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‘Americans denied right to free speech’

The US has eroded freedom of speech, moral values and human rights for the American people over the past decades, a political activist tells Press TV.

“[US President] Barack Obama came into office as a constitutional professor and we have seen him do more damage to our constitution than even George Bush did,” said Tighe Barry, an activist with the CODEPINK group.

The advocate further criticized Washington for manipulating the American public by denying them the information needed to make decisions in the political atmosphere.

“It is unfortunate because the people do need to have this information if they are going to make good decisions on what they want out of their foreign policy from their leaders,” said Barry.

Americans have known that their rights are being stolen but they do not want to know the extent of the loss of their freedoms, the activist added.

“They see it on their television sets. They see it in the way their leaders are composing themselves. They see it in the fact that every day you see different headlines of companies that have given up information to the government - your cell phones are now being tapped, we are being watched around the globe, our passports have special chips in them,” said Barry.


He went on to condemn the United States for failing to follow the principles of ‘freedom of speech’ in its foreign policy regarding censorship of Iranian media.

The United States imposed fresh sanctions last month on Iran that include bans on the country’s media despite Washington’s claims of protecting freedom of speech.

“As a matter of fact, we are seeing that the United States and its European and NATO allies seem to be putting pressure around the world to pigeonhole countries such as Iran, Russia and other ones that are not in the sphere of influence of the United States and the European NATO countries,” Barry concluded.

GMA/HGH/SL

If This Is The Deal, Philadelphia Schoolteachers Should Strike

Apparently the old saying is wrong: You can get blood from a stone, after all. In a world where "the American Dream" has become a year in which your salary stays the same, the so-called City of Brotherly Love is on the brink of setting a new standard in squeezing middle-class workers to death. It's not like we haven't seen this story before: Working men and women asked to take a sizable pay cut...and work longer hours...and pay more for shrinking benefits. Usually such reports alternate with the news that the CEO of that same outfit is leaving with a golden parachute worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe millions.

But just when you think it can't get any worse, here come the contract demands that the Philadelphia School District would like to cram down the throat of the city's unionized school teachers. The news -- first reported by Kristen Graham of the Inquirer -- is a jaw-dropper:

  • Large pay cuts imposed in teachers up to 13 percent for those making (a whopping) $55,000 a year or more. then frozen until 2017.
  • A sizable jump in out of pocket costs for health coverage.
  • In return for this honor, teachers would have to increase their work day from just over 7 hours now to eight hours, and "would also have to lead professional development, attend meetings, perform bus, yard and lunch duty and be available for parent meetings outside work hours with no extra pay."
  • There's a lot more, but one of my favorites is that the district would no longer have to provide, among other things, "water fountains, parking facilities, [or] desks for teachers..." (although presumably some teachers would retain these? Who knows?)
  • It should be noted that many of these cuts are not so much harmful to the teachers as to the kids -- lifting limits on class sizes and not requiring librarians or guidance counselors in every school, for example.

This is outrageous for so many reasons that it's hard to know where to begin. It is worth noting a couple of caveats. Obviously, this is an opening negotiation gambit and not the final offer; it's hard to imagine that even if the district sought to impose terms on the union (which would surely cause a strike -- more on that in a minute) that they could possibly be this draconian. I've heard that some of this may be a spring offensive to get hundreds of teachers to take early retirement -- and I'm sure it will work. Those things said, one also senses that the school district -- egged on by its high-priced Boston consultants -- "means business" this time.

I think there's three levels to look at this. Human nature tends to look at the micro, and people are going to be tempted to point out all the management waste and excess that preceded this -- late superintendent Arlene Ackerman's $900,000 severance check and her cadre of overpriced spin doctors and how Ackerman's replacement William Hite came in and gave pay raises -- to 25 non-union employees. (Just the first three that popped into my head, frankly.) But this goes so much deeper.

On what you might call the middle-macro level, this would appear to be the final offensive by a grand alliance ofhedge-funders, libertarians and assorted right-wingers, the purely profit-minded and misguided philanthropiesand their well-heeled consultants to destroy public education in Philadelphia, once a font of opportunity for children from every social class. Again, just to pick off the low-hanging fruit, it's unconscionable to seek to destroy the lives of hard-working teachers when we have a local charter school operator building a $28.9 million mansion in Palm Beach and when Pennsylvania continues to throw away millions of dollars on shady cyber-schools.

But look, the real outrage here is on the macro-macro level. Do we really live in a nation where millions obsess over the "freedom and liberty" of CEOs to make 380 times as much as his average worker or not to provide those employees with health insurance, but no one gets worked up when the people teaching our children are nickled and dimed out of their jobs? Where it's an act of political derring-do to suggest that just maybe workers should get a minimum wage of $9 an hour? Where there's not any problem that can't be solved by asking rank-and-file workers to take a few dollars less, while working a few hours more -- and jacking up their kid's college tuition while they're at it?

The time to stop this downward spiral of bullshit is right now -- and what better place to start than Philadelphia, the city where America began. Hopefully, this contract proposal from the Philadelphia School District will die from its own ridiculouslessness, albeit after they've scared some good and dedicated veteran teachers out of the classroom. But if this really is the deal, Philadelphia teachers need to walk off the job. That's right -- strike. And anyone who cares about the ability of the middle class to raise a family -- particularly a well-educated family -- needs to stand behind them. Be inspired by what happened in Chicago, where most of the community stood behind its teachers.

Strike? I know what some of you are saying: What about the kids? Spare me. Aside from the basic -- and fairly obvious -- fact that the long-term education of Philadelphia's children would die the death of 1,000 cuts here, there's something bigger at play. What I would like Philadelphia's...no, America's....kids to witness first-hand, more than anything else, is that they can grow up to be adults who will fight for their rights, for their families -- and for their human dignity.

And win.

Will Bunch is a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and senior political writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He blogs at Attytood.com.

US pledges $60mn in non-lethal direct aid to Syrian opposition

Published time: February 28, 2013 17:58

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives for a press conference at the end of a meeting of the 'Friends of the Syrian People (FOSP) Ministerial' group on February 28, 2013 in Rome. (AFP Photo / Alberto Pizzoli)

The US will provide the Syrian opposition with $60 million in aid, Secretary of State John Kerry announced on Thursday. The non-lethal assistance will include the delivery of food and medical supplies directly to the rebels for the first time.

"No nation, no people should live in fear of their so-called leaders," Kerry said in a speech after attending a ‘Friends of Syria’ meeting in Rome.

The move aims to increase pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down, and pave the way for a democratic transition, Kerry said, adding that the aid is intended to help the opposition govern newly liberated areas of Syria.

"For more than a year, the United States and our partners have called on Assad to heed the voice of the Syrian people and to halt his war machine," Kerry said. "Instead, what we have seen is his brutality increase."

But despite the ‘brutality’ comment, Kerry said that Washington will not provide weapons to opposition fighters. The news may be seen as a disappointing blow to anti-Assad forces, who have called for Western arms.

The decision to provide aid directly to the Syrian rebels represents a policy change within the Obama administration. Until now, the US has never directly delivered assistance to opposition fighters. "Given the stakes, the president will now extend food and medical supplies to the Syrian opposition, including the Supreme Military Council," Kerry said.

US officials said the rations and medical supplies are to be distributed only to members of the Free Syrian Army; the aid will be delivered to the rebels through their military council.

Washington will also send technical advisers to the Syrian National Coalition offices in Cairo to oversee the aid distribution. The advisers will be from non-governmental organizations and other non-profit groups.

The US has already provided $385 million in humanitarian aid to Syrian civilians and $54 million in communications equipment, medical supplies, and other non-lethal assistance to the political opposition.

Syrian opposition leader Moaz Khatib also took to the podium after the meeting, pleading directly to Assad to step down.

"Bashar Assad, you have to behave as a human being for once in your life,” Khatib said. “Enough killing, enough slaughtering, enough arresting. Bashar, you need to make one reasonable [act] in your life time to save this country."

"The regime has to go. We need to dismantle all the security apparatus,"
Khatib said, adding that the Syrian government should be forced to establish humanitarian corridors to allow aid to reach the areas hardest hit by violence.

In a final statement after the Rome meeting, the Friends of Syria deplored the “unabated” arms supply to Assad, likely referring to Russia and Iran, countries viewed as Assad’s traditional allies.

The Thursday Friends of Syria meeting almost failed to materialize: Earlier this week, the Syrian opposition voiced frustration over the “shameful” failure of the international community to put an end to the country’s civil war by refusing to attend the talks.

The leaders finally agreed to attend, after Kerry and his British counterpart William Hague insisted the talks would discuss concrete steps forward.

Meanwhile, the European Union has amended sanctions on Syria to permit the supply of armored vehicles, non-lethal military equipment, and technical aid to the opposition, provided they are intended to protect civilians.

The new sanctions exempt "non-lethal military equipment or...equipment which might be used for internal repression," and "non-combat vehicles...fitting with materials to provide ballistic protection."

The decision comes after weeks of negotiations between EU states regarding the arms embargo on Syria. Some member nations were in favor of easing the embargo to help rebels, while others worried that allowing more arms into Syria could fuel the violence.

According to UN estimates, more than 70,000 Syrians have been killed in the nearly two-year-long uprising against President Assad. Some 860,000 Syrians have fled abroad, and several million others have been displaced within the country.

War No More? Malaysia Spearheads Efforts to Criminalize War

They say that big ideas start from humble beginnings. In the pantheon of ideas, perhaps there is none bigger than the quest to criminalize war. The concept itself is difficult for many to process at first. It does not mean to uphold some mere code of war conduct, making certain atrocities committed during times of war punishable as “war crimes,” as in the Geneva Convention. Instead, the concept of criminalizing war seeks to make warfare itself a crime, punishable as an offense no matter when or how it is waged or under what pretext.

For many in the anti-war movement in the Western world, completely demoralized by the utter abandonment of the movement by many on the pro-war left who are unwilling or unable to criticize Obama’s avid pro-war policies, the idea of criminalizing war will seem a pipe dream, no more realistic than the idea of stopping all violence in the world or making everyone a millionaire. This is precisely the problem. The long-time activists and campaigners have become so disillusioned that they no longer even try to implement the changes they would really like to see take place in the world. The weight of their experiences has taught them to be grateful for small advances here and there, and to expect that big changes can never happen.

In stark contrast to the jaded views of older generations stands the idealism of youth, an idealism that the older generation, predictably enough, tends to dissuade by urging those youth to “grow up” and “face reality.” However, late last year the first seeds of a new anti-war movement were planted in Malaysia, a movement that seeks to shape the world in the image of that ideal society not by dissuading youthful idealism, but by fostering it.

The concept was unveiled at the International Conference on War-Affected Children which took place at the Putra World Trade Centre on November 22nd last year. Attended by dignitaries including former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and current PM Najib Razak, the event sought to draw attention to the plight of children in war-torn countries around the world.

The event also saw the launch of a new initiative by the Kuala Lumpur Foundation to Criminalize War. Called “Criminalise War Clubs,” the aim is to encourage the development of independent, student-run organizations around the idea of criminalizing war. The organization’s charter was formally signed by the Prime Minister and other dignitaries, and the first two chapters of what is planned to be a global phenomenon were started with a reading of the charter.

The charter calls for wars of aggression to be criminalized, for states and governments to protect children in armed conflicts, and for banning the participation of children in wars.

In an exclusive interview with Global Research TV, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad talked about the clubs, and what they hope to achieve.

The clubs are just one program spearheaded by the Kuala Lumpur Foundation to Criminalise War, the non-governmental organization founded by Mahathir Mohamad in 2007. Its other initiatives include the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission, comprised of scholars, lawyers and high-ranking officials from around the world, and the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal, which successfully prosecuted George Bush, Dick Cheney, and others last year for their participation in war crimes in the war on terror.

Last November I talked to G.S. Kumar, the Editor of Criminalise War, about Mahathir Mohamad’s vision, and the promise that initiatives like the Criminalise War Clubs offer.

There is, of course, no guarantee that initiatives like these will pay off in the future. Whether or not human civilization will ever be able to envision a way to resolve their differences without recourse to war is a question that has yet to be definitively answered. But if we do not continue to pose that question, then surely no answer will be possible. And given the stakes of the conflicts raging across the globe today, and the possibility of nuclear war, or war waged with even more advanced technologies, the need to answer this question has never been greater.

To be sure, there is a vast chasm between the world we currently live in and one in which war itself is outlawed. No one is pretending otherwise. But it is clear at this point that if that ideal is ever to be realized, it will not be presided over by the current generation of disillusioned cynics in the burnt-out wreckage of today’s demoralized anti-war movement, but by a generation yet untouched by that disillusionment.

If it is indeed true that big ideas have humble beginnings, then it would be harder to think of a bigger idea, or a more humble origin.

Stephen Colbert on the Charade at Guantanamo

The "trial" of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is Kafka-esque, to say the least.

February 28, 2013  |  

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On last night's Report, Stephen Colbert took on the trial of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has been held at Guantanamo Bay for nearly six and a half years.

But as Colbert explains, Mohammed's trial isn't really much of a trial. The alleged terrorist faces a "one-of-a-kind military tribunal designed by President Bush, implemented by President Obama and inspired by President Kafka." The tribunals make a mockery of transparency, forcing reporters to watch behind a soundproof glass and listen to proceedings with a 40-second delay. If at any point the military judge feels insecure information is disclosed, he can hit a "mute button" that sets off sirens and a red light on his chair. Colbert notes that the alert "also means men's dress pants and slacks are 20 percent off."

"I know that these military tribunals are unconventional," Colbert said. "In that they may not be covered under the Geneva Conventions."

When the siren went off in January, defense lawyers feared people were listening to conversations between them and clients at the defense table. After discovering hidden mics in defense meeting rooms, who could blame them?

"Hey, they said justice is blind," Colbert mused, "They never said she was deaf."
 

Watch:

Infantile Conservatism: America’s “Greatest National Security Threat is Iran.” Do Conservatives really Believe this?

iranflag

Regularly now, The Washington Post, as always concerned with fairness and balance, runs a blog called “Right Turn: Jennifer Rubin’s Take From a Conservative Perspective.”

The blog tells us what the Post regards as conservatism.

On Monday, Rubin declared that America’s “greatest national security threat is Iran.” Do conservatives really believe this?

How is America, with thousands of strategic and tactical nuclear weapons, scores of warships in the Med, Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean, bombers and nuclear subs and land-based missiles able to strike and incinerate Iran within half an hour, threatened by Iran?

Iran has no missile that can reach us, no air force or navy that would survive the first days of war, no nuclear weapons, no bomb-grade uranium from which to build one. All of her nuclear facilities are under constant United Nations surveillance and inspection.

And if this Iran is the “greatest national security threat” faced by the world’s last superpower, why do Iran’s nearest neighbors — Turkey, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Pakistan — seem so unafraid of her?

Citing The Associated Press and Times of Israel, Rubin warns us that “Iran has picked 16 new locations for nuclear plants.”

How many nuclear plants does Iran have now? One, Bushehr.

Begun by the Germans under the shah, Bushehr was taken over by the Russians in 1995, but not completed for 16 years, until 2011. In their dreams, the Iranians, their economy sinking under U.S. and U.N. sanctions, are going to throw up 16 nuclear plants.

Twice Rubin describes our situation today as “scary.”

Remarkable. Our uncles and fathers turned the Empire of the Sun and Third Reich into cinders in four years, and this generation is all wee-weed up over Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“For all intents and purposes, (Bibi) Netanyahu is now the West’s protector,” says Rubin. How so? Because Obama and Chuck Hagel seem to lack the testosterone “to execute a military strike on Iran.”

Yet, according to the Christian Science Monitor, Bibi first warned in 1992 that Iran was on course to get the bomb — in three to five years! And still no bomb.

And Bibi has since been prime minister twice. Why has our Lord Protector not manned up and dealt with Iran himself?

Answer: He wants us to do it — and us to take the consequences.

“With regard to Afghanistan, the president is pulling up stakes prematurely,” says Rubin.

As we are now in the 12th year of war in Afghanistan, and about to leave thousands of troops behind when we depart in 2014, what is she talking about?

“In Iraq, the absence of U.S. forces on the ground has ushered in a new round of sectarian violence and opened the door for Iran’s growing violence.”

Where to begin. Shia Iran has influence in Iraq because we invaded Iraq, dethroned Sunni Saddam, disbanded his Sunni-led army that had defeated Iran in an eight-year war and presided over the rise to power of the Iraqi Shia majority that now tilts to Iran.

Today’s Iraq is a direct consequence of our war, our invasion, our occupation. That’s our crowd in Baghdad, cozying up to Iran.

And the cost of that war to strip Iraq of weapons it did not have? Four thousand five hundred American dead, 35,000 wounded, $1 trillion and 100,000 Iraqi dead. Half a million widows and orphans. A centuries-old Christian community ravaged. And, yes, an Iraq tilting to Iran and descending into sectarian, civil and ethnic war. A disaster of epochal proportions.

But that disaster was not the doing of Barack Obama, but of people of the same semi-hysterical mindset as Ms. Rubin.

She writes that for the rest of Obama’s term, we “are going to have to rely on France, Israel, our superb (albeit underfunded) military and plain old luck to prevent national security catastrophes.”

Is she serious?

Is French Prime Minister Francois Hollande really one of the four pillars of U.S national security now? Is Israel our security blanket, or is it maybe the other way around? And if America spends as much on defense as all other nations combined, and is sheltered behind the world’s largest oceans, why should we Americans be as frightened as Rubin appears to be?

Undeniably we face challenges. A debt-deficit crisis that could sink our economy. Al-Qaida in the Maghreb, Africa, Arabia, Iraq and Syria. North Korea’s nukes. A clash between China and Japan that drags us in. An unstable Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

But does Iran, a Shia island in a Sunni sea, a Persian-dominated land where half the population is non-Persian, a country whose major exports, once we get past fossil fuels, are pistachio nuts, carpets and caviar, really pose the greatest national security threat to the world’s greatest nation?

We outlasted the evil empire of Lenin and Stalin that held captive a billion people for 45 years of Cold War, and we are frightened by a rickety theocracy ruled by an old ayatollah?

Rubin’s blog may be the Post’s idea of conservatism. Ronald Reagan wouldn’t recognize it.

Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of “Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?” To find out more about Patrick Buchanan and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com .

This article was originally posted at Creators Syndicate

Ouput vs. Employment: America’s Disappearing Jobs

jobs

After his State of the Union, President Obama took a jobs tour to call for growth in the manufacturing base where only 6% of US jobs exist.  This was a charade.  It would be like a president touring horse, buggy and blacksmiths in search of jobs when Henry Ford was mass producing cars. 

Real manufacturing output today is near an all-time high. What’s dropped precipitously in recent decades is manufacturing employment.

The technology of automation and robotics is ending manufacturing jobs. The president was on a quest for jobs where none exist, will not exist and should not exist. The US with 4% of the world’s population is responsible for 20% of manufacturing output. More manufacturing is not coming to the United States. – See more at: http://www.globalresearch.ca/ouput-vs-employment-americas-disappearing-jobs/5324614#sthash.WuAZAUmP.dpuf

See also: http://www.bea.gov/iTable/index_industry.cfm and http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/MANEMP

Too Big to Make Money?

Both the president and Mitt Romney embraced the tar sands and pipelines as job sources, but they bring a false promise with devastating consequences for the environment and economy.  It will take only 20 people to run the notorious Keystone XL pipeline once it is completed and estimates vary widely as to how many temporary jobs it will create from 2,500 to 20,000. That is not many jobs. The project is bad for the economy; it will increase the likelihood of climate change, continues to rely on the old carbon market that is cutting jobs and misses an opportunity to build a new sustainable energy economy that will create jobs.

Other policies inadvertently create lousy jobs and underemployment.  The Affordable Care Act is having that effect as employers seek to evade the health insurance requirements by reducing workers hours primarily in retail, food and university sectors. If the US had adopted a single payer Medicare for all system, a 2009 study found it would have created a net 2.2 million jobs.

As we have noted previously, austerity will destroy jobs and send the economy into recession. The most recent study on the sequester shows up to 2.14 million jobs at risk. And, with two-thirds of the Progressive Caucus refusing to sign a letter to protect Social Security and Medicare from cuts, a “Grand Bargain” solution to the sequester could make things even worse. This all comes on top of a rapid decline in government spending that is preventing economic recovery.

The lack of concern for US workers can be found in a report this week that 40% of Americans now earn less than the 1968 minimum wage. If the minimum wage had kept up with productivity, it would be $16.50 not $7.25. In fact, half the population of the US has slipped into poverty or is barely making enough to get by.

While Americans sink into poverty and underemployment with shrinking incomes, the government continues to reward big business interests.  Bloomberg editors last week criticized the fact that taxpayers provide banks with subsidies amounting to $83 billion each year.

David Cay Johnston, a top tax and finance policy expert, reports that tax havens for the wealthy cost states $38 billion annually.  Another tax haven sham involving billions of dollars highlighted last week is reinsurance in Bermuda. Send your money to the reinsurnance company and it sends almost all of it back, cleansing the money of tax consequences.

So, what should the US be doing about disappearing jobs?

John Walsh suggests that Americans should be mobilizing for a shorter work week with no cut in pay. He urges “32 hours work for 40 hours pay. For a work force of 139 million as in 2010, that translates into 34.8 million additional jobs, i.e., 25% more jobs.”

Not only should there be no reduction in income, but the minimum wage should be raised.  This would boost the economy and create jobs.

Clean energy advocates urge building a sustainable clean energy economy noting that the solar industry creates jobs six times faster than the overall job market and a clean energy economy could create millions of jobs without the environmental risks of tar sands, fracking or nuclear energy.

As we point out above, a single payer Medicare for all health system would create 2.6 million jobs, netting 2.2 million after the insurance industry lost jobs.

And, getting money back into the system by closing corporate tax loopholes, like some of the tax havens described here as well as putting a small tax on Wall Street’s speculative transactions, would raise  $1 trillion per year as is being done in Europe. This money could be used to fund much needed programs such as building a new energy infrastructure, hiring teachers and other state and local workers while at the same time reducing the wealth divide.

This review of the week’s news contains just a few suggestions consistent with the agenda of It’s Our Economy. Think of the side effects: more leisure time, less poverty, a cleaner environment, health care for all, a shrinking wealth divide and less speculation on Wall Street.  As we have noted before creating jobs has many positive side effects, yet neither party has put forward a serious jobs program or mentions a full employment economy.

That’s why it is up to us to democratize the economy and push for real solutions to our crises. The first step is awareness of the possibilities. Please forward this email to others who might be interested. And visit the website for information about the upcoming Participatory Budgeting and Public Banking Conferences. Mark your calendars for the Democracy Convention Aug. 7 to 11 in Madison, WI.

This article is based on the weekly free newsletter of It’s Our Economy. You can sign up to receive the newsletter here.

Kevin Zeese JD and Margaret Flowers MD co-host Clearing the FOG on We Act Radio 1480 AM Washington, DC and on Economic Democracy Media, co-direct It’s Our Economy and are organizers of the Occupation of Washington, DC. Their twitters are @KBZeese and @MFlowers8.

P5+1 eases nuclear demands on Iran, offers sanctions relief

Published time: February 28, 2013 07:15

Top officials from the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China, Russia and Iran take part in talks on Iran's nuclear programme in the Kazakh city of Almaty on February 27, 2013 (AFP Photo / Pool / Shamil Zhumatov)

Negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 nations ended with offers of eased demands on the Islamic Republic. While it's a good start, experts say, the crippling US sanctions on the country are unlikely to be changed as they are written into American law.

A new proposal finalized during the Wednesday meeting in Almaty, Kazakhstan would require Iran to suspend - but not completely close down - operations at its underground uranium enrichment facility in Fordo. It would also create a set amount of 20-per-cent-enriched uranium for Iran to stockpile.

The offer marks a new turn in the long term of negotiations between world powers and Iran, which previously had made stark demands on the Islamic Republic. The P5+1 - the United States, Russia, France, Britain, China and Germany - are now only asking for scaled down operations in Iran's nuclear program, which some governments allege is aimed at developing a nuclear bomb.

Iran would also now be able to keep enough enriched uranium to produce medical isotopes at a research facility in Tehran.

The group asked Iran to allow International Atomic Energy Agency monitors to visit its facilities more often in exchange for the suspension of selected current sanctions and a moratorium on new ones.

However, Hillary Mann Leverett, CEO of Strategic Energy and Global Analysis, a Washington-based political risk consultancy, told RT this part may be only an empty gesture.

"Everyone knows the United States has very little that it can give on sanctions," she said. "President Obama essentially ceded his foreign policy on this issue to the US Congress; almost all of those sanctions are written into US law. They are not something President Obama can give away."

In any case, the European Union's embargo on Iranian oil was not brought up for negotiation at the meeting, though the P5+1 would reportedly consider easing restrictions on Iran's gold and petrochemicals trades, as well as those on its banks.

But, after all, it may not matter in the long run, Mann Leverett told RT. "There's not much the US can give on sanctions, and in the meantime Iran is becoming more and more self-sufficient in a range of issues so that it's not vulnerable to such sanctions."

Said Jalili, Iran's chief negotiator at the meetings, called the talks "positive" in comments to the press in Almaty. He added that some of the offers coming from Western governments looked “more realistic than those presented in the past and made an effort to approach the positions of Iran.”

Mann Leverett explained what Jalili might have been getting at: "The critical issue for the Iranians, and I think this is where they perceived a slight - and I stress slight - movement on the US side, is in the recognition of their rights: their sovereign and their treaty-based rights to enrich uranium."

Jalili stressed that Tehran saw "no justification" for shutting down the Fordo facility.

Next, Iranian and EU officials are set to meet in Istanbul on March 18 for negotations that will include experts on nuclear technology.

New Treasury Secretary Confirmed, Palin Claims Feds ‘Stockpiling Bullets,’ and More

New Treasury Secretary Confirmed, Palin Claims Feds ‘Stockpiling Bullets,’ and More

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Posted on Feb 27, 2013

Smart Money: A day after Chuck Hagel was confirmed as the secretary of defense, the Senate confirmed Jack Lew as the new Treasury secretary. The vote was 71-26. Lew, who most recently served as the White House chief of staff, was the budget director for Presidents Obama and Clinton. “His reputation as a master of fiscal issues who can work with leaders on both sides of the aisle has already helped him succeed in some of the toughest jobs in Washington,” Obama said in a statement. (Read more)

Coming to a Standstill: President Obama is set to meet with congressional leaders—including House Speaker John Boehner— about the sequester Friday, the same day the $85 billion in automatic budget cuts are set to kick in. The Associated Press reports, however, that it’s unlikely the two sides will reach a breakthrough and hammer out a deal to avoid the sequester. But on top of the cuts, Congress now has something else to worry about—avoiding a possible government shutdown at the end of March. “Republicans are planning for a vote next week on a bill to fund the day-to-day operations of the government through the Sept. 30 end of the 2013 fiscal year—while keeping in place the new $85 billion in cuts of 5 percent to domestic agencies and 8 percent to the military,” the AP writes. (Read more)

Hope for Dope: A new Field Poll shows that a majority of Californians want the state to follow Washington’s and Colorado’s lead and legalize recreational pot. According to the survey, 54 percent of voters in the Golden State favor marijuana being legalized, regulated and taxed, compared with 43 percent of those who don’t. The poll comes just two years after a proposition that would have legalized cannabis in the state failed to garner a majority of voter support. (Read more)

Firing Away: Sarah Palin, who is aways right according to frequently wrong conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, claims the federal government is accumulating bullets to prepare for possible civil unrest if the country defaults on its debt. “If we are going to wet our proverbial pants over 0.3% in annual spending cuts when we’re running up trillion dollar annual deficits, then we’re done. Put a fork in us. We’re finished. We’re going to default eventually and that’s why the feds are stockpiling bullets in case of civil unrest,” the former Alaska governor said on a Facebook post. She added: “The real economic Armageddon looming before us is our runaway debt, not the sequester, which the President advocated for and signed into law and is now running around denouncing because he never had any genuine intention of reining in his reckless spending.” (Read more)

Video of the Day: In this edition of “comparisons that don’t make sense,” Illinois state Rep. Jim Sacia, a Republican, says gun control is just like castration. “Here’s an analogy folks. I ask you to think of this: You folks in Chicago want me to get castrated because your families are having too many kids. It spells out exactly what is happening here! You want us to get rid of guns,” he said.

—Posted by Tracy Bloom.

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On the News With Thom Hartmann: Chicago Voters Said “No” to the NRA in...

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In today's On the News segment: Chicago voters said "no" to the NRA in a special primary election yesterday; as Obama dedicated a new statue honoring civil rights icon Rosa Parks in Washington, the fight for civil rights continues; Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions was blatantly dishonest about the cost of Obama's health care plan; and more.


TRANSCRIPT:

Thom Hartmann here – on the news...

You need to know this. Today in our nation's capital, President Obama dedicated a new statue honoring civil rights icon Rosa Parks, who along with other leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., led the fight to ensure African Americans in our nation were ensured the right to vote. Meanwhile, across the street protesters gathered in front of the US Supreme Court an attorney for Shelby County, Alabama tried to make the case that racial bias is a thing of the past. Section 5 of The Voting Rights Act requires Alabama, and other discriminatory states and counties, to get Justice Department approval before making any changes to their voting laws. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been upheld numerous times, and even expanded under Republican presidents like Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford. This challenge to the Voting Rights Act is just one of many Republican attempts to undermine our democratic process. And, after the discriminatory ID laws and long lines we saw at the polls in the most recent election, it's clear that we need more protection of our voting rights – not less. We shouldn't remove this requirement in states covered under the law, we should expand it to every state in our nation. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said a half century ago, "we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." We can help make his dream a reality, by eliminating the Republican's power to manipulate our elections. And that means expanding the Voting Rights Act to all 50 states, and putting into law a national right to vote. Let's take control of our democratic process, and remind our leaders that they work for us.

In screwed news... Your elected officials are lying to you. In a Budget Committee Hearing yesterday, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions was blatantly dishonest about the cost of Obamacare. The Affordable Care Act is projected to reduce the deficit by billions over 10 years, but Sen. Sessions says a new GAO report shows the healthcare law will actually increase long-term debt by $6.2 trillion. That's the claim he made yesterday, saying, "The results of this report confirm everything critics and Republicans have been saying about the health care bill." How'd his so-called cost report determine this huge cost increase, when all other government assessments show otherwise? Well, he just told the GAO to take all cost containment provisions out of the calculations. So Jeff Session's special report removes the Independent Payment Advisory Board, the excise tax on high-cost plans, and reductions in Medicare payments to providers, to compile what he calls a "realistic set of assumptions." Right. The only thing real about Senator Jeff Session's new report is that it's really, really dishonest.

In the best of the rest of the news...

Chicago voters said "no" to the NRA, and "yes" to Robin Kelly. In a special primary election yesterday, Robin Kelly clinched her party's nomination for Representative Jesse Jackson Jr's House seat. It was the first Congressional race since the Newtown massacre, and it was the first time voters rejected the NRA. Ms. Kelly ran against Debbie Halvorson, a former House member, who has an "A" rating from the NRA, and has previously opposed an assault weapons ban. Thanks to a $2 million ad campaign from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's super PAC, Ms. Halvorson had to defend her pro-gun positions in one of our nation's most crime-ridden cities. This is a major victory for gun control advocates, and a warning to future candidates that refuse to stand up to the NRA. Given Illinois Second Congressional District's political make up, it's likely Robin Kelly will win the general election on April 9. Soon, we'll have one more Congressperson who's willing to stand up to the gun lobby, and fight for commonsense gun control in our nation.

On Tuesday, the Senate finally voted to confirm Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense. After a nearly two week delay, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid chastised Republicans for their political games, saying, "Politically motivated delays send a terrible signal to allies around the world, that they send a terrible signal to tens of thousands of Americans serving in Afghanistan...For the sake of national security, it's time to set aside this partisanship." And after Republicans made history by filibustering a cabinet appointee, eighteen GOP Senators stood with Democrats to allow an up-or-down vote. The final tally was 58 to 41. Chuck Hagel will take the reins from Leon Panetta, In the face of looming defense cuts in the sequester, he must also focus on the draw-down in Afghanistan, the civil war in Syria, and the on-going threat of global terrorists. Next up for confirmation is Obama's nominee for C.I.A. Director, John Brennan. We'll have to wait and see if the Republicans in the Senate will continue their political games, or if they'll confirm Brennan and get to work on our nation's other pressing issues.

And finally... A Florida man was shot and wounded over the weekend, but police say the shooter will walk away without charges. No, it's not another Stand Your Ground case, unless the law applies to shooters that stand on four legs. This gun-toting vigilante was the victim's dog. Gregory Dale Lanier told police that he and his dog were riding in his truck, when the dog kicked a loaded gun, causing it to go off, shooting him in the leg. With a straight face, Police Commander Steve Carr actually said they didn't arrest the dog because an investigation was still pending. You can't make this stuff up. No official NRA statement yet, but we expect Wayne LaPierre will soon tell us that the only way to stop a bad dog with a gun, is a good dog with a gun.

And that's the way it is today – Wednesday, February 27, 2013. I'm Thom Hartmann – on the news.

The Politics of Disimagination and the Pathologies of Power

The Politics of Disimagination and the Pathologies of Power

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Posted on Feb 27, 2013
DerrickT (CC BY 2.0)

By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout

This piece first appeared at Truthout.

You write in order to change the world knowing perfectly well that you probably can’t, but also knowing that [writing] is indispensable to the world. The world changes according to the way peoples see it, and if you alter even by a millimeter the way people look at reality, then you can change it.” - James Baldwin

The Violence of Neoliberalism

We live in a time of deep foreboding, one that haunts any discourse about justice, democracy and the future. Not only have the points of reference that provided a sense of certainty and collective hope in the past largely evaporated, but the only referents available are increasingly supplied by a hyper-market-driven society, megacorporations and a corrupt financial service industry. The commanding economic and cultural institutions of American society have taken on what David Theo Goldberg calls a “militarizing social logic.”[1] Market discipline now regulates all aspects of social life, and the regressive economic rationality that drives it sacrifices the public good, public values and social responsibility to a tawdry consumerist dream while simultaneously creating a throwaway society of goods, resources and individuals now considered disposable.[2] This militarizing logic is also creeping into public schools and colleges with the former increasingly resembling the culture of prison and the latter opening their classrooms to the national intelligence agencies.[3] In one glaring instance of universities endorsing the basic institutions of the punishing state, Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, concluded a deal to rename its football stadium after the GEO Group, a private prison corporation “whose record is marred by human rights abuses, by lawsuits, by unnecessary deaths of people in their custody and a whole series of incidents.” [3A] Armed guards are now joined by armed knowledge.  Corruption, commodification and repressive state apparatuses have become the central features of a predatory society in which it is presumed irrationally “that market should dominate and determine all choices and outcomes to the occlusion of any other considerations.”[4]

The political, economic, and social consequences have done more than destroy any viable vision of a good society. They undermine the modern public’s capacity to think critically, celebrate a narcissistic hyperindividualism that borders on the pathological, destroy social protections and promote a massive shift towards a punitive state that criminalizes the behavior of those bearing the hardships imposed by a survival-of-the-fittest society that takes delight in the suffering of others. How else to account for a criminal justice stacked overwhelmingly against poor minorities, a prison system in which “prisoners can be held in solitary confinement for years in small, windowless cells in which they are kept for twenty-three hours of every day,”[5] or a police state that puts handcuffs on a 5-year old and puts him in jail because he violated a dress code by wearing sneakers that were the wrong color.[6] Why does the American public put up with a society in which “the top 1 percent of households owned 35.6 percent of net wealth (net worth) and a whopping 42.4 percent of net financial assets” in 2009, while many young people today represent the “new face of a national homeless population?”[7] American society is awash in a culture of civic illiteracy, cruelty and corruption. For example, major banks such as Barclays and HSBC swindle billions from clients and increase their profit margins by laundering money for terrorist organizations, and no one goes to jail. At the same time, we have the return of debtor prisons for the poor who cannot pay something as trivial as a parking fine. President Obama arbitrarily decides that he can ignore due process and kill American citizens through drone strikes and the American public barely blinks. Civic life collapses into a war zone and yet the dominant media is upset only because it was not invited to witness the golf match between Obama and Tiger Woods.

The celebration of violence in both virtual culture and real life now feed each other. The spectacle of carnage celebrated in movies such as A Good Day to Die Hard is now matched by the deadly violence now playing out in cities such as Chicago and New Orleans. Young people are particularly vulnerable to such violence, with 561 children age 12 and under killed by firearms between 2006 and 2010.[8] Corporate power, along with its shameless lobbyists and intellectual pundits, unabashedly argue for more guns in order to feed the bottom line, even as the senseless carnage continues tragically in places like Newton, Connecticut, Tustin, California, and other American cities. In the meantime, the mainstream media treats the insane rambling of National Rifle Association’s (NRA) Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre as a legitimate point of view among many voices. This is the same guy who, after the killing of 20 young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, claimed the only way to stop more tragedies was to flood the market with more guns and provide schools with more armed guards. The American public was largely silent on the issue in spite of the fact that an increase of police in schools does nothing to prevent such massacres but does increase the number of children, particularly poor black youth, who are pulled out of class, booked and arrested for trivial behavioral infractions.

At the same time, America’s obsession with violence is reinforced by a market society that is Darwinian in its pursuit of profit and personal gain at almost any cost. Within this scenario, a social and economic order has emerged that combines the attributes and values of films such as the classics Mad Max and American Psycho. Material deprivation, galloping inequality, the weakening of public supports, the elimination of viable jobs, the mindless embrace of rabid competition and consumption, and the willful destruction of the environment speak to a society in which militarized violence finds its counterpart, if not legitimating credo, in a set of atomizing and selfish values that disdain shared social bonds and any notion of the public good. In this case, American society now mimics a market-driven culture that celebrates a narcissistic hyperindividualism that radiates with a new sociopathic lack of interest in others and a strong tendency towards violence and criminal behavior. As John le Carré once stated, “America has entered into one of its periods of historical madness.”[9] While le Carré wrote this acerbic attack on American politics in 2003, I think it is fair to say that things have gotten worse, and that the United States is further plunging into madness because of a deadening form of historical and social amnesia that has taken over the country, further reproducing a mass flight from memory and social responsibility. The politics of disimagination includes, in this instance, what Mumia Abu-Jamal labeled “mentacide,” a form of historical amnesia “inflicted on Black youth by the system’s systematic campaign to eradicate and deny them their people’s revolutionary history.”[10]

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Justices Turn Back Challenge to Broader US Eavesdropping

Members of the U.S. Supreme Court pose for their annual photo, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)Members of the U.S. Supreme Court pose for their annual photo, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)Truthout needs your support to produce grassroots journalism and disseminate conscientious visions for a brighter future. Contribute now by clicking here.

Washington - The Supreme Court on Tuesday turned back a challenge to a federal law that broadened the government’s power to eavesdrop on international phone calls and e-mails.

The decision, by a 5-to-4 vote that divided along ideological lines, probably means the Supreme Court will never rule on the constitutionality of that 2008 law.

More broadly, the ruling illustrated how hard it is to mount court challenges to a wide array of antiterrorism measures, including renditions of terrorism suspects to foreign countries and targeted killings using drones, in light of the combination of government secrecy and judicial doctrines limiting access to the courts.

“Absent a radical sea change from the courts, or more likely intervention from the Congress, the coffin is slamming shut on the ability of private citizens and civil liberties groups to challenge government counterterrorism policies, with the possible exception of Guantánamo,” said Stephen I. Vladeck, a law professor at American University.

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said that the journalists, lawyers and human rights advocates who challenged the constitutionality of the law could not show they had been harmed by it and so lacked standing to sue. The plaintiffs’ fear that they would be subject to surveillance in the future was too speculative to establish standing, he wrote.

Justice Alito also rejected arguments based on the steps the plaintiffs had taken to escape surveillance, including traveling to meet sources and clients in person rather than talking to them over the phone or sending e-mails. “They cannot manufacture standing by incurring costs in anticipation of nonimminent harms,” he wrote of the plaintiffs.

It is of no moment, Justice Alito wrote, that only the government knows for sure whether the plaintiffs’ communications have been intercepted. It is the plaintiffs’ burden, he wrote, to prove they have standing “by pointing to specific facts, not the government’s burden to disprove standing by revealing details of its surveillance priorities.”

In dissent, Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote that the harm claimed by the plaintiffs was not speculative. “Indeed,” he wrote, “it is as likely to take place as are most future events that common-sense inference and ordinary knowledge of human nature tell us will happen.”

Under the system of warrantless surveillance that was put in place by the Bush administration shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, aspects of which remain secret, the National Security Agency was authorized to monitor Americans’ international phone calls and e-mails without a warrant.

After The New York Times disclosed the program in 2005 and questions were raised about its constitutionality, Congress in 2008 amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, granting broad power to the executive branch to conduct surveillance aimed at persons overseas without an individual warrant.

The Obama administration defended the law in court, and a Justice Department spokesman said the government was “obviously pleased with the ruling.”

The decision, Clapper v. Amnesty International, No. 11-1025, arose from a challenge to the 2008 law by Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups and individuals, including journalists and lawyers who represent prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The plaintiffs said the law violated their rights under the Fourth Amendment, which bars unreasonable searches, by allowing the government to intercept their international telephone calls and e-mails.

Justice Alito said the program was subject to significant safeguards, including supervision by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which meets in secret, and restrictions on what may be done with “nonpublic information about unconsenting U.S. persons.” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas joined the majority opinion, and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined the dissent.

Jameel Jaffer, a lawyer with the A.C.L.U., said the decision “insulates the statute from meaningful judicial review and leaves Americans’ privacy rights to the mercy of the political branches.”

Justice Alito wrote that the prospect that no court may ever review the surveillance program was irrelevant to analyzing whether the plaintiffs had standing. But he added that the secret court does supervise the surveillance program.

It is also at least theoretically possible, he added, that the government will try to use information gathered from the program in an ordinary criminal prosecution and thus perhaps allow an argument “for a claim of standing on the part of the attorney” for the defendant.

Mr. Jaffer said the situations were far-fetched.

“Justice Alito’s opinion for the court seems to be based on the theory that the secret court may one day, in some as-yet unimagined case, subject the law to constitutional review, but that day may never come,” Mr. Jaffer said. In many national security cases, he added, the government has prevailed at the outset by citing lack of standing, the state secrets doctrine or officials’ immunity from suit.

“More than a decade after 9/11,” he said, “we still have no judicial ruling on the lawfulness of torture, of extraordinary rendition, of targeted killings or of the warrantless wiretapping program. These programs were all contested in the public sphere, but they have not been contested in the courts.”

James Risen and Charlie Savage contributed reporting.

Former Insiders Criticize Iran Policy as US Hegemony

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Washington - "Going to Tehran" arguably represents the most important work on the subject of U.S.-Iran relations to be published thus far.

Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett tackle not only U.S. policy toward Iran but the broader context of Middle East policy with a systematic analytical perspective informed by personal experience, as well as very extensive documentation.

More importantly, however, their exposé required a degree of courage that may be unparalleled in the writing of former U.S. national security officials about issues on which they worked. They have chosen not just to criticise U.S. policy toward Iran but to analyse that policy as a problem of U.S. hegemony.

