greenhouse gas emissions from medium to heavy duty trucks announced by the Obama administration.

Given the global market for oil and the surplus of oil in the United States, it is conventional wisdom among industry experts that the tar sand contents of the Keystone XL pipeline will be exported to China, Venezuela, and other countries. Members of Congress requested that TransCanada give assurance that the oil would remain in the country, but that request was rebuffed.

With carbon emissions worse than previously estimated and the national security arguments nullified, the Obama administration has every reason to deny the pipeline application.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has 1.2 million members and online activists, served from offices in New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Beijing.

Worldwide Political and Financial Tensions, Spiralling Debt Crisis in America

recession

Until now the course of the crisis has been accurately described according to the five phases identified by our team from May 2006 (GEAB n°5) and completed in February 2009 (GEAB n°32): release, acceleration, impact, decanting and global geopolitical dislocation, the last two stages developing simultaneously. In the last issues and in particular the GEAB n°70 (December 2012), we commented extensively on the ongoing processes of the two last phases, a decantation from which the world-after painfully emerges on the rubble of world geopolitical dislocation.

But we had underestimated the decanting period’s duration which we have gone through for more than four years, a period during which all the crisis’ players have worked to a common goal, to gain time: the United States, whilst making every effort to prevent the appearance of alternative solutions to the dollar, in spite of the catastrophic situation of all its systemic fundamentals, to prevent its creditors from abandoning it (discrediting other currencies including the Yen from now on, tenacity against the attempts to disconnect oil from the dollar, etc…); the rest of the world, in setting up skilful strategies consisting of maintaining its assistance towards the United States to avoid a sudden collapse from which it would be the first to suffer, and at the same time constructing alternative and of decoupling solutions.At the end of this long period of the system’s apparent “anaesthesia”, we consider it necessary to add a sixth phase to our description of the crisis: the last impact phase which will occur in 2013.

The United States certainly believed that the rest of the world would have an interest in keeping its economy on artificial respiratory assistance ad infinitum but it is likely that they don’t believe it any more today. As regards the rest of the world, the final chapters of the US crisis (major political crisis, decisional paralysis, near miss of the fiscal cliff, perspective of a payment default in March, and always the incapacity to implement the least structural solution) convinced it of the imminence of a collapse, and all the players are on the look-out for the least sign of a swing to extricate themselves, conscious that by doing so they will precipitate the final collapse.

Our team considers that in the context of the extreme tensions – both domestic political and world financial tensions – induced by the next raising of the US debt ceiling in March 2013, the signs will not be lacking to cause the disappearance of US treasury bonds’ last purchasers, a disappearance which the Fed will no longer be able to compensate for, resulting in an increase in interest rates which will propel American indebtedness to astronomical levels, leaving no hope of ever being repaid to creditors who will prefer to throw in the towel and let the dollar collapse… a collapse of the dollar which will de facto correspond to the first genuine solution, painful certainly but real, for US indebtedness.

It’s for this reason also that our team anticipates that 2013, the first year of the World-Afterwards, will see a setting up of this “purifying” of US and world accounts. All the players are tending towards this step whose consequences are very difficult to predict but which is also an unavoidable solution to the crisis taking into account the United States structural incapacity to set up genuine debt-reduction strategies.But in order to take the measure of the causes and consequences of this last impact phase, let’s reconsider the reasons for which the system lasted for so long. Our team will then analyze the reasons for which the shock will take place in 2013 afterwards.

Saving time: When the world rejoices at the US status-quo

Since 2009 and the temporary measures to save the global economy, the world has been waiting for the famous “double dip”, the relapse, as the situation continues to worsen day by day for the United States: breathtakingly high national debt, mass unemployment and poverty, political paralysis, loss of influence, etc. However, this relapse still hasn’t arrived. Admittedly, the “exceptional measures” of assistance to the economy (lowest interest rates, public expenditure, debt repurchase, etc.) are still in force. But against all expectations and contrary to any objective and rational judgment, the markets still seem to have confidence in the United States.

Actually, the system isn’t based on confidence any more but on calculating the best moment to extricate themselves and the means of hanging on until then.The time has passed when China challenged the United States to implement a second round of quantitative easing (1): the world seems to have adapted itself to the fact that this country is still growing its debt and is inescapably turning towards a payment default, provided that it’s still standing and doesn’t make too many waves again. Why don’t the other countries press the United States to reduce its deficit, but on the contrary are delighted (2) when agreement on the fiscal cliff keeps the status-quo? However nobody is fooled, the situation cannot last indefinitely, and the world economy’s main problem is really the United States and its dollar (3).

Countries’ public debt by the number of months tax receipts (4) - Source: LEAP / European Commission, ONS, FRB

Countries’ public debt by the number of months tax receipts (4) – Source: LEAP / European Commission, ONS, FRB

According to the LEAP/E2020 team, the various players are seeking to gain time. For the markets, it is a question of gaining maximum benefit from the Fed and the US government’s largesse in order to make easy money; for the foreign countries, it’s a question of extracting their economies to the maximum from that of the United States in order to be able to shelter themselves at the time of the coming shock. Thus, for example, it’s how Euroland makes the most of it in order to strengthen itself and China takes advantage of it to sink its dollars in foreign infrastructures (5) which will always be better value than dollars when that currency is on the floor.

Acceleration of the tempo and a build-up of challenges

But this period of complicit leniency is coming to an end because of intense pressures. It is interesting to note that the pressures don’t really come from abroad, confirming our analysis above; those are rather of two sorts, internal and financial-economic.On the one hand, it’s the internal political battle which threatens the house of cards. If Obama appears to be traversing a period of political grace facing a seemingly subjugated republican camp, the battle will begin again even more violently than ever starting from March. Indeed, if the republican representatives will be undoubtedly obliged to vote the increase in the debt ceiling, they will make Obama pay dearly for this “capitulation”, pushed here by their electoral base half of which in fact wants a US default considered by them as the only solution to free them from the country’s pathological debt (6). The republicans thus hope to do battle on the many issues and challenges which are shaping up: on the social side, firearms regulation (7), taking a new look at immigration and the legalization of 11 million illegal immigrants (8), health care reform, and more generally questioning the Federal state’s role; on the economic side, lowering expenditure, debt settlement (9), fiscal cliff « redux » (10), etc… All these issues are on the next few months’ agenda and the least hitch can prove to be fatal. Given the republicans’ pugnacity and their supporters’ even more so, it’s rather the hope that there is no hitch which is utopian.On the other hand, it’s the international markets, Wall Street at the forefront, which threaten not to extend their confidence in the US economy. Since Hurricane Sandy and especially since the episode of the fiscal cliff which hasn’t fixed any problems, the pessimistic analyses and doubts are becoming increasingly strong (11). It’s necessary to keep in mind that the stock markets are stateless and, even domiciled in New York, have only one goal, profits. In 2013, the world is sufficiently extensive so that investors and their capital, just like a flight of sparrows, slip away to other skies on the slightest warning (12).Whereas agreement on the debt ceiling in 2011 settled the question for 18 months (13), that on the fiscal cliff defers the problem for only two months. Whilst one felt the effects of QE1 for a year, QE3 had an effect for only a few weeks (14). Besides, with a diary loaded with negotiations to come, one sees the tempo accelerate significantly, a sign that the abyss is approaching and players’ nervousness along with it.

S&P performance during each quantitative easing action - Source: ZeroHedge/SocGen

S&P performance during each quantitative easing action – Source: ZeroHedge/SocGen

March-June 2013, extreme tension: the least spark lights the blue touch-paper

In addition to these US challenges, the whole world also has many tests to pass, here again its economic challenges above all. In particular it’s Japan and the United Kingdom, key elements in the US sphere of influence, which are fighting for their survival, both in recession, with insupportable debts, household savings on the deck and with no prospect of a short-term solution. We will examine these two countries in detail later in this issue. But it’s also a Brazilian economy which is just ticking over (15); difficulty to manage inflation rates in the emerging powers; the deflation of the Canadian, Chinese and European real estate bubbles (16), etc…

The challenges are also of a geopolitical nature: to quote only three examples, African conflicts among which of course France’s intervention in Mali, conflicts and indirect confrontation of the Middle Eastern powers around Syria, Israel and Iran, as well as the territorial tensions around China which we will examine during our following analysis on Japan.All these factors, economic, geopolitical, American, global, are coming together at the same moment in time: the second quarter of 2013.

Our team has identified the period running from March to June 2013 as being explosive, in particular at the conclusion of the negotiations in the United States on the debt ceiling and the fiscal cliff. The least spark will light the blue touch-paper, unleashing the second impact phase of the global systemic crisis. \

And there are many opportunities to create sparks, as we have seen.So what are the consequences of and the calendar for this second impact phase? On the markets initially, a significant fall will spread out until the end of 2013. All economies being inter-connected, the impact will spread throughout the whole planet and will drag the global economy into recession. Nevertheless, thanks to other countries’ decoupling which we mentioned previously, all countries won’t be affected in the same way. Because, more so than in 2008, opportunities exist for capital in Asia, Europe and Latin America, in particular.

In addition to the United States, the countries the most affected will be those in the US sphere, namely the United Kingdom and Japan primarily. And, while these countries will still struggle in 2014 with the social and political consequences of the impact, the other regions, BRICS and Euroland at the forefront, will finally see the end of the tunnel at that time.In order to understand the formation of this second impact phase, we next review the “suicidal tendencies” of four powers of the world before: the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan and Israel.

Then we will present the traditional January “Ups & Downs”, rising and falling trends for 2013, also serving as recommendations for this New Year. Finally, as in each month, our readers will also find the GlobalEurometre.

Notes:

(1) One can refresh one’s memory here (Wall Street Journal, 18/10/2010) or here (US News, 29/10/2010).

(2) « Relief after the happy epilogue of the fiscal cliff » headline ForexPros.fr (02/01/2013); « Relief at fiscal cliff crisis deal » headline BBC (03/01/2013)…

(3) As identified by LEAP/E2020 since 2006 from the GEAB n°2.

(4) The banks’ public reflation is included in the United Kingdom’s debt.

(5) The Chinese being very active in this arena; one has numerous examples such as the port of Piraeus in Greece, Heathrow airport in the UK, in Africa, but also the takeover of industrial jewels (Volvo for example) etc. See, for example Emerging Money (China to invest in Western infrastructure, 28/11/2011).

(6) Read, for example, ZeroHedge, 14/01/2013.

(7) Source: Fox News, 30/12/2012.

(8) Source: New York Times, 12/01/2013.

(9) Source: New York Times, 15/01/2013.

(10) The budgetary cuts debate has simply been pushed back two months. Source: New Statesman, 02/01/2013.

(11) Like here (CNBC, 11/01/2013), here (MarketWatch, 14/01/2013) or here (CNBC, 08/01/2013).

(12) The United States will in their turn taste the irony of history: the financial market deregulation and globalisation which they promoted so much is going to turn round dramatically against them.