Their national security state credentials are impeccable. They both served at different times as senior coordinators dealing with Iran on the National Security Council Staff, and Hillary Mann Leverett was one of the few U.S. officials who have been authorised to negotiate with Iranian officials.

Both wrote memoranda in 2003 urging the George W. Bush administration to take the Iranian “roadmap” proposal for bilateral negotiations seriously but found policymakers either uninterested or powerless to influence the decision. Hillary Mann Leverett even has a connection with the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), having interned with that lobby group as a youth.

After leaving the U.S. government in disagreement with U.S. policy toward Iran, the Leveretts did not follow the normal pattern of settling into the jobs where they would support the broad outlines of the U.S. role in world politics in return for comfortable incomes and continued access to power.

Instead, they have chosen to take a firm stand in opposition to U.S. policy toward Iran, criticising the policy of the Barack Obama administration as far more aggressive than is generally recognised. They went even farther, however, contesting the consensus view in Washington among policy wonks, news media and Iran human rights activists that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election in June 2009 was fraudulent.

The Leveretts’ uncompromising posture toward the policymaking system and those outside the government who support U.S. policy has made them extremely unpopular in Washington foreign policy elite circles. After talking to some of their antagonists, The New Republic even passed on the rumor that the Leveretts had become shills for oil companies and others who wanted to do business with Iran.

The problem for the establishment, however, is that they turned out to be immune to the blandishments that normally keep former officials either safely supportive or quiet on national security issues that call for heated debate.

In "Going to Tehran", the Leveretts elaborate on the contrarian analysis they have been making on their blog (formerly “The Race for Iran” and now “Going to Tehran”) They take to task those supporting U.S. systematic pressures on Iran for substituting wishful thinking that most Iranians long for secular democracy, and offer a hard analysis of the history of the Iranian revolution.

In an analysis of the roots of the legitimacy of the Islamic regime, they point to evidence that the single most important factor that swept the Khomeini movement into power in 1979 was “the Shah’s indifference to the religious sensibilities of Iranians". That point, which conflicts with just about everything that has appeared in the mass media on Iran for decades, certainly has far-reaching analytical significance.

The Leveretts’ 56-page review of the evidence regarding the legitimacy of the 2009 election emphasises polls done by U.S.-based Terror Free Tomorrow and World Public Opinon and Canadian-based Globe Scan and 10 surveys by the University of Tehran. All of the polls were consistent with one another and with official election data on both a wide margin of victory by Ahmadinejad and turnout rates.

The Leveretts also point out that the leading opposition candidate, Hossein Mir Mousavi, did not produce “a single one of his 40,676 observers to claim that the count at his or her station had been incorrect, and none came forward independently".

"Going to Tehran" has chapters analysing Iran’s “Grand Strategy” and on the role of negotiating with the United States that debunk much of which passes for expert opinion in Washington's think tank world. They view Iran’s nuclear programme as aimed at achieving the same status as Japan, Canada and other “threshold nuclear states” which have the capability to become nuclear powers but forego that option.

The Leveretts also point out that it is a status that is not forbidden by the nuclear non-proliferation treaty – much to the chagrin of the United States and its anti-Iran allies.

In a later chapter, they allude briefly to what is surely the best-kept secret about the Iranian nuclear programme and Iranian foreign policy: the Iranian leadership’s calculation that the enrichment programme is the only incentive the United States has to reach a strategic accommodation with Tehran. That one fact helps to explain most of the twists and turns in Iran’s nuclear programme and its nuclear diplomacy over the past decade.

One of the propaganda themes most popular inside the Washington beltway is that the Islamic regime in Iran cannot negotiate seriously with the United States because the survival of the regime depends on hostility toward the United States.

The Leveretts debunk that notion by detailing a series of episodes beginning with President Hashemi Rafsanjani’s effort to improve relations in 1991 and again in 1995 and Iran’s offer to cooperate against Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and, more generally after 9/11, about which Hillary Mann Leverett had personal experience.

Finally, they provide the most detailed analysis available on the 2003 Iranian proposal for a “roadmap” for negotiations with the United States, which the Bush administration gave the back of its hand.

The central message of "Going to Tehran" is that the United States has been unwilling to let go of the demand for Iran’s subordination to dominant U.S. power in the region. The Leveretts identify the decisive turning point in the U.S. “quest for dominance in the Middle East” as the collapse of the Soviet Union, which they say “liberated the United States from balance of power constraints”.

They cite the recollection of senior advisers to Secretary of State James Baker that the George H. W. Bush administration considered engagement with Iran as part of a post-Gulf War strategy but decided in the aftermath of the Soviet adversary’s disappearance that “it didn’t need to”.

Subsequent U.S. policy in the region, including what former national security adviser Bent Scowcroft called “the nutty idea” of “dual containment” of Iraq and Iran, they argue, has flowed from the new incentive for Washington to maintain and enhance its dominance in the Middle East.

The authors offer a succinct analysis of the Clinton administration’s regional and Iran policies as precursors to Bush’s Iraq War and Iran regime change policy. Their account suggests that the role of Republican neoconservatives in those policies should not be exaggerated, and that more fundamental political-institutional interests were already pushing the U.S. national security state in that direction before 2001.

They analyse the Bush administration’s flirtation with regime change and the Obama administration’s less-than-half-hearted diplomatic engagement with Iran as both motivated by a refusal to budge from a stance of maintaining the status quo of U.S.-Israeli hegemony.

Consistent with but going beyond the Leveretts’ analysis is the Bush conviction that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq had shaken the Iranians, and that there was no need to make the slightest concession to the regime. The Obama administration has apparently fallen into the same conceptual trap, believing that the United States and its allies have Iran by the throat because of its “crippling sanctions”.

Thanks to the Leveretts, opponents of U.S. policies of domination and intervention in the Middle East have a new and rich source of analysis to argue against those policies more effectively.

US military to control most drone hits

The US plans to transfer control of some of its assassination drone-strike operations from the CIA spy agency to the military in bid to ease the controversy over the secrecy of its targeted-killing campaign.

However, the expected move would not likely include the American terror drone attacks in Pakistan, where most of the aerial missile raids have so far taken place, AFP reports Wednesday, citing unnamed Obama administration officials.

While the report insists that US President Barack Obama has “no intention of abandoning” his administration’s targeted killing operations in Muslim countries overseas, the shift reflects growing calls in the US Congress for more oversight over the secret assassination campaign, purportedly targeting assumed “enemies of America,” and placing it “on a more permanent legal footing.”

"There is serious consideration being given to moving some of these activities to" military control, the report adds, quoting “a US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity,” noting that the Obama administration still believes that the terror strikes are “legal and effective.”


The change, however, is "about transparency and the perceived legitimacy of the operations," the official is further quoted as saying.

Military leaders favor the potential shift that has been “debated for months” within the administration and say it is time for the CIA “to stop running a large-scale air war against Al-Qaeda and instead focus on its main job of gathering intelligence,” the report adds, citing another official .

The change would likely apply to terror drone attacks in Yemen, where the ruling US-sponsored government publicly acknowledges American involvement in the growing assassination campaign against what Yemeni rulers claim as al-Qaeda elements.

Out of the nearly 420 terror-drone strikes remotely conducted in Pakistan and Yemen by American pilots, based in the US and its military installations in various African and Middle Eastern countries, since 2004, over 350 have taken place in Pakistan, according to a tally kept by the independent New America Foundation.

The development comes as Obama's nominee to head the CIA spy agency, John Brennan, has been widely identified as the chief architect of the assassination drone strikes.

While reports say that most of the thousands of US terror-drone strikes have been civilians, including women and children, Brennan has adamantly denied any major civilian casualties in the American targeted killing campaign.

MFB/MFB

Collapse of Social Programs in America: Three-Quarters of Progressive Caucus Not Taking a Stand...

For the social compact of the United States, most of the Congressional Progressive Caucus has gone missing.While still on the caucus roster, three-quarters of the 70-member caucus seem lost in political smog. Those 54 members of the Progressive Caucus haven’t signed the current letter that makes a vital commitment: “we will vote against any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits — including raising the retirement age or cutting the cost of living adjustments that our constituents earned and need.”

More than 10 days ago, Congressmen Alan Grayson and Mark Takano initiated the forthright letter, circulating it among House colleagues. Addressed to President Obama, the letter has enabled members of Congress to take a historic stand: joining together in a public pledge not to vote for any cuts in Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.

The Grayson-Takano letter is a breath of fresh progressive air, blowing away the customary fog that hangs over such matters on Capitol Hill.

The Progressive Caucus co-chairs, Raul Grijalva and Keith Ellison, signed the letter. So did Barbara Lee, the caucus whip. But no signer can be found among the five vice chairs of the Progressive Caucus: Judy Chu, David Cicilline, Michael Honda, Sheila Jackson-Lee and Jan Schakowsky. The letter’s current list of signers includes just 16 members of the Progressive Caucus (along with five other House signers who aren’t part of the caucus).

What about the other 54 members of the Progressive Caucus? Their absence from the letter is a clear message to the Obama White House, which has repeatedly declared its desire to cut the Social Security cost of living adjustment as well as Medicare. In effect, those 54 non-signers are signaling: Mr. President, we call ourselves “progressive” but we are unwilling to stick our necks out by challenging you in defense of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; we want some wiggle room that you can exploit.

In contrast, the House members on the short list of the letter’s signers deserve our praise for taking a clear stand: Brown, Cartwright, Conyers, DeFazio, Ellison, Faleomavaega, Grayson, G. Green, Grijalva, Gutierrez, A. Hastings, Kaptur, Lee, McGovern, Nadler, Napolitano, Nolan, Serrano, Takano, Velazquez and Waters.

If you don’t see the name of your representative in the above paragraph, you might want to have a few words. (For a list of the 54 Progressive Caucus members who haven’t signed the letter, click here.)

It’s one thing — a fairly easy thing — to tell someone else what you hope they’ll do, as 107 House Democrats did recently in a different letter to President Obama: “We write to affirm our vigorous opposition to cutting Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits. . . . We urge you to reject any proposals to cut benefits.”

It’s much more difficult — and far more crucial — for members of Congress to publicly commit themselves not to vote for any cuts in those programs, which are matters of life and death for vast numbers of Americans.

Even a signed pledge to do or not do something, in terms of a floor vote, is no guarantee that a member of Congress will actually follow through. But in a situation like this, the pledge is significant — and even more significant is a refusal to make such a pledge.

As of now, 54 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus have taken a historic dive. We should take note — and not forget who they are.

Norman Solomon is the author of “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He is the founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and co-founder of RootsAction.org.

The School Security America Doesn’t Need

The School Security America Doesn’t Need

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Posted on Feb 27, 2013
jeff_golden (CC BY-SA 2.0)

By Chase Madar, TomDispatch

This piece first appeared at TomDispatch. Read Tom Engelhardt’s introduction here.

Outrage over the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre may or may not spur any meaningful gun control laws, but you can bet your Crayolas that it will lead to more seven-year-olds getting handcuffed and hauled away to local police precincts.

You read that right.  Americans may disagree deeply about how easy it should be for a mentally ill convicted felon to purchase an AR-15, but when it comes to putting more law enforcement officers inside our schools, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and liberal Democrats like Senator Barbara Boxer are as one.  And when police (or “school resource officers” as these sheriff’s deputies are often known) spend time in a school, they often deal with disorder like proper cops—by slapping cuffs on the little perps and dragging them to the precinct.

Just ask the three nine-year-old girls and an eight-year-old boy who got into a fight at their Baltimore elementary school—then got arrested by real police.  Or Salecia Johnson, age six, cuffed and arrested for throwing a tantrum at her elementary school in Milledgeville, Georgia.  Or Wilson Reyes, a seven-year-old at a Bronx,  New York, elementary school who last December 4th was cuffed, hauled away, and interrogated under suspicion of taking $5 from a classmate.  (Another kid later confessed.)

The last of these incidents made the cover of the New York Post,  but the New York City Police Department still doesn’t understand what they did wrong—sure, the first-grader spent about 4 hours handcuffed in a detention room, but that’s “standard for juvenile arrest.”

Which is precisely the problem: standard juvenile misbehavior (a five-year-old pitching a fit, a 12-year-old doodling on a desk, a 13-year-old farting in class, a class clown running around the football field at halftime in a banana suit) is increasingly being treated like serious crime, resulting in handcuffs and arrest.  If you can’t understand why such “consistency” is crazy, please desist from reading the rest of this article.

It seems grotesque that the horrific slaughter of those 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut, will result in more children getting traumatized, but that’s exactly where we’re headed—with firm bipartisan support.

In his amazing post-Newtown speech last December, Wayne LaPierre, the CEO and executive vice president of the NRA, called for armed guards in all schools—a demand widely hailed as jaw-droppingly nutty.  A few weeks later, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) proposed $50 million in federal grants to install more metal detectors, surveillance cameras, and National Guard troops in schools, but made her pitch in the caring cadences of a Marin County Democrat.  And when President Obama ordered more police in schools (point 18 in his 23-point Executive Order responding to the Sandy Hook tragedy), it was all over.

So here’s an American reality of 2013: we will soon have more police in our schools, and more seven-year-olds like Joseph Andersons of PS 153 in Maspeth, New York, getting arrested.  (He got handcuffed after a meltdown when his Easter egg dye-job didn’t come out right.)

The School-to-Prison Pipeline

In fairness to the feds, similar kinds of local responses were already underway before the La Pierre-Boxer Axis of Tiny Handcuffs even arose.  Across the country, from Florida and Connecticut to Tennessee, Indiana, and Arizona, despite tough budgetary times, municipal governments are now eagerly scrounging up the extra money for more metal detectors, surveillance cameras, and armed guards in schools.  (The same thing happened after the Columbine shooting 14 years ago.)  No one keeps national statistics, but arrests of the 10-and-under set do seem to be on the rise since Sandy Hook. A typical recent case: in January, a seven-year-old at a Connecticut school was arrested by the police for “threatening” a teacher.  Jitters are understandable after the trauma of Sandy Hook—but arresting a seven-year-old?

Truth be told, we were already well on our way to turning schools into carceral fortresses before the Sandy Hook slaughter even happened.  In fact, the great national infrastructure project of the past 20 years may be the “school-to-prison pipeline.”  After all, we are the nation that arrested Isamar Gonzalez for being in her high school early to meet with a teacher, then arrested her principal, Mark Federman, when he tried to intervene.

The stats speak as loudly as the anecdotes: of the Chicago School District’s 4,600 arrests in 2011, 86% were for misdemeanors. That school system spends $51.4 million on security guards, but only $3.5 million for college and career coaches.  And for every incident that makes the news, there are scores that don’t.  Despite a growing body of damning research by civil libertarians of the left and the right, including Annette Fuentes’s excellent book Lockdown High, political opposition to the school-to-prison pipeline has proven feeble or nonexistent.  Brooklyn State Senator Eric Adams, who represents one of the most liberal districts in the country, has staked out the civil libertarian outer limit by helpfully suggesting that Velcro handcuffs might be more suitable than metal ones for arresting young children.


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US, EU may start training and equipping Syrian rebels

Published time: February 27, 2013 12:28
Edited time: February 27, 2013 06:10

Soldiers of the Free Syrian Army. (AFP Photo / Ricardo Garcia Vilanova)

The US and Europe may begin equipping the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) with vehicles, body armor, night vision gear and binoculars, as well as military training. The decision is expected after a key conference on Syria in Rome.

Until now, Western countries’ official support to the forces fighting against Syrian President Bashar Assad was limited to direct contact, logistical assistance and political backing.

Several top figures in the Obama administration, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and former CIA chief David Petraeus pushed for closer engagement with the Syrian rebels last year, which would likely include arming them. 

The White House rejected the plan at the time, fearing that the arms would end up in the hands of Islamist forces like the Nursa Front group, which the US considers a terrorist organization. US officials said it was too difficult to fully vet the recipients of the proposed deliveries; that policy has now apparently changed.

The pending shift was hinted at on several occasions as new US Secretary of State John Kerry toured Europe recently. He pledged not to leave the Syrian opposition “dangling in the wind,” after meeting British Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague. The new US policy will likely be voiced after an international conference of the ‘Friends of Syria’ in Rome on Thursday.

A delegation from the exiled Syrian National Coalition will be attending the Rome conference, despite earlier threats to boycott it. The group reversed course and agreed to attend after a series of phone calls to the coalition leader Mouaz Khatib from top US officials.

European advocates said the Free Syrian Army should be provided with large supplies of munitions, including military vehicles, body armor and night vision goggles, as well as tactical and strategic training. This position is privately supported by Britain, France, Germany and Italy, a European official told the Washington Post on condition of anonymity.

London and Paris have pushed to lift an EU embargo on arms trades to Syria. However, the ban was prolonged until at least May, as some nations in the 27-member union have refused to lift it.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague (R) and US Secretary of State John Kerry (L). (AFP Photo / Ben Stansall)

The US appears more skeptical, and is reluctant to include body armor and training in the package, Washington sources told AP, though it would not oppose its European allies on the matter, sources said.

When asked Tuesday about the prospects for expanding US military support for the rebels, Kerry said he would not speculate on the outcome of the meeting with opposition leaders.

“We’re going to Rome to bring a group of nations together precisely to talk about this problem,” Kerry said. “I don’t want to get ahead of that meeting or ability to begin to think about exactly what will be a part of it.”

The Syrian opposition relies on arms smugglers from Turkey and Jordan, and raids on Syrian army depots, for weapons and ammunition; rebel groups with better financial standing and more ruthlessness end up with the best equipment. Most of the arms funneled to Syria went to hardline Islamists, according to a US assessment cited by the New York Time last October.

The Nusra Front, which is estimated to have some 5,000 fighters operating in Syria in small semi-independent groups, has to a large degree sidelined the relatively moderate Free Syrian Army. The groups remain at odds not only with the Assad government in Damascus, but also with each other, holding different visions for the future of Syria.

In an effort to boost the FSA and undermine the Nursa Front, Washington had Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries deliver arms to the FSA from Croatia, according to the New York Times. Rebels said that the shipment included anti-aircraft and armor-piercing weapons, mortars and rocket launchers.

Former Insiders Criticise Iran Policy as U.S. Hegemony

iran war

“Going to Tehran” arguably represents the most important work on the subject of U.S.-Iran relations to be published thus far.

Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett tackle not only U.S. policy toward Iran but the broader context of Middle East policy with a systematic analytical perspective informed by personal experience, as well as very extensive documentation.

More importantly, however, their exposé required a degree of courage that may be unparalleled in the writing of former U.S. national security officials about issues on which they worked. They have chosen not just to criticise U.S. policy toward Iran but to analyse that policy as a problem of U.S. hegemony.

Their national security state credentials are impeccable. They both served at different times as senior coordinators dealing with Iran on the National Security Council Staff, and Hillary Mann Leverett was one of the few U.S. officials who have been authorised to negotiate with Iranian officials.

Both wrote memoranda in 2003 urging the George W. Bush administration to take the Iranian “roadmap” proposal for bilateral negotiations seriously but found policymakers either uninterested or powerless to influence the decision. Hillary Mann Leverett even has a connection with the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), having interned with that lobby group as a youth.

After leaving the U.S. government in disagreement with U.S. policy toward Iran, the Leveretts did not follow the normal pattern of settling into the jobs where they would support the broad outlines of the U.S. role in world politics in return for comfortable incomes and continued access to power.

Instead, they have chosen to take a firm stand in opposition to U.S. policy toward Iran, criticising the policy of the Barack Obama administration as far more aggressive than is generally recognised. They went even farther, however, contesting the consensus view in Washington among policy wonks, news media and Iran human rights activists that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election in June 2009 was fraudulent.

The Leveretts’ uncompromising posture toward the policymaking system and those outside the government who support U.S. policy has made them extremely unpopular in Washington foreign policy elite circles. After talking to some of their antagonists, The New Republic even passed on the rumor that the Leveretts had become shills for oil companies and others who wanted to do business with Iran.

The problem for the establishment, however, is that they turned out to be immune to the blandishments that normally keep former officials either safely supportive or quiet on national security issues that call for heated debate.

In “Going to Tehran”, the Leveretts elaborate on the contrarian analysis they have been making on their blog (formerly “The Race for Iran” and now “Going to Tehran”) They take to task those supporting U.S. systematic pressures on Iran for substituting wishful thinking that most Iranians long for secular democracy, and offer a hard analysis of the history of the Iranian revolution.

In an analysis of the roots of the legitimacy of the Islamic regime, they point to evidence that the single most important factor that swept the Khomeini movement into power in 1979 was “the Shah’s indifference to the religious sensibilities of Iranians”. That point, which conflicts with just about everything that has appeared in the mass media on Iran for decades, certainly has far-reaching analytical significance.

The Leveretts’ 56-page review of the evidence regarding the legitimacy of the 2009 election emphasises polls done by U.S.-based Terror Free Tomorrow and World Public Opinon and Canadian-based Globe Scan and 10 surveys by the University of Tehran. All of the polls were consistent with one another and with official election data on both a wide margin of victory by Ahmadinejad and turnout rates.

The Leveretts also point out that the leading opposition candidate, Hossein Mir Mousavi, did not produce “a single one of his 40,676 observers to claim that the count at his or her station had been incorrect, and none came forward independently”.

“Going to Tehran” has chapters analysing Iran’s “Grand Strategy” and on the role of negotiating with the United States that debunk much of which passes for expert opinion in Washington’s think tank world. They view Iran’s nuclear programme as aimed at achieving the same status as Japan, Canada and other “threshold nuclear states” which have the capability to become nuclear powers but forego that option.

The Leveretts also point out that it is a status that is not forbidden by the nuclear non-proliferation treaty – much to the chagrin of the United States and its anti-Iran allies.

In a later chapter, they allude briefly to what is surely the best-kept secret about the Iranian nuclear programme and Iranian foreign policy: the Iranian leadership’s calculation that the enrichment programme is the only incentive the United States has to reach a strategic accommodation with Tehran. That one fact helps to explain most of the twists and turns in Iran’s nuclear programme and its nuclear diplomacy over the past decade.

One of the propaganda themes most popular inside the Washington beltway is that the Islamic regime in Iran cannot negotiate seriously with the United States because the survival of the regime depends on hostility toward the United States.

The Leveretts debunk that notion by detailing a series of episodes beginning with President Hashemi Rafsanjani’s effort to improve relations in 1991 and again in 1995 and Iran’s offer to cooperate against Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and, more generally after 9/11, about which Hillary Mann Leverett had personal experience.

Finally, they provide the most detailed analysis available on the 2003 Iranian proposal for a “roadmap” for negotiations with the United States, which the Bush administration gave the back of its hand.

The central message of “Going to Tehran” is that the United States has been unwilling to let go of the demand for Iran’s subordination to dominant U.S. power in the region. The Leveretts identify the decisive turning point in the U.S. “quest for dominance in the Middle East” as the collapse of the Soviet Union, which they say “liberated the United States from balance of power constraints”.

They cite the recollection of senior advisers to Secretary of State James Baker that the George H. W. Bush administration considered engagement with Iran as part of a post-Gulf War strategy but decided in the aftermath of the Soviet adversary’s disappearance that “it didn’t need to”.

Subsequent U.S. policy in the region, including what former national security adviser Bent Scowcroft called “the nutty idea” of “dual containment” of Iraq and Iran, they argue, has flowed from the new incentive for Washington to maintain and enhance its dominance in the Middle East.

The authors offer a succinct analysis of the Clinton administration’s regional and Iran policies as precursors to Bush’s Iraq War and Iran regime change policy. Their account suggests that the role of Republican neoconservatives in those policies should not be exaggerated, and that more fundamental political-institutional interests were already pushing the U.S. national security state in that direction before 2001.

They analyse the Bush administration’s flirtation with regime change and the Obama administration’s less-than-half-hearted diplomatic engagement with Iran as both motivated by a refusal to budge from a stance of maintaining the status quo of U.S.-Israeli hegemony.

Consistent with but going beyond the Leveretts’ analysis is the Bush conviction that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq had shaken the Iranians, and that there was no need to make the slightest concession to the regime. The Obama administration has apparently fallen into the same conceptual trap, believing that the United States and its allies have Iran by the throat because of its “crippling sanctions”.

Thanks to the Leveretts, opponents of U.S. policies of domination and intervention in the Middle East have a new and rich source of analysis to argue against those policies more effectively.

Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

Threats to the Environment and the XL Keystone Project: “It’s Not About Oil Pipelines,...

 The same day that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was promising a “fair and transparent” review of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to the Texas Gulf Coast, the CEO of the company building that pipeline, TransCanada’s Russ Girling, was reported as saying that his company’s “Plan A” was finishing a different pipeline that would take the same tar sands oil to Canada’s east coast.

TransCanada’s plan to establish a pipeline to the Atlantic coast has received little attention since CEO Girling’s February 6 interview on Bloomberg Television and Bloomberg’s later report:

“Canada’s second-largest pipeline company proposes to ship oil 3,000 miles (4,825 kilometers) to the Atlantic Coast, allowing producers to send it by tanker to the Gulf, Girling said yesterday in an interview at Bloomberg’s New York headquarters.

“While he expects U.S. passage of Keystone ‘very soon,’ the East Coast route makes sense in any event because of rising production from Alberta, Girling said.” 

TransCanada presently has about $22 billion worth of pipeline projects underway, of which Keystone XL represents about a third of the total.  Asked if an east coast pipeline was a fallback plan in case Keystone is blocked, Girling said:  “It’s not a Plan B, it’s a Plan A, and it will go if the market supports it, along with Keystone….  Once you get on tidewater, you can get anywhere, and you don’t need a presidential permit to bring oil into the Gulf Coast.”

That the head of a pipeline company is more interested in getting tar sands oil to market than he is in what it may cause after that is perhaps not surprising.  Girling isn’t a climate change denier, he just sees change taking decades during which TransCanada will try to make the transition to non-fossil fuels, which is why the company built three large wind farms in 2011.

Keystone Needs Presidential Permission to Proceed

But there may not be decades, there may be no time at all, according to a long National Journal story on February 7, with the headline:  “The Scary Truth About How Much Climate Change Is Costing You” – costing you now, the sub-head emphasizes:  “While policymakers fiddle, the threat of economic harm posed by rising sea levels, devastating storms, and drought is growing every day.”

On January 22, Greenpeace released a 60-page report called “Point of No Return,” dealing with “massive climate threats we must avoid,” while giving little reason to think we will avoid them:

“The world is quickly reaching a Point of No Return for preventing the worst impacts of climate change.

“With total disregard for this unfolding global disaster, the fossil fuel industry is planning 14 massive coal, oil and gas projects that would produce as much new carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2020 as the entire US, and delay action on climate change for more than a decade.

“Continuing on the current course will make it difficult – if not impossible – to prevent the widespread and catastrophic impacts of climate change….”           

In the United States, pressure is building for the President (or the Secretary of State) to deny a permit to Keystone.  That demand is at the heart of plans for “the largest climate rally in history” on the Mall in Washington February 17.  Sponsored by the Sierra Club, 350.org, and the Hip-Hop Caucus, the promoters of the event assert that 

“The first step to putting our country on the path to addressing the climate crisis is for President Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. His legacy as president will rest squarely on his response, resolve, and leadership in solving the climate crisis.”

Making much the same argument with much greater detail on February 10 on TomDispatch.com, Hampshire College professor Michael Klare analyzes three possible pipeline routes that would enable Alberta tar sands oil to reach world markets.  The first is Keystone, first proposed in 2008, which is still at least two years from being operational.  The other two go in opposite directions — west, where resistance is already high, and east, where a substantial amount of pipeline is already in place.  Klare analyzes each alternative in detail, arguing that:    

“… the only pipeline now under development that would significantly expand Albertan tar-sands exports is Keystone XL. It is vitally important to the tar-sands producers because it offers the sole short-term – or possibly even long-term – option for the export and sale of the crude output now coming on line at dozens of projects being developed across northern Alberta.

“Without it, these projects will languish and Albertan production will have to be sold at a deep discount – at, that is, a per-barrel price that could fall below production costs, making further investment in tar sands unattractive. In January, Canadian tar-sands oil was already selling for $30-$40 less than West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the standard U.S. blend.” 

But Klare does not consider the different route to the Atlantic proposed by Girling, a route that could be entirely within Canada, ending at St. John, New Brunswick.             

The shadow play aspects of the public posturing around the Keystone pipeline make it difficult to focus on the underlying reality that matters most: whether exploiting tar sands, not only in Canada, but in the U.S. and other countries, really will mean “game over for the climate,” as NASA scientist James Hansen has said.  The heart of his argument, as it appeared in the New York Times, was simple:


“GLOBAL warming isn’t a prediction. It is happening. That is why I was so troubled to read a recent 
interview with President Obama in Rolling Stone in which he said that Canada would exploit the oil in its vast tar sands reserves ‘regardless of what we do.’

“ If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.”

The game, in other words, is not about pipelines, it’s about tar sands oil.  And even though cancellation of the Keystone pipeline would not be a game-changer, such cancellation would be a powerful symbol that leaves open the possibility of changing the game.  And it would be a signal that there is at least some political will to change the game.

The Canadian government under Stephen Harper has been pushing hard for the Keystone pipeline, lobbying the Obama administration and responding to unsympathetic media reports in the U.S.   At the same time, Canadian resistance to pipelines in both the east and west has grown increasingly intense, especially among the more than 630 First Nations governments of Canada’s native people whose land would be directly affected.

Media Coverage Omits More Than It Says 

When Sec. Kerry promises a “fair and transparent” review of Keystone and media from ABC News to the Washington Post to Huffington Post report the story with the same wire service account from AP, there’s not a lot of reporting going on.  Sec. Kerry’s comments are value free and allow for a possible approval, especially in the context of Kerry’s “great respect” for the needs of Canada’s energy industry.

What AP and those who carried the report left out included Sec. Kerry’s significant oil industry holdings which create an obvious conflict of interest, although as someone who was the richest U.S. Senator till recently (net worth about $240 million, compared to Jay Rockefeller’s $98 million), his oil holdings may not represent that great a conflict.  And Sec. Kerry was “a steadfast proponent of taking action on climate during his tenure as a senator,” according to Reuters.

The widely distributed AP report all but dismisses “climate change,” using the phrase only in the context of suggesting that the pipeline would be “a source of much-needed jobs,” which it’s not, and “a step toward North American energy independence,” which it’s not.

Sec. Kerry’s remarks fit a context in which the State Dept. carries out its evaluation and approves the pipeline, giving cover for Pres. Obama to approve it, too, since the evaluation was “fair and transparent,” or will be reliably reported that way.  But Sec. Kerry also mentioned “accountability” in passing, without saying (or being asked) just what that could possibly mean.  If James Hansen is right, and the climate is destroyed by tar sands oil, how will anyone in the future be able to hold a long-dead multi-millionaire accountable for his lost seriousness?

Alternatively, with the boom of “light sweet oil” coming out of Texas and North Dakota, oil that is much preferable to the “heavy sour crude” from Alberta, the president may have a practical way of sidestepping Keystone approval as no longer very useful to the United States (if it ever really was).

Disruptions Continue Along Keystone Southern Leg 

The active protest and political theatre front in recent months has been along the TransCanada Keystone Gulf Coat section in Texas and Oklahoma, where early in the morning of February 11 in Schoolton, OK, an Oklahoman youth pastor, Stefan Warner, who chained himself to construction machinery high above a local waterway, the North Canadian River.

“I grew up in a town where the North Canadian River runs right through, and we can’t let the North Canadian become another Kalamazoo,” Warner said, referring to the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.  Another giant pipeline company, Enbridge Energy, had one of its pipelines rupture there in July 2010, dumping about 900,000 gallons of toxic tar sands crude oil into the river, where the clean-up is now in its third year.

Warner acted with other members of the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance, a new group that recently organized to resist the Keystone pipeline.  The Great Plains website reported the end of the action this way:

8:00AM: Direct Support for Stefan has been arrested without warning and placed in police car.  Six other people on site being detained currently.

9:00AM: All Six people detained now arrested. Seven police vehicles on scene. Workers have lowered side-boom in disregard of Stefan’s safety and OSHA regulations, Stefan still locked to machinery but lying painfully face-down on the lowered arm. Police obscuring Stefan from view and not allowing anyone within photographing distance.

9:15AM: Another individual arrested. This person was not initially detained but was prevented from accessing her vehicle since 8am. Stefan still holding strong….

1:00PM Earlier today, Stefan was extracted. To our knowledge, Stefan sustained no serious injuries and seems to be alright. 

This action is similar to protests mounted over the past five months by the Tar Sands Blockade, who started their resistance in September 2012 when they set up a tree house blockade across the right of way along which TransCanada was constructing its pipeline.  TranCanada skipped a section of construction to avoid the tree houses and also took members of the group to court.  That action that was settled January 25, when 19 people, also acting on behalf of 6 Jan and John Does and three organizations, agreed to a permanent injunction against interfering with Keystone people, property, or progress.           

Defeating Keystone – A Victory With No Winners? 

It would certainly look like a victory for environmentalists if the President denied Keystone a permit, and a low political cost would allow the political class to bask in undeserved credit – a symbolic triumph.  And, at worst, an opportunity to enjoy the illusion that something meaningful was accomplished.

But the problem of tar sands oil would be fundamentally unchanged.  It would remain an underexploited asset that Canadians are eager to tap.  The demand from Asian markets would continue to grow.  Canada would continue to face the irrationality of importing half the oil it uses while exporting two thirds of the oil it produces.  The pipeline struggle would become an all-Canada affair.

A lively and slightly hysterical imagination might envision an American war with Canada, not so much to keep tar sands oil in the ground to save the climate, but to keep the Canadians from selling it to the Chinese.  More likely, the United States reverts to its traditionally torpid contemplation of planetary threat, the climate continues to warm, and soon Alberta can have a pipeline to the north, since the Arctic Ocean is open year-round.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. 

AFP Twitter feed hacked, flooded with pro-Assad tweets

Published time: February 26, 2013 23:53
Edited time: February 26, 2013 23:46

Screenshot from Twitter.com/AFP

Pro-Assad cyber activists have hacked the Agence France-Presse news agency's Twitter, filling it with propaganda aimed at counterbalancing what they call “fabricated news” by Western media sources.

The @AFPphoto profile was compromised at around 16:45 GMT and was tweeting unsanctioned material until the account’s temporary suspension later on Tuesday.

The Syrian Electronic Army, known for their attacks on Sky News Arabia and Al-Jazeera Mobile, has claimed the responsibility for the cyber-attack.

On its website, the group claimed that it was defending the Syrian Arab people against Western media coverage of the unfolding events on the ground and accused the news outlets of “broadcasting fabricated news about what is happening in Syria.”

Deputy global news editor for AFP Pierre Celerier, confirmed that the photos posted are not AFP images, and are allegedly of Iraqi journalists killed in Syria and the site of a car bombing.

During about an hour of uncontrolled operation, the hackers managed to accuse President Obama of supporting the use of child soldiers in the rebel army in Syria.

A picture tweet allegedly shows a child beheading government prisoners.

“#Obama overturns ban against child soldiers while Syrian rebels continue with the illegal practice twitter.com/AFPphoto/statu…” hacked AFP account tweeted.

The online activists have also faulted the US leader for supporting Al-Qaeda elements in the country while ignoring popular support for President Assad from the citizens of the country, with photo posts of Syrians rallying for the government cause.

On Monday, AFP also confirmed it had fallen victim to a so called “phishing” attack which attempted to thieve the identity of employees by getting them to login to a fake AFP website.



Senate Confirms Hagel, GOP Lawmaker Says Cheney Going to Hell, and More

Hagel Filibuster Defeated, GOP Lawmaker Says Cheney Going to Hell, and More

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Posted on Feb 26, 2013

Decision Time: The Republican led, history-making filibuster of President Obama’s defense secretary nominee, Chuck Hagel, is over. On Tuesday, the Senate moved to break the filibuster by a 71-27 margin, setting the stage (finally) for a confirmation vote. In total, 18 Republicans supported cloture, including Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, who had all previously voted to uphold the filibuster. (Read more)

Cut to the Chase: With talks to avoid the sequester failing, it’s looking more and more likely that the $85 billion in automatic budget cuts will begin Friday. Roll Call has compiled a list of 15 things you need to know about the impending sequester. Among the more interesting tidbits: The sequester was supposed to be so illogical that Congress would be forced to act; federal agencies don’t have to institute the cuts right away, but failure to do so could mean even deeper reductions later; and because the sequester is only a government slowdown—as opposed to a total shutdown—you can expect government agency interactions that were already hassles to become even bigger ones. (Read more)

CPAC a Punch: Popular New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will not be among the nearly 40 speakers at next month’s Conservative Political Action Conference. That’s because, according to ABC News, Christie hasn’t been invited to attend the annual conservative event. Although Christie is widely considered to be a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, the news shouldn’t come as a huge shock. His own party has criticized him for praising President Obama in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy and right before the November election, and he absolutely ripped GOP congressional leadership last month for initially not passing a Sandy aid package. (Read more)

A Race to Replace: A special primary election is being held in Chicago on Tuesday for the House seat that was vacated by disgraced Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. Although both parties are holding elections, Illinois’ 2nd District leans so heavily Democratic that the winner of that primary is expected to win the special general election in April. Early voting indicated a lack of enthusiasm among voters, and Election Day turnout has been low. (Read more)

Video of the Day: Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., is not a fan of the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq nor of a big proponent of those conflicts, Dick Cheney. On Sunday, Jones told a conference put on by Young Americans for Liberty that the former vice president will probably rot in hell for the Iraq War. “Congress will not hold anyone to blame. Lyndon Johnson’s probably rotting in hell right now because of the Vietnam War. He probably needs to move over for Dick Cheney.”

Bonus Video of the Day: Stephen Colbert broke character in public over the weekend for an important cause—to endorse his sister, Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, who is running for Congress in South Carolina. In making his first political endorsement, Colbert emphasized that Congress needs more women serving in it. “The Republican-controlled House of Representatives can’t even seem to bring themselves to bring the Violence Against Women Act up for a vote! Evidently, violence against women is something too controversial for them to even take a stand on. We need more women and more sensible legislators in Washington,” he said.

—Posted by Tracy Bloom.

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How to Stop the GOP from Stealing the White House

RNC Chair Reince Priebus has thrown his support behind a proposal to change how Electoral College votes are counted that could skew election results in favor of Republicans. (Photo: Stephen Crowley / The New York Times)RNC Chair Reince Priebus has thrown his support behind a proposal to change how Electoral College votes are counted that could skew election results in favor of Republicans. (Photo: Stephen Crowley / The New York Times)As an American citizen, you do not have the right to vote for the President of the United States.

Just ask the five right-wingers of the Supreme Court in 2000, who decided the infamous Bush v. Gore case.

In their decision, Justices Kennedy, O’Connor, Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas said, right out loud in front of God and everybody, that, “the individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States…”

So how did that happen?

Well, unlike U.S. Representatives and Senators, the President of the United States is not directly elected by We the People. Instead, the Framers put it into the Constitution that the President is elected by the Electoral College, and the states can each decide how their electoral votes are divvied up.

In all but two states, whoever wins the majority of votes in a state wins all of that state’s electoral votes. Although there have been a few cases where one candidate got more votes nationally – like Al Gore getting a half-million more votes than George W. Bush – generally the winner of the national popular vote has also won the electoral college vote. And, of course, because the Constitution says that the Electoral College vote decides who’s our president, that’s pretty important.

Which is why now that the Republican Party has been hijacked by a small group of cranky billionaires, that Party is trying to rig the Electoral College in what have historically been Blue or Democratic-voting states.

In the first election after the Citizens United decision, hundreds of millions of dollars in outside spending by billionaires like the Koch Brothers put Republicans in control of those traditionally blue states that they'd targeted for years, including Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan.

Once Republicans got charge of the state legislatures, they gerrymandered congressional districts to increase the number and safety of Republican seats. That's why right now Republicans control the House of Representatives even though House Democratic candidates received more than a million votes more than House Republican candidates around the nation last November. Nationally the Republicans lost the House, but they still control it because of their election-rigging at the state level.

And now they want to rig the election for President of the United States.

They may well begin with Michigan.

Instead of the current winner-take-all system, Republicans want Michigan's Electoral College votes doled out based on which presidential candidate won each congressional district, with an extra two votes going to the state's popular vote winner. Republicans in Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia are considering similar changes. And, Republican Party officials, including RNC Chair Reince Priebus, have thrown their support behind the idea of rigging the presidential elections in Blue states.

If they can pull it off, it may be a long time before a Democrat is ever elected president again.

For example, President Obama swept the six main battleground states of Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin last election. And since it's a winner-take-all system, the President got all of these battleground states’ 106 Electoral College votes, and Romney got zero.

But if this new election-rigging scheme had been in place last year, then President Obama would have only gotten 47 Electoral College votes from the battleground states, while Mitt Romney would have won those states with 59 votes, even though he got hammered in the popular vote in each of those states. And if all the states in the nation had gone along with this election-rigging scheme, then billionaire Mitt Romney would be our president today, even though he lost the national vote by millions.

Billionaires and Republicans know they're a minority in America. Their hard-right bigotry toward gays and women turns off young voters. Their xenophobia and mistrust of non-whites have turned off the growing minority electorate. And their economic principles, including Reaganomics and devastating austerity, are slowing destroying our country.

We must do something to head off this billionaire takeover of our presidential elections. And the best way to do this is with more democracy.

There’s a way to eliminate the power of the Electoral College that doesn’t require amending the Constitution. It’s pretty straightforward: replace the Electoral College with a system of more democracy – a national popular vote that elects our President based on which candidate got the most votes nationwide, plain and simple, and more importantly, Republican rig-proof.

Nine states have already passed National Popular Vote laws, meaning that their electors will vote for whichever candidate wins the national popular vote, even if that candidate lost the state’s Electoral College vote. The nine states that have passed national popular vote laws, which include California, Illinois and Maryland, account for 132 electoral votes, nearly half of the 270 needed in the Electoral College to win the Presidency.

If the National Popular Vote movement continues to spread, and enough states sign up to bring their combined Electoral College votes to 270, then the Electoral College will be dead, along with Republican efforts to rig elections and corrupt our democracy.

This needs to be our game-plan from here on out. Hard-working middle-class Americans are the majority in America, not democracy-destroying billionaires and their Republican cronies. It’s up to us, the 99 percent, to push back against this nation’s corrupt Conservative minority and their billionaire backers, and stop them once and for all from rigging elections in America.

To join the movement, go to www.nationalpopularvote.com to see how you can get involved.

Oscar 2013: Hollywood’s CIA Celebration

Oscar 2013: Hollywood’s CIA Celebration

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Posted on Feb 26, 2013
Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP

Director/producer Ben Affleck accepts the award for best picture for “Argo” during at the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre on Sunday.

By Robert Scheer

What was Michelle Obama thinking? If the card for “Zero Dark Thirty” had been lurking in that best picture envelope Sunday, the gushing first lady would have appeared to the 1 billion people watching to have endorsed the very torture policies that her husband has denounced, at least rhetorically, if not always in practice. Saved from that fate by the Academy’s selection of “Argo,” she tacitly condoned the CIA’s subterfuge in pretending that its covert rescue operation was a genuine film project.

Not an insignificant matter, given the agency’s lengthy history of subverting cultural, journalistic and human rights organizations for its not always admirable purposes. It is not much of a stretch to extend that example to journalists as presumed foreign agents, and that is the charge most often used to kill them. Or human rights workers, religious missionaries, medical personnel or any of the thousands of nongovernment workers who are daily threatened as they go about their work in dangerous lands, advancing their do-gooder notions. 

This is the movie season to consider the CIA as a benign force, occasionally stumbling but in the end, driven by good intentions. The example of Iran, where the “Argo” caper is set, is instructive of the absurdity of that view. Iran for the past half century has been ravaged precisely by such CIA antics. To its credit, “Argo” acknowledges, in its opening minutes, that the U.S. government overthrew the last secular democratic leader of Iran and brought the despotic shah to power, and in his aftermath, the religious madness of the ayatollahs. But it is a point soon forgotten, as the film goes on to reveal an Iran populated by inhabitants so universally deranged that their dialogues in Farsi are not even worthy of subtitle translation.

Such translation of Iranian grievances would undermine the outraged innocence of American diplomats that provides “Argo” with its feel-good intent. The fact that our diplomatic corps, heavily staffed by hardened intelligence operatives, had long been a center of power in Iran was glossed over after the opening scene’s mention of the overthrow of democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh. It was an overthrow necessitated by the fact that Mossadegh nationalized the all-powerful British owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, which operates today as British Petroleum.

After the overthrow of the shah in 1979, I interviewed for the Los Angeles Times CIA operative Kermit Roosevelt, who led the coup against Mossadegh. For a quarter century, the United States had denied any connection with the coup, but Roosevelt, a grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt, was about to release a tell-all book on the subject that the CIA had approved, and he was willing to talk. 

His caper was much riskier than that detailed in “Argo,” and more central to the one thing that ever mattered to foreigners in Iran—oil. He told me that the CIA had begun the plan to overthrow Mossadegh after a “suggestion” by oil company executives. “The Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. came to us with British authorization,” he explained. “They stopped me in London and put it to me there. I said, ‘Look guys, I can’t talk about this kind of thing now; I’ve got no authorization.’ ”

But Roosevelt then took the British suggestion to his boss, CIA Deputy Director Allen Dulles, in December 1952 after Dwight Eisenhower won election, but while lame duck Harry Truman was still in power. Roosevelt told me that he and Dulles kept their plan secret from Truman and his secretary of state, Dean Acheson, because they were sympathetic to Mossadegh as a genuine nationalist leader.

“Acheson was absolutely fascinated by Dr. Mossadegh. He was in fact sympathetic to him,” Roosevelt said in our interview. Instead, he waited until Allen Dulles’ brother, Foster, took over as secretary of state in the incoming Republican administration, and then Dr. Mossadegh would come to be defined by the U.S. as a potential puppet of the Soviets.

In our interview, 25 years after the coup, Roosevelt was at pains to say that in retrospect, the communist label didn’t really fit. “Mossadegh was not pro-communist. ... I think that the British were very stupid in negotiations with Mossadegh. ... They did not make any kind of effective gesture that he could accept, and I think that was foolish,” he recalled. “I think it was possible to make an offer he would have accepted and that would have avoided this whole blowup. If they had said, ‘OK, we’ll increase the rate (paid to Iran for their oil) we’ll give you a certain percentage of the ownership,’ this would have been the smart thing for them to do.”

Roosevelt left the CIA after refusing assignments to engineer the overthrow of the governments of Guatemala and Egypt. Some four years after toppling Mossadegh, he went to work as a vice president for Gulf Oil where, as he told me, “I was in charge of their ... relations with the U.S. government and with foreign governments.” Gulf was one of the U.S. companies favored with oil exploitation contracts by the shah, in power due to Roosevelt.

In 1968, Roosevelt registered in Washington as a foreign agent for Iran. Like many still within the CIA, he was caught by surprise when the shah was overthrown a decade later by an outraged populace, noting “I was not really aware of just how bad things were in Iran until well, really early October,” shortly before the events described in “Argo.”

Now there’s a movie, but it’s not about American innocence.

Click here to check out Robert Scheer’s new book,
“The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street.”

Keep up with Robert Scheer’s latest columns, interviews, tour dates and more at www.truthdig.com/robert_scheer.

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Cantor Wants to End Overtime, Limbaugh Claims Palin’s ‘Never Wrong,’ and More

Cantor Wants to End Overtime, Limbaugh Claims Palin’s ‘Never Wrong,’ and More

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Posted on Feb 25, 2013

Safety Risk: Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano issued a stern warning about the impending sequester cuts, telling reporters Monday that they could make the U.S. more vulnerable to a terrorist attack. In addition to spending cuts to the Pentagon and the Justice Department, Napolitano said the $85 billion sequester would reduce Coast Guard patrols, increase wait times at ports and decrease the number of beds available for immigration detentions. “I don’t think we can maintain the same level of security at all places around the country with sequester compared to without sequester,” she said. The cuts are set to kick in Friday. (Read more)

Confirmation Expected: It looks like Jack Lew, President Obama’s pick to replace Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, won’t face the same confirmation fight in the Senate as Chuck Hagel. Lew, the current White House chief of staff is expected to sail through the Senate Finance Committee’s vote Tuesday, despite Republican concerns about his role in budget negotiations and criticism he faced over a 2007 investment. So far, only two senators have publicly opposed Lew’s nomination: Vermont independent Bernie Sanders, whose concern is that Lew is too closely tied to Wall Street, and Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama. (Read more)

A Matter of Time: If it were up to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, overtime for hourly workers wouldn’t exist. Cantor, who said during a speech this month that he would like to convert overtime pay from time-and-a-half into time off, is reportedly gearing up to propose legislation in order to enact his vision of an overtime-free America. This isn’t the first time Republicans have tried to do away with overtime. In 2003, the party made such a proposal in the politely titled House bill “Family Time Flexibility Act,” which was really just a nice way of saying it wanted corporations to have the right to work you to the bone without paying extra. (Read more)

Fewer Spoils to the Victor: In an effort to rig elections bolster their party’s candidates in national elections, Michigan Republicans are supporting a measure that would have the state’s electoral votes proportioned by congressional district. The votes are currently allocated in a winner-take-all system. If the process that state GOP lawmakers want had been in place in the 2012 election, Mitt Romney would have gotten 10 electoral votes in the Wolverine State. And he still would have lost to President Obama. (Read more)

Audio of the Day: Frequently wrong radio commentator Rush Limbaugh now claims that fellow frequently wrong one-time vice presidential candidate/former Fox News analyst Sarah Palin is never wrong about anything, ever. Two things are clear here: 1) Limbaugh is once again wrong and 2) it’s now quite obvious he has neither read nor seen “Game Change.”

—Posted by Tracy Bloom.

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Why the Supreme Court May Rule Against the Voting Rights Act

Why the Supreme Court May Rule Against the Voting Rights Act

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Posted on Feb 25, 2013
Flickr/ massmatt

By Suevon Lee, ProPublica

This report originally ran on ProPublica.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Shelby County v. Holder, a case challenging the constitutionality of a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The cornerstone provision is known as Section 5, which requires some states and localities to get federal clearance before making any changes to their voting laws.

What is the Voting Rights Act? And why does it matter? Here’s a quick guide to what could be, as the influential SCOTUSBlog put it, “one of the most significant rulings of the current term.” 

What’s Section 5 again?

As we’ve explained before, Section 5 requires nine mostly Southern states — Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Alaska, Virginia, Texas and Arizona — and areas of seven others to preclear any change to a voting law or procedure with the federal government.

This review is conducted by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice or a panel of federal judges on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. If a voting change hasn’t been submitted for review, the change can be legally unenforceable.

Section 5, which was enacted by the original Voting Rights Act, was meant to address the systemic disenfranchisement of African Americans by state lawmakers in the South since the end of Reconstruction.

Under the provision, covered jurisdictions must prove that any proposed voting change doesn’t have a discriminatory purpose or effect or would diminish minorities’ ability to elect a favored candidate.

How were these states identified?

When the Voting Rights Act originally passed, the rubric to identify the original bad actors looked at racist voting practices like literary tests and Census data indicating whether less than 50 percent of eligible voters voted in the November 1964 presidential election.

When Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Act in 1970 for another five years, it mandated oversight of other states and municipalities with low voter turnout.

By 1975, when Congress extended the act for another seven years, the law was broadened to include discriminatory voting practices against language minorities. For example, states were flagged for offering ballots only in English where language minorities made up more than 5 percent of the voting-age population. (That’s how Alaska, Arizona and Texas got federal oversight. It’s also the reason why parts of Florida, Michigan, New York and South Dakota are included.)

In both 1982 and 2006, Congress extended Section 5 for another 25 years — without making any significant updates to the coverage triggers, or “formula” as it’s called (In 1982, Congress also established standards to allow covered jurisdictions demonstrating good behavior to “bail out” from under federal supervision).

Right now, Section 5 isn’t scheduled to expire until 2031 — which brings us to the current debate over its fairness and constitutionality in present-day circumstances.

How useful has Section 5 been?

Nearly everyone agrees that Section 5 once played a critical function to rein in recalcitrant state legislators determined to suppress the African American, and later on language-minority, vote.

It is its present application that’s now in dispute.

“America is no longer a land where whites hold the levers of power and minority representation depends on extraordinary federal intervention,” argues an amicus brief filed by the Cato Institute in the Shelby County case.

The kinds of voting law changes covered jurisdictions must submit for preclearance — back then, and still today — span large-scale changes like redistricting and voter ID laws to small things like changing a polling place or precinct, as this chart shows.

One way to look at the effectiveness of Section 5 is through the number of times the DOJ has requested more information from a jurisdiction that has submitted a voting change followed by a subsequent withdrawal of that proposal.

In a 2007 paper, Nathaniel Persily, a Columbia University professor of law and political science, concluded that since 1982, the DOJ requested more information from states or local governments 800 times, followed by the withdrawal of proposals in 205 of those instances.

“This represents a tiny fraction” of overall requests since 1982, Persily observes, “but it gives a sense of how many dogs did not bark as a result of the threat of a denial of preclearance.”

Just this past year, the provision was the reason federal judges blocked voter ID laws in both Texas and South Carolina, voided new district maps in Texas and prevented early voting reduction of hours in parts of Florida, citing a potential adverse effect on minority voters.

In the past year, the Justice Department objected to a total 16 proposed changes under Section 5, according to a DOJ official.

Does this tell us that Section 5 remains a viable tool concerning these specific jurisdictions? It depends how you look at it.

“There’s no question Section 5 covered the most egregious bad actors and the world looks different now,” said Heather Gerken, a professor at Yale Law School who specializes in election law. “But the question is, why does the world look different? And in some ways we can’t know because of the prophylactic rule.”

So who’s challenging Section 5?

Shelby County, Ala. In 2008, the city of Calera — located within Shelby County — redrew one of its electoral maps, bringing in hundreds of white voters and significantly decreasing the number of black voters, from 70.9 percent to 29.5 percent.

Since any change that would discriminate against minority voters violates the Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department stepped in and vetoed the proposed map. (The only black representative of the city council also lost his seat that election.)

The Justice Department also said the city relied on unreliable demographic data to justify the new map.

On April 27, 2010, Shelby County filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, asking the court to declare Section 5 unconstitutional on its face – meaning, broadly applied, as opposed to just in the county’s case alone.

As Reuters details, the case caught the attention of Edward Blum, a conservative advocate who persuaded Shelby County to file a suit, in turn connecting the county with lawyers who could handle an appeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Blum is also behind the recent Supreme Court challenge to affirmative action in public universities, Fisher v. University of Texas. 

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Clinton’s Policy of Not Prosecuting Bank Fraud Continues

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, Missouri.

Bill's an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri–Kansas City. He's a white-collar criminologist, a former financial regulator, author of the book The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One.

Thanks for joining us again, Bill.

BILL BLACK, ASSOC. PROF. ECONOMICS AND LAW, UMKC: Thank you.

JAY: So what are you working on this week?

BLACK: So I got to play historical detective, and the question was, we had just gotten through this savings and loan debacle. We were up to over 1,000 felony convictions of—just in major cases. George Akerlof and Paul Romer had said, hey, now we know how to prevent these crises.

JAY: What year are we in?

BLACK: We're in 1993. The national commission to investigate the causes of crisis says that fraud was invariably present at the typical large failure. And the new administration comes in, Bill Clinton and Al Gore, and they want to reinvent government.

So, what's been the big success story that all the public administration scholars are writing up? Well, it's been the effort to re-regulate the savings and loans. This is the greatest success against elite white-collar criminals, and it's a sexy story because we take on all these powerful politicians and such.

And so the mystery I was trying to investigate is why right at that time does the administration turn its back on preventing frauds and start adopting exactly the practices that we had warned were bound to produce widescale looting.

JAY: Okay. Let me add quickly a little bit of context here. And make sure—and tell me if I'm wrong here, Bill. Bill was a financial regulator. He was involved in investigating the whole savings and loans crisis. And so you were in the middle of all of this.

BLACK: That's right. We had led this effort, and we, you know, went up against the Keating Five, the five U.S. senators who tried to prevent us from cracking down on Charles Keating, and they removed our jurisdiction. And this was in all of the media. It was a really big deal, and it was treated as the great success story.

And then comes in the Clinton administration, and they want to reinvent government and make it much more effective. And you're going, hey, we are the folks who've done exactly that. The media is praising us. The public administration scholars are praising us. The white-collar criminologists are praising us. The economists are praising us. And instead they do a 180 when they come in and they move completely away from the things that work against fraud and they move completely to the things we warned produce a criminogenic environment that produces widescale fraud.

JAY: For example?

BLACK: So, for example, they deregulate it. So Akerlof and Romer, their famous line is that the economists lacked a theory before 1993 about fraud, and so they didn't see what the regulators in the field saw from the beginning, that deregulation was bound to produce looting—"bound" is their word, "looting" is their word. And then, of course, they supply that theory in 1993.

So this is exactly the same time the new administration comes in. And it now has the theory, has the benefit of what causes disaster, and it has the benefit of knowing what prevents the disaster and how you take on these elite frauds. And so you might think they would say, hey, this is a great model; we want to reinvent government; let's do it along these lines. Instead, they do exactly the opposite.

So, what do they do? They deregulate. And they start by doing what the agencies can do on their own. And so they get rid of the underwriting requirements as their very first thing they do in financial regulation. That's the worst possible thing. That's what makes possible the liar's loans that you see. And remember, this is right after our success in 1990, 1991 in cleansing the industry of liar's loans and preventing that crisis in savings and loans.

What's the next thing they do? They come and they instruct us—and I personally witnessed this—that we are to refer to the banks and the savings and loans as our customers, we the regulators, and we are to think of the banks and the savings and loans as our customers, and we are to think of how we can provide service—those are all direct quotations from how we were trained. And, of course, we rebelled and said this was obscene, this, completely improper; it will destroy effective regulation and such.

What else did they do? Well, they closed down the prosecution of savings and loan frauds. Now, we [inaud.] many times about having over 1,000 felony convictions in major cases alone, but that pipeline was still going. There would have been thousands of additional convictions, but the Clinton administration took away the FBI agents and most of the prosecutors and reassigned them to other things, which largely brought an end to the prosecutions and such. So they did everything in every possible way.

So I'm wondering what could cause this. And it turns out there's actually books by the people that were in charge of the reinventing effort, and they explain—and this is a book by Bob Stone, Confessions of a [Civil] Servant or something like that, who says, we had a meeting with Al Gore right at the beginning of the reinvention effort, and I told Al Gore my three lessons for how to reinvent a large entity like the federal government.

Now, the first two are just propaganda things. You know, tell simple stories with props and repeat them over and over and over again. But the third was: don't waste one second worrying about fraud, waste, and abuse. Now, that is an almost word-for-word quotation of what he told Al Gore. And after Al Gore heard that, Al Gore put Mr. Stone in charge of the reinvention of government effort.

JAY: And what's the explanation of why one shouldn't spend one cent on this?

BLACK: One second.

JAY: One second.

BLACK: One second of time on it. Stone isn't big on explanations, right? These are just diktats that he comes up with. They don't come from theory. They don't come from any real experience. He just doesn't much like anybody who worries about fraud.

And his—there was a second guy at the meeting, and this guy got made a major leader in reinvention as well by Al Gore at the end of this meeting on the strength of the following statement, which again is in Bob Stone's book. And the statement was, to Gore, that the United States of America was the last bastion of communism, the U.S. government was. Right? So this is the land—.

JAY: What is that supposed to mean?

BLACK: Well, that was supposed to mean that the U.S. government still had monopolies. Right? So there were some things that only the U.S. government did, and that supposedly made us Bolsheviks. It's the bizarrest thing you can imagine.

JAY: Okay. Well, let me ask you this, 'cause, I mean, that's pretty nutty. This idea that you shouldn't spend one second going after fraud and the big banks, there seemed to have been a bit of a theory to it (I've heard, at any rate), which is that you need this ability—if you crack down on fraud, you'll limit innovation in the finance field, and for the American banks to be competitive and deal with this global, complex structure, they need to be innovative, so live with fraud. So if I have that rationale right, how much is that still the rationale of the Obama administration?

BLACK: Well, it isn't—they actually don't make that rationale. He does launch an attack on the inspector generals using that ground, and he says, you know, they worry about fraud within the government, and that's very bad, because they imperil innovation. And you are correct that that remains, in the Obama administration, one of the excuses for why we shouldn't take fraud seriously.

But this is the intellectual history, and this is where much of the damage was done that the Bush administration then compounded, and produced the most criminogenic environment in history for this widescale fraud. And that's only the Clinton side of it, and then eventually some Bush.

But simultaneously what's happening on the Republican side is that Alan Greenspan is going around giving his favorite stump speech as a chairman of the Federal Reserve, which the lesson of it is also don't worry about fraud, fraud takes care of itself. And that comes from Chicago school economists—or, actually, law and econ folks, who actually didn't have degrees in economics, Easterbook and Fischel. Fischel eventually becomes dean of the UChicago Law School; Easterbrook, Seventh Circuit jurist, former UChicago law professor. And their famous line is a rule against fraud is not necessary or even particularly important in the securities context.

Now, they're coming from the side that the markets instantly and reliably remove all fraud. And that, by the way, if there was any intellectual input at all to the Clinton administration's thing on fraud, that's probably the same thing, because you see from these readings, this detective work I did, they are just in thrall to the private industry. They assume—in fact, they're nastier by far than President Reagan in describing the federal government, and they just love the private sector, and in particular they love all the things about the private sector that were building up to produce one fraud epidemic after another.

JAY: And has that changed at all in the current administration?

BLACK: No. In particular what they loved was performance pay, which of course is not really tied to performance and creates both the incentive to loot and the method to loot through a seemingly normal corporate mechanism that makes it far harder to prosecute. And so their big recommendation inside the government was to bring performance pay within the government. And their rationale for how to use that was then that you should—and this is a quotation from the granddaddy of all of this, who, by the way, is a journalist, Mr. Osborn—you should not ever, quote, "tolerate resistance," unquote.

JAY: And let me just—again, in terms of the Obama administration, any change in this culture?

BLACK: A strong embrace of the culture, even after the Enron-era frauds, even after the current level of frauds. And by the way, the book that I've been quoting from in substantial part, Mr. Stone's book, was published, hardcover, in 2002, soft cover in 2004, and has no mea culpas about, you know, we missed all of this, and doesn't even, for example, mention Enron's failure, so just does not take into account the disasters that occurred when they used this so-called performance pay.

But, again, that's—as a social scientist, that's the big motif. This is consistently written as propaganda, as journalistic stories. And this is not data-driven, it's not theory-driven. It was a bunch of just-so stories. And it was dishonest just-so stories, where all the contrary stories, you know, that disproved it and were vastly larger were simply ignored.

JAY: Alright. Thanks 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.

On the News With Thom Hartmann: Report Finds Global Warming Cut Labor Capacity by...

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In today's On the News segment: Michigan Republicans overwhelmingly voted to rig the Electoral College, and more.

Thom Hartmann here – on the news…

You need to know this. The sequester deadline is March 1st, and there's only four days until Republican austerity measures start to kick in. President Obama released new reports Sunday, which detail how spending cuts will harm each state, and he continues to call on Congress to find a way to avoid the sequester. The Republicans were hard at work too. But, instead of working on a compromise to prevent austerity, they've just come up with a new way to make Obama the bad guy. Since the American people didn't buy the Republican's attempts to blame the President for the sequester, the GOP now wants Obama to decide just where, when, and how these cuts should take place. Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri floated this new idea in an interview over the weekend, saying “the compromise is to give the president authority that he should be willing to use as the leader of the country to target the cuts, rather than to take the cuts on every line item.” This is just their latest ploy to avoid any responsibility for the financial pain our nation is about to feel, and President Obama needs to say “No” to their latest scheme. If Congress doesn’t act to prevent these austerity measures, the American people will know who's really to blame. It's Republicans who refuse to compromise, and they'd rather subject our entire nation to devastating cuts, than stop the tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires. Call Congress now and tell them that if they don't act to prevent the sequester, soon they'll be joining the unemployment rolls with the one million Americans who lose their jobs because of Republican austerity.

In screwed news... This weekend, Republicans in Michigan overwhelmingly voted to rig the electoral college. At that state's GOP Convention, party members voted 1,370 to 132 to divvy up Michigan's 16 electoral votes by congressional district. If this plan was in place during the last election, Mitt Romney would have received nine of that state's electoral votes, despite President Obama being the candidate of choice for 500,000 more voters. And if the electoral college was rigged like this in every state during the last election, Mitt Romney would be our president today, even though Obama got more than 2 million more votes throughout our nation. Other GOP-controlled state legislatures have recently considered rigging the electoral college, including Pennsylvania, Florida, and Virginia, but most have abandoned their schemes after a public outcry. Even Michigan's Republican Governor Rick Snyder says the right way to deal with election reform is “in a bipartisan way.” Let's hope he stands by his statement, and refuses to allow legislators in that state to distort our democratic process. Even better, let's make it impossible for Republicans to steal the next election by moving to a national popular vote. We can make it happen. Go to NationalPopularVote.com.

In the best of the rest of the news...

President Obama is standing up for civil rights. Last Friday, the administration publicly urged the Supreme Court to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies important federal benefits to tens of thousands of same-sex couples who are legally married in their states. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli says that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional, because it defines marriage under federal law as only between one man and one woman, thus denying equal rights to LGBT couples throughout our nation. DOMA will be argued before the Supreme Court next month, and the administration's position is that “because this discrimination cannot be justified as substantially furthering any important governmental interest, Section 3 is unconstitutional.” Many LGBT families, as well as their supporters, are hoping DOMA is struck down.  It's time for the right-wing members of the Supreme Court to recognize families of all types, and stop this discrimination once and for all.

Warming temperatures around the globe have slashed labor capacity by 10 percent. That's the finding of a new report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. According to scientists at NOAA, Earth's increasingly hot, wet climate has significantly reduced the amount of work people can do during warmer months over the last six decades. And the report's lead author, John Dunne, says, “we project that heat stress-related labor capacity losses will double globally by 2050 with a warming climate.” His report found that work capacity is already down 90 percent during the most hot and humid periods, when the warmer air holds more moisture, and increases humidity in the atmosphere. Dunne says the only way to maintain labor capacity is to limit global warming to less than 5 degrees Fahrenheit over the next half century. If workers can't produce because of rising temperatures, that means big business won't be able to make a profit, so perhaps this report will finally get them to wake up to climate change.

And finally… Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of yoga?? That's one San Diego couple's interpretation of the First Amendment. They're suing the San Diego school district for allegedly violating their children's religious freedom.... with yoga classes. According to a press release issued by the National Center for Law and Policy, attorney Dean Broyles claims the Encinitas, CA yoga program sets a “dangerous precedent” and is “the clearest case of the state trampling on the religious freedom rights of citizens” that he has ever witnessed. Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock have the option of simply taking their kids out of the classes, which the school's superintendent describes as, “stretching, moving, breathing.”  Instead, the parents filed a lawsuit to “suspend the yoga program indefinitely and restore traditional physical education.” Perhaps Mr. and Mrs. Sedlock could use some breathing exercises themselves. Yoga is a great way for kids to stay in shape, and trying to make exercise an attack on religious freedom certainly is quite a stretch.

And that’s the way it is today – Monday, February 25, 2013. I’m Thom Hartmann – on the news.

Would the GOP Deliberately Crash the Economy for Long-Term Political Gain? Hint: Yes.

President Obama and his advisers are wagering that Republicans will take the political blame if the sequester of $85 billion in automatic budget cuts is actually executed March 1. The president's public remarks keep emphasizing the risk to the recovery, the loss of jobs, the inconvenience to the public and the generally obstructionist posture of Republicans in Congress.Would the Republican leadership be so cynical? You bet they would. And if Obama and the Democrats keep playing their game, they'll get exactly what they want. (Photo: AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

He is certainly right -- in the short run. But the potential for damage to Obama and the Democrats is far greater in the years between now and the next mid-term (2014) and presidential (2016) elections.

Why are Democrats more at risk?

First, though the public tends to hold Congress in lower regard than it holds President Obama, the voters generally blame both parties when Washington seizes up and can't get the public's business done. The austerity lobby has been all too effective at disseminating a rhetoric of "Washington is broken," suggesting symmetrical blame (even though one party is rather centrist and serious about governing while the other has a lunatic strategy of "let it burn.")

If the sequester is executed, we will be treated to usual media bleats of "Where are the grownups?" and "Why can't you people just execute a grand compromise?" with the austerity lobby as ventriloquist.

And "execute" is just the right word, for the Republican price of compromise is savage cuts in what's left of social spending, including Social Security and Medicare, and no serious increases in taxes on the wealthy.

By 2016, and even by 2014, nobody will much remember who was more at fault in the sequester battle of early 2013. The voters will be looking at their own economic situation, and it won't be pretty.

The sequester may bite for a few days or even weeks, but the end-game of this round of budget warfare is all too clear. The president and Congress agree to solve the sequester of automatic cuts -- by substituting budget cuts of a like sum, with most them on the spending side.

But this has exactly the same depressive effect on the recovery as the sequester, itself. According to the CBO and independent economists, cuts of this magnitude will cut this year's economic growth rate in half -- from the 3 percent necessary to signal even the beginning of a recovery to about 1.5 percent according to the Congressional Budget Office. This doesn't even count the likely hit to the stock market.

This moves the budget even further away from the stated goal of reducing the ratio of debt to GDP a decade hence, because it shrinks GDP faster than it reduces debt.

And the sequester is only the beginning of a decade-long process of annual budget cuts of an even greater amount -- at least $120 billion a year, which equals 10 years of economic deflation.

This brings me back to the political consequences for Democrats. The Republicans are willing to take the political heat now, as obstructions, for three reasons.

First, as noted, accountability will be blurred. Both parties will be blamed, and by 2014 the details of the great sequester squabble will be blurry.

Second, any short-term pain to Republicans is outweighed by long-term gain: an austere budget slows the recovery and leaves the Democrats with no economic bragging rights going into 2014 and 2016.

Would the Republicans be that cynical -- to deliberately retard growth so as to embarrass Obama? Is the Pope Catholic? (Actually that's become a more complex question, but I digress.)

The third benefit to Republicans is that the sequester, and all the sequential sequesters over the next decade, deprive Democrats of the resources that they need to be, well, Democrats. Obama can proclaim big, bold initiatives as he did in the State of the Union Address, but they are all mere gestures -- because there is no money to spend on any of them, thanks to the bipartisan obsession with budget cutting.

Even worse, Democrats end up colluding in eviscerating very popular and necessary signature programs like Medicare and Social Security, which literally define the core differences between the two parties.

So by 2016, and even by 2014, nobody will much remember who was more at fault in the sequester battle of early 2013. The voters will be looking at their own economic situation, and it won't be pretty.

Is there nothing Obama and the Democrats can do? The president has challenged Republicans to join him in raising taxes on the rich, to spare the 99 percent the sacrifice of valued programs and the economy a needless double dip recession. That's a start, but he needs to blow up the entire premise that the cure for this economy is more and deeper budget cutting.

© 2013 Demos

Robert Kuttner

Robert Kuttner is co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect magazine, as well as a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the think tank Demos. He was a longtime columnist for Business Week, and continues to write columns in the Boston Globe and Huffington Post. He is the author of A Presidency in Peril: The Inside Story of Obama's Promise, Wall Street's Power, and the Struggle to Control our Economic Future, Obama's Challenge, and other books.

Suspicious Timing: Inaugural Contribution Linked to $8.3 Billion Nuclear Loan Guarantee?

WASHINGTON - February 25 - Was a $100,000 inaugural contribution linked to a utility’s newfound optimism about receiving an $8.3 billion federal loan guarantee?

We need more information to answer that question, but it sure seems fishy.

A Southern Co. executive told an audience at a Washington, D.C., conference last week that he is “newly optimistic” about receiving an $8.3 billion loan guarantee to build new nuclear reactors at a Georgia plant. The executive vice president of nuclear development, Joseph Miller, said he thinks the company can seal the deal by mid-year.

The statement came after the company gave $100,000 to President Barack Obama’s inaugural committee to help pay for festivities.

The timing is suspicious. Are the donation and optimism linked? It’s hard to tell. Decision-making about the loan guarantee program is cloaked in secrecy. But it is clear that robust financial assessments, not political decisions, should drive funding decisions and the terms of government loans, which should protect taxpayers.

Southern wants the money to build two new reactors at Plant Vogtle near Augusta, Ga. – the first new reactors built in this country in three decades. Given the high cost of new nuclear reactors, and the fact that the project already has encountered cost overruns, the taxpayer assistance is very important to the company.

The Obama administration should halt its negotiations with Southern Co. until a full record of all communications between Southern, its lobbyists and its lawyers, and all relevant agencies and the White House, is released to the public. Transparency is imperative to ensure public confidence in the process and ensure that this deal doesn’t stink like, well, rotten fish.

Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.

Nurses Oppose the KXL Pipeline — and All of Labor Should Too

Noticeably absent from President Obama’s “fix-it-first” program for rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure, highlighted in his State of the Union speech, is, so far, the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline project. Let’s keep it that way.

There’s heavy pressure from the fossil fuel industry, the politicians they influence, conservative Canadian interests, and some construction unions in the U.S. for the pipeline. But it’s not just the President’s decision. It’s up to all of us to put the pipeline in mothballs and leave the heavy tar sands crude oil in the ground.

National Nurses United, the largest U.S. organization of nurses, has joined with a growing climate movement, many ranchers and farmers, First Nations leaders, most Canadian unions, several other U.S. unions such as transport and domestic workers unions, and young people rightfully alarmed over the ecological impact to oppose Keystone XL.

Nurses already see patients sickened by the adverse effects of pollution and infectious diseases with a worrisome rise in asthma, respiratory and heart ailments, and premature death linked to air pollutants and the spread of water and food borne pathogens associated with environmental contaminants.

Stumping for the Pipeline puts labor in league with the most anti-union, socially and politically regressive corporate interests in the U.S., such as the oil billionaire Koch Brothers, the American Petroleum Institute, and other energy corporations generally, abetted by the rightwing politicians who carry their agenda.

Now add in Keystone XL. First, extracting tar sands is more complex than conventional oil drilling, requiring vast amounts of water and chemicals. The discharge accumulates in highly toxic waste ponds and risks entering water sources that may end up in drinking water, problems already occurring.

Second, the corrosive liquefied bitumen form of crude the pipeline would carry is especially susceptible to leaks that can spill into farmland, water aquifers and rivers on route. Following the rupture of a pipeline near Marshall, Mi in 2010 state officials found more than half the residents in communities along the Kalamazoo River reported respiratory ailments and other symptoms.

Then there’s the broader consequences of a project NASA scientist James Hansen calls “the biggest carbon bomb on the planet” and climate change activist Bill McKibben says would nearly double the atmosphere’s concentration of carbon dioxide if all the oil in those tar sands is burned.

Carbon emissions are a major factor in intensifying climate change. Higher air temperatures, for example, can increase bacteria-related food poisoning, such as salmonella, and animal-borne diseases like the West Nile virus.

And that’s just the proverbial tip of the melting iceberg considering the devastation that will come with rising sea levels, intensified “weather events” like droughts, fires, floods and storms, mass dislocation of coastal populations and mass starvation that may well be the legacy of our failure to address climate change.

Public health costs from fossil fuel production in the U.S. through contaminants in our air, rivers, lakes, oceans, and food supply today are pegged at more than $120 billion every year by the National Academy of Sciences. The Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that exposure to particulate matter emitted from fossil fuel plants is a cause of heart attacks, breathing difficulty, and long term respiratory illness including asthma, and reproductive, developmental, and cancer outcomes.

Some unions, desperate for needed jobs in a persistent recession that continues to plague American families, are lobbying for Keystone XL. But it’s like harvesting for fools gold.

The actual number of jobs that will be created is far less than has been claimed by the industry and its allies, and the U.S. State Department has now conceded that once the project is built, the number of people needed to operate and maintain the pipeline may be as few as 20.

As fossil fuel production has become more capital intensive, employment in the sector has fallen, according to a 2012 report by the International Labor Organization and the United Nations Environment Program. In the U.S., for example, coal production has increased by one-third since the 1980s, but employment has fallen by 50 percent.

Far more jobs would be created by converting to a green economy, notes economist Robert Pollin in his book “Back to Full Employment.” Every $1 million spent on renewable clean energy sources, he calculates, creates 16.8 jobs, compared to just 5.2 jobs created by the same spending on fossil fuel production.

And union members families too are exposed to the health risks of the tar sands production and transport, as well as the devastating effects of climate change.

Finally, stumping for the Pipeline puts labor in league with the most anti-union, socially and politically regressive corporate interests in the U.S., such as the oil billionaire Koch Brothers, the American Petroleum Institute, and other energy corporations generally, abetted by the rightwing politicians who carry their agenda.

The future for labor should not be scrambling for elusive crumbs thrown down by corporate partners, but advocating for the larger public interest, the reputation labor deservedly earned in the 1930s and 1940s, the period of labor’s greatest growth and the resulting emergence of a more egalitarian society. Today labor should be on that path again, uniting with the very coalition of those opposing the Pipeline and working to rein in the frightening consequences of climate change the Pipeline would hasten.

© 2013 National Nurses United

Deborah Burger

Deborah Burger is a registered nurse and a co-president of National Nurses United

It’s Time for MoveOn to Move and Stop Blocking Change

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities (RMBS) task force received ample attention from news and activist organizations alike following its dramatic announcement at last year’s State of the Union Address. The task force was supposed to investigate and prosecute Wall Street fraud that led to the housing bubble and the eventual collapse of the broader economy. FDL alum David Dayen’s recent piece in Salon reminds us that, one year later, the “new” task force has essentially amounted to what the “old” task force always was: “a conduit for press releases about investigative actions already in progress.”

Firedoglake was among a few groups that met the news of the taskforce with skepticism, but others like MoveOn.org, Rebuild the American Dream and the Courage Campaign were ebullient in their praise of the president and NY attorney general alike. My inbox was flooded with emails like this one, calling on me to thank the President, and get ready for the Wall Street prosecutions to come rolling in.

One month after being tapped to chair the task force, Schneiderman and his fellow ‘Justice Democrat’ California Attorney General Kamala Harris dropped their longstanding objections to a rather pathetic nationwide foreclosure fraud settlement that not only allowed some of the biggest criminals involved to walk upon payment of a relatively paltry settlement, but as FDL contributor Cynthia Kouril wrote at the time, “The court system will be permanently corrupted by forged and perjurious documents… This settlement is an incredible breach of the social contract between the government and the governed.” Months went by without mention of or word from the taskforce. The New York Daily News began to wonder aloud in April of that year whether the taskforce would actually do anything at all, and David Dayen repeatedly wrote at FDL News of the complete lack of information that had yet to surface on the taskforce.

The public – or rather, those who knew about this disturbing trend – was outraged at Schneiderman’s inaction, but the biggest outside champions of the taskforce were nowhere to be found. There were no emails from MoveOn calling on their millions of members to urge Schneiderman and the President to act. Really, how could they? They had already declared victory at the formation of the taskforce, and so all leverage was lost. This lack of public pressure from the groups most influential with administration officials may have contributed to the fact that the RMBS task force still does not have its own offices, phone lines or staff.

To this day, it seems these Beltway liberals are incapable of understanding the nature of our predicament. The Nation Magazine’s editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel, for one, defended these groups’ efforts in the Washington Post, writing, “Dayen blames groups like the Campaign for a Fair Settlement, the New Bottom Line, Move On and the Campaign for America’s Future (disclosure: I’m on its board) for buying in to the plot. In reality, though, these organizations have been pressuring the Obama administration for months to clean house at Justice, devote real resources to the task force and make it a top priority inside the White House.”

But David’s response gets at the heart of what I would like to address in this post (emphasis mine):

…I’m sure the Administration trembles at the pressuring from the groups that sent out glowing press releases a year ago about the “real leadership” shown by the President in announcing a task force that, by this own admission, carried no guarantee of resources or prioritization.

Look, nobody likes having to admit they’ve been duped. But I reject the assertion that there are only two courses of action here, that “we can either fight to see that this investigation is real or we can take our ball and go home.” That fight over the investigation is doomed. What would be useful is to examine the role of these DC progressive groups, who continue to build coalitions aimed at “pressuring” the White House and who continue to fail in spectacular fashion.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time MoveOn and the establishment liberals have fallen silent when they were needed most.

At the onset of the Occupy movement, many people were very uncomfortable with the speed with which groups like MoveOn.org, Democracy for America and others latched on to the “99%” messaging and began using it to further their own goals. DFA sold 99% bumper stickers. MoveOn held protests at Romney fundraisers, branding them “Hobnobs with the 1%” while quietly letting the President hobnob in Manhattan just weeks before.

Throughout the winter of 2011, local governments managed to find rare bipartisan consensus in mutual hatred of the Occupy encampments in their communities. Crackdowns began across the country at an alarming rate. Examples include:

  • Charlotte City Council has proposed an ordinance that “makes camping on public property a “public nuisance” and would prohibit “noxious substances,” padlocks and other camping equipment that city officials fear could impede traffic and create public safety issues.” (Convenient, since the DNC was hosted last fall.)
  • City officials in Bloomington posted an eviction notice for Occupy Bloomington after three arrests during a downtown march. Gov. Mitch Daniels also introduced new ‘security rules’ for the Statehouse, including allowing no more than 3,000 people to be inside the statehouse at any one time, “no protest signs larger than 2’ X 2’, no signs on sticks, no obscenity, no engaging in lewd acts contrary to state law, no Coke cans. Also no gambling.”
  • Occupy Eugene actually inspired the city to build a wrought iron fence around the home of a city council member who voted to forbid fires at the encampment. Councilman Poling says “his family is unnerved and some neighbors appalled, such as a family with two small children out looking at Christmas lights who saw five masked women demonstrating topless in front of his house.” Poling then went so far as to equate the topless protesters with the 1994 drive-by shooting at a Eugene synagogue by white supremacists, and demanded the city pay for redecorating his home. All Occupy Eugene asked for was to build a homeless shelter in the city.

But suddenly, at the moment Occupy could have really used their enthusiasm to rally to the movement’s defense, MoveOn, DFA and the others disappeared. As crackdowns intensified, Firedoglake and others called on our activists to lobby their local governments and speak out against the crackdowns, and show up at encampments in solidarity. We sent supplies and livestreamed on our front pages, doing everything we could reasonably do with the time afforded to us to protect the Occupy camps, but it wasn’t enough.

In a President’s first term, one might reasonably argue that these groups should avoid advocacy that could possibly ‘hurt’ their candidate’s chances at winning an election. While I don’t personally agree with this strategy, others are entitled to their own and I respect that. If MoveOn doesn’t feel it can safely navigate the space between supporting Occupy and the President at the same time, it may choose sides as it pleases.

But we are in the President’s second term. Giving the announcement of the RMBS working group a standing ovation — while completely hyperbolic — makes some sense 1 year out from Obama’s re-election. But now that he’s back in office (and assuming MoveOn’s protestations against Wall Street crimes are sincere) wouldn’t one expect to hear calls for action from Schneiderman and the administration, given their total failure thus far?

There is a troubling pattern to the efforts of some of the most visible, well-known advocacy groups on the left that seem, time and time again, to actually empower our opponents rather than empower our movement. When MoveOn and DFA failed to rally to the side of Occupy when they needed them most, they gave a pass to local governments to crack down and devastated the veracity of the movement itself at a time when it could have really dealt a blow to Wall Street. When the MoveOn coalition failed to follow through on their calls for justice for Wall Street crimes after the formation of the RMBS working group, it gave the public the false impression of progress while allowing Wall Street criminals to continue about their business.

The pattern goes something like this:

1. MoveOn comes out swinging at Wall Street, latches on to the emotions of the moment and pulls everyone into a big ‘progressive’ campaign with a coalition made of groups either affiliated with MoveOn or with other (Veal Pen) groups with close ties to the administration.

2. Then there is a moment of mass potential. Whether it’s the crackdowns at the height of the Occupy movement or the announcement of the RMBS working group, this moment attracts substantial press and public attention.

3. The next step should be to leverage the energy of that moment to continue to push for real change in the face of adversity: defend Occupy, or use your considerably large base of activists to urge the government to prosecute Wall Street criminals. But instead, MoveOn et al declare victory in the boldest terms and recede into the background. The coalition is not effectively activated. Everyone feels accomplished, and they should because they just managed to further cement the status quo.

4. Our opponents on Wall Street and in government seize on these opportunities as any shrewd actor would, recognizing that the public’s leverage has been squandered. With the campaign over, they can proceed apace with their agenda. Occupy camps were destroyed and MoveOn was nowhere to be found. Eric Schneiderman didn’t even so much as get a separate phone line for the RMBS working group, and continues to spoil what little remaining chances are left for Wall Street prosecution, and MoveOn is nowhere to be found.

Meanwhile, settlements with Wall Street criminals abound and Americans suffer. Aside from the recent lawsuit announced against S&P, which seems promising for now, not a single Wall Street executive has been jailed for their role in the financial crisis. The least MoveOn and their partners could do is send out an email.

America – Polluted with Corruption

In the United States everything is polluted.Democracy is polluted with special interests and corrupt politicians. Accountability is polluted with executive branch exemptions from law and the Constitution.

Washington Whitewashes Israeli Murder

Why not. It whitewashes its own. Washington is a rogue terror state. So is Israel. It's waged war on Palestine for decades. It's guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors. Its rap sheet makes serial killers look saintly.

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: The Return Of ‘Calamity Clegg’?

The ten things you need to know on Monday 25 February 2013...

1) THE RETURN OF 'CALAMITY CLEGG'?

Oh dear. So there we were, minding our own business on a Sunday evening, when out comes the deputy prime minister with a pretty startling admission - "indirect and non-specific concerns about Chris Rennard’s conduct reached my office in 2008" - that seem to contradict his earlier denials of having had any knowledge of claims of sexual misconduct against the senior Lib Dem peer. Clegg flew back to the UK from a half-term holiday in Spain with his family to proclaim that he would "not stand by and allow my party to be subject to a show trial of innuendo, half-truths and slurs".