(13) It’s as at this point in time that the automatic cuts of 01/01/2013 were enacted to force a bipartisan agreement. Source: CNN Money (02/08/2011) or Wikipedia.

(14) For a reminder on these quantitative easing operations, one can refer to BankRate.com, Financial crisis timeline.

(15) Source: Les Échos, 05/12/2012.(16) See previous GEAB issues.

Militants Seize Americans and Other Hostages in Algeria

The French military assault on Islamist extremists in Mali escalated into a potentially much broader North African conflict on Wednesday when, in retribution, armed attackers in unmarked trucks seized an internationally managed natural gas field in neighboring Algeria and took at least 20 foreign hostages, including Americans.

Algerian officials said at least two people, including a Briton, were killed in the assault, which began with a predawn ambush on a bus trying to ferry gas-field workers to an airport. Hundreds of Algerian security forces were sent to surround the gas-field compound, creating a tense standoff, and the country's interior minister said there would be no negotiations.

Algeria's official news agency said at least 20 fighters had carried out the attack and mass abduction. There were unconfirmed reports late on Wednesday that the security forces had tried to storm the compound and had retreated under gunfire from the hostage takers.

Many details of the assault on the gas field in a barren desert site near Libya's border remained murky, including the precise number of hostages, which could be as high as 41, according to claims by the attackers quoted by regional news agencies. American, French, British, Japanese and Norwegian citizens who worked at the field were known to be among them, officials said.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta called the gas-field attack a terrorist act and said the United States was weighing a response. His statement suggested that the Obama administration could be drawn into a military entanglement in North Africa that it had been seeking to keep at arm's length — even as it has conceded that the region has become a new haven for extremists who threaten Western security and vital interests.

"I want to assure the American people that the United States will take all necessary and proper steps that are required to deal with this situation," Mr. Panetta said during a visit to Italy.

The gas-field attack, which seemed to take foreign governments and the British and Norwegian companies that help run the facility completely by surprise, appeared to make good on a pledge by the Islamist militants who seized northern Mali last year to sharply expand their struggle against the West in response to France's military intervention that began last week.

The hostage taking potentially broadened the conflict beyond Mali's borders and raised the possibility of drawing an increasing number of foreign countries into direct involvement, particularly if expatriates working in the vast energy extraction industries of North Africa become targets. It also doubled, at least, the number of non-African hostages that Islamist militants in northern and western Africa have been using as bargaining chips to finance themselves in recent years through ransoms that have totaled millions of dollars.

But there was no indication that the gas-field attackers wanted money, and no other demands or ultimatums were issued. In a statement sent to ANI, a Mauritanian news agency, they demanded the "immediate halt of the aggression against our own in Mali."

The statement, made by a group called Al Mulathameen, which has links to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the North African affiliate of Al Qaeda, claimed it was holding more than 40 "crusaders" — apparently a reference to non-Muslims — "including seven Americans, two French, two British as well as other citizens of various European nationalities."

Algeria's interior minister, Daho Ould Kablia, said, according to Reuters, that the raid was led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who fought Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s and recently set up his own group in the Sahara after falling out with other local Qaeda leaders.

Mr. Belmokhtar is known to French intelligence officials as "the Uncatchable" and to some locals as "Mister Marlboro" for his illicit cigarette-running business, the news agency said. His ties to Islamist extremists who seized towns across northern Mali last year are unclear.

The gas-field attack coincided with an escalation of the fight inside Mali, according to Western and Malian officials, as French ground troops, joined by soldiers of the Malian Army, engaged in combat with Islamist fighters. The officials said the French-Malian units had begun to beat back the Islamist militant advance southward from northern Mali, a move that had provoked the intervention ordered by President François Hollande of France.

The attackers seemed particularly incensed that Algeria's government had permitted the French to use Algerian airspace to fly warplanes and military equipment into Mali, according to their statement, which may explain why they chose Algeria for retaliation. Some Algerian military experts said the Algerian public also was unhappy about the government's decision.

"The setting in motion of a military machine in north Mali was going to have definite repercussions in Algeria," said Mohamed Chafik Mesbah, a former Algerian Army officer and political scientist, adding, . "There are going to be much worse consequences. There will be more attacks."

A senior Algerian official said the militants, who claimed to have come from Mali, had used three unmarked trucks to breach the gas-field compound, outside the town of In Amenas. An oil company official who had knowledge of the attack said the militants had shut down production at the site, an indication of carefully planning. But how and why they chose In Amenas, which is more than 700 miles from the Malian border and is much closer to Libya, were among the unknowns.

The facility is the fourth-largest gas development in Algeria, a major oil producer and OPEC member. The In Amenas gas compression plant is operated by BP of Britain, the Norwegian company Statoil and the Algerian national oil company Sonatrach.

Bard Glad Pedersen, a Statoil spokesman, said that of 17 Statoil employees who had been working in the field, four escaped to a nearby Algerian military camp, but he would not say how. The Sahara Media Agency of Mauritania, quoting what it described as a spokesman for the militants, said that they were holding five hostages in a production facility on the site and 36 others in a housing area, and that there were as many as 400 Algerian soldiers surrounding the operation. But that information could not be confirmed.

Islamist groups and bandits have long operated in the deserts of western and northern Africa, and a collection of Islamists have occupied the vast expanse of northern Mali since a government crisis in that country last March. Those groups, including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, had pledged to strike against France's interests on the continent and abroad, as well as those of nations backing the French operations. In France, security has been reinforced at airports, train stations and other public spaces.

The militant groups are financed in large part through ransoms paid for the freeing of Western hostages, and regular kidnappings have occurred in the West African desert in recent years. At least seven French citizens are presently being held there, officials say.

Oil and gas are central to the Algerian economy, accounting for more than a third of the country's gross domestic product, over 95 percent of its export earnings and 60 percent of government financial receipts. Algeria is an important gas supplier to France, Spain, Turkey, Italy and Britain.

Algeria has also historically been known as a relatively secure place for foreign companies to work and invest. Sonatrach and the security forces had put tight security around oil and gas facilities during the struggle with Islamic militants in the 1990s, when energy infrastructure was never a major insurgent target.

Energy experts expressed concern that the Algerian raid could signal a new strategy by Islamic militants to attack the West by focusing on Western-operated oil and gas facilities in the region.

Helima Croft, a Barclays Capital senior geopolitical strategist,said if groups like Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb "decide as a change in tactic they go after Western energy interests, then you have to look at a threat in all these countries, including Libya, Nigeria and Morocco."

She added: "This type of attack had to have advanced planning. It's not an easy target of opportunity."

Adam Nossiter reported from Bamako, and Scott Sayare from Paris. Reporting was contributed by Clifford Krauss from Houston, Rick Gladstone from New York, Elisabeth Bumiller from Rome, and Alan Cowell and Steven Erlanger from Paris.

© 2013 The New York Times Company Truthout has licensed this content. It may not be reproduced by any other source and is not covered by our Creative Commons license.

Gun Owners of America Spokesman: Reagan Only Supported Gun Control in ‘Later Years’

I'm not sure why MSNBC thinks that anyone from an organization that makes the NRA look like moderates deserves to get some air time or to be treated as someone the public should take seriously, but they brought Gun Owners of America's Erich Pratt (son of Larry Pratt) on to bash President Obama after his press conference today calling for sweeping new gun laws.

As Think Progress noted, he decided to dish out a bit of revisionist history on just when St. Ronnie was in support of gun control and as I noted this week, it was before he was president and well before he started exhibiting symptoms of Alzheimer's disease: Reagan Only Supported Gun Control Because He Was Senile, Prominent Gun Advocate Suggests:

As he unveiled his comprehensive package of gun safety regulations on Wednesday afternoon, President Obama urged Americans to stand up to irrational opponents of restrictions on military-style weapons, noting that even President Ronald Reagan supported sensible restrictions on assault weapons. “And by the way, so did Ronald Reagan, one of the staunchest defenders of the Second Amendment, who wrote to Congress in 1994 urging them — this is Ronald Reagan speaking — urging them to listen to the American public and to the law enforcement community and support a ban on the further manufacture of military-style assault weapons,” Obama said.

Asked about Reagan’s position during an appearance on MSNBC shortly after Obama’s remarks, Erich Pratt of Gun Owners of America, suggested that Reagan only supported greater restrictions because he was senile:

ANDREA MITCHELL (HOST): What’s the problem with registering a gun? If you have a bushmaster, first of all, why would you have one?

PRATT: President Reagan owned an AR-15.

MITCHELL: And he supported gun control. He advocated…

PRATT: In his later years. We have to keep that in account.

MITCHELL: In his later years he was almost killed by John Hinckley.

PRATT: But all through his presidency he opposed gun control, that’s my point.

Read on...

Pratt was also defending the NRA's new ad that they decided to double down on today, even though, as Andrea Mitchell noted, it's generally considered off limits to be going after the children of presidents. These groups don't care how low they have to go if it gets their base whipped into a frenzy and protects the gun manufacturers who are funding them.

Human Rights Watch, US Reject Report That Syria Used Chemical Weapons

Syria RebelsA front line, where rebels have made slow gains against the entrenched Syrian Army, in Aleppo, Syria, December 12, 2012. (Photo: Tyler Hicks / The New York Times) Employees of the advocacy group Human Rights Watch expressed skepticism Wednesday over a report that a State Department cable had concluded that the Syrian government used chemical weapons last month against rebel-held neighborhoods in the city of Homs.

The group, which has been at the forefront of documenting human rights violations perpetrated during Syria's civil war, said it had received reports of suspected chemical-weapons use in Homs but had been unable to confirm that the incident had taken place.

"I shared these with our arms experts at HRW at the time, but based on the information available to us we have not been able to confirm that the government did in fact use chemical weapons," Lama Fakih, a researcher for Human Rights Watch based in Lebanon, said in an email.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland also rejected the report, saying U.S. authorities had investigated a tip that arrived in late December about a possible chemical-weapons attack in Homs but found "no credible evidence to corroborate or confirm chemical weapons."

The issue of chemical weapons in Syria's civil war is a sensitive one. President Barack Obama has said that the use of such weapons by the government of President Bashar Assad would trigger a so-far undefined American military response, and U.S. officials have used diplomatic and other channels repeatedly to warn the Syrian government not to use its chemical weapons.

The issue was raised again Tuesday, however, when a blog on the website of the journal Foreign Policy reported that a classified diplomatic cable from the U.S. consulate in Istanbul had concluded that chemical weapons had been used.

The report didn't quote the cable itself. But it said an Obama administration official who'd read the cable said an investigation by a company hired by the United States had determined that Syrian doctors in Homs had made a "strong case" that the Syrian military had deployed a chemical agent. But the story also quoted the unnamed administration official as saying that U.S. officials weren't "100 percent certain" that chemical weapons had been deployed.