But the Lib Dem leader has turned a controversy over sexual harassment into, basically, a Lib Dem leadership crisis - perhaps the worst of his political career. Speaking on Radio Solent this morning, Clegg said he "feels for" the women who have come forward but said "until last week... no very specific allegations were put to me...now that those general concerns have evolved into specific concerns we can act and we will".

This morning's front pages have gone for Clegg's jugular:

"Revealed: The Damning New Claim Against Nick Clegg" (Telegraph)

"Clegg Says He Knew Of Sex Claims About Peer" (Times)

"Clegg: I Did Know About Sex Claims" (Independent)

"Clegg Admits He Knew About Sex Claims" (Guardian)

"Clegg: I Did Know About Lord Grope" (Daily Mirror)

As is so often the case when it comes to the Lib Dems, the most damning splash is on the front of the Daily Mail:

"Weasel words: Clegg insisted he didn't know about sex allegations against peer. Now he admits he ordered probe FIVE YEARS ago into 'non specific' claims of assaults Now Lib Dems face a police probe."

The paper notes how the Lib Dem leader dumped the current chief secretary to the Treasury right in it: "In a stunning about-face, Mr Clegg said he asked his chief of staff, Danny Alexander, to probe ‘concerns about Chris Rennard’s conduct’ in 2008."

The Telegraph reports:

"Mr Clegg’s predecessors as party leader, Charles Kennedy and Sir Menzies Campbell, could also be asked whether any concerns about Lord Rennard had been raised with them.

"... However party insiders have told The Telegraph that 'at least a dozen women' could have been the subject of the peer's attention."

It ain't looking good for the coalition's junior partner - and this story is going to run and run. "The Lib Dems' attempt last week to insulate Clegg and set up an internal inquiry smacked of a bid to sweep the controversy back under a carpet," writes Kevin Maguire in today's Mirror. "It's been blindingly obvious since the US Watergate scandal that any hint of a cover-up can be more dangerous than the original crime."

Meanwhile, senior Lib Dems are queueing up to plead ignorance. "I knew of no reports that suggested Chris Rennard resigned for anything other than health reasons," the party's deputy leader Simon Hughes said on BBC Breakfast this morning. Pressed on whether he was aware of complaints against Rennard, Vince Cable told the Marr programme yesterday: "Absolutely not."

And it has to be pointed out, of course, that Lord Rennard has strenuously denied all of the allegations made against him.

2) LET'S TRY AGAIN

If you think the Rennard affair is the only scandal harming the Lib Dems right now, think again.

From the Telegraph:

"The retrial begins today of Vicky Pryce, 60, after the jury was discharged for failing to reach a verdict in her trial for perverting the course of justice by taking speeding points for ex–husband Chris Huhne."

3) EYE ON EASTLEIGH

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems remain bullish about their prospects for victory in Eastleigh - the Times quotes a senior pary figure, speaking off the record:

“'If Chris Huhne lying isn’t going to derail us then a peer that very few people have heard of is not going to harm us,' he said.

"Although Mike Thornton, the Lib Dem candidate, remains the favourite to win the election, bookmakers have cut the odds of victory for the Conservatives after a new poll. The poll, conducted by Survation and published yesterday, showed the Tories with a four-point lead. Ladbrokes has slashed the odds of Maria Hutchings, the Conservative candidate, winning the seat from 5-1 to 5-2."

As the Independent's lead editorial notes, "It is difficult to overstate the significance of Thursday's by-election. The contest is still a hard-fought scrap between the Coalition partners with far-reaching implications for Britain's political landscape, up to the 2015 election and beyond." The Sun's Trevor Kavanagh agrees: "Thursday’s battle will seal the fate of either David Cameron or Nick Clegg and even perhaps the Coalition they lead. It could even hasten the General Election, officially fixed for May 2015, with devastating consequences for the Conservatives."

4) 'A DOWNGRADED CHANCELLOR'

The Rennard affair couldn't have come along at a better time for George Osborne. All eyes are on the Lib Dems, rather than the hapless chancellor of the exchequer who lost our economy's triple-A credit rating on Friday night.

Well, not all eyes. The FT splashes on "Osborne feels the heat over rating blow", noting how:

"George Osborne is under pressure from both sides of the coalition to change the government's economic plan after the UK's loss of its triple A credit rating prompted colleagues of the chancellor to question his economic credibility.

"... Tory MPs are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the chancellor's performance, with the 100-strong "No Turning Back" group of Thatcherite backbenchers spearheading a push for greater austerity to fund tax cuts.

"David Ruffley, a leading member of the group, said: 'Some of us would like him to cut public spending even more in order to fund tax cuts to inject a fiscal stimulus into the UK economy at the budget.'"

Cut spending even more? Really? Insanity, as Einstein is said to have once remarked, is doing the same thing twice and expecting different results.

"George Osborne is a bankrupt Chancellor of the Exchequer," says an irate editorial in the Mirror. "His failure to adopt a Plan B to make the economy grow is the political equivalent of banging his head against a brick wall... As it stands, he is a downgraded Chancellor."

In its lead editorial, however, the Times - home to key Osborne ally, Danny Finkelstein - says "the problem is not that the strategy laid out by the coalition in 2010 was wrong. It is that the Government has failed to implement that strategy with sufficient vigour and political courage".

If. You. Say. So.

5) GAY MARRIAGE REVOLT, PART 68

First we discovered that Dave was having difficulties persuading his mother to back his same-sex marriage bill; now we learn that he's lost the support of the chair of his own local party association. From the Telegraph:

"The chairman of David Cameron’s local Conservative association has resigned in protest at his support for gay marriage.

"Cicely Maunder, 64, has abandoned her party membership and a number of the executive committee in Chipping Norton are said to have joined her.

"The decision by Mrs Maunder will be embarrassing for the Prime Minister who has a home in his Witney Constituency not far from the town in Oxfordshire."

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a kitten inside a... glass. Yes, a glass.

6) 'LISTENING TRIP'

Welcome to Britain, John! From the Times:

"John Kerry, the new US Secretary of State, is expected to focus on the Middle East on his inaugural world tour, which kicked off in London last night.

"Syria will be on the menu at a breakfast meeting with David Cameron this morning, but talks with the Prime Minister and later with William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, are also expected to touch on the Falklands.

Mr Kerry's ten-day tour is billed as a "listening trip" but already it is becoming clear that the new Secretary of State will run up against problems: the reluctance of the Syrian opposition to trust a White House that has vetoed arms deliveries, the limits of diplomacy in persuading Iran to drop its pursuit of a nuclear bomb, and European reluctance to spend more on defence. It will also take up the British call for faster progress on reaching a Middle East peace settlement, with an eye to President Obama's trip to Israel in March.

The paper notes that "Mr Kerry has an edge over his European counterparts because, unlike many of them, he has met President Assad on several occasions".

7) THE LOST WAR

More good news from the 'good war' in Afghanistan - via tonight's BBC Panorama:

"Shocking revelations of murder, sexual abuse of young boys, unarmed civilians being shot at, police officers high on drugs, and routine kidnaps and extortion are exposing the true state of Afghanistan's security forces in Helmand province.

"An investigation has revealed how Afghan forces running bases that British soldiers fought to secure are barely able to function – let alone pose a challenge to the Taliban."

Meanwhile, the Times reports:

"President Karzai yesterday ordered all US Special Forces out of a province bordering Kabul amid allegations that Afghans working with them are involved in murder and torture."

"In a test of his power over the Nato-led mission, the President issued his directive after several months of complaints about US-sponsored militias roaming unchecked in Wardak. They are alleged to have cut a student’s throat and made nine people disappear."

Are you 'listening', Mr Kerry?

8) 'HOW NOT TO RUN AN ELECTION'

That's the title of a new and damning study from the Electoral Reform Society on last November's police and crime commissioner elections - described as a multimillionpound "debacle"

The Guardian reports:

"Nearly 90% of voters in England and Wales have no idea who their police and crime commissioner is despite November's first direct elections, which cost £75m. A study by the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) shows the elections, which recorded the lowest turnout in peacetime history, were poorly delivered and had failed candidates and voters. Voters were left in the dark about who they could vote for, while candidates were kept away by huge deposits, unclear eligibility rules, vast electoral districts and high campaign costs."

9) MOVE TO WALES, SAVE MONEY

Desperate times call for desperate measures. From the Independent's front page:

"Taxpayers could be given a discount for living and working in Wales, as part of attempts to boost the country's underdeveloped economy.

"The British Government spends £18bn more on Wales every year than it gets back in tax - or £6,008 per head of the Welsh population. At present just one in 16 people earn more than £34,000 - the rate at which the higher 40 per cent tax band kicks in.

"Now, The Independent understands, the Treasury is proposing to allow the Welsh Assembly taxation powers that would allow it to vary the rates of tax that apply to people who live and work in Wales."

10) AN OSCAR FOR LINCOLN

Woo-hoo! Daniel Day-Lewis's superb portrayal of President Abraham Lincoln, in the Steven Spielberg biopic of the same name, ensured the British-born star become the first person to win the best actor Oscar for the third time at last night's Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles.

The HuffPost UK's full report on last night's Oscars, and full list of winners and runners-up, is here.

My recent New Statesman column on what Obama can learn from Lincoln is here.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From yesterday's Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 43
Conservatives 32
Lib Dems 11
Ukip 9

That would give Labour a majority of 114.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@iainmartin1 Chris Huhne down and out, Nick Clegg auditioning for part of Richard Nixon. Vince Cable... pondering...

@toryjim So Nick Clegg might have known something but didn't know what that something that he might have known but didn't know was.

@davidschneider Keen to get to truth of Rennard affair, Clegg launches full inquiry supervised by the Vatican.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Gaby Hinsliff, writing in the Guardian, says: "The Lib Dems' handling of harassment claims has so far been shameful. Their inquiries had best follow their brief – and dig."

Stephen Glover, writing in the Daily Mail, says: "Pity the voters who trusted the REAL 'nasty party'".

Romanian prime minister Victor Ponta, writing in the Times, says: "Our people have an improving economy at home. They don’t need to come to Britain."


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

Hollywood History: CIA Sponsored “Zero Dark Thirty”, Oscar for “Best Propaganda Picture”

hollywood2

‘Hollywood history’ is all the rage these days, but it comes at a huge cost

One of the most pervasive trends in 21st century western culture has become somewhat of an obsession in America. It’s called “Hollywood history”, where the corporate studio machines in Los Angeles spend hundreds of millions of dollars in order to craft and precisely tailor historical events to suit the prevailing political paradigm.

‘Hollywood history’ is very much in fashion these days. From Linclon to Dubya, and from Blackhawk Down to The Iron Lady, they constitute a significant portion of today’s major releases. There’s only one problem however, with tailoring a story to fit neatly into a prevailing political paradigm… and over the last 100 years, the Germans and the Soviets did this too – with devastating effect, but back then we just called it propaganda.

No film embodies the Hollywood historical treatment more than the much celebrated cinema release of Zero Dark Thirty, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, and one of the favourites to grab an armful of Academy Awards this weekend in LA including Best Picture, Bigelow for best director, Mark Boal for best screenplay, and Jessica Chastain for Best Actress.

The film’s main premise is constructed around a female CIA officer, played by Chastain, and her dogged determination to find the highly elusive mastermind of 9/11 and the al Qaeda’s MVP, Osama bin Laden. Chastain’s performance, critics claim, has also ‘empowered women’ by showing how her film character caught bin Laden, but it didn’t actually happen that way.  We’ll get to that later… 

Where this film starts to take heat is with its sensational on screen CIA torture scenes. Unlike previously less celebrated but more integral, intellectual cinematic efforts at taking on torture – like Rendition and Lions for Lambs, Bigelow seemed incredibly bent on going the distance to glorify (through her attempt at Cinéma vérité) the troubling practice of torture by the CIA – as a means to glean intelligence about the whereabouts of various Islamic terrorists scattered throughout the
world’s third world cesspits.

Actor Jessica Chastain unaware that that ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ was a work of total fiction.

Bigelow and her writing team’s artistic license on the effectiveness of torture even prompted one screen legend, actor Susan Sarandon, to brand the film as a piece of manipulative political entertainment. The veteran human rights defender issued a written statement saying that when watching Zero Dark Thirty, “you should know that the movie has generated controversy because it leaves a mistaken impression: that the CIA’s torture of prisoners ‘worked’ by providing information that led to bin Laden.”

In fact, the US Senate Intelligence Committee spent four years investigating the CIA’s torture program, and according to Senators Diane Feinstein and John McCain, the CIA’s vaunted torture program under Obama did not lead to bin Laden (that’s the only true statement you will ever hear surrounding the government’s Osama bin Laden tale).

Zero Dark’s glorification of torture is merely the first level of moral descent however, because you see, there’s still the thorny issue of Osama bin Laden to deal with…

One thing was clear when watching this film, and also by the reactions of theatre goers at my screening in Brixton, South London, that Zero Dark marks a new low point in America’s now fashionable politicised culture, and Bigelow must be aware of this because she seemed to play this card shamelessly in her highly politicised film.

Never before in the history of cinema has there been such a break-neck rush to complete and release a motion picture so soon after the said event, to serialise the legendary “Hunt for Bin Laden”, and “the greatest manhunt in history” by a gallant Seal Team 6, ending in the siege of the terror kingpin’s alleged place of abode – a compound located in Abbotabad, Pakistan.

Apparently, Bigelow’s production was already in motion in May 2011 in advance of the White House’s announcement that Seal Team 6 had killed Bin Laden, and Bigelow it seems, was either persuaded or herself decided (it’s not clear which one it was), to rewrite the film’s script in order to theatrically chronicle what President Obama had put forward as his greatest achievement since taking office. This was the birth of Zero Dark Thirty. Others are investigating whether the movie’s filmmakers received quiet government funding to promote torture, since they did obtain classified information, according to many reports. Unfortunately for Bigelow, and as some of us learned with Iraq, so-called ‘classified’ information is only as credible as its source (US intelligence unfortunately has a spotty record of late).

Was bin Laden really killed by Seal Team 6 that day? Examine the evidence, if you can find any.

Hitler’s Reich relied on talent filmmakers like Leni Riefenstahl, to write the government’s version of Nazi history.

If Pentagon propaganda, or bolstering President Obama’s political trophy were the motives, then one could compare this film’s creators to  similarly well-paid cinematic forebears like Albert Speer, or Leni Riefenstahl.

Female cinematic icon Riefenstahl’s involvement in crafting Nazi government propaganda was eventually her undoing.  After the Reich fell in 1945, she still maintained that her films were ‘works of art’ and claimed that they had nothing to do with Nazi politics and propaganda. With all the lies and propaganda swirling around Washington’s own criminal class, it will be interesting to see how filmmakers like Bigelow will defend their own ‘art’ in years to come.

But it’s hardly the first time Hollywood has been accused of gross misuse of its creative license. It’s become the norm, rather than the exception.

Other Hollywood attempts to hold the government’s line on history include the box office debacle, “Flight 93″, which derived its plot, characters and production design solely from the federal government’s own Official 9/11 Report. Evidence fleshed out since points to the obvious scenario that Flight 93 was actually shot down by a US jet fighter, with its debris spread over 20 miles in and around Shanksville, PA in 2001. No matter, Hollywood kept to the government’s original outdated script of “let’s roll!”.

The sheer volume of mistruths which have been fed downwards by the US government and its corporate media apologists over the last decade is staggering, and has had quite of profound, polarising effect on media consumers North America and Western Europe. The avalanche of state-sponsored and corporation-sponsored propaganda over the last decade in particular, appears to have successfully divided society into two groups: those who believe official propaganda and government released narratives of major events – and those who question it.

It’s safe to say that the sort of people who would never admit in public to questioning the government’s official explanations about what happened on 9/11 – are generally the same section of the population who would accept a film like Zero Dark Thirty as recorded history. These might also be the same type of people who believed in advance of America’s bombing and invasion of Iraq – Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The bin Laden mythology is powerful, however, and millions of people will walk away from this film feeling as if they’ve learned something about what its like working in gritty side the CIA.

Under normal circumstances, I would not pay for a ticket to see a historical production which I believe was based on a fictional narrative. I made an exception in this case because it was the only way I could review the film in time to write this piece. But the most profound realisation I got whilst watching the movie was a very sad one. I felt sorry for the director, the cast and all the production crew who put in their hard work and sweat, and probably believed that bin Laden was indeed in the Abbotabad compound in May 2011, and that they were reenacting a rare and proud piece of American history.

In order to believe this, they would also would have to have believed the somehow, that same bin Laden also masterminded a multi-pronged assault that managed to bypass the whole of the US Defense apparatus – all from his legendary cave in Tora Bora.

It’s no surprise how much both the Bush and Obama governments and the corporate military industrial complex has benefited from maintaining the mythology of a living Osama bin Laden since 2001. Unfortunately, the mythology does not measure up to reality, with multiple admissions in public by heads of state by Pervez Musharraf, and Benazir Bhutto, as well as by Madeline Albright and others, and even mainstream media reports going all the way back to 2001, stating that Osama bin Laden was dying, or had in fact died in late 2001.

Knowing all this, when I heard the news of Obama and the Navy Seal Team 6 raid on bin Laden, I knew immediately that not only was this  almost certainly a fiction, but that their would be no photographs and videos released, because a dead man cannot come back to life after 10 years for a photo session.

As predicted, a few days later the White House confirmed my suspicions, announcing that indeed, ‘no photos or video will be released’…

On top of that, we were also told that they dumped bin Laden’s body at sea 48 hours after allegedly killing him. Fancy that? But even that pillar of the official fell apart later when it was revealed that no US sailors aboard the USS Carl Vinson ever saw the alleged burial at sea, and that no images exist in any government records of bin Laden aboard the decorated US sea vessel. Hard to believe, but only if you believe the government’s official fiction on the fate of Osama bin Laden.

Also, unknown to Kathryn Bigelow and her crew at the time of production, there was no DNA identification of bin Laden by the Pentagon either, and no autopsy was done. It’s as if he was merely a ghost. Does that mean that White House announcements to the contrary back in May 2011 were lies? Yes, it does.

So let’s get that straight. There no evidence to prove that bin Laden was even there at Abbotabad in May 2011 (or alive for that matter), and Zero Dark Thirty is based on the idea that he was there because the CIA said he was. We can imagine Albert and Leni getting excited right about now.

These facts certainly give my own statements on the incident even more credibility, but that’s nothing to cheer about. We were lied to, again.

Zero Dark is also flanked this year by another historical effort which has relied heavy on Hollywood brand of artistic license is Ben Affleck’s Iranian hostage drama, Argo, which most analysts agree was heavily padded with imaginative characters, written-in backstories and invented obstacles, all woven together to create an ‘interesting’ and entertaining piece of film much the same way Charlie Wilson’s War was a jovial depiction of the CIA’s gun-running in the Soviet-Afghan War, painted by Hollywood as a story of American heroism for the ages. There are literally dozens of other examples of invented Hollywood history, these are only a few.

Rarely is ever – has Hollywood ever actually challenged the political paradigm or the power of the Pentagon in one of its ‘historical productions’. Argo and Charlie Wilson’s ‘semi-fiction’ might seem like harmless Hollywood history to many movie goers, but altering history for entertainment purposes is not just deceptive, besides the fact that it’s not true yet its being passed off as history, it also borders on mass brain washing, further distorting generational truths about what our nations’ governments actually get up to on tax payers’ time.

Rather than betting the farm on a quirky piece of historical trivia, will film goers ever see the day that a director like Affleck might try to tackle the Iran Contra Scandal and the CIA running guns to Nicaragua and Cocaine into Louisiana and Arkansas airports? Or reveal how the same CIA, with the help of the FBI, being responsible for introducing crack cocaine to the streets of Los Angeles during the 1980′s, or even about the CIA shipping heroin out of Afghanistan after 2001? Likewise, ignoring the true historical context that it was the very same CIA, with the help of Saudi oil money, who created and trained the present day al Qaeda by employing the likes of Osama bin Laden to handle the terror group’s finances over the decades.

Sadly, spending $150 million on a film production that could reveal actual history, and out govt corruption – is probably asking too much from Hollywood’s bold and beautiful. No, no, stick to quirky revisions of history, non-events, or outright inventions, and then bask in all the pomp of Oscar night.

Perhaps, upon doing a little research, Kathryn Bigelow might consider doing a sequel to Zero Dark Thirty – and tell us what happened to that famous “Navy Seal Team 6″ after the bin Laden raid. That would make a good story, and one many people would like to know more about.

In the end, Zero Dark can only be summed up as one big, expensive lie in celluloid, in the Riefenstahl and Speer tradition. Regardless of how many awards it wins this winter – that’s how history will eventually label Kathryn Bigelow’s latest piece of moving art.

The good news is the truth has no expiration date, and political propaganda eventually collapses under the weight of its own inflated sense of purpose.

All we are seeing here, is simply… Hollywood drifting further towards Washington DC.

Austerity USA Begins March 1st: Bipartisan Project to Impoverish the American People

U.S. politicians have cried wolf over austerity long enough for the public to ignore them. A perfect time, then, for politicians to actually unleash the wolves. Barring an unlikely last minute deal, here’s a short list of some of the massive, national bi-partisan-created austerity cuts, according to the New York Times: 

-600,000 food stamp recipients will be cut from the program

-Massive education cuts. According to President Obama:

“Once these cuts take effect thousands of teachers and educators will be laid off and tens of thousands of parents will have to scramble to find child care for their kids. ”

-12 billion in Medicare cuts (more to come after 2013)

-Millions receiving unemployment will see their checks cut by 11% (an average of 132 a month)

-Federal funds to state governments will be cut, creating even more deficits for states and municipalities, and thus more localized cuts (the states have already made austerity cuts of $337 billion!)

Also, 700,000 jobs are expected to be loss, while 70,000 kids are also expected to be kicked off of Head Start

And this is just for 2013. The current plan for the austerity “sequester” cuts is $100 billion of federal cuts every year for ten years, equaling massive cuts to jobs, Medicare, education, and completely destroying federally funded social programs.

Will it actually happen this time? The New York Times reports: 

“In private, Capitol Hill staff members and members of Congress have admitted that there are no viable plans on the horizon to delay or offset the cuts.”

The finger pointing in Washington, D.C. has already reached a crescendo, with the perverted logic being that, if both parties are to blame, it’s really no one’s fault. In reality Democrats and Republicans created these “sequester” cuts, and they can just as easily undo them with a snap of the finger.Both parties are choosing not to delete the cuts. They just don’t want political responsibility for the fallout, which many economists have predicted will push the U.S. economy over the edge into official recession.

Obama has predictably blamed the Republicans for this mess, even though he personally began this process by creating the “deficit reduction commission” that helped shape the cuts (keep in mind there is zero debt crisis that calls for such drastic measures).

Obama could also just as easily appeal to the American public —over the heads of congressmen — to demand that the cuts be shelved forever. Instead, he’s proposing a “grand bargain” deal that he knows the Republicans won’t go for.

What’s in Obama’s grand bargain deal? According to the White House website:

-$130 billion in “savings” [cuts] to Social Security, by implementing a “superlative CPI.”

-$35 billion in “savings” [cuts] to the retirement of federal employees.

- $400 billion in health care “savings” [cuts], much of it Medicare cuts.

Obama cynically fails to mention the words Social Security or Medicare in the above plan, choosing instead to write in code (“superlative Consumer Price Index”). Obama’s plan to avoid the March 1st cuts still assumes that $500 billion in cuts will be implemented over the next ten years, as opposed to $1trillion.

But his plan is just a distraction. Obama knows his plan has no chance of being passed by March 1st. He’s falsely portraying his plan as the only alternative to the March 1st cuts, even though a far better idea — the one preferred by a vast majority of Americans — is to simply to shelve the sequester cuts forever. To not put forth this option makes Obama complicit in the cuts.

Many pundits have speculated that Congress will allow the cuts to go into effect for three weeks, since March 27th marks a fiscal deadline that will pressure Congress to maneuver anew.  This might trigger a new round of haggling over a new “grand bargain” that again targets “entitlement programs” and re-packages the massive cuts into a prettier box. The party that does the most effective finger pointing after the March 1st cuts will be in the best position to dictate matters post-March 27th, so say the pundits.

Whatever the actual result, the Democrats and Republicans share similar enough visions that massive cuts to cherished social programs appear to be inevitable. Much of the made-for-TV bickering is pure political posturing, meant to fool the working people most affected by these cuts into believing it’s “the other party” that’s responsible.

Politicians have been able to get away with this disgusting behavior because there are very few independent voices telling the truth about what’s happening. Many labor and progressive groups are consciously lying about the dynamic, placing blame squarely on the Republicans, thus allowing the Democrats not to be held accountable for their pandering to the corporate elite’s demand to use austerity to attack the social safety net. In reality both parties are jointly attacking working and poor people via austerity, on a city, state, and national level.

If Labor and community groups united in a demand of ‘No Cuts, Tax the Rich’ and organized massive mobilizations, there would be a very different public debate happening right now. It’s not too late for these groups to tear themselves from the jaws of their attackers.

FBI Agent: ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Used By CIA Torture Promoters


The Hollywood gossip is that the film's presentation of torture locked it out of the Oscar race.

This former FBI agent who was deeply involved in catching and questioning top Al Qaeda members says the producers of "Zero Dark Thirty" were manipulated and used by the pro-torture contingent in the CIA. He's right - using the fig leaf of "based on actual events" does not excuse putting such serious misinformation into the popular record of what happened -- and why:

I watched “Zero Dark Thirty” not as a former F.B.I. special agent who spent a decade chasing, interrogating and prosecuting top members of Al Qaeda but as someone who enjoys Hollywood movies. As a movie, I enjoyed it. As history, it’s bunk.

The film opens with the words “Based on Firsthand Accounts of Actual Events.” But the filmmakers immediately pass fiction off as history, when a character named Ammar is tortured and afterward, it’s implied, gives up information that leads to Osama bin Laden.

Ammar is a composite character who bears a strong resemblance to a real-life terrorist, Ammar al-Baluchi. In both the film and real life he was a relative of Bin Laden’s lieutenant, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. But the C.I.A. has repeatedly said that only three detainees were ever waterboarded. The real Mr. Baluchi was not among them, and he didn’t give up information that led to Bin Laden.

In fact, torture led us away from Bin Laden. After Mr. Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times, he actually played down the importance of the courier who ultimately led us to Bin Laden. Numerous investigations, most recently a 6,300-page classified report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, have reached the same conclusion: enhanced interrogation didn’t work. Portraying torture as effective risks misleading the next generation of Americans that one of our government’s greatest successes came about because of the efficacy of torture. It’s a disservice both to our history and our national security.

While filmmakers have the right to say what they want, government officials don’t have the right to covertly provide filmmakers with false information to promote their own interests. Providing selective information about a classified program means there is no free market of ideas, but a controlled market subject to manipulation. That’s an abuse of power.

John O. Brennan, a former C.I.A. official and now President Obama’s nominee to head the agency, recently testified that the classified report raised “serious questions” about information he received when he was the agency’s deputy executive director. Mr. Brennan said publicly what many of us — who were in interrogation rooms when the program was devised — have been warning about for years: senior officials, right up to the president himself, were misled about the enhanced interrogation program.

For instance, a 2005 Justice Department memo claimed that waterboarding led to the capture of the American-born Qaeda member Jose Padilla in 2003. Actually, he was arrested in 2002, months before waterboarding began, after an F.B.I. colleague and I got details about him from a terrorist named Abu Zubaydah. Because no one checked the dates, the canard about Mr. Padilla was repeated as truth.

When agents heard senior officials citing information we knew was false, we were barred from speaking out. After President George W. Bush gave a speech containing falsehoods in 2006 — I believe his subordinates lied to him — I was told by one of my superiors: “This is still classified. Just because the president is talking about it doesn’t mean that we can.”

Some of these memos, and reports pointing out their inaccuracies, have been declassified, but they are also heavily redacted. So are books on the subject, including my own.

Meanwhile, promoters of torture get to hoodwink journalists, authors and Hollywood producers while selectively declassifying material and providing false information that fits their narrative.

When “War is Peace”: “Peace Prizes” Awarded to War Criminals

war

French President François Hollande was awarded UNESCO’s Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize for “valuable contribution to peace and stability in Africa” according to the United Nations website: www.un.org.  Former Mozambique President Joaquim Chissano, chaired the Jury of the Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize stated that “After analyzing the global situation, it is Africa that held the attention of the Jury with the various threats affecting the continent” with instability affecting Northern Mali by various Al-Qaeda elements created by the west, gave France an opportunity to invade the former colony. “Having assessed the dangers and the repercussions of the situation on French President Francois HollandeAfrica, and on Mali in particular, as well as on the rest of the world, the Jury appreciated the solidarity shown by France to the peoples of Africa.”  Does appreciating “the solidarity” shown by France mean killing hundreds of Malian people since the invasion?  France has killed many civilians that includes children.  The human rights organization Amnesty International has accused French forces of killing civilians since there was “evidence that at least five civilians, including three children, were killed in an airstrike.”  UNESCO’s Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize is similar to the Nobel Peace Prize whose past winners were known for war crimes.

Henry Kissinger

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the notorious war criminal responsible for an estimated 3 to 4 million deaths during the Vietnam War including the bombing of Cambodia was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973.  He was responsible for the overthrow of President Salvador Allende of Chile and installed Fascist General Augusto Pinochet which created a “Police State” among the Chilean population.  Kissinger also was instrumental in giving support to one of the worst dictatorships in human history, the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot.  Henry Kissinger committed many other crimes including genocide under both Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford as an “advisor” under the NSA (National Security Agency) and as Secretary of State.  President Barack Obama was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize although he was in office less than a year.  Obama has expanded Drone wars in Pakistan and Yemen, opened several US military bases in Colombia and one in Chile, he ordered a war in Libya without congressional approval, maintained a military presence in Iraq and escalated the war in Afghanistan.  Obama’s record of peace on the international level is questionable.  Obama said that he was “Surprised” and “deeply humbled” after he received the award.  He said the Nobel Peace Prize is a “Call to Action”, meaning more war.  It is fair to say that the US government has been involved in many “actions” across the world, whether militarily or economically that has done more harm than good.

US President Jimmy Carter

The Nobel Peace Prize has also awarded three Israeli Prime ministers that have systematically committed numerous crimes against Palestinians that includes Menachem Begin in 1978, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres in 1994. UNESCO’s Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize also awarded Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres in 1993 along with Yasser Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) during the Oslo I Accord as an attempt by both sides to set up a roadmap to a resolution to end the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.  The Oslo Accords actually failed since Israel never ended its occupation and continued to build “Israeli Settlements.”

The Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize in 1994 and the Nobel Prize in 2002 were both awarded to former US President Jimmy Carter.  Carter supported the dictatorship of the Shah of Iran and The Somoza dictatorship of Nicaragua.  He also supported Indonesia’s Suharto militarily and diplomatically during the invasion and occupation of East Timor.  Under President Carter, US Military Aid to Suharto’s Military increased under Carter causing the deaths of over 200, 000 East Timorese.  UNESCO’s Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize and the Nobel Peace Prize are in fact an insult to “World Peace”.  UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and the Nobel Peace Prize have both proved that “Western political influence” dominate both prizes.

Both awards for “Peace” are just a propaganda tool for Western Powers to wage war to establish peace.  The war on Mali will expand under Hollande since his new peace award would allow him and other key players such as AFRICOM to wage war to establish peace.  George Orwell was correct when he wrote in his classic book “1984” that “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery and Ignorance is Strength.”  Mali will see more war because peace is on the agenda, right?

About the author:

Timothy Alexander Guzman is an independent researcher and writer with a focus on political, economic, media and historical spheres. He has been published in Global Research, The Progressive Mind, European Union Examiner, News Beacon Ireland, WhatReallyHappened.com, EIN News and a number of other alternative news sites. He is a graduate of Hunter College in New York City.

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Virtually ALL of the Big Banks’ Profits Come from Taxpayer Bailouts and Subsidies

bankers

The government has propped up the big banks for years through massive, never-ending bailouts and subsidies.

Bloomberg noted last year that 77% of JP Morgan’s net income comes from government subsidies.

Bloomberg reported yesterday:

What if we told you that, by our calculations, the largest U.S. banks aren’t really profitable at all? What if the billions of dollars they allegedly earn for their shareholders were almost entirely a gift from U.S. taxpayers?

***

Lately, economists have tried to pin down exactly how much the subsidy lowers big banks’ borrowing costs. In one relatively thorough effort, two researchers — Kenichi Ueda of the International Monetary Fund and Beatrice Weder di Mauro of the University of Mainz — put the number at about 0.8 percentage point. The discount applies to all their liabilities, including bonds and customer deposits.

Small as it might sound, 0.8 percentage point makes a big difference. Multiplied by the total liabilities of the 10 largest U.S. banks by assets, it amounts to a taxpayer subsidy of$83 billion a year. To put the figure in perspective, it’s tantamount to the government giving the banks about 3 cents of every tax dollar collected.

The top five banks — JPMorgan, Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. – – account for $64 billion of the total subsidy, an amount roughly equal to their typical annual profits (see tables for data on individual banks). In other words, the banks occupying the commanding heights of the U.S. financial industry — with almost $9 trillion in assets, more than half the size of the U.S. economy — would just about break even in the absence of corporate welfareIn large part, the profits they report are essentially transfers from taxpayers to their shareholders.

The money hasn’t just gone to the banks shareholders … It has also gone to line the pockets of bank management:

Indeed:

All of the monetary and economic policy of the last 3 years has helped the wealthiest and penalized everyone else. See thisthis and this.

***

Economist Steve Keen says:

“This is the biggest transfer of wealth in history”, as the giant banks have handed their toxic debts from fraudulent activities to the countries and their people.

Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz said in 2009 that Geithner’s toxic asset plan “amounts to robbery of the American people”.

And economist Dean Baker said in 2009 that the true purpose of the bank rescue plans is “a massive redistribution of wealth to the bank shareholders and their top executives”.

We’ve noted for years that the big banks – including CitiWellsBank of America and the rest – areactually insolvent.

Breaking up the big banks would stabilize the economy … and dramatically increase Main Street’s access to credit.

But the government has chosen the banks over the little guy … dooming both:

The big banks were all insolvent during the 1980s.

And they all became insolvent again in 2008. See this and this.

The bailouts were certainly rammed down our throats under false pretenses.

But here’s the more important point. Paulson and Bernanke falsely stated that the big banks receiving Tarp money were healthy, when they were not. They were insolvent.

Tim Geithner falsely stated that the banks passed some time of an objective stress test but they did not. They were insolvent.

Both the creditors and the debtors were mortally wounded by the 2008 financial crisis. The big banks wouldn’t have survived without trillions in handouts, guarantees, loans, idiot-proof profits courtesy of the government.

The little guy hasn’t been helped since 2008. He has been left to suffer with his life-threatening wounds. See thisthis and this.

So the government chose sides. The creditors were wiped out, just like a lot of Main Street was wiped out. In one sense, the government chose who would live (the giant banks and other bailed out and favored companies) and who would die (the other 99%).

But in fact, the big banks were no longer creditors after the 2008 crash. Specifically, the big banks which held the mortgages and the loans were wiped out.

The government moved the arms and legs of the big banks to pretend they were still alive … and have been doing so ever since. But they were no longer going concerns after they went bust.

The government pumped blood back in these dead banks and turned them into zombies. They will never come back to life in a real sense … they are still zombies, 3 years later.

Many of the world’s leading economists and financial experts say that by choosing creditors over debtors, the government is dooming the economy. See this and this.

The big zombie banks can never come back to life, and – by trying to save them – the government is bleeding out the little guy.

By choosing the big banks over the little guy, the government is dooming both.

Remember, the Federal Reserve has paid banks high interest rates to stash money (their “excess reserves”) with the Fed for the express purpose of preventing loans to Main Street.

And the Fed plans to throw more money at the banks when the Federal Reserve starts to tighten.  As FTreports:

US Federal Reserve officials fear a backlash from paying billions of dollars tocommercial banks when the time comes to raise interest rates.

The growth of the Fed’s balance sheet means it could pay $50bn-$75bn a year in interest on bank reserves at the same time as it makes losses and has to stop sending money to the Treasury.

***

In an interview with the Financial Times, James Bullard, president of the St Louis Fed, said: “If you think of the profitability of the biggest banks, if you’re going to talk about paying them something of the order of $50bn – well that’s more than the entire profits of the largest banks.”

***

At the moment it only pays 0.25 per cent interest on those reserves. But according to its exit strategy, published in June 2011, the Fed plans to raise interest rates before it sells assets. Interest of 2 per cent on $2.5tn of reserves would run to $50bn a year.

***

The eventual tightening could lead to substantial amounts being transferred to commercial banks from the Fed, given the amounts of cash they have parked there. Wells Fargo has $97.1bn sitting at the Fed, the largest amount of any bank, ahead of JPMorgan Chase at $88.6bn and Goldman Sachs at $58.7bn, according to an FT analysis of SNL data.

Foreign banks also have a striking amount of cash at the Fed, potentially aggravating the Fed’s PR problem. Analysts at Stone & McCarthy noted recently that there had been a steep increase in foreign banks placing reserves at the Fed and suggested that “US banks may have distaste for the opportunistic arbitrage”, between lower market rates and the interest on reserves, whereas overseas institutions “might not feel encumbered in the same fashion”.

Canada’s TD Bank, Germany’s Deutsche Bank and Switzerland’s UBS each have more than $12bn at the Fed.

And while this post focuses on bailouts and subsidies to big American banks,  a large percentage of the bailouts went to foreign banks (and see this). And so did a huge portion of the money from quantitative easing. More here and here.

Center for Biological Diversity Statement on Nominations of Ernest Moniz for Energy Secretary, Gina...

WASHINGTON - February 22 - Bill Snape, senior counsel with the Center for Biological Diversity, released the following statement today on the expected nominations of Ernest Moniz for energy secretary and Gina McCarthy for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

“America’s energy policy must focus on averting catastrophic climate change, so we urge President Obama to chart a course based on science, not on cheap profits for industry. There must be an immediate rethinking of the current White House support for fossil fuel fracking, which releases massive amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and also creates other enormous pollution problems.

“We’re concerned that, as energy secretary, Ernest Moniz may take a politically expedient view of harmful fracking and divert resources from solar, geothermal and other renewable energy sources vital to avoiding climate disaster. We’re also concerned that Moniz would be in a position to delay research into the dangers fracking poses to our air, water and climate.” 

“Gina McCarthy is an environmental professional who knows how to get the job done, but her biggest challenge may be her own boss. As head of the EPA, McCarthy’s most important task must be moving quickly to combat climate chaos. President Obama’s administration, particularly the Office of Management and Budget, must not hold her back from taking assertive action to address the climate crisis.

“If McCarthy uses the Clean Air Act to enforce science-based reductions in carbon pollution from power plants, airplanes and other key sources, she will likely be a success. She should also move to create a science-based national pollution cap for greenhouse gases.

“Americans always rise to the challenge when we know the actual end goal. The president has rightly acknowledged the threat of the climate crisis but we’re still waiting for him to back up his rhetoric with a real plan of action. That can’t come soon enough.”

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

LOOK: The Week In Funny Pictures

From London Fashion Week to the Eastleigh by-election, from the Brit Awards to a Brit abroad (that's you, Mr Cameron) - check out this week's round-up of silly snaps...

Loading Slideshow...

  • Hugh Grant categorically denies fathering a third child... to its face.

  • The only thing funnier than David Cameron barefoot and in a turban...

  • ...is David Cameron barefoot and in a turban, cooking chapatis.

  • Adrian Chiles goes to desperate lengths to work with Christine Bleakley again.

  • Carphone Warehouse employee Justin Timberlake takes time out from his Brits entrance to show a fan how her mobile phone works.

  • And suddenly, Robbie Williams was no longer the cockiest bloke in the room.

  • To be fair, Moonie wedding ceremonies ARE awfully long.

  • The scariest snail you will ever encounter. If you're a tiny toy figure.

  • Eek. Ed Miliband's wife will <a href="http://redirect.viglink.com?key=11fe087258b6fc0532a5ccfc924805c0&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.huffingtonpost.co.uk%2F2013%2F02%2F18%2Fed-miliband-happy-to-meet_n_2709986.html">give him Helle</a> over this photo.

  • Silvio Berlusconi shows us not his own sex face, but the sex face of every woman he's been with.

  • Adele, astonished that her Brits speech isn't being cut short.

  • Prince Charles gets down with The Kids. Literally.

  • Still, at least his efforts are better than David Cameron's.

  • Michelle Obama isn't convinced by Barack's special 'sexy Valentine' costume.

  • "And this is the gap between how we were polling at the last election and where we are now..."

  • "And here's the Tories... and there's UKIP."

  • Colin Farrell on a horse. A horse WHICH HAS HAIR LIKE COLIN FARRELL. WHAT'S NOT TO LOVE, PEOPLE?!

  • Easily the strangest bridal outfit on show at London Fashion Week.

  • Because nothing says "I love you" like a giant billboard poster.

  • "And what do YOU do?"

  • Strangely, not everyone's impressed by meeting Barack Obama.

  • Still, he always manages to win them over.

  • Ed Miliband. Never not funny when drinking tea.

  • Cara Delevingne shows us why she's repeatedly hailed as The World's Most Beautiful Woman.

  • "Mine... mine... mine". The penguins from Madagascar check in their luggage at Heathrow.

  • Cameron gives the Indians a run for their (highly desirable, please-invest-it-in-the-UK) money.

  • Boris Johnson meets yet another receptive voter in Eastleigh.

  • In which Simon Pegg draws the short straw and has to present a Brit Award with Bérénice Marlohe.

  • Angela Merkel. You wouldn't like her when she's angry.

  • Spot the odd one out. That's right - it's the one holding up her phone.

  • Barack Obama - the only man to get angry when given a Valentine's card.

  • And finally: a picture that was just dying to be Photoshopped. <a href="http://redirect.viglink.com?key=11fe087258b6fc0532a5ccfc924805c0&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.huffingtonpost.co.uk%2F2013%2F02%2F22%2Fdavid-cameron-eastleigh-funny-picture_n_2741294.html%3F1361547465">So it was. </a>

(All images PA unless otherwise credited)

“Dictators Never Die”: Baby Doc Duvalier in the Dock

duvalierclinto

In Argentina, Guatemala, Peru and other countries in the region, former dictators and many of those responsible for egregious human rights violations under former authoritarian regimes have been, or are in the process of being tried for their crimes.  In Haiti, for the first time, there appears to be genuine hope that Haiti’s former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier will face human rights charges in court.  But there’s still a very difficult road ahead.

After Duvalier failed to appear at an appeals hearing regarding human rights charges on February 7, the judge rescheduled the hearing for February 21. “The hearing on February 21 could be a pivotal moment in the prosecution of Jean-Claude Duvalier,” the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti’s Nicole Phillips told NACLA blogger Kevin Edmonds. “If Duvalier appears as ordered by the appellate court, it will present the first opportunity for the former brutal dictator to speak about his political violence crimes in a courtroom full of his victims and the media. If Duvalier fails to appear, the Haitian government will be under intense pressure to arrest him for violating a court order.” While Duvalier has blatantly violated his house arrest related to pending corruption charges, failure to appear again would presumably be a more flagrant disregard for the Haitian judicial system. Duvalier also must appear in his own role as an appellant; he is appealing the standing corruption charges against him.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both announced that they will monitor the proceedings tomorrow. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a press release today “reminding the Haitian state of its international obligation to investigate, prosecute, and punish the serious human rights violations committed in that country, and to ensure that justice operators may work with independence and impartiality.”

On January 30, 2012, Investigative Judge Carvés Jean ruled that Duvalier could not stand trial for human rights crimes, while allowing corruption charges to go ahead. The ruling shocked the human rights community, considering that Duvalier is one of the hemisphere’s more notorious past dictators, infamous for brutally crushing dissent with the assistance of the dreaded “Tonton Macoute” secret police and the Haitian army during 15 years in power. “Under the presidency of Duvalier and his Tonton Macoutes, thousands were killed and tortured, and hundreds of thousands of Haitians fled into exile,” according to Human Rights Watch.

At the time, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said it was “extremely disappointed” by the ruling. Human Rights Watch condemned the judge’s decision, saying that it “ignores Haiti’s international obligation to prosecute such crimes.” Human Rights Watch’s Reed Brody stated that “This wrong-headed decision, if upheld on appeal, would entrench Haiti’s culture of impunity by denying justice for Duvalier’s thousands of victims.”

Amnesty International also condemned what it determined to be “stalling” by the Haitian judiciary: “Haitian authorities at the highest level have until now shown great leniency towards Jean-Claude Duvalier, while showing contempt to the victims of human rights violations who continue to await justice and reparation.”

The IACHR pointed out that “tor­ture, extra­ju­di­cial exe­cu­tions and forced dis­ap­pear­ances com­mit­ted dur­ing the regime of Jean-Claude Duva­lier are crimes against human­ity that, as such, are sub­ject nei­ther to a statute of lim­i­ta­tions nor to amnesty laws.” Several human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and others also noted that there is no statute of limitations on crimes against humanity, and that Haiti has a duty to prosecute Duvalier under international law, including the American Convention on Human Rights.

The human rights plaintiffs filed an appeal to Judge Carvés Jean’s decision, and the February 7 hearing was the latest of several over the past few months in which Duvalier was a no show.

Duvalier’s defense team and supporters have responded to human rights charges with great hostility. Duvalier’s lawyers and supporters disrupted a press conference by Amnesty international where Amnesty was presenting its report, “’You cannot kill the truth’: The case against Jean-Claude Duvalier” in September 2011. Victims of Duvalier, many of which were present “were intimidated and harassed” and “most felt forced to leave the room due to fear for their security.”  Amnesty stated that the “type of pressure and intimidation which has been exerted on victims and the judicial authorities since the start of the criminal investigation against Jean-Claude Duvalier is totally unacceptable.” Prosecuting attorney Mario Joseph of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux began to receive death threats and experience various forms of harassment following Judge Carvés Jean’s decision. On February 7 this month, one of Duvalier’s attorneys reportedly demonstrated open contempt for the would-be plaintiffs – New York Times editorial writer Lawrence Downes wrote, “according to observers on Twitter, a Duvalier lawyer jabbed his finger at one victim and yelled, ‘The victims will never be able to participate!’” As for crimes themselves, a letter that Duvalier’s team presented to the judge declared Duvalier’s having been forced to flee Haiti to be one of “the greatest political crimes (…) committed in this country.”

“The handful of victims who have been interviewed had been subjected to intimidation by Duvalier supporters and his lawyers,” Amnesty International Special Advisor Javier Zúñiga has said.

An important factor, many observers agree, is the U.S. government’s response to the case, which has been consistently muted. Asked about Duvalier after his surprise return to Haiti in January 2011, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hinted that Duvalier’s past abuses were old news, and that trying him could hamper efforts to “stabilize” the country:

Well, we are very clear going back many years about the abuses of that regime. And certainly, we believe that his record is one of repression of the Haitian people. Ultimately, a decision about what is to be done is left to the government and people of Haiti. But we’re focused on trying to maintain stability, prevent chaos and violence in this very unpredictable period with his return, with cholera still raging, with the challenges of reconstruction, with an election that’s been challenged.

The line that “a decision about what is to be done is left to the government and people of Haiti” is a position that has been restated in subsequent State Department press briefings and other fora. “What happens at this point forward is a matter for the people of Haiti. …This is their concern, not ours,” then-State Department spokesperson P. J. Crowley told reporters on January 18, 2011. “It is now up to Haitians to decide what to do,” U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice said on January 20, 2011. Even more distressing, former president Bill Clinton went so far as to shake Duvalier’s hand at a high-profile public event last year marking the second anniversary of the Haitian earthquake – as did Haitian President Michel Martelly.

The Obama administration’s position on Duvalier stands in contrast to past U.S. government statements regarding other fallen dictators. As Human Rights Watch described in June last year, for example:

[Then Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton urged the Senegalese government to “move quickly” in bringing [former Chadian dictator Hissène] Habré to justice. “If progress is not forthcoming on efforts to extradite or prosecute, the Department of State will continue to press vigorously for expedient action by Senegal in finally holding Habré to account,” Clinton said in the report.

Even worse, the U.S. government may be obstructing justice by withholding documents that could be used as evidence against Duvalier. While the U.S. did make public similar documents about former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and members of Argentina’s former junta, for example, prior to judicial proceedings in those countries, it has yet to take similar action that could help build the case against Duvalier. The U.S government has also notably long refused to hand over documents regarding the former C.I.A.-linked Haitian death squad, FRAPH.

The U.S. response could signal an unwillingness to see Duvalier pay for his crimes, which might come as no surprise considering the enduring support the U.S. government showed for Duvalier during his rule, with U.S. aid to Haiti – including military training — increasing during the 1970’s and 80’s. When a popular uprising finally forced Duvalier to flee in 1986, the U.S. flew him out on a military plane.

The U.S. position is also ironic considering that USAID has spent $150 million [PDF] on “governance and rule of law” programs in Haiti just since the earthquake, and helped to create the Superior Judicial Council – which has been dogged by controversy during its brief existence. Nor should Duvalier’s return have caught U.S. officials off guard. A Wikileaked cable reveals that Duvalier’s possible return was a concern as far back as 2006, when then U.S. charge d’affaires in the Dominican Republic Lisa Kubiske (now assigned to Honduras) “expressed USG [US government] concern over a return to Haiti of either Duvalier or [Jean-Bertrand] Aristide [the former Haitian president]. Both potentially were provocative and could complicate the ability of any new government to establish itself,” The Guardian summarized the cable as saying. The cable does not mention any desire by the U.S. government to see Duvalier tried, nor any mention of possible charges whatsoever.

The Martelly administration in Haiti has also been reluctant to see Duvalier prosecuted. Martelly’s connections to the Duvalier regime are well known, and Martelly has admitted to being a former Tonton Macoute himself. Amnesty noted that as well as allowing Duvalier to take part in ceremonies to mark the second anniversary of the Haiti quake, “In October [2011], President Martelly paid a highly publicized visit to Duvalier’s home, under the pretext of national reconciliation.” More recently, the Haitian government reportedly gave Duvalier a diplomatic passport. “Several public statements from President Martelly have also hinted at pardoning Duvalier,” as Amnesty noted.

As Edmonds wrote for NACLA, “The 61-year-old Duvalier would face no more than five years in prison if convicted of embezzling public funds and other financial crimes. On the other hand, a conviction of crimes against humanity could put him away for life.”

“The Duvalier trial could be the most important criminal case in Haitian history,” Human Rights Watch’s Brody has said. As important as it is in holding Duvalier accountable for human rights crimes and finding justice for victims, its magnitude transcends even this. If Duvalier is allowed to walk free, it would demonstrate that in Haiti some people truly are above the law, and it would send a dangerous message to other rights abusers, past, present and future – of which there are many, a good number of them also notorious, like Duvalier. As Zúñiga said, “It is the whole credibility of the Haitian justice system which is at stake.”

Palestinians Disqualify U.S. as Peace Broker

palestine (2)

The “unbreakable alliance,” which will be confirmed by the upcoming visit of President Barak Obama to Israel , will disqualify the United States as an honest broker of peace in the Arab – Israeli conflict in Palestine , a Palestinian veteran peace negotiator says.

This “unbreakable alliance” will doom whatever hopes remain during Obama’s visit for the revival of the U.S. – sponsored deadlocked “peace process,” on the resumption of which depends the very survival of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ leadership, and explains as well the Palestinian frustration, low expectations, unenthusiastic welcome and the absence of celebrations for their most cherished among world celebrities, in a stark contrast to the euphoria that is sweeping Israel in waiting for what the U.S. and Israeli officials are describing as an “historic” visit.

On February 19, the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office released the official blue, red and white logo that will be on all documents and signs during Obama’s visit late in March. The logo shows the words “Unbreakable Alliance” written in English and Hebrew under a combined Israeli and U.S. flags.

During his visit, Obama will become the first ever serving U.S. president to receive Israel’s presidential medal to honor the fact that he has “established the closest working military and intelligence relationship with Israel in the country’s history: Joint exercises and training, increased security assistance every year, unprecedented advanced technology transfers, doubling of funding for Israel’s missile defense system, and assistance in funding for the Iron Dome system,” according to Steven L. Spiegel in Huffington Post late last year.

Speaking exclusively to RFI Hanan Ashrawi, the Palestinian veteran peace negotiator and member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Israel’s partner in signing the defunct Oslo peace accords, said the first – term Obama administration “have just managed to buy more time for Israel” to “create facts on the (Israeli – occupied Palestinian) ground.”

“Our experience has been really tragic with this American administration,” which “started with such high hopes and tremendous promises,” but “they backed down so quickly it was incredible,” she added, to conclude: “The U.S. has disqualified itself as a peace broker.”

Therefore, “there are no plans to celebrate” Obama’s visit to Ramallah, because “they haven’t forgotten the part he played” in aborting the PLO’s efforts in 2011 to win the United Nations’ recognition of Palestine statehood as a full member and in opposing its UN recognition as a non – member observer state the next year, according to Shlomi Eldar in Al-Monitor on February 14. Still, to make a bad situation worse, Obama will convey the same message to Abbas during his upcoming visit, because “our position has not changed” neither to Palestinian statehood nor to Palestinian national reconciliation according to U.S. State Department spokeswoman Olivia Nuland on February 19.

Obama will visit on the backdrop of a two –year old simmering Palestinian – U.S. political crisis, which potentially could explode in the aftermath of his visit.

The U.S. subscription to the UN recognition of Palestinian statehood would establish irrevocably the prerequisite to make or break the only viable “two – state solution” for the almost century – old conflict, because it would confirm the 1967 borders as the basis for such a solution and, consequently, will for sure defuse the time bomb of the Israeli illegal settlement enterprise in the Palestinian occupied territories and pave the way for the resumption of negotiations. However neither Obama nor the U.S. is forthcoming and they continue to “manage” the conflict instead of seriously seeking to solve it.

Earlier this month, Israel in an unprecedented move boycotted the UN Human Rights Council because a year – long investigation by the council produced a report urging that “Israel must, in compliance with article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, cease all settlement activities without preconditions. It must immediately initiate a process of withdrawal of all settlers from the OPT (occupied Palestinian territories).” The report stated that about 250 settlements were established in the Israeli –occupied Palestinian West Bank where 520,000 settlers live now, which the report said could be subject to prosecution as possible war crimes.

Recently, Yacov Ben Efrat, the General Secretary of the Israeli DAAM Party, wrote in Challenge Magazine that when Obama arrives in the Israel – occupied Palestinian territories “he will see that his policy of appeasing the Israeli right has nearly killed the Palestinian (self- ruled) Authority” economically as well as politically, to conclude: “Having already experienced the Oslo accords, the Palestinians have already seen how the temporary becomes permanent, and there is no way they will accept this.”

“It’s plain and simple: Either the settlements or peace … even Obama won’t get us abandon this principle,” PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erekat was quoted as saying on February 14.

Should Obama decide to act accordingly, he may reinforce the “unbreakable alliance” with Israel to his convenience, from a Palestinian perspective. Otherwise, any initiative by Obama to resume the Palestinian – Israeli peace talks during his upcoming visit to the region will be doomed as a non – starter.

On this February 19, author Marvin Kalb wrote (http://www.brookings.edu/blogs): “Instead of opening his Mid-East diplomacy with a cutting critique of Israel’s cantankerous settlements policy, often considered the third rail of Israeli politics, … instead of allowing, even encouraging, a discomfiting coolness in Israeli-American relations, … the Israelis and the Palestinians might be engaging in serious, face-to-face negotiations on a peace treaty by this time.”

Releasing a $ 700 million of U.S. blocked Palestinian aid, using U.S. good offices to make Arab donors honor their pledges to them or convincing Israel to release the tax and customs revenue it collects on their behalf are not the kind of U.S. “carrots” that would open a breakthrough.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.* [email protected]

Upcoming Iranian Nuclear Talks

Multiple previous P5+1 talks were held. America manipulated them to fail. So did Israel covertly. Western nations were pressured to go along.

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Yale Helps DoD Train Soldiers By Interrogating Non-Whites

This is the kind of thing that would have been a reason to shut down the campus, back in the old days. Now? I'd be surprised if the majority of students gave it more than a yawn. But at least the student newpaper reporters are paying attention -- as they should:

The Department of Defense and Yale University have partnered up to train U.S. soldiers in the art of interrogation techniques with the local immigrant community acting as test subjects, reports the Yale Daily News.

As early as this April, Yale plans to welcome a training center for interrogators to its campus.The center’s primary goal would be to coach U.S. Special Forces on interviewing tactics designed to detect lies.

Charles Morgan III, a professor of psychiatry who will head the project, calls these tactics “people skills.” These techniques would be honed using New Haven’s immigrant community as subjects. Morgan hopes that by having soldiers practice their newly acquired techniques on “someone they can’t necessarily identify with” (read: someone who is not white), they’ll be better prepared to do ‘the real thing’ abroad.

The authors of the article, Nathalie Batraville and Alex Law, provide many reasons for why this training center is a terrible idea, one of which includes a lack of transparency. Apparently, students didn’t learn about the new program until now, just two months before the center opens. As Batraville and Law point out:

There was no conversation with the city about how this might impact its immigrant community. There was no conversation with students and faculty about how it might impact campus culture. And there was no conversation at all about the ethics of a project like this. It’s hard to understand where this project came from; the university’s motivations are wholly opaque.

They also argue that Yale could be indirectly involving itself in immoral practices by training soldiers whose skills could be used to, for example, determine whose name is added to President Obama’s kill list.

Most importantly, the authors offer some insight into the racist aspect of this program:

Morgan’s research and, by extension, this proposed center target people of color — brown people exclusively. According to a Yale Herald article, Morgan listed “Moroccans, Columbians, Nepalese, Ecuadorians and others.” Is there an assumption in Morgan’s desire to use more ‘authentic,’ brown interviewees as test subjects, that brown people lie differently from whites — and even more insidiously, that all brown people must belong to the same “category” of liar?

How might training on lie detection be perceived if it targeted blacks, or if it aimed to answer the question, “How do Jews lie?” That Morgan’s test subjects are compensated does not resolve the ethical questions his project raises. In fact, their participation highlights the structural inequality that this research capitalizes on and that the center would ultimately exploit.

As Nathalie was working on this piece, her phone rang. At the other end of the line was her 7-year-old nephew Rocco, who wanted to wish her a happy Valentine’s Day and send her many loud kisses. He now lives in Montreal, where Nathalie is from, but until about a year ago, he lived in Haiti.The U.S.’ involvement in Haiti, from its occupation between 1915 and 1934 to its support — financial, logistical (and “moral”) — of François and later Jean-Claude Duvalier’s brutal dictatorships in the 60s and 70s, informs much of her outrage surrounding the establishment of this center, and her understanding that people often lie to protect their lives, their families, their country and the very freedom that Americans so dearly cherish.

Well said! But even without the the sickening immigrants-as-test-subjects aspect, the training center is still unsettling because it further solidifies the unholy alliance between physicians and the US war machine given that a professor of psychiatry is running the project. This should come as no surprise since we mostly ignored revelations that psychologists and medical doctors helped run the torture program at Guantanamo Bay (look forward, not backward!)

Fools on the Hill

Here at Crooks and Liars, we watch the Sunday talking head shows so you don't have to. Each Monday morning, Nicole Belle joins Nicole Sandler on her show at Radio Or Not to recap the best and the worst of what went on.

Here's Nicole Belle's summary of this week's action:

Look at John McCain’s bizarre and frankly bratty attack on David Gregory for asking what exactly Benghazi has to do with holding up the Chuck Hagel nomination, interrupting Gregory and asking whether he cared that four Americans died. Would that John McCain feel even the slightest bit worse over the 4,500 Americans that died needlessly in Iraq.

And John McCain’s BFF Lindsey Graham who petulantly demands that we cut health care benefits for millions of Americans so that the sequester cuts won’t destroy the military. Even though the Pentagon itself said that they could handle some cuts.

Then there are the incorrigibles. Those children so uncontrolled, so horrible, so lacking in basic respect that you wonder about the parents. Those people work for Fox (like Tucker Carlson) and are responsible for such heinous stories as suggesting the President Obama is indoctrinating federal workers against white people. Why? Because the USDA (you know, the agency that fired Shirley Sherrod) had to take a racial sensitivity training program.

On the incorrigible side, Karl Rove is defending his campaign to divide and conquer the Republican Party to get rid of ‘stupid candidates’. But it’s Bob Woodward who really thinks Rove’s gone too far subverting democracy. Sad that it’s taken the man who broke the Watergate scandal so long to figure out what we liberals have been saying all along.

And now for some adult conversation. UP with Chris Hayes devoted a whole hour to discussing the ramifications of raising the minimum wage. Unlike every other weekend news show, this discussion had nuance and intelligence. Well, with the exception of token conservative Jennifer Sevilla Korn of the Hispanic Leadership Conference.

Sevilla Korn tried to dominate the conversation with conservative talking points and unlike every other weekend show, the host pushed back with facts. Hear that, David Gregory?

On the News With Thom Hartmann: The White House Is Circulating a Draft Immigration...

In today's On the News segment: The White House is circulating a draft immigration bill, which would create a new visa for undocumented immigrants living in our nation, and shorten the path to legal residency to eight years; Sen. Lindsey Graham suggests taking health coverage away from 30 million Americans just to avoid cuts to the military; thousands rallied against the partial privatization of health care in Spain yesterday; and more.


TRANSCRIPT:

Thom Hartmann here – on the news...

You need to know this. President Obama's pushing full speed ahead on the long list of goals he set for his second term. Just since his State of the Union speech, less than a week ago, he's already put forward a plan for universal preschool, called on Congress to vote on gun regulations, started forming a voting rights commission, and now he's tackling immigration. According to USA Today, the White House is circulating a draft immigration bill, which would create a new visa for undocumented immigrants living in our nation, and shorten the path to legal residency to eight years. The draft bill also includes more security funding, and would require businesses to use a new system to verify the immigration status of new employees. The bill is quite similar to the bipartisan immigration plan that came out last month, but Republicans are criticizing the President's plan anyway. Florida Senator Marco Rubio said any legislation that didn't include Republican input would get no support, saying, "If actually proposed, the president's bill would be dead on arrival in Congress." Kentucky Senator Rand Paul said the draft legislation was proof that "the president doesn't want immigration reform." These statements are just more evidence that Republicans will vote against any legislation that President Obama puts forward, even when it's made up of their own ideas. A spokesman for the White House said that the administration has not prepared a final bill to submit. Let's hope that Congress can pass their own version of an immigration bill, so that they won't oppose a commonsense path to citizenship, just because the President supports it.

In screwed news... Senator Lindsey Graham is very worried about the sequester. But, he isn't worried about the cuts to programs like WIC and Head Start. He isn't worried about job losses or federal employee furloughs. Nope, he's worried about defense contractors. So much so, that he's suggesting taking health coverage away from 30 million Americans just to avoid cuts to the military. During an interview on Fox News Sunday, Sen. Graham was asked about the looming sequester and he replied with his suggestion, saying "if you want to look at ways to find $1.2 trillion in savings over the next decade, look at Obamacare, don't destroy the military." But Sen. Graham has opposed every idea to avoid the sequester put forward by Democrats, or the President. It appears the Republicans don't really care about the devastating austerity looming in the sequester... they just care about using the cuts to attack Obama. Oh, and if their buddies in the defense industry don't get hit with the across-the-board spending cuts – to Republicans, that's just an extra bonus.

In the best of the rest of the news...

Thirty five thousand people rallied in Washington, D.C. this Sunday to call for immediate action on climate change. The rally was put on by numerous environmental activist groups, like the Sierra Club and 350.org. People came from dozens of states around our nation to help form part of a "human pipeline," which was meant to highlight action the Administration can take right away to protect our environment – reject the Keystone XL pipeline. Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, spoke at the event, saying, "There is no time for half measures...we have to start leaving carbon in the ground." Just recently, the President called on Congress to pass bi-partisan legislation on climate change, or, he said "if Congress won't act to protect future generations...I will." Well, participants of the largest environmental rally ever just said they don't want the President to wait for our broken Congress to act. Obama can make a change immediately to protect our future generations. He can stop the Keystone XL pipeline from pumping toxic tar sands oil through our communities. Tell the President you want this done now. Go to TarsandsBlockade.org.

Another protest also made headlines yesterday, as thousands rallied against the partial privatization of health care in Spain. In the third so-called "White Tide" demonstration, protesters in 16 Spanish cities took to the streets carrying banners saying, "public health is not to be sold, it's to be defended." Health care privatization is just one of the crippling austerity measures being imposed to cut that nation's debt. One civil servant, Javier Tarabilla, spoke out against the privatization, saying, "This is pillaging of our public services, looting something we've all contributed to through taxes, to give it to private companies to run for profit." Here in America, we should all be paying close attention to the riots and protests in response to the privatization of the public commons in Spain. Not only are the austerity measures there crippling the nation's economy, but they're making it more difficult for Spanish citizens to survive. It's time to fight back against the Republican austerity measures taking hold here in our country, before they devastate our economy – just like they've done in Spain.

And finally... Drug agents in Union County, Illinois found themselves in a sticky situation over the weekend. Responding to a tip about a potential meth lab, the agents raided Laura Benson's home, however, the only substance being cooked up was maple syrup. Benson's neighbor called in the tip after seeing a collection of tubes and buckets they thought looked suspicious, and the Sheriff's department swarmed the house. Apparently, the Bensons have been making the syrup for about five years, but this is the first time it's gotten such a big reaction. Miss Benson says that the family is grateful for their attentive neighbors, and she said, "I just want to put their minds at ease, and let them know it's maple syrup. And they're all welcome for pancakes if they want to come over." Drug agents say the hunt continues for the nation's biggest syrup king-pin, so be on the lookout for Mrs. Butterworth.

And that's the way it is today – Monday, February 18th, 2013. I'm Thom Hartmann – on the news.

POGO Sticks It to the SEC

In our last episode of that ongoing Washington soap opera, “As the Door Revolves,” we introduced you to former federal prosecutor Mary Jo White, pursuer of drug lords and terrorists, who left government to become a hot shot Wall Street lawyer defending such corporate giants as JPMorgan Chase, UBS, General Electric and Microsoft. Oh yes — and former Goldman Sachs board member Rajat Gupta, currently appealing his insider trading conviction.

The New York Times reports that White and her husband, who’s also a corporate litigator, have a net worth of at least $16 million and investments that might be valued as high as $35 million. Now, courtesy of President Obama, Mary Jo White’s been named to head the SEC, the Securities and Exchange Commission — the very agency that regulates her clients and everyone else doing business in the stock market.

But as they say on late night TV, wait — there’s more! Join us for our latest episode of “As the Door Revolves” in which the door spins even faster between the SEC and big business. According to a major new report from the nonpartisan watchdog POGO – the Project on Government Oversight — hundreds of the agency’s former employees have done or are doing business with the SEC on behalf of the corporations the agency is supposed to regulate.

Imagine — hundreds with an intimate knowledge of how the place works advocating for their clients with friends at the SEC — colleagues who themselves may be looking for a big payoff when they, too, leave government. From 2001 through 2010, 419 SEC alumni filed nearly 2,000 disclosure forms saying they would be representing companies or individuals coming before the commission. And that’s only the “tip of the iceberg,” POGO says, “Because former SEC employees are required to file them only during the first two years after they leave the agency.” In other words, after that first couple of years there are no official records kept so we can’t know how vast the problem is or even how far back it goes.

However, POGO writes, “Former employees of the Securities and Exchange Commission routinely help corporations try to influence S.E.C. rule-making, counter the agency’s investigations of suspected wrongdoing, soften the blow of S.E.C. enforcement actions, block shareholder proposals and win exemptions from federal law.”

No wonder the SEC has granted special waivers to business on some 350 occasions that, according to the report, “softened the blow of enforcement actions.” What’s more, a year ago, The New York Times reported that “Close to half of the waivers went to repeat offenders — Wall Street firms that had settled previous fraud charges by agreeing never again to violate the very laws that the SEC was now saying that they had broken.” The plot thickens, or in this case, sickens.

POGO also notes that in three instances — from 2008-2012 — when there were cases against UBS, the Swiss investment bank retained ex-SEC attorneys to argue on its behalf and was, in the words of the Times, “granted relief.” And when Obama’s first SEC chair, Mary Schapiro, pushed for reform of the $2.6 trillion money markets business, it was lobbied against by at least half a dozen former SEC staffers, and opposed by the two Republicans on the commission and one Democrat, Luis Aguilar, who used to be an executive vice president with the money management firm Invesco. The POGO report says that shortly after “Invesco sent a team to meet with Aguilar at the SEC and tell him why tightening rules for money market funds was a bad idea,” he came out against Schapiro’s plan, Coincidence? Aguilar told POGO there’s no connection. Sure.

When George W. Bush was president and named Chris Cox to run the SEC, we screamed like bloody murder, because Cox had been a partner at a huge global law firm whose client list included Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs. Now Obama’s pushing his choices through that same revolving door. It’s called “regulatory capture” — the takeover of government agencies by the very corporations they’re supposed to keep an eye on, to protect everyone’s investments and pensions against abuses of private power.

What’s next? Stay tuned. In the next few weeks, Mary Jo White will sit for her confirmation hearing and doubtless will be asked all about this by a committee stacked with politicians whose big donors include… the financial industry. You can read the complete POGO report here. Forward it to your own Member of Congress, then open your window and scream.

The African-American Connection to the Philippines

Although the Spanish-American War (1898) is a well-known episode in U.S. history, few of us know that immediately following the end of hostilities with Spain, the USA initiated a war of colonization against the Philippines. Interestingly, Black America figured into this war in a very odd way.

The U.S. claimed the Philippines as a trophy from their war with Spain. The problem is that before the U.S. military arrived in the Philippines, there was a very successful insurrection underway by the Filipinos, an insurrection that was nearing victory. The Philippine rebels believed the U.S. had arrived to assist in the final push against the Spanish. Instead, the U.S. troops turned against the Filipino rebels and embarked on what can only be understood to have been a racist, genocidal war aimed at subjugating the archipelago.

The war started Feb. 2, 1899.

Black America found itself in an odd place at that moment. Reconstruction in the South had been defeated by White supremacist forces and African Americans were in the process of becoming disenfranchised as Jim Crow segregation was emerging as the law of the former Confederacy. In order to prove ourselves worthy of full citizenship, many African Americans volunteered to fight Spain in 1898, and later went to the Philippines to fight a population they had been led to believe were heathens.

The U.S. war against the Philippines was one atrocity after another, including indiscriminate killings and the use of a torture technique that we have come to know as water-boarding. Entire cities were destroyed, such as Iloilo on Panay Island. And in this setting the Filipinos were not only demonized, but racially demonized, with White soldiers referring to the Filipinos as “n——” as they went about murdering them.

The overtly racist side to this conflict became apparent to African American soldiers, resulting in demoralization as well as some desertions. The most famous — or from the standpoint of the white military, most infamous — was that of Army corporal David Fagen. Fagen abandoned the U.S. military and went to fight on the side of the Filipinos against his country. In fact, Fagen became an officer in the Filipino guerrilla army. This so infuriated the U.S. military that they put a price on his head. Although there were claims that Fagen was killed, it was never proven. In either, case he never surrendered and was never captured. The war lasted until at least 1902, though skirmishes continued well past that.

The week following Feb. 2 has become, for many Filipino activists, Philippine Solidarity Week. It is a time to remember that the U.S. colonized the Philippines and held it in subjugation until 1946 at which point the country received nominal independence but actually became a neo-colony of the U.S. Struggles for genuine independence have continued through today, including an insurrection led by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. The U.S. government, including under President Obama, supports government after government in the Philippines that serve the interests of the USA. More to the point, such governments either directly engage in human rights abuses or turn a blind eye to such abuses including what are politely called “extra-judicial killings” — i.e., political murders — aimed at opponents and dissenters.

African Americans, both at the birth of the 20th century and today, have had a connection with the Philippines. Soldiers and civilians, in 1899, were aware that the war was one of aggression and in many cases were prepared to speak out. As the U.S. of the 21st century seeks to further militarize the Philippines and block efforts to peacefully settle the long-standing civil war, we, once again, need to be prepared to speak up. And, in so doing, remember the moral dilemma faced and answered by David Fagen more than a century ago.

Tunisia’s Unfinished Revolution: From Dictatorship to Democracy?

On January 14, 2011, Tunisia’s 23-year long dictator Ben Ali fled the country he ruled over in the face of a popular uprising which began the previous month. Tunisia represented the spark of what became known as the ‘Arab Spring.’ Over two years later, Tunisians are back in the streets protesting against the new government, elected in October of 2011, now on the verge of collapse as ministers resign, protests increase, clashes erupt, violence flares, and the future remains unknown.

So the question lingers: what went wrong? What happened? Why are Tunisians back in the streets? Is this Tunisia’s “unfinished revolution”?

The Spark

Tunisia had been ruled by President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from 1987 until the revolution in 2011, a regime marred by corruption, despotism, and repression. While the revolution itself is generally traced to the self immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year old street vendor in the city of Sidi Bouzid, on December 17, 2010, leading to protests and clashes which spread across the country, there was a longer timeline – and other profound changes – which led to the actual revolutionary potential.

Tunisia’s revolution was largely driven by economic reasons, though political and social issues should not be underestimated. Tunisia has a recent history of labour unrest in the country, with the General Union of Tunisian Workers – UGTT – having led protests which were violently repressed in 1978, bread riots in 1984, and more labour unrest in the mining region of Gafsa in 2008. There were also a number of political clashes from the 1990s onward, between the state and the Islamic movement an-Nahda (Ennahda). After the UGTT was repressed in 1978, it was permitted to exist in co-operation with the state, following along the lines of labour and union history within the West itself. While the state felt it had a firm control of Tunisian society, there were growing divides with the youth, who for years would lead their own protests against the state through human rights organizations, the General Union of Tunisian Students (UGET), or other associations.[1]

Within Tunisia, a crisis had emerged among young graduates in higher education from the mid-1990s onward, with a serious lack of employment opportunities for an increasingly educated youth. From this period up until the revolution, most protests in Tunisia were organized by youth in university organizations and student unions, using tactics such as sit-ins, chaining themselves to buildings, or hunger strikes, which were often met with state violence. Suicide had become another tactic of protest, “a political manifesto to highlight a political demand and to underline the social fragility it implies,” in the words of Mehdi Mabrouk from the University of Tunis. This was understood as the “emergence of a culture of suicide,” identified in a study by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as “a culture which disdained the value of life, finding death an easier alternative because of a lack of values and a sense of anomie,” which was “particularly true of unemployed and marginal youth, so that death was more attractive than life under such conditions.”[2] It was within this context that Mohamed Bouazizi’s suicide became the spark for the wider protests, first in Sidi Bouzid, and quickly spreading across the country, with youth leading the way.

With the help of social media, like Facebook and Twitter, the youth activists in Sidi Bouzid were able to share their revolt with the rest of the country and the world, encouraging the spread of the uprising across Tunisia and the Arab world at large. A relative of Bouazizi described the protesters as having “a rock in one hand, a cell phone in the other.” Thus, while Tunisian media ignored the protests in Sidi Bouzid, international media and social media became increasingly involved. Tunisia had 3.6 million internet users, roughly a third of the population, who had access to live news about what was taking place within their country, even though the official national news media did not mention the events until 29 December 2010, twelve days after the protests had begun. The government began to arrest bloggers and web activists in the hopes that the protests would fade or diminish in fear, yet it only motivated the protests further. From the first day, the Sidi Bouzid branch of the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) was engaged in the protests, while the national leadership of the UGTT was considered to be too close to the regime and national ruling class to act independently. However, the regional branches of the UGTT had “a reputation for gutsy engagement,” wrote Yasmine Ryan in Al-Jazeera. The Sidi Bouzid branch of UGTT was one of the main organizing forces behind the protests, and when protesters were killed in neighbouring regions, it erupted nation-wide. Thus, students, teachers, lawyers, and the unemployed joined together in protest first in Sidi Bouzid, and then across the country.[3]

Dictatorship or Democracy?

Tunisia happened to be a “model US client” in the words of Richard Falk: “a blend of neoliberalism that is open to foreign investment, cooperation with American anti-terrorism by way of extreme rendition of suspects, and strict secularism that translates into the repression of political expression.”[4]

Just in line with the closest of American and Western allies – and ‘clients’ – in the region, the strategy for the West is one of unyielding support for the dictatorship, so long as “stability” and “prosperity” and ensured. The term “security” is a euphemism for control of the population, while “prosperity” is a euphemism for economic exploitation and profit for the rich few, domestically and globally.

American attitudes toward Tunisia were often reflected in diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, in which as early as 2006 the U.S. Embassy in Tunis reported that the issue of succession from Ben Ali was important, but concluded that, “none of the options suggest Tunisia will become more democratic,” however, despite US rhetoric for support of democracy, the cable noted, “the US-Tunisian bilateral relationship is likely to remain unaffected by the departure of Ben Ali,” that is, assuming the departure does not include a transition to democratic government. If problems arose for Ben Ali, and he became “temporarily incapacitated,” reported the U.S. Embassy, “he could turn over a measure of presidential authority to Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi,” who had close ties to the West and Americans, in particular.[5] Ghannounchi, incidentally, was implanted as the interim president following Ben Ali’s escape to Saudi Arabia in January 2011, though shortly thereafter had to resign due to popular opposition, since he was a high official in Ben Ali’s government.

In July of 2009, a diplomatic cable from the American Embassy in Tunis noted that Tunisia is “troubled,” and that, “many Tunisians are frustrated by the lack of political freedom and angered by First Family corruption, high unemployment and regional inequities.” The Ambassador noted that while America seeks to enhance ties with Tunisia commercially and militarily, there are also major setbacks, as “we have been blocked, in part, by a Foreign Ministry that seeks to control all our contacts in the government and many other organizations.” America had successfully accomplished a number of goals, such as “increasing substantially US assistance to the military,” and “strengthening commercial ties,” yet, “we have also had too many failures.” The same cable noted: “Tunisia is a police state, with little freedom of expression or association, and serious human rights problems.” Ben Ali’s regime relies “on the police for control and focus[es] on preserving power,” while “corruption in the inner circle is growing.” The Embassy noted, however, that with “high unemployment and regional inequalities” in the country, “the risks to the regime’s long-term stability are increasing.”[6]

So how did the United States seek to preserve “stability”? Imperial powers do what they do best: provide the means to continue repression and control. Between 1987, when Ben Ali came to power and 2009, the United States provided the government of Tunisia with a total of $349 million in military aid.[7] In 2010, the United States provided Tunisia with $13.7 million in military aid alone.[8]

Tunisia, which was a former French colony, also had strong relations with France. During the outbreak of the crisis in December of 2010, the French suggested they would help Ben Ali by sending security forces to Tunisia to “resolve the situation” in a show of “friendship” to the regime.[9] The French foreign minister suggested that France could provide better training to Tunisian police to restore order since the French were adept in “security situations of this type.” Jacques Lanxade, a retired French admiral, former military chief of staff and former French ambassador to Tunis noted that the French had “continued public support of this regime because of economic interests,” and added: “We didn’t take account of Tunisian public opinion and thought Ben Ali would re-establish his position.”[10]

This imperial logic has been given terms and justifications from establishment intellectuals and academics in the United States and other Western powers. Academics with the Brookings Institution, an influential U.S. think tank, suggested in 2009 that this was the logic of “authoritarian bargains,” in which dictatorships in the region were able to maintain power through a type of “bargain,” where “citizens relinquish political influence in exchange for public spending,” suggesting that: “non-democratic rulers secure regime support through the allocation of two substitutable ‘goods’ to the public: economic transfers and the ability to influence policy making.”[11]

In 2011, those same academics wrote an article for the Brookings Institution in which they asked if the “Arab authoritarian bargain” was collapsing, noting that as economic conditions deteriorated and unemployment rose, with neoliberal reforms failing to provide economic opportunities for the majority of the populations, the bargain – or “contract” – between dictators and the populations was “now collapsing,” adding that, “the strategies used by Arab leaders to maintain power may have run their course,” noting: “Partial political liberalization may not be enough at this point to make up for the current inability to deliver economic security and prosperity, spelling the final demise of Arab authoritarian bargain.”[12]

F. Gregory Gause III, writing in Foreign Affairs, the establishment journal of the Council on Foreign Relations, the most prominent foreign policy think tank in the United States, referred to this as “authoritarian stability” theory. Following the initial Arab Spring uprisings, he wrote about the “myth” of authoritarian stability, noting that many academics had focused on trying to understand “the persistence of undemocratic rulers” in the region, though implicitly without questioning the imperial relations between the local governments and the dominant Western powers. Gause himself acknowledged that he had written an article for Foreign Affairs in 2005 in which he argued that, “the United States should not encourage democracy in the Arab world because Washington’s authoritarian Arab allies represented stable bets for the future,” and that, “democratic Arab governments would prove much less likely to cooperate with U.S. foreign policy goals in the region.” Gause then reflected in 2011 that, “I was spectacularly wrong.”[13]

Marwan Muasher is vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment, a prominent American think tank, and was previously foreign minister and deputy prime minister in the Jordanian dictatorship. Following events in Tunisia, Muasher wrote an article for the Carnegie Endowment in which he explained why the events were not foreseen, noting that: “The traditional argument put forward in and out of the Arab world is that there is nothing wrong, everything is under control.” Thus, wrote Muasher, “entrenched forces argue that opponents and outsiders calling for reform are exaggerating the conditions on the ground,” an argument which he noted, “has been fundamentally undermined by the unfolding events in Tunisia.” Because Tunisia had comparably low economic problems, a small opposition, and a “strong security establishment,” it was thought that “the risk of revolt was considered low.” Muasher wrote: “It wasn’t supposed to happen in Tunisia and the fact that it did proves that fundamental political reforms – widening the decision-making process and combating corruption – are needed around the entire Arab world.”[14]

This concept of “there is nothing wrong, everything is under control,” has been referred to by Noam Chomsky as the “Muasher doctrine,” noting that this has been consistent U.S. policy in the region since at least 1958, when Eisenhower’s National Security Council acknowledged that the US supported dictators and opposed democracy, and that this was a rational policy to serve American interests in the region.[15]

The National Security Council document stated that the Middle East was “of great strategic, political, and economic importance to the Free World,” meaning the West, and United States in particular, and this was largely due to the fact that the region “contains the greatest petroleum resources in the world.” Thus, the National Security Council stated, “it is in the security interest of the United States to make every effort to insure that these resources will be available and will be used for strengthening the Free World.” The document further wrote that: “In the eyes of the majority of Arabs the United States appears to be opposed to the realization of the goals of Arab nationalism,” and that the people in that part of the world “believe the United States is seeking to protect its interest in Near East oil by supporting the status quo and opposing political or economic progress,” which included US support for “reactionary” regimes and America’s “colonial” allies in Europe, notably France and Great Britain. These beliefs, the report noted, were indeed accurate, that “our economic and cultural interests in the area have led… to close U.S. relations with elements in the Arab world whose primary interest lies in the maintenance of relations with the West and the status quo in their countries.”[16]

Acknowledging this, the NSC document stated that instead of “attempting merely to preserve the status quo,” the United States should “seek to guide the revolutionary and nationalistic pressures throughout the area into orderly channels which will not be antagonistic to the West and which will contribute to solving the internal social, political and economic problems of the area.” Though this would of course include providing “military aid to friendly countries to enhance their internal security and governmental stability,” which essentially amounted to maintaining the status quo. The same document also added that, “we cannot exclude the possibility of having to use force in an attempt to maintain our position in the area.”[17]

And so then we come up to present day, where the United States maintains the same policy, as Chomsky suggested, “the Muasher doctrine” of “there is nothing wrong, everything is under control.” But everything is clearly no longer under control, and there are many things that clearly are wrong. Just as the 1958 National Security Council document suggested guiding “revolutionary and nationalistic pressures” into “orderly channels which will not be antagonistic to the West,” so too were US planners in recent years seeking to do the same.

Top US policy planners at the Council on Foreign Relations produced a report – and strategic blueprint – for the United States to follow in 2005, entitled, In Support of Arab Democracy: Why and How, co-chaired by former Clinton-era Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who sits on the board of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Aspen Institute, and chair of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. The other co-chair of the Task Force report was Vin Weber, former Congressman and member of the board of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a US-government-supported organization promoting state-capitalist “liberal” democracy around the world, so long as it aligns with U.S. strategic interests. Other members of the Task Force which produced the report held previous or present affiliations with First National Bank of Chicago, Occidental Petroleum, the Carnegie Endowment, the World Bank, Brookings Institution, Hoover Institution, the U.S. State Department, National Security Council, National Intelligence Council, the American Enterprise Institute, the IMF, AOL-Time Warner, and Goldman Sachs.[18] In short, the report was produced by no less than a select group of America’s strategic and intellectual elite.

Published in 2005, the report suggested that “democracy and freedom have become a priority” for the United States in the Middle East, though there are conditions to Washington’s ability and interest in promoting these concepts: “First, does a policy of promoting democracy serve U.S. interests and foreign policy goals? Second, if so, how should the United States implement such a policy, taking into account the full range of its interests?” To the first question, the report suggested that it was in the U.S. interest to promote democracy in the Arab world, noting: “Although democracy entails certain inherent risks, the denial of freedom carries much more significant long-term dangers. If Arab citizens are able to express grievances freely and peacefully, they will be less likely to turn to more extreme measures.”[19] However, as the report noted: “the United States should promote the development of democratic institutions and practices over the long term, mindful that democracy cannot be imposed from the outside and that sudden, traumatic change is neither necessary nor desirable.” Most importantly, the report suggested: “America’s goal in the Middle East should be to encourage democratic evolution, not revolution.”[20]

The United States was not interested in rapid change, since, the report argued, “if Washington pushes Arab leaders too hard on reform, contributing to the collapse of friendly Arab governments, this would likely have a deleterious effect on regional stability, peace, and counterterrorism operations.” The report itself concluded: “While transitions to democracy can lead to instability in the short term, the Task Force finds that a policy geared toward maintaining the authoritarian status quo in the Middle East poses greater risks to U.S. interests and foreign policy goals.”[21]

Thus, when it comes to the issue of choosing between supporting a “dictatorship” or “democracy,” the issue is one of interest: which regime supports U.S. and Western interests better? In the short-term, dictatorships provide “authoritarian stability” and maintain control, however, in the long-term, a transition to a Western-style democratic system allows for less pressure built up against the system, and against the West itself. Dictatorships provide short-term “stability” (i.e., control), while top-down democracies provide long-term “stability.” The question, then, is merely of managing a transition from one to the other, no small task for an imperial power: how to maintain support for a dictator while encouraging the slow evolution of democratic governance.