Rami Abdurrahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based group that tracks the fighting and casualties on both sides of Syria's war, said he was familiar with the incident the cable referred to and that he too didn't believe that chemical weapons had been involved. He noted that rebels frequently report the use of chemical weapons but that to date no such report has been confirmed.

"It's not chemical weapons, but they used some kind of gas," Abdurrahman said, noting that some of the people who'd been exposed to the gas had made full recoveries.

"If you have evidence I will report it, but I will not participate in propaganda," Abdurrahman said.

Outside groups have documented the Syrian government's use of other kinds of weapons that have been confused with chemical weapons, including incendiary cluster bombs, which cause fires that are difficult to extinguish and can cause severe burns, as well as skin and lung damage and death from inhaling the smoke they produce.

© 2013 McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. Truthout has licensed this content. It may not be reproduced by any other source and is not covered by our Creative Commons license.

Government Pushes Propaganda Through Video Games

war is fun

We documented yesterday that American movies, television and news are dominated by the CIA and other government agencies.

The government also spreads propaganda through video games.

By way of example, former CIA director William Colby went to work for a video game company after he retired, and a former United States marine allegedly confessed to working at a video game company which was really a CIA front to create a game to drum up support for war against Iran.

The Guardian reports:

“For decades the military has been using video-game technology,” says Nina Huntemann, associate professor of communication and journalism at Suffolk University in Boston and a computer games specialist. “Every branch of the US armed forces and many, many police departments are using retooled video games to train their personnel.”

Like much of early computing, nascent digital gaming benefited from military spending. The prototype for the first home video games console, the 1972 Magnavox Odyssey, was developed by Sanders Associates, a US defence contractor. Meanwhile, pre-digital electronic flight simulators, for use in both military and civilian training, date back to at least the second world war.

Later, the games industry began to repay its debts. Many insiders note how instruments in British Challenger 2 tanks, introduced in 1994, look uncannily like the PlayStation’s controllers, one of the most popular consoles of that year. Indeed, warfare’s use of digital war games soared towards the end of the 20th century.

“By the late 1990s,” says Nick Turse, an American journalist, historian and author of The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, “the [US] army was pouring tens of millions of dollars into a centre at the University of Southern California – the Institute of Creative Technologies – specifically to build partnerships with the gaming industry and Hollywood.” [The Washington Times reports on the link as well.]

It’s a toxic relationship in Turse’s opinion, since gaming leads to a reliance on remote-controlled warfare, and this in turn makes combat more palatable.

“Last year,” says Turse, “the US conducted combat missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. There are a great many factors that led to this astonishing number of simultaneous wars, but the increasing use of drones, and thus a lower number of US military casualties that result, no doubt contributed to it.”

The Christian Science Monitor noted in 2009:

In 1999, the military had its worst recruiting year in 30, and Congress called for “aggressive, innovative” new approaches. Private-sector specialists were brought in, including the top advertising agency Leo Burnett, and the Army Marketing Brand Group was formed. A key aim of the new recruitment strategy was to ensure long-term success by cultivating the allegiance of teenage Americans.

Part of the new campaign, helping the post-9/11 recruiting bump, was the free video game America’s Army. Since its release, different versions of the war game have been downloaded more than 40 million times, enough to put it in the Guinness book of world records. According to a 2008 study by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “the game had more impact on recruits than all other forms of Army advertising combined.”

***

That these efforts are unfaithful to war’s reality has not gone unnoticed. Protesting the Army Experience Center in Philadelphia, Sgt. Jesse Hamilton, who served two tours inIraq and nine total in the military, expressed disgust that the Army has “resorted to such a deceiving recruitment strategy.”

It’s an approach that could have detrimental long-term effects. “The video game generation is worse at distorting the reality” of war, according to one Air Force colonel. Although they may be more talented at operating predator drones, the colonel told theBrookings Institution, “They don’t have that sense of what [is] really going on.”

NBC News reported in 2003:

Video games are increasingly viewed by top brass as a way to get teenagers interested in enlisting.

Games such as “America’s Army,” developed and published by the Army, and “Guard Force,” which the Army National Guard developed with Alexandria, Va.-based Rival Interactive, can be downloaded or picked up at recruitment offices.

“America’s Army” has been a hit online since its July 2002 release, attaining 1.5 million registered users who endure a basic training regiment complete with barbed-wire obstacle courses and target practice.

“Guard Force” has been less successful. Released last year, it features bland synth-rock music that blares in the background. Between video commercials touting the thrills of enlisting in the Army National Guard, gamers pluck flood victims from rooftops or defend a snowy base. In the training mission, gamers deploy helicopters, even tanks, to rescue skiers trapped in an avalanche.

Foreign Policy argued last year:

Video games would seem to be ideal propaganda tools. Where comic books and newsreels once enthralled the Greatest Generation, today’s millennials are in love with video games. American consumers, for example, spent $25 billion on games in 2010, while gamers worldwide play 3 billion hours a week. Games also offer advantages over traditional propaganda mediums like television or newspapers: They are interactive and immersive, they and deliver challenge, competition, and the hands-on triumph of personally gunning down enemies.

***

Who could blame a CIA spymaster for pondering whether games could be used to demonize Iran or vilify Venezuela?

Michael Bauch writes:

Governments are increasingly trying to twist the [video game] business into a brainwashing machine to promote their agendas, just as has been done with the movie industry.

Why are video games such a perfect tool for governments and why are governments stepping up their usage of them? Because the Internet generation now have easy access to all information and points of view. Governments don’t want kids using the Internet to learn about these things. So governments need to keep kids distracted and under constant brainwashing. A typical American kid might go to school all morning learning about how great America is and how dangerous the rest of the world is, then come home and play some video games like Strategy 2012.

This game was free during the Presidential campaign and tells you who you should vote for and how political campaigns are run (or at least how the government would like you to think it’s done). This is the official game description: “Help Mitt Romney win the Nomination by beating his conservative rivals. Then choose Romney or Obama and fight for the presidency in Ohio.”

***

Not only are government-developed games spreading propaganda. Game developers are now accepting the norms set by the government like in Scribblenaughts where the game set’s a puzzle for you to solve by conjuring items. In one puzzle you get a mission called “Peacefully break up the Rioters!” What would a sane person try first? Well, I tried “Diplomat” and “Peacekeeper”. Neither had any effect. So I tried “Tear Gas” and had the crowd crying and disbursing in seconds, immediately earning a gold star just as you would in school when you have done something right! You can watch the video … of me playing the mission.

***

Now that the gaming industry have been infected by government propaganda they are now constantly sending the information they want to your kids.

You might assume that only foreigners are depicted as enemy targets in the propaganda video games.  But remember that peaceful protest and any criticism of the government is now considered potential terrorism.

As such, it should not be entirely surprising that the enemy target in the most popular video game series,Call of Duty – which is more popular than virtually any movie or musical album – is a Julian Assange like character who is the “leader of the 99%”.

And see this and this.  

Who Says You Can Kill Americans, Mr. President?

President Obama has refused to tell Congress or the American people why he believes the Constitution gives, or fails to deny, him the authority to secretly target and kill American citizens who he suspects are involved in terrorist activities overseas. So far he has killed three that we know of.

Presidents had never before, to our knowledge, targeted specific Americans for military strikes. There are no court decisions that tell us if he is acting lawfully. Mr. Obama tells us not to worry, though, because his lawyers say it is fine, because experts guide the decisions and because his advisers have set up a careful process to help him decide whom he should kill.

He must think we should be relieved.

The three Americans known to have been killed, in two drone strikes in Yemen in the fall of 2011, are Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric who was born in New Mexico; Samir Khan, a naturalized American citizen who had lived in New York and North Carolina, and was killed alongside Mr. Awlaki; and, in a strike two weeks later, Mr. Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who was born in Colorado.

Most of us think these people were probably terrorists anyway. So the president’s reassurances have been enough to keep criticism at an acceptable level for the White House. Democrats in Congress and in the press have only gingerly questioned the claims by a Democratic president that he is right about the law and careful when he orders drone attacks on our citizens. And Republicans, who favor aggressive national security powers for the executive branch, look forward to the day when one of their own can wield them again.

But a few of our representatives have spoken up — sort of. Several months ago, Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, began limply requesting the Department of Justice memorandums that justify the targeted killing program. At a committee hearing, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., reminded of the request, demurred and shared a rueful chuckle with the senator. Mr. Leahy did not want to be rude, it seems — though some of us remember him being harder on former President George W. Bush’s attorney general, Alberto R. Gonzales, in 2005.

So, even though Congress has the absolute power under the Constitution to receive these documents, the Democratic-controlled Senate has not fought this president to get them. If the senators did, and the president held fast to his refusal, they could go to court and demand them, and I believe they would win. Perhaps even better, they could skip getting the legal memos and go right to the meat of the matter — using oversight and perhaps legislating to control the president’s killing powers. That isn’t happening either.

Thank goodness we have another branch of government to step into the fray. It is the job of the federal courts to interpret the Constitution and laws, and thus to define the boundaries of the powers of the branches of government, including their own.

In reining in the branches, the courts have been toughest on themselves, however. A long line of Supreme Court cases require that judges wait for cases to come to them. They can take cases only from plaintiffs who have a personal stake in the outcome; they cannot decide political questions; they cannot rule on an issue not squarely before them.

Because of these and other limitations, no case has made it far enough in federal court for a judge to rule on the merits of the basic constitutional questions at stake here. A pending case filed in July by the families of the three dead Americans does raise Fourth and Fifth Amendment challenges to the president’s killings of their relatives. We will see if the judge agrees to consider the constitutional questions or dismisses the case, citing limitations on his own power.

In another case, decided two weeks ago, a federal judge in Manhattan, Colleen McMahon, ruled, grudgingly, that the American Civil Liberties Union and two New York Times reporters could not get access, under the Freedom of Information Act, to classified legal memorandums that were relied on to justify the targeted killing program. In her opinion, she expressed serious reservations about the president’s interpretation of the constitutional questions. But the merits of the program were not before her, just access to the Justice Department memos, so her opinion was, in effect, nothing but an interesting read.

So at the moment, the legislature and the courts are flummoxed by, or don’t care about, how or whether to take on this aggressive program. But Mr. Obama, a former constitutional law professor, should know, of all people, what needs to be done. He was highly critical when Mr. Bush applied new constitutional theories to justify warrantless wiretapping and “enhanced interrogation.” In his 2008 campaign, Mr. Obama demanded transparency, and after taking office, he released legal memos that the Bush administration had kept secret. Once the self-serving constitutional analysis that the Bush team had used was revealed, legal scholars from across the spectrum studied and denounced it.

While Mr. Obama has criticized his predecessor, he has also worried about his successors. Last fall, when the election’s outcome was still in doubt, Mr. Obama talked about drone strikes in general and said Congress and the courts should in some manner “rein in” presidents by putting a “legal architecture in place.” His comments seemed to reflect concern that future presidents should perhaps not wield alone such awesome and unchecked power over life and death — of anyone, not just Americans. Oddly, under current law, Congress and the courts are involved when presidents eavesdrop on Americans, detain them or harshly interrogate them — but not when they kill them.