The issue of “democracy” is further complicated by how it is defined or pursued. For the United States and its Western allies, “democracy” is not the goal, but rather a means to a goal. The goal is, always has been, and always will be, “stability and prosperity,” control and profit. When the dictatorships fail to bring about stability and prosperity, “democracy” – so long as it is constructed along Western liberal state-capitalist lines – will be the preferred option. The European Union, when reporting on its own efforts to promote democracy in the Mediterranean region, noted that, “we believe that democracy, good governance, rule of law, and gender equality are essential for stability and prosperity.”[22] In other words, democracy is not the goal: control and profit is the goal. The means are merely incidental, whether they be through dictatorships, or top-down democratic structures.

The problem in the Arab world is deepened for the United States when one looks at public opinion polls from the region. Just prior to the outbreak of protests in Tunisia, a major Western poll on Arab public opinion was conducted by the University of Maryland and Zogby International, published in the summer of 2010. The results were very interesting, noting that only 5% and 6% of respondents in 2010 believed that “promoting democracy” and “spreading human rights” were the two factors (respectively) which were most important in America’s foreign policy in the region. At the top of the list of priorities, with 49% and 45% respectively, were “protecting Israel” and “controlling oil,” followed by 33% each for “weakening the Muslim world” and “preserving regional and global dominance.” Further, 92% of respondents felt that Iran has a right to its nuclear program if it is peaceful, and 70% feel that right remains even if Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. Roughly 57% of respondents felt that if Iran acquired nuclear weapons, things would be “more positive” for the region, compared to 21% who thought it would be “more negative.” The poll asked which two countries posed the largest threat to the region, with Israel at 88% and the United States at 77%, while Iran was viewed as one of the two major threats to the region by only 10% of respondents, just above China and equal to Algeria.[23]

In other words, if truly representative – or genuine – democracies emerged in the region, they would be completely counter to U.S. strategic interests in the region, and thus, real democracy in the Arab world is not in the American interest. This makes the American strategic interests in the transitions of the ‘Arab Spring’ all the more important to attempt to manage and control. Genuine democracy would bring an end to American and Western hegemony, yet, the “Muasher doctrine” of “everything is under control” has failed in the case of both Tunisia and Egypt. What then, is left for Western interests?

Tunisia’s Transition to “Democracy”

Immediately following Ben Ali’s departure from Tunisia to Saudi Arabia, the land of exiled dictators, a “caretaker” government was quickly established in order to “lead the transition to democracy.” Mohamed Ghannouchi, Ben Ali’s prime minister (and the American favourite to replace him), helped to form a “unity” government, but after one day of existence, four opposition members quit the government, including three ministers from the UGTT trade union, saying they had “no confidence” in a government full of members from Ben Ali’s regime. Hundreds of people, led by trade unionists, took to the streets in protest against the transitional government.[24]

Six members from Ben Ali’s regime appeared in the “unity” government, presided over by the former Parliamentary Speaker Fouad Mebazaa. Ghannouchi stepped down in late February following popular opposition to his participation in the “unity” government, though he was replaced by Ben Ali’s former foreign minister.[25] In February of 2011, the United States offered “military training” to Tunisia in the follow-up to the planned elections for later in the year, to make Tunisia a “model” revolution for the Arab world.[26]

A public opinion poll conducted in Tunisia in May of 2011 revealed that there had been “a steep decline in confidence for the transition period,” noting that in March, a poll revealed that 79% of Tunisians believed the country was headed in the right direction, compared to only 46% who thought so in May. Roughly 73% of Tunisian’s felt that the economic situation was “somewhat bad or very bad,” and 93% of respondents said they were “very likely” to vote in coming elections.[27]

In October of 2011, Tunisians went to the polls for their first democratic election, “the first vote of the Arab spring.” The election was designed to elect an assembly which would be tasked with one mission: to draft a constitution before parliamentary elections. The An-Nadha (Ennahda) party, an Islamist party which was banned under Ben Ali, was expected to receive most of the votes, though most Tunisians felt guarded in terms of seeking to protect their “unfinished revolution.” Lawyers lodged complaints that in the nine months since Ben Ali fled Tunisia, torture and police brutality continued, while human rights activists noted that cronies from Ben Ali’s regime continued to dominate the corrupt judicial system. One human rights activist noted, “We are overwhelmed with cases of human rights abuses. You wouldn’t believe there had been a revolution… Torture is the way things are done, it’s systematic. They have not changed their practices at all,” referring to the police.[28]

On October 23, 2011, the Tunisian elections took place, with the Islamist party Ennahda winning 89 out of 217 seats, after which it joined with two secular parties to form a ruling coalition known as the ‘Troika.’ A year after the Troika had been in power, by October of 2012, Tunisians felt disheartened by the pace of the revolution. One young activist stated that, “They are failing on security, they are failing on the economy, and they are failing when it comes to liberties and rights… They have nothing to do with the revolution. They are completely disconnected.” Amnesty International even noted in October of 2012 that: “The authorities need to seize this historic opportunity and confront the painful legacy of abuse and violations of the pasty and enshrine in law and in practice universal human rights with the aim of making the rule of law a reality in the new Tunisia.”[29]

Rachid Ghannouchi, the party’s chairman (no relation to Mohammed Ghannouchi), said that Ennahda “pledges to continue working with our national partners towards building a national consensus that takes Tunisians forward towards the protection of their revolution and achievement of its aims.” Over the previous year, the opposition within Tunisia had time to develop better than it did prior to the October 2011 elections, with new parties and organizations emerging. One, a decidedly non-mainstream party, the Tunisian Pirate Party, advocates direct democracy and freedom of expression, with its leader stating, “The classic political parties are trying to buy and sell people. The youth of Tunisia, we refuse this masquerade, this system… All they want is power, they don’t listen to us. They have betrayed the people.” On the other hand, the government was facing increasing pressure not only from the left opposition, but from the more conservative Salafists, ultra-conservative Islamists, who reject democracy and want Ennahda to take a firm grip on power.[30]

At the time of Ben Ali’s overthrow, Tunisia had an unemployment rate of 13%, but by the end of 2011 it had risen to 18%, where it remains to this day, and was as high as 44% among young university graduates. Strikes, sit-ins, and protests had continued throughout 2012, and with 800,000 unemployed Tunisians, some were looking to new avenues for answers. The Salafists were providing poor young people with a different path. A former director at Tunisia’s UGTT trade union noted, “Salafism taps its social base into a pool of often deprived people inhabiting the so-called poverty belts surrounding inner cities… The rise of salafism is a socio-economic phenomenon before being a religious one.” Salafists call for a strict enforcement of religious law, and have taken part in protests which shout anti-Semitic and homophobic chants at times, leading many to fear the potential for women’s rights as well as those of various minority groups.[31]

Salafists have also been linked to attacks on individuals and groups, opposition meetings and organizations. When complaints are made to the Ennahda government’s police forces, little is done to address the issues to persecute crimes. Human Rights Watch noted: “There is an unwillingness or an inability to arrest individuals… People have been attacked by people they identify as Salafis; they file a complaint to the judicial police, and in many cases the guy is never arrested.”[32]

The Obama administration sought to contribute to the “stability” of the new regime in Tunisia by providing $32 million in military aid from January of 2011 to spring of 2012.[33] An American General and head of the U.S. Africom (Africa Command) noted that on top of the military aid, the United States was continuing to train Tunisian soldiers, having already trained 4,000 in the previous decade.[34] It would appear to be no less than the Muasher Doctrine with a difference face.

Clashes have increased between opposition parties and trade unionists with pro-government supporters as well as Salafists. In October of 2012, an opposition figure died after clashes between his supporters and pro-government forces calling themselves the League for the Protection of the Revolution.[35] On December 17, 2012, at an event commemorating the two-year anniversary of the protests that began the revolution, angry protesters hurled rocks at the Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki and the parliamentary speaker in Sidi Bouzid. As the president and speaker were hustled away by security forces, protesters chanted, “the people want the fall of the government.”[36]

By December of 2012, it was clear that the frustration of Tunisians unsatisfied with the failure of the subsequent governments to meet their demands was “starting to overflow again.” In late November, the government had even sent troops to Siliana following four days of protests spurred on by demands for jobs and government investment. President Moncef Marzouki stated that, “Tunisia today is at a crossroads,” though admitted that the government had not “met the expectations of the people.” With unemployment remaining at 18%, a third of the unemployed being college graduates, one publishing company owner noted that, “Ben Ali ignored the blinking red lights on the economy, and that is what got him thrown out… The unemployed are an army in a country the size of Tunisia.” Since the revolution, the United States had provided Tunisia with $300 million, with the European Union providing $400 million, and the World Bank approving a $500 million loan, all in an attempt to prop up the new government, though it remained incapable of meeting the demands of its population.[37]

A poll conducted by the International Republic Institute was published in October of 2012, revealing that for Tunisians, “employment, economic development, and living standards were chosen most often as top priorities for the current government,” though 67% of respondents felt the country was moving in the “wrong direction.”[38] In another survey from late 2012, nearly half of Tunisians reported that they were “worse off” since prior to the revolution, with only 14% who felt their personal situation had improved. For Tunisians, the success of the revolution was defined more in terms of economic issues, with 32% stating that democracy “means the distribution of basic necessities – food, clothing, and shelter – to all citizens,” while 27% define democracy as the right to criticize leaders, compared to only 25% who defined it “as alteration of leaders through elections.”[39]

The Second Spark?

On February 6, 2013, a secular party leader and opposition figure, Chokri Belaid, a major critic of the Ennahda government, was assassinated outside of his home, shot in the head and neck, marking the first political assassination in Tunisia since the colonial period. Belaid was a major critic of the government’s failure to prosecute the criminal activities of violent religious groups linked to Salafists and pro-government forces.[40] His death triggered widespread protests, many of which turned violent as government forces dispersed them using tear gas, while Tunisia’s biggest union, the UGTT, called for a general strike. Many felt that Ennahda was responsible for his murder, if not directly then by failing to reign in the radical Islamists.[41]

On February 8, a general strike brought tens of thousands of Tunisians into the streets in protest and in mourning of Chokri Belaid. Belaid was a respected opposition figure, but also a prominent trade unionist and lawyer, and was “one of the most outspoken critics of the post-revolution coalition government led by the moderate Islamist Ennahda party.” The day before his assassination he had appeared on television criticizing the increased political violence in the country. One barrister noted during the protest, “not since colonial times in the early 1950s has Tunisia seen a clear political assassination in the street.” Many spoke out against the shadowy Leagues of the Protection of the Revolution, made up of small groups of men “who are accused of using thugs to stir clashes at opposition rallies and trade union gatherings.” Belaid was a prominent critic of these groups, which he had publicly condemned as being linked to the ruling Ennahda party, a claim the party denies.[42] The president of a Tunisian NGO, Jalila Hedhli-Peugnet, stated that Belaid “was not assassinated under the dictatorship of Ben Ali, now he is assassinated under the democracy of Ennahda.”[43]

Coincidentally, on the day of Belaid’s assassination, Human Rights Watch released a report raising concerns about Tunisia for “the slow pace in reforming security operations and the judiciary, the failure to investigate and prosecute physical assaults by people apparently affiliated with violent groups, and the prosecution of nonviolent speech offenses.” The worry for the region over two years since the Arab Spring began, reported HRW, was whether the new governments would respect human rights, which “will determine whether the Arab uprisings give birth to genuine democracy or simply spawn authoritarianism in new clothes.” Throughout 2012, the courts in Tunisia applied already-existing repressive laws of the Ben Ali dictatorship to persecute nonviolent speech which the government considered harmful to “values, morality, or the public order, or to defame the army.” Artists have been charged for sculpting artwork deemed “harmful to public order and morals,” while two bloggers received prison terms of seven-and-a-half years for writing posts considered “offensive to Islam.” Over 2012, “assaults were carried out against intellectuals, artists, human rights activists, and journalists by individuals or groups who appear to be motivated by a religious agenda.” After reports had been filed on multiple occasions, “the police proved unwilling or unable to find or arrest the alleged attackers.”[44]

In January of 2013, Amnesty International noted that after two years since Ben Ali fled Tunisia, the abuses of the police forces and judicial system had yet to be addressed, specifically in relation to the period of the uprising between 17 December 2010 and just after Ben Ali fled, when roughly 338 people were killed and over 2,000 injured in protests. While Ben Ali was tried in absentia for the killings, only a few members of the security forces had been convicted for killing protesters.[45]

Following the assassination of Belaid, Amnesty International immediately called for an “independent and impartial investigation” into his murder, noting that attacks against political opposition groups had been increasing, and that a meeting which Chokri Belaid had attended the Saturday before his murder was violently attacked and that Belaid had been receiving death threats. The Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director at Amnesty International noted: “Two years after the ousting of former President Ben Ali, there is an increasing mistrust in the institutions that are supposed to protect human rights and Tunisians will not be satisfied with a sham investigation.”[46]

Following the assassination, Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali suggested that the coalition government should dissolve and form a non-partisan, technocratic government, though this was immediately rejected by members of his Ennahda party itself. All across Tunisia, a general strike was observed while tens of thousands took to the streets in multiple cities to mark the funeral of Belaid and to protest the government, often clashing with security forces.[47]

The Congress for the Republic (CPR), a secular party which was a member of the coalition government and whose leader, Moncef Marzouki, is president of Tunisia, said on Sunday February 10 that its party members would quit the government in protest against the handling of the political crisis, as tensions between the parties continued to accelerate. Meanwhile, pro-Ennadha government supporters also took to the streets, though in significantly less numbers than the opposition, to voice their support for the government.[48]

Thus, with the Tunisian government on the verge of collapse, with the people seemingly on the verge of another uprising, and with increasing tensions between secular and Islamist groups, Tunisia continues its unfinished revolution. It is tempting to draw the comparison to Egypt, where the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood party holds power, and where the population is again rising up against the government and in support of the revolutionary ideals which led them into the streets two years prior. As thousands again took to the streets in Egypt on February 8, they were met with riot police and tear gas.[49] It would appear that the Western-sponsored attempts to prop up Islamist governments to establish control over their populations is backfiring. Where the revolution goes, only posterity can say, but one thing is clear: the unfinished revolution in Tunisia – as elsewhere – is only finished, and democracy is only achieved, when the people themselves have made it and declared it to be so.

For those of us in the West, we must acknowledge that there is a stark contrast between the rhetoric and reality of our nations, as in, the difference between what our governments say and do. For all the blather and trumpeting about democracy we hear, the actions of our nations go to arming, training, and supporting repressive regimes, whether they take the form of secular authoritarian dictatorships, or Islamist “democratic” coalitions.

As we continue our own struggle for democracy at home, whether it is students in the streets of Quebec, Indignados in Spain, anarchists in Greece, Occupy Wall Street activists in New York, or the indigenous movement of Idle No More, we must realize that the same tax dollars which are used to have the police assault and repress protesters at home, are also used to assault, repress, and kill our brothers and sisters abroad in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, and beyond. Their revolution is our revolution. Their democracy is our democracy. Their freedom is our freedom. And their future… is our future.

Notes:

[1]       Mehdi Mabrouk, “A Revolution for Dignity and Freedom: Preliminary Observations on the Social and Cultural Background to the Tunisian Revolution,” The Journal of North African Studies (Vol. 16, No. 4, December 2011), pages 626-627.

[2]       Ibid, pages 629-629.

[3]       Yasmine Ryan, “How Tunisia’s revolution began,” Al-Jazeera, 26 January 2011.

[4]       Richard Falk, “Ben Ali Tunisia was model US client,” Al-Jazeera, 25 January 2011.

[5]       US Embassy Cables, “US embassy cables: Finding a successor to Ben Ali in Tunisia,” The Guardian, 17 January 2011.

[6]       The US Embassy Cables, “US embassy cables: Tunisia – a US foreign policy conundrum,” The Guardian, 7 December 2010.

[7]       Daya Gamage, “Massive U.S. Military Aid to Tunisia despite human rights abuses,” Asian Tribune, 18 January 2011.

[8]       NYT, “Challenges Facing Countries Across North Africa and the Middle East,” The New York Times, 17 February 2011.

[9]       Samer al-Atrush, “Tunisia: Why the Jasmine Revolution won’t bloom,” The Telegraph, 16 January 2011.

[10]     Steven Erlanger, “France Seen Wary of Interfering in Tunisia Crisis,” The New York Times, 16 January 2011.

[11]     Raj M. Desai, Anders Olofsgard, and Tarik M. Yousef, “The Logic of Authoritarian Bargains,” Economics & Politics (Vol. 21, No. 1, March 2009), pages 93-94.

[12]     Raj M. Desai, Anders Olofsgard and Tarik Yousef, “Is the Arab Authoritarian Bargain Collapsing?,” The Brookings Institution, 9 February 2011.

[13]     F. Gregory Gause III, “Why Middle East Studies Missed the Arab Spring: The Myth of Authoritarian Stability,” Foreign Affairs (Vol. 90, No. 4, July/August 2011), pages 81-82.

[14]     Marwan Muasher, “Tunisia’s Crisis and the Arab World,” the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 24 January 2011.

[15]     Noam Chomsky, “Is the world too big to fail?,” Al-Jazeera, 29 September 2011.

[16]     Document 5, “National Security Council Report,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, Vol. 12, Near East Region; Iraq; Iran; Arabian Peninsula, 24 January 1958.

[17]     Ibid.

[18]     Madeleine Albright and Vin Weber, In Support of Arab Democracy: Why and How (Council on Foreign Relations Task Force Report, 2005), pages 49-54.

[19]     Ibid, pages 3-4.

[20]     Ibid, page 4.

[21]     Ibid, pages 12-13.

[22]     Michelle Pace, “Paradoxes and contradictions in EU democracy promotion in the Mediterranean: the limits of EU normative power,” Democratization (Vol. 16, No. 1, February 2009), page 42.

[23]     Report, “2010 Arab Public Opinion Poll: Results of Arab Opinion Survey Conducted June 29-July 20, 2010,” The Brookings Institution, 5 August 2010.

[24]     Angelique Chrisafis, “Tunisia’s caretaker government in peril as four ministers quit,” The Guardian, 18 January 2011.

[25]     “Tunisia: Key players,” BBC, 27 February 2011.

[26]     Tarek Amara, “US offers Tunisia security aid for ‘model’ revolution,” Reuters, 21 February 2011.

[27]     “IRI Releases Tunisia Poll,” International Republican Institute, 12 July 2011.

[28]     Angelique Chrisafis, Katharine Viner, and Becky Gardiner, “Tunisians go to the polls still in the shadow of the old regime,” The Guardian, 22 October 2011.

[29]     Yasmine Ryan, “Tunisian politicians struggle to deliver,” Al-Jazeera, 23 October 2012.

[30]     Ibid.

[31]     Anne Wolf and Raphael Lefevre, “Tunisia: a revolution at risk,” The Guardian, 18 April 2012.

[32]     Alice Fordham, “Tunisia’s revolution and the Salafi effect,” The National, 11 September 2012.

[33]     “Obama administration doubles military aid to Islamist-led Tunisia,” World Tribune, 27 April 2012.

[34]     AFP, “U.S. Gave Tunisia $32 million in Military Aid: General,” Defense News, 24 April 2012.

[35]     “Tunisia clash leaves opposition official dead,” Al-Jazeera, 19 October 2012.

[36]     Agencies, “Angry crowd hurls stones at Tunisian leaders,” Al-Jazeera, 17 December 2012.

[37]     Neil MacFarquhar, “Economic Frustration Simmers Again in Tunisia,” The New York Times, 1 December 2012.

[38]     “IRI Poll: Employment, Economy Most Important Priorities for Tunisians,” International Republican Institute, 3 October 2012.

[39]     Lindsay J. Benstead, Ellen Lust, and Dhafer Malouche, “Tunisian Revolution Is Work in Progress,” The Epoch Times, 27 December 2012.

[40]     Editorial, “An Assassination in Tunisia,” The New York Times, 8 February 2013.

[41]     Eric Reguly, “Chaos in Tunisia tarnishes a revolution’s success story,” The Globe and Mail, 7 February 2013.

[42]     Angelique Chrisafis, “Tunisia gripped by general strike as assassinated Chokri Belaïd is buried,” The Guardian, 8 February 2013.

[43]     Rachel Shabi, “Tunisia is no longer a rev

Climate Change Is Drowning Out “Jobs vs. Environment” Debate

The old argument that unions must choose between jobs and the environment is losing its grip, as climate change becomes more evident and more urgent. More unions than ever have signed up to join environmentalists for a demonstration in Washington, D.C. against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline on Sunday.

It’s evidence of a sea change, at least among some unions, when it comes to global warming. Indeed, many are arguing that investment to prevent global warming is the real job-creator.

Nurses are demanding a “Robin Hood” tax on Wall Street, devoted to developing safe, green energy; auto workers are backing fuel efficiency standards; taxi drivers are embracing hybrids; and transport workers are lobbying for more mass transit while opposing dirty fuels.

The Utility Workers, who run power plants, are calling for “a serious commitment to climate change legislation,” which they say will create two million good jobs.

And as the debate over TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline heats up again, the 120,000-member Communications, Energy, and Paperworkers union in Canada is opposing it more strongly than ever—even though the CEP represents 35,000 workers in oil, gas extraction, and refining, including oil patch workers in Alberta, the very workers who mine the tar sands.

Meanwhile, in the Oil Patch

How does a union in the fossil fuel industry handle climate change?

In the largest Canadian energy union, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers, convention delegates unanimously supported the 1997 Kyoto climate accord, an international agreement to limit carbon emissions. And the CEP has voted in every convention to oppose the Keystone XL.

“For many years our union stood almost by itself” in opposition to tar sands export pipelines, said CEP President David Coles at a recent conference on unions and global warming in New York.

Canada’s economy has shifted, the CEP and other Canadian unions like the Auto Workers argue, from adding value through manufacturing to exporting raw resources at great profit to owners, like an old-fashioned colony.

The resulting strength of the Canadian dollar has made manufactured exports more expensive to the rest of the world and caused Canada to lose 11 percent of its manufacturing jobs since 2008. Coles called the move to export even more tar sands bitumen a job-killer.

They Get It

The jobs argument isn’t all, though. Even the 35,000 members who work directly with fossil fuels, Coles said, agree that “we cannot sustain the expansion of the carbon economy.”

His union has engaged members on energy and economic issues all along, he said. It sent a delegation to Fukushima, Japan, to learn about the nuclear reactor disaster there. Although CEP includes uranium miners, the union opposes nuclear power.

“You don’t have to tell an oil worker how rotten the employers are. They don’t trust them,” said Coles. In his union, there’s an understanding: “If the boss supports it, you’d better be nervous. We’re not all in this together; we have opposing interests.”

But, he said, when a society decides to make a change, it needs to set aside money for a “just transition” for workers, including training and relocation. Energy employers should pay a higher tax set aside for that purpose, he said.

Green = More Jobs

In the U.S., investment in renewable energy creates more jobs than investment in capital-intensive fossil fuels. A University of California study showed that 5.65 jobs are created for every million dollars invested in solar energy, 5.70 in wind, and only 3.96 in coal.

A study of the 2009 stimulus package noted that investments in public transportation had created 31 percent more jobs, dollar for dollar, than those in new road construction.

Even the regulations long denounced by industry as job-destroying can turn out to be the opposite. The Environmental Protection Agency projected that new emissions standards it proposed in 2009 for coal power plants would create up to 31,000 construction jobs and 9,000 permanent utility jobs. But so far, the EPA has only applied new regulations to future plants.

Preparations for climate change could also generate jobs, say utility workers. New York’s Consolidated Edison “has cut the workforce to the bone, and they don’t invest,” said John Duffy, national vice-president of the Utility Workers.

The New York City workforce of 8,500 that the company locked out last summer in a dispute over pensions has been winnowed to 7,700, Duffy said.

He said the union has found power poles dating back to the 1930s, though the company is supposed to replace them every 50 years and charges rates that are supposed to pay for upgrading.

When a storm like Sandy wreaks havoc on an already weakened system, managers just say, “Whoops, look what the storm did,” Duffy said. Publicly owned power companies are better, he said, because private ones lobby against regulations requiring them to maintain equipment with appropriate staffing levels.

New Tune

After many years of singing in harmony with their Big 3 employers against fuel efficiency, the Auto Workers union has changed tune, arguing that the recent 2012 regulations would create jobs.

Pollution-cutting technology requires “additional content on each vehicle,” said UAW President Bob King at hearings considering the new corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards. “That additional content must be engineered and produced by additional employees.”

In 2007 UAW’s previous president Ron Gettelfinger had complained about changes to CAFE, calling them “the least desirable option for addressing the problems of climate change and energy security.”

Shortly after King was elected in 2010, the UAW joined the BlueGreen Alliance, an effort to unite environmentalists and unions started by the Steelworkers and the Sierra Club in 2006. The Alliance now counts the Service Employees, Communications, Utility, Food and Commercial, Teachers (AFT), Plumbers, Amalgamated Transit, and Sheet Metal unions as members.

The BlueGreen Alliance calculated that the new CAFE standards would cut carbon emissions nearly in half for cars and light-duty trucks. The Alliance predicted that by 2030, when the standards have been fully implemented, they would create 50,000 jobs.

Bumpy Road

The promise of jobs in the fossil fuel industry has caused splits among unions. The BlueGreen Alliance lost the Laborers union in the first fight over the Keystone XL pipeline in 2011.

Hamstrung by disagreement among member unions, the coalition declined to take a stand. But the Laborers pulled out anyway, angry that other coalition members had opposed a project they hoped would employ their members.

After the housing crash, some construction locals experienced 25 percent unemployment. The promise of “jobs now” was counterposed to possible climate impacts later—and “jobs now” won.

The Keystone XL would run 2,000 miles, from Alberta to Texas, carrying a corrosive slurry of raw bitumen to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Tar sands mining produces a dirty fuel with a large carbon footprint that must be heated to mine it and diluted with other fuel to pipe it. Pipeline spills are not uncommon.

In Texas, the refined fuel would likely be put on ships for export. Because the pipeline crosses an international border, it needs U.S. government approval.

TransCanada has projected 20,000 construction jobs on the pipeline, while the State Department has estimated 6,000. The company promised construction unions it would hire their members, leading the Laborers—with support from the Teamsters, Operating Engineers, and Plumbers (UA)—to lash out at two transit unions who spoke out against Keystone XL and for green jobs.

Observers said other unions were deterred from speaking out on the pipeline after the construction unions’ fierce criticism.

At one point the Laborers threatened to picket a U.S. talk by CEP President Coles.

Many climate activists rate the Keystone XL a hinge-point in the battle to lower carbon emissions. NASA climate scientist James Hansen says that exploitation of the tar sands “would make it implausible to stabilize the climate”; if tar sands are in the mix, “it’s essentially game over.”

With this in mind, making tar sands bitumen more difficult to mine and ship has become a top priority for U.S. climate activists, leading to 1,200 civil disobedience arrests at the White House in fall 2011. President (and then-candidate) Obama was convinced to delay the pipeline decision until after the election.

The Steelworkers, who helped found the BlueGreen Alliance and have argued actively for green jobs, didn’t take a position during the 2011 protests. The steel for the pipeline could be fabricated by members in the U.S. and Canada, although some of it had already been ordered from India.

After Obama delayed the decision, USW issued a statement supporting the delay, but didn’t mention climate change.

XL Re-Do

Now the pipeline has returned to the front pages as the administration considers the issue again. The Communications Workers are urging members to attend the February 17 demonstration, which they call “the largest U.S. climate rally ever,” with the tagline, “Crippling drought. Devastating wildfires. Superstorm Sandy. Climate change is a real threat.”

And the 185,000-member National Nurses Union came out against the pipeline in early February, joining the Amalgamated Transit Union and the Transport Workers Union.

“It’s easy for us to take this position,” said Jill Furillo of the 37,000-member New York State Nurses Association. “Our members are on the front lines of seeing the effects of the environmental crisis.”

After Hurricane Sandy, New York nurses not only took care of those injured in the storm, they also evacuated patients from hospitals crippled by loss of electricity, carrying critically ill patients down dark stairwells when rising floodwaters wrecked elevators and backup generators.

Missed Chance

Sometimes environmental initiatives ignore obvious allies in the working class. Members of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance drive the largest cab fleet in the country, with 100,000 vehicles. The workers generally lease the vehicles and pay for gas.

So it was good news for them when, under pressure from environmentalists, New York City announced that taxi garages would have to purchase hybrids, with far higher mileage and lower emissions.

The members supported the move and understand the stakes, said Bhairavi Desai, director of the Alliance. Many New York cabbies are from Bangladesh, a low-lying country susceptible to the flooding caused by higher oceans.

But the workers weren't included in the debate, Desai said. "Workers could have been the face of the environmental agenda."

As a result, when the garages sued the city, claiming the hybrids would be too expensive, the parties cut a deal that meant cab drivers themselves would have to pay more for the hybrid vehicles. The drivers, who were least able to afford it, ended up subsidizing a much larger social responsibility.

To make a sustainable alliance with organized cab drivers, environmentalists should have talked to the workers, not just their bosses, said Desai.

"Don't make us choose between a middle-class existence and the air we breathe," she said.

New from Labor Notes: "The Steward's Toolbox" is a how-to resource guide that gives labor activists the skills and orientation they need. Pick up a copy today!

The Movement – Waves Constantly Shaping the Shore

“Every wave on the ocean that has ever risen up and refused to lay back down has been dashed on the shore, but it is the very purpose of a wave to rise up, once it rises up above the horizon it finally has the perspective to see that it's not just a wave, that it's a part of a mighty ocean. And the sharpest rock on the wildest shore can never break that ocean apart, they can never wear that ocean down, because it's the ocean that shapes the shore.” -- Tim DeChristopher, March 3, 2011, after being convicted for an act of climate justice.

Tim DeChristopher’s words ring true as we look at the resistance movements that fight for justice – economic, social and environmental – against the corporate power that brings injustice on all fronts.  If you have not heard DeChristopher’s remarkable speech on the courthouse steps you can listen to it here. DeChristopher was briefly among the core organizers of October211/OccupyWashingtonDC before he went to prison. He is due to be released from a halfway house this April.

We were reminded of DeChristopher’s wave this week when we published an article by long-time antiwar and anti-corporate power activist Mike Ferner. Ferner was writing about another wave we should not forget, the global revolt against the invasion of Iraq. Thirty million people around the globe said 'no' to a war before it began. The New York Times wrote the next day that there were two superpowers in the world, the United States and the people. We did not stop that war, but history has proved us right. We should know from that experience and so many others that the people can rule better than the elites.

We are now seeing waves of protest in so many areas on so many issues, as the recent issues of this newsletter have shown. People ask where has Occupy gone? If they look, they will see people fighting on so many critical issues: health care because 120 adults die every day in the United States due to lack of health care, housing because millions have lost their homes, millions of homes are underwater and hundreds of thousands are homeless, poverty and hunger which effect 45 million, challenges to the unnecessary austerity and corporate tax breaks being pushed in DC and on and on. On issue, after issue, people are making waves.

One wave that took center stage this past weekend was climate change. The largest climate rally in US history was held this weekend in Washington, DC, at the same time people are fighting on the front lines against tar sands in Utah, the Keystone XL pipeline in Oklahoma and Texas – where the Tar Sands Blockade is calling for a week of national actions from March 16-23. In Washington, DC this week, 48 people were arrested outside the White House, including the executive director of the Sierra Club, which for the first time endorsed civil disobedience. The Boston Phoenix has an excellent article on climate being the new abolition movement, urging Americans who understand the threat it poses to embrace their radicalism. The article quotes Tim DeChristopher making points that apply to all of us working for peace, justice and ecology:

Weeks before his sentencing, DeChristopher told Rolling Stone's Jeff Goodell: "I'm a climate-justice activist. . . . We want a radically different world. We want a healthy, just world." But first, he said, "We need to get the fossil fuel industry out of the way. First we've got to overthrow the corporate power that is running our government." He understands what that requires. "It will involve confrontation and it will involve sacrifice."

At his sentencing, standing before the federal judge, DeChristopher concludes a long, eloquent statement that spreads across the Internet and galvanizes a growing climate-justice movement: "This is not going away. At this point of unimaginable threats on the horizon, this is what hope looks like. In these times of a morally bankrupt government that has sold out its principles, this is what patriotism looks like. With countless lives on the line, this is what love looks like, and it will only grow. The choice you are making today is what side are you on."

DeChristopher points to the issue that unites us "corporate power that is running our government." And, the choice we make every day: which side are you on? On every issue we face it the power of big business, often transnational corporations, which block progress and increase suffering and destruction.

People are standing up, getting organized and mobilizing. This week we posted an Occupy document, "The Activist's Handbook: 1000 Ways to Politically and Socially Activate Your Life." It is not just about protest and resistance. Fun should always be on the agenda as was shown at the Direct Action Fashion Show 2013 at the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space, an alternative to New York's fashion week. It is also about building an alternative economy as the people in Occupy Winchester, MA are exploring on March 9 – Community Reinvestment Day, including socially responsible investing, creating a public bank in Massachusetts and creating sustainable businesses. And, Occupy The Roads, which has traveled 25,000 miles visiting 149 cities has announced a plans to occupy retail space, loft apartments and offices, totaling 12,000 sq ft. in Southern Ohio. This could become a great center for organizing. They are looking for people to participate – everyone has to be a serious worker to join.

Of course, protest and resistance are essential to creating the transformation we seek. Here are two more protests we want to highlight: a monthly protest against drones outside the CIA headquarters and an ongoing protest against drones outside of the Hancock Air Force base near Syracuse, NY, which included a "War Crimes Indictment."

We are learning more and more about the extreme law enforcement response to the resistance movement. Documents from the Pacific Northwest Grand Jury show that police targeted activists merely because of their anarchist political views. In Charlottesville, VA the police finally shared video tapes, photos and other materials with Occupy Charlottesville, after fighting the release in court. Police say they will destroy the materials. In Boston, the prosecutors avoided a trial by dropping charges against all Occupy cases, much to the dislike of many occupiers who wanted their day in court. The police would not act this way, if we were not having an impact.

To remind us how long the arc of justice is, and how many waves of movements have advanced the cause of progressive justice, we close with commemoration of a birthday this week – the birthday of Frederick Douglas. Douglas was one of the greatest social justice activists of our history for abolition of slavery, women's rights and worker rights. His message of taking action is as true today as when he said it in 1857:

"If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."

There is no question that the future economy and government we seek will be defined by the struggle that gets us there. This is the struggle of which we are all a part.

Why Latin America Didn’t Join Washington’s Counterterrorism Posse

John Brennan.(Photo: Center for Strategic & International Studies / Flickr)There was a scarcely noted but classic moment in the Senate hearings on the nomination of John Brennan, the president’s counterterrorism “tsar,” to become the next CIA director.  When Senator Carl Levin pressed him repeatedly on whether waterboarding was torture, he ended his reply this way: “I have a personal opinion that waterboarding is reprehensible and should not be done.  And again, I am not a lawyer, senator, and I can't address that question.”

How modern, how twenty-first-century American!  How we’ve evolved since the dark days of Medieval Europe when waterboarding fell into a category known to all as “the water torture”!  Brennan even cited Attorney General Eric Holder as one lawyer who had described waterboarding as “torture,” but he himself begged off.  According to the man who was deputy executive director of the CIA and director of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center in the years of “enhanced interrogation techniques” and knew much about them, the only people equipped to recognize torture definitively as “torture” are lawyers.  This might be more worrisome, if we weren’t a “nation of lawyers” (though it also means that plummeting law school application rates could, in the future, create a torture-definition crisis).

To look on the positive side, Brennan’s position should be seen as a distinct step forward from that of the Justice Department officials under the Bush administration who wrote the infamous “torture memos” and essentially left the definition of “torture” to the future testimony of the torturer. (“[I]f a defendant [interrogator] has a good faith belief that his actions will not result in prolonged mental harm, he lacks the mental state necessary for his actions to constitute torture.”)

And keep in mind that Brennan has good company for his position.  Recently, the Open Society Institute published the most comprehensive investigation yet of the offshore system of injustice that George W. Bush and his top officials set up to kidnap “terror suspects,” imprison them without charges or end, and torture and abuse them, or “render” them to other countries willing to do the same.  It turns out that 54 nations (other than the U.S.) took part in setting up, aiding, and maintaining this American global gulag.  It’s a roster of dishonor worth noting: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Finland, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Libya, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malawi, Malaysia, Mauritania, Morocco, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Uzbekistan, Yemen, and Zimbabwe.

Remarkably, according to the Open Society report, just one of those states evidently had a lawyer on hand who could actually recognize torture, even if well after the fact.  “Canada,” its authors write, “is the only country to issue an apology to an extraordinary rendition victim, Maher Arar, who was extraordinarily rendered to, and tortured in, Syria.”

Given this, Greg Grandin, TomDispatch regular and author of Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Lost Jungle City, explores a geographical miracle: of those 54 countries, only two, the U.S. and Canada, came from the Western Hemisphere! Tom

The Latin American Exception: How a Washington Global Torture Gulag Was Turned Into the Only Gulag-Free Zone on Earth
By Greg Grandin

The map tells the story.  To illustrate a damning new report, “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detentions and Extraordinary Rendition,” recently published by the Open Society Institute, the Washington Post put together an equally damning graphic: it’s soaked in red, as if with blood, showing that in the years after 9/11, the CIA turned just about the whole world into a gulag archipelago.

Back in the early twentieth century, a similar red-hued map was used to indicate the global reach of the British Empire, on which, it was said, the sun never set.  It seems that, between 9/11 and the day George W. Bush left the White House, CIA-brokered torture never saw a sunset either.

All told, of the 190-odd countries on this planet, a staggering 54 participated in various ways in this American torture system, hosting CIA “black site” prisons, allowing their airspace and airports to be used for secret flights, providing intelligence, kidnapping foreign nationals or their own citizens and handing them over to U.S. agents to be “rendered” to third-party countries like Egypt and Syria.  The hallmark of this network, Open Society writes, has been torture.  Its report documents the names of 136 individuals swept up in what it says is an ongoing operation, though its authors make clear that the total number, implicitly far higher, “will remain unknown” because of the “extraordinary level of government secrecy associated with secret detention and extraordinary rendition.”

No region escapes the stain.  Not North America, home to the global gulag’s command center.  Not Europe, the Middle East, Africa, or Asia.  Not even social-democratic Scandinavia.  Sweden turned over at least two people to the CIA, who were then rendered to Egypt, where they were subject to electric shocks, among other abuses.  No region, that is, except Latin America.

What’s most striking about the Post’s map is that no part of its wine-dark horror touches Latin America; that is, not one country in what used to be called Washington’s “backyard” participated in rendition or Washington-directed or supported torture and abuse of “terror suspects.”  Not even Colombia, which throughout the last two decades was as close to a U.S.-client state as existed in the area.  It’s true that a fleck of red should show up on Cuba, but that would only underscore the point: Teddy Roosevelt took Guantánamo Bay Naval Base for the U.S. in 1903 “in perpetuity.”

Two, Three, Many CIAs 

How did Latin America come to be territorio libre in this new dystopian world of black sites and midnight flights, the Zion of this militarist matrix (as fans of the Wachowskis' movies might put it)?  After all, it was in Latin America that an earlier generation of U.S. and U.S.-backed counterinsurgents put into place a prototype of Washington’s twenty-first century Global War on Terror.

Even before the 1959 Cuban Revolution, before Che Guevara urged revolutionaries to create “two, three, many Vietnams,” Washington had already set about establishing two, three, many centralized intelligence agencies in Latin America.  As Michael McClintock shows in his indispensable book Instruments of Statecraft, in late 1954, a few months after the CIA’s infamous coup in Guatemala that overthrew a democratically elected government, the National Security Council first recommended strengthening “the internal security forces of friendly foreign countries."

In the region, this meant three things.  First, CIA agents and other U.S. officials set to work “professionalizing” the security forces of individual countries like Guatemala, Colombia, and Uruguay; that is, turning brutal but often clumsy and corrupt local intelligence apparatuses into efficient, “centralized,” still brutal agencies, capable of gathering information, analyzing it, and storing it.  Most importantly, they were to coordinate different branches of each country’s security forces -- the police, military, and paramilitary squads -- to act on that information, often lethally and always ruthlessly.

Second, the U.S. greatly expanded the writ of these far more efficient and effective agencies, making it clear that their portfolio included not just national defense but international offense.  They were to be the vanguard of a global war for “freedom” and of an anticommunist reign of terror in the hemisphere.  Third, our men in Montevideo, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Asunción, La Paz, Lima, Quito, San Salvador, Guatemala City, and Managua were to help synchronize the workings of individual national security forces.

The result was state terror on a nearly continent-wide scale.  In the 1970s and 1980s, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s Operation Condor, which linked together the intelligence services of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Chile, was the most infamous of Latin America’s transnational terror consortiums, reaching out to commit mayhem as far away as Washington D.C., Paris, and Rome.  The U.S. had earlier helped put in place similar operations elsewhere in the Southern hemisphere, especially in Central America in the 1960s.

By the time the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans had been tortured, killed, disappeared, or imprisoned without trial, thanks in significant part to U.S. organizational skills and support.  Latin America was, by then, Washington’s backyard gulag.  Three of the region’s current presidents -- Uruguay’s José Mujica, Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega -- were victims of this reign of terror.

When the Cold War ended, human rights groups began the herculean task of dismantling the deeply embedded, continent-wide network of intelligence operatives, secret prisons, and torture techniques -- and of pushing militaries throughout the region out of governments and back into their barracks.  In the 1990s, Washington not only didn’t stand in the way of this process, but actually lent a hand in depoliticizing Latin America’s armed forces.  Many believed that, with the Soviet Union dispatched, Washington could now project its power in its own “backyard” through softer means like international trade agreements and other forms of economic leverage.  Then 9/11 happened.

“Oh My Goodness”

In late November 2002, just as the basic outlines of the CIA’s secret detention and extraordinary rendition programs were coming into shape elsewhere in the world, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld flew 5,000 miles to Santiago, Chile, to attend a hemispheric meeting of defense ministers.  "Needless to say,” Rumsfeld nonetheless said, “I would not be going all this distance if I did not think this was extremely important." Indeed.

This was after the invasion of Afghanistan but before the invasion of Iraq and Rumsfeld was riding high, as well as dropping the phrase “September 11th” every chance he got.  Maybe he didn’t know of the special significance that date had in Latin America, but 29 years earlier on the first 9/11, a CIA-backed coup by General Pinochet and his military led to the death of Chile’s democratically elected president Salvador Allende.  Or did he, in fact, know just what it meant and was that the point?  After all, a new global fight for freedom, a proclaimed Global War on Terror, was underway and Rumsfeld had arrived to round up recruits.