It is not just the most recent president, this one and the next whom we need to worry about when it comes to improper exercise of power. It is every president. Mr. Obama should declassify and release, to Congress, the press and the public, documents that set forth the detailed constitutional and statutory analysis he relies on for targeting and killing American citizens.

Perhaps Mr. Obama still believes that, in a democracy, the people have a right to know the legal theories upon which the president executes his great powers. Certainly, we can hope so. After all, his interpretation might be wrong.

© 2012 The New York Times

Vicki Divoll is a former general counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and former deputy legal adviser to the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorism Center.

Frontrunning: January 17

  • Obama's Gun Curbs Face a Slog in Congress (BBG)
  • Euro Area Seen Stalling as Draghi’s Pessimism Shared (BBG)
  • China Begins to Lose Edge as World's Factory Floor (WSJ)
  • EU Car Sales Slump (WSJ)
  • Fed Concerned About Overheated Markets Amid Record Bond-Buying (BBG)
  • Australia Posts Worst Back-to-Back Job Growth Since ’97 (BBG)
  • Abe Currency Policy Stokes Gaffe Risk as Amari Roils Yen (BBG)
  • Japan Opposition Party Won’t Back BOJ Officials for Governor (BBG)
  • Fed Reports Point to Subdued Economic Growth (WSJ)
  • China Set to Exit Slowdown by Boosting Infrastructure (BBG)
  • Greece not out of woods, must stick to reforms: finance minister (Reuters)
  • Russian Rate Debate Flares Up as Cabinet Seeks Growth (BBG)

Overnight Media Digest

WSJ

* The Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday ordered a halt to flights of Boeing Co's 787 Dreamliner, an unprecedented rebuke to the plane maker after two major battery malfunctions on its flagship jets.

* JPMorgan Chase & Co's directors cut Chief Executive James Dimon's pay by 50 percent for 2012, as the board took management to task for a trading debacle that cost the nation's largest bank more than $6 billion.

* Goldman Sachs Group Inc and Morgan Stanley agreed to pay a combined $560 million to settle allegations of foreclosure abuses, the latest setback in the banks' costly foray into subprime mortgages.

* Citigroup Inc has asked regulators for permission to repurchase just enough stock to counter dilution from routine share issuance, according to people familiar with the company's plans.

* Two bidders have emerged as leading contenders for ThyssenKrupp AG's steel operations in the Americas. ArcelorMittal SA submitted a $1.5 billion bid for a plant in Alabama, while Brazil's Companhia Siderúrgica Nacional submitted a $3.8 billion bid for that plant and a majority stake in a Brazilian mill, people familiar with the matter said.

* Hewlett-Packard Co has received expressions of interest from potential suitors for its Autonomy Corp business, the division that the technology giant has alleged engaged in accounting improprieties before HP acquired it in 2011, according to people familiar with the discussions.

* EBay Inc's revenue rose 18 percent in the latest quarter as business in the company's online marketplace and PayPal units continued to improve.

* Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc expects higher food costs to dampen fourth-quarter earnings, despite continued strength in its underlying sales trends.

* European retailer Metro AG said it is pulling out of the Chinese consumer-electronics business after two years of testing.

* China is losing its competitive edge as a low-cost manufacturing base, new data suggest, with makers of everything from handbags to shirts to basic electronic components relocating to cheaper locales like Southeast Asia.

FT

Dozens of expatriate workers have been kidnapped from an Algerian natural gas facility operated by BP and Statoil .

Business Secretary Vince Cable will say in a speech that the debate over Britain's EU membership and a possible referendum is terrible timing, creating uncertainty for investors.

Opposition leader Ed Miliband said in an interview that Cameron's inability to guarantee that Britain will be in the EU in five years' time would be destabilising for investment.

Goldman Sachs cut its bonuses in the fourth quarter, boosting it to its highest profit level in three years.

Germany's Bundesbank is planning to repatriate 54,000 gold bars worth 27 billion euros from Paris and New York between now and 2020.

New rules that force British banks to hold more capital against loans secured on commercial property are resulting in higher costs and scrapped projects for developers.

NYT

* Long seen as one of the most careful banks on Wall Street, JPMorgan Chase & Co on Wednesday drew back a curtain on a rare breakdown, showing traders acting on their own and concealing losses while managers seemingly turned a blind eye. In a 129-page internal report dissecting a bad bet on credit derivatives that cost the bank more than $6 billion, the bank confessed, in painstaking detail, to widespread "failures."

* The Federal Aviation Administration said on Wednesday it was grounding all Boeing Co 787s operated by United States carriers until it can determine what caused a new type of battery to catch fire on two planes in nine days.

* Hewlett-Packard Co has received a number of inquiries from would-be buyers for its Autonomy and Electronic Data Systems units in recent weeks, though the technology company isn't interested in selling at the moment, a person briefed on the matter said.

* Goldman Sachs Group Inc on Wednesday released financial results that demonstrated it was not only benefiting from cost-cutting, but it also finally had a significant rebound in its core businesses. It reported a fourth-quarter profit of $2.89 billion, or $5.60 a share.

* To combat a rise in cybercrime, the European Commission is considering a plan to require companies that store data on the Internet - like Microsoft Corp, Apple Inc, Google Inc and International Business Machines Corp - to report the loss or theft of personal information in the 27-nation bloc or risk sanctions and fines.

* A new type of flu vaccine won regulatory approval on Wednesday, and its manufacturer said that limited supplies are expected to be available this winter.

* After an estimated 500,000 patients in the United States have received a type of artificial hip that is failing early in many cases, the Food and Drug Administration is proposing rules that could stop manufacturers from selling such implants.

* Robert Wolf, a top Wall Street rainmaker who left UBS AG last summer, has hired Austan Goolsbee as a "strategic partner" for his new firm, 32 Advisors, the two men have told friends in recent weeks, according to people briefed on the matter.

* Nearly half of Germany's gold reserves are held in a vault at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York - billions of dollars worth of postwar geopolitical history squirreled away for safe keeping below the streets of Lower Manhattan. Now the German central bank wants to make a big withdrawal - 300 tons in all.

Canada

THE GLOBE AND MAIL

* Canada's energy and mining companies are facing new challenges from First Nations that are demanding the right to approve all resource projects on traditional territories and to participate in the revenues.

* French President François Hollande has personally asked Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to extend Canada's contribution of a heavy-lift cargo plane for Mali, and to offer more transport help, testing Harper's efforts to set strict limits on Canada's military assistance.

Reports in the business section:

* Air Transat will cut $20 million in annual operating cost as part of its parent company's efforts to restore profitability in the face of toughening competition.

Executives told employees on Wednesday that the airline needs to realize the savings in order to operate a fleet of Boeing 737 aircraft and replace those flown under subcontract by Nova Scotia-based Canjet since 2009.

* H&R Real Estate Investment Trust on Wednesday offered to buy Primaris Retail Real Estate Investment Trust for nearly C$3 billion ($3.04 billion), or C$28 a share, just above a hostile C$26 per share bid put forward in December by a consortium led by KingSett Capital.

NATIONAL POST

* An Ontario bodyguard who worked for Saadi Gaddafi -- the son of slain Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi -- provided "invaluable assistance" to the Libyan dictatorship as it attempted to brutally crush an anti-regime uprising in 2011, the Canada Border Services Agency said.

* A new study has indicated that overdose deaths have risen in close parallel with Canada's soaring consumption of prescription narcotics and the painkillers have become the country's most dangerous drugs after tobacco and alcohol, a leading addiction researcher of Simon Fraser University said.

FINANCIAL POST

* Calgary-based Sunshine Oil Sands Ltd has agreed to share oil sands exploration technology with a division of China's CNOOC Ltd.

The one-year "cooperation" agreement comes roughly one month after the federal government approved the sale of oil sands producer Nexen Inc to CNOOC for $15.1 billion.

* Lululemon Athletica Inc has its sights on growing its share in menswear, CEO Christine Day said at the ICR XChange investor conference in Miami on Wednesday, a rare bright spot in last year's apparel market.

A little over a year and a half ago, menswear represented 8 percent of sales at the Vancouver-based retailer. while on a year to date basis the category has hit 12 percent with the holiday season peaking at 15 percent, Day said.

China

CHINA SECURITIES JOURNAL

--The yuan's real effective exchange rate (REER), which measures the currency's value against a trade-weighted basket after adjustments based on inflation, hit a record high of 110.16 in December, Bank for International Settlements (BIS) data showed.

SHANGHAI SECURITIES NEWS

--In the first two weeks of January, new loans from China's "big four" banks hit 270 billion yuan ($43.43 billion), with industry insiders expecting that the total new loans are likely to hit one trillion yuan in January.

PEOPLE'S DAILY

--China's tax revenue rose 11.2 percent to 11.7 trillion yuan in 2012, data from the state administration of taxation showed.

Fly on the Wall 7:00 AM Market Snapshot

ANALYST RESEARCH

Upgrades

Adtran (ADTN) upgraded to Neutral from Sell at Citigroup
Bio-Rad (BIO) upgraded to Outperform from Underperform at CLSA
GT Advanced (GTAT) upgraded to Hold from Underperform at Jefferies
Infinera (INFN) upgraded to Overweight from Neutral at JPMorgan
Juniper (JNPR) upgraded to Overweight from Neutral at JPMorgan
Medtronic (MDT) upgraded to Outperform from Neutral at Credit Suisse
Mercury General (MCY) upgraded to Outperform from Neutral at Macquarie
Mohawk (MHK) upgraded to Outperform from Underperform at Macquarie
PerkinElmer (PKI) upgraded to Buy from Outperform at CLSA
Rio Tinto (RIO) upgraded to Buy from Neutral at Citigroup

Downgrades

Adtran (ADTN) downgraded to Sell from Neutral at UBS
Agilent (A) downgraded to Outperform from Buy at CLSA
BNY Mellon (BK) downgraded to Sector Perform from Outperform at RBC Capital
Boeing (BA) downgraded to Underweight from Hold at BB&T
Celsion (CLSN) downgraded to Sell from Hold at Brean Capital
Cisco (CSCO) downgraded to Underweight from Neutral at JPMorgan
Columbia Sportswear (COLM) downgraded to Underperform from Buy at BofA/Merrill
Corning (GLW) downgraded to Sector Perform from Outperform at RBC Capital
Cree (CREE) downgraded to Underperform from Buy at Jefferies
Itron (ITRI) downgraded to Hold from Buy at Jefferies
Leap Wireless (LEAP) downgraded to Underperform from Hold at Jefferies
RBC Bearings (ROLL) downgraded to Market Perform from Outperform at William Blair
Regal-Beloit (RBC) downgraded to Perform from Outperform at Oppenheimer
Regeneron (REGN) downgraded to Hold from Buy at Brean Capital
SAP (SAP) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Citigroup
VIVUS (VVUS) downgraded to Sell from Hold at Brean Capital
Waters (WAT) downgraded to Market Perform from Outperform at Wells Fargo
Williams-Sonoma (WSM) downgraded to Market Perform from Strong Buy at Raymond James
Williams-Sonoma (WSM) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Goldman