There, in Santiago, the city out of which Pinochet had run Operation Condor, Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials tried to sell what they were now terming the “integration” of “various specialized capabilities into larger regional capabilities” -- an insipid way of describing the kidnapping, torturing, and death-dealing already underway elsewhere. “Events around the world before and after September 11th suggest the advantages,” Rumsfeld said, of nations working together to confront the terror threat.

“Oh my goodness,” Rumsfeld told a Chilean reporter, “the kinds of threats we face are global.”  Latin America was at peace, he admitted, but he had a warning for its leaders: they shouldn’t lull themselves into believing that the continent was safe from the clouds gathering elsewhere.  Dangers exist, “old threats, such as drugs, organized crime, illegal arms trafficking, hostage taking, piracy, and money laundering; new threats, such as cyber-crime; and unknown threats, which can emerge without warning.”

“These new threats,” he added ominously, “must be countered with new capabilities.” Thanks to the Open Society report, we can see exactly what Rumsfeld meant by those “new capabilities.”

A few weeks prior to Rumsfeld’s arrival in Santiago, for example, the U.S., acting on false information supplied by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, detained Maher Arar, who holds dual Syrian and Canadian citizenship, at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport and then handed him over to a “Special Removal Unit.” He was flown first to Jordan, where he was beaten, and then to Syria, a country in a time zone five hours ahead of Chile, where he was turned over to local torturers.  On November 18th, when Rumsfeld was giving his noon speech in Santiago, it was five in the afternoon in Arar’s “grave-like” cell in a Syrian prison, where he would spend the next year being abused. 

Ghairat Baheer was captured in Pakistan about three weeks before Rumsfeld’s Chile trip, and thrown into a CIA-run prison in Afghanistan called the Salt Pit.  As the secretary of defense praised Latin America’s return to the rule of law after the dark days of the Cold War, Baheer may well have been in the middle of one of his torture sessions, “hung naked for hours on end.”

Taken a month before Rumsfeld’s visit to Santiago, the Saudi national Abd al Rahim al Nashiri was transported to the Salt Pit, after which he was transferred “to another black site in Bangkok, Thailand, where he was waterboarded.” After that, he was passed on to Poland, Morocco, Guantánamo, Romania, and back to Guantánamo, where he remains.  Along the way, he was subjected to a “mock execution with a power drill as he stood naked and hooded,” had U.S. interrogators rack a “semi-automatic handgun close to his head as he sat shackled before them.”  His interrogators also “threatened to bring in his mother and sexually abuse her in front of him.”

Likewise a month before the Santiago meeting, the Yemini Bashi Nasir Ali Al Marwalah was flown to Camp X-Ray in Cuba, where he remains to this day.   

Less than two weeks after Rumsfeld swore that the U.S. and Latin America shared “common values,” Mullah Habibullah, an Afghan national, died “after severe mistreatment” in CIA custody at something called the “Bagram Collection Point.” A U.S. military investigation “concluded that the use of stress positions and sleep deprivation combined with other mistreatment... caused, or were direct contributing factors in, his death.”

Two days after the secretary’s Santiago speech, a CIA case officer in the Salt Pit had Gul Rahma stripped naked and chained to a concrete floor without blankets.  Rahma froze to death.     

And so the Open Society report goes... on and on and on.

Territorio Libre 

Rumsfeld left Santiago without firm commitments.  Some of the region’s militaries were tempted by the supposed opportunities offered by the secretary’s vision of fusing crime fighting into an ideological campaign against radical Islam, a unified war in which all was to be subordinated to U.S. command.  As political scientist Brian Loveman has noted, around the time of Rumsfeld’s Santiago visit, the head of the Argentine army picked up Washington’s latest set of themes, insisting that “defense must be treated as an integral matter,” without a false divide separating internal and external security.

But history was not on Rumsfeld’s side.  His trip to Santiago coincided with Argentina’s epic financial meltdown, among the worst in recorded history.  It signaled a broader collapse of the economic model -- think of it as Reaganism on steroids -- that Washington had been promoting in Latin America since the late Cold War years.  Soon, a new generation of leftists would be in power across much of the continent, committed to the idea of national sovereignty and limiting Washington’s influence in the region in a way that their predecessors hadn’t been. 

Hugo Chávez was already president of Venezuela.  Just a month before Rumsfeld’s Santiago trip, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva won the presidency of Brazil. A few months later, in early 2003, Argentines elected Néstor Kirchner, who shortly thereafter ended his country’s joint military exercises with the U.S.  In the years that followed, the U.S. experienced one setback after another.  In 2008, for instance, Ecuador evicted the U.S. military from Manta Air Base.  

In that same period, the Bush administration’s rush to invade Iraq, an act most Latin American countries opposed, helped squander whatever was left of the post-9/11 goodwill the U.S. had in the region.  Iraq seemed to confirm the worst suspicions of the continent’s new leaders: that what Rumsfeld was trying to peddle as an international “peacekeeping” force would be little more than a bid to use Latin American soldiers as Gurkhas in a revived unilateral imperial war. 

Brazil’s “Smokescreen”

Diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks show the degree to which Brazil rebuffed efforts to paint the region red on Washington’s new global gulag map.

A May 2005 U.S. State Department cable, for instance, reveals that Lula’s government refused “multiple requests” by Washington to take in released Guantánamo prisoners, particularly a group of about 15 Uighurs the U.S. had been holding since 2002, who could not be sent back to China.

“[Brazil’s] position regarding this issue has not changed since 2003 and will likely not change in the foreseeable future,” the cable said.  It went on to report that Lula’s government considered the whole system Washington had set up at Guantánamo (and around the world) to be a mockery of international law.  “All attempts to discuss this issue” with Brazilian officials, the cable concluded, “were flatly refused or accepted begrudgingly.”

In addition, Brazil refused to cooperate with the Bush administration’s efforts to create a Western Hemisphere-wide version of the Patriot Act.  It stonewalled, for example, about agreeing to revise its legal code in a way that would lower the standard of evidence needed to prove conspiracy, while widening the definition of what criminal conspiracy entailed.

Lula stalled for years on the initiative, but it seems that the State Department didn’t realize he was doing so until April 2008, when one of its diplomats wrote a memo calling Brazil’s supposed interest in reforming its legal code to suit Washington a “smokescreen.”  The Brazilian government, another Wikileaked cable complained, was afraid that a more expansive definition of terrorism would be used to target “members of what they consider to be legitimate social movements fighting for a more just society.” Apparently, there was no way to “write an anti-terrorism legislation that excludes the actions” of Lula’s left-wing social base.

One U.S. diplomat complained that this “mindset” -- that is, a mindset that actually valued civil liberties  -- “presents serious challenges to our efforts to enhance counterterrorism cooperation or promote passage of anti-terrorism legislation.”  In addition, the Brazilian government worried that the legislation would be used to go after Arab-Brazilians, of which there are many.  One can imagine that if Brazil and the rest of Latin America had signed up to participate in Washington’s rendition program, Open Society would have a lot more Middle Eastern-sounding names to add to its list. 

Finally, cable after Wikileaked cable revealed that Brazil repeatedly brushed off efforts by Washington to isolate Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, which would have been a necessary step if the U.S. was going to marshal South America into its counterterrorism posse. 

In February 2008, for example, U.S. ambassador to Brazil Clifford Sobell met with Lula’s Minister of Defense Nelson Jobin to complain about Chávez.  Jobim told Sobell that Brazil shared his “concern about the possibility of Venezuela exporting instability.”  But instead of “isolating Venezuela,” which might only “lead to further posturing,” Jobim instead indicated that his government “supports [the] creation of a ‘South American Defense Council’ to bring Chavez into the mainstream.”

There was only one catch here: that South American Defense Council was Chávez’s idea in the first place!  It was part of his effort, in partnership with Lula, to create independent institutions parallel to those controlled by Washington.  The memo concluded with the U.S. ambassador noting how curious it was that Brazil would use Chavez’s “idea for defense cooperation” as part of a “supposed containment strategy” of Chávez. 

Monkey-Wrenching the Perfect Machine of Perpetual War

Unable to put in place its post-9/11 counterterrorism framework in all of Latin America, the Bush administration retrenched.  It attempted instead to build a “perfect machine of perpetual war” in a corridor running from Colombia through Central America to Mexico.  The process of militarizing that more limited region, often under the guise of fighting “the drug wars,” has, if anything, escalated in the Obama years.  Central America has, in fact, become the only place Southcom -- the Pentagon command that covers Central and South America -- can operate more or less at will.  A look at this other map, put together by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, makes the region look like one big landing strip for U.S. drones and drug-interdiction flights. 

Washington does continue to push and probe further south, trying yet again to establish a firmer military foothold in the region and rope it into what is now a less ideological and more technocratic crusade, but one still global in its aspirations.  U.S. military strategists, for instance, would very much like to have an airstrip in French Guyana or the part of Brazil that bulges out into the Atlantic.  The Pentagon would use it as a stepping stone to its increasing presence in Africa, coordinating the work of Southcom with the newest global command, Africom.   

But for now, South America has thrown a monkey wrench into the machine.  Returning to that Washington Post map, it’s worth memorializing the simple fact that, in one part of the world, in this century at least, the sun never rose on US-choreographed torture.

Minimum Wage: Who Decided Workers Should Fall Behind?

It was encouraging to see President Obama propose an increase in the minimum wage in his State of the Union Address, even if the $9.00 target did not seem especially ambitious. If the $9.00 minimum wage were in effect this year, the inflation-adjusted value of the minimum wage would still be more than 2.0 percent lower than it had been in the late 1960s. And this proposed target would not even be reached until 2015, when inflation is predicted to lower the value by another 6 percent.

While giving a raise worth more than $3,000 a year to the country’s lowest paid workers is definitely a good thing, it is hard to get too excited about a situation in which these workers will still be earning less than their counterparts did almost 50 years ago. By targeting wage levels that roughly move in step with inflation we have implemented a policy that workers at the bottom will receive none of the benefits of economic growth through time. In other words, if we hold the purchasing power of the minimum wage fixed through time, as the country as a whole gets richer, minimum wage workers will fall ever further behind.

It is important to realize that this was not always the case. The federal minimum wage was first put in place in 1938. From that year until 1968 when its value peaked, the purchasing power of the minimum wage increased by more than 140 percent. As a result, minimum wage workers saw a sharp increase in their living standards. Over this 30 year period, low wage workers shared in the gains of the economy as a whole as the minimum wage rose in step with productivity growth.

If workers at the bottom had continued to share in the economy’s growth in the years since 1968 as they had in the three decades before 1968, we would be looking at a very different economy and society. If the minimum wage had risen in step with productivity growth, it would be over $16.50 an hour today. That is higher than the hourly wages earned by 40 percent of men and half of women.

It shouldn’t seem strange that the wages of workers at the bottom rise in step with productivity, after all they do for many other workers even when the work has not in any direct way become more complex. For example, when a realtor is selling a $400,000 home rather than a $200,000 home it does not necessarily require any greater effort or skills. After all, if we were talking about the years of the housing bubble, it may just be the case that the same home had doubled in price. Yet, the commission will be twice as much.  

There would be similar stories in many other occupations where the growth of the economy by itself would tend to make wages rise. After all, it is not obviously more difficult or time-consuming to sell 1000 shares of stock or credit default swaps at prices that are twice as high, yet the commissions going to the brokers are likely to be twice as large.

Doctors, lawyers, and other highly educated professionals have also been positioned to benefit from the growth in the economy. We have left those at the bottom out. This has been by design and nowhere is that more clearly the wage with a minimum wage that has been set at level that has not even kept pace with the cost of living.

As a practical matter we couldn’t possibly raise the minimum wage any time soon to $16.50 without serious disruptions to the economy. One result would also be higher prices in the economy. Of course this is also the result of having doctors who average $250,000 a year and Wall Street bankers who can pocket many millions of dollars a year. Their income is a cost to everyone else.

Somehow the issue of higher prices and inflation is an important point when we discuss the wages of people getting $7.25 an hour to wash dishes but it is not supposed to enter into polite conversations when we talk about the most highly paid workers. That is a political choice, not an economic one.

We have structured our economy so that we can get cheap restaurant meals because of low-paid workers. Hotel stays cost less because we ensure a plentiful supply of workers at near the minimum wage. And convenience stores stay open 24 hours because the people working the midnight shift get paid almost nothing.

There is no economic reason why those at the bottom should not share in the gains from economic growth. And there is no economic reason, why those at the top should be such disproportionate beneficiaries. We rigged the deck this way more than three decades ago. We can restructure the rules so that money no longer flows upwards. A minimum wage that again follows in step with productivity growth would be a large part of this reversal.

Barrasso: Tax Increases Are Off the Table to Prevent Sequester

It seems Republicans are ready to die on their sword of protecting tax cuts for the rich and are going to do their best to blame President Obama for their unwillingness to negotiate on anything in good faith. They've been wanting to take a pound of flesh from the working class by slashing our social safety nets and it looks like they might use this sequester to finally get their way: GOP Eager For The Sequester To Go Into Effect So They Can Blame Obama For Its Devastating Consequences:

With the sequester deadline looming just two weeks away, Republicans have adopted the public posture of cheerleading for the anticipated spending reductions to social programs, while preparing to blame President Obama for their devastating impact on middle class Americans and national security.

Republicans have yet to offer a proposal that would offset the cuts in the 113th Congress and have categorically rejected the Senate’s balanced approach of higher revenues and spending cuts. Instead they’re sitting on their hands until the March 1 deadline, informing Obama that they will not act to head off the automatic reductions. [...]

Pressed by Crowley on the consequences of the across-the-board cuts, Barrasso initially dismissed their impact before blaming Obama for any deleterious effects. “I believe the president has a lot of authority that he can decide how this works, and, yeah, he can make it very uncomfortable, which i think would be a mistake on the part of the president, but when you take a look at the total dollars there are better ways to do this, but the cuts are going to occur,” he said.

Here's more from them on the damage the cuts would do: How The Sequester’s Budget Cuts Will Devastate Already-Battered Programs:

Federal spending is scheduled to reach historic lows thanks to the Budget Control Act, which placed caps on spending as part of the deal to raise the debt ceiling in the summer of 2011. Non-defense spending is already 14 percent lower than it has been at any time in the last half-century, and it could go even lower if the so-called “sequester,” a series of automatic budget cuts that will begin to take effect at the beginning of March, is allowed to occur.

The drop in domestic spending has already devastated many programs on which Americans depend. But on March 1, those cuts will get even deeper when the first $85 billion of sequester cuts take effect.

That will have a substantial impact on food safety, education, law enforcement, and safety net programs, according to estimates from Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee. And if the sequester is left in place for the full year, it will cut $1.5 trillion and those effects will only get worse: Read on...

Here's a reminder from Greg Sargent on the right's decision to use the sequester as "leverage" against President Obama: We all agree that spending cuts hurt the economy. Right? Right.:

Thrush very well be right that people won’t take the right message from the contraction. But in a rational world, what should be glaringly obvious is that the belief that this gives the party “leverage” highlights how absurdly incoherent the GOP message about the economy has become. (Read Steve Benen for all the other problems here.)

The economic contraction was driven largely by a steep drop in defense spending. As Ezra Klein details, this shows that “government is hurting the recovery” by “spending and investing too little.” As Ezra notes, “government spending and investment have, at all levels, been contractionary since 2010.”

Yet Republicans are responding to the news of the economic contraction by suggesting it validates their view that we need to further cut spending to help the economy. Hence their claimed “leverage” in the coming battle over the sequestered cuts, half of which is to defense spending. Republicans are actively using the sequester to force Dems to agree to avert it by offsetting it entirely with other deep cuts to social programs, and no new revenues from the wealthy. In response to the contraction, John Boehner tweeted out this hashtag:

#spendingistheproblem

In other words, the contraction confirms that we need more spending cuts.

You could chalk this up as a philosophical difference between the two parties — Republicans think spending cuts help the economy; Democrats think spending cuts hurt the economy — except for one small problem: Republicans themselves previously said the sequestered spending cuts threatened severe damage to the economy, back before they had decided to use it as leverage to get other cuts they wanted.

Back in September, when Republicans were eager to avert the sequester’s defense cuts, Eric Cantor warned that the sequestered cuts would make unemployment “soar,” adding that this risked “setting back any progress the economy has made.” The RNC predicted that sequestered cuts would drive Virginia’s economy “into a recession.” On the stump, Paul Ryan repeatedly said the cuts threatened massive job loss.

Now that Republicans are trying to use the threat of the sequester to extract other spending cuts, they have backed off this rhetoric, since it would reveal their case to be untenable: If the sequestered spending cuts threaten dire harm to the economy, wouldn’t replacing them with other cuts do the same? At the same time, they are now claiming that the economic contraction validates their push for these new cuts.

But Republicans are unambiguously on the record previously saying that the sequestered cuts do threaten to damage the economy — which is to say, they have admitted spending cuts will imperil the recovery. Which is to say that they have confirmed what yesterday’s news of the economic contraction reminds us. And so even if it’s true that the public won’t necessarily perceive the contraction in these terms, those of us who are writing about this should note clearly that the contraction does, in fact, validate Obama’s claim that we should not offset the sequester only with deep and damaging spending cuts. Republicans themselves have essentially confirmed it.

Here's transcript of Crowley and Barrasso's exchange on CNN:

CROWLEY: I don't know if you heard Senator Schumer at the top of the show. He was talking about sequestration.

He expressed the belief either on the eve of or sometime in the first two or three weeks of sequestration, if it goes into effect, those big across-the-board budget cuts, that Republicans indeed will come to the middle and agree to essentially what the Democrats have proposed, which is some cuts in farm programs as well as closing the loopholes for oil and gas companies, as well as taxing more -- the so-called Buffett tax, that no millionaire should pay less than 30 percent.

He said that your current position, Republicans' current position is untenable, given what sequestration will do.

Do you think that Republicans will go ahead and agree to some kind of cuts, and perhaps an increase in revenue for those making $1 million or more?

BARRASSO: No. Let me be very clear, and I would say this to the president as I say it to you.

These spending cuts are going to go through on March 1st. The -- their taxes are off the table. I've read the Democrat proposal that even Chuck Schumer said is just a chess piece, so the American people need to know tax cuts are off the table, and the Republican Party is not in any way going to trade spending cuts for a tax increase.

CROWLEY: So you have heard all these dire warnings, so you think Republicans are willing to walk off this particular cliff and say, no, we are not going to raise taxes in order to stop these across-the- board cuts, which will dig deeply into the Defense budget, among other things?

BARRASSO: I think there are much better ways to do these budget cuts, and I welcome that sort of discussion with the president, but the cuts are going to occur.

We're talking about 2.5 percent of what we spend this year, and this is just the first year of 10 years of cuts, so you have to be realistic about this. Families all across the country, Candy, have had their budgets cut by larger than that as a result of the economic downturn.

CROWLEY: So you don't believe all these dire warnings that, you know, it's going to -- it's going to hollow out the military, that it's going to interfere with getting onto planes, it's going stop food inspection, you don't believe any of that?

BARRASSO: Well, I believe the president has a lot of authority that he can decide where this -- how this works, and, yes, he can make it very uncomfortable, which I think would be a mistake on the part of the president. But when you take a look at the total dollars, there are better ways to do this, but the cuts are going to occur.

More Geithner Without Geithner

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, Missouri, where he's 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.

BILL BLACK, ASSOC. PROF. ECONOMICS AND LAW, UMKC: Thank you.JAY: So what are you working on?BLACK: So we have the symbol of things are going to stay exactly the same after Tim Geithner leaves. His nominee as Treasury secretary, Jacob Lew, to replace Timothy Geithner had his confirmation hearings begin, and it was overall, for the modern era of hyperpartisanship, a pretty friendly affair. The most difficult questions were about his salary. Lew used the revolving door to become wealthy. He went and worked for Citicorp. Now, Lew is trained as a lawyer, and he was functioning supposedly in a business role, and his unit lost millions and millions of dollars. And as a result, they took his base salary, which he couldn't quite remember but thought was probably in the $250,000 to $300,000 range, and gave him roughly a $1 million bonus for screwing up. And so that is the modern world of finance. And they then threw him back into the public sector, where he has functioned as the head of OMB and then the president's chief of staff. And he was one of the guys trying to lead the great betrayal that we've talked about, which is, you know, beginning to unravel Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.So nobody—again, the State of the Union didn't mention even the concept of holding the bankers accountable, and nothing in the hearing, confirmation hearing, suggested any such interest on the part of any Republican or Democrat either. So, as I said, Lew was picked as a signal that the Geithner policies would survive Geithner, that they would continue, that they're actually the president's policies. And they are what we used to describe as, you know, moderate Republicans, anti-regulation and such. Indeed, the president in the State of the Union actually blamed regulators for part of the slowness to recover from the recession, saying that they were putting too many requirements on making loans. And so only a couple of years after loosening these requirements produced disaster, we've already forgotten those lessons.JAY: The State of the Union speech, it kind of gave a suggestion that there needed to be some kind of stimulus, for example rebuilding roads and bridges and this and that, and thus hire lots of people. But there's no suggestion where that money's supposed to come from, except that it's a private-public partnership. So I don't know. Does that mean this will be privately financed, and then they retake it because they charge tolls on these bridges? I mean, did anything come out of these—at least, the confirmation hearing that suggests how they're planning to do any of this?BLACK: No, no. It remains a nonplan, and it's incoherent. So, of course, you never hear the word stimulus ever from the administration. They act like it's a dirty word and they act like it failed instead of being quite successful for the limited amount of stimulus they tried. They've of course been moving towards austerity with the tax increases, in particular the withholding on the payroll tax. And, you know, the economy has slowed since then, and all of his talk was in terms of the macroeconomics to slow it further. We talked about, you know, no new net spending. So, presumably, these are programs, as you say, a public-private partnership, in which there's a public subsidy, but the private entity ends up getting an equity stream, profit stream out of it and maybe even owns the asset. That's very bad public policy and completely unnecessary. When you still have a relatively weak recovery from a recession, this is precisely when you should be making the public programs and hiring the people and stimulating the economy and improving the infrastructure, which, by the way is exactly what other countries—I just did a long, long piece on Ecuador, but that's exactly what they've done there, and it helped them get out of their recession within three months, which is a remarkable performance, plus, of course, their infrastructure needs are obviously even more desperate than the United States'. So it's the classic win-win. Obama sometimes says he's for it, but never really makes a push for it, because it's like he always has to apologize for any public role.JAY: So in confirmation hearings, no surprises—more of the last four years, in spite of the rhetoric we heard during the State of the Union and the inauguration.BLACK: Yup. Geithner continues to rule.JAY: Thanks for joining us, Bill.BLACK: Thank you.JAY: 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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Mike’s Blog Round Up

If John "It's a Conspiracy" McCain keeps treating David Gregory poorly, he may only get invited back to Meet the Press 35 more times this year. We Are Respectable Negroes: In the virtual world, cyber racism has already made Christopher Dorner immortal...

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‘War on terror, an Israeli fabrication’

US President Barack Obama addressing the influential Israeli lobby AIPAC. (File photo)

A political analyst says the ongoing US-led “war on terror” is a policy imposed by Israel on the United States.

“In fact, the whole “war on terror” - in reality, a war on Islam - is an Israeli fabrication,” Kevin Barrett wrote in a column for Press TV.

He noted that the US hostility against the Islamic Republic is an indication of “a self-destructive policy imposed on America by Israel”.


“Iran will never stop supporting the Palestinians in their struggle against genocide in the Occupied Palestine. And that isn’t acceptable to Israel - which owns and runs the US government,” he wrote.

Barrett noted that the US has even been forced by the Zionist regime to bully Iran.

Separately, he said American President Barack Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, threatens Israel’s sovereignty over the United States.

“The Israelis correctly see that their ownership of the US government is in jeopardy. Their hysterical opposition to Hagel is a sign of desperation,” Barrett wrote.

Hagel sent shockwaves through the Zionist lobby in the US when he openly said in a 2008 interview, “The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here…. I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator.”

In reaction, 40 allegedly American Senators blocked Hagel’s nomination with a filibuster.

“When another Hagel vote happens next week, will the treasonous Senators from Israel win again? Or will the Senators from America prevail?” asks Barrett.

“Regardless of whether Hagel is ultimately confirmed, the battle between the Senators from Israel and the Senators from America is educating the American people about who really runs their country,” concluded Barrett.

KA/HGH/SS

Big Corporations Put Up Seed Funding for GOP Dark Money Group

Big Corporations Put Up Seed Funding for GOP Dark Money Group

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Posted on Feb 17, 2013
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By Justin Elliott, ProPublica

This report originally ran on ProPublica.

Some of the nation’s biggest corporations donated more than a million dollars to launch a Republican nonprofit that went on to play a key role in recent political fights.

Like the nonprofit groups that poured money into last year’s elections, the decade-old State Government Leadership Foundation has been able to keep the identities of its funders secret. Until now.

A records request by ProPublica to the IRS turned up a list of the original funders of the group: Exxon, Pfizer, Time Warner, and other corporations put up at least 85 percent of the $1.3 million the foundation raised in the first year and a half of its existence, starting in 2003.

The donor list is stamped “not for public disclosure,” and was submitted to the IRS as part of the foundation’s application for recognition of tax-exempt status. If approved, such applications are public records.

The foundation and other similar nonprofits are allowed to take anonymous and unlimited donations from individuals or corporations. That’s because they are classified as “social welfare” nonprofits, which are supposed to benefit the community at large, and not just one group or political party.

Last year, we reported how the State Government Leadership Foundation paid for Republican redistricting consultants to draw new congressional district maps in North Carolina. The resulting gerrymander helped flip the state’s congressional delegation to Republicans.

In recent years, the foundation has also funded TV ads targeting Democrats during the 2011 Wisconsin showdown over collective bargaining rights; attacking President Obama in Virginia over his energy policy; and accusing teachers unions of “destroying our children’s future.”

The foundation also gave $1.25 million in 2011 to the Indiana Opportunity Fund, a state-level nonprofit that ran anti-union ads featuring Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels. (That group was founded by attorney Jim Bopp, who has long fought against campaign finance regulation.)

The foundation’s single-biggest early donor was the now-defunct mortgage lender Ameriquest, which gave more than $260,000. (We contacted a number of the companies on the list; they did not respond to requests for comment.) Corporate trade associations including the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the Edison Electric Institute, and the American Tort Reform Association also pitched in, each giving between $50,000 and $100,000.

The foundation’s affiliated organization, the Republican State Leadership Committee, focuses on winning state-level elections for the GOP and also gets corporate money, including from tobacco and insurance giants.  As an explicitly political organization, the committee has to disclose its donors.

By contrast, the recent funders of the foundation, which took in $2.5 million in 2011 including a single donation of $1 million, are still secret.

The foundation applied for IRS recognition as a social welfare group in late 2003 but was initially rejected. The IRS concluded the foundation was “a partisan organization” that “operated primarily for the benefit of a select group” – the GOP. Social welfare groups, the IRS’ rejection letter noted, must promote the “general welfare of the whole community” — not a particular group.

The foundation’s lawyers from the firm Arent Fox fired back in an appeal, arguing that the foundation was not a partisan outfit.

The foundation, according to the 2005 appeal, “was created to promote public debate” about issues including pharmaceuticals, securities regulation, and asbestos litigation.

“It may be useful to describe what the SGLF is not,” the appeal says. “The SGLF:

• Is not affiliated with the Republican Party in any way;

• Does not meet with or coordinate its activities with the Republican Party;

• Does not make contributions to, or accept contributions from, the Republican Party;

• Does not participate in political campaigns, elections or publish electioneering messages on behalf of any candidate or party;

• Does not invite Representatives of the Republican Party to speak at its events, and

• Does not participate in the Republican Party platform, does not recruit or train Republican candidates, does not fundraise for Republican candidates, and does not coordinate its issue selection or policy positions with the Republican Party.

In 2007, more than three years after the foundation’s application, the IRS ultimately recognized it as a tax-exempt social welfare group.

But the group’s protestations that it has nothing to do with the GOP seems at odds with its recent activities. Besides running ads attacking Democrats, the foundation was involved in redistricting in several states to, as the foundation put it in a letter to Republican legislators, draw “legislative lines that we will have to defend in 2012 and beyond.”

Foundation spokesperson Jill Bader told ProPublica that since its creation the foundation’s “activities have evolved in some ways from those that were originally contemplated and conducted by the organization.”

Bader continued: “SGLF’s present activities are in strict compliance with the requirements of the Internal Revenue Code and all future SGLF activities will be in strict compliance as well.”


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Importance of the G20: Not What You Think

There was something important coming from the G20 meeting, but it is not the currency wars that have captured so many imaginations in the media and blogosphere. It was about corporate taxes, but before turning to it, let's try to put the currency statement in perspective.

As many recognize, the currency market is prone to being used to pursue beggar-thy-neighbor policies of competitive devaluations.  The danger is that it leads to trade wars and then shooting wars.  The rules of engagement, as they have evolved over the last quarter of a century or so, are essentially three-fold.

First, exchange rates are not proper goals of policy.  Economic growth and price stability are the proper goals of policy.  Second, foreign exchange prices are best set by the market in a flexible way to help foster the adjustment process and a reduction of global disequilibrium in terms of trade and capital flows.  Third, while avoiding excess volatility, currency prices ought to reflect underlying economic fundamentals and avoid chronic exchange rate misalignments.   On those rare occasions when action, is needed, it should be coordinated and not unilateral.  

The G20 statement, like the G7 statement earlier in the week, restated these longstanding principles.  That members agree not to target exchange rates for competitive purposes was a pointed reminder to Japanese officials to refrain from talking about bilateral exchange rate targets.  And indeed, over the past couple of weeks, Japanese officials have changed their rhetoric and have not talked about specific dollar-yen rates.  

Rarely in stories about currency wars has China been cited.  Yet, it is an indicated co-conspirator, as it were.  The G20 reference to moving more rapidly toward market determined exchange rates  and the importance of avoiding persistent misalignments was clearly addressed to China, and some other East Asian and Middle East countries. 

The rules of engagement allow and encourage countries to pursue monetary and fiscal policies directed at domestic goals.  For several years Japan has been encouraged to reflate its economy.  That it appears to be doing so is not problem.  No one in the G7 or the G20 have objected to that.  The criticism levied against Japanese officials is when they try to manage the currency, suggesting certain targets, and/or overt attempts by the6 government to undermine what is seen as the independence of the central bank.

It also means that the (unconventional) easing of monetary policy by the Federal Reserve is also not an act of (currency) war.  Leaving aside the occasional comment by Brazil's finance minister and a rare comment by a Chinese official, few in positions of responsibility accuse the US of engaging in a competitive devaluation.  

The referees of the rules of engagement as it were, like the IMF, the G20 and the G7 generally agree that although the risks may be there, the conditions and practices now do not meet the threshold of competitive devaluations, a currency war or trade war.  We expect the rhetoric in the traditional and social media about currency wars will die down in the coming period. 

II 

The focus on currency wars distracts from other and arguably more important issues.  Much of coverage of the G20 statement focused on the foreign exchange market, but has missed what is likely an even more important story.

The G20 have begun a process that could lead to the largest overhaul of international corporate tax practices since the 1920s.  The combination of the fiscal pressures at home and the increased importance of intellectual property (e.g., royalties, licensing fees) and questionable transfer pricing corporate practices has elicited a response.  

The official goal is to develop measures to stop tax arbitrage--the shifting of profits from home countries in order to pay lower taxes elsewhere.  A recent OECD study found multinational companies were increasingly booking profits in different countries from where they were generated in order to avoid taxes.

The role of intangibles, like intellectual property rights, services and brands have grown in importance but are difficult to value.  International royalty and license fee payments paid to different subsidiaries within the same business group have soared.  The growing volume of e-commerce also raises issues of the proper tax jurisdiction that are not handled well by the current tax rules.  

This comes even as OECD government have cut statutory corporate tax rates from an average of 32.6% in 2000 to 25.4% in 2011.  The effective tax rate, which is what corporations actually pay, is often much lower due to assorted deductions and allowances.

Recent reports showing that a number of large well-known global companies, such as Starbucks, Apple, Google, Amazon used complicated inter-company transaction to reduce their tax liabilities has helped spur official action.   The big accounting firms are also being called out for the assistance they provide in helping businesses avoid taxes.  

Essentially, the OECD has called for, and the G20 appears to have signed off on, a new effort to modernize the international tax architecture, which could be ready in the next couple of years.  Three committees have been established and more from them will likely be heard around the July G20 meeting.  

The UK will head up a committee to look at transfer prices and the sales to subsidiaries to shift profits from high to low tax jurisdictions.  It is illegal, for example, to structure a particular transaction for the purpose of skirting the law (it is sometimes referred to as "kiting").  For example, it is unlawful for one to withdraw $5000 twice instead of withdrawing $10,000 once in order to avoid reporting requirements.  Can the same principle apply to businesses? 

Germany will head up a committee that investigates way in which companies have reduced the tax base in the accounting of income and assets.  France and the US will lead the third committee, looking at e-commerce in particular, and the proper tax jurisdictions. 

The Obama Administration has been wrestling with the same issue.  Once we get past the sequester and the continuing resolution (authorizes government spending even without a budget), look for corporate tax reform to become more salient.  The fact that it will come after the other events, gives Obama some leverage with the business community, even when it came to the fiscal cliff.  

It is ironic that Obama, who has been accused of being a socialist, is on record of favoring corporate tax reform that include a cut in the top corporate rate to 28% from 35%.  More important than the loopholes he wants to close to pay for the tax cut, is how overseas earnings should be taxed. 

Currently, the US taxes corporate profits earned abroad only when it is repatriated--brought back to the US.  Last month, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service reported that US-based companies are increasingly shifting profits to tax havens such as Bermuda and Switzerland.  Senator Sanders (VT) has introduced legislation to end the current tax deferral and force companies to pay taxes on their foreign earnings.  Some studies suggest that the higher levels of cash  US corporations are holding is partly a function of these tax avoidance efforts.

At the end of last year, Obama expressed some sympathy for some form of territorial system, which taxes domestic not foreign income.  It could exempt offshore corporate profits from US taxes, seemingly shifting the stance of the 2012 election campaign.  Currently, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Hong Kong employ a territorial tax system. 

The currency wars have been over-hyped.  There is less there than meets the eye.  The rules of engagement allow for countries to use monetary and fiscal policy for domestic goals.  It does not sanction foreign exchange targeting.  The real news from the G20 meeting is the formal beginning of a process that could very well lead the largest substantial change in international corporate tax system in almost a century.  

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Just Like Crack in the 80s, the Police State Thrives on Gun Hysteria

Police with handcuffs(Image: Officer with handcuffs via Shutterstock)The presence of guns in Black inner cities is sufficient excuse to create a Constitution-free zone.”

From the moment it became known that 20 suburban, mostly white children had been massacred by a young white man in Connecticut, it was inevitable that Black America would pay the price. The nation’s reflexive response to crime and domestic mayhem – real or imagined, and regardless of the actual race of the perpetrators – is always to punish Black people. Whenever the symptoms of the national sickness – America’s endemic violence and alienation – become catastrophically acute, as in Newtown, the standard treatment is mass Black incarceration, by which huge proportions of the Black male population are expelled from the social body like foreign organisms.

The madness in a well-off town in Connecticut had nothing to do with Black inner city violence, which is overwhelmingly rooted in the absence of a legitimate economy, and a lack of social justice – and requires an economic and social justice response. But America is preprogrammed to treat violence as a Black phenomenon. As could be expected, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel – President Obama’s former chief of staff – proposed mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes. It is a huge step backward. Mandatory minimum sentences have been largely responsible for making the United States home to one out of every four prison inmates in the world, and many states have been backing away from the practice. Opposition to mandatory minimums has historically been strongest in Black America. However, in the current gun hysteria, Black activists and politicians have talked themselves into a corner. When President Obama shed tears over the tragedy in Connecticut, African Americans demanded that he show similar concern for young Black victims of gunfire. It was demanded that “do something.”

America is preprogrammed to treat violence as a Black phenomenon.”

Then came the shooting death of 15 year-old Chicagoan Hadiya Pendleton. The gun violence issue now had a Black face. Whatever was going to be done about guns, would be done to Blacks, through mandatory minimum sentences and adoption of New York-type stop-and-frisk policies. According to the Gallup polling organization, 44 percent of whites own guns, versus only 27 percent of Blacks and other non-whites. Yet, white gun ownership is politically sacrosanct – untouchable –while the presence of guns in Black inner cities is sufficient excuse to create a Constitution-free zone.

Until Newtown, momentum had been building for Black resistance to the American police state. But history shows it can just as easily collapse. Back in the mid-Eighties, the Reagan administration whipped up an hysteria around crack cocaine. As Michelle Alexander chronicled in her book The New Jim Crow, Reagan’s men used the panic to institute draconian criminal justice policies, including passage of a bill that mandated 100 times the penalties for crack versus powder cocaine. Three hundred and one members of Congress co-sponsored the legislation, including a majority of the Congressional Black Caucus. Many hundreds of thousands of African Americans spent millions of collective years in prison, because Black political leaders jumped on the mass incarceration bandwagon. The stage is being set for another such betrayal – by Black leaders and activists who fail to think before they ask the powers-that-be to “do something.”

The Minimum Wage: Popular With the Public, But Not the Donor Class

One of the best proposals to come out of the State of the Union was the President's proposal to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour, phased in over three years, and tie it to the cost of living so it automatically adjusts. If anything, the proposed minimum wage is still too low. If the minimum wage had kept up with the rate of inflation, it would now be over $10. Still, Congress hasn’t raised the minimum wage in four years so $9 is an improvement over the current $7.25 and ensuring that it will adjust automatically will bring millions of workers out of poverty.

Raising the minimum wage benefits more than just low-wage workers. When people make more money, they spend more money and businesses benefit. The Economic Policy Institute estimated that raising the minimum wage to $9.80 would actually create jobs because more people could spend more money. Low-wage workers are more likely than any other income group to immediately spend any extra income on previously unaffordable basic needs or services. The increase in consumer spending increases demand, which in turn, results in new hiring.

On top of the economic benefits, raising the minimum wage has strong public support. A recent poll found that 73 percent support raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour in 2014 and indexing it to inflation—both a higher wage and a shorter time line than the President’s proposal. Another poll found that 78 percent of the general public believes the minimum wage should be high enough so that no family with a full-time worker falls below the official poverty line.

So, if it’s good for the economy and it has strong public support, why is raising the minimum wage such an uphill fight? Because wealthy and corporate interests would rather keep the wage low. In contrast to the broader public, only 40 percent of the wealthy support a minimum wage high enough to keep families out of poverty. When the minimum wage was last raised in 2007, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which strongly opposes raising the minimum wage, spent $53 million on lobbying. In short, raising the minimum wage is not a priority for wealthy and corporate interests, and as a result, it is not a priority for Congress.

We see this dynamic even more clearly when we look at the capital gains tax rate. In contrast to the minimum wage, the capital gains tax rate impacts a small, yet wealthy, percentage of the population. Over 70 percent of capital gains are estimated to go to just the top one percent of households in 2012. Yet, from 1997-2003, the capital gains tax rate was cut four times. While the maximum rate was increased to 20 percent as part of the “fiscal cliff” deal, polling shows that the majority of Americans think capital gains should be taxed at the same rate as ordinary income--39.6 percent for the top income bracket.

There is already opposition forming against raising the minimum wage, but it’s not just political ideology that will prevent it from being raised. Wealthy and corporate interests often set political and policy priorities and raising the minimum wage is not their priority-- regardless of the economic and social benefits.

Marco Rubio’s Impossible Task: Make Racism Palatable to Latinos

Sen. Marco Rubio speaks during a news conference on a comprehensive immigration reform on Jan. 28, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) Marco Rubio’s been getting a lot of play lately. Time Magazine plastered the freshman senator on its cover with “Republican Savior” printed in bright yellow. His Tuesday night response to the president’s State of the Union was billed as a crucial moment for Republicans: the high profile anointing of the party’s new face.

But for a speech from the man supposed to lead a fractured and beleaguered GOP into a more colorful America, it clung tightly to familiar Republican themes. Though the general consensus seems to be that a GOP shift on immigration led by a young Latino senator will be enough to show the country that not all Republicans are rich white men named Mitt, the opening acts from Rubio do not amount to a move to the center. In fact, on nearly every issue he’s remained quite tightly in line with the party’s far right.

This makes one wonder if the Florida freshman’s task as the GOP’s front man is less about leading the Republican party toward a rebirth and new constituencies, and more about testing exactly how much the party can manage to stay the same without dying. Rubio has crafted himself as an indispensible implement in this pursuit. But it’s a posture teetering on an edge and nobody’s sure Rubio can pull it off.

“My parents immigrated here in pursuit of the opportunity to improve their life and give their children the chance at an even better one,” Rubio said on Tuesday night. “They made it to the middle class, my dad working as a bartender and my mother as a cashier and a maid. I didn’t inherit any money from them.”

The storyline is a profound divergence from most GOP leaders and presidential hopefuls. But it’s not at all clear what Rubio’s identity changes, or what a more diverse Republican lineup will mean at the polls. No doubt Mitt Romney’s oratorical brutishness on immigration locked in his particularly pitiful performance with Latinos, Asians and many others, but the party as a whole has been bashing immigrants for more than two decades and a few new faces won’t heal that harm.

“The rhetoric and the image do matter, but only if it’s connected to policy,” says Matt Barreto, a political scientist at the University of Washington who studies race and elections. “Latinos think Republicans are racists. That’s where they’re starting. You can’t just change what you say and who says it and not change policy.”

Rubio’s policy positions are standard-line tea party Republican, circa 2010.

“More government isn’t going to help you get ahead. It’s going to hold you back,” he said on Tuesday, wasting little time establishing his conservative chops. He lambasted government spending, went in on taxes, Obamacare and the safety net, and took swipes at reproductive choice, “moral breakdown” and the “mistakes” of single mothers. Then yesterday, Rubio added to his arch-conservative credentials when he joined 21 other Republican senators to vote against the Violence Against Women Act.

So if Rubio sounds like any other tea party-era Republican, just with a very different origin story, what’s left to bring on new constituencies, namely Latinos? A recent Pew Hispanic Center poll indicates that Latinos are more liberal on nearly every issue, with wide margins believing that government is a driver of positive change. Yet the Republican establishment thinks a shift on immigration alone will get them Latino votes.

“We can also help our economy grow if we have a legal immigration system that allows us to attract and assimilate the world’s best and brightest,” Rubio said on Tuesday. “We need a responsible, permanent solution to the problem of those who are here illegally.”

But even as the press narrates the 41-year old Cuban American Senator as the new middle on immigration, the truth is that he’s engaged in a white-knuckled cling to Republican doctrine on this issue as well. And he’s volunteered to produce two impossibly contradictory results: delivery of a reform bill that’s narrow enough to garner House Republican support, and a whole bunch of new Republicans voting Latinos.

“It’s very precarious,” said Barreto, the political scientist. “If he has the influence within his party to deliver votes on this issue, then he does have an opportunity to come out of this as a very favorable politician within the Latino community. Latinos know many Republicans are trying to block reform, and if Rubio unclogs it, it’s an opportunity for him.”

But Baretto and others say that it’s not just any kind of reform that will work to change voter affinities. Polls show that when communities express support for immigration reform, they mean a bill that includes a path to citizenship.

That’s a problem for Rubio because House Republicans indicated last week that they would not vote for a path to citizenship. That may be why Rubio has now adopted the tired GOP line that the border must be a fortress before any immigrant gets a green card.

“But first,” Rubio said on Tuesday, before immigrants move toward citizenship, “we must follow through on the broken promises of the past to secure our borders and enforce our laws.”

Immigrant rights advocates see the border-first demand as the seed of destruction for a reform bill. And for many, Rubio’s insistence on the line raises questions about how serious he really is.

“We don’t know if this is just an attempt to change the face, speak in Spanish, add diversity,” said Marielena Hincapié, the head of the National Immigration Law Center. “Is it a window dressing or is it actual policy change? Have [Republicans] crossed the line where they’ll sit down on a path to citizenship?”

Democrats will likely shun a bill that doesn’t include clarity about how applicants become citizens and even if such a law passes, it’s not clear that Republicans can pick up Latino votes with a watered down version of reform.

Quite aware of the hard road ahead, Rubio is trying to tamp down expectations, hoping that if somehow he fails either at pulling enough Republicans into a reform agreement or at getting enough Latinos to come the way of the GOP, he’ll still have a chance at a political future.

“If anyone is under the illusion that suddenly our percentage of Hispanic voters will double, let me dissuade them,” Rubio told Time.

The young Republican may have an impossible task no matter how it’s cut, and he’s done himself no favors. He is to lead Republicans forward on immigration and more broadly into a racially changed country by acting as a sort of gatekeeper of the political status quo loathed by the constituencies his party needs. And in that arrangement, the freshman from Florida is shaky at best.

© 2012 ColorLines

Seth Freed Wessler

Seth Freed Wessler is an investigative reporter and researcher who works at Colorlines.com and the Applied Research Center. He is a recipient of the Hillman Award for Journalism.

Mort Zuckerman: “America Remains In A Jobs Depression”

Authored by Mort Zuckerman, originally posted in The Wall Street Journal,

Jobs! President Obama has set a record. In his speech to Congress on Tuesday, he uttered the word "jobs" more than in any of his previous four State of the Union addresses. His 45 mentions were more than double the references to any of the other policy ambitions encapsulated in his speech by such words as health, education, immigration, guns, deficit, debt, energy, climate, economy, Afghanistan, wage, spend or tax (the runner-up).

If only the president's record on unemployment were as good.

After four years America remains in a jobs depression as great as the Great Depression. But the crisis isn't seen in that light because the country isn't confronted daily by scenes of despair like the 1930s photographs of bread lines and soup kitchens and thousands of men (very few women then) waiting all day outside a factory in a forlorn quest for work.

But the jobless are still in the millions across the land, little changed in their total since the 1930s: 12.3 million today officially fully unemployed compared with 12.8 million in 1933 at the depth of the Depression.

Yes, the U.S. population is much larger now, but 12 million out of work still means 12 million lives devastated. And that number masks the true vastness of the modern disaster.

The jobless today are much less visible than they were in the 1930s because relief is organized differently. Today in the "recovery," the millions are being assisted, out of sight, by government checks, unemployment checks, Social Security disability checks and food stamps.

More than 48 million Americans are in the food-stamp program—an almost incredible record. That is 15% of the total population compared with the 7.9% participation in food stamps from 1970-2000. Then there are the more than 11 million Americans who are collecting Social Security checks to compensate for disability, also a record. Half have signed on since President Obama came to office. In 1992, there was one person on disability for every 35 workers; today it is one for every 16.

Such an increase is simply impossible to connect to direct disability experienced during employment, for it is inconceivable that work in America has become so dangerous. For many, this disability program has become another form of unemployment compensation, only this time without end.

But the predicament of our times is worse than that, worse in its way than the 1930s figures might suggest. Employers are either shortening the workweek or asking employees to take unpaid leave in unprecedented numbers. Neither those on disability nor those on leave are included in the unemployment numbers.

The U.S. labor market, which peaked in November 2007 when there were 139,143,000 jobs, now encompasses only 132,705,000 workers, a drop of 6.4 million jobs from the peak. The only work that has increased is part-time, and that is because it allows employers to reduce costs through a diminished benefit package or none at all.

The broadest measure of unemployment today is approximately 14.5%, way above the 7.9% headline number. The 14.5% reflects the unemployed and three other categories: the more than eight million people who are employed part-time for economic reasons (because their hours have been cut back or because they are unable to find a full-time job), the 10 million who have stopped looking for work, and those who are "marginally attached" to the workforce.

The labor-force participation rate has dropped to the lowest level since 1981. It reflects discouraged workers who have dropped out of the labor force. If it were not for the dropouts, the formally announced unemployment rate would be around 9.8%, not the headline 7.9%.

Sometimes the employment numbers that are announced are simply not understood. January was supposed to have seen 157,000 jobs created. The news provoked relief and even enthusiasm in some quarters. But the supposed hiring was based on seasonally adjusted numbers—numbers adjusted to reflect regularly occurring shifts in employment, such as increased hiring of farm workers during crop harvests or retail employees after Thanksgiving. The real, unadjusted figures for January show that nearly 2.8 million jobs disappeared, which happened to be worse than the 2.63 million lost in January 2012. Even though the 157,000 jobs created were fewer than the 311,000 of January 2012, many commentators cheered because they don't understand the effects of seasonal adjustment.

So there is no solace in the statistics. Job seekers are only one-third as likely to find work as they were five years ago, and a record number of households have at least one member looking for a job, which affects everyone. And most of the newly available jobs don't match the pay, the hours or the benefits of the millions of positions that have vanished.

It typically takes 25 months to close the employment gap from the employment peak near the start of the downturn. Yet this time, more than 60 months after employment peaked in January 2006, nonfarm unemployment is still more than three million jobs below where it started.

The president's speech was not without sensible commitments, and the news of negotiations for a trans-Atlantic free-trade area is promising. Europe and the U.S. represent 44% of the world economy, but both have stalled. They (and the rest of the world) would benefit from freer trade. Europe and the U.S. would also benefit from common technology standards and simpler regulations. The bilateral talks have been conducted quietly and positively for some time (while the World Trade Organization talks have floundered), but it will need real executive energy to get an agreement with a real impact on jobs.

Ordinary Americans are looking for leadership and renewal. They know that a job is the most important family program, the most important economic program, and the most important national program that America could have. They also know that, by this standard, we have failed.

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Climate Rally Draws “Line in the Sand” on Canadian Pipeline

The tar sands in Alberta, Canada. (Credit: howlmonteal/cc by 2.0)UXBRIDGE, Canada - The largest climate rally in U.S. history is expected Sunday in Washington DC with the aim of pressuring President Barack Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Activists are calling Keystone “the line in the sand” regarding dangerous climate change, prompting the Sierra Club to suspend its 120-year ban on civil disobedience. The group’s executive director, Michael Brune, was arrested in front of the White House during a small protest against Keystone on Wednesday.

“The Keystone XL pipeline is part of the carbon infrastructure that will take us to dangerous levels of climate change,” said Simon Donner, a climate scientist at the University of British Columbia.

To permit the pipeline would represent a heartbreaking acquiescence to climate change on the part of President Obama and our national leaders.

“By itself, Keystone won’t have much of an impact on the climate, but it is not happening on its own,” Donner told IPS.

Carbon emissions are increasing elsewhere, and the International Energy Agency recently warned humanity is on a dangerous path to four degrees C of warming before the end of this century. Children born today will experience this. Preventing that dire future is inconsistent with expanding tar sands production, Donner said.

A new study released this week revealed that the volume of Arctic sea ice is declining rapidly. Ice volume has fallen 80 percent since 1980, according to the latest data from European Space Agency satellite, CryoSat-2. Summers with a sea ice-free Arctic are only a few years away, scientists now agree. This will have significant and permanent impacts on weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere.

“Keystone XL is the key to opening up the expansion of the tar sands industry,” said Jim Murphy, senior counsel with the National Wildlife Federation.

“By rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, we can keep this toxic oil in the ground,” Murphy said in a statement.

Keystone XL is intended to bring 700,000 to 800,000 barrels of a heavy, tar-like oil from the northern Alberta tar sands 2,400 kilometres south to the refineries on the Gulf Coast. Nearly all the resulting fuels are destined for export.

Since the seven-billion-dollar Keystone XL crosses national borders, it is up to President Obama to issue a permit declaring the pipeline serves the “national interest” in order for it to be approved.

“The only way Keystone XL could be considered in the national interest is if you equate that with profits for the oil industry,” Steve Kretzman of Oil Change International previously told IPS. Oil Change is an NGO that researches the links between oil, gas, coal corporations and governments.

“It couldn’t be simpler: Either we leave at least two-thirds of the known fossil fuel reserves in the ground, or we destroy our planet as we know it,” wrote Sierra Club’s Michael Brune in explaining the decision to engage in civil disobedience.

“That means rejecting the dangerous tar sands pipeline that would transport some of the dirtiest oil on the planet,” said Brune.

Tar sands carbon emissions on a “well-to-tank” basis (i.e., production) result in emissions that are on average 72 to 111 percent higher than other U.S. transportation fuels, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

Canada’s tar sands aren’t really a “carbon bomb” from a scientific perspective, says Donner. The world’s coal deposits contain many times more carbon. However, the tar sands and Keystone have symbolic importance.

“Climate change is a complicated problem. Lots of things need to be done to address it. We’re at a point where changes need to happen soon,” he says.

Writing in the Daily Kos Saturday, Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, CEO of the environmental justice group Green For All, says, “Hurricane Katrina taught us a lesson – and Superstorm Sandy reinforced it. People living in neighborhoods with the fewest resources have a harder time escaping, surviving, and recovering from disasters.

“And they’re more vulnerable to the extreme weather climate change will bring. For example, African-Americans living in Los Angeles are more than twice as likely to die during a heat wave than other residents of the city,” she says in a piece titled “Why People of Color Should Care about the Keystone Pipeline”.

“To permit the pipeline would represent a heartbreaking acquiescence to climate change on the part of President Obama and our national leaders. It would be throwing our hands up helplessly in the face of one of the biggest threats our country has ever faced. That’s not the kind of leadership we voted for.

“There are certain points in history, like the Civil Rights Movement, when the consequences of inaction are so great that we have to make bold choices,” Ellis-Lamkins says. “This is one of those times.”

© 2012 IPS North America

Stephen Leahy

Stephen Leahy is the international science and environment correspondent for the Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS).

Part 2. What Should Progressives Do Next?

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

Bio

Norman Solomon is an independent progressive Democrat running for Congress -- for an open seat in the district north of the Golden Gate Bridge in California. He's the author of a dozen books including "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death." A longtime political activist, Norman was a co-founder of the media watchdog group FAIR, and founded the Institute for Public Accuracy.

Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore. And welcome back to our interview with Norman Solomon. We're talking about what's next for progressives in America, progressive Democrats in America.

Thanks for joining us again, Norman.NORMAN SOLOMON, COFOUNDER, ROOTSACTION.ORG: Hey, it's a pleasure.JAY: And as I mentioned, Norman is the cofounder of RootsAction.org and a founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.So let's pick up on where we were in the last—first—part one of the interview. But let me ask you a question. I personally think part of the problem when assessing President Obama and talking about the Democrats and such is that I rarely hear a five-letter word, which it seems to me should be in almost every conversation about this, and that's class. President Obama represents a certain section of the American elite, and the Republicans represent another section of the American elite. And if we don't say that almost every time and then talk about, okay, what do people who aren't in the elite, what are going to be their politics and how are they going to relate to these different sections of the elite, if you lose that framing, then it kind of—it's all about one guy who has a policy—or maybe you can call them corporate Democrats, but it's still, like, about one section of people. And the emphasis is not about whose interest they represent, but more about policy and just some ideas.SOLOMON: Right. It shouldn't be about the individual at all. I mean, what's going on inside Obama's head or his personality or personal virtues—no more or less important than anybody else on the planet, and it is, as you allude to, the interests that he's representing. I think that a chronic problem and a kind of a political and media illiteracy—which is useful for corporations, but very damaging to the interests not only of progressives but working people, want-to-be-working people in general—is fixating on words and rhetoric and symbols rather than actual policy. And when you look at Tim Geithner and the replacement that Obama's put in, the Treasury secretary, and a whole host of other appointments and policies, then the kind of rhetoric that we're getting out of the White House has such a huge disconnect from actually the policies being pursued by this administration. I mean, a flagrant example, which I just find maddening: in the inaugural address early this year to begin his second term, Obama went out of his way to say he doesn't accept the idea that we've got to have perpetual war. And yet this president has made perpetual war a bipartisan commitment. He is the essence of perpetual war. There is no president of the United States in history who's been more a proponent in practice of perpetual war. And yet in his speech he says he is against perpetual war.We know that we have a military complex, as Eisenhower said, making a killing off of these military contracts. And that's propelling so much of this foreign policy and the so-called defense spending. So whether you talk about that or supposedly aligning with the middle class and people who are not wealthy, that rhetoric is so enticing to people, it's a sort of a—it's a show that's put on that diverts from reality. JAY: So, then, how do you see developing a politics independent of those people who control the Democratic Party who clearly represent a specific section of the elite?SOLOMON: Well, two legs I think we've got to be walking on collectively are, first, that we speak clearly and analyze precisely through media outlets like The Real News, through all sorts of ways that we communicate with each other interpersonally, socially, on the internet, all sorts of media that we bring to bear, institutionally and in terms of habitually, to say, we don't BS each other; we're clear, we share information, and we're direct, and we don't beat around the bush. The other is that we've got to organize. The politics of analysis and denunciation on the one hand are inadequate, but you don't have an organizing component. And by the same token, if you're organizing without clear information and analysis, that doesn't tend to get us very far either. So I think it's those two components.JAY: Organize with what objective?SOLOMON: Well, I think the objective needs to be social cohesion of opposition, and also developing an electoral capacity. And I think that is important because we get into this dualism of either-or, and it's clearly both. We need the Occupy type movements, we need to be in the streets, we need to be organizing in the workplace, the schools, the communities, including on-the-street protests like the big one this month against the XL Keystone pipeline, for instance. But at the same time, we can't leave aside the fact that state power really matters. And that means building the ability, the capacity to win elections for genuine progressives and defeat not only right-wing Republicans, which is a redundant phrase at this point, but also defeat the corporate Democrats who now dominate the party.JAY: And do you think that fight is mostly within the Democratic Party? Or is it also third-party?SOLOMON: Well, as a practical matter, for partisan races, for state legislatures, governorships, Congress, and so forth, those are partisan races. And there's virtually no record whatsoever of any third party in our lifetime—certainly not the Green Party or any other—having any electoral success. And so if we're serious about state power for progressives and the interests of people instead of Wall Street, then third parties are a dead end. At the same time, there are nonpartisan races, in municipalities, for instance, where non-Democrat progressives, including Green Party people, have been and can be successful. And I'll give a quick example: Richmond, California. A Green Party member who's been a mayor there for a number of years, she and the communities that she's part of have fought successfully against Chevron Corporation. This huge oil company dumped a large amount of money in the last race trying to defeat Mayor McLaughlin. And that Green Party member was successful in defeating this huge oil company, which is polluting and damaging the health of very poor people, most of them people of color, in Richmond. So that's an example that can be done. But I think the third-party attachment as some kind of romantic ideal to wrest power away from a corporate-military complex in Congress, I think that's an hallucination, I think that's a mirage. And so there's a pathway. And the only pathway to electoral power in Congress has to be working through the Democratic Party—not to be subservient to its power structure, but to overcome it.JAY: So this is just the beginning of a discussion with Norman. If you would like to argue with Norman, ask a question, make a comment, the best way to do that is send me a Tweet. So I'm @PaulJay_TRNN. One more time: @PaulJay_TRNN. So let us know what you think. The next time Norman and I talk, I'll ask your questions. Thanks for joining us, Norman.SOLOMON: Thank you, Paul.JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End

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‘Biggest Climate Rally In History’ In D.C. Today

Livestreaming here. Frances Beinecke: The National Resources Defense Council, 350.org and Sierra Club are hosting the biggest climate rally in history this Sunday in Washington, D.C.. We expect tens of thousands of people to join us in calling for im...

What should Progressives Do Next?

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Bio

Norman Solomon is an independent progressive Democrat running for Congress -- for an open seat in the district north of the Golden Gate Bridge in California. He's the author of a dozen books including "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death." A longtime political activist, Norman was a co-founder of the media watchdog group FAIR, and founded the Institute for Public Accuracy.

Transcript

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

President Obama is into his second term now, and his rhetoric so far has been—according to the media, at least—more militant or more liberal. Now, what do we make of all of this?Now joining us to talk about President Obama's second term and what's next for the progressive movement in the United States is Norman Solomon. He's the cofounder of RootsAction.org and a founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He cochairs Healthcare not Warfare Campaign, organized by Progressive Democrats of America. His books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. And he ran in the primaries in California for a seat in Congress.Thanks for joining us, Norman.NORMAN SOLOMON, COFOUNDER, ROOTSACTION.ORG: Hey. It's a pleasure, Paul.JAY: So President Obama, his rhetoric's a little different than last term, a little less about deficit cutting, a little—actually, at least paid some lip service to the importance of social programs like Social Security and such. And there's sort of a talk that this term is going to be somewhat different. Does that—are you buying that? And what does all of this mean in terms of developing an independent progressive political movement in the United States?SOLOMON: Well, talk doesn't really translate into policy. And after all, the difference between rhetoric and governance is what actually happens in terms of policy—out of the executive branch, in this case. I think the reality is that we've had this paradigm go on for quite a while of a sort of a social liberalism and an economic conservatism. Bill Clinton took the Democratic Party in that direction. Barack Obama has taken the party even farther in that direction. And I think when you get to bedrock issues—taxation, spending, the restraint in cuts on fundamental social services, continuation of war, use of drones and cruise missiles and so forth to strike around the world at will out of the Oval Office—on those issues and more, including civil liberties, we have a president whose rhetoric and reality are quite different from each other.JAY: So then what does that mean for people in the American progressive left movement? For example, you ran in the primaries as a Democrat. You're part of Progressive Democrats for America. You've been in this sort of fight as a progressive section within the Democratic Party. So what's next for you?SOLOMON: Well, I think we are, as progressives, in a crisis, where the good news is that the Republican Party was denied the White House in the election last year. The bad news is that the head of the party, the president of the United States, with vast support from members of Congress of his own party, are pursuing policies that are reprehensible, that if they were being pursued by a Republican president, many more Democrats in Congress would at least express some opposition. So the dire straits of civil liberties, where Obama, to take one example, is now asserting a right to draw up a kill list and decide who the U.S. government will kill, including perhaps U.S. citizens, with no due process whatsoever, that's an instance among many in which we have unacceptable policies coming from Obama. And my plea to people would be, let's speak honestly about it now. This year is a window of opportunity. There's no major elections taking place. It's a chance for progressive Democrats and progressives in general to make clear that this president is not pursuing legitimate policies, in many ways. JAY: So what exactly should people do? I mean, you can speak out, but then what? SOLOMON: Well, I think speak out and build some electoral muscle, as well as protest capacity, so that we're able to reframe the debate. The silence, the quiescence, the muffled objection that we hear so often or don't hear is really highly problematic. And in many ways I was thinking there's a lot of parallels with the Lyndon Johnson administration, where it did some good things but also pursued some horrendous policies, most notably in Southeast Asia, and it was necessary for people inside the party, such as Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy, and those outside the party, including Martin Luther King Jr., to speak up and say, this is unacceptable and we will build opposition.JAY: Okay. Well, we're starting a new format today, and we're going to keep this format up and see if you viewers like it. We're going to do interviews more or less in two parts. The first part's going to be in under five minutes so you get the basic idea of what our guest wants to say. And then we're going to move into a part two, which is going to be a little longer and digging in for those who want to go a little deeper.So thanks for joining us, and please join us for part two with Norman Solomon on The Real News Network.

End

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Get Corporations Out of Education: An Open Letter to Arne Duncan

(Note from the Answer Sheet's Valerie Strauss: A coalition of teachers from public and private schools — including the school that Education Secretary Arne Duncan attended as a child and where President Obama’s daughters were enrolled before they moved to Washington — are releasing an open letter to Duncan expressing concerns about department policies that they say promote the overuse of standardized tests. Among the signees are teachers from the Ariel Community Academy, a public school that was founded by a team of people that included Duncan.)Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. (AP file)

Dear Mr. Duncan,

As primary, secondary, and university educators who are passionate about the importance of a liberal arts education in building and maintaining a democratic society, we are very concerned with the impact of standardized testing on humanities curricula. The widespread trend of teaching to the test is undermining primary and secondary education. Social studies, history, the fine arts, the study of literatures and languages, drama and music; these and other subjects not assessed in the standardized tests of “No Child Left Behind” are subjects that are themselves being left behind as administrators pressure teachers to raise narrowly conceived test scores in a few core areas.

We seek to build respect for the democratic process, critical thinking skills, writing skills, and understanding that is not accurately measured in multiple-choice tests.  (see the Fair Test website for a review of the literature: http://www.fairtest.org/k-12/high%20stakes). While we see the Common Core Curriculum as a step in the right direction, we steadfastly reject attempts pushed by testing companies to devise standardized assessments to measure progress in reading, writing, and speaking. Nor do we believe that computer programs currently being developed by major assessment corporations, or any form of outsourcing of essay assessments, are viable solutions.

Put your faith in teachers rather than corporate interests to assess reading, writing, and speaking. Do not allow corporations to control American education.

Instead of relying on standardized tests, we believe that the best way to pursue higher standards in reading, writing, and speaking skills is to develop standardized and widely accepted rubrics for assessment and allow teachers to assess their students with these rubrics.

We are very concerned with the extent to which current educational policies have embraced what John Dewey would call “instrumental rationality” in seeking solutions that can be statistically measured. We are currently seeing a national backlash against such measurements from parents, teachers, and administrators. These statistical measures merely confirm the very real social gaps between the haves and the have-nots in American education.  (For a review of the literature see http://cepa.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/reardon%20whither%20opportunity%20-%20chapter%205.pdf).

University administrators have known for some time that high SAT scores correlate closely with socioeconomic class. Students who do well on them may succeed more frequently in college than those who do not, but this correlation may be telling us more about the test than about the students. Secondary teachers often see students who are terrific at taking tests, but who choose to avoid tasks requiring difficult thinking.

University educators want students who can write, research, and think: students who are open minded, passionate, and curious. These qualities are snuffed out under the drive for high scores on standardized multiple-choice tests under “No Child Left Behind."

Secondary educators want to prepare students for the challenges that they will face at colleges and universities. This is difficult to do when an overemphasis on discrete item standardized testing prevents them from engaging their students in the meaningful work that best prepares them for the next level.

We know that your office is bombarded with lobbyists from major testing companies, textbook companies, and big donors with big money who seek to shape education reform. State Boards of Education are faced with similar pressures. We feel strongly that big money is far too invested in the current debate, and we are concerned that their influence is determining much of what passes for “reform.” Put your faith in teachers rather than corporate interests to assess reading, writing, and speaking. Do not allow corporations to control American education.

We invite further discussion at your convenience. A delegation from among the signees below will be happy to meet you for hoops and a discussion.

Sincerely yours,

New Trier High School:
Lindsey Arado
Mike Baeb
Kerry Brennan
Ian Duell
David Hjelmgren
Tim Kajfez
Tom Kucharski
Debbie Johnson
Todd Maxman
Dean Pinos
John O’Connor
Alex Zilka

 Northern Illinois University:
Jerome D. Bowers, History Dept.

 University of Illinois-Chicago:
Robert Johnston, History Dept.

 Concord Review:
Will Fitzhugh, Editor and Publisher

 The Report Card:
William Korach, Editor and Publisher

 University of Chicago Laboratory Schools:
Luicija Ambrosini
Allen Ambrosini
Suzanne Baum
Charles Branham
Wayne Brasler
Brad Brickner
David Derbes
Steve Granzyk
Lee Gustafson
Paul Horton
Chris Janus
Bob Kass
Mark Krewatch
Andrea Martonffy
Lisa Miller
Rachel Nielsen
Diane Puklin, Emeritus
Susan Shapiro
Kelly Storm
Brian Wildeman

Ariel Community Academy
Allie Griffin
Shirley Knox
Jake Sklarsky
Willis Niederfrank

 Chicago Teachers Union

Get Corporations Out of Education: An Open Letter to Arne Duncan

(Note from the Answer Sheet's Valerie Strauss: A coalition of teachers from public and private schools — including the school that Education Secretary Arne Duncan attended as a child and where President Obama’s daughters were enrolled before they moved to Washington — are releasing an open letter to Duncan expressing concerns about department policies that they say promote the overuse of standardized tests. Among the signees are teachers from the Ariel Community Academy, a public school that was founded by a team of people that included Duncan.)Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. (AP file)

Dear Mr. Duncan,

As primary, secondary, and university educators who are passionate about the importance of a liberal arts education in building and maintaining a democratic society, we are very concerned with the impact of standardized testing on humanities curricula. The widespread trend of teaching to the test is undermining primary and secondary education. Social studies, history, the fine arts, the study of literatures and languages, drama and music; these and other subjects not assessed in the standardized tests of “No Child Left Behind” are subjects that are themselves being left behind as administrators pressure teachers to raise narrowly conceived test scores in a few core areas.

We seek to build respect for the democratic process, critical thinking skills, writing skills, and understanding that is not accurately measured in multiple-choice tests.  (see the Fair Test website for a review of the literature: http://www.fairtest.org/k-12/high%20stakes). While we see the Common Core Curriculum as a step in the right direction, we steadfastly reject attempts pushed by testing companies to devise standardized assessments to measure progress in reading, writing, and speaking. Nor do we believe that computer programs currently being developed by major assessment corporations, or any form of outsourcing of essay assessments, are viable solutions.

Put your faith in teachers rather than corporate interests to assess reading, writing, and speaking. Do not allow corporations to control American education.

Instead of relying on standardized tests, we believe that the best way to pursue higher standards in reading, writing, and speaking skills is to develop standardized and widely accepted rubrics for assessment and allow teachers to assess their students with these rubrics.

We are very concerned with the extent to which current educational policies have embraced what John Dewey would call “instrumental rationality” in seeking solutions that can be statistically measured. We are currently seeing a national backlash against such measurements from parents, teachers, and administrators. These statistical measures merely confirm the very real social gaps between the haves and the have-nots in American education.  (For a review of the literature see http://cepa.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/reardon%20whither%20opportunity%20-%20chapter%205.pdf).

University administrators have known for some time that high SAT scores correlate closely with socioeconomic class. Students who do well on them may succeed more frequently in college than those who do not, but this correlation may be telling us more about the test than about the students. Secondary teachers often see students who are terrific at taking tests, but who choose to avoid tasks requiring difficult thinking.

University educators want students who can write, research, and think: students who are open minded, passionate, and curious. These qualities are snuffed out under the drive for high scores on standardized multiple-choice tests under “No Child Left Behind."

Secondary educators want to prepare students for the challenges that they will face at colleges and universities. This is difficult to do when an overemphasis on discrete item standardized testing prevents them from engaging their students in the meaningful work that best prepares them for the next level.

We know that your office is bombarded with lobbyists from major testing companies, textbook companies, and big donors with big money who seek to shape education reform. State Boards of Education are faced with similar pressures. We feel strongly that big money is far too invested in the current debate, and we are concerned that their influence is determining much of what passes for “reform.” Put your faith in teachers rather than corporate interests to assess reading, writing, and speaking. Do not allow corporations to control American education.

We invite further discussion at your convenience. A delegation from among the signees below will be happy to meet you for hoops and a discussion.

Sincerely yours,

New Trier High School:
Lindsey Arado
Mike Baeb
Kerry Brennan
Ian Duell
David Hjelmgren
Tim Kajfez
Tom Kucharski
Debbie Johnson
Todd Maxman
Dean Pinos
John O’Connor
Alex Zilka

 Northern Illinois University:
Jerome D. Bowers, History Dept.

 University of Illinois-Chicago:
Robert Johnston, History Dept.

 Concord Review:
Will Fitzhugh, Editor and Publisher

 The Report Card:
William Korach, Editor and Publisher

 University of Chicago Laboratory Schools:
Luicija Ambrosini
Allen Ambrosini
Suzanne Baum
Charles Branham
Wayne Brasler
Brad Brickner
David Derbes
Steve Granzyk
Lee Gustafson
Paul Horton
Chris Janus
Bob Kass
Mark Krewatch
Andrea Martonffy
Lisa Miller
Rachel Nielsen
Diane Puklin, Emeritus
Susan Shapiro
Kelly Storm
Brian Wildeman

Ariel Community Academy
Allie Griffin
Shirley Knox
Jake Sklarsky
Willis Niederfrank

 Chicago Teachers Union

Glenn Beck: It’s ‘Plausible’ John Brennan Secretly Converted To Islam

PT Barnum is credited with saying: "There's a sucker born every day" and history has proven him right. Robert Welch created the John Birch society by conning as many wingnut rubes as he could into forming an anti-government and anti-Communist advocacy group. It became very powerful in the early sixties by promoting crazed Communist conspiracy theories that reached as far up as the White House. Even William F Buckley railed against them as vociferously as he could so that the Republican party wouldn't be besmirched by their apparent lunacy.

The society had been founded in 1958 by an earnest and capable entrepreneur named Robert Welch, a candy man, who brought together little clusters of American conservatives, most of them businessmen. He demanded two undistracted days in exchange for his willingness to give his seminar on the Communist menace to the United States, which he believed was more thoroughgoing and far-reaching than anyone else in
America could have conceived.

His influence was near-hypnotic, and his ideas wild. He said Dwight D. Eisenhower was a “dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy,” and that the government of the United States was “under operational control of the Communist party.” It was, he said in the summer of 1961, “50-70 percent” Communist-controlled...read on

Conspiracy nuts have been on the fringes of political discussion for a long time, but with the rise of Fox News, the Tea party and the Internet, Glenn Beck has snatched the crown from Welch and proudly wears it for all to see. In the process, he's making millions of dollars off the dupes and weak-minded followers of extreme right-wing orthodoxy.
Here's Beck's latest nonsensical conspiracy rant about the possible Islamic brainwashing of John Brennan:

Perhaps the most amazingly hypocritical thing about Glenn Beck is that his entire Blaze network serves as nothing but a repository for conspiracy theories, wild speculation, and outright lies while Beck holds himself up as a champion of "the truth."

Case in point. On his program last night, Beck took up the allegation that John Brennan, President Obama's nominee to head the CIA, may have secretly converted to Islam as part of a counterintelligence operation run against him by the Saudi government.

Despite the fact that this claim originated from one laughably unreliable source, Beck found it to be entirely "plausible," saying that "if somebody makes a charge like that, shouldn't we at least explore it" before saying that the media wouldn't even bother to investigate because "it seems like we can't even ask reasonable questions any more"

Yes, crazy indeed, but we've seen his Muslim hysteria many times before.

Beck: I believe that I can make a case in the end that there are three powers that you will see really emerge. One, a Muslim caliphate that controls the Mideast and parts of Europe. Two, China, that will control Asia, the southern half of Africa, part of the Middle East, Australia, maybe New Zealand, and God only knows what else. And Russia, which will control all of the old former Soviet Union bloc, plus maybe the Netherlands. I'm not really sure. But their strong arm is coming. That leaves us and South America. What happens to us?

Not much daylight between Glenn Beck and Robert Welch!

The idea that anyone who hates liberals and makes a lamebrain assertion about anyone at all immediately becomes plausible and should be investigated. Can you imagine if he did acquire a network?

Winning the Argument

President Barack Obama waits with Sergeants at Arms and Members of Congress before entering the House Chamber to deliver the State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., February 12, 2013. (Photo: Pete Souza / White House)Washin...

The Planetary Crisis of Climate Change is Not Political… It’s Physics

I fear very much that our children, grandchildren and great- grandchildren are going to look back on this period in history and ask a very simple question: Where were they? Why didn’t the United States of America, the most powerful nation on earth, lead the international community in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and preventing the devastating damage that the scientific community was sure would come?

Let me be very clear. The issue that we are dealing with today is not political. It has nothing to do with Democrats, Republicans, Independents and all of the political squabbling we see here every day. It has everything to do with physics. The leading scientists in the world who study climate change now tell us that their projections in the past were wrong. That, in fact, the crisis facing our planet is much more serious than they had previously believed. They now tell us that if we continue along our merry path, where 12 out of the last 15 years were the warmest on record, and take no decisive action in transforming our energy system and cutting greenhouse gas emissions, this planet could be 8 degrees Fahrenheit or more warmer than is currently the case.

And what would that mean to planet Earth? It would mean sea levels rising by 3 to 6 feet which would flood cities like New Orleans, or Boston, or Miami – making them uninhabitable. And this would be true for coastal communities all over the world. It would mean that every year we would see more and more extreme weather disturbances, like Hurricanes Irene and Sandy - costing taxpayers tens of billions of dollars every year and resulting in devastating blows to our economy and productive capabilities.

We would see the price of food rising, because crops in the United States and around the world would be unable to grow in temperatures substantially higher than they are right now. It would mean greater threats of war and international instability because hungry and thirsty people would be fighting for limited resources. It would mean more disease and unnecessary deaths.

The legislation (pdf) that Senator Boxer and I introduced this week with the support of some of the leading environmental organizations in the country can actually address the crisis and does what has to be done to protect the planet. It can reverse greenhouse gas emissions in a significant way. It can create millions of jobs as we transform our energy system away from fossil fuel and into energy efficiency and such sustainably energies as wind, solar, geothermal and biomass.

A major focus of this legislation is a price on carbon and methane emissions. This fee on the largest fossil fuel polluters affects less than 3,000 entities nationwide but covers 85 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions according to the Congressional Research Service. This legislation ends the fossil fuel subsidies, and protects communities by requiring that fracking operations comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act and disclose chemicals they use.

To protect families from fossil fuel companies jacking up prices, 60 percent of the carbon fee revenue will be rebated, per capita, to every legal U.S. resident.

To protect U.S. manufacturers, this legislation includes a border fee on imported fuels and products, unless the nation shipping them already has their own similar carbon price. That ensures a level playing field for U.S. businesses, while creating an incentive for international cooperation.

To transform our energy system, this legislation makes the boldest ever investment in energy efficiency and sustainable energy. That includes weatherizing 1 million homes a year as President Obama called for previously. It means tripling the budget for ARPA-E to do advanced research, and investing hundreds of billions through incentives and a public-private Sustainable Technologies Fund focusing on energy efficiency, solar and wind and geothermal and biomass, and clean transportation technology. We also provide funds to train workers for jobs in the sustainable energy economy. We provide funds to help communities become resilient in the face of extreme weather, and we pay down the debt by roughly $300 billion over ten years.

We have the opportunity right now, with the President’s commitment in the State of the Union, to make progress. The President can and must use his authority to cut down on power plant pollution, and reject the dangerous Keystone XL project. But he cannot give up on a comprehensive legislative solution, and neither can we. We will never fully deal with this crisis until Congress passes strong legislation. Senator Boxer and I are going to fight as hard as we can to do that, and we will work to rally support from American families all across this country that care deeply about their children and grandchildren’s future, and want to protect them from this planetary crisis.

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 after serving 16 years in the House of Representatives. He is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history. Elected Mayor of Burlington, Vt., by 10 votes in 1981, he served four terms. Before his 1990 election as Vermont's at-large member in Congress, Sanders lectured at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and at Hamilton College in upstate New York. Read more at his website.

The Planetary Crisis of Climate Change is Not Political… It’s Physics

I fear very much that our children, grandchildren and great- grandchildren are going to look back on this period in history and ask a very simple question: Where were they? Why didn’t the United States of America, the most powerful nation on earth, lead the international community in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and preventing the devastating damage that the scientific community was sure would come?

Let me be very clear. The issue that we are dealing with today is not political. It has nothing to do with Democrats, Republicans, Independents and all of the political squabbling we see here every day. It has everything to do with physics. The leading scientists in the world who study climate change now tell us that their projections in the past were wrong. That, in fact, the crisis facing our planet is much more serious than they had previously believed. They now tell us that if we continue along our merry path, where 12 out of the last 15 years were the warmest on record, and take no decisive action in transforming our energy system and cutting greenhouse gas emissions, this planet could be 8 degrees Fahrenheit or more warmer than is currently the case.

And what would that mean to planet Earth? It would mean sea levels rising by 3 to 6 feet which would flood cities like New Orleans, or Boston, or Miami – making them uninhabitable. And this would be true for coastal communities all over the world. It would mean that every year we would see more and more extreme weather disturbances, like Hurricanes Irene and Sandy - costing taxpayers tens of billions of dollars every year and resulting in devastating blows to our economy and productive capabilities.

We would see the price of food rising, because crops in the United States and around the world would be unable to grow in temperatures substantially higher than they are right now. It would mean greater threats of war and international instability because hungry and thirsty people would be fighting for limited resources. It would mean more disease and unnecessary deaths.

The legislation (pdf) that Senator Boxer and I introduced this week with the support of some of the leading environmental organizations in the country can actually address the crisis and does what has to be done to protect the planet. It can reverse greenhouse gas emissions in a significant way. It can create millions of jobs as we transform our energy system away from fossil fuel and into energy efficiency and such sustainably energies as wind, solar, geothermal and biomass.

A major focus of this legislation is a price on carbon and methane emissions. This fee on the largest fossil fuel polluters affects less than 3,000 entities nationwide but covers 85 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions according to the Congressional Research Service. This legislation ends the fossil fuel subsidies, and protects communities by requiring that fracking operations comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act and disclose chemicals they use.

To protect families from fossil fuel companies jacking up prices, 60 percent of the carbon fee revenue will be rebated, per capita, to every legal U.S. resident.

To protect U.S. manufacturers, this legislation includes a border fee on imported fuels and products, unless the nation shipping them already has their own similar carbon price. That ensures a level playing field for U.S. businesses, while creating an incentive for international cooperation.

To transform our energy system, this legislation makes the boldest ever investment in energy efficiency and sustainable energy. That includes weatherizing 1 million homes a year as President Obama called for previously. It means tripling the budget for ARPA-E to do advanced research, and investing hundreds of billions through incentives and a public-private Sustainable Technologies Fund focusing on energy efficiency, solar and wind and geothermal and biomass, and clean transportation technology. We also provide funds to train workers for jobs in the sustainable energy economy. We provide funds to help communities become resilient in the face of extreme weather, and we pay down the debt by roughly $300 billion over ten years.

We have the opportunity right now, with the President’s commitment in the State of the Union, to make progress. The President can and must use his authority to cut down on power plant pollution, and reject the dangerous Keystone XL project. But he cannot give up on a comprehensive legislative solution, and neither can we. We will never fully deal with this crisis until Congress passes strong legislation. Senator Boxer and I are going to fight as hard as we can to do that, and we will work to rally support from American families all across this country that care deeply about their children and grandchildren’s future, and want to protect them from this planetary crisis.

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 after serving 16 years in the House of Representatives. He is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history. Elected Mayor of Burlington, Vt., by 10 votes in 1981, he served four terms. Before his 1990 election as Vermont's at-large member in Congress, Sanders lectured at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and at Hamilton College in upstate New York. Read more at his website.

Health Care Spending: A 21st Century Gold Rush

Winston Churchill once remarked, “Americans will always do the right thing, once they’ve exhausted all alternatives.” His observation, at least the second half of it, is proving itself as we continue to struggle with our health care system, especially its out-of-control costs that are crippling the budgets of businesses and government alike.

There is a lot of money in our health care system, and no enforceable budget. That leads to carelessness when it comes to spending that money.

What are some of the reasons health care costs continue to rise? Here are a few examples.

For at least the past 40 years, I’ve heard colleagues say, “We’d better get our fees and charges up now, because next year they’re really going to crack down on us.” It has never happened, yet. The problem is intensifying as outpatient “providers” have morphed from being real people into being corporations.

The Los Angeles Times reported on a case where a teacher’s group health plan was billed $87,500 by an “out of network” provider for a knee procedure that normally costs $3,000. Her health plan was willing to pay it. Outraged, the teacher ratted on the orthopedic surgicenter to California’s attorney general. After the press got involved, the charge was “reduced” to only $15,000. Not a bad pricing strategy, from the surgicenter’s point of view.

The New York Times reported an incident where a student who needed emergency gallbladder surgery ended up with a couple of “out-of-network” surgeons through no fault of his own. He was billed $60,000. His insurance company was willing to pay only $2,000. He was left to deal with the rest of the bill on his own.

There are many more examples. Privately insured patients are not the only ones affected. Governors around the country are continuing to struggle with how to pay for their Medicaid programs. In Oregon, Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber is trying to find ways to impose a fixed budget on Oregon’s Medicaid program without adversely affecting Medicaid beneficiaries. But, he acknowledges, disciplining Medicaid alone will not do the job. He hopes his approach will be adopted by most other health insurance programs.

In Maine, Republican Gov. Paul LePage is struggling not only with how to keep up with burgeoning current Medicaid costs, but also how to pay the state’s almost $500 million past-due Medicaid debt to hospitals. He has proposed lowering liquor prices to boost sales, and mortgaging Maine’s future liquor revenues to secure bonds to pay the debt. His Republican colleagues in the Legislature have described this idea as “creative.”

One of the central features of Obamacare is the creation of “health insurance exchanges,” or online marketplaces. But the law has recognized that many people will need help making the right choices. So it has created an army of “navigators” to help them. A recent Washington Post story points out that a huge number of such experts will be necessary (California alone plans to certify 21,000 of them). Their cost will be reflected in higher health insurance premiums and has sparked opposition from insurance brokers who view them as competition. That will be an expensive fight, without increasing the amount going to actual health care by a single dollar.

Then there is the purchase of politicians by powerful corporate interests. When the Medicare prescription drug benefit was enacted in 2003, it was prohibited from negotiating lower drug prices, even though the veterans health system and many Medicaid programs are permitted to do so. The lead congressman pushing that provision retired from Congress soon after it was passed to take a lucrative job with the pharmaceutical industry. This has become standard practice in Washington.

And don’t forget the for-profit levels of compensation paid to the executives of nonprofit hospitals.

Meanwhile in Massachusetts, where Obamacare was born, health care costs are expected to rise six to 12 percent next year. Last year, their legislature passed a law capping increases in total private and public spending statewide, limiting them to the rate of growth of the Massachusetts economy. But the job of figuring out how to actually get it done was turfed to an “expert panel” of “stakeholders.” My bet is that such cost control will be difficult or impossible to achieve unless we simplify and centralize the way we finance health care.

Why does this financial abuse of taxpayers and patients continue? Because we let it. Americans often react to structural problems by simply throwing more money at them. We seem to be unable to say “no more.”

Maybe it’s time to revisit the part of Churchill’s comment about Americans always doing the right thing — by emulating the policies of most other wealthy countries. They have health care systems that are more popular than ours, provide better access to care, get better results, and are far less expensive.

Maybe it’s time to put everybody into a single, nonprofit system we can all support, within a budget acceptable to the majo