Initiations

Alkermes (ALKS) initiated with a Neutral at Credit Suisse
Approach Resources (AREX) initiated with an In-Line at Imperial Capital
Asset Acceptance (AACC) initiated with a Neutral at Janney Capital
Concho Resources (CXO) initiated with an Outperform at Imperial Capital
Eli Lilly (LLY) initiated with a Sell at CLSA
Encore Capital (ECPG) initiated with a Buy at Janney Capital
Portfolio Recovery (PRAA) initiated with a Neutral at Janney Capital
Stillwater Mining (SWC) initiated with an Outperform at Wells Fargo
U.S. Silica (SLCA) initiated with a Sector Perform at RBC Capital
Vanda Pharmaceuticals (VNDA) initiated with an Outperform at JMP Securities

HOT STOCKS

FAA ordered Boeing (BA) to temporary cease operations of all U.S. 787 Dreamliners jets, Bloomberg reports
Rio Tinto (RIO) said CEO Albanese stepped down after charges
Expects non-cash impairment charge of $14B
Stryker (SYK) acquired Trauson Holdings for $764M in cash
Sun Life Financial (SLF), Khazanah Nasional Berhad to purchase CIMB Aviva for C$586M
Treasury Department hired Citigroup (C), JPMorgan (JPM) to sell General Motors (GM)  shares, Bloomberg reports
Nokia (NOK) to cut 300 jobs, transfer 820 others amid changes in IT
AT&T (T) to enable FaceTime over Cellular (AAPL) for all iOS devices at no extra charge
CBS (CBS) began converting its Outdoor Americas division into a REIT, and will pursue a divestiture of its Outdoor operations in Europe and Asia
A. M. Castle (CAS) announced restructuring plan, will reduce workforce by 10%
eBay (EBAY) said Europe still “sluggish,” said Latin America an “important growth opportunity”
Said PayPal-Discover partnership to go live at end of Q2
K-Swiss (KSWS) to be acquired by E.Land World for $4.75 per share in cash

EARNINGS

Companies that beat consensus earnings expectations last night and today include: Fifth Third Bancorp (FITB), Insteel (IIIN), BlackRock (BLK), Huntington Bancshares (HBAN), Virginia Commerce (VCBI), BB&T (BBT), H.B. Fuller (FUL), Bank of the Ozarks (OZRK), Clarcor (CLC), SLM Corp. (SLM), eBay (EBAY), Nautilus (NLS)

Companies that missed consensus earnings expectations include:
CVB Financial (CVBF), Plexus (PLXS), Kinder Morgan Energy (KMP), Kinder Morgan (KMI), Boston Private Financial (BPFH)

Companies that matched consensus earnings expectations include:
UnitedHealth (UNH), Pacific Continental (PCBK)

NEWSPAPERS/WEBSITES
Investors are grappling with what could be a watershed moment for Apple (AAPL). In many fund managers' eyes, the recent decline could mark Apple's transformation from a growth stock—one that is seen as risky but whose growth prospects could lead to big gains—to a more plodding value stock—one that trades at a low price relative to earnings and offers regular payments such as dividends, the Wall Street Journal reports
The power that U.S. baby boomers have exercised for some 50 years over the auto industry is starting to wane. Auto industry executives at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week made it clear with their designs for coming models that they are pivoting their attention—and their product strategies—toward the 20, 30 and 40-something consumers collectively known as Generations X and Y, the Wall Street Journal reports
PC makers, trying to beat back a tablet mania that's hurting their sales, are making what may be a last attempt to sway customers by mimicking the competition, Reuters reports
Airbus (EADSY) reported a 43% drop in orders and lost its title as the world's largest plane maker to Boeing (BA) in 2012, as it predicted improvements in orders and deliveries for 2013 as airlines look to reduce fuel costs. Adjusted for cancellations, Airbus had 833 net orders, while Boeing led on net orders with 921 aircraft, Reuters reports
Fed officials are increasingly concerned that record-low interest rates are overheating markets for assets from farmland to junk bonds, which could heighten risks when they reverse their bond purchases, Bloomberg reports
Treasuries fell, as 10-year notes halted a four-day advance, before Commerce Department data forecast to show U.S. housing starts rose last month, adding to signs the U.S. economy is improving, Bloomberg reports

SYNDICATE
Aveo Pharmaceuticals (AVEO) commences offering of common stock
CVR Refining (CVRR) 24M share IPO priced at $25.00
Imation (IMN) files to sell 3.32M shares of common stock for holders
Northern Tier (NTI) commences offering of 9M common units by holders

Your rating: None

Frontrunning: January 17

  • Obama's Gun Curbs Face a Slog in Congress (BBG)
  • Euro Area Seen Stalling as Draghi’s Pessimism Shared (BBG)
  • China Begins to Lose Edge as World's Factory Floor (WSJ)
  • EU Car Sales Slump (WSJ)
  • Fed Concerned About Overheated Markets Amid Record Bond-Buying (BBG)
  • Australia Posts Worst Back-to-Back Job Growth Since ’97 (BBG)
  • Abe Currency Policy Stokes Gaffe Risk as Amari Roils Yen (BBG)
  • Japan Opposition Party Won’t Back BOJ Officials for Governor (BBG)
  • Fed Reports Point to Subdued Economic Growth (WSJ)
  • China Set to Exit Slowdown by Boosting Infrastructure (BBG)
  • Greece not out of woods, must stick to reforms: finance minister (Reuters)
  • Russian Rate Debate Flares Up as Cabinet Seeks Growth (BBG)

Overnight Media Digest

WSJ

* The Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday ordered a halt to flights of Boeing Co's 787 Dreamliner, an unprecedented rebuke to the plane maker after two major battery malfunctions on its flagship jets.

* JPMorgan Chase & Co's directors cut Chief Executive James Dimon's pay by 50 percent for 2012, as the board took management to task for a trading debacle that cost the nation's largest bank more than $6 billion.

* Goldman Sachs Group Inc and Morgan Stanley agreed to pay a combined $560 million to settle allegations of foreclosure abuses, the latest setback in the banks' costly foray into subprime mortgages.

* Citigroup Inc has asked regulators for permission to repurchase just enough stock to counter dilution from routine share issuance, according to people familiar with the company's plans.

* Two bidders have emerged as leading contenders for ThyssenKrupp AG's steel operations in the Americas. ArcelorMittal SA submitted a $1.5 billion bid for a plant in Alabama, while Brazil's Companhia Siderúrgica Nacional submitted a $3.8 billion bid for that plant and a majority stake in a Brazilian mill, people familiar with the matter said.

* Hewlett-Packard Co has received expressions of interest from potential suitors for its Autonomy Corp business, the division that the technology giant has alleged engaged in accounting improprieties before HP acquired it in 2011, according to people familiar with the discussions.

* EBay Inc's revenue rose 18 percent in the latest quarter as business in the company's online marketplace and PayPal units continued to improve.

* Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc expects higher food costs to dampen fourth-quarter earnings, despite continued strength in its underlying sales trends.

* European retailer Metro AG said it is pulling out of the Chinese consumer-electronics business after two years of testing.

* China is losing its competitive edge as a low-cost manufacturing base, new data suggest, with makers of everything from handbags to shirts to basic electronic components relocating to cheaper locales like Southeast Asia.

FT

Dozens of expatriate workers have been kidnapped from an Algerian natural gas facility operated by BP and Statoil .

Business Secretary Vince Cable will say in a speech that the debate over Britain's EU membership and a possible referendum is terrible timing, creating uncertainty for investors.

Opposition leader Ed Miliband said in an interview that Cameron's inability to guarantee that Britain will be in the EU in five years' time would be destabilising for investment.

Goldman Sachs cut its bonuses in the fourth quarter, boosting it to its highest profit level in three years.

Germany's Bundesbank is planning to repatriate 54,000 gold bars worth 27 billion euros from Paris and New York between now and 2020.

New rules that force British banks to hold more capital against loans secured on commercial property are resulting in higher costs and scrapped projects for developers.

NYT

* Long seen as one of the most careful banks on Wall Street, JPMorgan Chase & Co on Wednesday drew back a curtain on a rare breakdown, showing traders acting on their own and concealing losses while managers seemingly turned a blind eye. In a 129-page internal report dissecting a bad bet on credit derivatives that cost the bank more than $6 billion, the bank confessed, in painstaking detail, to widespread "failures."

* The Federal Aviation Administration said on Wednesday it was grounding all Boeing Co 787s operated by United States carriers until it can determine what caused a new type of battery to catch fire on two planes in nine days.

* Hewlett-Packard Co has received a number of inquiries from would-be buyers for its Autonomy and Electronic Data Systems units in recent weeks, though the technology company isn't interested in selling at the moment, a person briefed on the matter said.

* Goldman Sachs Group Inc on Wednesday released financial results that demonstrated it was not only benefiting from cost-cutting, but it also finally had a significant rebound in its core businesses. It reported a fourth-quarter profit of $2.89 billion, or $5.60 a share.

* To combat a rise in cybercrime, the European Commission is considering a plan to require companies that store data on the Internet - like Microsoft Corp, Apple Inc, Google Inc and International Business Machines Corp - to report the loss or theft of personal information in the 27-nation bloc or risk sanctions and fines.

* A new type of flu vaccine won regulatory approval on Wednesday, and its manufacturer said that limited supplies are expected to be available this winter.

* After an estimated 500,000 patients in the United States have received a type of artificial hip that is failing early in many cases, the Food and Drug Administration is proposing rules that could stop manufacturers from selling such implants.

* Robert Wolf, a top Wall Street rainmaker who left UBS AG last summer, has hired Austan Goolsbee as a "strategic partner" for his new firm, 32 Advisors, the two men have told friends in recent weeks, according to people briefed on the matter.

* Nearly half of Germany's gold reserves are held in a vault at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York - billions of dollars worth of postwar geopolitical history squirreled away for safe keeping below the streets of Lower Manhattan. Now the German central bank wants to make a big withdrawal - 300 tons in all.

Canada

THE GLOBE AND MAIL

* Canada's energy and mining companies are facing new challenges from First Nations that are demanding the right to approve all resource projects on traditional territories and to participate in the revenues.

* French President François Hollande has personally asked Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to extend Canada's contribution of a heavy-lift cargo plane for Mali, and to offer more transport help, testing Harper's efforts to set strict limits on Canada's military assistance.

Reports in the business section:

* Air Transat will cut $20 million in annual operating cost as part of its parent company's efforts to restore profitability in the face of toughening competition.

Executives told employees on Wednesday that the airline needs to realize the savings in order to operate a fleet of Boeing 737 aircraft and replace those flown under subcontract by Nova Scotia-based Canjet since 2009.

* H&R Real Estate Investment Trust on Wednesday offered to buy Primaris Retail Real Estate Investment Trust for nearly C$3 billion ($3.04 billion), or C$28 a share, just above a hostile C$26 per share bid put forward in December by a consortium led by KingSett Capital.

NATIONAL POST

* An Ontario bodyguard who worked for Saadi Gaddafi -- the son of slain Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi -- provided "invaluable assistance" to the Libyan dictatorship as it attempted to brutally crush an anti-regime uprising in 2011, the Canada Border Services Agency said.

* A new study has indicated that overdose deaths have risen in close parallel with Canada's soaring consumption of prescription narcotics and the painkillers have become the country's most dangerous drugs after tobacco and alcohol, a leading addiction researcher of Simon Fraser University said.

FINANCIAL POST

* Calgary-based Sunshine Oil Sands Ltd has agreed to share oil sands exploration technology with a division of China's CNOOC Ltd.

The one-year "cooperation" agreement comes roughly one month after the federal government approved the sale of oil sands producer Nexen Inc to CNOOC for $15.1 billion.

* Lululemon Athletica Inc has its sights on growing its share in menswear, CEO Christine Day said at the ICR XChange investor conference in Miami on Wednesday, a rare bright spot in last year's apparel market.

A little over a year and a half ago, menswear represented 8 percent of sales at the Vancouver-based retailer. while on a year to date basis the category has hit 12 percent with the holiday season peaking at 15 percent, Day said.

China

CHINA SECURITIES JOURNAL

--The yuan's real effective exchange rate (REER), which measures the currency's value against a trade-weighted basket after adjustments based on inflation, hit a record high of 110.16 in December, Bank for International Settlements (BIS) data showed.

SHANGHAI SECURITIES NEWS

--In the first two weeks of January, new loans from China's "big four" banks hit 270 billion yuan ($43.43 billion), with industry insiders expecting that the total new loans are likely to hit one trillion yuan in January.

PEOPLE'S DAILY

--China's tax revenue rose 11.2 percent to 11.7 trillion yuan in 2012, data from the state administration of taxation showed.

Fly on the Wall 7:00 AM Market Snapshot

ANALYST RESEARCH

Upgrades

Adtran (ADTN) upgraded to Neutral from Sell at Citigroup
Bio-Rad (BIO) upgraded to Outperform from Underperform at CLSA
GT Advanced (GTAT) upgraded to Hold from Underperform at Jefferies
Infinera (INFN) upgraded to Overweight from Neutral at JPMorgan
Juniper (JNPR) upgraded to Overweight from Neutral at JPMorgan
Medtronic (MDT) upgraded to Outperform from Neutral at Credit Suisse
Mercury General (MCY) upgraded to Outperform from Neutral at Macquarie
Mohawk (MHK) upgraded to Outperform from Underperform at Macquarie
PerkinElmer (PKI) upgraded to Buy from Outperform at CLSA
Rio Tinto (RIO) upgraded to Buy from Neutral at Citigroup

Downgrades

Adtran (ADTN) downgraded to Sell from Neutral at UBS
Agilent (A) downgraded to Outperform from Buy at CLSA
BNY Mellon (BK) downgraded to Sector Perform from Outperform at RBC Capital
Boeing (BA) downgraded to Underweight from Hold at BB&T
Celsion (CLSN) downgraded to Sell from Hold at Brean Capital
Cisco (CSCO) downgraded to Underweight from Neutral at JPMorgan
Columbia Sportswear (COLM) downgraded to Underperform from Buy at BofA/Merrill
Corning (GLW) downgraded to Sector Perform from Outperform at RBC Capital
Cree (CREE) downgraded to Underperform from Buy at Jefferies
Itron (ITRI) downgraded to Hold from Buy at Jefferies
Leap Wireless (LEAP) downgraded to Underperform from Hold at Jefferies
RBC Bearings (ROLL) downgraded to Market Perform from Outperform at William Blair
Regal-Beloit (RBC) downgraded to Perform from Outperform at Oppenheimer
Regeneron (REGN) downgraded to Hold from Buy at Brean Capital
SAP (SAP) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Citigroup
VIVUS (VVUS) downgraded to Sell from Hold at Brean Capital
Waters (WAT) downgraded to Market Perform from Outperform at Wells Fargo
Williams-Sonoma (WSM) downgraded to Market Perform from Strong Buy at Raymond James
Williams-Sonoma (WSM) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Goldman

Initiations

Alkermes (ALKS) initiated with a Neutral at Credit Suisse
Approach Resources (AREX) initiated with an In-Line at Imperial Capital
Asset Acceptance (AACC) initiated with a Neutral at Janney Capital
Concho Resources (CXO) initiated with an Outperform at Imperial Capital
Eli Lilly (LLY) initiated with a Sell at CLSA
Encore Capital (ECPG) initiated with a Buy at Janney Capital
Portfolio Recovery (PRAA) initiated with a Neutral at Janney Capital
Stillwater Mining (SWC) initiated with an Outperform at Wells Fargo
U.S. Silica (SLCA) initiated with a Sector Perform at RBC Capital
Vanda Pharmaceuticals (VNDA) initiated with an Outperform at JMP Securities

HOT STOCKS

FAA ordered Boeing (BA) to temporary cease operations of all U.S. 787 Dreamliners jets, Bloomberg reports
Rio Tinto (RIO) said CEO Albanese stepped down after charges
Expects non-cash impairment charge of $14B
Stryker (SYK) acquired Trauson Holdings for $764M in cash
Sun Life Financial (SLF), Khazanah Nasional Berhad to purchase CIMB Aviva for C$586M
Treasury Department hired Citigroup (C), JPMorgan (JPM) to sell General Motors (GM)  shares, Bloomberg reports
Nokia (NOK) to cut 300 jobs, transfer 820 others amid changes in IT
AT&T (T) to enable FaceTime over Cellular (AAPL) for all iOS devices at no extra charge
CBS (CBS) began converting its Outdoor Americas division into a REIT, and will pursue a divestiture of its Outdoor operations in Europe and Asia
A. M. Castle (CAS) announced restructuring plan, will reduce workforce by 10%
eBay (EBAY) said Europe still “sluggish,” said Latin America an “important growth opportunity”
Said PayPal-Discover partnership to go live at end of Q2
K-Swiss (KSWS) to be acquired by E.Land World for $4.75 per share in cash

EARNINGS

Companies that beat consensus earnings expectations last night and today include: Fifth Third Bancorp (FITB), Insteel (IIIN), BlackRock (BLK), Huntington Bancshares (HBAN), Virginia Commerce (VCBI), BB&T (BBT), H.B. Fuller (FUL), Bank of the Ozarks (OZRK), Clarcor (CLC), SLM Corp. (SLM), eBay (EBAY), Nautilus (NLS)

Companies that missed consensus earnings expectations include:
CVB Financial (CVBF), Plexus (PLXS), Kinder Morgan Energy (KMP), Kinder Morgan (KMI), Boston Private Financial (BPFH)

Companies that matched consensus earnings expectations include:
UnitedHealth (UNH), Pacific Continental (PCBK)

NEWSPAPERS/WEBSITES
Investors are grappling with what could be a watershed moment for Apple (AAPL). In many fund managers' eyes, the recent decline could mark Apple's transformation from a growth stock—one that is seen as risky but whose growth prospects could lead to big gains—to a more plodding value stock—one that trades at a low price relative to earnings and offers regular payments such as dividends, the Wall Street Journal reports
The power that U.S. baby boomers have exercised for some 50 years over the auto industry is starting to wane. Auto industry executives at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week made it clear with their designs for coming models that they are pivoting their attention—and their product strategies—toward the 20, 30 and 40-something consumers collectively known as Generations X and Y, the Wall Street Journal reports
PC makers, trying to beat back a tablet mania that's hurting their sales, are making what may be a last attempt to sway customers by mimicking the competition, Reuters reports
Airbus (EADSY) reported a 43% drop in orders and lost its title as the world's largest plane maker to Boeing (BA) in 2012, as it predicted improvements in orders and deliveries for 2013 as airlines look to reduce fuel costs. Adjusted for cancellations, Airbus had 833 net orders, while Boeing led on net orders with 921 aircraft, Reuters reports
Fed officials are increasingly concerned that record-low interest rates are overheating markets for assets from farmland to junk bonds, which could heighten risks when they reverse their bond purchases, Bloomberg reports
Treasuries fell, as 10-year notes halted a four-day advance, before Commerce Department data forecast to show U.S. housing starts rose last month, adding to signs the U.S. economy is improving, Bloomberg reports

SYNDICATE
Aveo Pharmaceuticals (AVEO) commences offering of common stock
CVR Refining (CVRR) 24M share IPO priced at $25.00
Imation (IMN) files to sell 3.32M shares of common stock for holders
Northern Tier (NTI) commences offering of 9M common units by holders

Your rating: None

3D Printed Guns Render Gun Control Moot

guncontrol

Forbes has recently published an article about New York Congressman Steve Israel’s promise to ban 3D printed high capacity ammunition magazines. The congressman’s comments come after Defense Distributed, an open source DIY gunsmith group working to manufacture both guns and their accessories using 3D printing technology, successfully printed and tested a 30-round AR-15 magazine.

Congressman Israel stated:

“Background checks and gun regulations will do little good if criminals can print high-capacity magazines at home. 3-D printing is a new technology that shows great promise, but also requires new guidelines. Law enforcement officials should have the power to stop high-capacity magazines from proliferating with a Google search.”

It seems that Congressman Israel doesn’t realize that background checks and gun regulations both in the United States and just over America’s border with Mexico, already don’t work – without advanced manufacturing and open source paradigms even playing a role. Criminals intent on breaking laws have existed since laws themselves. Additionally, technology like 3D printing, as Forbes correctly points out, will pose a serious challenge to gun control advocates in terms of enforcement. Forbes stated specifically:

“But for either [Congresswoman Diane] Feinstein or Israel’s bill, the same problem arises: How to enforce that prohibition in every garage and workshop in America that houses a 3D printer?”

Of course, without becoming Nazi Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union, or something far worse, there is no way to enforce these gun regulations. Criminals in particular will continue trumping the law, and because of the government’s refusal to actually tackle the socioeconomic factors driving violence and its insistence on instead punishing law abiding citizens, their authority, legitimacy, and ability to enforce even sensible legislation will be compromised.

And 3D manufacturing isn’t the only way to build your own gun. As a matter of fact, around the world where criminals are unable to buy guns, they do indeed already make their own – and then, as criminals are wanton to do, commit crimes with them, including, murder.

In Thailand, vocational schools are plagued by fierce gang-style rivalries. With standard tools, these students construct homemade guns which they frequently murder each other with. And just this New Year’s Eve, a British tourist was killed when a fight broke out at a party, and a homemade gun was fired. The difference between a Thai vocational education, and say a German or Japanese vocational education is one of culture and socioeconomics – not access to tools.

Image: This homemade handgun was made by an unruly Thai party-goer who claimed the life of a British tourist this New Year’s Eve. Despite the ubiquitous nature of guns, both homemade and manufactured in Thailand, and nearly no means of enforcing whatever legislation may or may not be on the books, gun violence (and violence overall) is still less than in the United States.

….

Preventing people from manufacturing guns, or worse yet, from possessing or using tools that can be used to create guns, is both ludicrous and impossible. Like with cars or anything else, laws are there to ensure we don’t harm others by abusing any given right or implement – not preventing us from having those rights or implements responsibly in the first place. In the end, one must address the factors in any given society that drive large numbers of people to commit violent crimes in the first place – regardless of their chosen means or method.

In reality, an honest public representative would already be far too busy improving education, infrastructure, and the economic prospects of their people to waste time on banning every conceivable implement that could be used in a crime, directly or indirectly. The goal of Congress members like Feinstein or Israel, is not to prevent violence – but to simply disarm the population as the corporate-financier interests they represent seek to be further unhindered as they loot people and nations both abroad and at home.

The fact that the White House is taking such bold actions against “guns,” citing “mass shootings” which account for a fraction of 1% of all homicides, indicates a far more insidious agenda – and one based not on real priorities, but built upon a carefully exploited, emotional campaign to exact an obvious but not forthcoming final goal.

Get Involved.

Defense Distributed has a website – DefCAD.org – and the files for building their various designs available for downloading and use – for free. The files are in .IGS format and require a computer aided design program (CAD) to view them. FreeCAD is an open source, free to download program that works well. This is where, again, a local hackerspace pooling people’s resources together would help infinitely, especially when most hackerspaces come equipped with 3D printers and people capable of operating them and more importantly, capable of teaching you how to use them.

Image: Distributed Defense’s 30 round magazine opened in FreeCAD.

….

Right now, there seems to be only Distributed Defense pursuing this project in any meaningful manner – which should be a cause of concern for anyone who thinks this is a good idea. One group of people working on this alone is a giant, slow-moving target prone to failure from both within and beyond. Many people working on this in parallel, however, presents the same problem the movie and music industry face with file sharing – impossible victory/inevitable defeat.

Starting your own open source “distributed defense” group would be a good way to hedge the risk of having just one group coordinating efforts toward developing open source firearms accessible to all. DefCAD could be infiltrated, co-opted, or derailed in so many conceivable ways considering the implications the work it is doing have, it would be foolish not to hedge such risk.

The lack of direct participation in preserving our rights, and instead depending on lobbyists and protesters alone to to do it for us is one problem. Another problem is the purposeful polarization of the “gun debate” – of gun advocates and their critics along predictable political lines. The Washington Post, which is ironically run by a right-wing Neo-Con editorial board, recently celebrated President Obama’s “clever” use of the Constitution to turn the gun debate on its head. It also noted gleefully that part of the plan was getting the “people” themselves to demand stricter gun control. This will be done by getting half of America (the left) to take the guns away from the other half (the right).

Faux right-wing leaders take particular care in ensuring that to be a “gun rights activist,” you must also be a xenophobic crypto-racist, Islamophobic, and a conservative who believes the problem facing the world are closet-Communist liberals. Likewise, the faux left’s leadership ensures that their followers believe conservatives, their religion, and their guns are the root of all problems. In reality, the corporate-financiers run both sides of the debate and direct the talking points of prominent personalities on both the faux-left and faux-right.

Obviously, instead of digging in and playing along, our goal should be to reach across the aisle and close this artificial divide – by abandoning the leaders claiming to represent our particular political proclivities and working together to address the true causes of violence – social injustice, socioeconomic decay, and inadequate, impractical education.

Getting involved includes creating local institutions that find common ground and reject this artificial polarization – common ground that includes improving education, health care, and local economic prospects, which in turn reduces violence and leaves only responsible people with firearms (and the means to make them). Local efforts must be apolitical and all-inclusive – because if we are reduced to talking politics, it is because we don’t have a pragmatic solution to solve our problems.

DefCAD has a pragmatic solution – leveraging tangible, modern technology to ensure our rights are not trampled upon by insidious politicians. Taking away guns is not an option politically, and soon, not an option practically. All sides who truly seek to reduce the violence in society will be forced to look elsewhere for the solution. Since guns were never the problem to begin with, the advent of 3D printed guns and the insurmountable deterrence they present to “gun control,” may be a blessing in disguise for all who seek a more peaceful and just world.

US Interior secretary also leaving post

US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar intends to step down from his post at the end of March, becoming the fifth cabinet member to leave the Obama administration.

The news of Salazar’s plan to leave the administration came on Wednesday as The Denver Post reported that the former Colorado senator intends to “return to Colorado to spend time with his family.”

Salazar’s office has reportedly confirmed news of his intent to leave Obama’s cabinet.

Others leaving the Obama administration in his second term in office are Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Leaon Panetta, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.

White House Chief of Staff Jacob Lew is also due to leave his post since he has been nominated by President Barack Obama to replace Geithner as Secretary of the Treasury.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Obama intends to appoint “a key national security deputy,” Denis McDonough, as his new White House chief of staff, widely viewed as the closest advisor to the US president and “the gatekeeper to the Oval Office.”


Democratic Massachusetts Senator and former US presidential nominee John Kerry has been nominated to replace Clinton at the State Department and is widely expected to win a Senate confirmation.

Former Republican Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel has been nominated to take over as the next US Defense Secretary, replacing Leon Panetta.

Hagel’s confirmation, however, is expected to be difficult as he has come under harsh attacks from pro-Israeli Republican conservatives for criticizing the “Jewish Lobby” in the United States and opposing US or Israeli military strikes as well as economic sanctions against Iran while he was in the US Senate.

MFB/MFB

Welcome to the Shammies, the Media Awards that Recognise Truly Unsung Talent

brainwash

There are awards for everyone. There are the Logies, the Commies, the Tonys, the Theas,  the Millies (“They cried with pride”) and now the Shammies.

The Shammies celebrate the finest sham media. “Competition for the 2013 Gold Shammy,” said the panel of judges, “has been cutthroat.”  The Shammies are not for the tabloid lower orders. Rupert Murdoch has been honoured enough. Shammies distinguish  respectable journalism that guards the limits of what the best and brightest like to call the “national conversation”.

The Shammy judges were especially impressed by a spirited campaign to rehabilitate Tony Blair. The winner will receive the coveted Jeremy Paxman Hoodwink Prize, in honour of the famous BBC broadcaster who says he was “hoodwinked” over Iraq – regardless of the multiple opportunities he had to challenge Blair and expose the truth and carnage of the illegal invasion.

Short-listed for Hoodwink is Michael White, the Guardian’s political editor, whose lament for Blair’s “wasted talent” is distinguished by his defence of Blair as the victim of a “very unholy alliance between a familiar chorus of America-bashers and Blair bait[ers]”. (I am included).

On 19 December, another contender, White’s colleague, Jane Martinson, was granted a “rare” interview with Cherie Blair in her “stately private office” with its “gorgeous views over Hyde Park” and “imposing mahogany furniture”. In such splendour does Mrs. Blair (she prefers her married name for its “profile”) run her “foundation for women” in Africa, India and the Middle East. Her political collusion in her husband’s career and support for adventures that destroyed the lives of countless women was not mentioned. A PR triumph and odds-on for a Shammy.

Also nominated: the brains behind the Guardian’s front page of 8 November: “The best is yet to come”, dominated by a half-page picture of the happy-huggy-droney Obama family. And who could fail to appreciate the assurance from the BBC’s Mark Mardell that, in personally selecting people to murder with his drones, “the care taken by the president is significant”?

Matt Frei, formerly of the BBC now of Channel 4 News, drew commendation for his reporting of Obama as a “warrior president” and Hugo Chavez as a “chubby-faced strongman”. A study by the University of the West of England found that, of the 304 BBC reports on Venezuela published in a decade, only three mentioned the Chavez government’s extraordinary record in promoting human rights and reducing poverty.

In the Gold Shammy category, the judges were  struck by the outstanding work of the Guardian’s Decca Aitkenhead. “Everywhere we went, before my eyes people fell in love with him … no one seemed to be immune.” This was her memorable encounter with Peter Mandelson in 2009. She described his “effortless allure… the intensity of his theatre is electrifying to behold… His skin is dewey, as if fresh from a spa facial, and his grooming so flawless he looks almost hyper-real, the cuff links and tie delicately co-ordinated, with their detail inversely echoed in his socks … His whole body seems weirdly untroubled by the passage of time…”

Aitkenhead had previously “profiled” Alistair Darling, the Chancellor who presided over the worst financial collapse in memory. Greeted as “old friends” by Darling and his “gregarious” wife Maggie “who cooks and makes tea and supper while Darling lights the fire”, Aitkenhead effused over “a highly effective minister …he seems almost too straightforward, even high-minded, for the low cunning of political warfare.”

The judges were asked to compare and contrast such moments of journalistic ecstasy with the same writer’s profile of Julian Assange on 7 December.  Assange answered her questions methodically, providing her with a lot of information about the state’s abuse of technology and mass surveillance. “There is no debate that Assange knows more about this subject than almost anyone alive,” she wrote. No matter. Rather than someone who had exposed more state criminality than any journalist, he was described as “someone convalescing after a breakdown”: a mentally ill figure she likened to “Miss Havisham”.  Unlike the alluring, electrifying, twice disgraced Mandelson, and the high-minded, disastrous Chancellor, Assange had a “messianic grandiosity”. No evidence was offered. The Gold Shammy was within her grasp.

Then, on Christmas Eve, the BBC News magazine published an article marking the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Christmas bombing of Hanoi. The bombing, wrote Rebecca Kesby, “was President Richard Nixon’s attempt to hasten the end of the Vietnam war, as the growing strength of the Viet Cong caused heavy casualties among US ground troops”.

In fact, Nixon promised “an honourable end to the war” four years earlier. His 1972 Christmas bombing of Hanoi in the north was as much concerned with peace as Hitler’s bombing of Poland: a cynical, vengeful act of barbarism that changed nothing in the stalled Paris talks. Kesby cites Henry Kissinger’s absurd claim that the North Vietnamese “were on their knees”. Far from hastening “the end of the Vietnam war”, America’s savagery ensured the war went on for another two a half years, during which more Vietnamese were killed than during the previous decade.

Kesby claimed that previous US targets had been “fuel depots and munitions stores”.   On my wall is a photograph I took of a hamlet in the north obliterated by F-105 and Phantom fighters flying at 200 feet in order to pick off “soft targets” – human beings. In the town of Hongai, I stood in the debris of churches, hospitals, schools. A new type of “dart bomb” was used; the darts were made from a plastic that did not show in X-rays, and the victims, mostly children, suffered until they died. Filmed by Malcolm Aird and James Cameron, a news report on this type of terror bombing was suppressed by the BBC.

Today our memory of all of this is sanitised.  America and its allies, using even more diabolical weapons, continue to “hasten to the end of war”. Such has been the BBC’s unerring theme since Vietnam. The Gold Shammy is richly deserved.

For more information on John Pilger, please visit his website at www.johnpilger.com

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: Cable Vs Cameron

The ten things you need to know on Thursday 17 January 2013...

1) CABLE VS CAMERON

First there was an American diplomat. Then a German politician. Then a former British ambassador. And then, of course, a group of eurosceptic Tory backbenchers. Everyone seems to have something to say on Britain's relationship with Europe ahead of David Cameron's 'tantric' speech on the subject in the Netherlands tomorrow.

Tonight, just a few hours ahead of the PM's address, it's Vince Cable's turn. As Ned Simons and I report:

"In a speech to business leaders on Thursday, the Lib Dem business secretary will say it is a 'terrible time' to have the 'diversion and uncertainty' which build up to a referendum would entail.

“'Uncertainty is the enemy of investment. At a time of extreme fragility in business confidence such uncertainty would add to the sense of unresolved crisis and weaken Britain’s ability to deliver more reform inside the EU,' he will say.

"... Taking aim at eurosceptic Tory backbenchers, Cable will use his speech on Thursday evening to say that it will be “next to impossible” to safeguard the UK national interest in the Single Market if London tries to disengage from its existing commitments.

“'The eurosceptic calculation is that British permission is necessary for closer integration- via treaty change- and that this permission can be traded for the negotiating objectives. That seems to me a dangerous gamble to make,' he will say."

There aren't many Tories who like Vince Cable and there'll be even fewer after he delivers tonight's speech in Oxfordshire. A senior Lib Dem official tells us that the the party wants "to give the Tories enough rope to hang themselves with".

Meanwhile, the Guardian reports:

"In the runup to the [Cameron] speech, a group of prominent City figures have written to the Telegraph in support of an in-out referendum, and a group of 30 pro-European Tory MPs, including Ken Clarke and Sir Malcolm Rifkind, have written a letter charging the prime minister with jeopardising Margaret Thatcher's foremost European legacy, the single market. The MPs warn: 'We fear that a renegotiation which seems to favour the UK alone would force other capitals to ask why they cannot simply dispense with those parts of the single market that don't suit them, potentially endangering Margaret Thatcher's defining European legacy.'"

2) 'THE EDGE OF THE CLIFF'

The Tories' seem pretty divided on Europe - something Ed Miliband was keen to highlight during prime minister's questions yesterday. But what's Labour's position? We may found out today when shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander gives his own speech on Europe (yep, everyone's at it!) in which he will say:

“The gap between the minimum the Tories will demand and the maximum our European partners can accept remains unbridgeable."

Meanwhile, his boss, the Labour leader Ed Miliband, has told the Financial Times that David Cameron was about to take Britain "to the edge of an economic cliff" with a promise of an EU referendum, which he believes will also reawaken "collective" hysteria" in the Conservative Party.

Miliband told the FT that he is "not in favour now of committing to an in-out referendum - it wouldn't be the right thing for our country. The priority for this country is to focus on our economic difficulties and getting out of those difficulties and you don't do that by putting a big 'closed for business' sign around Britain."

Cameron "should be listening to the CBI and not Nigel Farage", the Labour leader added.

Oooh...

3) COLLECTIVE (IR)RESPONSIBILITY

Europhobes in the cabinet (IDS? Owen Paterson? Chris Grayling?) will be delighted - from the Guardian:

"The prime minister has refused to confirm or deny claims that he has given cabinet colleagues freedom to campaign for Britain to exit the European Union in a future referendum."

It could be 1975 all over again...

4) 'ROM THEIR WAY'

That's the headline in the Sun this morning, which reports:

"Up to 350,000 Romanians and Bulgarians could flock to Britain when restrictions are lifted at the end of this year, a report warns today.

"The influx would equal a city the size of Leicester.

"A new analysis estimates 50,000 Romanians and Bulgarians could arrive each year — or 250,000 over the next five years. But that figure could hit 70,000 annually — or 350,000 over five years, according to..."

Hmm. According to who? Yep, you guessed it:

"...campaign group Migration Watch."

But earlier this week, the prime minister said that the detail for such calculations "wasn't there yet" and as the BBC reports:

"Sarah Mulley, of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) think tank said that although it was 'very difficult to predict migration flows with any degree of confidence in these circumstances' the estimates put forward by Migration Watch 'look high'.

"She said: 'The UK is opening access to its labour markets along with the rest of Europe and the process of opening up to Bulgaria and Romania has been a gradual one, in contrast with 2004 when the UK was the only large EU country to open its labour market and when borders and labour market access were opened at the same time.

"'So it would be very surprising if net migration from Bulgaria and Romania was on the scale predicted by Migration Watch.'"

Watch this space.

5) BARACK OBAMA VS THE NRA

Second-term Obama seems to have found his cojones - from my HuffPost colleagues in the US:

"In a bold and potentially historic attempt to stem the increase in mass gun violence, President Barack Obama unveiled on Wednesday the most sweeping effort at gun control policy reform in a generation.

"'This is our first task as a society: keeping our children safe. This is how we will be judged,' Obama said. 'We can’t put this off any longer.'

"... [T]he president recommended requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales; reinstating the assault weapons ban; restoring a 10-round limit on ammunition magazines; eliminating armor-piercing bullets; providing mental health services in schools; allocating funds to hire more police officers; and instituting a federal gun trafficking statute, among other policies. The cost of the package, senior officials estimated, would be roughly $500 million, some of which could come from already budgeted funds."

The NRA isn't happy. Prior to the president's announcement, America's largest gun lobby released a TV ad in which

"... a narrator argued that the Secret Service protection provided to Obama's two daughters, Sasha and Malia, is evidence that the president is an 'elitist hypocrite,' who wants armed guards for his own daughters, but not for other people's children. The ad was widely panned as soon as it was released, and White House spokesman Jay Carney called it 'repugnant and cowardly.'"

"Has the NRA lost it entirely?" asks Salon's Joan Walsh.

Er, yes.

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of two dogs Skypeing each other.

6) AFGHAN REDUX?

From the Times splash:

"British special forces were on standby last night to mount a rescue mission after al-Qaeda militants in Algeria took scores of foreign workers hostage, including up to five Britons.

"One British citizen was killed in the bloody siege at a BP gas plant in the East of the country — the worst terrorist crisis of David Cameron's premiership and one of the largest foreign kidnappings of recent times. The militants, from neighbouring Mali, claimed that they were responding to a decision by France, supported by Britain, to attack al-Qaeda Islamists in their country."

The paper adds:

"In a move that could increase tensions further, MPs approved plans yesterday to send a small number of British military personnel to help to train Mali's demoralised army as it battles to reclaim the sprawling north of the country from jihadists.

"Britain has contributed two transport aircraft to help the French mission, but was expected to send a small number of soldiers to Bamako, the Malian capital, as early as next month under proposals drawn up by the European Union."

But the Daily Mail's leader argues that "it would surely be disastrous for Britain to commit more of our overstretched men and equipment to a cause not obviously our own". It says:

"Indeed, in the rapidly escalating conflict in Mali, where France will triple its troop deployment 'within days', aren't there chilling echoes of Afghanistan? There, too - where the bloodshed continues after more than a decade - Britain took arms against a tribal enemy as a gesture of solidarity with an ally.

"In Mali, as in Afghanistan, the insurgents are proving a more formidable foe than expected, armed as they are with heavy machine guns, Kalashnikovs and rocketpropelled grenades.

"... As France calls for more international support, is it too much to hope that David Cameron will remember the British lives lost and the sobering lessons of our oh-so-recent history - and just say No?"

7) LABOUR'S IRON MAN?

The cover story of the Guardian's G2 supplement has a rather startling headline this morning: "Could Ed be Labour's Thatcher?"

Author Andy Beckett, a long-time Miliband-watcher, draws a fascinating comparison between the Labour leader and the Tories' most famous, successful and right-wing leader. He writes:

"Members of Miliband's unusually small inner circle are also open about their preoccupation with – and even sometimes admiration for – what Thatcher subsequently achieved in her 15 years as opposition leader and prime minister."

The whole thing is worth a read - and not just because Beckett plugs my biog of the Labour leader in the opening paragraph.

8) AUSTERITY WATCH, PART 129

From the Times:

"More than 100,000 disabled people will lose basic home support under government reforms of social care, leading disability groups are warning.

"Five charities including Scope, Mencap and Leonard Cheshire argue that the care system is already underfunded by at least £1.2 billion and “is on the verge of breakdown”.

"... In a report published today the charities say that 40 per cent of disabled people are already failing to get the basic care they need, such as help with washing, dressing, cooking and eating."

9) FORMER ISRAELI PM ACCUSES CURRENT ISRAELI PM

From the Daily Beast:

"Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says the government of Benjamin Netanyahu spent almost $3 billion in the past two years preparing for a war against Iran's nuclear program that it probably never intended to wage.

In an interview with The Daily Beast, Olmert said the sum was above and beyond the billions allocated to the defense budget and helped raise Israel’s fiscal deficit to heights it hadn’t reached in years. As a result, he said, Netanyahu would be forced to make broad spending cuts, if reelected next week..."

Now that's what I call a deficit debate...

10) 'MY MATHS ISN'T GOOD ENOUGH'

From the HuffPost UK:

"Wonga's head of regulatory and public affairs has told a committee of MPs that he could not work out the interest on a loan from his own company because 'my maths isn't good enough.'

"Henry Raine, head of regulatory and public affairs at the payday loans company, defended his business to the House of Commons Public Accounts committee, where he was grilled by chair and Labour MP Margaret Hodge on the effectiveness of consumer credit regulation."

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the latest Ipsos-MORI poll:

Labour 43
Conservatives 30
Ukip 9
Lib Dems 8

That would give Labour a majority of 124.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@DanHannanMEP The lobby is covering the PM's coming speech in terms of party management. They're missing the epochal significance of an In/Out referendum.

@edballsmp When David Cameron gets so desperate he has to claim Labour wants Britain to join the single currency, you know he's really losing it..

@TheOnion On Tonight's ONNCast: NRA Fights Legislation That Would Ban Gun Sales To Those Currently On Killing Sprees

900 WORDS OR MORE

James Forsyth, writing in this week's Spectator, says: "Cameron’s European moment has come – a year late."

Peter Oborne, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Tony Blair’s record in the Middle East is a sorry one – it’s time he quit."

Slavoj Zizek, writing in the Guardian, says: "The west's crisis is one of democracy as much as finance."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan ([email protected]